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"For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Mark 8:36, 37
Ours is an inquisitive world, and the present especially is an inquisitive age. Particularly is this inquisitiveness developed in perpetual inquiries upon matters of loss and gain. Almost universally this class of questions agitates the public mind often tasking its powers to the utmost. Almost the whole race seem all on fire to know how they can avoid loss and secure gain. Assuredly therefore, this being the great question which men interest themselves to ask, it cannot be out of place for God to propose such a question as the text presents, nor for His servants to take it from His lips and press it upon the attention and the consciences of His hearers.
And let me here say it must be specially proper to propose it to the young men who are seeking good, and studying questions of profit and gain. Your souls thirst for happiness. How much, then, does it become you to ask whether these questions from the lips of your Redeemer may not give you a priceless clue to the secret of all real and permanent good.
The question concisely expressed, is -- What is a fair equivalent for the soul? For what consideration could a man afford to lose his soul?
To bring the subject fully before your minds, let me
I. Direct your attention to the worth of the soul;
II. To the danger of losing it;
III. To the conditions of saving it.
1. Whenever ministers enter the pulpit to preach, they always take many things for granted. All do this more or less; all must do it if they would preach with any effectiveness to the heart; and it is right that they should. This is true not of the gospel minister only, but of every teacher. Every teacher assumes that his pupils exist; and that they know this truth; also that he exists himself.
Many other truths are assumed by the preacher. We must always begin somewhere. Generally we begin as the Bible does. The Bible assumes the truths of natural theology, and proceeds in its teachings as if all men knew at least these truths.
This congregation professes to be Christian, and I may therefore assume that at least nominally it is so. I shall not therefore address you as a heathen people, or as atheists, or even Universalists.
There are certain great truths admitted by almost all Christians; for example, that the soul is immortal. This is admitted so generally, I shall assume that you all admit it. You admit it to be true of both the righteous and the wicked. You admit that the bible teaches this, and I shall not therefore attempt to prove it.
It must also be admitted that from the very nature of mind, its capacities both of intellect and sensibility, will be always increasing. This increase is obviously a law of mind in this world, although from the connection of mind with matter, old age and disease seem to form an exception. This is indeed an exception to the common law, yet one which plainly results from the influence of physical frailty, and can therefore have no existence in a state where no physical frailty is experienced. It must be admitted that the exception does not result from any law of mind, but purely from a present law of matter.
The common law of mental progress is exceedingly apparent. Put your eye on the new-born infant. It knows nothing. It begins with the slightest perception, it may be of some visible object, or of the taste of its food. From a starting point almost imperceptible it goes on, making its hourly accessions of knowledge and consequent expansion of powers, till, like a Newton, it can fathom the sublime problems of the great law of the physical universe.
It is generally admitted that the capacities of men in the future state for either happiness or misery will be full -- absolutely full. That coming state must be in respect to enjoyment, not mixed like the present, but simple; -- unalloyed bliss, or unalleviated woe. Hence the soul must actually enjoy or suffer to the utmost limit of its capacity. You all admit this; or if not all, the exceptions are few and I am not aware of any among you.
Let us not forget to connect with this idea of progression the idea of eternity. It is not only progress, but eternal progress. This is involved in the immortality of the soul. No doctrine is more plainly taught and more universally implied in the Bible; none is more amply confirmed by testimony drawn from the nature of the soul itself. It stands among the truths admitted by almost everyone who bears even nominally the Christian name.
Now what follow from these admitted truths?
If men are always to progress in knowledge and capacity, then a period will arrive in which the least intelligence will be able to say -- I know more now than all the created universe knew when I was born. This must be true. Its truth follows by necessity from the truths we have admitted.
But even this is not all. For when he has reached this point of acquisition in knowledge, he has only begun. Eternity is yet before him. The time will come when he will know ten thousand times as much as all the universe did when he was born; nay not merely ten thousand times as much, but myriads of myriads of times as much. The time will arrive in the lapse of eternal ages when, if all the present created universe were tasked to the utmost to conceive or estimate how much this one intelligence can know, they would fall entirely short of reaching the mighty conception. And even this is only a mere beginning, for this vast intelligence is not a whit nearer the terminus of his progression than when he was one day old. To be sure all the universe have kept pace with him. They have all moved along together, under a law of progress common to them all. Each one can say the same and as much as he. The attainments of each and of all will forever fall short of infinite, although they are always indefinitely increasing.
