Hard Work and Bad Pay!
Archibald G. Brown, November 8th, 1868, at Stepney Green Tabernacle
"For the wages of sin is death — but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 6:23
At the commencement of this morning's service, when preaching from Psalm 103:11-13, I stated that the sermon would be almost entirely for the saints of God; that the fare would mainly be such as could only be enjoyed by those who had already tasted that the "Lord was gracious."
But now this evening it is my aim to go after the lost sinner, and by the Spirit's aid speak such words as will . . .
arrest the attention,
arouse the conscience,
convince the soul, and
cause it to fly from the wrath to come.
It is indeed unquestionably sweet as fellow-pilgrims on the road to the celestial city, to becharm the journey by converse concerning its glories, and the mercy of its king. The fellowship of saints often causes many a piece of road which would otherwise be steep and rough, to become easy and pleasant. But let us not be so enamored with our own prospects, as to forget there are thousands yet dwelling in the city of destruction, nor be so occupied with mutual edification as to forget to cry out to the besotted inhabitants, "Escape for your life!"
This morning with grateful hearts we viewed the mercy that had saved us from eternal shipwreck, and placed our feet firmly on the Rock of Ages, high up above the reach of the angry waves that had so nearly engulfed us.
This evening, while still rejoicing in our own security, we desire to throw some planks and spars to those who are yet struggling in the dark waters, and fast sinking to rise no more. The text I have chosen with this view, is the solemn summing up of the argument in the previous part of the chapter. Paul had, in his own masterly style, clearly demonstrated that it was impossible for those who had been renewed by grace still to remain the servants of sin: at the very thought of such blasphemy, he breaks forth into the exclamation, "God forbid! How can we that are dead to sin, live in it any longer?" Romans 6.2. He thanks God that those to whom he is writing are no longer the blinded slaves to sin they once were — but have now "become servants to God," having their "fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life: for the wages of sin is death — but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Doubtless, dear friends, in your own private reading, you have often noticed the striking contrasts set forth in the words employed by the apostle. You have . . .
"sin" in contrast with "God,"
"death" in contrast with "life," and
most suggestively, "wages" in contrast with "gift."
The thoughts begotten by the last-mentioned contrast will constitute our theme for this evening. The first portion will be dark enough — terribly dark — we wish it to be. May God help us to make it so, not that we have any pleasure in so preaching; far from it — but only that it may serve as a black background to set forth more transcendently the glory of the latter. The darker the night — the more brilliant the daylight appears. The text divides itself naturally into two divisions:
1. Hard work, and bad pay.
2. No work, and rich reward.
I. Hard Work — and Bad Pay.By way of opening up the subject, let us notice,
1. Who are the SERVANTS who receive the bad pay? All people, by nature. There is not a single one born of woman who is not born into this dread service. It is the heirloom left to all mankind by our first sire Adam. When he, our representative and head, yielded to the subtle tempter and partook of the forbidden fruit, he by that act not only made himself the servant to whom he obeyed — but entailed the accursed service on all who should hereafter spring from his loins. We are slaves born upon the estate of sin. The garb of servitude is upon us from our very birth.
But let us remember that if we are servants by nature, so are we by voluntary choice. Shame to that man who is mean, base, and blasphemous enough to lay his guilt at Adam's door, and so try to shift off from his own shoulders the responsibility of his guilt. There is not a sinner that has not willingly, and with the full consent of his heart, chosen sin. Nor has Satan a servant who has not of his own free will entered his service, glories in it, calls it liberty, and views all else as bondage.
The language of every lost sinner concerning Christ is, "We will not have this man to reign over us!" Luke 19.14. And throwing to one side with scorn the gentle yoke of Jesus — he hires himself out to the Devil, and his service becomes his delight; his chains he views as bracelets; the noxious flowers of this world's pleasures entwined around them, hide from his sight the rusty iron; and the clatter of his fetters, he mistakes for music. Offer him freedom, and he will laugh you to scorn, and tell you he has it. He looks upon the saint with pity, and, dancing in his chains like a maniac, calls him a fool to endure such bondage.
