The Ancient Faith
“Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: and sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things.” Luke xiv: 16-24.
It is not our purpose to dwell upon the first invitation of the Jews to the privileges of the gospel, and the subsequent invitation of the long outcast Gentiles, compelled by earnest argument and entreaty to accept the salvation spurned by those so highly favored of God, as had been the Jews; but we desire to draw a more practical lesson from the excuses rendered by those invited, for the benefit of those who are doing now as they did then—rendering frivolous excuses for not obeying the gospel, and accepting salvation under very favorable circumstances, when the dearest friends they have on earth so earnestly importune them to be saved. The excuses show very plainly that they were founded in hypocrisy, and prompted in an utter want of interest in the feast prepared for their entertainment.
The first had bought a piece of ground and had to go and see it. Did he buy a piece of ground without seeing it before he bought it? It being real estate, it would hardly have run until the next day. He could have gone to the supper if he had been anxious to honor the master by going. The next one had bought five yoke of oxen and had to go to prove them. Strange that he bought them without trying them before buying them. If had been anxious to go to the supper to which he had been invited, he could have put off proving his oxen for another day. When persons do not wish to do a thing, it is quite easy to find some excuse for not doing it. But the next one had married a wife, and of course he could not go. He did not even ask to be excused; he could not go, and that was enough. He was newly married and could not, so soon, leave his wife long enough to go to a supper. But could he not have taken his wife with him? From the general character of the invitation, we suppose the presence of ladies was not prohibited; and the application of the lesson would show that the supper was for men and women. True, the narrative says, “That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper” but this only shows that the men were to blame for the non-attendance. There is nothing showing that this man might not have taken his wife with him to the supper. Had he been very anxious to go he could have gone. He felt no interest in honoring the master of the supper, and the master knew it, and was very angry. These flimsy excuses did not satisfy him. The excuses made by men today are no better than those made by the Jews. We will examine a few of them and see whether or not they are valid.
“I AM CONFUSED”
(1) “There are so many different doctrines preached that I do not know which is right. If wise men differ, how am I to decide which is right?”
The Bible is right, infallibly right. Have you ever taken that infallible standard and carefully examined it to see what is taught in it, that you might know who preached the truth? We guess not. Is it not likely that you could live in any of the churches around you and do as well as you are doing now? While it is a great misfortune that the religious world is split up into parties, and preaching different doctrines, that will scarcely justify you in refusing to read and study the Bible for yourself. There was never a counterfeit piece of money that was not an imitation of something genuine. So there may be many spurious religions in the world, but that very fact is evidence that there is something pure somewhere; and if you will study the great counterfeit detector, you will be very apt to find what is spurious, and what is genuine. Generally, those who render this excuse do not care which is right. They are not anxious to know about it, and hence, do not try to know.
“MY MOTHER WAS NOT BAPTIZED”
(2) “If baptism is for the remission of sins, as you teach, then my parents are lost, for they were not baptized. My mother was a good woman, and I know she went to heaven without baptism. For me to be baptized for the remission of sins would be to say that my mother has gone to hell. I am not going to do that, sure. That settles it with me.” Do you suppose that anything you can do will change the condition of your dead mother one way or the other? Suppose your mother did the best she knew, and God saved her because she did so, will he save you in neglect of your duty when you know it to be your duty? Perhaps you have light that she never had. Perhaps she thought non-essential that which you know to be a solemn command of God. Will he save you in known and willful neglect of duty, because your mother did not know it to be her duty? If your mother did the best she knew, would it not be well for you to do the best you know? Whether your mother was lost or saved is not a matter regulating your duty. If you know your duty and do it not, you will be beaten with many stripes, while few may be the stripes coming to the lot of such as come short of their duty because they knew not what duty was. Do your own duty and let God attend to others. He will manage that matter as may be pleasing to him.