Look at the happiness of the righteous. Always increasing; evermore swelling its deep and gushing tides, with no limit to their growth and no end to their progression. Who does not know that this must be so? Look at the little infant. It seems to have but the least possible capacity, and this is developed at first only in its physical powers. All the earliest germs of sensation and emotion pertain to the body alone. The little one is hungry and cries; then is nursed and is quiet; it opens its little eye and beholds the light and is pleased; by and by it comes to know its mother's presence and to love that beaming look of fondness and those soothing tones of love. Here opens to that infant mind a new source of happiness; progress -- progress is the established law of our mental and sentient being. By and by that child late an infant, is a pupil in school and then a youth in college. On and still onward is his progress in knowledge.
Nor let us lose sight of the fact that the same law of progress obtains also in the department of the sensibility. A uniform relation is then maintained between man's intellectual and sentient faculties. Knowledge increasing gives scope for increased joys or sorrows. Thus the mind progresses through all the stages of its earthly existence, new knowledge continually opening new sources of enjoyment or suffering. Mark how much that man or woman is capable of enjoying, compared with the capacity of his or her period of infancy. Now he may be bowed down under an overwhelming weight of sorrow, or he may be lifted up in ecstasies of joy unspeakable and full of glory. And this progress, we should remark, is often made despite of very unfavorable circumstances. The law of progress acts with a positive energy that no ordinary circumstances can resist.
But let us now look into the next world -- the next state of our existence. Knowledge sustains still the same relation to the sensibility; what you know there serves no less than it did here to augment your bliss or aggravate your woe. All the powers of your being sustain the same mutual relation as ever. Just think then how vast the joys and sorrows of that coming state! Mark how they tower high above all that is experiences in this brief state! This is no poetry. It is more than poetry -- infinitely more!! It is too obviously and certainly true to admit of the least question. Its truth results from admissions you make and doctrines you hold as a Christian congregation -- admissions and doctrines common to all who are not atheists -- common to all who observe the laws of our present existence and who admit that these laws will follow our existence into our future state of being.
Following out these admitted truths to their necessary results, we see that the time must come in the lapse of eternal ages when each saint can say -- I now enjoy more in a given time than all the saints in the universe did when I first entered heaven. For as with knowledge, so with happiness. It must of course come under the same law of progress. Its measure must sustain its established correlation to the amount of our knowledge, so that as the one stretches onward and still onward with no limit to its progress, so also does the other. As therefore the time will come when no created mind can estimate the knowledge attained by the now feeblest intelligence, so will it also come when no capacity can estimate the measure of its happiness. The Bible says, God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we are able to ask or even to think. This will have its striking fulfillment in the future heights of bliss and glory to which He will raise His redeemed people. O, who can measure these heights of bliss and glory! Yet when you have fixed your eye upon their towering loftiness at any period along the track of endless ages, you have it to say then and there -- This man's happiness is only begun. He has only just entered upon his everlasting progress in knowledge and in bliss. And still so vast are his capacities at this remote period of his existence that if we could look into their amazing length and breadth and depth, and measure their magnitude, we should sink like dead men at the sight. See him drawing draughts of joy from God's own eternal fountains! Will he ever cease to quaff those draughts of joy? Never. Can they ever grow less? Nay; they must of necessity be forever increasing.
Now see also the progress of the wicked. They too are moving onward. The law of progress cannot be arrested by any amount of sinning. Onward still their minds are progressing; more and more capacious for knowledge and of course for sin and suffering. And O! What then! What follows from these established laws of the human mind and of human existence? Let your reflections trace out the fearful results which accrue from these laws of eternal progression. When we get into the midst of these things, the mind becomes exhausted and overpowered; it sinks down and cries out with crushing emotion -- O what an eternity is this for the sinner, lost forever!! O look upon that sinner after he has passed along through millions of ages of his unceasing progress in knowledge and in growing capacities for sin and suffering. Hear him. He says, hell knew but little of sin and suffering when I came here, compared with what I suffer now! They all then sinned and suffered but little, even taken in the vast aggregate, compared with what I sin and suffer in my own single being now! Alas, I seem to have all hell in my own bosom! I sin and suffer enough with my vastly augmented powers to make an awful hell even if these agonies were equally distributed among myriads of my fellow beings. How awful!! Sin, misery and ruin enough to make one awful hell, locked up in the agonized bosom of a single sinner!
