by Dewitt Talmage
"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." - Isaiah 53:6
Within ninety years at the very longest this entire audience will be in eternity. During the next fifty years you will nearly all be gone. The next ten years will cut a wide swathe among the people. The year 1882 will to some be the finality. This may be THE LAST SERMON that some one will hear. Under these circumstances, while I have a somewhat poetic nature, might indulge in trope and figure and simile, I dare not do so. God never gave to any man a greater fondness for mirth than I naturally have, and yet under this solemnity I would not dare indulge it. This service, this hour in spiritual things, will be to some in this assemblage a life-struggle or a death-grapple.
The first half of my text is an indictment.
"All we like sheep have gone astray." Some one says, "Can't you drop that first word? That is too general; that sweeps too great a circle." Some man rises in the audience, and he looks over on the opposite side of the house and says, "There is a BLASPHEMER, and I understand how HE has gone astray. And in another part of the house is a DEFAULTER, and HE has gone astray. And there is an IMPURE PERSON, and HE has gone astray." Sit down, my brother, and look at home. My text takes us all in. It starts behind the pulpit, sweeps the circuit of the room, and comes back to the point where it started, when it says, "ALL we like sheep have gone astray."
I can very easily understand why Martin Luther threw up his hands after he had found the Bible, and cried out, "Oh, my sins, my sins," and why the publican, according to the custom to this day in the East, when they have any great grief, began to beat himself and cry as he smote upon his breast, "God be merciful to me a sinner."
I was brought up in the country, like many of you, and I know some of the habit of sheep, and how they get astray, and what my text means when it says, "All we like sheep have gone astray." SHEEP GET ASTRAY IN TWO WAYS: either by trying to get into other pastures, or from being scared by the dogs. In the former way some of us get astray. We thought the religion of Jesus Christ short commons. We thought there was better pasturage somewhere else. We thought if we could only lie down on the banks of distant streams, or under great oaks on the other side of some hill, we might be better fed. We wanted other pasturage than that which God through Jesus Christ gave our soul, and we wandered on, and we wandered on, and we were lost. WE WANTED BREAD AND WE FOUND GARBAGE. The further we wandered, instead of finding rich pasturage, we found blasted heath and sharper rocks and more stinging nettles but no pasture.
How was it in the CLUB-HOUSE when you lost your child? Did they come around and help you very much? Did your worldly associates console you very much? Did not the plain Christian man who came to your house and sat up with your darling child give you more comfort than all worldly associations? Did all the convivial songs you ever heard comfort you in that day of bereavement so much as the song they sang to you, perhaps the very song that was sung by your little child the last Sabbath afternoon of her life?
"There is a happy land, far, far, away,
Where saints immortal reign, bright, bright as day."
Did your business associates in that day of darkness and trouble give you any especial condolence? Business exasperated you, business wore you out, business left you limp as a rag, business made you mad. You got money, but you got no peace. God have mercy on the man who has nothing but business to comfort him! The world afforded you no luxuriant pasturage.
A famous English actor stood on the stage impersonating, and thunders of applause came down from the galleries, and many thought it was the proudest moment of his life; but there was a man asleep just in front of him and the fact that that man was indifferent and somnolent spoiled all the occasion for him, and he cried, "Wake up, wake up!" So one little annoyance in your life has been more pervading to your mind than all the brilliant congratulations and success.
Poor pasturage for your soul you found in this world. The world has cheated you, the world has belied you, the world has misinterpreted you, the world has persecuted you. It never comforted you. O! this world is a good rack from which a horse may pick his food; it is a good trough from which the swine may crunch their mess; but it gives but little food to a soul blood-bought and immortal.
What is a soul? It has a hope high as the throne of God. What is a man? You say, "It is only a man." It is only a man gone overboard in sin. It is only a man gone overboard in his business life. What is a man? The battle ground of THREE WORLDS, with his hands taking hold of destinies of light or darkness. A man! No line can measure him. No limit can bound him. The archangel before the throne cannot outlive him. The stars shall die, but he will watch their extinguishment. The world will burn, but he will gaze on the conflagration. Endless ages will march on, he will watch the procession. A man! The masterpiece of God Almighty. Yet you say, "It is only a man." Can a nature like that be fed on husks of the wilderness?
"Substantial comfort will not grow
On nature's barren soil;
All we boast till Christ we know
Is vanity and toil."
Some of you got astray by looking for better pasturage; others by being scared by the dogs.
The hounds get over into the pasture field. The poor sheep fly in every direction. In a few moments they are torn in the hedges and they are plashed in the ditch, and the lost sheep never gets home unless the farmer goes after it. There is nothing so thoroughly lost as a lost sheep.
