J.C. Ryle, 1878
"His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly cleanse His
threshing floor. He will gather His wheat into the barn, but
He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire!" Matthew
Wheat or chaff? You see my
question — for whom do you think it is meant? Is it for corn
merchants and farmers only, and for none else? If you think so, then you
are much mistaken. It is meant for every man, woman, and child in the
world. And among others, it is meant for you.
The question is drawn from the verse
of Scripture which is now before your eyes. The words of that verse were
spoken by John the Baptist. They are a prophecy about our Lord Jesus
Christ, and a prophecy which has not yet been fulfilled. They are a
prophecy which we shall all see fulfilled one day, and God alone knows
Reader, I invite you this day to
consider the great truths which this verse contains. I invite you to
listen to me, while I unfold them and set them before you in order. Who
knows but this text may prove a word in season to your soul! Who knows
but my question may help to make this day the happiest day in your life!
Listen, before you begin once more your appointed path of duty. Listen,
before you start once more on some round of business. Listen, before you
plunge once more into some course of useless idleness and folly. Listen
to one who loves your soul, and would sincerely help to save it, or draw
it nearer to Christ. Who knows what a day may bring forth! Who can tell
whether you will live to see tomorrow! Be still, and listen to me a few
minutes, while I show you something out of the Word of God.
I. Let me
show you in the first place,
the two great
classes into which the world may be divided.
There are only two classes of people
in the world, in the sight of God — and both are mentioned in the text
which begins this tract. There are those who are called the wheat
— and there are those who are called the chaff.
Viewed with the eye of man, the earth
contains many different sorts of inhabitants. Viewed with the eye of
God, it only contains two. Man's eye looks at the outward
appearance — this is all he thinks of. The eye of God looks at the
heart — this is the only part of which He takes any account. And
tried by the state of their hearts, there are but two classes
into which people can be divided — either they are wheat, or they
who are the WHEAT
in the world? Listen to me, and I
will tell you.
The wheat means all men and women who
are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ — all who are led by
the Holy Spirit — all who have felt themselves sinners, and
fled for refuge to the salvation offered in the Gospel — all who
love the Lord Jesus, and live to the Lord Jesus, and
serve the Lord Jesus — all who have taken Christ for their only
confidence, and the Bible for their only guide, and regard sin as their
deadliest enemy, and look to Heaven as their only home. All such, of
every church, name, nation, people, and tongue — of every rank, station,
condition, and degree — all such are God's wheat!
Show me men of this kind of people
anywhere, and I know what they are. I know that they and I may not agree
in all particulars — but I see in them the handiwork of the King
of kings, and I ask no more. I know not whence they came, and where they
found their religion — but I know where they are going, and that
is enough for me. They are the children of my Father in Heaven. They are
part of His wheat.
All such, though sinful, and vile, and
unworthy in their own eyes — are the precious part of mankind. They are
the sons and daughters of God the Father. They are the delight of God
the Son. They are the habitation of God the Spirit. The Father beholds
no iniquity in them — they are the members of His dear Son's body —
in Him He sees them — and is well pleased. The Lord Jesus discerns
in them, the fruit of His own travail and work upon the cross — and is
well satisfied. The Holy Spirit regards them as spiritual temples which
He Himself has raised — and rejoices over them. In a word, they are the
wheat of the earth — God's wheat.
who are the CHAFF
in the world? Listen to me once
more, and I will tell you this also.
The chaff means all men and women who
have no saving faith in Christ, and no sanctification of the Spirit —
whoever they may be. Some of them perhaps are infidels — and some are
formal Christians. Some are sneering Sadducees — and some
self-righteous Pharisees. Some of them make a point of keeping up a kind
of 'Sunday religion' — and others are utterly careless of everything
except their own pleasure and the world. But all alike, who have the two
great marks already mentioned — no faith and no sanctification —
all such are chaff. From the atheists Paine and Voltaire —
to the formal churchman who can think of nothing but outward
ceremonies — to the unconverted admirer of sermons in the present day —
all, all are standing in one rank before God all, all are chaff!
They bring no glory to God the Father.
They honor not the Son, and so do not honor the Father who sent Him.
They neglect that mighty salvation, which countless millions of angels
admire. They disobey that Word which was graciously written for their
learning. They listen not to the voice of Him who condescended to leave
Heaven and die for their sins. They pay no tribute of service and
affection to Him who gave them life, and breath, and all things.
And therefore God takes no pleasure in them. He pities them — but
He reckons them no better than chaff!
Yes — you may have rare intellectual
gifts, and high mental attainments — you may sway kingdoms by your
counsel, move millions by your pen, or keep crowds in breathless
attention by your tongue — but if you have never submitted yourself to
the yoke of Christ, and never honored His Gospel by heartfelt reception
of it — then you are nothing but chaff in His sight. Natural
gifts without saving grace, are like a row of ciphers without an
unit before them; they look big — but they are of no
value. The vilest insect that crawls in the filth — is a
nobler being than you are! It fills its place in creation, and glorifies
its Maker with all its power — and you do not. You do not honor God with
heart, and will, and intellect, and members, which are all His. You
invert His order and arrangement, and live as if time was of more
importance than eternity, and body better than soul. You dare to neglect
God's greatest gift — His own incarnate Son. You are cold about that
subject which fills all Heaven with hallelujahs. And so long as this is
the case, you belong to the worthless part of mankind. You are
the chaff of the earth.
Reader, let this thought be deeply
engraved in your mind, whatever else you forget in this volume. Remember
there are only two kinds of people in the world. There are wheat
— and there are chaff.
There are many nations in
Europe. Each differs from the rest. Each has its own language, its own
laws, its own peculiar customs. But God's eye divides Europe into two
great parties — the wheat and the chaff.
There are many classes in
England. There are nobles and commoners — farmers and shopkeepers —
masters and servants — rich and poor. But God's eye only takes account
of two orders — the wheat and the chaff.