If this were only poetry I should be glad, but all is true, and so much more is true that no language can express it; no modes of computation and no forms of estimate can reach its appalling magnitude. So much is true that to see the thousandth part of it must set your soul all a fire!
Take any sinner here -- any young man or woman from this congregation. Follow him onward from this hour through a life of sinning, a death of darkness and horror, and then onward still as he falls in the agonies of the second death and moves onward age after age in the unceasing progress of a human mind expanding its intelligence, learning more and more of the God the sinner hates, and only hating Him forever the more, and only making himself the more immeasurably wretched by sinning with bitterer hate, and suffering with still enlarged capacities as the eternal years roll on! O young man! you will one day be able to say -- All that hell knew of suffering before I came here is nothing compared with what I now suffer! All is nothing to the aggregate of my sins and of my sufferings. And all I now endure is only a beginning. My miseries have only begun. This soul of mine has only begun to know how to suffer the real sufferings of the damned. Its keen sensitiveness to agony has only begun to develop itself. Yet at some period in the flow of those endless years of progression in sorrow, each one will say -- If all the universe at the moment of my death, had taxed their minds to the utmost to conceive the guilt and miseries that wring my heart, they could not even have begun to reach the appalling estimate!
Would to God this were only poetry! Alas, that it should be among the best established truths in the universe of realities! Young man, there is no axiom in mathematics more true than this. No problem you ever solved in algebra brought out its result with more certainty; no proposition of Euclid ever carried you more unerringly to its conclusion than our reasoning upon these known and changeless laws of mind in their progression onward through the endless cycles of eternity. Go onward and still onward; you must yet say -- after ever so many periods of largest conception, I have only just begun. I am only entering the vestibule of this world of woe -- only counting off the first moments as it were of the eternal cycles of my existence!
To pursue this train of thought in its details seems utterly impossible! How the mind sinks beneath the overpowering view! O, the worth of the soul, progressing forever under a law as fixed as and as enduring as Jehovah's throne! The worth of a soul that must make progress in knowledge, and consequently in its capacities for bliss and for holiness, or for sin and for woe -- who can estimate it to the last fraction! Tell me, ye young men of mathematical genius -- ye professors in this science of certainties -- ye who think you have some knowledge of fixed truths and some skill in educing them from first principles; tell me, are these things poetry? You know they are eternal truth; you know they are verities that which none in the universe can be more sure. "What, then, shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"
II. But what must be said of the danger of losing the soul?
This danger is exceedingly great, because men have only to neglect the soul and it is surely lost. It does not require attention and labor. You can lose your soul without the least possible effort made specially for this purpose. You need not go about to commit sin in order to ensure the ruin of your soul hopelessly and forever. You need only neglect its salvation and it is surely lost. You need only be as negligent as you have been heretofore. It is only necessary that you slide along in the same thoughtless, reckless manner as in your past days and the end will be "sudden destruction and that without remedy." As says the apostle; "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" There is none other name under heaven given among man whereby ye can be saved. And there is no salvation through this name but by a living faith which works by love and makes the heart pure form sin.
Men will lose their souls if they mistake the conditions of salvation. For these conditions require intelligent effort, and to misunderstand them makes it certain that your efforts will not be made intelligently, even if any sort of effort is made at all. There is therefore, most imminent danger in this quarter.
Again, there is the more danger because men are so little inclined to inform themselves respecting those truths which relate to the conditions of salvation. It is a most astounding fact that in matters so deeply interesting to everyone who is to be saved or lost, no man should incline to search after the requisite knowledge of the way to be saved.
