THE AWFUL INGRATITUDE OF THE SINNER
A sermon delivered on Sunday evening, December 29, 1850 by the Rev. Professor Finney (of Andeavoring College, U. S.) At the Tabernacle, Moorfields, London
"And they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love." Psalm cix. 5
David was the type of Christ, and it was common for him to write Psalms in which there was manifestly much reference to the Messiah. The spirit of prophecy within him speaks many things in these Psalms, particularly applicable to himself as the type of Christ, but applicable also to Christ himself; and in this case he speaks both of himself and of Christ. Some portions of the Psalms are quoted by the New Testament writers as having been spoken of Christ; and this passage is evidently of the same character. In proceeding to discuss this subject I shall,
I. Notice a few particulars in which Christ may be said to love the sinner and be hated in return.
I shall now run rapidly over a few particulars in which sinners reward Christ evil for good and return hatred for his love. Christ gives sinners their very existence. They are indebted to him for all they have and are; all things are given over into his hands, and he administers the government of God for the benefit of sinners. He preserves their lives, and bears with them continually in the midst of their sins: He is long-suffering towards them; He lived in this world, denying himself for them; for their sakes He suffered the deepest poverty and disgrace. Whoever was in such deep distress as Christ was a great part of his life! - whoever was in greater poverty! He says, "the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head." He is represented in the Gospel as having become poor, "that we, through his poverty, might become rich." He suffered himself to be covered with the bitterest reproaches for our sakes, until he complains that reproach had broken his heart.
Everyone who has been reproached for doing good will form some idea of what he means by saying this. Again, he laboured with such zeal for the good of souls that he says, "the zeal of my house hath eaten me up." He toiled by day and by night, from town to town, to do them good, and many times he spent whole nights in prayer. We have reason to believe that at the early age of thirteen his appearance was much beyond his years. It is said of him that "his visage was marred beyond any man's." He is represented as bearing your griefs and carrying your sorrows. You recollect how beautifully this is represented by Isaiah. I will read some passages in which this is particularly brought out: - " Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed."
This is descriptive of what Christ has done for sinners. He suffered death at their hands, and then - strange to tell! - turned right around and proposed to make the blood which they have thus murderously shed the very medium by which they might be saved! Who has ever heard of such love as this? The very blood which their murderous hands have shed is made to atone for their sins. He is still as ready to do them good as ever - always living to befriend them, and sitting now at the right hand of God to make intercession for them; all sinners are spared from day to day, and kept in existence by him. You are spared, like the barren fig tree, through his intercession, when justice would otherwise cut you down. Notwithstanding all your abuse of him, he is still ever ready to step forth to preserve you when you will accept his offered mercy. When justice would cut you down he steps forward in your behalf, and that you are out of hell is solely owing to his prayer - " Oh! spare him yet." Having thus shown his love to the sinner, I shall,
II. Notice some particulars wherein sinners reward him evil for good.
That the Jews did this is generally admitted. I have never heard anyone who believed the Gospel deny that Christ laboured assiduously for their good, and that they returned him hatred for his love. But do others do it? Yes, sinners, you do it, and that continually! He gives you life, and what do you do with that very existence in this world, which is only prevented from being snapped off by his intercession? I mean you, sinner; what are you doing with the life he gives and prolongs? What do you do with it? what have you always done with it? What! do you only use it to oppose his law and authority? Again, there is your time; how do you spend that? He spares you from day to day, and how do you occupy yourself? He gives you time, and commands you to repent - have you done so? Oh! no; but your whole existence is one continued act of opposition to him who has thus wonderfully befriended you! He has given you talents - what do you do with them? Wherein is your power? - education, property, talents, or influence? What do you render to him for all the good which he has bestowed upon you? Do you really render evil for all this good? Do you use your money, talents, and education against him? Ah! your impenitence tells the story! I need not bring a railing accusation against you. He gave you heaving lungs, and enables you to breathe, but every breath is breathed in opposition to him. What other gift of his providence have you that you are not using against him? And is not this rendering him evil for his good? Suppose a child is to do this to a parent - suppose your little ones use every gift you bestow on them against you. But again. It is remarkable moreover, that the more he gives, the more and more proud you wax, and the more stoutly you stand up against him. Just in proportion as he loads sinners down with blessings and obligations, instead of being conducted to him, they are the further from knowing him. He has multiplied their blessings, but every one of them is conscious of sin and rebellion against him. They wax rich and great in affluence and talent, and are surrounded with favours, and by-and-bye they become so proud and full of themselves - so great in their own esteem - that they will not suffer an Ambassador from Heaven to tell them the truth. How strange is this!
