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January 26, 1868 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
“Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.” Mark 16:9
Experimental preaching when truthful, is almost always profitable. As the spouse of old desired to see the footsteps of the flock, so souls in distress are always happy to observe the proofs that others have trodden that same pathway heretofore. It may be, and I trust it shall he, that while we are speaking upon the life of Magdalene, and showing how the Lord was pleased to lead her up from the depths of mental distress to the heights of spiritual joy, some who may he in like circumstances may he led to hope that for them also there may be deliverance, and others who have already received like favors, may have their grateful recollections refreshed, and may be made to bless the Lord who aforetime brought them up out of the horrible pit and out of the miry clay, and has now set their feet upon a rock. We shall begin with Mary of Magdalene here. God began with her, in a way of effectual grace.
I. Mary Magdalene furnishes us, in the first place, with A MELANCHOLY INSTANCE OF SATANIC POWER.
She does not appear to have been a great sinner; it is scarcely possible, and certainly very improbable, that she could have been a transgressor in the sense in which the term “Magdalene” is generally understood. Custom has attached the title of Magdalene to those who have forfeited their good name by open sins against the seventh commandment. Mistaken though it be, let the name always remain as the sole treasure of fallen women, for, if we can give them one honorable designation to act as a shield, pray let them have it, for the world is cold enough and scornful enough towards such offenders. It is worth while, however, to declare for the honor of Mary Magdalene, that she was no Magdalene in the modern sense; it could scarcely have been so, she was probably a raving demoniac, therefore not at all likely to fall into the sins of the flesh. We are never told of her that she was a great in fact, not a word is said against her personal character; we are simply informed that she was possessed with seven devils, which is an affliction rather than a crime. I do not deny that sin may have prepared her for the Satanic possession, and was no doubt also occasioned by it, but she is not brought before us in Scripture as a transgressor, nor is she the representative of great offenders, but rather the type of a class of persons who for years are sore vexed in heart, greatly depressed in spirit, heavily burdened with despondency, bound with chains of melancholy, subject to distracting forebodings, to alarms of coming wrath, and to a despair insuperable.
Mary Magdalene represents those who have come under the tormenting and distracting power of Satan, and whose lamp of joy is quenched in tenfold night. They are imprisoned not so much in the dens of sin as in the dungeons of sorrow, not so criminal as they are wretched, nor so depraved as they are desolate. We do not with any certainty understand the precise nature of being possessed with the devil. Holy Scripture has not been pleased to acquaint us with the philosophy of possessions, but we know what the outward symptoms were. Persons possessed with devils were unhappy; they found the gloom of the sepulcher to be their most congenial resort. They were unsocial and solitary. If they were permitted, they broke away from all those dear associations of the family circle which give half the charms to life: they delighted to wander in dry places, seeking rest and finding none: they were pictures of misery, images of woe. Such was the seven times unhappy Magdalene, for into her there had entered a complete band of devils. She was overwhelmed with seven seas of agony, loaded with seven manacles of despair, encircled with seven walls of fire. Neither day nor night afforded her rest, her brain was on fire, and her soul foamed like a boiling caldron. Miserable soul! No dove of hope brought the olive branch of peace to her forlorn spirit, she sat in the darkness and saw no light- her dwelling was in the valley of the shadow of death. Among all the women of Magdala there was none more wretched than she, the unhappy victim of restless and malicious demons. Those who were possessed with these evil spirits, were defiled thereby, as welt as made unhappy; for a heart cannot become a kennel for the hounds of belt without being rendered filthy and polluted. I suppose that in addition to the natural corruptions which would be in Mary as well us in ourselves, there would be more than human nimbleness to evil, a vivacity, an outspokenness bout all her sinful propensities, which only the indwelling fiend could give. Satan being within, would be sure to stir up the coals of impure thoughts and evil desires, so that the fire of sin would burn vehemently. Her inner self may have been sorely troubled with such excess of wickedness, but she was without power to damp the furnace of her mind. She would be incessantly assaulted by unearthly profanities and hideous suggestions; not as with us, proceeding from the devil without, who is a dreaded antagonist, but from seven devils within, who had entrenched themselves upon a dreadful vantage ground. She was in that sense, no doubt, greatly polluted, although it would be difficult to say how far she was accountable for it, on account of the dislodgment of her reason. In addition to the unhappiness and the defilement occasioned by Satanic possession, these persons were frequently dangerous to others and to themselves. Sometimes, we read, they were cast into the lire, and anon into the water; some cut themselves with knives or sharp stones, others tore their garments in pieces, and even when hound in chains according to the old fashioned method of controlling lunatics they burst their bonds. Such persons must have been very undesirable inmates of any house, however remote their chamber. It must frequently have been necessary to confine them apart, for in their madness they were not to be trusted; for, us is often the case, those who had been nearest and dearest to them, became the first objects of their enmity. To give a spiritual turn to the subject, let me remark that it is one of the most dreadful things about some of those who are plunged in unbelief, that the mischief of their misery is not confined to themselves, but extends to their families and connections. Their example drips like the upas tree, with poison; they are like the clouds that gathered over Sodom, full of fiery hail; they bring sadness and sorrow wherever their influence is felt, The man who has laid in beds of spices, spreads perfume on all sides; but the man who has familiar intercourse with horrors, like one fresh come from the lazar house, bears all the seeds of death about him in the gloom and melancholy which he spreads abroad. To sum up much in a few words, there is no doubt that Mary Magdalene would have been considered by us to be demented- she was, practically, a maniac. Reason was unshipped, and Satan stood at the helm instead of reason, and the poor ship was hurried hither and thither under the guidance of demons. What a dreadful state to be in! And yet, dear friends, though actual Satanic possession is unknown among us now, we have seen several cases extremely like it, and we know at this hour some who baffle altogether all attempts to comfort them, and make us feel that only the good Physician can give them rest. I remember a man of excellent character, well beloved by his family and esteemed by his neighbors, who was for twenty years enveloped in unutterable gloom. He ceased to attend the house of God, because he said it was of no use; and although always ready to help in every good word and work, yet he had an abiding conviction upon him that, personally, he had no part nor lot in this matter, and never could have. The more you talked to him, the worse he became; even prayer seemed but to excite him to more fearful despondency. In the providence of God I was called to preach the word in his neighborhood; he was induced to attend, and, by God’s gracious power, under the sermon he obtained a joyful liberty. After twenty years of anguish and unrest, he ended his weary roamings at the foot of the cross, to the amazement of his neighbors, the joy of his household, and the glory of God. Nor did his peace of mind subside, for until the Lord gave him a happy admission into eternal rest, he remained a vigorous believer, trusting and not being afraid. Others are around us for whom we earnestly pray that they also may be brought out of prison to praise the name of the Lord.
Magdalene’s case was a perfectly helpless one; men could do nothing for her. All the surgery and physic in the world would have been wasted upon her singular malady. Had it been any form of physical disease or purely mental derangement, help might have been attainable, but who is a match for the crafty and cruel fiends of the pit? No drugs can lull them to sleep, no knife can tear them from the soul. The loving friend and the skillful adviser stood equally powerless, nonplussed, bewildered, dismayed. Mary was in a hopeless condition. There was nothing known by any, even the wise men of the east, of any method by which seven evil spirits could be dislodged. However expensive the remedy, liner relatives would have resorted to it; but who can cope with devils? Doubtless all who knew her thought that death would be a great relief to her, and would relieve her family of wearisome anxiety and fear. Although willing to help, they could not aid in the slightest degree, and had the hourly sorrow of seeing her endure an agony which they could not alleviate. Magdalene was the victim of Satanic influence in a most fearful form: sevenfold were the spirits which possessed 11cr; and there are men and women nowadays who are tempted by the great enemy of souls to a most awful degree. Some of us have endured temporary seasons of frightful depression, which have qualified us to sympathize with those who are more constantly lashed by the fury of the infernal powers. We too have had our horror of great darkness. We have groaned with David, “I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly; 1 go mourning all the day long. . . . I am feeble and sore broken: I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart.
My heart pants, my strength fails me: as for the light of mine eyes, it also is gone from me.” We have been, though only for a few days or hours at a time, reduced to such an utter prostration of heart, that our soul chose strangling rather than life, for the sorrows of death compassed us, and the pains of hell gat hold upon us- we found trouble and sorrow. Believe me, brethren, this is no child’s play, but a thing to turn the hair grey, and plough the furrows at the brow. It is no trivial sorrow to lament with the weeping prophet. “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger. From above hath he sent fire into my bones, and it prevails against them: he hath spread a net for my feet, he hath turned me back: he hath made me desolate and faint alt the day. The yoke of my transgressions is bound by his hand: they are wreathed, and come up upon my neck: he hath made my strength to fall, the Lord hath delivered me into their hands, from whom I am not able to rise up.”
It is a melancholy fact that some persons continue for months and years to drink this cup of trembling. John Bunyan’s case is to the point, for he floundered in the Slough of Despond us long as any of the pilgrims whom he has so graphically described, In his instance, those succeeding shadows, those variations of unbelief, those recurring glooms all arose from the same fruitful source of ill: Satan was afraid that he was about to lose a bond slave, and therefore aroused himself to prevent his captive’s escape. Like the city of Mansoul when besieged by the troops of Immanuel, when Diabolus was loath to leave, the evil one barricades the doors, and strengthens the walls, so that there may he no entrance for the word of truth. Moreover, as we are told in the Revelation, the devil hath great wrath when he knows that his time is short; and he takes care, like a bad tenant, to do all the mischief he can before he is ejected. I may be addressing some such persons here, or in after days my words may meet the eye of poor tortured souls, O that they might find rest! It is painful in the extreme to meet with such unhappy minds, they are the great difficulty of a pastor’s work; so great indeed is the difficulty, that workers with little faith are ready to give up the task, and to leave the matter as impracticable.
We have known those who have felt that they could pray no longer for their inconsolable friends: verily, beloved, we must not yield to so heartless a suggestion. As we said the other Sabbath morning until the gate of hell is shut upon a man, we must not cease to pray for him; and if we see him hugging the very door- posts of damnation, we must go to the mercy- seat and beseech the arm of grace to pluck him from his dangerous position. While there is life there is hope, and, although the soul is almost smothered with despair, we must not despair for it, but rather arouse ourselves to awaken the almighty arm. The case of the Magdalene is a looking- glass in which many souls wrung with anguish may see themselves.
II. Secondly, Mary Magdalene became A GLORIOUS TROPHY OF DIVINE GRACE.
She is described in the text us “Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.” Sovereign grace is resplendent in Mary’s history; in the first place, because this cure was unsought by her. Others who were sick sought tine healing hand of Jesus, but no person possessed of an evil spirit ever did or ever could cry for deliverance to the Son of David: their friends might bring them, but they never came of themselves. The evil spirit drives men as far as possible away from Christ, and clamors against Jesus us a tormentor; but it never guides men into the pathway of the merciful Savior. Even thus is it with us all, and especially with desponding souls. If we are saved, it is not because we have the first motions of desire towards Christ, but because eternal love casts its cords around us, and draws us towards the Lord Jesus. There may be disputes about this us matter of doctrine, but I do not believe it can be questioned as a fact in experience. All believers unite in time song
“Jesus sought me when a stranger, Wandering from the fold of God.” We all feel that, if we are converted, the power which turned us is from above.
“Tis not that I did choose thee, For, Lord, that could not be; This heart would still refuse thee, But thou hast chosen me: Thou from the sin that stained me Washed me and set me free, And to this end ordained me, That I should live to thee.”
