Alfred Place Baptist Church

8:36&37 The Unanswerable Question

Mark 8:36&37 “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

There was an occasion on which John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, was preaching at Pinner’s Hall, London. Whenever it was announced that Bunyan was preaching somewhere crowds of people flocked to hear him. On this occasion he announced this very text and he said to the packed congregation, “I have chosen at this time to handle these words among you, and that for several reasons.” Then he told them why he wanted to speak on this theme, and his reasons are also mine:

1] The soul and its salvation is a wonderfully great thing. Nothing is more important for each one of you than this. Houses and lands, works and honours – what are these compared to salvation?
2] This fact is amazingly neglected in our day. Who is there in our town who is concerned about the salvation of his soul? Is there one Aberystwyth sinner in a thousand today who has gone to hear the word of God with a longing that his soul be saved?
3] I have pitched upon this text at this time that God would help me by this message to awaken you, rouse you from your bed of ease, and bring you to your knees before the Lord, to beg him for his grace that you might be concerned for the salvation of your soul.
4] I am preaching on this theme to deliver myself from any responsibility for your damnation, to be clear of your blood, so that you yourselves will answer to God for your refusal to be saved.

We are told that 180 years after the death of the Emperor Charlemagne, around the year 1000, his tomb was opened by order of the Emperor Otho, and when they looked inside it this is what they saw. Charlemagne had been buried sitting upright on a throne, a crown was on his skull, and a copy of the gospels was on his lap, and he had directed that his finger be pointing to this very text of ours. Indeed it was! A bony finger of what had been the most powerful and wealthy man in the world rested on these words, “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” There is an old saying, “He captured Venice, and then was hung at its gate.” In other words, men may achieve all their goals for wealth, fame and power but just as quickly be stripped of everything. May the life-giving Spirit of God enable us all to feel the power of these words of the Lord Jesus Christ.

1. EVERYONE OF US IS AN UNDYING SOUL.

Each one of us is body, and each one of us is soul (sometimes this latter is referred to as the ‘spirit’ and that emphasises that it was made by God and for him. The word ‘soul’ emphasises our unique personhood and identity.). Each one of us, as well as obviously being body, is also soul and is spirit – the same part of our beings is being referred to. You are not merely body – like a slug, or a fly, or an animal, or a starling. You are soul! You can communicate profoundly to another. You can love. You can deny yourself for others. A man will choose lay down his life for his friends. Parents will choose to make many sacrifices that their children become healthy and get educated. The Titanic hit the iceberg and there followed scenes of extraordinary bravery as scores of fathers and husbands made the conscious decision to drown in those icy waters that their wives and children might first enter the lifeboats. If that had been a cattle ship would the bulls have drawn back and let the cows clamber onto a rescue ship? Would the cows have drawn back to let the calves get on before them? Never! Because they are not souls. But you are. You deny yourself for the sake of your loved one. You can meditate, you face up to the future, you are overwhelmed by the beauty of creation and music and literature. You are soul. You as spirit can contemplate the sun, moon and stars: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou has made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour” (Psa. 8:3-5). You can know God the Creator; you can comprehend the Sermon on the Mount, the gospel of John, the letter of Paul to the Romans – because you are soul and spirit.

Consider when God made Adam, he formed him from the dust of the earth – as he had made the animals before him. So there are many parallels between the body of a man and the bodies of animals. God in his divine economy does not spread diversity unnecessarily. But that body which God had designed needed something more before it had the life of a man. We are told that God came so near, almost kissing this dust, and he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and then man became a living creature in God’s image. Then man became soul and spirit as well as body. Let us establish this fact in our minds, that we are all so made as souls and spirits so that we shall never die. This body of ours which we look after, and clothe and feed, which we wash and powder and cream and spray and perfume. . . this body which we examine for lumps appearing and moles changing their shape and colour, which we will hurry off to the doctor if there is anything wrong . . . this body alone is not you. You are more than your body; you are also soul. The death which each one of us must die doesn’t make an end to man. All is not over when the doctor makes his last call, when the last breath is taken, and the last flicker of electrical activity is extinguished in the brain, when the coffin is screwed down, and the funeral schedule is complete, when the flames of the crematorium have devoured the body and turned it to ashes, when another voice is soon sounding from our old office desk, and other people live in our homes and we become forgotten. I tell you that all is not over at the moment of death. The spirit of a man lives on. Every one is also an undying soul.