But let me say again, the longer he spares sinners the more abusive and presumptuous they become. See sinners, the older they get, the longer they are spared, the more they are loaded down with favours, till their heads are covered with the frosts of many winters, and the more rebellious, and stupid, and sottish in their sins they become! The longer he defers their punishment, the more they tempt his forbearance.
Again. That all sinners render to Christ evil for good, and hatred for his love is manifest from this; sin from its very nature, is a rejection of Christ's authority in all the relations which he sustains towards men. It is, moreover, a practical and public denial of their obligations to Christ. It is also an insult to his person, and an opposition to his efforts to do them and others good. All sin, from its very nature, is sympathy with hell, and antipathy to heaven. Moreover, sinners hate to be reminded of their obligations to Christ, and will not quietly submit to it even from their best friends. Many a husband in his sins will scarcely allow his pious wife, whose spirit has wept almost tears of blood over his soul, to speak to him about his duty. No. The fact that sinners render him hatred for his love is most evident. How much they are disturbed if they hear Christ spoken of, and his name praised! Go almost any where and you will find this opposition manifested.
It is plain that sinners do not sympathize with Christ's friends, but that they do actually sympathize with his enemies. This is clear and easily demonstrable, in a thousand ways, had I time to dwell upon them. I will notice one or two as they arise in my mind. Sinners show their hatred to him by their gratification in the things which grieve him, they make light of sin, and exult when religion is dishonored by its professors. They manifest their gratification and instead of praying for the saints and trying to support them, under their temptations to disobey God, they actually throw obstacles in their way. They appear to approve of the temptation rather than grieve when it is not resisted. When saints sin, they triumph. See how ready they are to take up an evil report against their neighbours, especially should that neighbour profess Christianity. They would not feel this if they were Christ's friends, in any sense of the term. It is extremely unnatural for us to believe evil of those we love, and with whom we have sympathy. If sinners, therefore, had sympathy with Christ and his people it would be utterly unnatural for them to act thus towards them.
It is also extremely unnatural for us to promote the circulation of such reports concerning those who love Christ. We should be careful of the reputation of Christ's children if we loved them. Are sinners grieved when Christ and his cause are dishonoured by those who profess to fear his name? - and are they careful rather to conceal, than to disseminate that which is disgraceful concerning them? No! they are not only very credulous in believing scandal of this kind, but too frequently, manifest a corresponding diligence in circulating it. This enmity to Christ is a mortal enmity. The Jews displayed this to the fullest extent. They were not satisfied with anything short of his life. Sinners refuse to submit to Christ's authority and embrace the Gospel offer, and so far as their altered circumstances permit, they manifest precisely the spirit of the Jews of old who hung him on the accursed tree.
But again. This hatred of the sinner to Christ is supreme. There are more opposed to him and his work than to anything else in all the universe. On all other subjects how comparatively easily it is to gain adherents and make to yourselves friends. In many cases where the enmity has been of lengthened duration and intense to a degree, a change of circumstances will frequently reconcile the opponents. It is with political and social disagreements; even where the antipathy has become in a sense, hereditary on both sides, a circumstance sometimes arises which makes reconciliation a mutual advantage, and how speedily they become united! There are many remarkable cases on record of such persons having eventually become not only friends, but firm and attached friends, to a degree corresponding with or perhaps even exceeding their former enmity. They have become not only willing to do each other good, but unwilling to say or even to believe that which is evil concerning each other. This is, in fact, quite a common occurrence. Where do you find enmity existing between parties which cannot be overcome even by a moderate exhibition of kindness and love? But how is it with the sinner?
Few men readily understand how deep their enmity to Christ is, and in order to have a proper appreciation of this they must consider what Christ has done, what he is doing, and what he has promised to do for them. Suppose that in this city there are two men who have long been enemies. Suppose that this has gone on so long and arrived at such a pitch that their families have come to regard each other as mortal enemies simply because of their family name and relationship. They scarcely look at each other when they pass in the street. But suppose this ill feeling to be all on one side. Suppose the one man to have a deep-rooted enmity against the other. Suppose there had never been any actual quarrel, but that the one had continually misapprehended and abused the other, and followed him with persecution and slander from time to time. The other had done him good, treated him kindly, when embarrassed in business - lent him money and tried in every way to gain his confidence but all to no purpose.
The one is riding in the park and meets a dearly beloved son of the other in his carriage; the horses take fright and the son is all but thrown out. Mark how at the risk of his life, this gentleman rushes to save him: he seizes the horses by the bits and thus saves the life of his enemy's son. The young man, of course, is moved when he sees who it is to whom he is so greatly indebted. He goes home and relates the fact to his father who is much affected and hangs down his head.
"Did he know you?" he asked the son.
"Oh! yes; and he not only saved my life but kindly spoke to me in terms of encouragement, and blessed me."
