Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness.
The Clergyman's Magazine.
There are two great extremes into which persons fail. with regard to Christian feeling. There are some whose religion seems to consist in feeling only. But remember that if your feeling is not based on solid acquaintance with Scriptural truth, it will rise like a bubble, and be as beautiful in its colours, but burst as easily. On the other hand there is religion without feeling Some persons seem to think all emotion, or warmth, or fervour, is enthusiasm, and settle down satisfied with a cold reception of Christian truth.
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF CHRISTIAN FEELING. One of the great points of contrast between the people of God and the wicked.
1. The godly man feels sorrow for sin.
2. The godly man feels the emotion of love.
3. The godly man is filled with joy.
II. SUGGESTIONS FOR THOSE ANXIOUS ON THE SUBJECT.
1. The feelings, however warm, can never justify, and the want of feeling does not prevent justification.
2. If you want to be made to feel, you must lose no time in going near to the Father's throne.
3. Remember always that feeling is the gift of the Holy Ghost, and that you cannot work yourself up to it.
In the wilds of North America, amid vast prairies and trackless woods, there lived, through many centuries, the race of the Red Men. Encroached upon from all sides, hemmed in by settlers from Europe, and defrauded of their ancient territories, that race of men has almost disappeared from the face of the earth. They were a race of hunters; unsettled, cruel, and deceitful; yet not without many features of character which gave them a peculiar interest. Their hospitality was inviolate; and the stern gravity of their manners deeply impressed the stranger. But there was one thing about them, in particular, which they cultivated with especial care, and which was matter of especial pride: this was their power of absolutely repressing the slightest outward exhibition of feeling. If they were glad, they never looked it; if the most awful misfortune befell them, it wrought not the least change on their iron features and their impassive demeanour. From his tree-rocked cradle to his bier, the Indian brave was trained to bear all the extremes of good and evil, without making any sign of what he felt. If he met a friend, the dearest friend on earth; or if he was being tortured to death at the fiery stake; he preserved the same fixed, immovable aspect. And you could not please him better than by believing that he was as completely beyond all feeling as he seemed; for he set himself out as "the stoic of the woods," as" a man without a tear." And, indeed, it is curious to think how much, in this respect, the extreme of civilization and the extreme of barbarism approach one another. Greek philosophy centuries ago, and modern refinement in its last polish of manner, alike recognize the mute Oneida's principle, that there is something manly, something fine, in the repression of human feeling. A Red Indian, a Grecian philosopher, an English gentleman, would all be pretty equally ashamed to have been seen to weep. Each would try to convey by his entire deportment the impression that he cared very little for anything. And there is no doubt at all, that it might be unworthy of the grown-up man, who has to battle with the world for his family's support, were his feelings as easily moved as in his childish days, or did his tears flow as readily as then. Even the gentleness and freshness of womanly feeling would hardly suit the rude wear of manhood's busy life. And it must be admitted, that the highest pitch of heroism to which man has ever attained, as well as the vilest degree of guilt to which man has ever sunk, has been attained, has been sunk to, by the putting down of natural feeling. The soldier volunteering for the forlorn hope, must do that as truly as the desperate pirate who spreads his black flag to the winds. And yet St. Paul was right when he wrote those words of the text. When he was speaking of people who had become hopelessly and fearfully bad, who had broken through every restraint, who had flung off every obligation; he was quite right to mention, as something symptomatic of their case, that they were "past feeling." They were thoroughly hardened. You could make no impression upon them. That was the most hopeless thing about them. Yes, brethren, St. Paul was right. It is one of the last and worst symptoms of the soul's condition, when feeling is gone. You know that it is sometimes so also with the body. Sometimes when disease has run a certain length, there is nothing which looks so ill as an entire cessation of pain. For that may indicate that mortification has begun, and so that all hope is at an end. So with spiritual insensibility; for that is arrived at by most men only after a long continuance in iniquity: and that is an indication which gives sad ground for fearing that the Holy Spirit, without whom we can never feel anything as we ought, has ceased to strive with that hardened soul — has left that obdurate heart alone. Yet we must not imagine that our text describes a state