There is also the more danger because men are surrounded with temptations to neglect the soul's salvation. It is the policy of Satan to surround men with as many temptations as possible to neglect this great subject. He gives them everything else to do; sets their wits at work to kill time and devise amusing and diverting occupations, and stave off all serious thought into some unknown future. Nothing delights or employs him more than to draw the sinner in and hold him fast in the snare of his infernal devises.
Again, there is the more ground to fear because you are in so much danger of practicing deception upon yourself, especially this deception -- that you can better attend to the saving of your soul at some other time. This is Satan's master-piece of deception. It has fixed the doom of damnation upon myriads of souls.
It I had time to enter upon these various dangers and expand them at length in view of the awfulness of losing the soul, how startling would be the fearful facts of the case! If all these countless dangers were seen in their real magnitude, and especially if they were seen in their bearings upon the loss of a soul, methinks it would rouse all mankind into excitement almost to madness in securing the salvation of their souls. How could they refrain from crying out in the very streets and within the very walls of their bedchambers -- What shall I do to be saved form such a hell? The danger is real although due sensibility to it is so rare. We have it from the lips of one that knew -- "Broad is the way that leadeth to destruction and many there be that go in thereat." And no fact is more open to observation than this. Everybody sees it; all may know it.
III. What are the conditions of saving the soul?
Here let it well be considered that the conditions are none of them arbitrary. All are naturally necessary. Each one is revealed as a condition because in the nature of the case it is and must be. God requires it as a condition because He cannot save the soul without it. For example, you must be sanctified and become holy in heart and life. Why? Not because God sees fit arbitrarily to impose such a condition, but because it is impossible you should be happy without it; because it is impossible you should enjoy heaven without holiness.
So also you must be sanctified by faith in Christ, and saved in all respects by this faith, for the simple reason that no other agency can sanctify and save. There is none other name given among men whereby ye can be saved. No other Redeemer exists to be believed in; no other power but that of faith in such a Redeemer ever yet reached the heart to subdue it to submission, penitence, and love.
1. There is nothing more wonderful and strange than the tendency of the human mind to neglect reflection and serious thought upon the value of the soul. The entire orthodox world admit the truths upon which we started, and admit substantially those other truths which are necessarily connected with them. Now it is most astounding that these truths should be dropped out of mind -- their bearings forgotten, and all their relations be overlooked as if they had no value, as if they were indeed only fictions and not facts. They are forgotten by parents, so that few indeed think of the bearings of these truths upon their children's well-being for eternity; they are forgotten by husbands and by wives, so that in these relations of life little is said, little felt, little done, for each other's salvation. In fact these great truths have come to be less regarded than almost anyone of the ten thousand things of this world. The least of these worldly matters is practically treated as of more value than the soul. Must there not be a strange delirium upon the human mind?
2. Nothing is so important to the Christian Church and to the world as that the Church should direct her attention to those great things till they arouse her whole soul -- till they awaken from spiritual lethargy every member of Christ's nominal church on earth. The primitive Christians of apostolic times pondered these truths until their hearts were on fire and they could not wish to do less than to lay themselves out for the salvation of the world. The same engrossing and soul-stirring attention to these great truths is needed to awaken the churches of the present day.
3. As these great truths of the soul are neglected, worldly things magnify themselves in apparent importance. If men do not dwell upon eternity, time comes to be their only reality. If they do not dwell upon the great spiritual truths that relate to the eternal world, to heaven and to hell, if they do not pour their minds out upon these truths, the trifles of time will assume the chief importance. Men will become worldly-minded. Their minds become contracted in the scope of their views to the narrow circle of their earthly relations, and they come to live as if there were no God, no heaven, no hell.
4. You may see the nature of worldly-mindedness. It is real insanity. Suppose a man to act as if he had no relations to this world. Suppose he should act as if he had no more to do with it than most men seem to have with the other world beyond this. Let him act as if he had no bodily wants -- no occasion for food or for clothing. Of course he would be regarded as a mad man; his friends, or if not they, the civil authorities would hasten to put him in a mad-house. They would sue out a commission of lunacy against him to save his property, if he had any, for the benefit of himself and his family. For precisely this is real insanity -- overlooking real facts and acting as if they did not exist.