This very night the father is aroused and discovers his house in flames. The very carpet is on fire beneath his feet. The house is ready to fall in. There is a terrible rush of the crowd in the streets; but there seems to be no way of escape, either right or left. The flames are pouring up the staircase and out of the just opened window. Just under these circumstances an individual comes rushing up the staircase and gathers up one after the other and hurries off to a place of safety. The women faint, the children scream; and their father on recovering, finds himself reclining in the arms of his deliverer. Ah! who is this deliverer? "Why this very man who a few hours ago hazarded his life to save my son! and he has now sadly burned himself to save me?" How effectually have those circumstances changed the relation which these two persons held towards each other! If he had strength sufficient remaining the father would fall on his knees to his deliverer and bathed his feet with his tears, and if the fire had spared his hair he would wipe them with it! Does he say, "don't you see that my heart is so hard that I can't love you notwithstanding?" No, indeed. Whenever you mention that man's name you mention the name of a friend; and aught that is spoken against him now will grieve him. He is ready now to confide in him - to think and speak well of him.
But now look at the enmity of the sinner, in spite of all that God daily and hourly does for him. When a little one and helpless he kept your little lungs in motion. How often his hand unseen interposed to save your life, when disease was dragging you pale and quivering down to the gates of death! As you have grown up he has followed you with kindness. When death has lurked in ambush he has always watched kindly over you, and you are tonight not only out of hell but able to come to the house of God. And after all this good how do you stand affected towards him? Has it produced any change in your heart? Ah! you are treasuring up to yourselves wrath against the day of wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.
I shall now proceed to point out a little more definitely this peculiar feature of the sinner's conduct - that really this opposition and hatred is rendered to him for his love. My object under this head is to show what is the reason of their opposition to Christ. In the first place that sinners have really no good reason for their hatred and opposition to Christ is admitted by everybody; and it is also admitted that this is done in defiance of his love, or at least regardless of it. They have nothing to hate him for, He has never been as men are -partly good and partly evil, sometimes deserving well of sinners and sometimes deserving ill of them. They can't say that in some things he had done them good, but that he has done other things for which they have reason to hate him. No! They have nothing but love for which to hate him!
The real reason for this opposition is that he is their moral opposite. All his great love is in direct opposition to their selfishness. His infinite holiness is in direct contradiction to it; it is also a contradiction to say that one so opposite to Christ should not be opposed to him, opposed because he stands out in contrast right over against him! His infinite benevolence is in direct contrast to their selfishness, and while they entertain this selfishness it must be opposed to his benevolence; while they entertain a spirit of injustice they must stand opposed to his justice; while they continue to entertain a spirit of unmerciful-ness they must stand opposed to his justice; while they continue to entertain a spirit of unmercifulness they must stand opposed to his mercy; their falsehood to his truth, his righteousness to their unrighteousness. There are moral opposites, and it is impossible for sinners while in such a state of mind to be otherwise than opposed to him. It is not because he is evil that they are opposed to him; they do not hate him for that reason, but simply because he is good. They being evil, naturally hate one so diametrically opposed to them.
Again. It is impossible but that the very efforts he makes to save them from sin should excite their hostility. This has always been, and always must be the case. They love the yoke of their sins; and his pressing them to give them up and thus therefore while he insists on their doing what they are unwilling to do, this opposition will continue. The more persevering and long-suffering he is, the more will they oppose and hate him. By "hatred" I do not mean that sinners are always conscious of such a feeling; but there it is - a ceaseless resistance to all his efforts to do them good. Their carnal minds are at enmity against him.
This leads me to make a few general remarks, and the first is this - Nothing wounds a virtuous mind more deeply than ingratitude. Every person who has had experience on this subject knows that the consciousness of having done a particular favour to an ungrateful individual is deeply painful. Parents know what this is - they know how bitter is filial ingratitude. Everyone who has done much good has felt this to some degree; they have never had, perhaps, in some cases hatred rendered for their love. This is a most grievous thing; from the nature of mind it is deeply wounding. Many of you perhaps know the bitterness of the sting you have felt when obliged to say of a child or someone you have greatly befriended - They have rendered me "evil for good," and "hatred" for my love.
At the same time this is nothing more amazing than the consciousness of having deserved well of those who hate you. It is a great satisfaction to be able to say, "Ah! I did not merit such treatment at their hands. It is rendering me "evil" for my "good." Christ will not fail to have this consolation - Sinner! are you glad of it? I need not ask the Christian for I know that he must rejoice at the thought. Christ will have this reflection when he sees the smoke of their torment rolling up and up forever and ever! I tried to do them good," he will say "and they not only vexed me without cause but they returned hatred for my love!" I ask you sinner, are you glad of it? If you persevere in your sins and die in them are you glad that Christ will be always able to say this! When you listen - if the inhabitants of hell are permitted - to the song of heaven, what will you say when you see that Christ enjoys the luxury of knowing that he died to save you - that he offered to do you all possible good, but that you rendered him hatred for his love?