Remember the last words of Jesus Christ, “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit!” Had our Lord thought much about life, and death, and the soul, and God? Yes, much. Could he have thought more about it than you? Yes, more. Was there something utterly divine about him? Yes. Who are you going to trust? Him, or your own theories – “well, I think of life and death like this . . .”? At the end of Jesus’ life his commended his spirit to God. His body was taken down by his friends and wrapped in graveclothes and laid in a sepulchre, but his soul was not annihilated at that moment. It went to the one Jesus knew to be his Father in heaven. On the third day his body was resurrected and his soul was reunited to it for ever. You have a voice within you that tells you that this was so. What I say to you is truth. When we have accompanied the bodies of our loved ones on that last journey of their lives, and seen their coffins lowered into their graves, who then does not know something rising in our hearts to say, “There is a life to come! All men and women from the mightiest to the lowest are souls.”

You go to every culture and civilisation and you find that this is so. Their temples and pagodas and funeral rites all speak of the same thing, from the time of the pharaohs until today. They testify to the ineradicable consciousness of man that death never succeeds in snuffing us out. Look around you! J.C.Ryle says, “You see an endless struggle about temporal things. Hurry, bustle, and business hem you in on every side. I can well believe you are sometimes tempted to think that this world is everything, and the body is all that is worth caring for. Resist the temptation, and cast it behind you. Say to yourself every morning when you rise, and every night when you lie down, ‘The fashion of this world passes away. The life that I now live is not all. There is something beside business, and money, and pleasure, and trade. There is a life to come'” (J.C.Ryle, “Old Paths,” ‘Our Souls!’ p. 43). You are soul as well as body.

The Lord Jesus is saying here that your soul is more valuable than the whole world. Don’t you agree with him? A burglar comes into your house and he seizes your Old Master oil painting worth six million pounds, a family heirloom. He has a gun in his hand. “I am having this,” he says and he points the gun at you. What do you say? “Take it!” Your life is more valuable than an oil painting. It is of more value than all your possessions, than all the money in the bank, than all the oil of the North Sea. “Take it all,” you cry, “but spare my life.” What does your wife say? Does she agree? Is it you your children want rather than your things? Of course they do. Your life is far more valuable than all the world. There is no immortality to works of art, to champion race horses, to luxury liners, to mighty skyscrapers – moth and rust destroy them. Thieves break in and steal them. Terrorists bomb them. One little child nursed by its mother is going to live longer than all those things. There shall be a time when all New York will crumble to nothing, when Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey shall be cast down and pass away. The Welsh language and all the works of English literature will be no more. The soul of one farmer is more enduring than all that. Though the universe expires, melting with fervent heat, his soul shall live on in eternity. You may be poor in this world, but you are soul. You may be sickly and weak in body, but you are soul. You may be a nobody, but you are soul, and that soul is what God chiefly regards. The soul is you, and it is the most important thing about you. Reckon on it. Believe that you were not sent into the world to work for the Council, and pay off your mortgage, and leave a few thousand to your children. Your end as man – who is soul as well as body – is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever. Come to church every Sunday. Listen to the preaching of the word. Cry mightily to God that he will show you who you are and who God is. Keep Sunday special: give God his day, and if your fellow students or the people in work ask you why you are acting like that then tell them, “I do these things because I am a soul as well as a body.”

There was once a country minister who bumped into a young man. It was a beautiful spring morning and they commented about that fact. “We ought to be so thankful to God our creator,” said the minister. “Do you leave your house without praying?” The young man said, “I never pray. I’ve got nothing to pray about.” “Do your parents pray?” asked the minister. “If they like, they do,” he said. “But you never pray?” “Naa.” The minister knew that he was a superstitious kind of fellow, and so he put his hand in his pocket and took out a ten pound note. “I’ll give you this note,” he said to the young man, “if you promise me that you’ll never pray again, as long as you live.” “All right,” said the young man, “I don’t know what I’ve got to pray about. I promise I’ll never pray again,” and he took the money gratefully.

