Lost and Found!
What multitudes of people there are who have no concern over, in fact no consciousness of, their woeful condition! While they do not regard themselves as perfect, yet they are not aware that there is anything seriously wrong with them. They are respectable people, law-abiding citizens, and nothing particular ever troubles their conscience. They consider that they are certainly no worse than their religious neighbors, and though they scarcely ever read the Bible or enter a church, they fully expect to go to Heaven when they die. Some of them will indeed admit that they are sinners, but imagine that their good works far outnumber their bad ones. A smaller class of them were sprinkled as infants, attended a Bible class as children, said their prayers each night, and later joined the church. Nevertheless, to this moment, they have never realized that they are the enemies of God, and abomination in the eyes of His holiness, and that Hell is their just desert. How is this sad state of affairs to be accounted for? 2 Corinthians 4 tells us. "But if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the God of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not." (verses 3, 4). The apostle's design was to point out that the reason why people are not saved under the preaching of the Gospel is not because of any ambiguity in it, but owning to the malignant influence of Satan.
They see no beauty or glory in the Gospel, no suitableness in it unto their case, and therefore do they despise and reject it. Though Satan rules in their hearts and lives (Ephesians 2:2), yet it is by their own free consent. They voluntarily obey him and submit to his will. His dominion over them is maintained by keeping their minds in darkness, deceiving and deluding them, blinding them by pride, prejudice, and the workings of their own corruptions. But the fault and blame are wholly theirs, for they are determined to follow their own course at all costs, turn a deaf ear to the most earnest entreaties and solemn warnings and disregard the remonstrations of their own conscience. Nowhere but in the Scripture of Truth can we learn what is the real condition of the natural man. There his case is diagnosed with unerring precision by the Divine Physician. Many are the terms used therein by the Holy Spirit to describe the solemn and direful state to which the fall has reduced every descendant of Adam; and among them probably none is more pointed and awesome than is the term LOST. How dismal is its sound! How much is summed up in that single word! It signifies that the natural man is in a sinful, wretched, and parlous state, that he has departed from his Rule, that he is astray from God, that he has willfully and wantonly forsaken the path of duty. Lost: a traveler from time to eternity treading the road that leads to certain and everlasting destruction. A creature who has forfeited the approbation and favor of his Maker, and is now an outcast from Him. One who has squandered his substance in riotous living, and is now a spiritual bankrupt and pauper. Out of the way of peace and blessing, and utterly incapable of finding his way back to it.
The Scriptures are far from depicting fallen man as being only partly ruined, or representing his case as being so little changed that by diligent endeavor and persevering effort he can restore himself to his original glory. "The wicked are estranged from the womb" (Psalm 58:3), and every sin they commit takes them a step nearer the everlasting burnings. They are living in this world "without God", and therefore as alienated from Him, "having no hope" (Ephesians 2:12). Nor are there any exceptions: the Word of Him that cannot lie declares, "They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that does good, no, not one" (Psalm 14:3). "Man being in honor abides not: he is like the beasts that perish" (Psalm 49:12). "It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known My ways" (Psalm 95:10). You may, my reader, have been born of Christian parents and had a pious upbringing, but if you be out of Christ—no matter how much respected by your fellows, or how religious— you are LOST, and so lost that you may utterly despair of all self-help.
How that awful fact gives the lie to a delusion which is held by so many. The general idea is that man is now on probation, and that unless he does certain things and lives a particular kind of life, he will ultimately be lost. But such a concept is at direct variance with the clear teaching of Holy Writ. As we have seen, 2 Corinthians 4:3 speaks of "them that are lost"—not which will be. If the reader has not surrendered to the Lordship of Christ and put his trust in the atoning blood, he is lost this very moment, and in the most imminent danger of perishing eternally. He is like a man with closed eyes sporting on the edge of a precipice. Fearful beyond words is the condition of fallen man: his case is as hopeless as that of a dying person whose disease is incurable. A lost sheep, a lost child, is a pitiful object, but what mind can gauge or pen depict the tragedy of a LOST SOUL? Lost now, lost forever unless a sovereign God intervenes and performs a miracle of mercy for its recovery. Not only lost now, but lost when we entered this world, yes, before our existence began, and therefore did Christ announce, "The Son of man is come to save that which was lost" (Matthew 18:11). Lost in Adam, for when the covenant head apostatized all whom he represented fell in him and died spiritually.
Thus man is lost privatively, for he is no longer what he was originally—in a state of uprightness, in fellowship with his Maker, able to perform His will: all of that was forfeited when he sinned in his first parent. Lost positively, in that man is now what he should not be, namely a defiled creature, a guilty criminal, a child of disobedience. Lost judicially, under the curse of God's broken Law, sentenced to death, "condemned already" (John 3:18), the wrath of God abiding on him (John 3:36). Lost meritoriously, for his transgressions deserve eternal death, which is the wages of sin, and fully has he earned them. Lost experientially in point of ability or power to recover himself: "not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Romans 8:7). In the fallen creature there is no help, for he is "without strength" (Romans 5:6). The moral impotency of man is such that he is utterly incapable of performing a single spiritual act: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may you also do good, that are accustomed to do evil" (Jeremiah 13:23). Thus man is lost in every way, and in every sense. Federally, by the imputation to him of the guilt of his representative's offence. Effectually, by the transmission of a corrupt nature from his parents. Actually, by his own evil conduct: "you have destroyed yourself" (Hosea 13:9).