If we have repented, our repentance was not a plant indigenous to the barren soil of our corrupt hearts- the seed of it was sown within by a gracious hand. If we have believed in Jesus, our faith was not fashioned on our own anvil, but bestowed upon us from the armory of God. Faith is as much the gift of God as salvation itself. Brethren, we cannot, in our own cases, do otherwise than ascribe all the glory to sovereign grace. “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” “I am found of them that sought me not.” No sinner is beforehand with God, but God’s prevenient grace outruns the sinner’s first desire; yea, grace comes to dead souls when as yet they are not capable of a right emotion. Mary’s case, as it illustrates this principle, may help us to see clearly the great love wherewith Jesus loved us, even when we were dead in sins. Poor trembling soul, Jesus can come to you if you cannot come to him. If your miseries have shut you up, they cannot shut him out. Your extremity is God’s opportunity, therefore be of good cheer.
It is most likely that Mary resisted the healing hand, for so it was with other demoniacs: “What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God?” The devil was no sooner aware of Christ’s presence, than he began to cry out against his Conqueror. If it was not so with Mary, it certainly is so with us, and especially with the subjects of despair. How we resisted conscience! We used what means we could to strangle it, so that its cries might not alarm us. How we labored to quench the Holy Spirit! We had no heart to leave the ways of flesh- pleasing lust, we held to our iniquities us the leech to the flesh. We were willing to run all risks of hell, and lose the glories of’ heaven. We chose our delusions and hugged our destructions; we were in darkness, and we loved darkness rather than light, because our deeds were evil. Our corrupt heart was enmity against God, and was not reconciled to him, neither indeed could it he. Strange to say, despair is often voluntary, and men resolve to remain in it, being as fond of the position as the poor wretch who after years of confinement found liberty to be a pain. Like David’s fool, we abhor all manner of meat, though dying for want of it; we blow out the candles lest we should see the light; and contend with the mercy which comes to our rescue. Great Lord! What a madman a sinner is! How irrational are those who pine in despondency, and yet thrust hope away with both their hands. It is a hard task for the surgeon when his patient tears open the veins which he labors to bind up. His skill must be great if he can heal a patient who struggles in his arms, and refuses his affectionate care. Brethren, since in a measure, we have all acted thus, let us admire the dear patience and precious love which bore with our ill manners, and would not let us die! How shall we magnify sufficiently effectual grace, which without violating the freedom of our will, led our captivity captive, making us willing in the day of his power. Let the highest and sweetest notes of all believing psalmody be to omnipotent grace, which wrought in us according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand. Glory be to God. though a legion of devils possessed the heart, the power of Jesus is able to cast them out of him, ay, and to set aside the present mad unwillingness which makes the sinner despise his own mercy and hasten to his own ruin.
Those possessed with devils were healed by a word from Jesus. Beloved, if we have been saved, the instrument which the Holy Spirit used was the word, either read in private or heard from the lip of God’s minister. “He sent his word and healed them.” The word is the living and incorruptible seed. The ordinance of preaching can scarcely be too much prized for “it has pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” You who are desponding, I pray you, do not forsake the gathering of yourselves together; although despair may hang about you, still resort to the place where the word is dispensed, and ere long like that daughter of Abraham, whom Satan had bound for eighteen years, who yet went up to the synagogue, you shall, like her, be made whole. While the word of God is within your reach, there may yet be a love- word for you, even for you. While earnest lips are telling out the love of Jesus, wait with the hope that as the small rain drops upon the tender herb, grace may drop lovingly upon you. “Faith cometh by hearing.” Why may it not come to you? The Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come in his temple; he may tarry, but to every sincere seeker his coming is sure.
She was healed instantaneously, for the cures of our Lord were always such. He said, “Come out of her,” to the unclean spirit, and out came the spirit without delay; so that in a single moment, poor demoniac Mary was made to sit at Jesus’ feet in peace, and in her right mind. My brethren, what a change it must have been for her! Her soul had been like the lake of Galilee when lashed with the storm: but Christ had said, “Peace, be still,” and now there was a great calm. She had been ready to tear herself and hurt others, but now she was obedient to the Master’s command, and ministered to him with joy; she drank in the words of truth, and told them out to others: defiling influences were cast out of her, and she sought after holiness. Had you met her after her cure you would not have known her to be the same woman. Those disheveled locks no longer remained to betoken the maniac, and those straining eyes and that tortured brow, and all the air and mien of one distraught- all these were changed. She was admitted into society as a reasonable being; she was taken into the family circle us a welcome inmate- Jesus became her teacher, and his apostles her friends. What a miracle of love! Let us entertain hope for our friends in their worst estate, that the like may happen to them. Perhaps God may permit some of his people to fall into this desperate condition, that he may exhibit illustrious instances of what conversion can do. In heaven there is joy over a sinner’s repentance: angels do not rejoice in extraordinary conversions merely, but “ over one sinner that repents;” still, us far us you and I are concerned, when we sit at church- meetings and hear of cases of conversion, the more remarkable ones give us greatest joy. When we hear of a sinner brought to Christ, or of another being comforted who had been in dreadful depression of spirit, we are all filled with wonder and delight. It sheds a luster over the Lord’s work, and acts like a tonic to our spirits, it refreshes the doubting ones, and those who had become dispirited in service, take courage and say, “We shall never doubt again, for after such an instance us this, we must believe that all things are possible with God.” Methinks the Lord suffers these Magdalenes to be here and there discovered, that they may be proof to all the world that he can do whatsoever he wills, and that none are beyond his power. Do I address one who is in such a state? I cannot pass on without the hope that such a troubled mind may speedily look to Jesus. Friend, he can heal you. I know the devil within you says, “You are cast out for ever,” but Satan is the father of lies, therefore care not for his suggestions. Did you notice how the text declares that Jesus east out the seven devils? The evil ones did not go out of themselves; Magdalene did not drive them out, but Jesus cast them out with force and power. The evil one is strong, but Christ is stronger than he, and drives him out speedily when he comes to claim dominion. “Ah,” say you, “if he ever gets the devil out of me, I will praise him.” That’s the very reason why I think he will do it, in order that he may win your heart, and make you, as long as you live, to wonder, and adore, and admire.
III. After she had thus obtained her healing, she became AN ARDENT FOLLOWER OF CHRIST.
We are informed by Mark and by Luke, that Mary Magdalene and other holy women followed Jesus into Galilee upon his memorable preaching tour; and when he came up from Galilee to Jerusalem, we find Mary still at the head of that blessed company. I suppose that she had no family, most probably no children, and that her relatives may have come to feel as if she was not one of themselves at all, through her having been so long possessed. She probably possessed some small landed property which yielded her sufficient for her wants. When she was restored, her friends, though exceedingly glad to hear it, might feel as if she had never been one of the family, and therefore did not wish her to return to them, especially when she had become a Christian. Everything leads us to suppose that she had no one near who claimed her personal care, and having a little income, she resolved to devote her life to listening to the Man who had delivered her from her terrible disease. A wise resolve. Happy was she to be allowed to linear his gracious words and see his mighty deeds. She not only listened to him, but she followed him. Whoever might turn away, the Magdalene was always close at his side. Through floods and flames, if he was pleased to lead, she had resolved to go. In addition to this, we are told that she ministered unto him of her substance. That bag which Judas carried, would always have been empty had it not been for this woman of Magdala, and for the wife of Herod’s steward (and perhaps Martha, and Mary, and Lazarus), but these generous hearts, knowing that the laborer is worthy of his hire, were glad to contribute of their temporal goods to him who so greatly enriched them in spiritual things. So Magdalene gave herself, her ear, her foot, her heart, her substance, her all to Jesus. It was not an unusual thing in the Jewish nation for great rabbis to be followed both by men and women in their tours of instruction throughout the country, so that she was not outraging the customs of her people. No doubt our Lord would have said to Mary, “Go home to your friends,” if duty required her there, but us she had no other duties to demand her attention, she was allowed to give up all liner time to sacred study and to hallowed service. Now, it is not desirable that you or I should leave our kindred and forsake our vocations, but we can nevertheless abide with Jesus as closely as the Magdalene. If we have been delivered from great sin or from great despair, should we not say in our souls, “Now, from this day I will be the constant student of Jesus Christ’s teaching. The gospel has done so much for me, that 1 will seek to know all of it that can be known this side the grave. I will pry into its mysteries, press into its spiritualities, and learn its precepts. And while I am a learner I will also be a follower. Where Christ is I will go. His example shall be law to me. I will pray to have his Spirit. I will ask to be conformed to his image, and what the Master was, that shall the servant be. I will give to him of my substance. If I can, I will give much, but if I have not much, I will give in fair proportion. I will make a system of offering to Cod: he shall have a set portion of all mine income, and that I will put aside, so that when there is a call for it, I shall not imagine that I am giving from my own purse, but I will give my Lord’s money, which has already been consecrated. Then I shall not feel us if I were giving, but as if I were only a steward, handing out what belonged to Christ before”? Where persons love little, do little, and give little, we may shrewdly suspect that they have never had much affliction of heart for their sins and that they think they owe but very little to divine grace. He who has received much, if his heart be right, is sure to give much to the Lord, and to say
“And if I might make some reserve, And duty did not call, I love my God with zeal so great That I would give him all.”
Behold and admire the difference between the poor demoniac and the faithful follower of Christ- the woman possessed with seven devils, and now the honorable Christian woman ministering unto the Lord of angels! What cannot grace do? No doubt, Mary of Magdala had to suffer much in thus following Christ, for all the disciples had to partake in Christ’s cross. They were all thought to be madmen and fools in taking up with the man of Nazareth, but we never read that Mary shrank. “From that time many went back, and walked no more with him,” but Magdalene was true. Again we read, “Many were offended at him because of this saying,” but we find not that the woman of Magdala was offended. She held to her Lord in holy faith. She knew the Shepherd’s voice, and she followed him whithersoever he might be pleased to lead. Happy are those who from their earliest days have been led to see their indebtedness to Christ, and are now resolved to cleave to him, to serve him with heart, and soul, and strength, to sit at his feet to catch his words, and then to go abroad and practice what they have learned! I wish we could all attain to a high state of spirituality, that we were more strict in our obedience, more close in our communion, more consecrated in our actions. Perhaps it is because we think we have had little forgiven, or owe but little, that therefore we are such little doers and little lovers. Holy Spirit, out of the great sinners of this wicked city, out of the midst of horrible blasphemers, or out of the midst of those who are far gone in horrible despair, call thou men and women who shall become enthusiasts, flaming with vehement devotion to the Lord.
