Archibald G. Brown, March 13th, 1870, Stepney Green Tabernacle
"Without Christ!" Ephesians 2:12
In this chapter Paul does his very best to magnify the exceeding riches of the grace of God. So jealous was he of the glory of free grace, that he laid the axe at the root of the tree of human pride with a ringing stroke. He shows the members of the church at Ephesus how entirely dependent they were for their salvation on the full, free, sovereign favor of God. He reiterates over and over again the fact that they were saved by grace through faith, and that that faith was not of themselves — but it was in itself a pure gift of God. "Not of works, lest any man should boost," Eph 2.9 was the apostle's much-loved creed and oft-repeated assertion.
Having magnified the grace of God as demonstrated in the salvation of the sinner, he tries next to stir up the hearts of the members of the church to abounding and overflowing gratitude for that grace having ever touched them, and embraced them in its loving arms; for he says, "remember what you once were — turn over the pages of your memory — go back just a few years — think of what you were before divine mercy met with you. If sovereign grace had never saved you — what would your career have been, what would be your present position? Let the past rise up before you.
Think, at that time — with some of you only a few years back; with some of you perhaps only a few weeks — remember, he says, "that at that time you were without Christ." But now behold the marvelous difference; "you who once were afar off are made near by the blood of Christ." Shall such a marvelous act of God's grace be done in you — and yet your hearts remain cold, and still, and lifeless — frozen in base, unworthy ingratitude? Awake! Awake!! Utter a song, and extol in flowing praise Him who by His sovereign grace has made you thus to differ!
Now, in Paul's description of the sinner before conversion, you will notice he uses several negatives; and often that picture is the most striking that abounds the most in negative tints.
The descriptions we have of Heaven are chiefly negative; we are told of what there is not in Heaven — far more than of what there is. All we know of Heaven (speaking generally) is what it lacks. We know that in Heaven there is no sorrow, no pain, no sickness, no curse, no night. Multiply the number of negatives — tell me what there is not, and I will perhaps get a clearer idea of what there is.
Now, as in the case of describing Heaven by negatives, so is it in the picture of the sinner's condition. Paul tells me here what the sinner does not have, and then by finding what he fails to possess — I can more clearly find out what he actually has. He is a man without Christ; he is one who is a stranger and a foreigner to the grace of God; one without God in the world and without hope.
Often, as we have already remarked, you can best find out what a man has by describing what he does not have. To use a very homely illustration, I think if I wished to stir up your hearts to liberality in order to help some distressed one, I would try to picture, in negative tints — that he had no fire, no blankets, no shoes for the children, no comforts in life, no friends. And then, having shown you what the man did not have — you would be the better able to form an opinion as to the little that the man did possess.
Now you have here the picture of the sinner drawn in negative tints. In a word, he is a man without Christ. Now I know that if the Holy Spirit will only enable the speaker tonight to bring out in some humble measure the real teaching of the text, and if that same Holy Spirit will but give power to the word, and apply it to every hearer, so that we may in some small measure understand what it is to be without Christ — there will surely be hearts constrained to bend and break.
Let us notice first of all, What is the state described here? Or in other words, what is it for a man to be without Christ?
And then, when we have tried to delineate that state, we will notice secondly, the horror of that state. For the most awful thing that can be said of any man or woman is: he is a man without Christ, or she is a woman without Christ.
Now in order that none may escape, let us have exceedingly close dealing with our own hearts, and with each other, on this point.
I. What is the state described here — what is it to be without Christ?Let me first tell you what it is not to be without Christ. It does not necessarily mean to be without any knowledge of Christ.
When we quoted the words "without Christ," some of you no doubt had immediate visions such as these before your eyes: you thought of foreign lands where the glory of the gospel has never arisen; you thought of the heathen dwelling in thick darkness, and of those who still sojourn in the land of the shadow of death; you pictured to yourselves the deluded Hottentot; and conjured up before your eyes a miserable multitude of men and women who had never heard the name of Jesus, that who are perhaps at this moment bowing down to stocks of wood and stone; and you said with pity, 'they are the people without Christ.'
And some of you thought of the courts and slums, reeking with foulest vice, and dark as heathendom itself, that are to be found not far off from your own residences; you thought of some of those "City Arabs" who have not been brought up — but dragged through life; you thought of one of those, who to the City Missionary's question as to whether he knew the Lord Jesus Christ, replied, "He didn't think He lived on that street, as he had never heard His name mentioned."
But stay, Sir, we have to come nearer home. Without Christ does not necessarily imply that a man is without a knowledge of Him.
It is possible for a man to live in a blaze of gospel light — and yet be as much without Christ as the heathen who has never heard the name of Jesus breathed.