But what shall we say of those who treat these truths of eternity as if they were not truths? Is not this also real insanity? The man knows the great facts respecting the future world. He has a book well authenticated, containing all the facts, fully revealed; he holds all the important facts with the utmost tenacity and would deem himself slandered as a heretic if you were to intimate a doubt of the soundness of his faith; in fact his orthodoxy is his pride and his glory; but yet he lives as if he did not believe a word of it! Surely this man is practically insane. You cannot but regard such a case with horror. O, you say, if he had never known these things, he would not have incurred the guilt of this dreadful insanity; but alas! he does know them all. He has them all written down; all are embraced in the standards of his faith, and he would not be supposed to doubt one word of those standards for the value of his best reputation. Then is he not insane? Alas, the world is a complete bedlam! See their manuals of doctrines; read carefully their standards and see what they believe; then see how they live -- as if there were no heaven and no hell; no atonement, no Savior; nothing but this world and its good things! And are they not madmen? Does the Bible slander them at all when it declares -- "Madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead"?
5. How must the people of other worlds look upon the men of this! Particularly, I ask, how must they regard those who live in those portions of our world where light blazes and every eye must see it? How are they astonished in heaven to see such exhibitions of depravity on earth! How must they look on with unutterable amazement as they mark the clear and blazing light which God pours upon the realities of the eternal world, and then observe how little this light is regarded even by those who see it most and best!
6. How many are struggling to secure anything and everything else but the salvation of the soul! And yet they know that everything else gained is worse than loss if the soul is lost. What egregious folly! And what is more, think of the appalling guilt? And of the coming account to be rendered for both the guilt and the folly! God will call you all to account -- you for the property you sought to the neglect of your soul, and chose at the cost of ruining your soul; and you for the education which you valued more than the salvation of your soul. What, young man, do you propose to do with that education which you have put before your soul and sought to the neglect and ruin of your eternal being? You may enter the eternal world an educated young man -- with all your powers developed and matured so that you can take your position in that world of woe in an advanced class -- as some young men come her prepared to enter in advance as far perhaps as the junior year; so you by virtue of your education, may enter among the more advanced minds in hell, ripe for drinking deeper draughts of remorse, your intellect enlarged for broader views of your relations, and sharpened for keener impressions of your guilt! O what must it be to take your starting point in that world of agonizing thought, in advance of your age and your time, ready to start off with more rapid strides in the dread career of progression in the knowledge -- in the sinning -- and in the consequent woes of the damned! Take such a mind as Byron's. How much more is he capable of suffering in one hour on his death-bed than a mind of only ordinary capacity! Sit down by his death-bed; mark his rolling eye -- his look of agony -- the reach and grasp of his capacious soul! See how keenly he feels every sensation of remorse -- how large his scope of view as he thinks of his relations to the God he should have loved but did not, and to the world he should have blessed by his talents but only cursed by his depravity! You may have often said -- If I were only as great and as talented as Byron; if I only had his power as a poet -- his genius -- his talent -- how glorious! I could ask nothing more.
You would then be as great as Byron! But what then? Suppose you were; what would you gain? What would it profit you to gain all he ever gained of mental power, or earthly fame, and to lose your soul? O think of this; to be a Byron and to lose your soul! Would this be gain? Could you afford to devote your being to such an object, and having gained it, die and go to hell?
Or suppose you aspire to be a statesman. You climb the slow ascent of office; you rise in the confidence of your party, till step by step you ascend the tall acclivity, and see the summit of ambition only a little way before you; then down you go to hell! How much have you gained, even if you have reached the glittering summit, and then lose your soul?