of matters which can only be found among the most degraded and abandoned of the race. I believe, on the contrary, that our text names a spiritual condition which is too common a condition; a condition to which we have all a strong tendency; a spiritual condition which we must all daily be striving and praying against. We all run a great risk of becoming so familiar with spiritual truths, as that we shall understand them and believe them without feeling them; without really feeling what their meaning is, and without that degree of emotion being excited by them that ought to be excited. You may remember what a faithful and zealous minister tells us, of a conversation which he had with an aged man in his parish, a respectable decent man, who bore an unstained character, who never was absent from church or sacrament. That zealous minister, in his parochial visitation, went to that respectable man's house, and there, addressing him and his family, he told simply of the salvation that is in Christ, and urged those who listened to a hearty acceptance of it. The minister finished what he had to say, and when he left the house his friend accompanied him; and when they were alone together, said something like this: "Spend your time and strength upon the young; labour to bring them to Jesus: it is too late for such as me. I know," he said, "that I have never been a Christian. I fully believe that when I die I shall go down to perdition; but somehow I do not care. I know perfectly all you can say; but I feel it no more than a stone." And that man, we are told, died with the like words on his lips. He had lost the springtime of his life; he had missed the tide in his affairs that might have borne him to heaven: his heart had, under the deadening influence of a present world, grown hard and unimpressionable; and, saving only God's irresistible Spirit, there was no use in anyone speaking of religious things to such as him. Oh, past feeling! Past feeling! Not past it in the mere sentimental sense in which the poet tells us that "it is the one great woe of life to feel all feeling die"; not past it in that mere sentimental sense in which youth has a freshness of feeling and heart which tames down, which passes away with advancing years; not past it merely in that sense in which as we grow older we grow less susceptible, less capable of all emotion; not past it merely in the sense, that when the hair grows grey, and the pulse turns slower, the tear flows less readily at the gospel story, and even at the table of communion we miss somewhat of the warmth of heart and the vividness of thought which we felt in earlier days; but "past feeling" in that saddest sense, that religious words fall with little meaning on the ear, and with no impression at all upon the heart: "past feeling" in that saddest sense, that now to all spiritual truths, to all expostulation and all entreaty, to God's abounding mercy, to Christ's blessed sacrifice, to the hopes of heaven and the fears of perdition, the understanding may indeed yield a torpid, listless assent; but the heart is stone!
These words were used as descriptive of certain persons a good while ago; but they are a striking photograph of some people in this day. You and I have known them — men sensitive on all other things; but, so far as the subject of religion was concerned, accurately described by my text: "Past feeling." It does not require much to arouse the emotions of an audience on a great many subjects. If a nation be in peril and the subject be patriotic, you know how the hats go up and the handkerchiefs wave from the galleries, and the reporter taking down the speech interlards his notes with "applause," "vociferous cheering," "cries of hear, hear." I heard a Frenchman sing the "Marseillaise Hymn" on the Champs Elysees
in Paris on the day when the German guns were thundering at Sedan, and I shall never forget the enthusiasm of the singer or the enthusiasm of the audience. It required but little to stir them. So, also, if upon a public occasion, it is proper to recite the virtues of the dead, it is like when on a summer morning at sunrise you shake a tree heavily laden with glittering dew. But you know as well as I do that, if the subject be deeply religious, while there are many earnest countenances in an assemblage, and some are broken down with emotion, there are those who by their manner and by their look excite the suspicion that they have gone down into the condition spoken of by the text: "Past feeling." I remember some years ago going through a medical museum, in Philadelphia, with a very learned surgeon, and he pointed to me under the glass cases, the splintered bones, and the cancerous protuberances, and the fractured thighs, and he said: "What beautiful specimens they are." I thought if that man had to endure the agonies that those things suggested, he would not have thought they were such splendid specimens. My dear friends, there are those who coolly philosophize about the splintered, cancered, and fractured souls of men, but if the Spirit of God would come upon them and they could see it was their own condition, that they were diseased, and leprous, and