The Happy Debtor
James Smith, 1842
"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back — so he freely forgave the debts of both." Luke 7:41-42
The mind of man is naturally opposed to God's method of salvation, and is continually influenced by the idea, that something must be done before pardon can be realized, or salvation enjoyed. It cannot trust simply to the perfect work pf Jesus, or rely on the plain and faithful promise of a gracious God. It is constantly striving to produce something on which it can look with satisfaction, and present before God as a ground of hope. But it is the design of God to humble, strip, and lay the sinner low; and therefore he finds all his efforts prove abortive, and his endeavors vain. The more he strives — the viler he appears, and the more he labors — the farther he is off. In prayer he is all confusion, his heart is hard and unfeeling, and he is tempted to think his case singular and fearful. He fears there is no hope for him in God.
He has nothing to pay! In his nature, he can find no good qualities:
his heart is depraved,
his understanding is bewildered,
his affections are earthly,
his memory is treacherous,
and his will is perverse.
He feels that he is a wretched man.
In his life, he can discover no good deed; reflecting upon the past, innumerable sins stare him in the face; all his late attempts have been frustrated; and he exclaims, "Behold, I am vile!" He has no power; he feels as weak as helpless infancy, unable to do anything, he cannot think a good thought, or perform one good action; and experiencing his inability, he cries, "Oh that my ways were directed to keep your statutes always." He dares not make promises, or bind himself by resolutions; he has done so — but all His promises have been broken, and vows were too weak to hold his depraved heart. He has no bright prospects before him; but imagines that God will not be gracious, that mercy is not for such as he is; and he droops, desponds, and sighs.
He feels he has no claim upon God — for he is entirely depraved; every faculty and power is corrupted and defiled. He is entirely worthless — only fit fuel for everlasting burnings; and he believes God would be just in his eternal condemnation and punishment. He is in himself truly miserable — having no help, no hope, no comfort, nor anything that can yield the least satisfaction. If ever he is saved, he knows it must be by grace, and by sovereign grace alone. He has nothing to pay. He lies at the throne of grace as a miserable sinner, and mourns over his state in the deepest distress; exclaiming, "How shall I escape from eternal death?"
He is convicted and self condemned; he owns the justice of his sentence, and trembles at his doom; but the Lord does not abandon him to ruin, or drive him to despair; but when we have nothing to pay — He freely forgives us all. "He raises up the poor from the dust, and lifts up the beggar from the dunghill." An act of insolvency is passed in the high court of Heaven, for the benefit of all who are made willing to ascent to it on earth. This act is published in the everlasting gospel; and every poor, miserable debtor is at liberty to take the benefit of it. He must confess his debts, testify his inability to pay, and his willingness to be liberated by the hand of a surety; and then the act proclaims a full and irrevocable pardon. Every bond is cancelled, every debt discharged; while the justice of Jehovah, and the laws of Immanuel's empire, combine to guard his person and prevent an arrest.
All such are freely, openly forgiven; of pure, unmerited, undeserved kindness; without upbraiding, or without a frown. Angels witness to it in Heaven, the gospel on earth, and the Holy Spirit in the sinner's heart. For he who believes has the witness, or testimony in himself. The pardon being proclaimed, the man is at liberty; he is at peace with God his creditor, and is entitled to freedom on the most honorable terms. He is justified from all things. To him there is no condemnation. He is invited to hold daily fellowship with God, to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, and to rejoice in the Lord always. He renounces his own name, and takes the name of the gracious deliverer; and finds the sweetest comfort in sitting at the feet of Jesus, or walking in His ways.
He is nothing in self, his all is in Christ. He stands not alone — but in union with Jesus. He walks by faith in His word, relies upon His unchanging faithfulness, looks for eternal life as the free gift of God, and is a happy man. If he reflects upon the past — sorrow rises in his heart; if he considers his privileges at present — gratitude fires his soul; and when he looks forward to an eternal weight of glory he exclaims, "Oh, the riches of grace!"
My dear reader, we must all be reduced to one common level; the moralist that owes but fifty pence, and the profligate who owes five hundred; we must be brought th see that we have nothing to pay; that if one good thought could save our souls — we have it not; that we must be entirely indebted to free and sovereign grace for present peace, and eternal salvation! A debt of fifty pence would damn us — as well as one of five hundred. We can have no well-founded hope, but in free grace. It is the grace of God that brings salvation; and if ever we are saved, it must be by grace, through faith; and that not of ourselves — but the free gift of God.
The greatness of our sin is no barrier to God's mercy; but self-righteousness is; unless this is destroyed, we cannot be saved. So long as we think we have done, or can do anything to recommend us to the favor or notice of God — so long are we . . .
out of the way of mercy;
under a covenant of works;
and Christ will profit us nothing.