There are many and various minds
in every congregation that meets for religious worship. There are
some who attend for a mere form — and some who really desire to
meet Christ; some who come there to please others — and some who come to
please God; some who bring their hearts with them, and are not
soon tired — and some who leave their hearts behind them, and reckon the
whole service as weary work. But the eye of Jesus only sees two
divisions in the congregation — the wheat and the chaff.
There were millions of visitors to the
Great Exhibition of 1851. From Europe, Asia, Africa, and America — from
North, and South, and East, and West — crowds came together to see what
human skill and industry could do. Children of our first father Adam's
family, who had never seen each other before, for once met face to face
under one roof. But the eye of the Lord only saw two companies thronging
that large palace of glass — the wheat and the chaff.
Reader, I know well the world dislikes
this way of dividing professing Christians. The world tries hard to
fancy there are three sorts of people, and not two. To be
very godly and very strict does not suit the world — they cannot,
will not be holy. To have no religion at all does not suit the
world — as that would not be respectable. "Thank God," they will say,
"we are not so bad as that!" But to have religion enough to be
respectable — and yet not go into extremes, to be sufficiently good —
and yet not be peculiar — to have a quiet, easy-going, moderate kind of
Christianity, and go comfortably to Heaven after all — this is the
world's favorite idea! There is a third class, a safe middle
class — the world imagines; and in this middle class — the majority of
men persuade themselves they will be found.
Reader, I denounce this notion
of a middle class as an immense and soul-ruining delusion! I warn
you strongly not to be carried away by it. It is as vain an invention as
the Pope's purgatory. It is a refuge of lies, a
castle in the air, a Russian ice-palace, a vast unreality, an empty
dream! This middle class is a class of Christians no where spoken
of in the Bible!
There were two classes in the day of
Noah's flood; those who were inside the ark — and those who were
outside. There were two classes in the parable of the Gospel net;
those who are called the good fish — and those who are called the bad.
There were two classes in the parable of the ten virgins; those who are
described as wise — and those who are described as foolish. There were
two classes in the account of the judgment day; the sheep — and
the goats. There were two sides of the throne; the right
hand — and the left. There were two abodes when the last
sentence has been passed; Heaven — and Hell.
And just so, there are only two
classes in the world:
those who are in the state of nature — and those who are in the state of
those who are in the narrow way — and those who are in the broad;
those who have faith — and those who have no faith;
those who have been converted — and those who have not been converted;
those who are with Christ — and those who are against Him;
those who gather with Him — and those who scatter abroad;
those who are wheat — and those who are chaff.
Into these two classes, the whole world may be divided. Beside these two
classes, there is none.
Reader, dear reader, see now what
cause there is for self-inquiry! Are you among the wheat — or among the
chaff? Neutrality is impossible. Either you are in one class — or
in the other. Which is it, of the two?
You attend church perhaps. You go to
the Lord's table. You like good people. You can distinguish between good
preaching and bad. You think Popery false, and oppose it firmly. You
think Protestantism true, and support it cordially. You subscribe to
religious societies. You attend religious meetings. You sometimes read
religious books. It is well — it is all very well. It is good — it is
all very good. It is more than can be said of many. But still, this is
not a straightforward answer to my question: Are you wheat — or are you
Have you been born again? Are you a
new creature? Have you put off the old man, and put on the new? Have you
ever felt your sins, and repented of them? Are you looking
only to Christ for pardon and eternal life? Do you love Christ?
Do you serve Christ? Do you loathe heart-sins, and fight against
them? Do you long for perfect holiness, and follow hard after it? Have
you come out from the world? Do you delight in the Bible?
Do you wrestle in prayer? Do you love Christ's people? Do you try
to do good to the world? Are you vile in your own eyes, and willing to
take the lowest place? Are you a Christian in business, and on week
days, and by your own fireside? Oh, think, think, think on these things
— and then perhaps you will be better able to tell the state of your
Reader, I beseech you not to turn away
from my question, however unpleasant it may be. Answer it, though it may
prick your conscience, and cut you to the heart. Answer it, though it
may prove you in the wrong, and expose your fearful danger. Rest not,
rest not, until you know how it is between you and God! Better a
thousand times find out that you are in an evil case, and repent in time
— than live on in uncertainty, and be lost eternally!
Reader, remember my question. Begin to
meditate on it this very day. Are you wheat — or chaff?
me show you, in the second place,
the TIME when
the two great classes of mankind shall be separated.
The text at the beginning of this
tract foretells a separation. It says that Christ shall one day
do to His professing Church, what the farmer does to his corn. He shall
winnow and sift it. "He will thoroughly cleanse His threshing floor."
And then the wheat and the chaff shall be divided.
There is no separation yet.
Good and bad are now all mingled together in the visible Church of
Christ. Believers and unbelievers — converted and unconverted — holy and
unholy — all are to be found now among those who call themselves
Christians. They sit side by side in our assemblies. They kneel side
by side in our pews. They listen side by side to our sermons. They
sometimes come up side by side to the Lord's table, and receive the same
bread and wine from our hands.
But it shall not always be so!
Christ shall come the second time with His winnowing fork in His hand.
He shall thoroughly purge His Church, even as He purified the temple.
And then the wheat and the chaff shall be separated — and each go
to its own place!
Before Christ comes, separation is impossible.
It is not in man's power
to effect it. There lives not the minister on earth, who can read the
hearts of everyone in his congregation. About some he may speak
decidedly — he cannot about all. Who have oil in their
lamps — and who have not; who have grace as well as profession — and who
have profession only, and no grace; who are children of God — and who of
the devil. All these are questions which, in many cases, we cannot
accurately decide. The winnowing fork is not put into our
Grace is sometimes so weak and
feeble — that it looks like nature. Nature is sometimes so
plausible and well-dressed — that it looks like grace. I believe many of
us would have said that Judas was as good as any of the apostles
— and yet he proved a traitor! I believe we would have said that
Peter was a reprobate when he denied his Lord — and yet he repented
immediately, and rose again. We are but fallible men. We know in part.
