cheerfulness may warrant, but such as are a mere waste of time, diverting the mind from serious purposes? And did not our Lord Jesus Christ say that, "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment?" Matthew 12:36.
And, friend, let me whisper other questions in thine ear. Dost thou never use words of a very doubtful kind? Is it not far too common, in society, for people to go the very verge of propriety in what they say? Have you never done so? And have you never used false words? Have you always spoken the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Has your heart always gone with your tongue? Have there been no false compliments,-no lying expressions of an affection that you never felt? I wish that certain people would more often go to the looking-glass, and examine their tongues. Doctors judge of their patients' health by looking at their tongues, and we might judge of our moral and spiritual health in a similar way. Oh, what tongues some people would have if their words could blister their tongues as they ought to do! How common it is to hear scandalous words, and slanderous words, and how many hearts are made to bleed, full often, by the cruel things that are said! "If I justify myself," says Job, "mine own mouth shall condemn me" Job 9:20, and I think he means, "because my very words have been sufficient to cause me to plead guilty before God." I trust we also feel like that; and if we do, we shall never dare to be self-righteous.
I think, further, that Job meant that, if he were to plead that he was righteous before God, he would be sure to make such a muddled statement that, somehow or other, the statement itself would contain its own condemnation. If a man says, "I have kept God's law perfectly, so I can enter heaven by the merit of my own good works," every intelligent person thinks, "What a proud man that is!" And can a proud man be accepted before God? Is it not written, "Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off" Psalms 138:6? So you see that a statement of self-justification, by betraying the pride of our heart, straightway condemns us. Men who believe themselves to be saved by their own good works generally have something harsh and evil to say against God's grace, or against His Son, or against the divine plan of salvation through the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ; and the very fact that they say anything against those things shows that their heart is in rebellion against God, and therefore their own mouth condemns them.
Years ago, there was an old man, in Wiltshire, who, according to his own statement, was a hundred and three years of age, he had never neglected his parish church, he had brought up eleven children, and had no help from the parish, and he expected that, by-and-by, he should go home to God, for "he had never done anything wrong in his life that he knowed about." "But," said someone to him, "you are a sinner, you know." "I know I ain't," he said. "Well, but God says that you are." And what, think you, did that old man reply? He said, "God may say what he likes, but I know I ain't." So, you see, he even contradicted God Himself, and is not that a great sin for anybody to commit? What worse sin can there be, and what character proof of the alienation of the human heart, than that a man should flatly contradict God? Well, none of you ever did that, did you? No, you have not honesty enough to do that, but you mean it all the same. Many of you mean it, in your very souls. When a man does not accept salvation by Jesus Christ, if you probe his heart to its very depths, you will find that his rejection means that he does not really feel that he is guilty in the sight of God. He will not own that he needs divine mercy, nor will he accept salvation by the blood and righteousness of Christ. Self-righteousness often lies concealed far down in the heart of man; but whenever he ventures to speak it out, the very way in which he talks of it condemns him.
I have heard men talk in this fashion,-"Well, I am quite as good as others are; and if I am not right at last, it will be a very bad look-out for a great many." Oh, yes, I see what you mean; because others are not what they should be, you are content with your own condition because you are like them. There is no fear of God before your eyes; and your only hope is that, as you are like others, it will be as well with you as it will be with them! But is not that, a poor hope to lean upon? Do you not know that the broad road is thronged with travellers, and yet that it leads to destruction? Even if you fare as others do, it will be no comfort to you to perish as they do. There is a very ancient declaration, which ought to be a warning to you: "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished" Proverbs 11:21.
"Well," says another, "I have done my best, and I cannot do more than that." When you speak like that, you mean to imply that God asks of you more than he ought to ask, that really he is unjust in his dealings with you, and that the great evil is not that you are a bad servant, but that he is a tyrant Master. What is that but flinging down the gauntlet to the Almighty, and charging Him with injustice? Such language as that betrays the enmity of your heart against the Most High.
"Well," says another, "I pay everybody all that is due." I am glad that you do so, and wish everybody else did the same; but have you paid to God all that is due to Him? There is the great flaw in your life,-you pay every creditor except your God, to whom you owe all that you have. Many a man, who would not illtreat his dog, does not mind illtreating his God. The last one of whom many of you think is your Creator, and Provider, and Preserver, the God who keeps the breath of life in your nostrils. You give some sort of consideration to the meanest servant in your kitchen; but to Him who made the heavens and the earth, to Him who sustains all things by the word of His power, you pay no regard whatsoever. As this is the real meaning of your attempt at self-justification, it carries its condemnation upon its very surface.
"Still," says one, "whatever I may seem to be, I am really good at heart." Ah, that is another of the sayings that I have often heard, but I have never yet been able to believe that a man could be bad in life, yet good at heart. It is sometimes said of a man, who dies drunk, and cursing his Maker, "Ah, he was a good fellow at bottom." That is not the way that men talk in the market. If you go to buy a barrel of apples, and see a lot of rotten and spoiled ones at the top of the barrel, do you believe the salesman when he says, "Ah, but the apples underneath are very good ones"? Of course, you do not believe anything of the kind; you always reckon that the fruit below is worse than that at the top, for the universal practice is to put the best at the top, and the poorer quality underneath. In like manner, we do not believe the man who says that he is good at bottom, and good at heart, although his life is evil. No, sir, you are even worse in heart than you ever were in life, because there are many things that restrain you from revealing your naked self to these who only see your outward life. But your sin is there, down at the bottom of your heart; and if you attempt to justify yourself in the sight of God, the very statement that you make will condemn you.