IV. Magdalene appears to us farther on in Scripture as a FAITHFUL ADHERENT TO HER MASTER UNDER TRIAL.
It was a dark day for tine disciples when Christ was crucified, amid mocking and jeering enemies. We are told by Mark, that Magdalene and Mary, the wife of Cleophas, stood afar off and watched our Lord; but we are informed by John that, among others, there stood at the foot of the cross, Mary Magdalene. I suppose that at the first, when our Lord was nailed to the tree, the disciples could not get into the inner ring, the priests and the Jews were so mad, and the Roman soldiers were so rough, that a woman, however brave, might not venture there. Therefore, as they could not do what they would, they did what they could; they stood at a distance and sobbed and sighed, until their eyes were red, and their hearts were swollen with anguish at the sad sight of him whom they loved mocked and despised, and shamefully put to death. But by- and- by the crowd grew tired of their cruel amusement, and suddenly there was a darkness over all the land and it may be that then these timid doves mustered courage and flew to the foot of the tree, passed unnoticed through the soldiers and the crowd, and stood at his feet, and though they could not help him on the cross, yet they could rally round his cross. If they must not feel the nails, and bleed us he did, yet their hearts were bleeding, and the nails went through their souls. Where was Peter? Where was James? Philip, and Andrew, and Nathanael, where were they? I do not know, but I know where Magdalene was; she was at the tree of doom there, hard by her Lord, glad to confess a persecuted Christ. Here is the test of true love. To follow Christ in peaceful times is easy, but to follow hard after him when he is despised and rejected of men- here is the pinch. Ah, some of you young people profess to be Christians when you are with Christian people, but will you bear it when your companions sneer at you as a cant and a hypocrite? Can you follow your Lord? Can you follow your Lord when the many turn aside? Can you witness that he has the living word, and none upon earth beside? Can you stand to him when you have to suffer loss and reproach, and when his name is the drunkard’s song and the fool’s proverb? If you can, then blessed be the grace that has taught you to practice so hard a lesson. If there be any who can do this readily, surely they are such us once passed through the deepest waters of soul trouble.
We find Mary last at the sepulcher, viewing the place where the body was laid, and how it was laid; and they spent the evening till the Sabbath hour approached in preparing the spices; then they rested, like devout women, upon the seventh day. It was deep love that made the Magdalene follow the corpse of the Well beloved right to the tomb. Of that lifeless body every limb was dear to her. He had wrought so great a thing in her, that she could not but feel her heart melt at the thought of his corpse being treated with disrespect. She must see whether they laid it tenderly, whether they put it into its rest with gentleness and honor. She was first at the sepulcher, and was the first to whom Christ appeared. She was faithful to the end. She won the commendation of those of whom it is said, “He that endures to the end the same shall be saved.”
Be it yours and mine, my brethren, to cling to the truth, even though, like Elijah, we have to say, “I, only I, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” To keep to a dead cause and an expiring church, to cling to Christ when his cause is rolled in the mire, to be ready to be drowned with Christ, to sink with Christ, and rise with Christ, this is genuine affection. This was the Magdalene’s love, and let it be ours.
Another sorrow afflicted her after the death of her Lord: it was the fact that time Lord was lost to her. She would have had some melancholy satisfaction if she could have found his body, but in the morning she came to the tomb and found it empty. The beloved body was gone. She wept as one utterly inconsolable. Angels spoke to her, but what were angels to her she wanted him! They would have cheered her, but she turned her back: she cared for nothing but her Lord. Those who can worship angels have not Magdalene’s spirit, for she turned her back on them. For Christ she sighed. She must have him or die. You and I may expect times when Jesus will be hidden from us. If we love him much, we shall weep till we see him again. They who can rejoice when Christ is absent, have little of his love in their hearts, for where the beams of the Sun of Righteousness are not at the full. There ought to be a winter in the soul. We should sigh and cry till our Lord withdraws the veil, crying out in our hearts, “O that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat!
It is a fine point in Magdalene that she knew how to Persevere. She continued to wait and to watch, and while John and Peter had gone home and could be satisfied without seeing Christ, she could not: she must see her Lord. The whole earth could not compose her mind, nor heaven’s angels give her comfort till she saw him whom her soul loved. 0 heart, art thou thus hungering and thirsting after him? Thou shall be well satisfied; meanwhile, count it a great honor thus to hunger and thirst, for thou wouldst not do so if thou had not loved him and received much at his hands.
V. I must conduct you one step further. This woman became ONE OF THE MOST FAVORED BEHOLDERS OF CHRIST, for while she sighed and wept, Jesus revealed himself to her; and after this manner was the revelation- he called her by her name, “Mary.”
It has always been thought to be a high distinction when God has called a man by his name. When he spoke and said, “Moses, Moses;” then it was a sign that he had found favor in his sight. When Jesus said “Mary,” I can imagine that the word brought up all her history before her mind; her demoniac days, when her distracted mind was tossed on fiery billows; her happy days, when she sat at her Master’s feet and caught his blessed words; the times when she had seen his miracles amid wondered; when she had given him of her substance, and been too glad to minister unto him. If we love Jesus much, and cannot be content without him, we too may expect to hear him in the secret of our soul, calling us by our name. He will say, “I have called thee by thy name: thou art mine.” Then Mary Magdalene had such a manifestation of Christ’s glory us no other woman ever had. It has been beautifully remarked by one of our dear brethren in the ministry,* that that expression, “Touch me not,” shows to us that Mary had gone farther in communion than most of us ever think of going, because, she had drawn us near to Jesus as she might be allowed to go. Jesus said, “Touch me not.” You and I need not be afraid of his saying that to us: we do not make it necessary. We are at such a distance that he had need to say, “Come near, and nearer still;” but us for Mary, liner heart was so knit to Christ, that she approached so near to him in love, that the Lord knew she could not bear any more, and that her higher joys must be reserved for a higher sphere, and therefore he bade her pause. Besides, he would have her know that he was her Lord and Master us well as her friend. Affection must not degenerate into familiarity: he must be reverenced as well as loved. Very different was his dealing with Thomas.
He commands him to touch. Thomas is such a weak thing, he wants that help, but Mary does not need it; her heart is knit to him it leaps for joy and Jesus having given her us much joy us she could hold, stays her hand. Surely she was like good Mr. Walsh, who said when he was full of the Lord’s presence, “ Hold, Lord! Remember I am an earthen vessel, and if thou give me more I small die, therefore stay thy loving hand.” So was it in the case of Mary. She had very near, and dear, and initiate intercourse with her Master, because she had followed him and kept close to him all the days of her life.
VI. Lastly, Mary became AN HONORED MESSENGER OF CHRIST TO THE APOSTLES.
I feel it no small privilege to be the means of bearing God’s message to this congregation. It pleases me when I know that many grey- headed believers, who know far more of experimental truth than I can be supposed to know, have nevertheless been comforted by the message which my Master has sent to them by me. But what an honor to have a message to tine apostles! Oh, the power of grace! Mary, once a demoniac, becomes a preacher to preachers! I dub her Doctor of Divinity indeed, for she has to instruct these mightiest of messengers in the faith.
Note the message. Did ever man preach a better sermon than this woman preached? Had ever minister a more weighty text than this Magdalene had to handle ”I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God”? Angels told of the incarnation, but Magdalene told of the ascension. She must be made to do alone what a company of angels had been made to do before, to proclaim another step in the Savior’s pathway to redemption. My dear friends, you wino are so low and distressed this morning, does not this history of Magdalene make you feel like Mercy in the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” who laughed in her sleep? Christiana said, “Why did you laugh?” She replied, “Because of my dream.” Does not it make your heart leap to think that you you a poor distracted wretch on the very brink of hell, may yet see Jesus over and above what others ever see of him, and may be able to tell to angels, and principalities, and powers, what you have tasted and handled of the good word of God. Surely, this should breathe hope into you. If you have known my Master, any of you, and have been saved by him, continue to keep close to him. If you lose his company, sigh after it, but when you find him again, make it your delightful business to tell his brethren that he has returned to you, and make their hearts glad us the Lord Jesus has made yours. I shall leave the matter in the hands of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord raise many a Mary Magdalene in the midst of this church, for his name’s sake. Amen.
June 8th, 1976 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"He . . . upbraided them with their unbelief." Mark 16:14 .
I shall not dwell so much upon this particular instance of the disciples' unbelief as upon the fact that the Lord Jesus upbraided them because of it. This action of his shows us the way in which unbelief is to be treated by us. As our loving Savior felt it to be right rather to upbraid than to console, he taught us that on some occasions, unbelief should be treated with severity rather than with condolence. Beloved friends, let us never look upon our own unbelief as an excusable infirmity, but let us always regard it as a sin, and as a great sin, too. Whatever excuse you may at any time make for others, and I pray you to make excuses for them whenever you can rightly do so, never make any for yourself. In that case, be swift to condemn. I am not at all afraid that, as a general rule, we shall err on the side of harshness to ourselves. No; we are far too ready to palliate our own wrong-doing, to cover up our own faults and to belittle our own offenses. I very specially urge every believer in Jesus to deal most sternly with himself in this matter of unbelief. If he turns the back of the judicial knife towards others, let him always turn the keen edge of it towards himself. In that direction use your sharpest eye and your most severely critical judgment. If you see any fault in yourself, you may depend upon it that the fault is far greater than it appears to be; therefore, deal more sternly with it. It is a very easy thing for us to get into a desponding state of heart, and to mistrust the promises and faithfulness of God, and yet, all the while, to look upon ourselves as the subjects of a disease which we cannot help, and even to claim pity at the hands of our fellow-men, and to think that they should condole with us, and try to cheer us. Perhaps they should; but, at any rate, we must not think that they should. It will be far wiser for each one of us to feel, "This unbelief of mine is a great wrong in the sight of God. He has never given me any occasion for it, and I am doing him a cruel injustice by thus doubting him. I must not idly sit down, and say, This has come upon me like a fever, or a paralysis, which I cannot help; but I must rather say, 'This is a great sin, in which I must no longer indulge; but I must confess my unbelief, with shame and self-abasement, to think that there should be in me this evil heart of unbelief.'" Notwithstanding what I said, just now, concerning our dealings with others, I must give very much the same advice with regard to them as to ourselves, though in a somewhat mitigated form. When we see any of our friends falling into sin and unbelief, we must seek to deal wisely with them, always kindly, never harshly. Let us reserve all our severity for ourselves, as I have already urged upon you. Still, I am sure that it is quite possible for us to be doing our fellow-Christians serious harm by excusing their unbelief, and by pitying them for it, instead of pointing out to them, tenderly, yet faithfully, the great sin they are committing by this doubting. Have you never seen a "coddled" lad? I have seen one, who ought to be in the open air at play, shut in a close room because his parents were fearful that he was delicate, and unable to do as other lads do. He ought to have been taking part in various healthy exercises that would have developed and strengthened every muscle in his body; but, instead of that, he was sitting down, tied to his mother's apron strings, and so was being made weaker than he was before. He was kept in an atmosphere which was not fit for him to breathe because his foolish parents were afraid the fresh air might be too trying for him; and long before he was ill, he was dosed and physicked until he really became ill. Many a child has been murdered by being thus coddled; or, if he has lived to grow up to manhood, he has been a poor, feeble, effeminate creature, because the abundant love, which has been lavished upon him, has been linked with equally abundant folly. You can easily treat Christians, and especially young converts, in the same senseless fashion. If they are unbelieving, you can keep back from them the stern truth about the sinfulness of such a state of heart and mind, because you fear that they will be discouraged if you deal faithfully with them. That is quite as wrong as saying to the unconverted, over and over again, "Only believe," without ever mentioning the need of repentance and regeneration. There is a way of misapplying even the promises of God to unbelieving hearts, and of giving the consolations of the gospel to those who are not in a condition to receive them, as one might give sweetmeats to sick children, and so do them harm. People, who