“I AM BETTER THAN CHURCH-GOERS”
(3) “I am better now than many who are in the church.” Well, suppose you are; perhaps you might improve on that a little. But why compare yourself with the worst in the church? Suppose you put it this way: “I am better than any in the church.” Do you think you could, in truth, say this? If every one in the church goes to hell for neglect of duty, is that any reason why you should want to go? Will that excuse you for neglect of duty? If every man in the church goes to hell, if you will, in good faith, do your duty, you will be saved. But “you cannot live in the church with those bad men who are in it.” Well, the Lord will take those wicked fellows out of the church after a while, and he will put them right into your company; and you will have to spend eternity with them, if eternity may be spent. ‘Twere better to come into the church and help to put those bad fellows out, then they will be out, and you in, and thus you will get rid of them. Now, we respectfully suggest that the wickedness of others is no excuse for you. Do your own duty faith- fully and you will be saved, whatever may be the end of the wicked. “The wickedness of the wicked be upon him,” is God’s law. But are you not just a little inconsistent in rendering this excuse? There are but two classes—those in the church, and those out of it. You belong to the class on the outside. Do you not think there are as bad men out of the church as can be found in it? There are murderers, thieves, robbers, liars, gamblers, whoremongers, sorcerers, and all other classes engaged in the whole dark catalogue of sin, among those out of the church; and you can be quite contented to live with them out of the church, but you cannot afford to live with a few bad men in the church! Do you not feel ashamed of such an excuse as this? Better do your own duty, and let the Lord attend to the tares that the devil sowed among the wheat. This is safe—nothing else is.
“I AM MORALLY GOOD”
(4) “”Well, I am a moral man. I use no profane language. I pay my debts promptly. I speak the truth always. I am as liberal in relieving the poor as anyone in the church. I do not swindle, cheat, or steal. I try to make a good neighbor and a good citizen; and I see no use in joining the church. I cannot see that that would make me any better.” Have you a firmly fixed and trusting faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior? Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” If you have not been baptized you are not within range of the Savior’s promise: and if you do not believe in Christ, through the gospel, the anathemas of heaven will rest upon you if Jesus told the truth. Again Jesus said: “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Have you been born again? “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Have you been horn of water and of the Spirit? If not, into the kingdom of God you cannot go. Jesus said this, and it must be true. In this kingdom is a state of safety—can a man be saved out of it? If so, how? Why did not Nicodemus say: “Master, there is no necessity of entering the kingdom, seeing a man can be saved out of it as well as in it.” If a man can get to heaven out of the kingdom he will be saved on a plan of his own, and he may give the glory to himself, and not to God. The blood of Christ had nothing to do with it, and therefore the blood of Christ was shed for nothing. If you can be saved without it, all others can. Cornelius was a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people and prayed to God always. Are you better than he was? He had to hear words from Peter by which to be saved. (Acts xi: 14. ) Jesus requires you to believe and obey him; you live every day in rebellion against him while you fail to obey him. Do you think it safe to live in rebellion against God?
“I AM NOT GOOD ENOUGH”
(5) “I am not good enough to obey the gospel and be a Christian.” Well, how long do you think it will re- quire for you to get to be good enough while you spend your time in serving the devil? Is that not rather a slow way of improving much? Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. If you are a sinner you are among the class he came to save. Are you worse than the murderers of Jesus Christ? If they could be saved, why may not you? On the day of Pentecost Peter told the Jews that they had, with wicked hands crucified and slain the Lord Jesus Christ; and yet many of them obeyed the Lord and were saved that day. It is difficult to conceive of any worse than they were; and yet they were not required to mourn and weep, and wrestle with the Lord like Jacob did; but when they believed on the Lord Jesus Christ through Peter’s preaching, and were cut to the heart by it, and cried out to know what to do, Peter told them to repent and be baptized, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the re- mission of sins; and as many as gladly received his word were baptized and the same day added to the saved. Now, if they could do this, why may not you do as they did, and be saved as they were? “I want to feel like I am pardoned—my sins forgiven, before I am baptized.” Will you be sure you are pardoned when you feel like you are pardoned? Such feelings are the result of your faith. When you believe you are pardoned, you will feel like you are pardoned, whether you are pardoned or not. If you could be made believe, without a doubt, that when you shall have counted ten, you will be pardoned, when you have counted ten, you will feel just like you are pardoned. In other words, whenever a man does that which he believes will secure his pardon, he will feel like he is pardoned. Jacob believed Joseph was dead, when he was alive and governor of Egypt; and while he believed his son to be dead, he felt just like he was really dead. A falsehood believed, will produce the same feelings that would follow from the belief of the same thing if it were