broken, and death struck, they would stop philosophizing so placidly, Some years ago, when John Hawkins was speaking in Greene-street Church, New York, showing the condition of an inebriate, a man rose up in the gallery and cried out: "That's me!" The truth went right to his heart. And, my dear friends, if tonight, while I speak, the Holy Spirit of God would show all those of you who are yet unforgiven and unchristian your true condition, there would be an outcry on the right and an outcry on the left, and above me and beneath me, and my voice would be drowned out, and I should have to stop in the services because of the praying, and the repenting, and the weeping — thousands of voices filling the air with the cry: "That's me! that's me!" And yet, I suppose, there are people in the building tonight who suppose I exaggerate. They have no appreciation of their peril. Eternal consumption having seized upon their vitals, they think themselves in perfect health. I remember riding from Geneva to Chamouni, and the driver of the diligence — we were being drawn by six horses — gathered the reins in one hand, and with the other lifted his hat, and bowed very low. I looked to see what he was bowing to. It was a cross at a gate post. I could not but admire the man's behaviour. Oh! my friends, if we could really understand how much that symbol of Christ's suffering means, the whole world would bow in obeisance, nay more, it would burst into tears of repentance. I was in a meeting in the Fourth Ward, New York, one night last summer, and the city missionary was commending Christ to the sailors. There was a German who seemed to take the truth to himself, and when the leader of the meeting said; "Christ died for you; is there any of you that feel it?" this man sprang to his feet and cried: "Me! me!" Why, my friends, if you could appreciate what Christ has done and suffered in your behalf, you could not be stolid and indifferent.
Truly, there are no colours in human language dark enough wherewith to describe this state. Conceive of a person standing amid this present world, all whose senses have, one by one, been utterly destroyed; on whose sightless orbs the sun shines in vain; whose ear receives no intelligence from the world without; whose hand feels not; whose tongue is dumb; in whom every sense is gone, while yet his soul, living and conscious in itself, is imprisoned in his body! How awful, how unspeakably awful, would be such a living death! And yet what would be such a condition as compared with that of him who stands amid eternity in like manner, dead in all his spiritual sensibilities to the influences of God and the realities of heaven — dead in all the spiritual faculties which were given to him for his knowledge and his happiness, and only stung forever with the vague, terrible consciousness that he is dead and lost to all the influences of God's mighty and most merciful Spirit? It is truly a state so awful, even in the thought of it, that it seems almost impossible. And yet this is nothing more than the condition to which, the text informs us, every man — you and I — may bring himself.
I. THE PROGRESS OF THE SOUL TO SPIRITUAL INSENSIBILITY IS NOT ONE THAT CAN BE ENTERED UPON WITHOUT AN INTERNAL STRUGGLE AND A FEELING OF PAINFUL EMOTION. There is a consciousness, an instinct, in every human breast that man is to live a life beyond this present; that the service of Christ is both his duty and his interest; that he can only attain to eternal joy by becoming worthy of heaven; while at the same time he feels, from the witness both of conscience and of revelation, that he cannot depart from God without forfeiting all happiness for his immortal soul. No man, therefore, can determine to take the latter course without a feeling of alarm and sorrow.
II. THE SOUL'S PROGRESS TO THE CONDITION OF "BEING PAST FEELING" IS A GRADUAL ONE. Its final state of insensibility is not attained until after many awakenings and many relapses. It is often a long while ere a man becomes incapable of being aroused at times to seriousness and consideration. Only, it requires continually a stronger excitement to produce this result; and each time his feelings are less and less acute and effective. After each relapse, he is not the same man that he was before. The death frost has struck in deeper and nearer to the seat of life. He is harder to be aroused, and less sensitive when he is aroused. And so he goes on, step by step, awakening less and sinking more, until at last he begins to wonder how it could ever be that he once felt alarmed about his soul. Or else it may be that when, having enjoyed to satiety the present world, he would endeavour to be religious for the selfish purpose of gaining the future one also, he finds he has no power to be religious. He has no longer the sensibilities in whose right exercise consists religion. He has all along turned his back upon God and heaven, and travelled down and down all the frozen steps of indifference, until now, when at last he would return, he finds himself with a yawning eternity before, and an impassable wall of ice behind. His long outraged spiritual sensibilities are dead.
