Only A Prayer Meeting by C. H. Spurgeon
(An address delivered in France at Mentone, during the week of universal Prayer, in connection with the Evangelical Alliance, in January, 1886.)
Dear Friends-According to the printed programme, the subject for this morning is humiliation on account of national, social, and personal sins. The very fact that there is such a thing as sin, should humble us in the very dust. Sins against God our Creator! How can creatures dare to rebel against the Almighty Lord who made them? Sins against so good a God! Why, and wherefore do they exist? Sins so wilful, so wanton, so injurious to ourselves! What madness! If there could be conceived to be the slightest speck of good resulting from sin, it might be urged in its favour; but it is evil, only evil, and that continually. It dishonours God, and it also destroys ourselves. What do we want with sin? There is variety enough in that which is permitted us; abundant exercise that would yield us pleasure and joy, and would allow full and healthy play to our whole being; yet we must needs break down all restraint, and go after sin. We have left the clear, cool, flowing streams from Lebanon to go and drink of the polluted pools of Sodom. We have turned away from that which was sweet, and safe, and satisfactory; and we have gone to that which is bitter upon the palate even now, and will be far more bitter in the bowels in the world to come. At the remembrance of the very fact of sin, we should lie in the dust before God.
Is there one of us who knows thoroughly what the evil of sin is? I do not think there is. If any one of us were to see the depravity of his own heart, he would lose his reason. Concealed within sin there lurks a measureless world of mischief; who can know it? Were it not that the infinite satisfaction resulting from the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ is ever present before the eye of the great God, He would at once ease Him of His adversaries, and sweep both sin and sinners out of the world. I am asked to speak concerning national sins; but this is a work too delicate for me, and I fear it would do but little good even if executed to perfection. We are of many nationalities, and each man is jealous for his country. Let each nationality confess its own sin by one of its own representatives; and perhaps this were better done apart: who cares to expose in public the faults of his own family? Moreover, general descriptions of a people must necessarily be in a great measure incorrect. Little is done for the benefit of anybody by “American Notes,” which hold a nation up to ridicule; or by descriptions of English manners, which are only regarded as true where caricature is accepted as portrait! Patriotism repents for its beloved land in secret; but it is wounded by unqualified and sweeping censures. The fact is, that all nations are of one blood, and display the same faults; but there is a considerable variety as to the proportion in which the evil ingredients are mixed. Sin is neither an English, nor a French, nor a German weed; it grows wherever there is an inch of human soil. If I spoke of drunkenness as an English sin, I should be quite correct; for it is so to a terrible extent. May God help every friend of Britain to protest against the intemperance of his country! But since I have been in this town, I am less able to speak of the superior sobriety of France; and it is to be feared that the serpent, which lurks in the cup of red wine, biteth like an adder in all lands. Let this evil be “Confessed by all who lament it, and let it be fought against with every lawful weapon within reach.” To confess it, and then to countenance it, will be to make our day of humiliation a day of hypocrisy.
This much I must say of national sins, that, wherever great powers have interfered with smaller and inoffensive nationalities, for the sake of increasing their territory, or their influence, they are verily guilty; and wherein nations have shown a feverish irritability, or a readiness for war, they are also to be censured. Is not war always a conglomerate of crimes? Wherein our civilized races have oppressed and degraded aboriginal tribes, the sin cries out before high Heaven. I blush to own the part of my own country in the enormous infamy of the opium traffic. May God forgive this great wickedness, and deliver us from it! But enough of this, lest I should awaken difference of opinion where I would excite a common repentance. Let each nationality humble itself apart, and cry, in the language of Daniel: “O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against Thee.” Neither will I dwell at any length upon social sins. Ah, me! How have both our ears been made to tingle during the past year! I could wish that I had never heard nor read of those things which are done of the infamous in secret. Henceforth, for tales of horror men will turn, not to the writer of fiction, but to the discoverer of fact. Ah, God! What a world we live in! Our fine boulevards, our pleasant streets, our noble mansions,-these make a goodly show. These people, dressed in their Sunday garments, are pleasant to look upon. Alas, this is but a film! Our cities reek with the crimes of Sodom. It is of no use for us to mince matters, or delude ourselves as to the sad facts of the case. We have festering within the body politic the foul diseases of the vilest ages. We talk of Christian lands; as yet the earth has not seen such prodigies. Countries are labelled “Christian” to the dishonour of the sacred Name of our Divine Lord.