7. In the eternal world there will be an entire reversal of position; the highest here are lowest there, and the lowest here are the most favored or certainly the least accursed there. The kings of the earth, highest on their thrones, will have the largest account to settle there, the heaviest responsibilities to bear and of course the most fearful doom. Here he sits in grand and lofty state; the subject must kneel before him to present even a petition; but death reverses the scene. Let this king on his throne but die in his sins; he tumbles from his rotten throne to the depths of hell! Where does he go? What is his position among the ranks of the lost? Down, deep in the lowest depths of perdition. Here his princely steeds and out-riding footmen have him the éclat of nobility, and if he abused his dignity to the feeding of earthly pride and to the crushing of the poor, he sinks deep below those once so far beneath him. Now they mark his fall like Lucifer, son of morning. Now perhaps they hiss at him and curse him, saying, How art thou fallen from the throne of thy glory! And thou art here, down deep in the infamy of hell! Thou wretch! How they hiss at all his plagues! The very fires of hell roar and hiss at him as he sinks beneath their wild engulfing billows. So the great ones of any country who sell their souls for ambition and earthly power; what have they gained? An office -- it may be, a crown; but they have lost a soul! Alas, where are they now? The most miserably guilty and wretched among all the wretched ones of hell! Hear what they say as they do down wailing along the sides of the pit! "So much for the folly of selling my soul for a bubble of vanity! For an hour I sought and chose to be exalted; how fearfully do I sink now, and sink forever! O the contrast of earth and hell!" Hark, what do they say? The man clothed in purple and fine linen lifts up his eyes in hell being in torments; he sees Abraham afar off and Lazarus, that old ulcerated beggar, is now in his bosom; and what does he say! He cries aloud -- "Father Abraham, I pray thee send Lazarus to me; let him dip only the tip of his finger in water and put it on my tongue; I can do without my golden cup; that's gone forever now; but let Lazarus come with his finger dipped in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame."
But what is the answer to this agonizing prayer? Son, thou hast had thy good things, all of them, to the last dregs; and Lazarus all his evil things; now he is comforted and thou art tormented.
Let this illustrate what I mean in speaking of the wide but righteous contrast between the state of souls in time and in eternity; the strange reversal of condition, by which the lowest here becomes highest there, and the highest here become the lowest there.
8. Men really intend to secure both this world and salvation. They never suppose it wise to lose their own soul. Nor do they think to gain anything by running the risk of losing it. Indeed, they do not mean to run any great risks -- only a little, the least they can conveniently make it, and yet gain a large measure of earthly good. But in attempting to get the world, they lose their souls. God told them they would, but they did not believe Him. Rushing on the fearful venture and assuming to be wiser than God, they grasped the world to get it first, thinking to get heaven afterwards; thus they tempted the Spirit; provoked God to forsake them; lost their day of salvation and lost all the world besides. How infinitely just and right is their reward! Why did they not believe God? Every one of them knew that being saved through Christ, he would be infinitely rich, and being lost, he would make himself infinitely poor; and yet he rushed upon the fatal venture, and went down, despite of grace, to an eternal hell!
9. What is really worth living for but to save souls? You may think it is worth living for to be a judge or a senator -- but is it? Is it, if the price must be the loss of your soul? How many of our American Presidents have died as you would wish to die? If you should live to gain the object of your ambition, what would be your chance of saving your soul? The world being what it is, and the temptations incident to office and worldly honors being as they are, how great would be your prospect of saving your souls? Would it be wise for you to run the hazard?
What else would you live for than to save souls? Would you not rather save souls than be President of this Union? "He that winneth souls is wise." "They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars forever." Will this be the case with the ungodly Presidents who die in their sins?
What do you purpose to do, young man, or young woman, with your education? Have you any higher or nobler object to live for than to save souls? Have you any more worthy object upon which to expend the resources of a cultivated mind and the accumulated powers gained by education? Think -- what should I live for but the gems of heaven -- what but for the honor of Jesus, my Master?
They who do not practically make the salvation of souls -- their own and others, -- their chief concern, deserve not the name of rational; they are not sane. Look at their course of practical life as compared with their knowledge of facts. Are they sane, or are they deranged?
It is time for the church to give up her mind and her whole heart to this subject. It is indeed time that she should lay these great truths in all their burning power close to her heart. Alas! how is her soul palsied with the spirit of the world! Nothing can save her and restore her to spirit life until she brings her mind and heart into burning contact with these living energizing truths of eternity. The church of our times needs the apostolic spirit. She needs so deep a baptism with those fires of Holy Ghost that she can go out and set the world on fire by her zeal for the souls of men. Till then the generations of our race must go on, thronging the broad way to hell because no man cares for their souls.