Satan has no mere eye-service menials in his employment — they are all those who entered his service cheerfully, and will cheerfully remain there to the last, doing his bidding — unless sovereign grace prevents it.
The servants of Satan are many. I noticed the other day in the reported speech of a candidate for parliamentary honors, that one of the chief reasons he had to bring forward why he should have a seat in St. Stephen's was that he employed more men than any of the other candidates; if this is a valid reason or good argument, then most certainly a place must be found in the House for Satan — for who employs so many hands as he? His workshop is the world. Go where you please, at home or abroad, you find his willing servants, those who are in constant receipt of his wages.
Unlike other employers, he never diminishes the number of his servants, for if any are persuaded by grace to leave his service, it goes much against his grain. It matters not to him whether trade is slack or otherwise, he can always find employment for all; such a thing as his ever firing a man the was never known.
Out of the vast number of his servants then, there are sure to be many here tonight. How solemn the thought that along these galleries, down those aisles, on the platform beneath me, and on this upper rostrum around me — there are souls whom the Devil claims as his own; souls who are in the employment of perdition; souls who are only waiting for the wages of Hell. Oh mourn, you saints of God, that in spite of all the accessions to Zion, despite all the means the church puts forth — Satan's band of slaves yet remains a myriad host.
Let me further say that his servants belong to all ages. It is heartbreaking to behold at what an early age the badge of his service is worn. Children not in their teens, and lads not out of them, are every day, through the medium of our police courts — astonishing even a sinful world with their proficiency in guilt. And side by side with them, stands the hoary-headed criminal, whose strength has been withered, and whose locks have grown white in the service of the same relentless diabolical master. None are disqualified through age; none too young to be received; none too old to be retired.
His servants belong to both sexes. Yes, sister, you who shudder when hearing the brutal oath; you who tremble on meeting the reeling drunkard — you who have been brought up amid every comfort, and nurtured in the home of piety — you also, unless converted by the grace of God, are among the number of those whom Satan reckons as his own!
His servants also belong to all grades of society. None can boast exemption on the ground of social standing. "Ah," says the fashionable wealthy denizen of the west, "it is indeed shocking to think of the awful depravity which shows itself along the back streets. It is really quite painful to contemplate it." Then don't. Look nearer home; for we imagine that in the sight of God, there is not much to choose between the outcast criminal and yourselves. The only difference is that, in your neighborhood, the Devil clothes his servants in more attractive garb; the repulsiveness of sin is hidden — but sin itself is just as rampant. A handsome coat may conceal quite as leprous a body, as filthy tattered rags leave bare.
High and low, rich and poor, it is all the same. Yonder despot glories in his power; boasts that a single word of his can make the nations quake, proudly asserts that at his word a million men would march into the field for bloody war; and while he vaunts, the Devil laughs, and well he may, for the tyrant is his tool. Kings, princes, emperors, statesmen, and paupers are all equally his servants.
Let us now view,
2. The WORK they have to perform. To be Satan's servant is no easy job. He finds employment for all. His work is both hard and constant.
To one he says, "Get RICH;" and at the word of command the poor wretch at once begins to toil, and laborious toil it is. He works, driven on by an unseen lash, as no slave ever could or would. All his thoughts are tinged with gold. All the kind impulses he ever had are dried up and withered away by the burning fever of avarice; his health fails, his spirit loses all its elasticity — but still on and on he is obliged to toil; he is maddened with a golden thirst; and the more he has, the more intolerable the craving grows.
He is like the shipwrecked seaman who, after drifting for many a day in the open boat beneath a tropical sun, without a drop of cooling water, at last in his desperation drinks the briny sea, and in horror finds his agonies increased a thousandfold; but having once commenced, he feels compelled to take draught after draught, until at last he dies deliriously.
His home soon loses all its sweetness; its comforts are hidden from his eyes by the veil of gold. The young and loving wife soon grows to be a broken-hearted one; she sees her rightful position in his heart, usurped by a hideous golden idol. This is no mere sentimental picture — but the recital of stern facts. Better far, for many, if the wealth had never come, for when wealth came in at the door — then love flew out at the window. Happier a hundredfold were those times when, with but little income, and often put to many a strait, they still felt that they had their all in each other's love.