We scarcely understand our own hearts. It is no
great wonder if we cannot read the hearts of others.
But it will not always be so. There is
One coming, who never errs in judgment, and is perfect in knowledge.
Jesus shall purge His floor. Jesus shall sift the chaff from the
wheat. I wait for this. Until then, I will lean to the side of
charity in my judgments. I would rather tolerate much chaff in the
Church — than cast out one grain of wheat! He shall soon come who has
His winnowing fork in His hand — and then the certainty about every one
shall be known.
Before Christ comes, I do not expect to see a perfect
Church. There cannot
be such a thing. The wheat and the chaff, in the present state of things
— will always be found together. I pity those who leave one Church and
join another, because of a few faults and unsound members. I pity them,
because they are fostering ideals which never can be realized. I pity
them, because they are seeking that which cannot be found. I see chaff
everywhere. I see imperfections and infirmities of some
kind in every church on earth. I believe there are few tables of the
Lord, if any, where all the communicants are converted. I often see
loud-talking professors, exalted as saints. I often see holy and
contrite believers, set down as having no grace at all. I think that if
men are too scrupulous, they may go fluttering about, like Noah's dove,
all their days, and never find rest.
Reader, do you desire a perfect Church? You
must wait for the day of Christ's appearing. Then, and not until then —
you will see a glorious Church, having neither spot nor wrinkle, or any
such thing. Then, and not until then — the floor will be purged.
Before Christ comes, I do not look for the conversion
of the world. How
can it be, if He is to find both wheat and chaff side by side in the day
of His second coming? I believe some Christians expect that missions
will fill the earth with the knowledge of Christ, and that little by
little, sin will disappear, and a state of perfect holiness gradually
glide in. I cannot see with their eyes! I think they are mistaking God's
purposes, and sowing bitter disappointment for themselves. I expect
nothing of the kind. I see nothing in the Bible, or in the world around
me, to make me expect it. I have never heard of a single parish entirely
converted to God, in England or Scotland — or of anything like it. And
why am I to look for a different result from the preaching of the Gospel
in other lands? I only expect to see a few raised up as witnesses to
Christ in every nation — some in one place, and some in another. Then I
expect the Lord Jesus will come in glory, with His winnowing fork in His
hand. And when He has purged His floor, and not until then — His
kingdom will begin.
No separation and no perfection
until Christ comes! This is my creed. I am not
moved when the infidel asks me why all the world is not converted — if
Christianity is really true? I answer — It was never promised that it
would be so in the present order of things. The Bible tells me that
believers will always be few — that corruptions, and divisions, and
heresies, will always abound — and that when my Lord returns to earth,
He will find plenty of chaff.
No perfection until Christ
comes! I am not
disturbed when men say, "Make all the people good Christians at home,
before you send missionaries to the heathen abroad." I answer, If I am
to wait for that — then I will wait forever. When we have done all at
home, the Church will still be a mixed body — it will contain
some wheat, and much chaff.
But Christ will come again. Sooner or
later there shall be a separation of the visible Church into two
companies — and fearful shall that separation be! The wheat shall make
up one company. The chaff shall make up another. The one company will be
all godly. The other company will be all ungodly. Each shall be by
themselves, and a great gulf between, that none can pass.
Blessed indeed shall the righteous
be in that day! They shall shine like stars — no longer obscured with
clouds. They shall be beautiful as the lily — no longer choked with
Wretched indeed will the ungodly
be! How corrupt will corruption be — when left without one grain of
salt to season it! How dark will darkness be — when left without one
spark of light! Ah, reader, it is not enough to respect and admire the
Lord's people; you must belong to them — or you will one day be
parted from them forever. There will be no chaff in Heaven! Many, many
are the families, where one will be taken — and another
Who is there now among the readers of
these pages who loves the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity? If I know
anything of the heart of a Christian, your greatest trials are in the
company of worldly people — your greatest joys in the company of the
saints. Yes — there are many weary days, when your spirit feels broken
and crushed by the earthly tone of all around you — days
when you could cry with David, "Woe is me, that I dwell in Mesech, and
have my habitation in the tents of Kedar." And yet there are hours when
your soul is so refreshed and revived by meeting some of God's dear
children, that it seems like Heaven on earth. Do I not speak to
your heart? Are not these things true? See then, how you should long for
the time when Christ shall come again. See how you should pray daily
that the Lord would hasten His kingdom, and say to Him, "Come quickly,
Then, and not until then, shall the
church be a pure unmixed communion. Then, and not until then, the saints
shall all be together, and shall go out from one another's presence no
more. Wait a little. Wait a little. Scorn and contempt will soon be
over. Laughter and ridicule shall soon have an end. Slander and
misrepresentation will soon cease. Your Savior shall come and plead your
cause. And then, as Moses said to Korah, "The Lord will show who are
"This is certain — when the elect are all converted,
then Christ will come to judgment. As he who rows a boat, stays until
all the passengers are taken into his boat, and then he rows away; so
Christ stays until all the elect are gathered in, and then He will
hasten away to judgment!" — Thomas Watson, 1660.
Who is there among the readers of
these pages, who knows that his heart is not right in the sight of God?