He went home, and then the thought struck him, “What have I done?” He thought that one day he was going to die and then what? One day he might be in an accident his lifeblood leaking away, or his wife might be ill while expecting a baby, or he might fall into the river. Many thoughts like that came crashing into his brain and sleep went. He had promised that he would never pray. One day he might meet God, and he had never spoken to him, and he got more and more desperate. He went into a depression that week, and his parents asked him what was wrong: “I met a devil,” he said to them. He felt he had sold himself to the evil one. But that preacher knew what he was doing, and there was a hall in the village where that young man lived, and he was going to be preaching there that next week, and he was sure the young man was there. When he stood up at the lectern and faced the congregation there he saw him, in the back row. The minister announced his text. It was our text today, “What will it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” The young man thought, “Yes, what will it profit a young man to sell his soul for a ten pound note?” He went straight on to him after the service the ten pounds in his hand, “Take it back! Take it back!” he said to the preacher, thrusting the note in his hand. “You said you didn’t pray and wouldn’t pray,” said the preacher. “I must pray . . . I must pray . . . If I don’t pray I am lost,” he said. That easy promise he’d made not to pray was the means of arousing him to meet the God who inspires and hears and answers prayer. Every one of us is an undying soul, so every one of us must pray.

2. ANYONE MAY LOSE HIS OWN SOUL.

I would identify entirely with J.C.Ryle and say, “I am one of those old-fashioned ministers who believe the whole Bible – and everything that it contains. I can find no scriptural foundation for that smooth-spoken theology, which pleases so many in these days, and according to which everybody will go to heaven at last. I believe that there is a real devil. I believe that there is a real hell. I believe that it is not charity to keep back from men that they may be lost. ‘Charity’, shall I call it? If you saw your child drinking poison, would you hold your peace? ‘Charity’, shall I call it? If you saw a blind man tottering towards the edge of the cliff, would you not cry out ‘Stop!’? Away with such false notions of charity! Let us not slander that blessed grace by using its name in a false sense. It is the highest charity to bring the whole truth before men. It is real charity to warn them plainly that they are in danger. It is charity to impress upon them that they may lose their own souls for ever in hell” (J.C. Ryle op cit, p. 45).

God has loved the world, yes, but men may lose their souls. God has sent his own Son, yes, but men may be lost. God has imputed sin to Christ and his righteousness to sinners, thank God, but some men may still lose their souls. Full atonement has been paid for all for whom Christ died; he has cried, ‘It is finished!’ Yes it is true, but men may still lose their souls. There is a narrow path that leads to life with just a few upon it, and a broad road that leads to destruction and many find it. Christ has said that he will separate mankind into two groups, like a shepherd separates his sheep from his goats. To some he will say, “Come ye blessed,” and to others he will say, “Depart from me!” The souls of some are saved while the souls of others are lost.

Is there one man in the world who has a natural inclination to save his soul? No, not one. If you went into any school in our county and asked the children in those schools what is the most important thing they have, that they must never lose, you would get a fascinating and merry assortment of answers but which child would look back at you big-eyed with seriousness and say, “My soul sir!” And if there were one in whose life grace was operating who replied, “My soul,” the rest of the children and the teachers would think her raised by fanatics, and mock her. None of us have any natural desire to have our souls saved. We are weak, corrupt and inclined to sin. We call evil good, and good evil. Imagine taking a diamond the size of a peach stone, worth a million pounds, and putting it in the hand of a seven year old child, and saying to her, “I want you to walk to London taking this diamond to the Queen.” Is it not very doubtful whether she would ever arrive at London, and her majesty never receive that treasure? Yet this is a faint image of setting out on a journey through life with a careless view of your soul.

How do men lose their souls? The chief way is by neglect. Think of the people in Aberystwyth who pamper their bodies, who go on special diets, and take regular visits to health farms, and have even had plastic surgery, and employ their own personal trainers, and will run to the doctor with the slightest problem, and yet they will do nothing at all about their souls. They never think of their inner man, of the invisible and eternal world, of God, of dying, of the Bible, of Jesus Christ, of prayer. Your mortal body is garnished and cosseted, but your soul is ignored. If I could painlessly extract your soul this moment and show it to you now it would look like that hard little prune at the bottom of the packet, dark and shriveled, scarcely any different from a stone. Your neglected soul.

What folly, to pamper the dying body and neglect the eternal soul! It reminds me of the parable of a man who owned two shops, one was a little Post Office in a Welsh village with an additional three shelves of basic groceries and a small freezer of frozen food and ice cream. Five or six people an hour entered that shop. His other store was on Regent Street. It was a vast store, with hundreds of shop assistants and buyers and window designers and a fleet of vans taking goods across London. Thousands of people entered that shop each hour. Yet that man spent more time and energy planning how to take care of his little Welsh Post Office than his store at the heart of London, and down and down it was plummeting. He would give his staff no guidance and no permission to do anything because he was fussing over his postage stamps and tins of tomato soup back in Aberboyo. What a fool, to neglect what was worth millions for something worth little. Yet multitudes do this day by day. They are obsessed with trivia, with sport, and fashion, and bands, and they neglect their souls! I am not saying to the Post Office keepers of rural Wales to neglect your shops, and I am not saying to anyone here to neglect your body. I am pleading for a sense of priority. Important as your body is your soul is far more important. Would a captain set sail across the Pacific with a hold full of paint for the crew to paint the ship, but with no food to feed them? Would a teacher be content to start a school term with nothing in his school – no books, no blackboards, no chalk – nothing but two rubber balls and a bat? Does he not want to feed the minds and understanding of his children? Look to your souls as well as your bodies!

But many are not merely neglecting their souls they are positively murdering them. They fill their minds with television watching, the worst sort of programmes, dulling their minds with inanity and soaps. They fill their bellies with alcohol, and their lungs with nicotine smoke, and their veins with heroin, and their nostrils with glue vapours. Their talk is adultery and fornication, dishonesty, greed and deceit, and easy money. All those things are a band of vandals whose one aim is to destroy your soul.

Others destroy their souls with false religions, humanism, New Age philosophies, evolutionism, the cults, and all the inventions of men that exalt man and have no place for the saving work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. They are all soul-killers. It is not enough that you are sincere. It is not enough to sneer at the bigotry and narrow-mindedness you think you see in Christians, flattering yourself that you are not like them, that you belong to no church, and that somehow it will be all right with you at the end. Let no man deceive you with vain words. Indecision is just as big a killer of the soul as false religion or no religion at all. We are all on the river Niagara and as the days pass we are all drifting down stream nearer and nearer the mighty falls. Can you hear the distant rumble of the cataracts? You are daily approaching the rapids and we all have to pass over those falls, and if you die with the great divine Rescuer, you will be lost for ever.

It takes nothing to ruin your soul, just yawn and think about something else while the preacher seeks to awaken you. Just look at the drawing your child is doodling on his pad. Finger your hymn book and look down. Admire the architecture of the building. Consider your business. That’s all you have to do, swim with the tide, float down the stream, go with the crowd, and soon the opportunity of saving your soul is gone for ever. The blame will be your own. We will have no excuses in the tremendous day when the books are open, will we? The King will say, “Friend how have you come in here without a wedding garment?” We shall be speechless as they carry us away to hell. The undying worm is the companion of those who gained the world but lost their souls. They will go to the place Jesus often spoke of where the fires are not quenched, and where there is darkness and despair and wretchedness for ever. The end of those things is death! If I see danger ahead I raise my voice. Men see a boat heading for the rocks and they light a beacon. Don’t despise my warning. You are a never dying soul, but you are a lost soul. Things are not as they should be between you and God. Many others have lost their souls, but what comfort is that to you? You are losing yours!

3. TO LOSE YOUR SOUL IS THE GREATEST LOSS ANYONE CAN SUFFER.

When I was a child another schoolboy might find something valuable in the road, a coin, a pen, a piece of jewellery, and he would snatch it up and put it in his pocket before anyone else could get it, and he would chant these words: “Finders, keepers: losers, weepers.” It was a sort of mantra to cover his theft and to grant himself the right to keep the article. To lose something valuable is grievous – we may weep, but to lose your own soul …? That is the greatest of all losses.

The Lord Christ is placing before us a pair of scales, and on one side of the balances is laid the whole world. The lust of the flesh is there, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. All the power sources of the earth’s fossil riches, all its diamonds, and all its agricultural wealth, its vast cities and steaming tropical jungles, and all the sensual delights of the world are there. All the people and places of “Hello” and “OK” magazine are there. All that which beauty, and fame, and wealth, and earthly glory, and honour and physical strength can do to make men and women the most famous and envied people on the globe is all here, on this one side of the scales. Unimaginable splendour is here. The glories of the kingdoms of the world are here. Christ leaves nothing out. If you can describe it, then it is here. If you envy it, then it is here. If you covet it and pant for it, then it is here. Every single atom of it is here, not a pearl is missing from the world that lies there in the scales on this side of the balances.

Then on the other side Jesus puts one single soul. It is the soul of a child perhaps, or of a person with learning difficulties, or an old Chinese peasant woman who has spent her life sowing and harvesting rice on one hillside in central China. That one soul outweighs all the rest! It so outweighs the rest that it were as if we had placed an elephant on this side while on the other there was a little mouse. It so outweighs the other that up it all shoots! Up goes the whole world! Madam Bubble goes into orbit! Vanity Fair is flung far, far away. Paul says that after he has seen Jesus Christ then the world is crucified to him and he to the world. In other words you can offer him all the money and rewards and fame and glittering prizes of the world, and Paul would be as fascinated to look at those things as to gaze at the sight of a man being crucified. It is all to him of no consequence. It is all repugnant to him. Love not the world nor the things that are in the world! He has seen the Son of God. His soul is saved!

I think of a student who went out from here 35 years ago and has spent most of that time in Kenya. He has been separated from his parents and friends and all that world that was familiar to him and he has given his life to a church on the wrong side of Nairobi, where every evening the house is padlocked and a night watchman sits by a fire pot through the hours of darkness seven days a week outside the house to be on guard, and a dog prowls up and down. It has not been easy raising a daughter in those circumstances. There have been times when he has been pressed to the very limits, but he would earnestly say to you, “I’ve had the very best life. It has been challenging, exciting, richly rewarding, and fulfilling. I wouldn’t alter a thing. I have no regrets and much cause to give thanks. I would not change my blessed estate for all the world calls good or great.” Losers are not weepers. Losers are keepers. He lost the world, but he’s saved his soul!

I sat in the barber’s shop on Thursday waiting to have my hair cut and there was a copy of the day’s “Guardian”, a paper I never see, but I read in it the obituary of a man as far away from my missionary friend as you can possibly imagine, a self-confessed playboy and womaniser Prince Alfonso de Hohenlohe-Langenberg of Marbella in Spain. He was quoted as claiming, “I have lived in castles, Venetian palaces and the world’s best hotels. I have looked into the eyes of the world’s most beautiful women.” That was his boast, but none of his wealth could prevent cancer coming into his home and getting him, and at the last it wasn’t a millionaire’s mansion he inhabited at the last but a wooden coffin, just like all men. What good was all his money and his pretty women in that day? What had he to give in exchange for his soul? Nothing! What had he gained by being the king of the wor ld of playboys? He lost an eternal weight of glory. What had he got? He have gained the envy of pathetic people who think like he used to during his brief earthly sojourn – though he thinks like that no more! He gained a few toys and sexual encounters but he lost the blessings of eternal life in heaven. “In thy presence is fulness of joy. At thy right hand are pleasures for evermore” – and he lost them all when he lost his soul! Jesus says if you do what he did you’ve made a bad bargain. You have exchanged the truth for a lie, and a few moments for eternity.

“The most famous living author of the 1930s was William Somerset Maugham, ‘Willie’ was a novelist, playwright, and short story writer. His novel ‘Of Human Bondage’ is a classic. His play ‘The Constant Wife’ has gone through thousands of stagings. He was a man who lived for his own tastes and comforts, and his sexual perversions. In 1965, at the age of ninety-one, he was still a fabulously rich man, although he hadn’t written a word in years. He claimed he was still getting over three hundred fan letters a week.

“What had life brought W. Somerset Maugham? The “Times” carried this excerpt by his nephew, Robin Maugham who went to visit him (April 9, 1978): ‘I looked round the drawing room at the immensely valuable furniture and pictures and objects that Willie’s success had enabled him to acquire. I remembered that the villa itself, and the wonderful garden I could see through the windows – a fabulous setting on the edge of the Mediterranean – worth millions. Willie had 11 servants, including his cook, Annette, who was the envy of all the other millionaires on the Riviera. He dined off silver plates, was waited on by Marius, his butler, and Henri, his footman. But it no longer meant anything to him.

‘The following afternoon I found Willie reclining on a sofa, peering through his spectacles at a Bible which had very large print. He looked horribly wizened and his face was grim. “I’ve been reading the Bible you gave me . . . And I’ve come across the quotation, ‘What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?’ I must tell you, my dear Robin, that the text used to hang opposite my bed when I was a child . . . Of course, it’s all a lot of bunk. But the thought is quite interesting all the same.”‘

“Robin Maugham goes on to describe an empty, bitter old man who repeatedly fell into shrieking terrors, crying, ‘Go away! I’m not ready . . I’m not dead yet . . . I’m not dead yet, I tell you. . .’ He was a man who had gained the whole world and lost his own soul.” (R. Kent Hughes, “Mark, Volume One,” Crossway Books, Westchester IL, 1989, p.203).

You need pay me no attention if what I’ve been saying to you is a lot of bunk. If Jesus Christ is to be discredited and you become a follower of Somerset Maugham then you need not have your time wasted by me and your concerns aroused again. But if Jesus Christ be the Son of God, and his words be true then should you not lay them to your heart? “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Listen to these words of J.C.Ryle: “The whole world cannot make up to a man the loss of his soul. The possession of all the treasures that the world contains, wouldn’t compensate for eternal ruin. They would not satisfy us, and make us happy while we had them. They could only be enjoyed for a few years, at best, and must then be left for evermore. Of all unprofitable and foolish bargains that man can make, the worst is that of giving up his soul’s salvation for the sake of this present world. It is a bargain of which thousands, like Esau, who sold his birthright for a mess of pottage, have repented, but many, unhappily, like Esau, have repented too late.” (J.C.Ryle, “Expository Thoughts on Mark,” 1857, p.171).

4. ANYONE MAY HAVE HIS SOUL SAVED.

There is no need for anyone here to make the mistakes that many around us are making. There is no good news in what I have been telling you so far, but the message of Jesus Christ is a gospel which is offered to all the world of salvation for our souls. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. Any one of you here, from the youngest to the very oldest, from the most wicked to the most righteous, from the most stupid to the most sophisticated, may know today the salvation of his or her soul.

Listen to J.C.Ryle again: “I know that we are all sinners by nature, fallen, guilty, corrupt, covered with sin. I know that the God with whom we have to do is a most holy Being, of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and One who cannot look upon that which is evil. I know also that the world in which our lot is cast, is a hard world for religion. It is a world full of cares and troubles, of unbelief and impurity, of opposition and hatred to God. It is a world in which religion is like an exotic – a world which has an atmosphere that makes religion wither away. Notwithstanding all this, hard as this world is, holy as God is, sinful as we are by nature, I say that any one and every one may be saved. Any man or woman may be saved from the guilt, the power, the consequences of sin, and be found at length at the right hand of God in everlasting glory” (J..C.Ryle, “Old Paths,” op cit, p. 54).

How can these things be? How can your soul be saved? There are three grounds for my affirmation:

i] The Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, has borne away the sin of the world. His death was no martyr’s death like Stephen’s or Latimer’s. The Lord Jesus was sent into the world in order to save our souls. All their guilt and defilement was transferred to him as he hung upon the cross. The curse they deserve was taken by him. The demands of God’s holy law upon them threatening them with death were all satisfied by Christ. Our Lord hung on Golgotha as the Almighty Substitute, as the Representative, as the Surety for the sons of men! All our enormous debt to God was cleared once and for all by Jesus alone there! The way to heaven was opened up. A fountain was provided where sin and uncleanness is washed away. Reconciliation with a holy God was accomplished. Peace with God was obtained at Calvary for all who trust in Jesus Christ. The doors of the prison house of sin are opened. The fingers of Satan that grasp our souls are all unhooked and we are delivered – who cry to Jesus.

All this was done for sinners like you, whose souls are lost. The hands and feet were pierced, the mockery did not cease, the precious blood flowed so freely for sinners just like you. Not for the sinner outside this building, nor for the sinner next to you, but for you. I am saying to you today that I have a Saviour for you, that your souls may be saved. Here is Christ Jesus who can deliver you and become your Lord and teacher and shepherd, the great Saviour of your soul.

ii] Jesus Christ who died lives and is with us now. I cannot save your soul. No theological professor can do so. Not a single person in this congregation can help. No saint in this world or the world to come, no group of saints, no men dressed up in religious costumes, no pope laying hands on you and sprinkling you with water, and repeating all sorts of formulae can save your soul. No angel can do this. Only the living Christ himself.

You are thinking that I want you to have a religious experience, feel better and cry a few tears perhaps, and then all of us will gather around you and say, “Well done!” No! I don’t want to give you heightened feelings about Christianity and announce to you, “You’ve been converted.” You are rightly suspicious of all that. You are thinking of your family and friends and the future and how you can possibly live a different life facing temptations and meeting opposition. You are saying to yourself, “It’s hopeless. I’ll fall away in a few months. It will be just an emotional spasm. I’ll never keep going.”

If it were just you then you’d be absolutely right. You could no more keep on as a Christian than a lamb could survive in a den of lions. But it is not going to be just you. It never is just you. The Saviour who died to take away the corruption of your soul lives to keep you day by day. He is with us now. He never leaves us. We go nowhere without him. If we flew to the uttermost parts of the earth he would be there waiting for us. He is there as our sovereign Protector. He is there to keep us from falling. He is alongside us in temptation. Sometimes he will take the opportunity away from us. Sometimes he will make the sin itself repugnant to us. Sometimes he will give us new energy in the battle. Sometimes he will let us fall to humble us and then he will gives us the grace of repentance and a new determination to do better in the battle.

Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day never to die again. He cares for us very much. He never stops praying for us. He is full of sympathy and longsuffering, though we provoke him. This living Saviour will help you day by day, and every passing moment. I am not saying to you, “Make a decision about Jesus today.” I am saying this, that it will profit you nothing if you go on and do very well in the eyes of all your friends and neighbours but lose your soul. All you need to do is nothing whatsoever and you will be eternally lost. I am saying that the one person who can help you is here now in the power of an endless life, and he can save and keep your soul and present you faultless before God in the great day.

iii] Your soul may be saved because of the offers of the gospel of Jesus Christ which are now being made to you. Look unto me and be saved, he says, Come unto me and I will give you rest. He that believes in me shall not perish but have everlasting life. He that believes in me is not condemned. He that comes to me I will in no way cast him out. If any man thirst let him come unto me and drink. He that does these things, says Christ, shall receive the end of his faith, even the salvation of his soul.

Surely then your soul may be saved. Your soul, not the souls of others here but yours! If you are hearing me aright then you are understanding that anyone whose soul is lost cannot blame the gospel, that its offers were too narrow, and its terms too confining, and its requirements too demanding. “Come to Jesus Christ and welcome” – a child can understand that. No educational qualifications are needed for that. The Saviour is talking of a stirring within your very soul of longing for the healing and transforming power of the living Jesus to save us. There is a pardon for the greatest sinner here. There is healing for the sickest soul. There is salvation in his blessed name and in none other. Hear the beseechings of J.C.Ryle:

“If you love life, I beseech you to lay hold on Christ at once, that your soul may be saved. Why not do it today? Why not this day join yourself to the Lord Jesus in an everlasting covenant which cannot be broken? Why not resolve, before tomorrow’s sun dawns, to turn from the service of sin, and turn to Christ? Why not go to Christ this very day, and cast your soul on him, with all its sins and all its unbelief, with all its doubts and all its fears ? Are you poor? Seek treasure in heaven and be rich. Are you old? Hasten, hasten to be ready for your end, and prepare to meet your God. Are you young? Begin well, and seek in Christ a never-failing friend, who will never forsake you. Are you in trouble, careful about this life? Seek him who alone can help you and bear your burdens: seek him who will never disappoint you. When others turn their backs upon you, then will Jesus Christ the Lord take you up. Are you a sinner, a great sinner, a sinner of the worst description? It shall all be remembered no more if you only come to Christ: his blood shall cleanse all sin away. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow.

“Go then, and cry to the Lord Jesus Christ. Think of the value of your soul, and think of the one way of salvation. Call on the Lord in earnest prayer. Do as the penitent thief did: pour out your heart before him cry, ‘Lord remember me, even me.’ Tell him you come to him, because you have heard that he ‘receives sinners,’ and because you are a sinner and want to be saved. Tell him the whole story of your past life. Tell him, if you will, that you have been an unbeliever, a profligate, a Sabbath-breaker, a godless, reckless, ill-tempered man. He will not despise you. He will not cast you out. He will not turn his back upon you. He never breaks the bruised reed, or quenches the smoking flax. No man ever came to him and was cast out. Oh, come to Christ, and your soul shall live!” (J.C.Ryle, “Old Paths,” op cit, pp. 60&61).

25th January 2003 GEOFF THOMAS