It may have been in 1857, during the financial panic or during the financial stress in the fall of 1873 when you got astray. You almost became an atheist. You said, "Where is God, that honest men go down and thieves prosper?" You were dogged by creditors, you were dogged by the banks, you were dogged by worldly disaster, and some of you went into misanthropy, and some of you took to strong drink, and others fled out of Christian association, and you got astray. Oh man! That was the last time when you ought to have forsaken God. Standing amid the floundering of your earthly fortunes, how could you get along without a God to comfort you, and a God to deliver you, and a God to help you, and a God to save you!
You tell me you have been through enough business trouble almost to kill you. I know it. I cannot understand how the boat could live one hour in that chopped sea. But I do not know by what process you got astray; some in one way and some in another, and if you could really see the position some of you occupy before God today your soul would burst into agony of tears, and you would address the heavens with the cry, "God have mercy!" Sinai's batteries have been unlimbered above your soul, and at times you have heard it thunder, "The wages of sin is death." "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." "The soul that sinneth, it shall die."
When Sebastopol was being bombarded in 1855, TWO RUSSIAN FRIGATES burned all night in the harbour, throwing a glare upon the trembling fortress; and some of you, from what you have told me yourselves, some of you are standing in the night of your soul's trouble; the cannonade and the conflagration and the multiplication and the multitude of your sorrows and troubles I think must make the wings of God's hovering angels shiver to the tip.
But the last part of my text opens a divine door wide enough to let us all out and to let all heaven in. Sound it on the organ with all the stops out. Thrum it on the harps with all the tunes astring. With all the melody possible let the heavens sound it to the earth, and let the earth tell it to the heavens. "The LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." I am glad that the prophet did not stop to explain whom he meant by "Him." Him of the manger, Him of the bloody sweat, Him of the resurrection throne, Him of the crucifixion agony. "On Him the Lord hath laid the iniquity of us all."
"Oh!" says one man, "that isn't generous, that isn't fair; let every man carry his own burden, and pay his own debts." That sounds reasonable. If I have an obligation and I have the means to meet it, and I come to you and ask you to settle that obligation, you rightly say, "Pay your own debts." If you and I are walking down the street both hale, hearty, and well, and I ask you to carry me, you say and say rightly "walk on your own feet!" But suppose you and I were in a regiment and I was wounded in the battle and fell unconscious at your feet with gunshot fractures and dislocations, what would you do? You would call to your comrades saying, "Come and help; this man is helpless; bring the ambulance; let us take him to the hospital;" and I would be a dead lift in your arms, and you would lift me from the ground where I had fallen and put me in the ambulance, and take me to the hospital and have all kindness shown me. Would there be anything mean in your doing that? Would there be anything bemeaning in my accepting that kindness? Oh! no. You would be mean not to do it.
THAT IS WHAT CHRIST DOES. If we could pay our debts then it would be better to go and pay them, saying, "Here, Lord, is my obligation; here are the means with which I mean to settle that obligation; now give me a receipt; cross it all out." The debt is paid. But the fact is that we have fallen in the battle. We have gone down under the hot fire of our transgressions, we have been wounded by the sabres of sin, we are helpless, we are undone. Christ comes. The loud clang heard in the sky on that Christmas night was only the bell - the resounding bell of the ambulance. Clear the way for the Son of God. Christ comes down to us, and we are a dead lift. He does not lift us with the tips of His fingers. He does not lift us with one arm. He comes down upon His knee and then with a dead lift He raises us to honour and immortality. "The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." Then will no man carry his sins? You cannot carry successfully the smallest sin you ever committed. You might as well put the Appennines on one shoulder and the Alps on the other - how much less can you carry all the sins of your life-time? Christ comes and looks down in your face and says, "I have come through all the lacerations of these days, and through all the tempests of these nights; I have come to bear your burdens and to pardon your sins and to pay your debts. Put them on My shoulder - put them on My heart." "On Him the Lord hath laid the iniquities of us all."
Sin has almost pestered the life out of some of you. At times it has made you cross and unreasonable, and it has spoiled the brightness of your days and the peace of your nights. There are men who have been riddled of sin. The world gives them no solace. Gossamery and volatile the world, while as they look forward to it eternity is black as midnight. They writhe under the sting of a conscience which proposes to give no rest here, and no rest hereafter, and yet they do not repent, they do not pray, they do not weep. They do not realise that just the portion they occupy is the position occupied by scores, hundreds, and of men who never found any hope. They went out of life just as they are now. They sat in the same place where you sit, then they heard the Gospel call, they rejected it, they passed out of life, and their voice comes to us from the eternal world this morning, saying, "Take the Gospel; this is your chance; my day is gone; I am undone! Who will push back this bolt? Who will put down this sorrow?" And the caverns forlornly echo, "Who, who?"