See how you should fear and tremble at the thought of Christ's
appearing. Alas, indeed, for the man who lives and dies with nothing
better than a cloak of religion! In the day when Christ shall
purge His floor, you will be shown and exposed in your true colors! You
may deceive ministers, and friends, and neighbors — but you cannot
deceive Christ! The paint and varnish of a heartless
Christianity will never stand the fire of that day. The Lord
is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed. You will find
that the eye which saw Achan and Gehazi — has read
your secrets, and searched out your hidden things! You will hear
those awful words, "Friend, how did you get in here — not having a
Oh, tremble at the thought of the day
of sifting and separation! Surely hypocrisy is a most losing
game! Surely it never is good, to try to deceive God. Surely it never
answers, like Ananias and Sapphira, to pretend to give God
something, and yet to keep back your heart. It all fails at last! Your
joy is but for a moment. Your hopes are no better than a dream! Oh,
tremble, tremble — tremble, and repent!
Reader, think on these things.
Remember my question. Begin to meditate on it this very day. Are you
wheat — or chaff?
me show you, in the third place,
which Christ's people shall receive, when He comes to purge His
The text at the beginning of this
tract tells us this in good and comfortable words. It tells us that
Christ shall "gather His wheat into His barn."
When the Lord Jesus comes the second
time, He shall collect His believing people into a place of safety.
He will send His angels, and gather them from every quarter. The sea
shall give up the dead that are in it, and the graves the dead that are
in them — and the living shall be changed. Not one poor
sinner of mankind who has ever laid hold on Christ by faith, shall be
overlooked in that company. Not one single grain of wheat shall
be missing, and left outside — when judgments fall upon a wicked world.
There shall be a barn for the wheat of the earth — and into that barn
all the wheat shall be brought.
Ah, reader, it is a sweet and
comfortable thought, that "the Lord cares for the righteous." But how
much the Lord cares for them, I fear is little known, and dimly
seen. They have their trials, beyond question — and these both many and
great. The flesh is weak. The world is full of snares. The
cross is heavy. The way is narrow. The companions
are few. But still they have strong consolations — if their eyes
were but open to see them. Like Hagar, they have a well of water near
them, even in the wilderness — though they often do not find it
out. Like Mary, they have Jesus standing by their side — though
often they are not aware of it for very tears.
Bear with me, while I
try to tell you something about
Christ's CARE for poor sinners who believe in Him.
Alas, indeed, that it should be needful! But we live in a day of weak
and feeble statements. The danger of the state of nature
is feebly exposed. The privileges of the state of grace
are feebly set forth. Hesitating souls are not encouraged. Disciples are
not established and confirmed. The man outside of Christ is not rightly
alarmed. The man in Christ is not rightly built up.
The one sleeps on, and seldom has his conscience pricked. The other
creeps and crawls all his days, and never thoroughly understands the
riches of his inheritance. Truly this is a sore disease, and one
that I would gladly help to cure.
Truly it is a
melancholy thing that the people of God should never go up to Mount
Pisgah, and never know the length and breadth of their
possessions. To be brethren of Christ, and sons of God by adoption, to
have full and perfect forgiveness, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit;
to have a place in the book of life and a name on the
breast-plate of the Great High Priest in Heaven — all these are glorious
things indeed! But still they are not the whole of a believer's
portion. They are upper springs indeed — but still there are lower
The Lord takes pleasure in His believing people.
Though filthy in their own eyes — they are lovely and honorable in His!
They are altogether beautiful — He sees no spot in them. Their
weaknesses and shortcomings do not break off the union
between Him and them. He chose them, knowing all their hearts. He took
them for His own, with a perfect understanding of all their debts,
liabilities, and infirmities — and He will never break His covenant and
cast them off. When they fall, He will raise them again. When they
wander, He will bring them back.
are pleasant to Him. As a father loves the first stammering efforts of
his child to speak — so the Lord loves the poor feeble petitions of His
people. He endorses them with His own mighty intercession, and gives
them power on high.
are pleasant to Him. As a father delights in the first daisy that his
child picks and brings him — even so the Lord is pleased with the weak
attempts of His people to serve Him. Not a cup of cold water
shall lose its reward. Not a word spoken in love shall ever be
forgotten. He told the Hebrews of Noah's faith — but not of his
drunkenness; of Rahab's faith — but not of her lie.
Oh, reader, it is a blessed thing to be God's wheat!
The Lord cares for His believing people in their lives.
Their dwelling place
is well known. The "street called strait," where Paul lodged; the "house
by the sea-side," where Peter prayed — were all familiar to their Lord.
None have such attendants as they have — angels rejoice when they
are born again, angels minister to them, and angels encamp around them.
None have such food — their bread is given them, and their water
sure, and they have food to eat of which the world knows nothing. None
have such company as they have — the Spirit dwells with them. The
Father and the Son come to them, and make their abode with them. Their
steps are all ordered, from grace to glory. Those
who persecute them — persecute Christ Himself, and those who hurt them —
hurt the apple of the Lord's eye.
Their trials and temptations are all measured
out by a wise Physician — not a grain of bitterness is ever
mingled in their cup, which is not good for the health of their souls.
Their temptations, like Job's, are all under God's control —
Satan cannot touch a hair of their head without their Lord's permission,
nor even tempt them above that which they shall be able to bear. "As a
father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on
those who fear Him." He never afflicts them willingly. He leads
them by the right way. He withholds nothing that is really
for their good. Come what will, there is always a needs-be. When
they are placed in the furnace — it is that they may be purified.
When they are chastened — it is that they may become more holy.