It is possible to be brought up from infancy with the name of Jesus sounding in your ear more frequently than any other; to come and hear a faithful and plain preacher week by week; and although surrounded by gospel privileges, you are as much without Christ as if you had never heard the name of Jesus in infancy, or been brought in early years to hear the gospel truth — but had been cradled in heathenism and brought up in the blackness of ignorance!
No indeed, we will go further and say, there are many people who know a great deal of Christ — and yet they are without Him. It is possible for a man to know the history of Christ — and yet be without Him. There is a man yonder who knows perhaps far more of this book than some of us do, who we trust can truthfully call ourselves God's children. He knows the life and history of Christ, and can recount it without turning to a single page. His sermons, His life, His bloody sweat, His cross, His passion, His death — all these things the man has at his fingers' ends, and at the tip of his tongue. He could stand up and talk glibly on this platform of the life and death of Christ, and perhaps draw a picture of Christ's present glory — and yet the man himself is without Christ.
There is a vast difference between knowledge and possession. I may know a great deal about a thing — but that does not in any way prove that I possess it. Why, there is a man there who knows all about the coinage of this country — the manufacture of bank notes — all about gold and silver refining — and yet the man himself is utterly destitute and without a penny. He may be able to detect the genuineness of a sovereign by its ring — and yet perhaps not have a penny with which to buy a loaf of bread for himself or his children.
Just so, it is possible for a man to be so well up in the history of Christ — to be so well taught in the externals of religion — that we may scarcely be able to detect whether he is a genuine Christian, or a sham — and yet he is not in possession of Christ.
A man yonder, who is a chemist, may be able to tell you all about the properties of water — he knows its component parts, and could lecture about its wonders for the hour together — and yet the man dies on the arid desert for lack of a single drop.
And do you not think there are many who know much of this Book in their head — much theoretically of Christ — but who are dying for lack of Him? Alas, yes, thousands upon thousands. Without Christ does not therefore necessarily mean a man without any knowledge of Him.
But let us go a step further. To be without Christ does not necessarily mean to be without any respect for Him. A man without Christ need not be the bold, blasphemous, profane swearer, who only mentions the holy name to mock it.
There are men without Christ who bow their knee every time the name of Jesus is mentioned; there are many without Christ who walk with the most sedate solemnity to their places of worship, with the Bible, the Prayer Book, and Hymn Book in their hands. They are horrified if they hear an irreverent word spoken of Christ. There are multitudes of men who pay all the outward decorum, and a superabundance of it, to the religion of Jesus — and yet who lack just this one thing — Christ Himself. There are respectful church-attending, knee-bending, psalm-singing heathen — as well as blasphemous heathen.
As you came along the street this evening you were compelled to hear the vile oath of the sabbath-breaker as he passed by. With a shudder, you exclaimed, "Thank God, I am not like that man;" and yet you are like that man, for that man is simply without Christ, and you, with all your respect for the name of Christ, are similarly destitute.
Remember too, that to be without Christ does not necessarily mean to be without the name of Christ. No, there are many who bear the name of Christ, that do not have Him, Himself. You may go to your Churches to find men without Christ — you may go to your Baptist Chapels, or any other denominational sanctuaries you please — and in those buildings you will find men who, although members of the respective churches, and bearing the Savior's name — are yet without Christ. You may (sad fact) go even into some of our pulpits and find men like sign posts, they direct others to the road — but never move a foot along it themselves. Like church bells, they ring others in — but they themselves remain without. A means of life to others — they are yet spiritual corpses themselves!
What is it then to be without Christ? I will tell you in a few words. To be without Christ means first, to be without any SAVING FAITH in Him. It is faith that gives possession. I cannot say that Christ is mine until by simple faith I have stretched out my hand and laid it upon Him, and so appropriated Him. The moment, as a sinner, I savingly trust Jesus — that moment he becomes mine. A man who is without Christ, is a man who has Christ standing outside, knocking at the door of his heart. It is when He is outside, that we are without Him.
I think I can hear some of you say, "that is very simple; but how am I able to tell whether I have saving faith or not?" We will put a test which I think will come home to every heart.
The man without Christ is a man who is without LOVE to Christ. Faith works by love; and if there is faith in a man's soul, it will not be long before it shows itself in love. A man without Christ is one who has never sung with gushing heart:
"My Jesus I love You, I know you are mine,
For You all the pleasures of sin I resign;
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior are Thou,
If ever I loved You, my Jesus, 'tis now."
The man who is without Christ is an utter stranger to that sweet experience which makes us sing,
"Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter far your face to see,
And in Your presence rest."