Social iniquity, like a troubled sea, which cannot rest, is constantly casting up mire and dirt; and I fear there is not a family which has not found this black sea encroaching upon it. In very deed, the world still lieth in the bosom of the wicked one. Do not let Christian people imagine that, in order to reach the heathen, they must travel thousands of miles; the heathen are all around us, perishing in their sins. The sooner we recognize that we are to be lights in the midst of darkness, and salt in the midst of putrefaction, the better for the accomplishment of our life-work. If we believe that the world has become cleansed and sanctified into a church, we shall live in a fool’s paradise, we shall help to sustain a huge hypocrisy, and we shall miss the purpose for which a church is continued in the midst of the world.
Amongst social sins, I feel inclined to lay most stress upon the widespread social atheism of the present time. It is not that many are avowed infidels, but that so many are so, and have not the honesty to avow it. Men forget God; He is not in all their thoughts, or ways, or estimates. Attempts are made to remove the idea of God from science, from trade, from politics, and from education. There is not so much even of external religion as there used to be; many are casting off outward respect for it. And can we wonder? Certain of our theologians have questioned the inspiration of the Scriptures, and cast doubt upon even the historical facts therein narrated. The teachings of our Lord and of His apostles have been assailed by their pretended defenders, and the doctrines of our holy faith have, one by one, been betrayed into the hands of enemies. Of course, the people deny when their ministers doubt. Unbelief is in the air; scepticism has become the fashion of the period. All this must be preparing calamity for a coming day. People do not deny the Lord who made them without heaping up wrath against the day of wrath.
I prefer, however, dear friends, to spend the few minutes remaining to me in recalling to our minds our own personal sins. These are the sins for which our penitence is most required, and for which it is most effectual. We cannot vanquish widespread social sins, but by God’s grace we can overcome our own. It may be idle for an obscure individual to lift the lash against a nation, but the least of us may scourge his own homeborn sin, and hope for a good result from the chastisement. Let us personally prostrate ourselves at the feet of our Lord Jesus. Let us recollect that many of us may be much more guilty than may appear from our outward lives. Our secret sins, our heart sins, our sins of omission, must be taken into account. It may have been impossible for some of us to have sinned as others have done; let us not take credit to ourselves on that account. The dog is not to be praised for not straying if it has been chained up. If we have done evil as we could, we need not glory that we have not done that which was impossible to us. Sins of thought, of desire, and of word, are also to be put down in our statement, together with all our ingratitude to God, and want of love to our neighbour, and our pride, and self-seeking, and discontent.
Let no one of us ever think of compounding for sins which he has committed by the reflection that he has not fallen so grievously as others. We may be very respectable people, and yet we may, in some respects, exceed in sin those who appear to be greater sinners. What if I am not unchaste, yet Pharisaic pride may make me quite as obnoxious to Almighty God. What if I am not a gambler, yet a malicious mind will as surely shut me out of Heaven. What if I am not a blasphemer, yet the carnal mind is enmity against God; and if my nature is not changed, I am not reconciled to God. Therefore it becomes each one to look narrowly within, by hearty self-examination; and, after doing so, it will be the wisdom of each one to cry, with penitent David, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
Since I am a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, I know assuredly, at this moment, that all my sins are forgiven me. As to the pardon of every true believer, there can be no doubt, if we believe the testimony of Holy Scripture. But yet we never dare to quit the place of the publican, who cried, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” We acknowledge that we need continually to receive that pardon which we already enjoy. To congratulate ourselves upon a fancied perfection, is a folly in which we ought never to indulge. Though we know we are forgiven, our grief for our transgressions is increased. Sin becomes in our esteem more exceeding sinful, because of the love which pardons it. It laid on Thee, O Lord, so heavy a burden that, when we think of all Thine exceeding sorrows, we are ashamed and confounded, and feel that we never can open our mouths again with so much as the semblance of self-congratulation! “To us belongeth shame and confusion of face,” and it is the only heritage that we have earned by our own merits. Our sins, dear friends, ought to be viewed very much in relation to our privileges. The sin of those who know more than others is marked with a special emphasis. Those who sin against a tender and enlightened conscience, and against holy examples and influences, sin with a tenfold guilt. Some men have to do violence to their better selves in order to do wrong; many amiable women have to harden themselves ere they can unite in the follies of others. Ever remember that light increases our guilt if we sin against it. Forget not, also, that even in making confession of sin we may sin. A confession of sin which comes not from the heart, and does not affect the after life, is in itself a sin. Confession, in which there is no faith in Jesus, is an additional transgression, in so far as it is the language of unbelief. I am not sure that it is not a sin for a child of God to confess sin which has been forgiven, as if it were not forgiven. Though we are all to confess our sins, no “General Confession” can suit all men alike. Be it ever remembered that there is a wide difference between men and men; some are unforgiven, and others have been washed from their iniquities through the blood of Jesus. For the unforgiven to confess their sin as unforgiven, is truthful and right; but for a child of God, who is forgiven, to speak of his sin as though it had never been put away, is to dishonour that glorious sacrifice by which the Lord Jesus has finished transgression, and made an end of sin. Shall we make the wondrous death on Calvary to be of none effect? Never let us so transgress. Do not, therefore, you who are trusting in Christ, come with your confession in the spirit of bondage, much less of despair. Own your sins with your heads in your Father’s bosom, weeping because of the great love which has forgiven you.