are thus unwisely treated, are apt to remain in the same sad state until their unbelief becomes chronic, and their unhappiness becomes a lifelong burden to them. Sometimes, when a man is in great pain, it is wise to give him something that will afford him even temporary relief; but the better course is, if possible, to strike at the root of his disease, and eradicate it once for all. That should be our method of dealing with the unbelief of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must make it clear to them that unbelief is no trifle, and that it is a thing for which its owner is not to he pitied, but to be blamed, and to be severely blamed, for it is a most grievous fault and sin. Our Savior dealt thus with the eleven when he upbraided them because of their unbelief. He did not excuse them, or comfort them, but he upbraided them. Upbraiding does not seem to be in harmony with the usual character of Jesus, does it! Yet, you may depend upon it that it was the right thing for him to do, and the kind thing, too; otherwise, he would not have done it. Jesus upbraided these disciples of his because of their unbelief upon a very special point on which they ought to have been the first to believe. Many persons had seen their Lord after he had risen from the dead; and the eleven apostles, who ought, by reason of their greater spiritual advantages, and their more intimate companionship with Christ, to have been the readiest to believe the good tidings, were not so; and, therefore, Christ "upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he had risen." Yet these eye-witnesses Peter and John, Cleopas and his companion, and Mary Magdalene, Joanna, the other Mary, and the rest of the holy women, who had come to the eleven, were their own brethren and sisters in the faith; so Christ might well say to them, and I daresay he did, "Why did you doubt their testimony? You did them an injustice by acting in such a manner. They are honest and truthful, and they have told you the truth. You have not been accustomed to doubt their word; so, as you have believed their witness concerning other matters, why did you not believe them in this instance! "Moreover," our Lord might well say, "there were many of them; it was not merely one, who might have been mistaken; but a considerable number saw me, and I spake with them; and they came and told you that it was even so, yet you did not believe them. The number of the witnesses, and their well-known character, are sure signs that you must have been in a wrong state of heart and mind, not to be able to receive such clear evidence as theirs; and, therefore, you are blameworthy for your unbelief." In the case of these apostles, unbelief was peculiarly sinful, for they had the promise of their Lord to back up the testimony of his disciples. He had often told them that he would rise again from the dead, and had even foretold the very day of his resurrection, so that the unbelief of the apostles was altogether inexcusable. Yet this very fact, which was a cause of stumbling to the apostles, appears to me to give point and power to the appeal which I make to myself, and to you, against our unbelief. We all believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead; we have no difficulty in accepting that great fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith; all of us, who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, fully endorse Paul's words to the saints in Rome, and say that our Lord "was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification." Well, then, brethren and sisters in Christ, if we believe that Jesus rose from the dead, the ground is completely cut from under the feet of unbelief, for his promise is, "Because I live, ye shall live also." If he lives, then the gospel is true, and the promises of the gospel are sure to all who believe in him. If he lives, then he lives to intercede for us; and, through his intercession, every covenant blessing is certain to come to us. Therefore, if we harbour unbelief in our hearts, we are doubly guilty; and if the Savior were here in bodily presence, though his face would still beam with infinite love to us, I am quite sure that he would, even in sterner tones than he used towards those eleven apostles, upbraid us because of our unbelief. If Thomas will not believe that Christ is risen until he has put his finger into the print of the nails in his hands, and thrust his hand into his Savior's wounded side, that is bad enough; but it is worse if you, who do believe that he is risen, and who do not doubt any one of the doctrines that he has taught you, still have unbelief mingled with the faith which you do possess. Whether that supposed faith is all true, or not, is more than I can say; but, with so much faith as you profess to have, how can you still continue to doubt? I want, in this discourse, to upbraid myself, and you also, for any unbelief that we may have harboured, by noticing, first, the evil of unbelief in itself; and, then, the evils that surely flow out of unbelief. I. First, then, I have to say to any of God's children who have given way to unbelief in any degree, YOUR UNBELIEF IS AN EVIL THING IN ITSELF. This truth will come very closely home to you if you will just think how you would feel if others disbelieved you. If anyone were to question your veracity, you would be very vexed; and if you made a promise to any man, and he expressed a doubt as to the fulfillment of it, you would feel hurt; but if those, with whom you are most closely connected, were to disbelieve you, you would feel still more grieved, for you expect absolute confidence from them. If mutual trust were taken away from any family, how unhappy the members of that family would be; the children suspecting the sincerity of their parents' love, the wife doubting the reality of her husband's affection, the husband dubious of his wife's faithfulness! Try to conceive, if you can, what it would be if those, who now call you friend, or child, or husband, or wife, or brother, or sister, should no longer accept what you say as being true. Suppose, also, that you were perfectly conscious that you had never broken your word to them, that you had faithfully kept every promise that you had made to them, and had been in all things honest, and true, and sincere, would you not feel their doubts and suspicions most, acutely? I am sure you would; they would touch the very apple of your eye, and cut you to the quick; you could not endure such treatment from them. Then, how can you mete out to the Lord Jesus Christ such treatment as would be so painful to yourself? And, further, how can you expect your child to trust you when you doubt your Savior? How can you look even to your wife for confidence in you when, if there be some little trouble, or things go somewhat awkwardly, you straightway begin to mistrust your God and Savior? Remember, too, that the sin of your unbelief may be measured by the excellence of the person whom you mistrust. I said, just now, that, if you were conscious of your absolute sincerity, you would be the more deeply wounded by the suspicion of those who doubted you. What think you then, of the sin of doubting Christ, who cannot lie, who is "the Truth" itself? I know, beloved, that you have a very high opinion of your Lord and Savior; do you not worship him as Divine? Do you not also feel his truly human sympathy? You know that there is no clause in his everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure, which he has not already fulfilled or which he will not fulfill at the appointed time. His incarnation, his life here below, his shameful sufferings, his vicarious death; all these he promised to undergo, and all these he performed in due season, and he will go right through, to the end, with the great work of your eternal salvation. By the mouth of his servant Jeremiah, the Lord asked, long ago, "Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness?" And the Lord Jesus might well say to his professed followers, "Have I been as the barren fig tree was to me when I found on it nothing but leaves?" As he points to the long list of his favors to us, he may well ask, "For which of them do you thus misjudge and mistrust me?" And when he spreads out the whole roll of his life and work before you, he may well enquire, "Upon which part of my life or work do you base your suspicions? What is there in my nature, as Divine and human, what is there in my character, what is there in my life below, or in my life above, that should lead you to question my faithfulness to you, my power to help you, my readiness to sympathize with you, my willingness to bless you!" Why, you are doubting him whom the angels adore and worship! You have felt, sometimes, as if you would like to wash his feet with your tears. How, then, can you ever insult him with your doubts? You have even said that you could die for him; and it has been your great ambition to live for him; yet you cannot trust him! If you have run with the footmen in the matter of these minor trials of your faith, and they have wearied you, what would you do if you had to contend with horsemen as many others have had to do in the day of martyrdom? And if, in the favorable circumstances in which you have been placed, you have doubted your Savior, what are you likely to do when you are in the swellings of Jordan? Ah, my brethren, when you think of unbelief as aiming her darts at Jesus Christ, the Well-beloved of our soul, surely you will say that it is a shameful sin, and a disgraceful crime against infinite love! Then, remember, beloved in the Lord, the relationship in which Jesus Christ stands to you. You know that, the more closely we are allied to a person, the more painful any suspicion on the part of that person becomes. I have repeatedly used, in this connection, the figure of a child's trust in a parent, a husband's trust in his wife, and the wife's trust in her husband; and you have readily accepted the comparisons because you have felt that the nearness of the relationship would involve a corresponding degree of trust. How near how very near we are in kinship to Christ! Are we not married to him? Has he not espoused us unto himself for ever? There is a conjugal union between Christ and his Church of which the marriage bond on earth is but a feeble type. Then, can you who have been renewed in heart by the Holy Spirit, and washed in the blood of the Lamb, doubt him whom your soul loveth? Can you distrust him to whom you are so closely allied? Oh, shame, shame, shame, that want of confidence should come in to mar such a wondrous union as that! But we are even more closely knit to Christ than the marriage union implies, for "we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones." I cannot explain that secret, mystical union of which the Scripture speaks; but it is a true union, whatever mystery there may be about it. Then, shall there be such disunion amongst the members of the body that the eye shall begin to doubt the heart, and the hand to mistrust the foot? It would be pitiful if such a state of things could prevail in our bodies; then, what must it be if such a state of things prevails among the members of the mystical body of Christ? Beloved, may God render this unbelief impossible by sending such life floods of grace through all the members of Christ's body that never more shall a single thought of mistrust of our glorious covenant Head enter our minds even for a single instant! Consider next, I pray you, dear friends, how many times some of us have doubted our Lord. The sin of unbelief becomes all the greater because it is so frequently committed. God be thanked that it is not so with all Christians: for there are some who walk in faith and dwell in faith. I suppose that, as birds fly over everybody's head, as doubts fly around all good men's minds; but our old proverb says, "You need not let birds build in your hair," although there are some people, who let doubts come and lodge in their minds, and even dwell in their hearts. We know some persons of this kind, who seem to be very easily led into despondency, and doubt, and mistrust of Christ. Well now, if a man has done this only once, I think he might well say to himself, "I did once question everlasting truth. I did once stain the spotless robe of infinite veracity with a dark blot of suspicion;" and I think that he might find it difficult to forgive himself for having done a thing so vile even once. But when it comes to many times, and when it comes to long periods of doubt and mistrust, it is still worse. I want to press this point home upon all whom it concerns, and I want your consciences to be wide awake, so that, as you recall the many times in which you have thus sinned against your Heavenly Father, and against his blessed Spirit, and against his Divine Son you may recollect that each distinct act of unbelief is a sin, each act of mistrust is another wounding of the Lord. God grant that we may truly repent as we think of the many times in which we have been thus guilty! Then there is this further point some of these actions have been repetitions of former ones. For instance, a man is in trouble, and he has doubts concerning the providence of God; but he is delivered, God is gracious to him, and helps him out of his difficulty. Well, now if he falls into a similar trouble, and if he is again guilty of harbouring doubt, this is far worse. If a man should doubt your word the first time you speak to him, you might say, "Well, he does not know me." The second time, you might say, "When he has proved me more, he will trust me." But what shall I say of those, whose hair has a sprinkling of grey in it, and whose Christian experience extends to a score of years, or more, perhaps, two score, possibly, three scores. Oh, if you doubt the Lord now, it will be a crying shame! It will not to surprising if some of us act thus, for so did Israel for forty years in the wilderness; but that does not mitigate the evil in our case. It is a desperately evil thing that God should be mistrusted over and over again, and that he should have to say, "How long will it be ere ye believe me?" I scarcely like to linger on such a sad theme; yet it does our hearts good to be thus upbraided; so, recollect that, oftentimes our unbelief has come in the teeth of our own assurance to the contrary. Do you not sometimes catch yourself saying, after a very great mercy, "Well, I never can doubt the Lord again"? When you have had an answer to prayer of a very memorable kind, you have said, "Oh, I must believe in the power of prayer now! For me ever to think that the Lord will deny me, must be impossible." Yes, in that respect also, we are just like the Israelites, who promised to keep the covenant, yet speedily broke it. There is also this aggravation of your sin; although you do not trust the Lord as you should, you do trust your fellow-creatures. You can believe that lie of the old serpent,