If this meeting should be thrown open and the people who are here could give their testimony, what thrilling experiences we should hear on all sides! There is a man in the gallery who would say, "I had brilliant surroundings, I had the best education that one of the best collegiate institutions of this country could give, and I observed all the moralities of life, and I was self-righteous, and I thought I was all right before God as I am all right before men; but the Holy Spirit came to me one day and said, 'You are a sinner;' the Holy Spirit persuaded me of the fact. While I had escaped the sins against the law of the land, I had really committed the worst sin a man ever commits - the driving back of the Son of God, from my heart's affections. And I saw that my hands were red with the blood of the Son of God, and I began to pray, and peace came to my heart, and know by experience that what you say this morning is true. 'On Him the Lord hath laid the iniquity of us all.'"
Yonder is the man that would say: "I was the worst drunkard in New York; I went from bad to worse; I destroyed myself, I destroyed my home; my children cowered when I entered the house; when they put up their lips to be kissed I struck them; when my wife protested against the mal-treatment, I treated her with cruelty and unkindness. I know all the bruises and all the terrors of the drunkard's woe. I went on further and further from God until one day I got a letter saying: 'MY DEAR HUSBAND: I have tried every way, done everything, and prayed earnestly and fervently for your reformation, but it seems of no avail. Since our little Henry died, with the exception of those few happy weeks when you remained sober, my life has been one of sorrow. Many of the nights I have sat by the window, with my face bathed in tears, watching for your coming. I am broken-hearted, I am sick. Mother and father have been here frequently and begged me to come home, but my love for you and my hope for brighter days have always made me refuse them. That hope seems now beyond realisation, and I have returned to them. It is hard, and I battled long before doing it. May God bless and preserve you, and take from you that accursed appetite and hasten the day when we shall be again living happily together. This will be my daily prayer, knowing that He has said: 'Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' From your loving wife, MARY.'
"And so I wandered on and on," says that man, "until one night I passed a Methodist meeting-house, and I said to myself, 'I'll go in and see what they are doing,' and I got to the door, and they were singing:
'All may come, whoever will,
This man receives poor sinners still.'
"And I dropped right there where I was and I said, 'God have mercy,' and He had mercy on me. My home is restored, my wife sings all day long during work, my children come out a long way to greet me home, and my household is a little heaven. I will tell you what did all this for me. It was the truth that this day you proclaim: 'On Him the Lord hath laid the iniquity of us all.'"
Yonder is a woman who would say: "I wandered off from my father's house: I heard the storm that pelts on a lost soul; my feet were blistered on the hot rocks. I went on and on, thinking that no one cared for my soul, when one night Jesus met me and He said, 'Poor thing, go home! your father is waiting for you; your mother is waiting for you. Go home, poor thing!' and, sir, I was too weak to pray, and I was too weak to repent, but I just cried out, I sobbed out my sins and my sorrows on the shoulders of Him of whom it is said: 'The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.'"
There is here a young man who would say, "I had a Christian parentage and bringing up: I came from the country to city life; I started well; I had a good position, a good commercial position, but one night AT THE THEATRE I met some young men who did me no good. They dragged me all through the sewers of iniquity, and I lost my morals, and I lost my position, and I was shabby and wretched. I was going down the street, thinking that no one cared for me, when a young man tapped me on the shoulder and said: 'George, come with me and I will do you good.' I looked at him to see whether he was joking or not. I saw he was in earnest, and I said: 'What do you mean, sir?' 'Well,' he replied, 'I mean if you come to the meeting tonight, I will be very glad to introduce you. I will meet you at the door. Will you come?' I said, 'I will,' and I went.
"I went to the place where I was lodging. I buttoned my coat over a ragged vest and went to the door of the church, and the young man met me, and we went in; and as I went in I heard an old man praying, and he looked so much like my father, I sobbed right out, and they were all around so kind and sympathetic that I just there gave my heart to God; and I know this morning, that what you say is truth; I believe it in my own experience. 'On Him the Lord hath laid the iniquity of us all.'"
Oh! my brother, without stopping to look whether your hands tremble or not, without stopping to look whether your face is bloated with sin or not, let me give you one warm, brotherly Christian grip, and invite you right up to the heart, to the compassion, to the sympathy, to the pardon of Him on whom the Lord hath laid the iniquity of us all. Throw away your sins. Carry them no longer. I proclaim emancipation this morning to all who are bound, pardon for all sin, and eternal life for all the dead.