And do you think the poor slave has any satisfaction in his gainings? No! not a whit; he is ready to curse the very gold he is obliged to scrape together. Find me a miser — and you find me a lump of incarnate misery. Satan is too hard a master to allow his servants even the small gratification of having some pleasure in the success of their work. Never does the Devil set a man to harder work than when he says, "Servant get rich!" And thousands of such poor wretched slaves there are in this great city, perhaps some here tonight, cringing to, and worshiping the world's trinity of millions, thousands, hundreds.
To another he gives an order, summed up in the word DRINK, and is not obedience to that command hard work? Do you think there is any real pleasure to the drunkard? Ask him. Let him tell you about the inward gnawings, the parched lip, the head that seems like a blacksmith's shop with all the hammers at work; and the thousand and one pains beside, that rack the body after a night's debauch, not to speak of all the mental torture he undergoes. Hard work! Yes, there is no slavedom more killing, both to body and soul than slavedom to the drink!
Do I have here any drunkard listening to me tonight? If so, I know your own conscience bears testimony to the truth of what I have stated. Hear the poor slave of alcohol sing, "Britons never shall be slaves." Does it not seem a horrible mockery when the very one who sings it, is fettered hand and foot himself with the accursed sin; and who, although knowing he is destroying body, home, and soul, still confesses that he has no power to snap the cords. He who dies a drunkard's death, and enters a drunkard's grave — has worked hard for the result.
Satan sets another to be a votary of PLEASURE. And here I think I can hear one of you saying, "What do you mean to say, Mr. Brown, that pleasure is work?" Yes, I do, and uncommonly hard work too. Who does not know by experience that a day's pleasuring is more tiring than an equal number of hours' work?
The child of God will find his sweetest joys at home. The religion of Jesus endears the man's own fireside to him. The rest in his family is welcome. Not so with the devotee of pleasure. Possessed with the evil spirit, he goes here and there seeking rest — and finding none. The quiet of the home he terms boredom; so he launches forth into a whirlpool of dissipation, and singing, "Begone, dull care," he tries to persuade himself he is happy. Delusive thought!! He knows and feels his misery, and finds that though he may have excitement, he is an utter stranger to satisfaction. The pleasure that once enchanted him, by frequent indulgence becomes insipid. Something stronger, more wicked is needed to stimulate his jaded spirits. He goes from bad to worse, until at last every sinful pleasure has in its turn been tried, and in its turn, grown tame.
His hateful and hating master still goads him on, and he works like a slave at a mill, grinding on at pleasures which have long since failed to yield him any. Of all the miserable sights on earth — that of an aged profligate is the most miserable, unable to find a whit of pleasure in the things that once delighted him, yet hankering after them with an unabated longing.
Satan sets a fourth to act the HYPOCRITE, and for this service he pays the highest wages, and right he should, for the work must be tremendous. How great a strain, to always have to remember the part he has to act.
Never to dare to be natural;
ever dreading exposure;
always being something in appearance, directly opposed to what he is in reality;
to have to sham the externals of a religion, without any of its inward comfortings;
to be obliged to renounce the pleasures of time, without the hope of any in eternity!
Surely the wages of the hypocrite are hard-earned! But whatever the work may be to which the sinner is set, it is work without a pause. Satan has no old pensioners permitted to end their days in peaceful idleness — they must keep on working to the last.
Before that great blot of slavery was wiped away from the southern states of America, many of us doubtless read with tears and burning indignation of the weary, jaded, trembling band, driven out to the field in early morn, and kept unceasingly to the work by the blows of the whip, until some dropped among the cotton trees, and at last found rest in death. Feelings welled up from the bosom, too big for utterance.