"The Lord hath forsaken thee quite; Thy God will be gracious no more;"
yet you cannot so readily believe the oath and promise of God. If an earthly friend were to say to you, "I will help you," how readily you would jump at his offer! If there be an arm of flesh near, how cheerfully you lean upon it; and, though, perhaps, there be nothing for you to stay yourself upon but a broken reed, you think it is a strong staff, and throw all your weight upon it. It is quite true that ungodly men, who have no faith, generally have any amount of credulity. They cannot believe the truth, but they can believe lies to any extent. So is it, alas! with God's own people when they get off the track of faith. They seem to become credulous concerning the things seen, which are temporal, in proportion as they become dubious of the things unseen, which are eternal. Is not this a sin of the greatest blackness? Thou canst not trust thy husband, but thou canst trust a flatterer who deceives thee! Thou canst not trust thy God, but thou makest idol gods unto thyself, and trustest to them. Thou canst not stay thyself on Jehovah, but thou canst stay thyself on Egypt. Thou canst stay thyself on the promise of man who is but as a moth which is soon crushed; but as for him who made the heavens and the earth, and all things that are, thou canst not rely upon him. I feel as if I could sit down and cover my face for shame, when I think of those occasions wherein I have been guilty of this sin. Perhaps the best thing we could all do would be to go home, and fall on our knees, and ask our blessed Savior to wash away all this unbelief, and not to believe us when we talk about doubting, but only to believe that, as he knows all things, he knows that, after all, we do trust him. II. Now, with great brevity, I have to speak upon the second point, which is, THE MANY EVILS WHICH COME OUT OF UNBELIEF TO THOSE OF US WHO LOVE THE LORD. Brethren and sisters, it is enough of evil if there were no more, that unbelief is so cruel to Christ and grieves his Holy Spirit so much. I should but repeat myself if I reminded you how mistrust grieves you; and, speaking after the manner of men, in the same fashion it grieves the Holy Spirit. He dwells in you; shall he dwell in you to be grieved by you? He assuages your grief; will you cause him grief? Your vexations vanish because he is the Comforter; will you vex the Comforter? And what can vex him more than suspecting the ever-faithful heart of Christ? That is evil enough, to wound Christ and the Holy Spirit. Next, remember, though this is a more selfish argument, how much unrest and misery unbelief has caused to yourself. You have never had half as many trials from God as you have manufactured for yourself. Death, which you so much dread, is nothing compared with the thousand deaths that you have died through the fear of death. You make a whip for yourself, and you mix bitter cups for yourself, by your unbelief. There is quite enough trial for you to bear, and God will help you to bear it; but you put away the helping hand when you are unbelieving, and then you increase your own burden. Oh, you can sing, even by the rivers of Babylon, if you have but faith! you may lie on your sick bed, and feel great pain; yet your spirit shall not smart, but shall dance away your pangs, if your heart be but looking in simple confidence to Christ; and you shall die, as the negro said his master died, "full of life," if you have true faith in Jesus. But if faith shall fail you, oh then you are distressed when there is no cause for distress, and full of fear where no fear is! And, then, how much you lose, in other things, besides happiness! A thousand promises are missed because there is not the faith to claim them. There are the caskets, and you have the keys; yet you do not put the keys into the locks to open them. There are Joseph's granaries, and you are hungry; but you do not go unto Joseph, and show your confidence in him by asking for what you need. Ye are not straitened in God, but in yourselves. If you believe not, you shall not be established, neither shall your prayers prevail, nor shall you grow in grace. If you believe not, your experience shall not be of that high and lofty kind that otherwise it might have been. We live down here in the marsh and the mist, when, had we faith, we might live in the everlasting sunshine. We are down below in the dungeons, fretting under imaginary chains, when the key of promise is in our bosom, which will open every door in Doubting Castle. If we will but use it, we may get away to the tops of the mountains, and see the New Jerusalem, and the land which is very far off. Further, unbelief weakens us for all practical purposes. What can the man who is unbelieving do? O brothers and sisters in Christ, it is a terrible thing to think how much work there is that falls flat because it is not done in faith. You saw the trees when they were covered with bloom; there seemed to be a promise of much fruit; but there were chilling winds, and sharp frosts, and so, perhaps, only one in a hundred of the blossoms ever turned to fruit. The tree of the Church seems, at times, covered with beauteous blossoms; what can be more lovely to the sight? But the blossoms do not knit faith is the bee that carries the pollen, it is faith that fructifies the whole, and makes it truly fruitful unto God. What might my sermons not have done had I believed my Master more? You, Sunday-school teacher, may say, "Had I taught in greater faith, I might have won my scholars." Or you may say, "Had I gone to my visitings of the poor and the sick in the strength of the Lord, who knows what I might have done for him?" Faith is the Nazarite lock of Samson; if it be shorn away, Samson is weak as other men. Then, as to suffering, wonderful is the power of faith there. If you are trusting your Heavenly Father, believing that all is right that seems most wrong, that everything that happens is ordered or permitted by him, and that his grace will sweeten every bitter cup, you can suffer patiently; and, as your tribulations abound, so will your consolations abound in Christ Jesus. Like the ark of Noah, as the waters deepen, you will rise upon them, and get nearer to heaven in proportion as the great floods increase. Unbelief, in any Christian, no doubt has a very injurious effect upon other Christians. There are some, who are like sickly sheep, which
"Infect the flock, And poison all the rest."
Especially is it so, dear brethren, if you happen to be in office in the church, or to be doing any prominent work for Christ. If the commander-in-chief trembles, the army is already conquered; if the captain begins to fear, fear will take possession of every soldier's heart in his company. Was it not grand of Paul, in the shipwreck, when all others were dismayed, and thought they should go to the bottom, but he said, "Have no fear, sirs," and he bade them eat, as he ate, calmly giving thanks to God before them all? Why, Paul saved them all by his calm confidence in God. If we have but faith, we shall strengthen our brethren; and if we have it not, we shall weaken them. I am sure, too, that the influence of unbelief in Christians, upon the unconverted, is very serious indeed. If we do not play the man in times of trial, if we do not show them what faith in God can do, they will think that there is nothing in it. And suppose, brethren, you should make anyone think there is nothing in religion, how sad that would be! When the devil wants a friend, surely he could not find one more able to do him service than a child of God who is full of mistrust. The children say, "Our father only trusts God for bread when there is plenty in the cupboard." And the servants say, "The master is only happy in the Lord when he is in good health." And those who know our business affairs say, "Oh, yes! So-and-so is a great believer; but, then, he has a big balance at his banker's; you should see him when trade is bad; you should see him when there are bad debts; and you will find that he is not a bit more a believer in Jesus Christ than any of the rest of us. He is a fair-weather Christian; he is like the flowers that open when the sun shines; but take away the summer prosperity, and you will see but little of his religion." Let it not be so with any of us, but may God deliver us from this tremendous evil of unbelief!
For more than a century, Spurgeon's sermons have been consistently recognized, and their usefulness and impact have continued to the present day, even in the outdated English of the author's own time.
You may ask, "Why then should expositions already so successful and of such stature and proven usefulness require adaptation, revision, rewrite or even editing? The answer is obvious. To increase its usefulness to today's reader, the language in which it was originally written needs updating.
Though his sermons have served other generations well, just as they came from the pen of the author in the nineteenth century, they still could be lost to present and future generations, simply because, to them, the language is neither readily nor fully understandable.
My goal, however, has not been to reduce the original writing to the vernacular of our day. It is designed primarily for you who desire to listen and study comfortably and at ease in the language of our time. Only obviously archaic terminology and passages obscured by expressions not totally familiar in our day have been revised. However, neither Spurgeon's meaning nor intent have been tampered with.
June 5th, 1864 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
This updated and revised manuscript is copyrighted ã 1998 by Tony Capoccia. All rights reserved.
"He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." Mark 16:15-16
In the preceding verse to the one I just read, we find our Lord Jesus Christ giving us some insight into the natural character, of the apostles whom he selected to be the first ministers of the Word. They were apparently men of like passions with us, and needed to be rebuked even as we do. When our Lord sent out the Eleven Apostles to preach the gospel to every creature, he "appeared to them as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen" (Mark 16:14 ). From this rebuke we can certainly conclude that to preach the Word, the Lord was contented to choose imperfect men; men, who in themselves, were very weak in the grace of faith, that very important quality which they should have excelled in.
Faith is the conquering grace, and is of all things the main prerequisite in the preacher of the Word; and yet the honored men who were chosen to be the leaders of the divine crusade needed a rebuke concerning their unbelief. Why was this? Why, my brethren? because the Lord has ordained evermore that we should have this treasure in jars of clay, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us. If you should find a perfect minister, then the praise and honor of his usefulness might accrue to man; but God is often pleased to select for eminent usefulness men who are obviously honest and sincere, but who have some evident weakness by which all the glory is taken away from them and laid upon God, and upon God alone.
Let it never be assumed that we who are God's ministers either excuse our faults or pretend to perfection. We labor to walk in holiness, but we cannot claim to be all that we wish to be. We do not base the claims of God's truth upon the spotlessness of our characters, but upon the fact that it comes from him. You have believed in spite of our weaknesses, and not because of our virtues; if, indeed, you had believed our word because of our supposed perfection, your faith would stand in the excellency of man and not in the power of God. We often come to you with much trembling, grieving over our foolishness and weaknesses, but we deliver to you God's Word as God's Word, and we implore you to receive it, not as coming from us poor, sinful mortals, but as proceeding from the Eternal, Holy and Triune God; and if you receive it this way, and by its own vital force are moved and stirred up towards God and his ways, then the work of the Word has been accomplished, which it could not and would not be if it rested in any way upon man. Our Lord, after he had given us an insight into the character of the persons, whom he had chosen to proclaim his truth, then goes on to deliver to the chosen champions, their commission for the Holy War. I ask that you note the words with solemn care. He sums up in a few words the totality of their work, and at the same time foretells the result of it, telling them that some would doubtless believe and so be saved, and some on the other hand would not believe and would most certainly, therefore, be damned, that is, condemned forever to the punishment of God's wrath.
The lines containing the commission of our ascended Lord are certainly of the utmost importance, and demand devout attention and implicit obedience, not only from all who aspire to the work of the ministry, but also from all who hear the message of mercy. A clear understanding of these words is absolutely necessary to our success in our Master's work, for if we do not understand the commission, then it is not at all likely that we will carry it out properly. To alter these words would be more than impertinence, it would involve the crime of treason against the authority of Christ and the best interests of the souls of men. O for grace to be very watchful here. Wherever the apostles went they met with obstacles to the preaching of the gospel, and the more open and effectual was the door of utterance the more numerous were the adversaries. These brave men wielded the sword of the Spirit and put to flight all their foes; and this they did not by skill and deception, but by making a direct cut at the error which confronted them. Never did they dream for a moment of adapting the gospel to the impure tastes or prejudices of the people, but at once directly and boldly they brought down with both their hands the mighty sword of the Spirit into the center of the opposing error.
Now, this morning, in the name of the Lord of Hosts, my Helper and Defense, I will attempt to do the same; and if I should provoke some hostility if I should, through speaking what I believe to be the truth, lose the friendship of some and stir up the hatred of others, I cannot help it. The burden of the Lord is upon me, and I must deliver my soul. I have been reluctant to undertake the work, but I am forced to it by an awful and overwhelming sense of solemn duty. As I am soon to appear before my Master's court, I will this day, if ever in my life, bear my testimony for truth, and run all risks. I am content to be thrown out as evil if it must be so, but I cannot, I dare not, hold my peace. The Lord knows I have nothing in my heart but the purest love for the souls of those whom I feel urgently called to rebuke sternly in the Lord's name.
