I Won't Be Persuaded!
James Smith, 1859
"Good morning, Charles, I have come to ask a favor of you; will you go to chapel with me today?"
"Go to chapel with you! Why should I go to to chapel with you? Or why do you wish me to do so?"
"Because I feel a concern for the salvation of your soul. I wish to see you saved in the Lord, with an everlasting salvation."
"I don't see why you should trouble yourself about me — it can make no difference to you whether I go to chapel or not."
"Well, Charles, there are many reasons why I should be concerned about you. I have known you for some years — but am afraid I have not done my duty to you. You know God's Word says, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Now my first concern for myself is, that I may be saved; and if I am to love you as myself — then I ought to be just as much concerned for your salvation as I am for my own. But I am convinced that this has not been the case, and therefore, after I had prayed for you this morning, I made up my mind to come and ask you to do me the favor to go with me to chapel today."
"You have got a strange notion into your head, James, and you may mean very well — but I think that everyone should be left to act for himself in such matters. I don't like people being persuaded into anything. I like to see people act independently, like men — and I mean to act so myself. I won't be persuaded by anybody."
"Well, I wish you to act independently, and for yourself — and you may do so, by granting me the favor I ask you."
"To tell you the truth, I don't feel at all inclined to go to chapel; if other people like to go — let them; as for me, I think I am quite as well as they are. I have no fear at all about the future. I'm not for meeting trouble half-way — it will be quite time enough to think about death — when I see death coming."
"Oh, Charles, I am sorry to hear you talk so, you know how many die suddenly, as in a moment. Bill Wills, the other day, you know, was healthy in the morning — and was a corpse at night! Now this may be the case with you; and if it should — then you are not prepared for Heaven; and unless you are — you can never enter there. And if you do not go to Heaven — then there is but one alternative, and that is a very dreadful one — you must go to Hell. Hell, you know, is God's prison — where all his enemies are confined. It is the place of punishment — where everyone suffers the just desert of his crimes. It is a place horrible beyond description, beyond conception! How dreadful it must be go to Hell out of mere obstinacy, just because a man will not be persuaded to 'seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near.'
God never sends a man to Hell out of choice — but from necessity, for his own words are, 'As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways — for why will you die?' What a striking question is this! If you, my dear neighbor, live neglecting God, and walking in your own ways, gratifying only your own passions and propensities, you must die, die eternally; that is, suffer God's just wrath, or the punishment due to you for your sins. But God asks you, 'Why will you die?' Why do you choose to die? Why prefer death to life, damnation to salvation, Hell to Heaven? Why? Now, Charles, can you tell the Lord why? Can you give him any satisfactory reason for your conduct?"
"James, it is no use your talking to me, I'm not going to be frightened by what you say about Hell, for I don't believe that a merciful God will ever punish a man as you say — for just enjoying himself after his week's labor, and because he doesn't shut himself up in one of your chapels, singing hymns, and saying prayers. So you may just as well stop, and save yourself the trouble of trying to either coax or terrify me into your way of thinking, for I don't intend to be persuaded by anybody, I shall just follow my own inclination."
"Oh, Charles, Charles, it grieves me to the heart, to hear you talk so. Either God must punish sinners, as he has said he will in his Word, or else he must cease to be the God of truth. By what you say, you make God out to be a liar — and that is very dreadful. His Word is too plain to be misunderstood, and too solemn to be trifled with. What can be plainer than this, 'Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord?' That is, see him with pleasure, and enjoy his society forever. Or this, 'I tell you the truth — no one can see the kingdom of God, unless he is born again.' Or this, 'Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.'
Let me then beseech you to consider, and prepare an answer to that solemn question, 'How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?' How, Charles, can you escape the just punishment of your sins? Think, dear friend, think of God's love — for it is wonderful; 'God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish — but have everlasting life.' God sent his Son to obey the law, suffer for sin, and die for sinners — that they might not justly go to Hell — but honorably and easily go to Heaven; that you, You my friend, may escape the wrath of God, and enjoy his love and favor forever. He only asks you to believe his love, to exercise confidence in his Son, to depend on what Jesus has done and suffered in order to save sinners — and yet you will not! You prefer what you yourself must consider the greatest of all risks — to risk suffering the torments of Hell forever, rather than yield yourself to God, and seek his favor through faith in his beloved Son."
"Well, James, you are very earnest, and I dare say you mean it all in kindness — but I am not to be persuaded. Still, I must confess, I can't help approving of your conduct, believing as you do, for I will tell you plainly, that I have not believed that you religious people believed your own creed, for if you were persuaded that things are as your ministers say, and that we poor fellows were really going to such a dreadful place as you say Hell is — then you could not pass us by as you have always done on your way to chapel and church, and never say one word to us. Now, I'll tell you honestly what I have thought, and you mustn't be offended. I have thought these religious people don't believe half of what they say about Hell being so dreadful, and Heaven being so happy, and sinners being in such danger — for if they did they would act differently towards us.
If they saw our houses on fire — they would run and help us to put the fire out, or if they saw us in danger of death — they would try to do something to save us. But they pretend to believe that we are going to Hell, and that Hell burns with fire and brimstone forever, and that once there we can never get out — and yet they talk to us about all sorts of things — but never say one word to us about saving our souls from this terrible doom! Now, I have reasoned thus, either they don't believe what they say, or else they must be the most hardened and unfeeling wretches in the universe. Now as I don't believe that they are such cruel, hardened, and unfeeling people as this supposes — I must conclude that, with all their talk — they don't really believe what their Bible teaches, and what their ministers say.
And yet when one comes to think of it, it puts them into a very awkward position either way, for if they really believe what they say about sin, and Hell, and our danger — then they must act differently; and if they have a spark of kindness in their hearts — try and save us from such a dreadful doom. And, on the other hand, if they do not believe what they profess, they cannot be honest, and to say the least, there must be a great deal of hypocrisy among them.
Now, James, I honestly tell you that these are the things that have stumbled me more than anything, and until I can see professors act differently, I will not be persuaded to go with you to chapel, or to believe what your sort of folks say."
"I must confess, Charles, that there is too much truth in your representations, and we professed Christians are truly guilty; yet that does not alter the case — you will not be judged by what professors do, or be excused because professors do wrong. Jesus says, 'The word, that I have spoken shall judge him in that day.' You will be judged by what Jesus says, and his Word is put into your hands, you can read it, and however others act — you ought to believe it, and to act according to it; and we want a number of honest, upright, fearless men converted to God, who will believe all the Scriptures say, and act out, not only their convictions — but their professions. This would shame professors into a more consistent course of conduct, and make a deep impression upon such men as you.
It was just the conviction that I had acted wrong toward you — which brought me to see you this morning, and to invite you to go with me to chapel. I do not, I cannot justify myself or my fellow-professors; but condemning them — will not justify you. But I must now leave you, or I shall not go to chapel myself, and I shall leave you deeply impressed by what you have said; and I hope you will be impressed by some things that I have said. Once more let me ask, 'Will you go with me?'"
"No, and once more let me say, that until I see your religious people act differently, I will not be persuaded, for if I am wrong in acting as I do — then I am sure that they are quite as wrong in acting as they do. But as I believe you came to me in kindness, I thank you, and though I won't be persuaded, I wish you well, and say, Good day!"