Come sir, have you ever felt that love? Can you say, "Lord, you know that I love You?" I think I hear many of you say "No, I have never felt that." Then, if you have never felt it, you are still without faith in Christ; and those who are without faith in Christ, are without Christ Himself.
Just let me for a few moments hold up the mirror before some of you; and as you look into it and see the character of the man without Christ reflected, may you be led to exclaim, "It is I!" Here is the mirror:
The man we have attempted to describe is the man who possesses almost everything but Christ; he has health, and has never perhaps been laid aside a day from his work; but he is without Christ. He is surrounded by friends; there are many who will speak a good word for him and do a kind action; and it is his boast that he has never lost a friend he has ever made — but he is without Christ. He has respectability and good standing in society; his name would be taken anywhere for any amount — but he is without Christ. Number up all his possessions — count up the sum total — he has this and that, and the others — but in all his possessions he does not have Christ.
Oh, my brother and sister, let me ask you now — have you among your possessions, a Savior? When you lay your head upon the pillow, can you say, I have not only this and that, not only a loving wife and dear children, and a happy home, and the various comforts of this life — but best of all, I have got my Savior. Can you say, I fall asleep this night with a Savior in my arms? There you have (I wish I could put it far better) the character described. A man not perhaps without a knowledge of Christ, not without a certain respect for Christ, not without the name of Christ — but one who has never savingly trusted Christ — who does not love Christ; and among all his possessions, cannot truthfully say that he has Christ.
II.And now may the Holy Spirit help mightily while for a few minutes we try to show the horror of this state. God is our witness that if we try to show you the blackness of the picture — it is only that we may cause you to see your unhappy state and flee from it. From no mere love of the horrible do we dwell upon it. "Without Christ." This is indeed a dreadful "without," a lack that no tongue can properly describe. There are many things we all are compelled to dispense with, without our being actually one whit the less happy, or one iota the worse off. But to "lack" Christ is an awful lack, one for which the possession of the universe would be a poor and despicable compensation!
You do not perhaps yet feel it so — but the time is fast coming when the hour will chime, in which you would be perfectly willing to throw to the winds all that you ever had if you could say, "I have Christ!" If you do not have Christ, remember you have no hope of salvation. There is no other way of salvation but by Christ. If you are without Him, you are without the only one who can bring you to Heaven. If you are without Christ you are without the only passport that will cause the gates of Heaven to be thrown open to you.
Let me show you what I mean by an illustration. There is a man yonder who, having fallen overboard, is battling for dear life with the deep green waves.
A rope is flung to him — he sees it — believes it is strong enough to bear him — but never lays hold of it. All he lacks to save him, is union with the rope, and he does not have that. So with a gurgle in his throat, he sinks like lead in the waters.
What the lack of that rope was to the man, the lack of Christ is to the lost sinner. I see there are many sailors here tonight, and we rejoice to behold them. Come, my sailor friends, let us try and put the truth of what we are saying before you in such a way as you will understand.
A terrific storm is raging out to sea; the billows run mountains high, with crested heads; while all other sounds are drowned in the tumult of the great ocean clapping its thousand hands. But see, amid the waves, there is a vessel laboring in distress, and driving on a lee shore. The sails have been split to ribbons, and the masts bend and break and go overboard; the helm is unshipped, and they spring a leak. The helpless hulk begins to fill fast, and as she drifts, she sinks deeper — deeper and deeper.
Hark!! There is a shout heard — it is the life-boat being launched. See how she ploughs her way through the boiling surf, and like a bird on the wing makes straight for the sinking crew. One after another leaps from the foundering vessel amid the shouts of the multitude who line the shore. There are but two more left upon the deck now to be saved, when a huge, hissing billow sweeps the life-boat from the side, and in that moment the fast sinking ship goes stern first, down into the deep, and leaves nothing but a plank or two to mark the spot. The two men without the life-boat perished — the rest were saved. Just so, there is no hope of salvation for the man who is "without Christ."
To be without Christ is to be without the only thing that can satisfy the heart. There is no satisfaction in the things of earth. Let the thirsty man drink the sea water, and when it slakes his thirst, it will be time enough for you to expect the world to satisfy you. An old writer says "man's heart being a triangle, it can never be filled by a round world; there will always be some empty corners left." Are there not some here this evening who have learned by bitter experience the truthfulness of this statement. The soul's restlessness until it finds the Savior, has been well described by another in language something like the following: "The needle's point in the mariner's compass never rests — but quivers and shakes until it comes right against the North Pole."