When they are pruned — it is to make them more fruitful. When
they are transplanted from place to place — it is that they may
bloom more brightly. All things are continually working together
for their good. Like the bee, they extract sweetness even out of the
bitterest flowers. Ah, reader, it is a blessed thing to be Christ's
The Lord cares for His believing people in their
times are all in the Lord's hand. The hairs of their heads
are all numbered, and not one can ever fall to the ground without their
Father. They are kept on earth until they are ripe and ready for
glory — and not one moment longer. When they have had sun and rain
enough, wind and storm enough, cold and heat enough — when the fruit is
perfected — then, and not until then, the sickle is put in. They are all
immortal until their work is done. There is not a disease
that can loosen the pins of their tabernacle — until the Lord gives the
word. A thousand may fall at their right hand — but there is not a
plague that can touch them — until the Lord sees fit. There is not a
physician that can keep them alive — when the Lord gives the word for
them to depart. When they come to their death-bed, the Everlasting Arms
are round about them, and makes all their bed in their sickness. When
they die, they die like Moses — according to the word of the Lord — at
the right time, and in the right way. And when they breathe their last,
they fall asleep in Christ, and are at once carried, like Lazarus, into
Ah, reader, it is a
blessed thing to be Christ's wheat! When the sun of other men is setting
— the sun of the believer is rising. When other men are laying aside
their honors, he is putting his on. Death locks the door on the
unbeliever — and shuts him out from hope. But death opens the door to
the believer — and lets him into Paradise!
And the Lord will care for His believing people in the
dreadful day of His appearing.
The flaming fire shall not come near them.
The voice of the Archangel and the trumpet of God shall proclaim no
terrors to their ears. Sleeping or waking, living or dead, moldering in
the coffin, or standing at the post of daily duty — believers shall be
secure and unmoved. They shall lift up their heads with joy, when
they see redemption drawing near. They shall be changed, and put on
their beautiful garments, in the twinkling of an eye. They shall be
caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Jesus will do nothing to a
sin-laden world — until all His people are safe. There was an
ark for Noah when the flood began. There was a Zoar for Lot
when the fire fell on Sodom. There was a Pella for early
Christians when Jerusalem was besieged. There was a Zurich for
English Reformers when Popish Mary came to the throne. And there will be
a barn for all the wheat of the earth in the last day. Ah,
reader, it is a blessed thing to be Christ's wheat!
I often wonder at the miserable
faithlessness of those among us who are believers. Next to the
hardness of the unconverted heart, I call it one of the greatest
wonders in the world. I wonder that with such mighty reasons for
confidence, we can still be so full of doubts. I marvel, above all
things, how any can deny the doctrine that Christ's people persevere
unto the end, and can imagine that He who loved them so as to die for
them upon the cross — will ever let them be cast away! I cannot think
so. I do not believe the Lord Jesus will ever lose one of His
flock. He will not let Satan pluck away from Him — so much as one
sick lamb. He will not allow one bone of His mystical body to
be broken. He will not allow one jewel to fall from His crown. He
and His bride have been once joined in an everlasting covenant,
and they shall never never be put asunder!
The trophies won by earthly conquerors
have often been wrested from them, and carried off — but this shall
never be said of the trophies of Him who triumphed for us on the cross.
"My sheep," He says, "shall never perish." (John 10:28.) I take
my stand on that text. I know not how it can be evaded. If words have
any meaning, the perseverance of Christ's people is there.
I do not believe when David had
rescued the lamb from the paws of the lion — that he left it weak and
wounded to perish in the wilderness. I cannot believe when the Lord
Jesus has delivered a soul from the snare of the devil — that He will
ever leave that soul to take his chance, and wrestle on in his own
feebleness against sin, the devil, and the world.
Reader, I would be sure, if you were
present at a shipwreck, and seeing some helpless child tossing on the
waves, were to plunge into the sea, and save him at the risk of your own
life — I would be sure you would not be content with merely bringing
that child safe to shore. You would not lay him down when you had
reached the land, and say, "I will do no more. He is weak — he is
insensible — he is cold — it matters not; I have done enough. I have
delivered him from the waters — he is not drowned." You would not do
this! You would not say so. You would not treat that child in such a
manner. You would lift him in your arms. You would carry him to the
nearest house. You would try to bring back warmth and animation. You
would use every means to restore health and vigor. You would never leave
him until his recovery was a certain thing.
And can you suppose the Lord Jesus
Christ is less merciful, or less compassionate? Can you think He would
suffer on the cross and die for you, and yet leave it uncertain whether
you would be saved? Can you think He would wrestle with death and Hell,
and go down to the grave for our sakes — and yet allow our eternal life
to hang on such a thread as our poor miserable endeavors?
Oh, no! He does not do so. He is a
perfect and complete Savior. Those whom He loves — He loves unto the
end. Those whom He washes in His blood — He never leaves nor forsakes.
He puts His fear into their hearts — so that they shall not depart from
Him. Where He begins a work — there He also finishes. All whom He
transplants in His garden enclosed on earth — He transplants sooner or
later into His Heavenly paradise. All whom He quickens by His Spirit —
He will also bring with Him when He enters His kingdom. There is a barn
for every grain of the wheat. All shall appear in Heaven with
From false faith men may
fall — and fall both finally and foully. I never doubt this. I see proof
of it continually. From true grace — men never do fall totally. They
never did, and they never will. If they commit sin, like Peter — they
shall repent and rise again. If they err from the right way, like David
— they shall be brought back. It is not any strength or power of their
own which keeps them from apostasy. They are kept because the
power, and love, and promises of the Trinity are all engaged on their
side! The election of God the Father shall not be fruitless; the
redemption and intercession of God the Son shall not be
ineffectual; the love of God the Spirit shall not be labor in vain. The
Lord shall keep the feet of His saints. They shall all be more than
conquerors through Him who loved them. They shall all conquer, and none
Reader, if you have not yet taken up
the cross and become Christ's disciple, you little know what
privileges you are missing. Peace with God now — and glory
hereafter; the Everlasting Arms to keep you along the way — and the barn
of safety in the end; all these are freely offered to you without money
and without price. You may say that Christians have tribulations
— you forget that they have also consolations. You may say they
have peculiar sorrows — you forget they have also peculiar
joys. You see but half the Christian life. You see not all.