But when we are convinced that all our righteousness is as filthy rags; that our iniquities, like the wind, carry us away to judgment, despair, and wrath; that our sins are more in number than the hairs of our head; and alarmed, distressed, and terrified, cry out, "O Lord, pardon my iniquity — for it is great!" — there is hope concerning us. But perfect liberty there will not be, until self is entirely renounced, God's justice in our condemnation acknowledged, and life sought only on the ground of the work of Christ, and the absolute promise of God.
The number or heinousness of our sins should not discourage us; for the mercy of God is infinite, and the blood of Christ can remove the deepest stain! As the sun scatters the black cloud, clears the sky, and spreads a robe of glory over all creation — so free grace blots cut our sins, though as innumerable as the particles that composed the cloud, or as threatening as the appearance of the heavens on the stormy day. It clothes us in a robe of immortal glory and unsullied purity; whiter than the drifted snow, beauteous as the tints of nature's fairest flowers, and glorious as the sun when shining in his strength — a robe that is dignified with the highest title, the righteousness of God; and intended to be our dress in the realms of glory, before the throne of infinite majesty — a robe that now covers all our deformity, gives the sweetest comfort, and entitles us to life, immortality, and honor.
It is not the greatness of our sins — but the self-righteousness of our minds — which keeps us in darkness, despondency, and doubt; if we could but renounce self altogether, and take shelter in the gracious proclamation of free grace — we would find peace, joy, and salvation in believing.
The Lord will be exalted in the salvation of His people — and the sinner must be abased in the dust before God. When man has nothing — Jehovah produces all; the debt is paid, the bond is cancelled, and the suppliant is freed. Every claim is discharged, every cause of despondency removed, and the prison door is set open forever. Salvation is wholly of God — it is entirely of sovereign grace, it is a free gift.
The Lord delights to pardon those, who, rejecting all false confidences, rely simply and alone upon His grace. In them, He glorifies Himself; by them, He spreads his fame, and from them, He will receive a never-ending song of praise. They feel themselves laid under the deepest obligations, and wish to be entirely devoted to His cause; they make His word their daily meditation, and His honor the end of their existence below. For them to live is Christ, and to die is gain. They see that all the unsearchable riches of grace are presented to them in the gospel, and the illimitable fullness of Jesus is now open to supply their needs. They are removed . . .
from poverty — to plenty;
from beggary — to honor;
from wretchedness and woe — to happiness and peace.
Whatever they need is promised them, and they are invited to plead for it, and expect it without money or without price. They see that on God's gracious provision and faithful word, they may . . .
rest and defy disappointment;
hope with unshaken confidence; and
triumph when surrounded by misery and woe.
They may sing, "Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty — yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights!" Habakkuk 3:17-19
Happy debtors! They are made forever! The period will soon arrive when that shall be fulfilled, which is written of them; "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
Surely such will be ready to cry out: "What shall I render unto the Lord, for all His benefits toward me? Lord, what will you have me to do? What does the Lord require of me?" That you acknowledge His authority, and allow His will to be law. He will be honored by your obedience, while you live upon His favors; and He will accept your endeavors to further His cause.
Unless you are willing to be ruled by Him — you have never yet been truly humbled before Him, or received forgiveness from Him. All who are freely forgiven by Him — are devotedly attached to His government and service. He bestows the blessing to secure your obedience, and displays His grace to extend the empire of holiness. He will never sanction sin — though He freely forgives the sinner. He embitters it to him, and makes him glad to forsake it. Sin is the his constant hatred and abhorrence. He may be reconciled to a sinner — but to sin He never can be. He prohibits it under the most dreadful penalties, and calls us from it, by promising the greatest blessings.
Dear friends, nothing grieves the Lord like sin in His own people; and therefore in strains of melting tenderness He expostulates with them, "Oh, do not do that abominable thing that I hate!" And can it be possible that any can live in sin — who . . .
rely on Jesus for pardon,
profess to be ruled by His word,
and wait at His throne for a blessing?
Sin is . . .
treason against His government,
insult offered to His name, and
contempt poured upon His love.
Oh, let us flee from it, watch against it, and avoid its very appearance.
Has the Lord freely forgiven us all our debts, which deserved His eternal indignation, curse, and frown; and does He require us to . . .
be dead to the world,
keep close to His throne,
identify ourselves with His cause, and
be wholly dedicated to His service?
He does, and surely if influenced by just principles — we would esteem it our reasonable service. Oh, my friends, if gratitude has any power, if love has any influence, if mercy has any attractions — let us cast away the works of darkness, let us walk honestly as in the day; let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord. Let us walk worthy of that holy name by which we are called, in all godliness and honesty.
The Lord has manifested not only the infinite benevolence of His disposition — but the exuberance of His liberality toward us — us, who had been His determined enemies; and who had continued to be so — but for the riches of His grace and the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Oh amazing mercy! Surprising grace! He not only gives us temporal favors in common with the rest of mankind; but He assures us of pardon, peace, plenty, and happiness for evermore! Surely if anything can excite gratitude, produce humility, or make us zealous for holiness — it must be the exceeding grace of God in Christ!