This sermon is a hard and harsh one, and understandably so. And this is one of Charles Spurgeon’s earlier sermons, so it is perhaps a bit “rougher around the edges” than some later ones, after he has spent years experiencing the grace of God amidst the peaks and valleys of life. But I read it because I find it immensely relevant, because God’s justice is a subject that must be discussed if the Gospel is to have true meaning.
The justice of God is such a hard subject to talk about, and it is one that is unfortunately neglected in many places. The simple reason is that there are many who fancy themselves teachers of the flock who believe, for one reason or another, that to speak at length on the holiness of God and his wrath against sin somehow dishonors the work and life of Jesus, or maims the testimony of God’s love. But I want to take a few moments here and refute that idea, and speak to why it is just as important to do exactly what Brother Spurgeon here has done and speak boldly to the truth of the coming punishment for sin.
Firstly, because it is a reminder that though tragedy continues to infect our world, it is not so simple to look at death in any form or fashion today and say ,”This right here, this is God’s punishment for sin.” Though death came into the world through sin and was defeated at the cross along with sin, tragic death is a reality of life in this sinful world and not something you can necessarily use to draw a straight line from Sin A to Death B.
It was a little over a year ago that a man shot up a nightclub in Orlando, and I wrote a few blog posts discussing issues related to that. I also read a sermon based on a text that was read in this sermon, Luke 13:1-5:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Now let’s be clear: Jesus is not saying that if you repent, you will not die. He is calling the hearers to prepare their hearts lest they experience their own tragedy, and denying the superstition of the day that said that one could clearly see who had sinned, by what ill befell them. Jesus called his disciples to serve the brokenhearted, the sick and needy, the widows and orphans. He commanded them to lift up the ones who were laid low, and to make themselves low to serve the ones who desperately needed it most.
All of that is tied in to the fact that God is a God of justice, just as much as he is a God of mercy. He is a God of wrath against sin, as much as he truly is love. And all of you who feel the deep pain of injustice in our world, I would point you to this truth: firstly, because there is absolutely hope of justice. Secondly, because if you seek that justice apart from the truth of God, then all will you do is create a new injustice in place of the old, one stamped with your image and one that will be burned up on the day of judgment as a structure built out of straw and twine. And finally, because if you cannot right an injustice in your time but must endure, you can endure knowing that perfect justice will be done on the Day of Judgment.
Charles Spurgeon was a man who despised the injustices of his day and preached boldly against them. Indeed, this sermon was recommended to me by someone as a sermon that upset Southern slave owners, perhaps because they felt the barbs of conviction pricking very deeply. Of slavery Spurgeon once said,
By what means think you were the fetters riveted on the wrist of our friend who sits there, a man like ourselves, though of a black skin? It is the Church of Christ that keeps his brethren under bondage; if it were not for that Church, the system of slavery would go back to the hell from which it sprung…But what does the slaveholder say when you tell him that to hold our fellow creatures in bondage is a sin, and a damnable one, inconsistent with grace? He replies, “I do not believe your slanders; look at the Bishop of So-and-so, or the minister of such-and-such place, is he not a good man, and does not he whine out ‘Cursed be Canaan?’ Does not he quote Philemon and Onesimus? Does he not go and talk Bible, and tell his slaves that they ought to feel very grateful for being his slaves, for God Almighty made them on purpose that they might enjoy the rare privilege of being cowhided by a Christian master? Don’t tell me,” he says, “if the thing were wrong, it would not have the Church on its side.” And so Christ’s free Church, bought with his blood, must bear the shame of cursing Africa, and keeping her sons in bondage.
If you’ve listened to this podcast for more than thirty seconds, you know Spurgeon preached boldly and unapologetically against the evils of sin in his day and for repentence and faith in the grace of Jesus Christ. My brothers and sisters, we must do the same. We must be balanced and biblical in our judgments, we must model mercy and pour out love on those who hate us, but we must remember that love and truth are equal partners in the worship of the One True God. Therefore we must preach the truth about the evils of our time, not because they win us political points (because often they won’t), not because we love to shame our neighbors (because apart from the grace of God we join in that shame), but because we love God and we love our neighbors, and we desire most deeply to see them know Christ and live.
Next episode: a special observance of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.