true. When, therefore, you believe you are pardoned, you will feel like you are pardoned, whether you are par- doned or unpardoned. When the Catholic pays his money to the priest to absolve him from guilt, or secure his pardon, he feels like he is pardoned; and he feels like it because he believes it. So the heathen man, who bows before his idol god, feels like he is pardoned for the very same reason. Are not his feelings as reliable as yours? Why not? We confess we can see no reason why. But you say: “He is deceived, for his idol god has no power to pardon him.” Very true indeed; but he thinks his god has the power, and believing this, he feels just as happy as you do. If his feelings deceive, him, may not your feelings deceive you? Jesus said: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” If you are saved before you are baptized, for what will you then be baptized? Jesus did not say: “He that believeth and is saved, may, or should be baptized.” Had he said this, your position might have been plausible; but as he did not say it, your position is unreasonable and absurd. Better accept salvation as it is offered to you by him who has the power to save you. Since the last will went into force on the day of Pentecost, there is not a case of conversion recorded, where the converted, rejoiced in his pardon before he was baptized —not one. The Eunuch went on his way rejoicing after he was baptized. Acts viii: 39. The jailer rejoiced in his salvation after his baptism. Acts xvi: 34. A man may well feel like he is pardoned when he knows he has complied with all the conditions upon which Jesus said he should be saved; but until then his feelings may deceive him, however honest he may be in relying upon them. We feel good because we know we are pardoned; and we know we are pardoned because we know we have obeyed the Lord. You want your good feelings as evidence of your pardon before obedience, when in truth good feelings should spring from a knowledge of pardon, based upon obedience to the commands, and a firm reliance on the promises contained in the word of the Lord. The child feels good when it knows it has obeyed its parents, so we feel good when we know we have obeyed the Lord; and, as his children, may call him “our Father.” We feel good because we know we are pardoned—you know you are pardoned because you feel good. This is the real difference. We submit the two positions for your very careful consideration. One, or the other, may be true—both cannot be. You can decide which.
“I DON’T KNOW ENOUGH YET”
(6) “I don’t know enough yet.” How much do you know? Do you know that you are a sinner, and in need of a Savior? Do you know that Jesus died to save sinners, and that he proposes to save all who come to God by him? Do you know what he requires you to do in order that he may save you? If you do, you know enough to be saved; and you will be lost if you fail to do that which you know to be your duty. You are required to grow in grace and in knowledge; and there could be no growth in knowledge if you knew everything at the beginning. There is no age specified in the Bible at which children may obey the gospel. This very much depends on their general intelligence and their opportunities of obtaining a knowledge of the Lord’s will. Some children at ten years old know more of the Bible than some men ever learn. As soon as they know their duty they are old enough to obey the Lord, and they will be lost if they fail to render the obedience which the gospel re- quires. They can then render the obedience of faith, and until this can be done no obedience is worth anything.
“I AM AFRAID I WILL BE UNFAITHFUL”
(7) “I am afraid I cannot hold out faithful, and I do not want to bring reproach upon the cause of Christ.” This is a laudable feeling. Surely no one de- sires to bring reproach upon the cause of the Master, but we think it likely that those most fearful of bringing reproach are most secure against it. They will be more careful in exercising a watch-care over them- selves, and will therefore be less liable to fall than the self-confident, who will he more reckless and less safe. With faith and trust in God, and constant prayer for success, the humble soul will not fail.
“I WILL SERVE GOD LATER”
(8) “There is time enough yet. I am young and have not enjoyed myself enough. By and by, when my cup of pleasure is full, I will obey the Lord” A wise man said: “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.” Eccl. xii: 1. It is not the cross, nor does it cost the struggle to surrender to the Lord in youth that it costs those who have been hardened in sin. In youth, as a rule, vicious habits have not been formed, and there is but little reformation to make; the heart is not all scarred up by indulgence in crime. The affections are tender and readily molded in love for a crucified Savior. But how hard it is to turn back from a life of indulgence in sin; and alas! How few there are who ever come to Jesus in old age. It is hard to give up habits so long indulged. How ungrateful it is to give the strength of manhood to the devil, and blow the ashes from the candle of life into the face of the Lord when the hardened old wretch can serve the devil no longer! But my young friend, while you are indulging in your career of pleasure, suppose death should knock at your door! You are expecting to live a long time, but you may die to-day. Though your cheeks may bloom in the rose tints of health and youthful vigor, death may already have marked you as his own. To- day is the day of salvation. Now is the accepted time. To-morrow to you may never come. And if you knew you would live to be old, you owe all to the service of God. You can never repay God for what he has done for you. You will never regret an early obedience to God—you may have eternity in which to regret that you did not honor God when you had an opportunity to do so. Don’t delay—come to Jesus and come now.