The wise men of the east never stood still, until they were right under the star which appeared to them; and the star itself never stood still until it came right against that other Star which shone more brightly in the manger, than the sun did in the firmament. And Noah's dove could find no rest for the sole of her foot, all the while she was fluttering over the flood — until she returned to the ark with an olive branch in her mouth. So the heart, which should be Jesus' turtle-dove, can find no rest until with the silver wings of faith it flies to the true Noah, which signifies Rest — until Christ puts forth his hand out of the ark and, taking it in, receives it to Himself. But alas, the man "without Christ" is the needle without a pole; a fluttering, weary, mourning dove, with no ark of rest to fly to.
To be without Christ is to be without the only solace that will make up for the loss of all beside. A man who has Christ, can never be poor, nor lack a subject for a song. To have Him, is to have a portion that can be robbed by none. In the time of the Marian persecution, there was a gracious woman, who being brought before bloody Bonner, was threatened by him that he would take away her husband. She says, "Christ is my husband." "I will take away your child" he replied. "Christ," she says, "is better to me than ten sons." "I will strip you," he says, "of all your outward comforts." "Yes — but Christ is mine," says she, "and you cannot strip me of him."
The answer of Basil was as good, "You may take away my life — but you cannot take away my comfort; you may remove my head — but not my crown."
These are noble replies, given birth by Christ possessed.
But the man that is without Christ, is without any true wealth, whatever earthly possessions he may have. The poorest child of God is better off than he. Said a gentleman to his friend as he was showing him over his estate, "Do you see that farm yonder?"
"Well, that is mine."
"Do you see that house?"
"That is mine, also."
"Do you see that plantation?"
"That too, is mine."
"Do you see that meadow yonder?"
"Well, that belongs to me also."
The friend, who was a Christian, answered, "Do you see yonder village — do you see that cottage with the little gable?"
"Well, there is a poor woman living there, so wealthy, who has far more than you altogether!"
"How is that?"
"Why, that poor woman can say, Christ is mine; and he who has Christ, has more than all the world massed together!"
But alas, there are some here who, up to this evening, do not have this great possession, that in itself is boundless wealth, for they are without Christ.
And now in order, in some humble measure, to grasp the horror of the position, let us look at the man in four different aspects.
1. Look at the man without Christ, and bereft of everything. Yonder is a man who once had all the comforts which a moderate income could command; he is compelled to move from house to house, each lower in rent than the last. I mark the man as he goes down step by step with pity; see now how lowly he appears as he walks the streets. He hardly knows how to find bread for his children; his heart is well-near broken as he thinks of the happy days he once enjoyed. Yet still down, down he goes; and perhaps other men rise to fortune by treading him still lower in the dust. And now as he looks around at his shattered fortune, what has the man to fly to for solace? Nothing! For worst of all, he is without Christ. If he only had Christ, he could say with the nobleman, "When I had all, I found my God in all — but now that I have nothing, I find my all in God." But a man without earthly comforts and without Christ, is in a piteous state indeed.
2. Let us look at the man without Christ in another aspect; at the period when he has to DIE. I see him as he trembles at the water's brink — those waters that run so still and strong, so deep and dark. An unseen power pushes the man forward; do you mark how he shrinks back? The man is pushed on and on, and just as the waters rise to his lips, there is this one horrid thought which haunts him like a nightmare, "I must die, and I am without Christ!"
3. Follow the man to the JUDGMENT bar of God, and then you will know what it is to be without Christ. The blast of the archangel's trumpet fills his heart with terror; and as the Judge's eye fixes itself upon the trembling wretch, a shriek escapes his lips, "Mountains, fall upon me! Hills, cover me! I stand before the great white throne, and — O horror — I am without Christ!" Friends, I ask you in all candor — can you bear the thought of a judgment day without Christ?
4. Last of all, follow the man without Christ, in imagination throughout ETERNITY. Age after age passes — and yet he is without Christ. Eternal damnation — but no Christ. I think the bitterest drop in the cup of the lost is this — that forever and forever they are to be without Christ. Can you, my friend, bear the thought of never having a glimpse of Jesus, never seeing the countenance of Him who is the joy of many of our hearts, and the subject of every angel's song? God knows, as I turned down the road leading to this chapel and beheld you pouring along in such a full stream, there was one question that kept recurring to me over and over again; it was this, "Great God, how many in this multitude are now without Christ?"
How many of those who are now trooping into that tabernacle will be without Christ when they die — will be without Christ when the judgment day has dawned, and without Christ as the eternal ages roll? O! for your soul's sake, friend, you cannot — you dare not be without Christ any longer.
Listen but to this truth: Christ is willing to be yours tonight — yes, tonight. Lift up your eye and cry, "Lord Jesus, I have been without You, alas, too long. And now in this sanctuary, as a poor, lost rebel sinner, I receive You to be my only Savior!"
The Lord grant that some of you who came in here without Christ, may go to your homes with Christ. The Lord grant it for Jesus' sake. Amen.