Behold, saints of God, a sadder sight still, and may kindred emotions be felt. Look at the vast mass of your fellow creatures, slaves to a greater tyrant than ever breathed "down south." Look at them driven on with blows and curses to endless perdition. Behold how fast they fall upon the field; and in that fall they find no rest, but only enter on far deeper woe — the payment of their wages. There are such here tonight; lift up your hearts and pray.
"Slaves to Satan heretofore,
Let them now be slaves no more,
Lord, we turn our eyes to Thee,
Let the captive sinner free!"
Trusting we have made our second point clear, namely, that Satan's servants have to work hard — let us now turn to,
3. The WAGES paid them. "The wages of sin is death." What! is the reward for all that hard toil — death? Yes, simply death! Oh, extraordinary wages — but more extraordinary still, that any should be found to work for them! The death of the body, is but the result of sin. If sin had not found its way into God's fair earth, death also would have been forever a stranger. Death is the dark shadow that sin casts. For six thousand years men have been receiving the wages of death. Death has passed upon all men, for all have sinned.
Think of the aggregate of sorrow that has come on this fallen world through death, the fruit of sin. Could all the groans that have burst from broken-hearted mourners since our first parents wept over their murdered son, be gathered into one — what a deep thunder-peal of anguish it would be! Were all the tears collected that death has caused to flow — what a briny ocean they would constitute! Let those call sin a trifle who dare — but to us 'tis clear that what could bring on man so awful a curse as death, must in itself be something unutterably horrible!
And yet death, mere physical death, is the least that is meant here. If this was all the Lord meant, if men when they die, die like dogs — there would be no occasion for the agony of soul we often have. But alas! alas! the death referred to here is a death that never dies! It is placed in contrast to "eternal life." It means eternal death; in another word, Hell. Here, poor sinner, are your wages — here is the result of a life's toil for Satan!
Let me say moreover, sin pays some of its wages now; it gives sometimes an installment of Hell on earth. The wretched debauchee we attempted to describe often finds it so. Mark his haggard countenance, his trembling gait; follow him to the hospital — no don't — let his end remain secret; terrible are the wages he receives!
Look at the drunkard; he is paid for his sin in his home, until not a single stick remains to tell of a place that once was bright and happy. Have you ever seen a drunkard in delirium tremens? If so, you will never doubt about the wages he receives on account; hearken to his shrieking; listen to his raving as he imagines he is being dragged to Hell by ten thousand fiery snakes!
This is all included in the wages "death;" and yet after all, this is nothing. If the only wages for sin were those received in a lifetime, we could be calmer. But oh, Eternity, Eternity is sin's long pay-day; and the wages paid is Hell!
I will close this dark division of my subject by an illustration, which I have read somewhere, used by a minister when preaching on this same text:
Suppose a person were to go to a blacksmith and say to him 'I want you to make me a long and heavy chain; have it done by such a time and I will pay you cash for it.' The blacksmith, though pressed with other work, for the sake of the money, commences it; and after toiling hard for some time, finishes it. The person calls, and says on looking at it, 'Yes, it is a good chain — but not long enough; work on it another week, I will then call and pay you for it.' Encouraged by the promise of full reward, the blacksmith toils on, adding link to link. When his employer calls again, he praises him as before — but still insists that 'the chain is too short.' 'But,' says the blacksmith, 'I can do no more; my iron is all gone, and my strength too.'
'Oh then, just add a few more links, the chain will then answer my purpose, and you shall be well paid.' The blacksmith, with his remaining strength, and last few scraps of iron, adds the last link he can. 'The chain will now do,' says the man, 'you have worked hard and long; I will now pay you your wages.' And taking the chain, he suddenly bound the laborer hand and foot, and cast him into a furnace of fire!
'Such' said the preacher, 'are the wages of sin." It promises much — but its reward is damnation. Present servants of sin and Satan, behold your future doom — be honest, and confess that your service is hard work and bad pay. May the Lord make you feel it so, then you will be more willing to close in with the sweet offer contained in the latter clause of the verse.
II. No Work — and Rich Reward. I have already so far exceeded the time I had intended to devote to the first portion of the subject that I will be compelled to be exceedingly brief in that which yet remains. I will only be able to give you a meager outline, and leave to yourselves the filling up of details.