From the nature of mind as we have it revealed to us in consciousness there is no remorse so unendurable as that which results from the conviction that we have "rewarded evil for good; and hatred for love." Anyone who has ever been thoroughly convicted of this sin, I have no doubt will agree with me. Anyone who has desired to be honest with himself and let his conscience speak has known something of what that bitterness is which results from the reflection of having rendered evil for good. Even in matters relating to this world, it is one of the most poignant sufferings which can be endured; for example when an individual remembers that he has injured one who has after all done him good and nothing but good - that he wronged those who have sought his welfare - how deeply that cuts! how invariably and unindurably it wounds the conscience! when they think - I have rendered evil for good, and hatred for love - from the very nature of the mind, as I have said, it is one of the bitterest agonies that can seize the mind.
Again. Sinners will carry their minds to hell, and if they die in their sins they cannot fail to have this reflection. What a thought! Memory will there be perfect; here, as the body grows old from the very nature of the relations of the mind to it, memory fails, in fact it is one of the first faculties that begins to decay; but, when the body is thrown down, there is reason to believe that memory will be perfect. Circumstances often occur here to show how wonderful memory may be. I know a young man who was once near drowning, and he said it seemed to him that he remembered everything that he had ever done with perfect distinctness in a moment.
I have often seen that peculiar circumstances of strong excitement will so call up in the memory from the deep oblivion multitudes of things which have taken place and been long forgotten by the individual. Many remarkable illustrations of this have been recorded. It is no doubt true, therefore, that men are destined, from the nature of their minds, to remember and distinguish through every period of their existence every fact of their history. From the nature of mind it is sometimes crippled by the infirmities of the body; and there is reason to believe, from many facts, that as soon as the body is thrown off from the mind - as soon as this incumbrance is got rid of - it will remember with the utmost precision every minute occurrence in their existence. No doubt this will prove a fearful addition to the future misery of the lost. God has not so constructed the mind of moral agents as to have facts pass forever from it. It is striking sometimes to see, when persons draw close to the verge of the grave, what an amazing power the memory has; there seems to be such a mighty resuscitation of their memory that their faculties seem to arouse themselves, and burst forth with an astonishing splendour and energy.
Perhaps some of you will recollect a case reported to have occurred in Germany some years back: a young woman who was accustomed to hear her master, a minister, read his Hebrew bible aloud in his study, while she was at work in the room adjoining. She could hear him read aloud to himself for his own gratification. Without understanding the meaning of the sounds she heard, or being able to divide one word from another, she became so familiarized with it, that when she became very sick, and was on the verge of death, she began to talk, as they supposed, in "the unknown tongue," but which turned out to be Hebrew, and the matter was passages of Scripture, which she repeated with the same intonations of voice her former master was accustomed to give them. She recited verse after verse verbatim, just as she had heard them read. This may serve to show how the mind of the moral agent hereafter awakes.
If this be so, when sinners come to reflect on the circumstances of their past history, over and over and over again - their ingratitude to Christ in return for his love, will look them steadfastly in the face, and they will be obliged to remember it. They will find it impossible to avoid doing so. What more will be needed to create eternal and unendurable torment than to be obliged to read over and over again the tablets of your memory - the horrible record of a protracted opposition to him who died to save you?
One moment's view of the fact of Christ's having deserved so well of you, and of the hatred you have rendered for his love, will fully reconcile the saints to the justice of your dreadful doom. They will have good reason to be reconciled even if their own children be punished, and those whom they loved best on earth. Can they rebel against Christ when he finds it impossible any longer to spare the sinner? No! They cannot.
The conduct of sinners will appear to the universe to have been infinitely disgraceful. What would you think of a child who should treat his parent as you treat Christ? Would you not despise him, and reject him as an unsuitable associate? Would you have such a sinner for a companion? What then will be thought of you, sinner, in a future world when you come to be seen in your true colours?
Once more. The most blessed and honoured here will doubtless be despised most there. I mean the sinner who has had the greatest number of blessings here, and abused them, will be the most despised there. Sinners will not themselves admit that they render evil for good; the Jews of old assigned another reason for their opposition to Christ; they would not admit that they rendered hatred for his love; but, nevertheless, we all know that they did. Just so it is with sinners in these days; they will not admit it is Christ's goodness they oppose; but they know it is, and that they oppose him only because of his opposition to their sins, and because of his endeavors to do them good. You know very well you are without excuse, sinner! And now the question is, will you continue to persecute Christ? Shall he ever have, from this hour, to say of you that you continue to render him evil for good, and hatred for his love? What do you say, sinner?