You see the warfare — but not the food and the wages. You
see the tossing and conflict of the outward part of Christianity — you
see not the hidden treasures which lie deep within. Like Elisha's
servant, you see the enemies of God's children — but you do not, like
Elisha, see the chariots and horses of fire which protect them. Oh,
judge not by outward appearances! Be sure that the least drop of
the water of life, is better than all the rivers of the world.
Remember the barn and the crown! Be wise in time.
Reader, if you feel that you are a
weak disciple, think not that weakness shuts you out from any of
the privileges of which I have been speaking. Weak faith is true
faith — and weak grace is true grace; and both are the gift of
Him who never gives in vain. Fear not, neither be discouraged. Doubt
not, neither despair. Jesus will never break the bruised reed, nor
quench the smoking flax. The babes in a family are as much loved
and thought of as the elder brothers and sisters. The tender
seedlings in a garden are as diligently looked after as the old
trees. The lambs in the flock are as carefully tended by the good
shepherd as the old sheep. Oh, rest assured it is just the same in
Christ's family, in Christ's garden, in Christ's flock.
ALL are loved. All are tenderly thought of. All are cared for. And all
shall be found in His barn at last! Reader, think on these things. Begin
to meditate on my question this very day. Are you wheat — or chaff?
Let me show you, in the last place,
the portion which remains for all who are not Christ's people.
The text at the beginning of this
tract describes this in words which should make our ears tingle — Christ
shall "burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire!"
When the Lord Jesus Christ comes to
purge His threshing floor — He shall punish all who are not
His disciples with a fearful punishment. All who are found impenitent
and unbelieving — all who have held the truth in unrighteousness — all
who have clung to sin, stuck to the world, and set their affection on
things below — all who are without Christ. All such shall come to an
awful end! Christ shall "burn up the chaff!"
Their punishment shall be most SEVERE.
There is no pain like that of burning. Put your finger in the
candle flame for a moment, if you doubt this, and try. Fire is the most
destructive and devouring of all elements. Look into the
mouth of a blast furnace — and think what it would be to be there. Fire
is of all elements most opposed to life. Creatures can live in air, and
earth, and water — but nothing can live in fire! Yet fire is the portion
to which the Christless and unbelieving will come. Christ will "burn up
the chaff with unquenchable fire!"
Their punishment shall be ETERNAL.
Millions of ages shall pass away, and the fire into which the chaff is
cast, shall still burn on. That fire shall never burn low and
become dim. The fuel of that fire shall never waste away and be
consumed. It is "unquenchable fire."
Oh, reader, these are sad and painful
things to speak of! I have no pleasure in dwelling on them. I could
rather say with the apostle Paul, "I have great sorrow." But they are
things written for our learning, and it is good to consider them. They
are a part of that Scripture which is all profitable, and they ought to
be heard. As painful as the subject of Hell is — it is one about
which I dare not, cannot, must not be silent. Who would desire to speak
of Hell-fire — if God had not spoken of it? When God has spoken of it so
plainly — who can safely hold his peace?
I dare not shut my eyes to the fact,
that a deep-rooted infidelity lurks in men's minds on the subject of
Hell. I see it oozing out in the utter apathy of some — they eat,
and drink, and sleep — as if there was no wrath to come! I see it
creeping forth in the coldness of others about their neighbors' souls —
they show little concern to pluck brands from the fire. I desire
to denounce such infidelity with all my might. Believing that there are
terrors of the Lord, as well as the recompense of reward — I call
upon all who profess to believe the Bible, to be on their guard.
I know that some do not believe there
is any Hell at all. They think it impossible there can be such a place.
They call it inconsistent with the mercy of God. They say it is too
dreadful an idea to be really true. The devil of course rejoices in the
views of such people. They help his kingdom mightily. They are preaching
up his favorite old doctrine, "You shall not surely die!"
I know furthermore, that some do not
believe that Hell is eternal. They tell us it is incredible that
a compassionate God will punish men forever. He will surely open
the prison-doors at last. This also is a mighty help to the devil's
cause. "Take your ease," he whispers to sinners — "if you do make a
mistake, never mind, it is not forever."
I know also that some believe that
there is a Hell — but never allow that anybody is going there! All
people with them are 'good' as soon as they die — all were sincere
— all meant well — and all, they hope, got to Heaven. Alas, what
a common delusion is this! I can well understand the
feeling of the little girl who asked her mother where all the wicked
people were buried, "for she found no mention on the gravestones of any
except the good."
And I know very well that some believe
there is a Hell — but never like it to be spoken of. It is a subject
that should always be kept back. They see no profit in bringing it
forward, and are rather shocked when it is mentioned. This also is an
immense help to the devil. "Hush, hush!" says Satan, "say nothing about
Hell." The fowler wishes to hear no noise when he lays his snare.
The wolf would like the shepherd to sleep while he prowls round
the fold. Just so, the devil rejoices when Christians are silent
Reader, all these notions are the
opinions of man. What is it to you and I — what man thinks in
religion? Man will not judge us at the last day. Man's fancies
and traditions are not to be our guide in this life. There is but
one point to be settled — "What says the Word of God?"
Do you believe the
Bible? Then depend upon it,
Hell is real and
true. It is as true as
Heaven — as true as justification by faith — as true as the fact that
Christ died upon the cross. There is not a fact or doctrine which you
may not lawfully doubt — if you doubt Hell. Disbelieve Hell — and you
unscrew, unsettle, and unpin everything in Scripture! You may as well
throw your Bible away at once. From "no Hell" to "no God" there is but a
series of steps.
Do you believe the
Bible? Then depend upon it,
Hell will have
inhabitants. The wicked
shall certainly be turned into Hell, and all the people that forget God.
These shall go away into everlasting punishment. The same
blessed Savior who now sits on a throne of grace, will one day
sit on a throne of judgment — and men will see there is such a
thing as "the wrath of the Lamb!" The same lips which now say "Come —
come unto Me," will one day say "Depart from Me, you who are cursed!"
Alas, how awful the thought of being condemned by Christ Himself —
judged by the Savior; sentenced to eternally misery — by the Lamb!
Do you believe the
Bible? Then depend upon it,
Hell will be intense
and unutterable woe. It is
vain to talk of all the expressions about being only figures of
speech. The pit, the prison, the worm, the fire, the thirst, the
blackness, the darkness, the weeping, the gnashing of teeth, the second
death — all these may be figures of speech if you please. But Bible
figures mean something, beyond all question — and here
they mean something which man's mind can never fully conceive. Oh,
reader, the miseries of mind and conscience, are far worse than
those of the body! The whole extent of Hell, the present suffering, the
bitter recollection of the past, the hopeless prospect of the future —
will never be thoroughly known, except by those who go there!
Do you believe the
Bible? Then depend upon it,
Hell is eternal.
It must be eternal, or words have no meaning at all. Forever and ever;
everlasting; unquenchable; never-dying — all these are expressions used
about Hell, and expressions that cannot be explained away.
It must be eternal, or the very foundations of Heaven are cast down. If
Hell has an end — then Heaven has an end too. They both stand or fall
together. It must be, or else every doctrine of the Gospel is
undermined. If a man may escape Hell at length without faith in Christ,
or sanctification of the Spirit — then sin is no longer an infinite
evil, and there was no such great need for Christ making an atonement.
And where is there
warrant for saying that Hell can ever change a heart, or make it fit for
Heaven? Hell must be eternal, or Hell would cease to be Hell altogether.
Give a man hope — and he will bear anything. Grant a hope of
deliverance, however distant — and Hell is but a drop of water. Ah,
reader, these are solemn things!
FOREVER is the most
solemn word in the Bible! Alas, for that day which shall have
no tomorrow! That day when men shall seek death, and not find it, and
shall desire to die — but death shall flee from them! Who shall dwell
with devouring fire! Who shall dwell with everlasting burnings!
Do you believe the
Bible? Then depend upon it,
Hell is a subject
that ought not to be kept back.
It is striking to observe the many texts about it in Scripture. It is
striking to observe that none say so much about it as our Lord Jesus
Christ, that gracious and merciful Savior; and the apostle John, whose
heart seems full of love. Truly it may well be doubted whether we
ministers speak of it as much as we ought. I cannot forget the words of
a dying hearer of Mr. Newton's — "Sir, you often told me of Christ and
salvation; why did you not oftener remind me of Hell and danger?"
Let others be silent about Hell if
they will — I dare not do so. I see it plainly in Scripture, and I must
speak of it. I fear that thousands are on that broad way that
leads to it, and I would sincerely arouse them to a sense of the
peril before them. What would you say of the man who saw his
neighbor's house in danger of being burnt down — and never raised the
cry of "Fire!" What ought to be said of us as ministers, if we call
ourselves watchmen for souls, and yet see the fires of Hell raging in
the distance — and never give the alarm? Call it bad taste,
if you like, to speak of Hell. Call it charity to make things
pleasant, and speak smoothly, and soothe men with constant lullaby of
peace. From such notions of taste and charity — may I ever
be delivered! My notion of charity is to warn men plainly of
danger! My notion of taste in the ministerial office, is to
declare all the counsel of God. If I never spoke of Hell — I would think
I had kept back something that was profitable — and would look on myself
as an accomplice of the devil.
Reader, I beseech you, in all tender
affection, beware of false views of the subject on which I have been
dwelling. Beware of new and strange doctrines about Hell and the
eternity of punishment. Beware of manufacturing a God of your
own: a God who is all mercy — but not just; a God who is all love — but
not holy; a God who has a Heaven for everybody — but a Hell for none; a
God who can allow good and evil to be side by side in time — but will
make no distinction between good and evil in eternity. Such a God
is an idol of your own imagination! It is as true an idol
as any snake or crocodile in an Egyptian temple — as true an idol as was
ever molded out of brass or clay! The hands of your own imagination
and sentimentality have made him. He is not the God of the Bible
— and beside the God of the Bible — there is no God at all. Your
Heaven would be no Heaven at all. A Heaven containing all sorts of
sinful people, would be miserable discord indeed. Alas, for the
eternity of such a Heaven! There would be little difference between
it and Hell! Ah, reader, there is a Hell! There is a fire for the
chaff! Take heed, lest you find it out to your cost too late!
Beware of being wise above that which
is written. Beware of forming fanciful theories of your own, and then
trying to make the Bible square with them. Beware of making selections
from your Bible to suit your taste — refusing, like a spoiled child,
whatever you think bitter — seizing, like a spoiled child, whatever you
think sweet. What is all this but taking Jehoiakim's penknife?
What does it amount to but telling God, that you, a poor short-lived
worm — know better than He? It will not do! It will not do. You must
take the Bible as it is. You must read it all, and believe it all. You
must come to the reading of it in the spirit of a little child. Dare not
to say, "I believe this verse, for I like it. I reject that,
for I do not like it. I receive this, for I can agree with it. I
refuse that, for I cannot reconcile it with my views." Nay! but O
man, who are you that replies against God? By what right do you talk in
this way? Surely it were better to say over every chapter in the Word,
"Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!" Ah, reader, if men would
do this, they would never deny Hell, the chaff, and the
Think on these things once more. Meditate upon them. Remember my
question, "Are you wheat — or chaff?"
I have shown you the two great
classes of mankind — the wheat and the chaff.
I have shown you the separation
which will one day take place.
I have shown you the safety of the
I have shown you the fearful
portion of the Christless and unbelieving.
I commend these things
to your conscience, as in the sight of God. And now, reader, let me say
four things in
CONCLUSION, and then I am done.
1. Settle it down in your mind, that the things of
which I have been speaking are all real and true.
I do believe that many never see the
great truths of religion in this light. I firmly believe that many never
listen to the things they hear from ministers as realities. They regard
it all, like Gallio, as a matter of names and words, and nothing more —
a huge shadow — a religious play-acting — a vast sham! Macaulay's
History of England, Dicken's last Novel, the latest news from France,
India, Australia, California, or New York — all these are things they
realize. They feel interested and excited about them. But as to the
Bible, and Heaven, and the kingdom of Christ, and the judgment day —
these are subjects that they hear unmoved. They do not really
Reader, if you have unhappily got into
this frame of mind, I charge you to cast it off forever. Whether you
mean to hear or forbear, awaken to a thorough conviction that the things
I have brought before you are real and true. The wheat, the
chaff, the separation, the barn, the fire — all
these are great realities; as real as the sun in in the sky — as real as
the paper which your eyes behold. For my part, I believe in Heaven — and
I believe in Hell. I believe in a coming judgment. I believe in a day of
sifting. I am not ashamed to say so. I believe them all, and
therefore I write as I do. Oh, reader, take a friend's advice, live
as if these things were true!
2. Settle it down in your mind, that the things of which
I write concern YOURSELF.
They are your business, your affair, and
your concern. Many, I am am sure, never look on religion as a matter
that concerns themselves. They attend on its outward part,
as a decent and proper fashion. They hear sermons. They read
religious books. They have their children christened. But all the time
they never ask themselves, "What is all this to me?" They sit in
our churches like spectators in a theater, or court of law. They
read our writings as if they were reading a report of an interesting
trial, or of some event far away. But they do not say to themselves,
"I am the man!"
Reader, if you have this kind of feeling, depend upon
it — it will never do. There must be an end of all this, if ever you are
to be saved. You are the man I write to, whoever you may be who
reads these pages. I write not specially to the rich. I write not
specially to the poor. I write to everybody who will read, whatever his
rank may be. It is on your soul's account that I am pleading, and not
another's. You are spoken of in the text that begins this tract. You are
this very day either among the wheat — or among the chaff. Your portion
will one day either be the barn — or the fire. Oh, that men were wise,
and would lay these things to heart! Oh, that they would not trifle,
dally, linger, live on as half-and-half Christians, meaning well
— but never acting boldly, and at last awake when it is too late!
3. Settle it down in your mind, that if you are
willing to be one of the wheat of the earth — the Lord Jesus Christ
is willing to receive you.
Does any man suppose that Jesus is not
willing to see His barn filled? Do you think He does not desire to bring
many sons to glory? Oh, you little know the depth of His mercy and
compassion — if you can think such a thought! He wept over unbelieving
Jerusalem. He mourns over the impenitent and the thoughtless in the
present day. He sends you invitations by my mouth this hour. He invites
you to hear and live, to forsake the way of the foolish, and to go in
the paths of understanding. "As I live," He says, "I have no pleasure in
the death of him who dies. Turn! Turn! Why will you die?"
Oh, reader, if you never came to
Christ for eternal life before — come to Him this very day! Come to Him
with the penitent's prayer for mercy and grace. Come to Him without
delay. Come to Him while the subject of these pages is still fresh on
your mind. Come to Him before another sun rises on the earth, and let
the morning find you a new creature.
If you are determined to have
the world, and the things of the world — its pleasures and its rewards —
its follies and its sins — if you must have your own way, and cannot
give up anything for Christ and your soul — if this is your case, there
is but one end before you. I fairly warn you, I plainly tell you
— you will sooner or later come to the unquenchable fire!
But if any man is willing to be saved,
the Lord Jesus Christ stands ready to save him. "Come unto Me," He says,
"weary soul — and I will give you rest. Come, guilty and sinful soul —
and I will give you free pardon. Come, lost and ruined soul — and I will
give you eternal life."
Oh, reader, let this message be a word
in season. Arise and call upon the Lord! Let the angels of God rejoice
over one more saved soul. Let the courts of Heaven hear the good tidings
that one more lost sheep is found!
4. Settle it down in your mind, that if you
have committed your soul to Christ — Christ will never allow that
soul to perish.
The Everlasting Arms are round
about you. Lean back in them, and know your safety. The same hand
that was nailed to the cross — is holding you! The same wisdom
that framed the Heavens and the earth — is engaged to maintain your
cause. The same power that saved Israel from Egyptian bondage —
is on your side. The same love that bore with and carried Israel
from Egypt to Canaan — is pledged to keep you. Ah, reader, they are well
kept — whom Christ keeps! Our faith may repose calmly on such a bed,
as Christ's omnipotence.
Take comfort, doubting believer. Why
are you cast down? The love of Jesus is no summer-day fountain —
no man ever yet saw its bottom. The compassion of Jesus is a fire
that never yet burned low; the cold, grey ashes of that fire have never
yet been seen. Take comfort. In your heart you may find
little cause for rejoicing — but you may always rejoice in the Lord.
You say that your faith is so
small. But where is it said that none shall be saved except their
faith is great? And after all, "Who gave you any faith at all?" The very
fact that you have any faith, is a token for good.
You say that your sins are so many.
But where is the sin, or heap of sins — which the blood of Jesus cannot
wash away? And after all, "Who told you you had any sins? That feeling
never came from yourself." Blessed indeed is that one, who really knows
and feels that he is a sinner.
Take comfort, I say once more, if you
have really come to Christ. Take comfort, and know your privileges.
Cast every care on Jesus. Tell every need to Jesus. Roll
every burden on Jesus — your sins, unbelief, doubts, fears,
anxieties — lay them all on Christ! He loves to see you doing so. He
loves to be employed as your High Priest. He loves to be trusted. He
loves to see His people ceasing from the vain effort to carry their
burdens for themselves.
I commend these things to your notice.
Only be among Christ's wheat now — and then, in the great day of
separation, as sure as the Bible is true — you shall be in
Christ's barn forever!