In this clause of the text you have nothing about work or wages. The pivot word of the whole is "gift." God absolutely refuses to sell salvation. He will give to any — but barter with none. His terms are "without money and without price." Behold then how lovely a contrast we have in the text. On one side is hard, unceasing, slave driving work — with its wages of misery and eternal death! On the other side, confronting it like an angel of light, you have the full, free, loving gift of eternal life.
But is it not strange that the very freeness of salvation is the great stumbling block in the way of its acceptance? Not more strange than true. Human pride revolts against it; to receive as a pauper that for which all payment is refused, is too humbling. If eternal life was for sale, the vast majority would be buyers.
But how comforting would this word "gift" be to those present who feel they have nothing to pay; to those who are conscious of spiritual bankruptcy. Here is a salvation that meets your case exactly. Nothing required from those who have nothing. Oh, close in with so blessed an offer. Make (as holy Rutherford calls it) this bargain with the Lord, to receive all, and for nothing. Believing is nothing less than freely accepting with the heart, that which God freely offers through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice, moreover, the blessing specified. "Eternal life!" This the Lord permits his children to enjoy on earth; for just as part of the wages of sin is paid on account, in this life — so even in this life, foretastes of the gift of God are enjoyed by the saints. Dr. Watts beautifully expresses it:
"The men of grace have found
Glory begun below;
Celestial limits on earthly ground
From faith and hope may grow.
The hill of Zion yields
A thousand sacred sweets;
Before we reach the heavenly fields,
Or walk the golden streets."
Contentment, conscious peace with God, inward peace of soul, quiet trustfulness as to the future, beside a thousand other joys, are some of the clusters of the grapes of Eschol which refresh the wearied one on his journey to the land where the vine grows.
And how about the end, when the gift is received in full? What does not "eternal life" include? An entrance through the pearly gates into the city — a position before the throne — the company of angels — the never-ceasing song of the redeemed — the entire absence of all shade of sorrow; these and bliss unutterable are all included in "eternal life;" and all this is "through Jesus Christ our Lord."
In your joy, believer, do not forget the channel through whom it flows; it is a gift to you — because your Lord paid all.
Our peace, is through his chastisement,
our joy, is through his sorrow,
our songs, are through his sighs,
our cleansing, is through his blood,
our acceptance, is through his righteousness,
our crown, is through his cross.
Sinner, do you desire to be saved? Are you tired and sick of your present service? Behold then the way of escape; accept as a sinner, the free salvation of God offered to you in the person of Jesus.
Trust him, trust him only;
throw overboard all other hopes;
take him as your Savior;
cease from your works and trust to his;
let it no longer be what you have done, or what you may hope to do — but what Jesus has done. Do not spurn the free gift of God tonight, nor in your madness, still work for deadly wages.
Something tells me tonight — and the thought oppresses me — that this sermon will be the deciding cast in the history of some; the scales are on the balance — but they will turn tonight. Which way? Eternity hangs on the answer.
Let me try in conclusion to drive this thought home by an illustration. It is stated that the Missouri and Columbia rivers have their sources within a few yards of each other upon the summit of the rocky mountains. A breath of wind either from east or west will decide into which stream the rain drops fall. But once they have commenced their downward course upon the mountain side — then what power on earth can arrest their progress? They mingle with other streams; they dash and foam over precipices, and roll with irresistible power towards the ocean. Those upon the west side are borne out into the calm bosom of the Pacific — while those upon the east roll into the stormy billows of the Atlantic.
Sinner, you stand upon the top of the mountain. On the one side of you far distant lies the ocean of God's love — boundless, stormless and peaceful, with which the river of life is connected. On the other side a muddy, inky stream rushes from your very feet into the roaring Atlantic of God's wrath. Perhaps this evening's sermon is the breeze which will decide into which stream you are carried. Which will it be? May the Lord save you. God forbid that in this concourse of people, there should be a single one who will ever learn by bitter, eternal experience that "the wages of sin is death."