Besides, so conscious are men that their own good works will not justify them before God, that, I do not remember ever meeting with a person who absolutely professed to be at peace with God as the result of his own endeavours. If I were to ask any man, who says that he is righteous simply because of what he has himself done or been, "Are you prepared to die?" he would shake his head, and say, "Oh, no! I am not prepared to die." You say that you have done nothing wrong, and that you are all right. But suppose that, tomorrow, you were to be called to stand at God's judgment-bar, would you feel comfortable in the prospect? "Oh, no!" you say. I felt sure that must be your answer. Indeed, all the religions in the world that teach the doctrine of salvation by works are at least honest enough not to pretend to ensure for any man present salvation. Take, for instance, that gigantic form of error, the Romish system of religion.
It never tells anybody that he is saved. There is not a cardinal, though he is called a prince of the church, and there is not a pope, though he is called Christ's vicar on earth, who dares to say that he is saved. They have some kind of faint hope that they may be saved at some future period, but there are none of them who dare to say that they are already saved. As to using the language of the apostle Paul, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" Romans 5:1,-language which even boys and girls in our Sunday-school can use as soon as they have believed in Jesus Christ,-well, even the greatest and the wisest of them cannot say that, either while they are in full health and strength, or when they are about to die. What becomes even of their great cardinals when they die? I have seen a notice of this sort put up in their churches, and probably many of you have also seen it, "Of your charity, pray for the repose of the soul of Cardinal So-and-so;" so that it is evident that he has gone somewhere or other where he is not at rest. It is quite clear that he has not gone to heaven; so all that he has done, all the masses that he has said, all the confessions he has made, and all the penances he has undergone, have done nothing for him but land him somewhere where he has not got repose for his soul. But the glory of the gospel of Christ that it says to the sinner, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be justified immediately. Trust in what he has done, and you shall be saved, and you shall know that you are saved, and that you shall be saved for ever" Acts 16:31. This is a gospel that is worth preaching, and I pray you, therefore, to regard it as worth hearing, while I try to expound it during the few remaining minutes available for my discourse; and, in order that you may do so, I urge you to put away all self-righteousness in which you have hitherto trusted. Bury it; bury it for ever; it will only ruin you if you rely upon it.
II. Our second text reveals THE DIVINE JUSTIFICATION OF WHICH THE APOSTLE PAUL SPEAKS: "It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?"
Brethren and sisters in Christ, you know that God can justify the ungodly. We may put this truth very broadly, and say that God can take an unjust, unrighteous sinner, and, by a wondrous process, which made even the angels in heaven to be astonished when it was revealed to them, he can take the guilt from the guilty one, and cast it into the depths of the sea; and He can cover the unrighteous man with a spotless robe of righteousness, so that he shall be accounted fair and lovely, and whiter than the newly-fallen snow. God can do this, at once, for every soul that is willing to accept the divine plan of salvation. Well might the apostle say, "It is God that justifieth." Oh, what a blessing it is that God is able to pardon the guilty, and both to impute and impart righteousness to those who have none of their own!
Notice how this great work is done. The whole wondrous plan of salvation can be summed up in a single word,-substitution. As the first Adam stood before God as the representative and federal head of the whole human race, and as it was by his sin that our whole race fell, it became possible for God to regard our race as a whole, and to find for us another Adam, who would come and stand in our stead, and represent us as the first Adam did; so that, as the first Adam we fell, we might be raised up by a second Adam. That second Adam is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, the Lord from heaven. He has been here upon this earth, and He has kept the law of God in every jot and tittle, and so has woven a righteousness which covers the sinner from head to foot when he is enabled to put it on; and then, when the law of God examines him, it cannot find a flaw, or a rent, or even a faulty thread, in that matchless robe which is woven from the top throughout.
In addition to this, inasmuch as we had actually sinned against the Lord, this glorious God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ, suffered the terrible consequences of our sin. Oh, wondrous truth! He went up to the accursed tree, and freely gave himself up to die a felon's death, that, in that death, the justice of God might be vindicated, and that God might be just, and yet the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. It is thus that God can reckon the sinner to be just, because Jesus has taken his place, and borne the penalty that was due for his sin.
"But," asks someone, "how is that great work accomplished? I see that Christ suffered instead of sinners, and wrought out a righteousness which sinners could never have wrought for themselves; but how can that righteousness become theirs?" God's plan, my friend, is that thou shouldst hide thyself in Christ. Thou must come to Christ, and take what he has done to be thine by an act of simple faith. I cannot use a better illustration than that of the sin-offering brought to the priest under the Mosaic dispensation. When the sacrificial animal was about to be slain, the sinner came and laid his hands upon the head of the beast, and confessed his sin over the appointed sin-offering. Thus, his sin was put on the animal, which was then killed and consumed; and so, in type, the man's sin was put away. In a similar fashion, come, beloved, to my Lord Jesus Christ at this very moment; and, by an act of faith, put your sin where God long ago laid it; and, in token of that act, say to your Lord and Saviour himself: