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But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt. — Gen. xix. 26. All the wonderful things written in the Bible are written for our good. We should, therefore, always b-e glad to hear them. And when we hear, to listen with attentive ears, and to receive with thankful and believing hearts. For it is God who speaks to us in the Bible ; and he is just and holj. He cannot lie. He tells us, that many years ago there was a woman who Uywx in the city of Sodom, who had all the wealth and pleasure her heart could wish. Sodom was one great city of sin. Like Nineveh, it neither worshipped nor feared the God of heaven. Wickedness of all sorts walked abroad, in open daylight, like an armed giant, in its streets. This was more than the patience of God could bear always. His anger was kindled against the city, and he determined to put an end to its pride and wickedness by opening upon it a tempest of fire and brimstone out of heaven. But in that city there was one, and only one good man. His name was Lot, and he was the (90)
THE SINNER UNDER CONVICTION. 91 husband of the woman of whose sin and punishment I am about to tell you. God loves his people, and for their sakes, in some degree, all his people's wives, and husbands, and children, and friends. He loves all who love him. And when God overthrew Sodom he would not destroy Lot in it. For the sake of this one good man he sent two angels, to warn him of the danger, and to command him to escape from the city. These angels came to Lot at evening about the sunset. They tarried with him all that night. They told Lot that God was about to destroy the city. They advised him to warn his daughters-in-law and sons-in-law to haste away as soon as possible. And Lot went immediately and did as they said. But they thought he was jesting and mocking at them. They heard his warning as if it were an idle story. At the early dawn the next day the angels waked up Lot ; and told him to arise and take his wife and two daughters who were there, and not to wait for any one, lest he might be overtaken and destroyed in the ruin of the city. But Lot's wife had been born and raised in Sodom. She had, therefore, many things to bind her to it. There were some things she thought must be done before she could quit it — she must bid her friends adieu — she must carry many little things she loved with her, — and, indeed, she could not get her own full consent to leave the city. For these, or for some other reasons, Lot " lingered.'' He was slow in getting off. But the
angels hasted him away. They laid hold on his hand, and the hand of his wife, and of his two daughters, and led them out of th6 city. Then the angels pointed them to the mountain, and said, "escape for thy life;" ''look not behind thee — stay not in all the plain — escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed."
92 SERMON VII. The sun was now rising, with his bright rays, from behind the distant hills, and darting them across the broad plains of Sodom. The country around Sodom was rich in all manner of grain ; the valleys were carpeted with velvet green ; thousands of cattle were strolling and grazing on its gentle slopes; the song of the herdsman was wafted in mellow tones on the air, and the houses, and palaces, and towers of the wicked city, threw back, in diamond brightness, the rays of the rising sun. To fly away from such a scene as this was a hard trial to Lot and his wife. To be denied the liberty of ever looking back upon it, was more than Lot's wife could bear. Sodom had been the place of all her wicked pleasures. There were all her worldly friends. There was her wealth. And there was her heart. She loved Sodom. She could hardly believe that God would really destroy it. "Oh!" thought she, "how can I give up for ever this city of my heart !" With these feelings, she determined, in spite of the warning of the angels, to " look hack,'' — to take a last and sorrowful view of it. Foolish and daring woman ! to attempt in that way to trifle with God. That was her last look. Remember, she did not turn, she merely looked hack upon Sodom. In a moment "she became a pillar of salt," — hard as flint* As a pillar of salt she stood there for many ages, a warning to men of the just judgments of God against sin. Josephus, a historian of the Jews, tells us that it was there in his day, and that he saw it. Our Lord and Saviour, while warning the people of his day of the coming judgment, reminded them of the sudden destruction of Sodom, and told them to "remember Lot's wife." There is a lesson in this history for us all. But I shall use it especially as a warning to every sinner who is under
THE SINNER UNDER CONVICTION. 93 conviction for sin. Lot's wife may be considered as an awakened sinner. Sodom may be considered as the sins in which she was living; her attempt to escape may be considered as the good resolutions of her first conviction ; the angels leading her may be considered as the Holy Spirit encouraging and helping her to fly from sin ; and her looking back may be considered as want of firmness in her resolutions, and her wish to go back, even after she had partly given up sin. Although she had been led out of the
city, and pointed to the mountain, and entreated to escape, and was then on her way to the city of Zoar, yet she did not escape. She was no more saved than if she had remained in the city. Let us look at her experience, and see the reason of her ruin. Here let me tell you that conviction for sin, and conversion to God, are two very difi'erent things. A sinner under conviction is a sinner waked up to his guilt and danger. A sinner converted is a sinner who has hasted away to Christ for pardon and mercy, who is made safe in the strong mountain of God's love and grace. 1. Lot's wife saw her danger, and set out to escape from it. So the Holy Spirit of God makes many a man see his danger as a sinner, and strives with him, and urges him to flee away from his sins. Many a man, under the warnings of the spirit, sets off" in a way to the mount of God, and yet, like Lot's wife, perishes in the way. There are many cases of this kind to be found in the Bible. There was a great king whose name was Pharaoh. Because of his unkindness and cruelty to the people of God, he and all his kingdom were punished with dreadful plagues from heaven. When Pharaoh saw this, he sent, again and
94 SERMON VII. again, for Moses and Aaron, and said to them with great feeling and repentance, " I have sinned against the Lord, and against you ; entreat the Lord for me ; for he is righteous, and I and my people are wicked." But as soon as the plague ceased Pharaoh lost all his feelings of sorrow^ and sinned yet more and more, and hardened his heart. After Judas betrayed the Saviour, he felt the deepest sorrow and remorse. Yet he was not saved by his convictions, for he went out and hanged himself. When king Herod heard John the Baptist preach, he listened to him ""gladly,'* or with interest. He was even so far convinced as to do many tilings. Yet he could not give up his sins. He so hardened himself in them as cruelly to cast the Baptist into prison, and, at last, to send and have his head taken off. Our Saviour tells us of a rich young man who came to him, under conviction, and asked "what good thing" he should "do to inherit eternal life ?" He had even gone so far in religion, as to be able to say that he had kept the commandments from his youth up ; yet he could not wean his heart from his money. He loved it just as Lot's wife loved the things she had in Sodom. He turned away from the Saviour and went back into the world. A. Roman governor, named Felix, once heard St. Paul preach, and by the power of his reasoning, and the working of the Holy Spirit, was brought under conviction. He trembled in the presence -of the apostle, then a prisoner in chains before him. Yet he would not give up his sins. He said to the
apostle, " Go thy way for this time, when I have a convenient season I will call for thee." Another king, whose name was Agrippa, heard the same apostle, and said, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." Yet Im tm*ned back, and was hardened in sin.
THE SINNER UNDER CONVICTION. 95 I called to see a faithful servant once, who was lying and trembling on the verge of death. He was greatly alarmed at the thought of dying unprepared to meet God. He said that the thought of his sins gave him the deepest distreag, and that all he wanted was to be a Christian. Before I left him he solemnly promised that if ever he was raised up from that bed of sickness, he would be a Christian the rest of his days. He said he would go in and attend the family prayers every morning or night ; that he would listen, and learn all he could from the Bible ; that he would be glad to go to church every Sunday ; that he would, with God's help, live as a Christian ought to live. Had he died then, his master and all of us who were there, would have said that he died a Christian, and was saved in heaven. But he recovered ; and, as he had always been a good and faithful servant, we expected to see the light of a good Christian shining in his life. And he did not altogether forget his promises. I went often to the house of his master, and would sometimes talk with him as he would light me to my room at night. As often as the books were brought out, and the bell rang for prayers, James would be there to join with us in family worship. This practice he kept up for several months. His master teid me that during all that time he had been faithful to his promises. He seemed to be a Christian indeed, and all of us thought he would soon join the church. But at last he gradually gave up coming in to prayer. As I had not seen him for a good while, I asked one of the other servants what had become of James. He told me that, but a few days before, he was talking to him about his promises, and that James had said he did not see the use of so much religion — so much praying — and so much reading the Bible — and so
96 SERMON VII. much going to church — and so much hearing sermons read. He told me, too, that he had given up going to church ; or, when he did go, he would sit out on the logs all the time of service, and talk with wicked servants about worldly things, just as if he had never promised to go to church, or heard that there was a God to be worshipped on Sunday. In fact, James had given up all pretensions to religion. He was just the same wicked man he was before he was sick. Now, this man was like Lot's wife. He set out in the way to heaven, but he " looked hack.'' He turned hack. He did not, indeed, become a pillar of salt ; but he
became (what is just as bad) hardened in sin. Two years passed away, and James was taken dangerously ill again. As soon as I heard of it I went to see him. I read the Bible to him ; I prayed for him ; I talked to him. I did not distress him by reminding him of his old promises. I told him of Jesus, the Saviour of sinners. I begged him to remember that he was able and willing to forgive all sins. I read and explained the parable of the prodigal son. I entreated him to give up his heart to that Saviour, and put all his trust in him. But his heart seemed to be turned to stone. " No, no," said he, "I have most wickedly broken my promise*' to God ; I have sinned away my day of grace ; he will not now have mercy on me ; I have no hope ; I do not, and cannot feel as I did before ; my mind is so dark, and my heart is so hard !" I shall never forget that scene. His fellow-servants stood round the room in silent and solemn fear. They heard his short, heavy breathing, and watched his ghastly countenance until he gave up in the death struggle, saying, with his last breath, "There is no mercy for me." He had once been keenly sensible of his guilt as a sinner ; he had mourned and wept as a sinner ;
THE SINNER UNDER CONVICTION. 97 he had promised before God to give up his sins. Like Lot's wife, he had set off in the way to heaven. He had put his hand to the plough, but looked back. He was hardened in sin, and perished in impenitence. Then let every sinner under conviction take warning, and not rest in his fears or sorrows. 11. Now let me warn you against this falling away — this backsliding from conviction. " Remember Lot's wife." 1. Do not linger in sin, as they did in Sodom. If you are anxious about religion, why should you remain any longer in sin ? Why not rise up 7iotv, and with firm resolution escape from it ? If you would not stand still, and perish in your convictions, you must earnestly resist every habit of indulgence in sin. If you will not do this, you can never reach the mountain of salvation. If you make it your practice, willingly to commit any one sin, it will soon wipe off all your religious impressions, and stifle all your convictions. You -may feel that you would like ta be a Christian; you may hear the Bible read, and love to hear sermons ; and you may wonder that you do not get rehgion. But look into your own heart. See whether there is not some darling sin there which you do not wish to give up. It may be pride. It may be an unbridled temper. It may be hatred of some one. It may be some sinful pleasure or practice. It may be an unruly tongue. It may be slandering, or backbiting, or wicked talking, or telling falsehoods. But, whatever it may be, if you linger in any sin, in wish, or thought, or word, or act, you are like Lot's wife lingering in Sodom. One of the greatest and best men that ever lived, said that, when he was under con-
viction, he used to pray to God to convert him ; but then he would add, "Lord, not yet." He wanted to "linger" 9
98 SERMON VII. a little longer in sin. He would not determine to turn at once from his evil ways. All of us are ready to say, "•' this was very silly ;" yet all do the same thing. We kneel down and pray, " Oh ! Lord, heal my soul ;" but say at the same time, in our heart, "Lord, not yet." You wish to be saved ; but there is still some lingering love of sin. You decide to be Christians, but not just now. These are somewhat like the feelings that Lot's wife had as she was leaving Sodom. But follow her on, and see what became of her. 2. When once you have set out in religion, do not look hack. Our Saviour himself has said, " No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." You know that when the ploughman is breaking up the ground, he can do almost any thing better than look back. If he would do his work well, he must hold the handles of his plough with a firm grasp and a steady hand. He must watch the furrow before him, and see that the leader of the horses walks in his proper place. If he looks back, he must slacken his hold on the handles, and then his plough will be apt to run out of the ground ; his work will be but half done ; the ground will not be well prepared for the seed, and there must be a failure in the crop. A good ploughman keeps his eyes before him, and moves steadily onward. Any other is not fit to be at the plough. So it is in religion. When you have once been convinced of sin, you must go on in the good work. The heart must be carefully broken up. The weeds and briers of sin must be rooted out and killed. The soil of the heart must be made mellow, as the hard and parched ground must be, before it can be ready for the seed. And then you must not stop and look back.
THE SINNER UNDER CONVICTION. 99 You must still look ahead. The seed must be so^ n. And you must look and pray for the rains and dews of God'3 grace upon it. Nor must you feel that your work is done until the whole crop is gathered into the barn. Your work of religion is to go on from the time you are first convinced of sin until you are ripe, and fit to be gathered, with all the rich fruits of Grod's grace, into heaven. Take a warning from Lot's wife. She began to fly from sin. But when she had gone a little way, she "looked back." Now this is just the way that some sinners under conviction do. They think the world is full of pleasure. They think that
religion is cold an(J gloomy. They say, in their hearts, " one more look at the world ; one more taste of its pleasure ; one more indulgence in sin ; and then I will escape to the mountain." But do you not know that the man who can look at sin with pleasure is always in danger ? Do you not know that the very feeling that will let you look at it with pleasure will tempt you to go back to it again ? The man who can resolve to sin 07ice more, is very apt to go on resolving to sin once more, until he is hardened in his sins. It was but a look that turned Lot's wife into a pillar of salt. A look, or a single sin, is all that is necessary sometimes to draw you away from God, and harden you in sin. But let me ask you now, have any of you truly felt that you are sinners against God ? that God is angry with you ? that he will one day punish you for your sins ? Have you ever earnestly tried to give up your sins ? to fly away from them ? Are you now trying to do this ? If you are, you are doing right. You must go on doing all you can. Y^ou must fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil, or you can never conquer them. You must " resist the devil,'* or he will never flee from you. But there is something else
100 SERMON VII. you must do. And I want you to think of this as if God was asking you the question. Do you often and earnestly fray ? If you do not pray, you cannot go forward in religion ; you cannot keep up your conviction of sin. If you. are a convinced sinner, God has convinced you by his Spirit. If you do not pray to God to deepen your convictions, by the power of that Holy Spirit, all your religious feelings and desires will soon be wiped away. You may as well expect the corn you have planted to grow without rain, or the wheat to ripen without sun, as to expect to become good and happy Christians without prayer. Prayer must be the beginning, and the progress, and the efid of your Christian race. You can pray, and you must pray. Y^ou can always find time for this. If you can do no more, you can look up, with your heart, to God, and say, " Lord help me," " God be merciful to me a sinner." You can pray at night, on your bed, or in the day, at work. To pray well, you must not cry out in loud and big words. *' Prayer is the burden of a sigh"' — " the upward glancing of an eye." It is the heaving of a burdened heart. It is the lifting up of the soul to God with feelings which cannot, sometimes, be expressed with words. Kemember, then, that God knows your heart, and can hear your prayer, even before you make it. Go to him in prayer, and beg him to make you a new heart, to lead you on in the way to heaven, to make you hate all sin, and to give you a good hope of salvation through the blood of Jesus, your crucified Redeemer. 8s k 7s. Jesus ! full of all compassion,
Hear thy humble suppliant's cry; Let me know thy great salvation ; See I I languish, faint, and die.
THE SINNER UNDER CONVICTION. 101 Guilty, but with heart relenting, Overwhelmed with helpless grief; Prostrate at thy feet repenting, Send, send me quick relief. Whither should a wretch be flying, But to him who comfort gives, Whither, from the dread of dying, But to him who ever lives. Hear, then, blessed Saviour, hear me I Raise my spirit from the dust ; Send the comforter to cheer me ; Lo ! in thee I put my trust. Questions. — 1. What great city did God destroy with fire and brimstone out of heaven ? 2. What good man lived in that city ? 3. Did God destroy that good man ? 4. How did he save him ? 5. What became of Lot's wife ? 6. What was she turned to a pillar of salt for ? 7. Po you know any persons who are like Lot's wife ? 8. Is the sinner perfectly safe when he is convinced of sin ? 9. What ought the sinner under conviction to do ? 10. Ought he to linger in sin ? 11. Ought he to look back ? 12. To whom should he go in his conviction ?