Among those who hear this sermon, a considerable number will criticize if not condemn me, but I cannot help it. If I forfeit your love for the sake of truth, then I am grieved for you, but I cannot, I dare not, do otherwise. My soul will not allow me to hold my peace any longer, and whether you approve or not I must speak out. Did I ever seek your approval? It is sweet to everyone to be applauded; but if for the sake of the comforts of respectability and the smiles of men any Christian minister will keep back a part of his testimony, his Master in the end will require an accounting. This day, standing in the immediate presence of God, I will speak honestly what I feel, as the Holy Spirit will enable me; and I will leave the matter with you to judge concerning it, as you will answer for that judgment at the last great day. I find that the great error which we have to contend with throughout our country (and it is growing more and more), is one in direct opposition to my text, well known to you as the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. We will confront this doctrine with the assertion, that BAPTISM WITHOUT FAITH SAVES NO ONE. The text says, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;" but whether a man is baptized or not, it asserts that "whoever does not believe will be condemned," so that baptism does not save the unbeliever, no, it does not in any degree exempt him from the common doom of all the ungodly. He may be baptized, or he may not be baptized, but if he does not believe, then he will most certainly be damned. Let him be baptized by immersion or sprinkling, in his infancy, or in his adult life, regardless, if he has not put his trust in Jesus Christ if he remains an unbeliever, then this terrible doom is pronounced upon him "Whoever does not believe will be condemned."
I am not aware that any Protestant Church in England teaches the doctrine of baptismal regeneration except one, and that happens to be the denomination, which without much humility calls itself the Church of England. This very powerful denomination does not teach this doctrine merely through a small portion of its ministers, who might be considered as evil branches of the vine, but it openly, boldly, and plainly declares this doctrine in her own appointed standard, the Book of Common Prayer, and with words so clear, that no one could ever doubt the plain meaning of those words nor make them say anything else. Here are the words: we quote them from the Catechism which is intended for the instruction of young people, and is naturally very plain and simple, since it would be foolish to trouble the young with abstract statements. The child is asked its name, and then questioned, "Who gave you this name?" "My godfathers and godmothers in my baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven." Isn’t this definite and plain enough? I value the words for their candor; they could not speak more clearly. Three times it is said, lest there should be any doubt about it. The word regeneration may, by some sort of juggling, be made to mean something else, but here there can be no misunderstanding. The child is not only made "a member of Christ" but he is made in baptism "the child of God" also; and, since the rule is, "if children then heirs," he is also made "an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven." Nothing can be more plain. I venture to say that while honesty remains on earth the meaning of these words will never be disputed.
It is as clear as the noonday sun, that, the rule of the Church of England states, "Fathers, mothers, and masters, are to cause their children, servants, and helpers," no matter how idle, giddy, or wicked they may be, to cause them to learn the Catechism, and to say that in baptism they were made members of Christ and children of God.
The formal prayer required to be recited with the administration of this baptism is just as plain and outspoken, seeing that thanks are expressly given to Almighty God, because the person baptized is regenerate. "Then the priest will say, 'Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this child is regenerate and grafted into the body of Christ's Church, let us give thanks unto Almighty God for these benefits; and with one accord make our prayers unto him, that this child may lead the rest of his life according to this beginning.'" Nor is this all, for there is no mistake as to what is meant here, we have the words of the thanksgiving prescribed, "Then the priest will say, 'We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it has pleased thee to regenerate this infant with thy Holy Spirit, to receive him for thine own child by adoption, and to incorporate him into thy holy Church.'" This, then, is the clear and unmistakable teaching of the Church of England. I am not dealing at all with the question of infant baptism: I will have nothing to do with that this morning. I am now considering the question of baptismal regeneration, that is, can a person be saved by baptism, whether they adults or infants, or have been baptized by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. Here we have a Church which teaches every Lord's day in the Sunday-school, and should, according to their own rules, teach openly in the Church, that all children were made members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven when they were baptized! Here is a allegedly Protestant Church, which, every time its minister goes to the baptismal font, declares that every person receiving baptism is then and there "regenerated and grafted into the body of Christ's Church." "But," then I hear many good people assert, that "there are many good ministers in the Church of England who do not believe in baptismal regeneration." To this my answer is prompt. Why then do they belong to a Church which clearly teaches that doctrine? I am told that many in the Church of England preach against her own teaching. I know they do, and I rejoice in their wisdom, but I question, gravely question their ethics. To take an oath which requires me to honestly agree and consent to a doctrine which I do not believe, would to my conscience appear to be much like perjury, if not downright lying; but those who do so must be judged by their own Lord. For me to take money for defending what I do not believe for me to take the money from a Church, and then to clearly preach against its doctrines I say for me to do this, or for any other honest man to do so, would be a great atrocity. In fact, I would consider myself a man who lacked truthfulness, honesty, and common decency.
I say to the Elders of this Church, that when I accepted the office of minister of this congregation, I reviewed your articles of faith; if I had not believed them I would not have accepted your call, and if I ever change my opinions, you can be assured, that as an honest man I will resign the office, for how could I profess one thing in your declaration of faith, and quite another in my own preaching? Would I accept your pay, and then stand up every Sunday and talk against your doctrines? For ministers to swear or say that they give their solemn agreement and consent to what they do not believe is one of the grossest pieces of evil perpetrated in England, and is most deadly in its influence, since it directly teaches men to lie whenever it seems necessary to do so, in order to make a living or increase their supposed usefulness: it is in fact an open testimony from priestly lips that at least in ecclesiastical matters: lies may express truth, and truth itself is simply unimportant.
I know of nothing that can cause the loss of public trust more than a lack of truthfulness in ministers. When worldly men hear ministers denouncing the very things which their own Church doctrine teaches, then they assume that words have no meaning among ministers, and that vital differences in religion are merely a matter of tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum, and that it does not really matter what a man believes as long as he is charitable towards other people.
If baptism does, in fact, regenerate and save people, then let the fact be preached with a loud voice, and let no man be ashamed of his belief in it. If this is really their belief, then by all means let them have full liberty in its propagation. My brethren, those are honest ministers, who in this matter, uphold the doctrines of the Church, believing in baptismal regeneration, and plainly preach it. God forbid that we should condemn those who believe that baptism saves the soul, because they adhere to a Church which teaches the same doctrine.
Let us oppose their teaching by all Scriptural and intelligent means, but let us respect their courage in plainly giving us their views. I hate their doctrine, but I love their honesty; and because they speak what they believe to be true, then let them speak out, and the more clearly the better. Out with it, sirs, be it what it may, please let us know what you mean. For I love to stand foot to foot with an honest opponent. In open warfare, bold and honest hearts never object to being in disagreement. But it is the dishonest enemy which we must fear the most, and have the best reason to detest. That crafty kindness which lures me to sacrifice my principle is the snake in the grass deadly to the unwary traveler. It is time that we should put an end to the association of honest men with those who believe one way and swear another. If men believe baptism saves people, then let them say so; but if they do not so believe it in their hearts, but continue to receive pay because they declare that they believe in all the Church’s doctrine, then let them find associates among men who can lie and mislead, for honest men will neither ask for, nor accept their friendship. We ourselves are not unsure on this point, we declare that persons are not saved by being baptized. In such an audience as this, I am almost ashamed to go into the matter, because you surely know better than to be misled. Nevertheless, for the good of others we will discuss it.
We firmly believe that persons are not saved by baptism, for we understand, first of all, that it appears completely out of character with the spiritual religion, which Christ came to teach, that he should make salvation depend upon mere ceremony.
Judaism might possibly accept the ceremony as being essential to eternal life; for it was a religion of rituals and ceremony. The false religions of the heathen might teach salvation by a physical process, but Jesus Christ claims for his faith that it is purely spiritual, and how could he connect regeneration with a particular application of water to the body? I cannot see how it would be a spiritual gospel, but I can see how it would be mechanical: if I were sent out to teach that the mere dropping of so many drops of water upon the forehead, or the plunging of a person in water could save the soul. This seems to me to be the most mechanical religion now existing, and to be on a par with the praying windmills of Tibet, or the climbing up and down of Pilate's staircase to which Luther subjected himself in the days of his darkness.
The operation of water-baptism does not appear even to my faith to touch the point involved in the regeneration of the soul. What is the necessary connection between water and the overcoming of sin? I cannot see any connection which can exist between sprinkling, or immersion, and regeneration, so that the one will necessarily be tied to the other in the absence of faith. Without faith or even consciousness, as in the case of babies, how can spiritual benefits be connected necessarily with the sprinkling of water? If this is your teaching, that regeneration is a result of baptism, I say it looks like the teaching of a false Church, which has cleverly invented a mechanical salvation to deceive ignorant, and carnal minds, rather than the teaching of the most profoundly spiritual of all teachers, who rebuked Scribes and Pharisees for regarding outward rites as more important than inward grace. But it strikes me that a more forcible argument is that the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration is not supported by facts.
Is every person who is baptized a child of God?
Well, let us look at the divine family. Let us note their resemblance to their glorious Parent! Am I untruthful if I say that thousands of those who were baptized as infants are now in our jails and prisons? You can verify the fact if you please, by asking prison authorities. Do you believe that these men, many of whom have been living lives of felony, burglary, or forgery, are regenerate? If so, the Lord deliver us from such regeneration. Are these criminals members of Christ? If so, Christ has been sadly altered since the day when he was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. Has he really taken baptized drunkards and prostitutes to be members of his body? Don’t you revolt at the idea? It is a well-known fact that baptized persons have been hanged. Surely it can hardly be right to hang the inheritors of the kingdom of heaven! Our sheriffs have much to answer for when they officiate at the execution of the children of God, and suspend the members of Christ on the gallows!
What a detestable farce it is, when at the graveside, "a dear brother" who has died drunk is buried with a "sure and certain hope of the resurrection of eternal life," and the prayer is read, that "when we will depart this life we may rest in Christ, just as our dear departed brother does." Here is a regenerate brother, who having defiled the society by constant wickedness and savage drunkenness, died without a sign of repentance, and yet the professed minister of God solemnly accords him funeral rites which are denied to unbaptized babies, and puts the reprobate into the earth with the "sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life."
Do we find we who baptize on profession of faith, and baptize by immersion in a way which is confessed to be correct do we who baptize in the name of the sacred Trinity as others do, do we find that baptism regenerates? We do not. Neither in the righteous nor the wicked do we find regeneration brought about by baptism. We have never met one believer, however instructed in divine things, who could trace his salvation to his baptism; and on the other hand, we confess it with sorrow, but still with no surprise, that we have seen those whom we have baptized ourselves, according to apostolic precedent, go back into the world and wander into the foulest sin, and their baptism has scarcely been a restraint to them, because they have not believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Facts all show that whatever good there may be in baptism, it certainly does not make a man "a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven," or else many thieves, prostitutes, drunkards, fornicators, and murderers, are members of Christ, the children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. Facts, brethren, are against this Roman Catholic doctrine; and facts are stubborn things. Yet I am further persuaded that the actual act of baptism prescribed by the Church is not at all likely to regenerate and save.
How is the baptism done? One is very curious to know when one hears of an procedure which makes men members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven, exactly how it is done. It must in itself be a holy thing truthful in all its details, and edifying in every portion. Now, we will assume we have a group gathered around the water, and the process of regeneration is about to be performed. We would assume all of them to be godly people. The minister officiating is a profound believer in the Lord Jesus, and the father and mother are model Christians, and the godfathers and godmothers are all gracious persons. We will, in love, assume this and it may even be a correct assumption. What are these godly people supposed to say? Let us look to the Church’s Prayer Book.
The minister is suppose to tell these people, "You have heard that our Lord Jesus Christ has promised in his gospel to grant all these things that you have prayed for: which he promised, and will most surely keep and perform. Wherefore, after this promise made by Christ, this infant must also faithfully, on his part, promise, by you, his representatives (until he comes of age to take it upon himself) that he will renounce the devil and all his works, and constantly believe God's holy Word, and obediently keep his commandments."