With all this upon our minds, let us return to the sorrowful remembrance of our shortcomings as members of the Church of Christ. How far have we been partakers in the widespread worldliness of professing Christians? It is a sad thing that the Church and the world are so much alike in these days. A clear division should be manifest between the two. The world was once destroyed by a flood, and what was the cause of it? It was because “the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.” When thus the Church and the world were confused, destruction was at hand. It is neither for the good of the world nor for the good of the Church that the lines of demarcation should grow dim. There is an eternal difference between him that feareth God and him that feareth Him not; and when professing Christians cannot be distinguished from worldly men, it is because the salt has lost its savour.
Another greatly prevailing sin is the sad indifference concerning the souls of our fellow-men. Certain doctrines have been introduced which tend to make men feel easy as to the future of the impenitent; a condition which naturally leads to indifference as to whether they are led to faith in Jesus, or are allowed to remain in their sins. We are all sufficiently callous without these modern soporifics. I dread any form of teaching which would diminish my horror of a man’s dying without God and without hope. It is no work of ours to buoy up men with a hope for which there is no Scriptural warrant. We would fain deliver souls from going down into the pit; we leave others to speculate upon their coming out if once they fall into it. In any case, may we never grow unmindful of the souls of our fellow-men; but, wherever we are found, may we watch for opportunities of warning men of the wrath to come, and wooing them to the Saviour’s love.
Brethren in Christ, may we not have sinned in looking too exclusively to our own work, and forgetting the labours of our brethren in other parts of the field? How few of us can rejoice when the Lord blesses others more than He does ourselves! Is there not sin, also, in the disunion which exists among professing Christians? Shall we never come together? Could we not all revise our opinions by the Word of God? This Holy Book is acknowledged by us all to be our guide; should we not be agreed with one another if we were all agreed with the Bible? It seems to me an axiom that persons who are agreed with the same rule must be agreed with one another. If this suffices not, will we not labour to be one with each other by being one with Christ? If we are all united to HIM, must we not be united to one another? My dear brethren, I dare not omit mention of that sin of sins, our wretched unbelief. Do we believe anything as we ought to believe It? Have we a firm grip of eternal certainties? Do we not act towards God as if He were a shadow, instead of resting upon Him as the Rock of ages? We do not half believe the Divine promises, nor rely upon the immutable goodness and faithfulness of our Heavenly Father. We are alive unto God; but, alas! that life beats feebly within our bosom. Where is our confidence in the Gospel? Where is our glory in the cross? We are trembling followers of a Master who deserves the unwavering faith of every one who has the honour to be His disciple.
Only a minute remains in which to acknowledge our shortcomings as to private prayer. Where are the men mighty in supplication? Do not our closets cry out against us? Where are our united pleadings with the Lord? Do not many forget meetings for prayer? Are not many altogether unaware of what they are like? Have we not been lacking in meditation, in communion, in walking with God? Where are the saints now? We have a superabundance of professors, but where are the truly eminent Christians? I believe that the strength of the Church lies in that inner circle of champions which is composed of the thoroughly consecrated, the men who are favoured of the Lord. Holy Bernard was the light of his age, and passing on from age to age we see men who blazed with the light of God; but we ought each one of us to seek to be saints in the highest sense of the word. We must aim at being the holiest of men and women. Let it be ours to be like the mountain-tops that catch first the beams of the rising sun, and reflect the light upon the lowlands. If we are not such, we ought to be; and wherein we are not all that we ought to be, we sin.
Let us now lay bare our hearts before God, and ask Him to search us that so our guilt may be perfectly removed, and we may be clean in His sight, and so enter with joyous hearts into the New Year. May the Holy Spirit pour upon us the spirit of grace and of supplications! Amen.