“I NEED TO FOCUS ON MY BUSINESS NOW”
(9) “Well, but I have not made money enough yet. I know that my business is contrary to the spirit and genius of the Christian religion, and I am in debt, and cannot give up my business yet. Or, I have not as much land as I want, and I cannot afford to give up my business until I make my contemplated purchase. When I make enough I will consider the subject of religion.” In the first place, you should not want to make money by such immoral business. No man should want money made by dishonest or immoral means. We know nothing about repentance that does not repair damages done, or restore all ill-gotten gains to the full extent of his ability. We cannot see how a man can truly repent with money in his pocket obtained in this way. It is unsafe to risk it. We can readily conceive it possible for a man to in- considerately pursue an immoral calling and truly repent and come to Christ for pardon; but for him to deliberately resolve to indulge in wrong-doing in the hope of washing out the stains in the blood of a crucified Savior, and keep what he has made in his unholy calling, is putting the grace and mercy of God to a strain that is extremely dangerous, to say the least of it. We dare not say that all possibility of repentance is gone; but such deliberate resolve is infinitely worse than the overt acts committed in pursuance of the resolve. We earnestly hope that few have reached the degree of depravity capable of such a resolve. The risk is surely a fearful one. There is little chance for him to be saved.
“I AM WAITING FOR OTHERS”
(10) “But another says; “I am waiting for others. I want my friend to go with me. I want my wife to go with me, or, I want my husband to go with me when I go to the Savior.” This is a mistaken policy. If you wish your friend to obey the Lord through your influence, it is better to set him an example worthy of his imitation. This is far better. It shows that you are in earnest—that you intend to be honest with your God, yourself, and your friend. We have often seen wives who seemed to be more concerned for their husbands than for themselves; and in the hope of inducing them to obey the Lord they have lived in disobedience them- selves, when if they had gone along and met their own obligations to God, their influence would have been much more potent in bringing their husbands to a dis- charge of their duty. And the same is true of husbands with regard to their wives. But the whole procedure is wrong. No one should trifle with his salvation in that way. He should do his own duty and let consequences take care of themselves. He cannot afford to risk his own salvation to save anyone, even though it be the dearest friend he has on earth. Suppose the person should die while waiting for a companion, would waiting for a companion be a valid excuse in the Day of Judgment? It looks a little like the man who had married a wife and could not go to the supper. But there is a principle behind all this. You owe the service of your whole life to God; and you have no right to with- hold any part of that service in waiting on any one; nor have you any right to contract with any one about your duty to your God. “I will go if you will.” If you love your friend better than your God, you are un- worthy of him, and you are not in a suitable frame of mind to obey God in anything. Better stay away until you can rise above this. Were you to go to the Lord in such a frame of mind as this, you might find yourself in the attitude of the man who went in to the marriage supper not having on a wedding garment.
“MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS ARE OPPOSED”
(11) “My parents and friends are all opposed to that church. I believe it right myself, but I ought to obey my parents, and they would be greatly offended were I to join the Campbellites.” Well, suppose you simply obey the gospel without joining the Campbellites. We know but little about these Campbellites anyway. They must be very bad people, for we have never heard anything good of them. All the reports that come to us concerning them are decidedly unfavorable, and we would not encourage an alliance with them, unless an earnest and hearty obedience to God should put you in company with them. This could not be unless they are doing the same thing; and if they are thus faithfully obedient to God, they are not quite so bad as reported. If you will faithfully obey the Lord, these unworthy Campbellites cannot hurt you, however bad they may be. It is true that you should obey your parents; but only when parental authority is in harmony with the law of God. If parental authority conies in conflict with God’s authority, then obey God rather than the parents. Suppose your parents should command you to steal, when God says, “thou shalt not steal,” what then? Will you steal in obedience to your parents, or refuse to steal in obedience to God? “But my parents will not require me to steal.” Very well, this settles the principle. You will obey your parents until their will comes in conflict with the Lord’s will. If your parents under- take to control your obedience to God, you will obey God and take the consequences. They cannot obey God for you. You are responsible for yourself, and will be judged for yourself. Jesus said: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is unworthy of me.” If it becomes necessary to forsake all for Jesus’ sake, then the sacrifice must be made. All things will work together for your good, if you will do your duty faith- fully. Your obedience may lead your obdurate parents to repentance. If not, you will at least save yourself.