This small child is to promise to do this, or more truly others are to take upon themselves to promise, and even vow that he will do so. But we must not break the quotation, and therefore let us return to the Church’s Prayer Book, it continues, "I demand therefore, that you, in the name of this child, renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh, so that you will not follow, nor be led by them?" The godparents answer "I renounce them all." That is to say, on the name and behalf of this tender infant about to be baptized, these godly people, these enlightened Christian people, these who know better, who are not fools, who know all the while that they are promising impossibilities renouncing on behalf of this child what they find very difficult to renounce in themselves "all covetous desires of the world and the carnal desires of the flesh, so that they will not follow nor be led by them."
How can they harden their faces to utter such a false promise, such a mockery before the presence of the Almighty Father? Most likely angels weep as they hear the awful promise uttered! Then in the presence of heaven they profess on behalf of this child that he faithfully believes the creed, when they know, or might intelligently judge that the little creature is not yet a faithful believer in anything, much less in Christ. Note, they do not merely say that the baby will believe the creed, but they affirm that he does, for they answer in the child's name, "All this I faithfully believe.” They don’t say, “we faithfully believe," but I, the little baby there, unconscious of all their professions and confessions of faith.
In answer to the question, "Will you be baptized in this faith?" they reply for the infant, "That is my desire." Surely the infant has no desire in the matter, and no one has been authorized to declare any desires on his behalf. But this is not all, for then these godly, intelligent people next promise on the behalf of the infant, that "he will obediently keep all God's holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of his life." Now, I ask you, dear friends, you who know what true religion means, can you walk in all God's holy commandments yourselves? Do you dare make this vow on your own part, that you would renounce the devil and all his works, the attractions and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh? Dare you, before God, make such a promise as that? You desire such holiness, you earnestly strive after it, but you look for it from God's promise, not from your own. If you dare make such vows I doubt your knowledge of your own hearts and of the spirituality of God’s law. But even if you could do this for yourself, would you venture to make such a promise for any other person? For the best-born infant on earth? Come, brethren, what do you say?
I can understand a simple, ignorant farmer, who has never learned to read, doing all of this at the command of a priest. I can even understand persons doing this when the Reformation was in its beginning, and men had barely crept out of the darkness of Roman Catholicism; but I cannot understand gracious, godly people, standing at the baptismal font, insulting the all-gracious Father with vows and promises based on fiction and lies. How can intelligent believers in Christ, dare to utter words, which they know in their conscience to be wicked and opposed to truth? I have a confirmed belief that the God of truth never did and never will confirm a spiritual blessing of the highest order in connection with the utterance of such false promises and untruthful vows. My brethren, does it not strike you that declarations so fictitious are not likely to be connected with a new birth brought about by the Spirit of truth? I have not finished with this point yet, I want us to look at another example. Suppose the sponsors and others are ungodly, and that is not a difficult assumption, for in many cases we know that godfathers and parents have no more thought of religion than that idolatrous baptismal font which they gather around. When these sinners have taken their places, what are they about to say? Why, they are about to make the solemn vows I have already recounted to you! They are totally irreligious, but yet they promise for the baby what they never did, and never thought of doing for themselves they promise on behalf of this child, "that he will renounce the devil and all his works, and constantly believe God's holy Word, and obediently keep his commandments."
My brethren, do not think I that I am speaking too harshly. I really think there is something here to cause devils to mock Christianity. Let every honest man grieve, that God's Church should tolerate such a thing as this, and that there should be found gracious people who will feel grieved because I, in all kindness of heart, rebuke the atrocity. Unregenerate sinners promising for a poor baby that he will keep all of God's holy commandments, which they themselves flagrantly break every day! How can anything but the patience of God endure this? What! Do you expect me not to speak against it? The very stones in the street would cry out against the disgrace of wicked men and women, promising that another should renounce the devil and all his works, while they themselves serve the devil and do his works with greediness! As a climax to all of this, I am asked to believe that God accepts that wicked promise, and as the result of it, regenerates that child. You cannot believe in regeneration by this procedure, regardless of whether saints or sinners are the performers. If they are godly, then they are wrong for doing what their conscience must condemn. If they are ungodly, then they are wrong for promising what they know they cannot perform; and in either case, God cannot accept such worship, much less provide spiritual regeneration through such a baptism as this. But you will say "Why do you preach out against it?" I preach out against it because I believe that baptism does not save the soul, and that the preaching of such a doctrine has a wrong and evil influence upon men and women. We meet with persons who, when we tell them that they must be born again, assure us that they were born again when they were baptized. The number of these persons is increasing, fearfully increasing, until all levels of society are misled by this belief. How can any man stand up in his pulpit and say “You must be born again” to his congregation, when he has already assured them, by his own "genuine approval and consent" to it, that they are themselves, every one of them, born again in baptism. What is he to do with them? Why, my dear friends, the gospel then has no voice; they have rammed this ceremony down its throat and it cannot any longer speak to rebuke sin. The man who has been baptized or sprinkled says, "I am saved, I am a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. Who are you, that you should rebuke me? Who are you that you would call me to repentance? And call me to a new life? What better life can I have? for I am a member of Christ a part of Christ's body. What! rebuke me? I am a child of God. Can’t you see it in my face? No matter what my walk and conversation is, I am a child of God. Moreover, I am an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. It is true, that I drink and swear, and all of that, but you know I am an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven, for when I die, though I live in constant sin, you will put me in the grave, and tell everybody that I died with a sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life." Now, I ask you, what can be the result of such preaching as this upon our beloved England? Upon my dear and blessed country? The result would be the worst of evils? If I did not love her, but loved myself more, then I might be silent here, but, loving England, I cannot and dare not; and having soon to render an account before my God, whose servant I hope I am, I must free myself from this evil as well as from every other, or else on my head may be the doom of souls. Now, let me bring in another point. It is a most fearful fact, that in no age since the Reformation has the Roman Catholic Church made such fearful strides in England as during the last few years.
I had comfortably believed that Roman Catholicism was only feeding itself upon foreign converts, upon a few christened perverts, and imported monks and nuns. I dreamed that its progress was not real. In fact, I have often smiled at the alarm of many of my brethren at the progress of Roman Catholicism. But, my dear friends, we have been mistaken, grievously mistaken. If you will read a valuable article in the magazine called "Christian Work," those of you who are not acquainted with it will be perfectly startled at its revelations. This great city is now covered with a network of monks, and priests, and sisters of mercy, and the conversions made are not by ones or twos, but by scores, till England is being regarded as the most hopeful spot for Roman Catholic missionary enterprise in the whole world; and at the present moment there is not a mission which is succeeding anything like the extent to which the English mission is. I do not covet their money, I despise their tricky reasoning, but I marvel at the way in which they gain their funds for the erection of their ecclesiastical buildings.
It really is an alarming matter to see so many of our countrymen going off to that superstition which as a nation we once rejected, and which it was supposed we would never receive it again. Roman Catholicism is making advances such as you would never believe. Close to your very doors, perhaps even in your own houses, you may have evidence of what a progression Catholicism is making. And to what can it be ascribed to? I say, with every ground of probability, that it is no marvel that Roman Catholicism should increase when you have two things to make it grow: first of all, the lie of those who profess a faith which they do not believe, which is quite contrary to the honesty of the Roman Catholic, who does, no matter what, hold to his faith; and then you have, secondly, this form of error known as baptismal regeneration. You have this baptismal regeneration preparing stepping-stones to make it easy for men and women to step into Roman Catholicism. I only have to open my eyes a little to predict that Roman Catholicism will become rampant everywhere in the future, since its germs are spreading everywhere in the present. Last Tuesday, in one of our courts of legislature, the Lord Chief Justice showed his superstition, by speaking of "the risk of the calamity of children dying unbaptized!" Among the Protestants, you see a veneration for structures, a modified belief in the sacredness of places, which is idolatry; for to believe in the sacredness of anything but of God and of his own Word, is to idolize, whether it is to believe in the sacredness of the men, the priests, or in the sacredness of the bricks and mortar, or of the fine linen, or what not, which you may use in the worship of God. I see this everywhere a belief in ceremony, a resting in ceremony, a veneration for altars, baptismal fonts, and Churches a veneration so profound that if we even attempt to speak out against it, then we are quickly regarded as the chief of sinners.
Here is the essence and soul of Roman Catholicism, being dressed up in the clothing of decent respect for sacred things. It is impossible to stop the spread of the Roman Catholic Church, when we who are the watchdogs of the fold are silent, and others are gently and smoothly preparing the road, and making it as soft and smooth as possible, that converts may travel down to the lowest hell of Catholicism. We need John Knox back again. Do not talk to me of mild and gentle men, of soft manners and modest words, we want the fiery Knox, and even though his passion would turn our pulpits into swords, it would be good if he stimulated our hearts to action. We want Luther to tell men the unmistakable truth, in simple language. Lately, our ministers mouths have become lined with velvet, but we must remove the soft fabric, and truth must be spoken, and nothing but truth. Of all the lies which have dragged millions down to hell, I look upon this as being one of the most atrocious that in a Protestant Church there should be found those who swear that baptism saves the soul. Call a man a Baptist, or a Presbyterian, or a Dissenter from the Church of England, or a Minister, that is nothing to me if he says that baptism saves the soul, then out with him, out with him, he states what God never taught, what the Bible never laid down, and what ought never to be perpetuated by men who profess that the Bible, and the whole Bible, is the religion of Protestants. I have spoken a lot on this subject, and there will be some who will say, that I have spoken with bitterness. Very well, let it be so. Medicine is often bitter, but it will work the healing, and the physician is not bitter because his medicine is; or if he is considered bitter, it will not matter, so long as the patient is cured. No matter what the situation is, it is no business of the patient whether the physician is bitter or not, his business is with the heath of his own soul. There is the truth, and I have told it to you; and if there is one among you, who is resting on baptism, or resting upon ceremonies of any sort, I beg you, shake off this venomous faith into the fire as Paul did the viper which fastened on his hand. I pray that you do not rest on baptism.
"No outward forms can make you clean, The leprosy lies deep within."
I do plead with you to remember that you must have a new heart and a right spirit, and that baptism cannot give you these. You must turn from your sins and follow after Christ; you must have a faith that will make your life holy and your speech devout, or else you do not have the faith of God's elect, and therefore you will never come into God's kingdom. I pray that you never rest upon this wretched and rotten foundation, this deceitful invention of antichrist. O, may God save you from it, and bring you to seek the true rock of refuge for weary souls. In the second place, I come with much brevity, and I hope with much earnestness, to say that FAITH IS THE INDISPENSABLE REQUIREMENT FOR SALVATION. "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."
Faith is the one indispensable requirement for salvation. This faith is the gift of God. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. Some men do not believe in Jesus; they do not believe because they are not Christ's sheep, as he himself said to them; but his sheep will listen to his voice: he knows them and they will follow him: he gives to them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one can snatch them out of his hand.
What is this believing? Believing consists in two things; first there is an acceptance of the testimony of God concerning his Son.
God tells you that his Son came into the world and was made flesh, that he lived upon earth for men's sake, that after having spent his life in holiness he was offered up as a propitiation for sin, that on the cross he then and there made atonement made atonement for the sins of the world that "Whosoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life." If you want to be saved, you must accept this testimony which God gives concerning his own Son.
Having received this testimony, the next thing to do is to trust in it.