Manifestatively, by the forming of evil habits, so that now he is "held with the cords of his sins" (Proverbs 5:22). Lost to God, for He has no love, no service, no glory from the unregenerate, so that they deprive Him of the honor of their creation. Man is lost to himself: to all reason and rational inducements, to right conceptions and perceptions, to every consideration of God's claims upon him; lost to all sense of shame for his horrible condition in the eyes of the Holy One; so lost as to have "pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2:12). Lost to piety and true happiness; out of the way of holiness, peace, and security. Lost in sin, in ignorance, and error. Lost irretrievably, like a sheep that wanders farther and farther astray, until it perishes. Man is utterly unable to find his way back to God, for he is in total darkness—a wanderer in a pathless desert, perishing in a howling wilderness. What makes man's case yet worse is that he has no desire to be recovered. He has perversely set himself up to be his own master, and stubbornly determines to please himself and carve out his own career. Rather than return unto God, the unregenerate would take any road which leads farther away from Him. They resent His expostulations and resist the strivings of His Spirit. If not with their lips, with their hearts "they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of Your ways" (Job 21:14).
Yet, they would much prefer to be annihilated than yet meet God face to face, and have to give an account of themselves to Him (Romans 14:12). They hate His holiness and dread His justice, while despising His goodness and abusing His mercies. The only "life" they know has its objects in this world, and its enjoyment in gratifying the lusts of the flesh. None will know how utterly man is lost until either they experience His wrath in Hell or behold His glory in Heaven, and can then measure the fearful distance they have departed from Him. Now, dear reader, if you be Christless, the above describes your woeful case, and, as we have stated, it sets forth the unerring diagnosis of God Himself. You are at this moment a lost soul. That is not merely the opinion of the writer, but the solemn sentence of your Judge. Oh that you were so in your own apprehension. Not that that is a condition of salvation or of your accepting the Gospel offer, for it is the work of Christ for sinners and not that of the Spirit in them which is the only foundation on which a scriptural hope may be built. Yet the whole need not a physician, but they who know themselves to be sick, and until a miracle of grace be wrought upon them, no soul can have a feeling sense of his lost condition, for until then he is deaf to God's calls, and without any godly sorrow for sin. Does the reader say, But I have been saved? Our reply is, Make quite sure you have scriptural proof thereof in your heart and life.
"For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10).
Our very familiarity with those words is apt to deprive them of their impressiveness and make us lose our sense of wonderment at them. First, in connection with the Seeker Himself. This was none other than the Beloved co-equal of the Father. To engage in His quest it was needful for Him to leave Heaven and come down to this earth. But more: it was required that He become incarnate and take upon Him the nature not of angels, but be made "in the likeness of sin's flesh". Nor was that sufficient: He had to go where the objects of His search were, and that entailed His being made sin, coming under the curse of the broken Law, being abandoned of God for a season. This was absolutely imperative if any of Adam's fallen race were to be recovered, for in themselves they were utterly undone, irretrievably ruined, but the Son of God became the Son of man to bring hope to the hopeless, to give life to the dead, to heal the incurable, to—not merely to, or offer to, but actually—seek and save that which was lost. There could be no possibility or failure in connection with such a mission as that, for the infinite resources of the Godhead guaranteed its complete success, and therefore was it divinely announced of Him as a child, "you shall call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21)—not simply that He would be willing on His part so to do, but that despite their native unwillingness and all other opposition he should save them. Ah, but note who are the ones to be so favored and blessed: not all mankind, but "His people"—those given to Him by the Father before the foundation of the world (John 17:2, 24; Ephesians 1:4).
It was not the "dogs" (Matthew 7:6), the "wolves" (Matthew 10:16), or the "goats" (Matthew 25:32), but the "sheep" that Christ came to seek and to save (John 10:16), and for whom He gave His infinitely precious life (John 10:11); and that was given at no perhaps or uncertainty, but with the infallible assurance that He "shall see His seed . . . He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:10, 11).As the Lord Jesus so plainly and so blessedly taught, He would "go after that which is lost, until He find it" (Luke 15:4), for since a lost sheep never seeks its owner, the Shepherd must seek His sheep. This He does, in marvelous grace, with every one of God's elect, and therefore does He declare of each of them, "I am found of them that sought Me not" (Isaiah 65:1). From the apostle's quotation of it in Romans 10:20, it is clear that, in its general scope, that verse was a prediction of God's turning unto the Gentiles after His casting off the Jews. The heathen nations neither sought after God nor called upon His name; yet without any solicitation from them the preachers of the Gospel were sent unto them. But as Calvin pointed out, their case "was a type of a universal fact". Such is indeed so, as Old Testament and New abundantly illustrate.