“THIS RELIGION IS UNPOPULAR”
(12) “This religion is unpopular. The people are not fashionable. It will injure me in my business.” Yes, the preaching of Noah was very unpopular. Only his own family gave attention to it in one hundred and twenty years. Yet, of all the world, only these eight souls were saved. Would you have preferred the fate of the popular world rather than the salvation of Noah? Jesus was exceedingly unpopular. He consorted with the poor. The aristocracy would have nothing to do with him. He preached to the poor and the illiterate, and of them selected his apostles; yet they were able to confound and put to silence the wisdom of the wise. The poor and despised Lazarus was carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham, while the rich man opened his eyes in the flames of hell. Who would you rather be, the rich man, or the poor Lazarus? Paul said: “The fashion of this world passeth away.” 1 Cor. vii: 31. And James said: “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: but the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.” James i: 9-11.
Let us not seek the fashion of the world that passeth away like the grace of the flower under the burning heat of the mid-day sun; so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways. Let us not be conformed to this world, but be clothed with that humility that characterized the meek and lowly Son of God. No matter what the world may say of us, if God be for us, who can be against us? “I will not be afraid of ten thou- sands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.” Ps. iii: 6. “Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble there- with.” Prov. xv: 16. Suppose that obedience to the gospel does injure you in your business; then let your business go. Obey God and let business take care of itself. There are very few that do not prefer to do business with an honest Christian man. Some customers may withdraw their patronage on account of your religion, but you will gain two more for every one you lose. And if you do not, you cannot afford to barter your soul for business. If you gain the whole world and lose your soul, what will you give in exchange for it? “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich.” Rev. iii: 17, 18. Paul told Timothy to “charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” 1 Tim. vi: 17-19. This is safe. The riches of this world are uncertain. They are liable to be blown away by the first adverse wind that comes; but God gives us the true riches that endure unto eternal life. “He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich shall surely come to want.” Prov. xxii: 16.
“I AM TOO BUSY”
(13) “I have not time to be a Christian now—I am too busy. When I have leisure, I will consider the subject of religion.” Yes, you are very busy—do you think you can take time to die when death comes? You are like Martha, cumbered about with many things; but Jesus said that Mary had chosen the good part that should never be taken away from her. The seed that fell among thorns were choked out by the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches, and they brought no fruit to perfection. Jesus told the Jews to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and other things should be added; but you propose to reverse his rule and begin at the other end, leaving the kingdom of God to be sought at the last. Yes, you propose to serve the devil as long as you can, and when you can serve him no longer, then you will say: “Here Lord, take me. I am very busy, it is true, but I can do no more just now, so I guess I will surrender. Here I am, take me.” Of course, no one says this in words, but the lives of many do say it. Oh, the depth of such ingratitude! God loved them, and Jesus died for them, and yet they expect to be saved after spending their manhood in rebellion against God! Can this be? If so, they may, every one, sing, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me.” We think it likely that procrastination has sent more souls to hell than any other one thing that has ever cursed the race. Few men have ever gone down to the grave unprepared, who had not intended at some time to be Christians; but from one cause and another have put it off and neglected it till too late. In full view of all their responsibility they have drifted down the stream of life to the end, until the harvest was passed, the summer ended, opportunities all gone, and nothing done. All acknowledge such a course unwise, and unsafe, but thousands go through life just this way. They take the risk, and a fearful risk it is. Whenever a man has opportunity to obey the gospel and he fails to do it, he takes his salvation in his own hands, with all the risk attaching to it. If he lives to have other opportunities, he is fortunate if he accepts them; but if he falls into conditions which put it out of his power to obey, he can scarcely hope that God will excuse him for slighting the opportunities of the past. When he had the privilege, then was the time he should have accepted it; and as he did not, in vain may he call for mercy when the time has been passed in rebellion against his Maker. The eternal principles of justice can only be vindicated in his punishment, and punished he will surely be. In the Hebrew letter the soul-stirring question is asked: “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation.” Neglect may make escape impossible. Oh, then, do not neglect your duty another day. Remember that the lord of the supper said that not one of those who made excuse should taste of his supper, for they were unworthy. Will you not be unworthy to go into the marriage supper of the lamb? And think you that your excuses will be worth any more than theirs? “Where there is a will there is a way.” They who want to come to Christ always find a way to come.
[This sermon was first published in Gospel Sermons (1891) by Dr. T.W. Brents.]