Indeed here lies, I think, the essence of saving faith, to base your eternal salvation upon the atonement and the righteousness of Jesus Christ, to forever forsake all reliance upon feelings or upon works, and to trust in Jesus Christ and in what he did for your salvation. This is faith, receiving the truth of Christ: first, knowing it to be true, and then acting upon that belief. Such a faith as this such real faith as this makes the man from this time on, hate sin. How can he love the thing which made the Savior bleed? It makes him live in holiness. How can he but seek to honor that God who has loved him so much, as to give his Son to die for him. This faith is spiritual in its nature and effects; it operates upon the entire man; it changes his heart, enlightens his judgment, and subdues his will; it subjects him to God's supremacy, and makes him receive God's Word as a little child, willing to receive the truth as spoken by the divine One; it sanctifies his intellect, and makes him willing to be taught God's Word; it cleanses within; it makes clean the inside of the cup and platter, and it beautifies the outside; it cleanses the exterior conduct and the inner motive, so that the man, if his faith is true and genuine, becomes forever more, a different man then he ever was before. I believe it is reasonable that such a faith as this can save a soul; yes, in fact, I am absolutely certain, for we have seen men and women saved by it in this church. We have seen the harlot lifted out of the hellish ditch of her sin, and made an honest woman; we have seen the thief reclaimed; we have known drunkards in hundreds of cases, to be made sober; we have observed faith working such changes, that all the neighbors who have seen it have gazed and admired, even though they hated it; we have seen faith deliver men in the hour of temptation, and help them to consecrate themselves and their body to God; we have seen, and still hope to yet see more widely, deeds of heroic consecration to God and public witnessing against the common current of the times, which have proved to us that faith does affect the man, does save the soul.
My friends, if you want to be saved, you must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Let me urge you with all my heart to look nowhere but to the crucified Christ for your salvation. Oh! if you rest on any ceremony, even though it is not baptism if you rest on any other than Jesus Christ, you must perish, as surely as this Bible is true. I pray that you do not believe every spirit, and even if I, or an angel from heaven, would preach any other doctrine than this, let him be accursed, for this, and this alone, is the soul-saving truth which will regenerate the world "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved." Away with all the relics, wax candles, and vestments of Catholicism! away with all the splendid ceremony of the Roman Catholic Church! away with all the baptismal fonts! We invite you to turn your eyes to that naked cross, where hangs, as a bleeding man, the Son of God.
"None but Jesus, none but Jesus Can do helpless sinners any good."
There is life to be found when we look at the crucified; there is life at this moment for you. In any among you can believe in the great love of God towards man in Christ Jesus, then you will be saved. If you can believe that our great Father in heaven desires us to come to him that he pants for us that he calls us every day with the loud voice of his Son's wounds; if you can believe now that in Christ there is pardon for past sins, and cleansing for years to come; if you can trust him to save you, then you already have the marks of regeneration. The work of salvation is begun in you, so far as the Spirit's work is concerned: it is finished in you so far as Christ's work is concerned.
O, I plead with you embrace Jesus Christ. This is the foundation: build on it. This is the rock of refuge: fly to it. I pray that you fly to it now. Life is short: time speeds with eagle's-wing. Swift as the dove pursued by the hawk, fly, fly poor sinner, to God's dear Son; now touch the hem of his garment; now look into that dear face, once marred with sorrows for you; look into those eyes, once shedding tears for you. Trust him, and if you find him false, then you must perish; but false you never will find him while this word stands true, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." God give us this vital, essential faith, without which there is no salvation. It makes no difference if you were baptized, re-baptized, circumcised, confirmed, received all the sacraments, and buried in consecrated ground yet, you will all perish unless you believe in him. The word is explicit and plain he that believes not may plead that his baptism saved him, he may plead anything he likes, "But whoever does not believe will be condemned;" for there is nothing for him but the wrath of God, the flames of hell, eternal damnation. So Christ declares, and so it must be. But now to close, there are some who say, "Ah! but baptism is in the text; where do you put that?" That will be our last point, and then we will be done. THE BAPTISM IN THE TEXT IS CLEARLY CONNECTED WITH FAITH. "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved."
It strikes me, that there is no presumption here, that it is not presumed that anybody would be baptized who did not believe; or, if there is such a assumption, it is very clearly laid down that his baptism will be of no use to him, for he will be damned, baptized or not, unless he believes. The baptism of the text seems to me my brethren, if you differ from me I am sorry for it, but I must hold my opinion and express it it seems to me that baptism is connected with, no, directly follows belief. I would not insist too much upon the order of the words, but for other reasons, I think that baptism should follow believing. At any rate it effectually avoids the error we have been combating. A man who knows that he is saved by believing in Christ does not, when he is baptized, lift his baptism into a saving ordinance. In fact, he is the very best protester against that mistake, because he holds that he has no right to be baptized until he is saved. He bears a testimony against baptismal regeneration in his being baptized as an already regenerate person. Brethren, the baptism here meant is a baptism connected with faith, and to this baptism I will admit there is very much ascribed in Scripture. Into that question I am not going; but I do find some very remarkable passages in which baptism is spoken of very strongly. I find this “Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” I find as much as this elsewhere; I know that believer's baptism itself does not wash away sin, yet it is the outward sign and emblem of it to the believer, that the thing visible may be described as the thing signified. Just as our Savior said "This is my body," when it was not his body, but bread; yet, inasmuch as it represented his body, it was fair and right, according to the usage of language to say, "Take, eat, this is my body." And so, inasmuch as baptism to the believer represents the washing away of sin it may be called the washing away of sin not that it is so, but that it is to saved souls the outward symbol and representation of what is done by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the man or woman who believes in Christ. What connection does this baptism have with faith? I think it has just this, baptism is the confession of faith.
The man was Christ's soldier, but now in baptism he puts on his uniform and insignia. The man believed in Christ, but his faith remained between God and his own soul. In baptism he says to the baptizer, "I believe in Jesus Christ;" he says to the Church, "I unite with you as a believer in the common truths of Christianity;" he says to the onlooker, "Whatever you may do, as for me, I will serve the Lord." It is the confession of his faith. Next, we think baptism is also to the believer a testimony of his faith.
In baptism, he tells the world what he believes. "I am about," he says, "to be buried in water. I believe that the Son of God was symbolically baptized in suffering: I believe he was literally dead and buried." In baptism, the rising of the person out of the water, declares to all men that he believes in the resurrection of Christ. There is a picture in the Lord's Supper of Christ's death, and there is a picture in baptism of Christ's burial and resurrection. It is a type, a sign, a symbol, a mirror to the world: a mirror in which religion is reflected. We say to the onlooker, when he asks what is the meaning of this ordinance, "It is meant to show you that we believe that Christ was buried, and that he rose again from the dead, and we earnestly declare this death and resurrection to be the basis of our trust." Again, baptism is also Faith taking her proper place.
It is, or should be one of the first acts of obedience. Reason looks at baptism, and says, "Perhaps there is nothing in it; it cannot do me any good." "True," says Faith, "and therefore I will observe it. If it did me some good my selfishness would make me do it, but inasmuch as to my sense there is no good in it, since I am commanded by my Lord to fulfil all righteousness, it is my first public declaration that a thing which looks to be unreasonable and seems to be unprofitable, being commanded by God, is law, is law to me. If my Master had told me to pick up six stones and lay them in a row I would do it, without asking him, “What good will it do?” Why? (Cui bono?) is not a fit question for soldiers of Jesus. The very simplicity and apparent uselessness of the ordinance should make the believer say, “Therefore I will do it because it becomes a better test to me, a test of my obedience to my Master.” When you tell your servant to do something, and he cannot understand why, if he turns around and says, "Please, sir, what for?" you are quite clear that he hardly understands the relationship between master and servant. So when God tells me to do something, if I say, "What for?" I cannot have taken the place which Faith ought to occupy, which is that of simple obedience to whatever the Lord has said. Baptism is commanded, and Faith obeys because it is commanded, and thus takes her proper place. Once more, baptism is a refreshment to Faith.
While we are made up of body and soul as we are, we will need some means by which the body will sometimes be stirred up to co-work with the soul. In the Lord's Supper my faith is assisted by the outward and visible sign. In the bread and in the wine I see no superstitious mystery, I see nothing but bread and wine, but in that bread and wine I do see my faith an as assistant. Through the sign, my faith sees the thing signified. So in baptism there is no mysterious efficacy [or saving grace] in the baptistry or in the water. We attach no reverence to the one or to the other, but we do see in the water and in the baptism such an assistance as brings home to our faith most manifestly our being buried with Christ, and our rising again in newness of life with him. Explain baptism this way, dear friends, and there is no fear of Roman Catholicism rising out of it. Explain it this way, and we cannot suppose any soul will be led to trust in it for salvation; but it takes its proper place among the ordinances of God's church.
To lift up baptism in the other way, and say men are saved by it ah! my friends, how much damage that one fabrication has done and may do, eternity alone will disclose. I pray to God that another George Fox would spring up with all his quaint simplicity and rude honesty to rebuke the idol-worship of this age; to harshly criticize their holy bricks and mortar, holy lecterns, holy alters, holy vestments and robes, and their use of the term "the right reverend fathers," and I know not what else. These things are not holy. God is holy; his truth is holy; holiness belongs not to the carnal and the material, but to the spiritual. O that a clear bold voice would cry out against the superstition of the age. I cannot, as George Fox did, give up baptism and the Lord's Supper, but I would infinitely sooner do it, counting it the smaller mistake of the two than perpetrate and assist in perpetrating the uplifting of baptism and the Lord's Supper out of their proper place.
O my beloved friends, those in partnership with my struggles and witnessings, cling to the salvation of faith, and abhor the salvation of priests. If I am not mistaken, the day will come when we will have to fight for a simple spiritual religion far more than we do now. We have been cultivating friendship with those who are either unscriptural in creed or else dishonest, who either believe baptismal regeneration, or profess that they do, and swear before God that they do when they do not. The time has come when there will be no more truce or negotiation between God's servants and those who are wasting time. The time has come when those who follow God must follow God, and those who try to trim and dress themselves and find out a way which is pleasing to the flesh and gentle to carnal desires, must go their way.
A great time of separation is coming to God's saints, and we will be more distinct, one of these days than we are now, from union with those who are upholding Roman Catholicism, under the pretence of teaching Protestantism. We will be distinct, I say, of those who teach salvation by baptism, instead of salvation by the blood of our blessed Master, Jesus Christ. O may the Lord prepare you for the battle. Believe me, it is no small thing. It may be that on this ground Armageddon will be fought. Here will come the great battle between Christ and his saints on the one hand, and the world, and forms, and ceremonies, on the other. If we are overcome here, there may be years of blood and persecution, and tossing back and forth between darkness and light; but if we are brave and bold, and do not flinch here, but stand on God's truth, the future of England may be bright and glorious. O for a truly reformed Church in England, and a godly race to maintain it! The world's future depends on it under God, for in proportion as truth is marred at home, truth is maimed abroad.
Out of any system which teaches salvation by baptism must spring infidelity, an infidelity which the false Church already seems willing to nourish and foster beneath her wing. God save this favored land from the offspring of her own established religion. Brethren, stand firm in the liberty with which Christ has made you free, and do not be afraid of any sudden fear or calamity when it comes, for he who trusts in the Lord, mercy will surround him, and he who is faithful to God and Christ will hear it said in the end, "Well done, good and faithful servant! Come and share your master's happiness!" May the Lord bless this word for Christ's sake. Amen.
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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Mark 16". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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