The salvation of any lost sinner is due alone to the amazing and sovereign grace of God, and not because of anything he does or purposes doing, for not only is his salvation entirely unbought, but unsought by him. Take the case of Abraham, and his is a pattern one, for he is "the father [or proto-type] of all them that believe" (Romans 4:11). Joshua 24:2, 14, reveals something of the conditions in which he lived before and at the time when God "found" him: he came of an idolatrous stock who served false gods. When the Lord would humble the proud hearts of Israel, He reminded them of their lowly origin and bade them look "to the hole of the pit whence you are dug. Look unto Abraham your father" (Isaiah 51:1, 2)—whom I plucked as a brand from the burning. Acts 7:2, informs us, "The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia". That was an act of distinguishing favor, for He did not discover Himself to his fellow citizens. As Isaiah 51:2 declares, "I called him alone, and blessed him"; and as Joshua 24:3, records, "I took him throughout the land of Canaan". Thus, in his case, God was found of one who sought Him not. Take the case of Jacob. If ever there was a man who exemplified in his own person that God has chosen the base things of the world (1 Corinthians 1:28) it was he. According to the flesh, there was nothing winsome or pleasing about him. Selfish, scheming, deceitful, untruthful, he was a most unamiable character. There was nothing whatever in him to attract the love of God, yet on the memorial night at Bethel he found Him whom he sought not.
A fugitive from his father's house, fleeing from his brother's wrath, most probably with no thought of God in his mind, he laid himself down on the ground to sleep, with stones for his pillows. It was then that the God of all grace appeared unto him and made Himself known as a giving God (Genesis 28:13), and declared, "I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken to you of". He found him when he had nothing, deserved nothing but wrath, gave him everything, and promised to protect him wherever he went. Moses (Exodus 3:1, 2), the Hebrews in Egyptian bondage, Samuel, David, are further examples. But consider the case of the woman at the well (John 4), who most unmistakably found the Lord though she sought Him not. A despised Samaritan, an adulteress, shunned by others, she came at midday—when she supposed the well would be deserted—to draw water. She was unacquainted with the Lord Jesus, and had no expectation of meeting Him and no thought of being converted that day. Poor desolate soul! But Christ was there at the well: there first, for He is the Alpha of salvation as well as the Omega of it. He was there waiting for her! He knew all about her desperate need and was ready to minister unto it. He was there to illumine her darkened understanding, to overcome her prejudices, to subdue her rebellious will, to invite Himself into her heart. He did so, and she "left her waterpot" and went on her way rejoicing, to witness unto His grace.
Take the case of Saul of Tarsus. He was a self-righteous Pharisee, and when such a one came before God it was not to seek mercy at His hands, but to thank Him that he was not as other men were, and to boast of his good deeds. He belonged to that sect which instead of welcoming the gracious ministry of Christ complained that He was the friend of publicans and sinners. But worse: he was filled with enmity against Him and took the lead in persecuting and hounding His people. Not only did he consent to the death of Stephen, but "he made havoc of the church", entered the homes of its members and committed them to prison. Having obtained yet greater authority from the high priest of the Jews, and while yet "breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord", he was found of Christ. So far from seeking Him, he was resisting with all his might, for it is clear from His words in Acts 9:5, that the Spirit had been striving with him; yet, instead of yielding to conviction, he was kicking against the pricks! Does some reader exclaim, But my case was very different from any of those you have described above, being more like that of Nicodemus, Bartimaeus, or the dying thief: I was indeed a great sinner, yet realized my lost condition and earnestly and diligently sought the Lord? Even so—and you were but doing what God has commanded all to do (Isaiah 55:6)—that in no wise clashes with anything we have said. God was equally before hand in your case, for he not only chose you before you chose Him (John 15:16), and loved you before you had any love for Him (1 John 4:19), but acted upon you before you acted toward Him. He had to speak the quickening word before you could come forth from your spiritual grave (John 11:43), open your blind eyes before you were able to see your lost condition, change your heart before you were disposed to seek Him, and draw (John 6:44) before you came to Him.
Thus you have no ground for boasting, nothing for which you can take any credit unto yourself: all the glory of your salvation belongs alone unto the Lord. "And go after that which is lost, until he find it. And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders rejoicing" (Luke 15:4, 5). How little is this aspect of our salvation dwelt upon today, either by those in the pulpit or those in the pews! So self-centered are we, so occupied with what redemption brings to us, that we give little thought unto what it means unto the Redeemer Himself. Oh, what holy satisfaction is His each time He sees of the travail of His soul! How His heart is gladdened whenever He secures another of those who were given to Him by the Father! It was in anticipation of the same that He endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). Moreover, as Luke 15:6 goes on to inform us, He shares His joy with those in the "home" above: each time one of God's elect is saved, tidings of the same are announced in Heaven! "Every display of the Savior's grace is a jewel in His mediatorial crown. Oh, what hearts have we, that we are not more humble before Him, more thankful to Him, and more joyful in Him! Lord Jesus help us, Gentile sinners, to look back, to look within, to look up, and to look forward, to excite humility, thankfulness, and joy of heart. Look forward my soul, for Heaven is before you. Jesus stands ready to receive you, the Father to embrace you, the Spirit to triumph over you. Glory shall complete what grace has begun" (W. Mason, 1785).