Some one comes here this morning, and I stand aside. He comes up these steps. He comes to this place. I must stand aside. Taking that place He spreads abroad His hands, as they were nailed. You see His feet, they were bruised. He pulls aside the robe and shows you His wounded heart. I say, "Art Thou weary?" "Yes," He says, "weary with the world's woe." I say, "Whence camest Thou?" He says, "I come from Calvary." I say, "Who comes with Thee?" He says, "No one; I have trodden the wine press alone." I say, "Why comest Thou here?" "Oh!" He says, "I came here to carry all the sins and sorrows of the people." And He kneels and He says, "Put on My shoulders all the sorrows and all the sins." And conscious of my own sins, first, I take them and put them on the shoulders of the Son of God.
I say, "Canst Thou bear any more, O Christ?" He says, "Yea, more." And I gather up all the sins of all those who serve at these altars, the officers of the church of Jesus Christ - I gather up all their sins and I put them on Christ's shoulders, and I say: "Canst Thou bear any more?" He says, "Yea, more." Then I gather up all the sins of a hundred people in this house and I put them on the shoulders of Christ, and I say: "Canst Thou bear more?" He says, "Yea, more." And I gather up all the sins of this assembly and I put them on the shoulders of the Son of God and I say: "Canst Thou bear them?" "Yea," He says, "more."
But HE IS DEPARTING. Clear the way for Him, the Son of God. Open the door and let Him pass out. He is carrying our sins and bearing them away. We shall never see them again. He throws them down into the abysm, and you hear the long reverberating echo of their fall. "On Him the Lord hath laid the iniquity of us all." Will you let Him take your sins today? or do you say, "I will take charge of them myself, I will fight my own battles, I will risk eternity on my own account?" O! brother, then you will perish. I know not how near some of you have come to crossing the line.
A clergyman said in his pulpit one Sabbath: "Before next Saturday night one of this audience will have passed out of life." A gentleman said to another seated next to him: "I don't believe it; I mean to watch, and if it doesn't come true by next Saturday night. I shall tell that that clergyman his falsehood." The man seated next to him said: "Perhaps it will be yourself." "O! no," the other replied, I shall live to be an old man." That night he breathed his last.
Today, the Saviour calls. All may come. GOD NEVER PUSHES A MAN OFF. God never destroys anybody. The man jumps off, he jumps off. It is suicide - soul suicide - if the man perished, for the invitation is, "Whosoever will let him come." Whosoever, whosoever, whosoever!
There may be in this audience just one man who will reject the Gospel. It seems to me that the vast multitude will see that the Gospel is reasonable and they will surrender themselves to God; but there may be in this house just one who will refuse the Gospel, and pass out and pass down. Let me take some solemn leave of such an one. Watch cautiously your health, for when your life ceases here all pleasant experiences cease. Walk not near the scaffolding lest a brick or a stone should fall and you should be ushered into a world for which you have no preparation. Tomorrow morning you will go over to the shop, or the bank, or the factory, and they will say: "Where were you on the Sabbath?" You will say, "I was at the Tabernacle and I heard the Gospel preached; there were some things in the sermon I didn't believe, I could not receive, I could not accept." And so the days will go by, and the hours and the moments until after a while eternity will rush upon you. I am speaking to just that one soul. Farewell, thou doomed spirit! As thou shovest off from hope I wave thee this salutation. O! it is hard to part for ever. I bid thee a long, a last, a bitter, an eternal adieu!
"While God invites, how blest the day,
How sweet the Gospel's charming sound;
Come, sinner, haste, oh, haste away,
While yet a pardoning God is found."
In this day of merciful visitation, while many are coming into the kingdom of God, join the procession Heavenward.
Seated here during the last service we had was a man who came in and said: "I don't know that there is any God." That was on Friday night. I said: "We will kneel down and find out whether there is any God." And in the second seat from the pulpit we knelt. He said: "I have found Him. There is a God, a pardoning God. I feel Him here." He knelt in the darkness of sin. He arose two minutes afterwards in the liberty of the Gospel; while another sitting under the gallery on Friday night said: "My opportunity is gone; last week I might have been saved, not now; the door is shut." And another from the very midst of the meeting, during the week, rushed out of the front door of the Tabernacle, saying, "I am a lost man."
"Behold! The Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world." "Now is the accepted time. Now is the day of salvation." It is appointed unto all men once to die, and after that - the judgement!