III. THE PROGRESS WE ARE CONSIDERING IS A DECEPTIVE ONE. No man expects to lose his soul. If a man knew that beyond a certain fixed and evident point he could not be saved, he would doubtless be careful to observe more closely his place upon the scale of life and death. But there is no such evident point, and hence he has no irresistible exterior evidence of his spiritual situation. His heart, within, moreover, acting under the same delusion, tends to keep up the same deception. The soul is borne along by so equable and smooth a movement, that at no point is the sinner sensible how far gone he is from God. Should you ask him at any period concerning his condition, he will confess, indeed, that all is not right, that his conscience is not satisfied; but he will say that he does not intend to put off the subjection of himself to God forever — it is only for a season; and he does not think it will be any more difficult to "repent and be converted" hereafter than it is at present or has been before. True, he admits that there is a difference between his religious feelings now and some time ago, but he supposes it is only the novelty of his first serious impressions wearing off; and this, he argues, is only what he should naturally expect. Moreover, his transient seasons of spiritual sensibility, instead of being used as opportunities of return, are made to strengthen his delusion, being interpreted as evidences that he is still capable of emotion. He thanks God that he is not morally dead yet; and therefore he concludes that he can venture to delay a little longer in carelessness and sin. His very resolution hereafter to repent thus blinds his eyes to the process of decay that is constantly going on in his heart.
There is the man who but as yesterday stood amid the brightness and purity of dawning life. His heart was tender and sensitive to the influences of the Spirit as the strings of a harp to the breathings of the wind. Perhaps pious parents instructed him in the Word of truth, and by their watchfulness and their prayers not only kept alive, but increased the flame of natural piety in his breast. The thought of God could subdue him into deepest reverence. The love of Christ could cause his young heart to throb with a quicker pulse and fill it with an ardent gratitude. The hope of heaven could illuminate his mind with a deep, undefined delight. And so he passed from childhood to youth. And then began the fierce contest between the evil that was in his nature and the good which summoned him to overcome that evil. It would have been comparatively an easy matter for him to have decided then, and devoted himself forever to the service of his God. But he determined — not, however, through indifference to heaven or daring rebellion against God — first to make trial of the world, tits conscience and his heart protested, but he hushed them with the plea that it was only for a season. Thus, without any outbreak of iniquity, without greatly offending man, he glided on to maturity. His life was generally upright and correct. His fellow men called him honourable. His friends loved him for his love. But he had not yet truly, sincerely chosen Christ, nor had the Spirit as yet forsaken him. He was visited from time to time, and again and again, by the power of the grace of God. The loving hand of Christ roused him from his dangerous slumber, and the voice of Christ warned him of duty and judgment and eternity; and for each time he was filled with alarm. Conscience was heard again. He felt the necessity of repentance. He was not fit to die, and he knew that he was not, and shrank from death; but then that dread event seemed to him no nearer now than it did in his youth, and it seemed that repentance could be no more difficult at some future period than at the present. So he once more smothered conscience and sensibility, and went on as he had done before. Afflictions came, disappointments came, but their effect was only for a moment, and he crushed his feelings to indifference again. And so he lived, and passed on to white old age, repulsing and grieving the Spirit of God, outraging his own nature, until the Spirit left him and he could feel no more. Had such an end been foretold him formerly as the result of such delay as he then meditated, and such indifference as he then practised, he would have plucked out his right eye and cut off his right hand rather than delayed for one hour the submission of his soul to God. But now the acceptable time is passed, and the sun is setting; the shadows of the night are gathering around his soul; the power to feel is gone, his moral nature is benumbed, his intellect is clouded; he cannot repent, and without a fear, without a hope, he waits the summons to pass from his probation to his recompense.
The Greek word signifies to "grieve out," to have done with grieving over one's actions, so that all sense of shame is lost. This is a fearful trait of character, and marks, with unerring skill, the polytheism of the heathen. Read their literature, and observe how deeply immoral the best and purest of their writers were; look at the monuments of the Greeks and Romans in general — look at the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii, and think how scandalous and shameless the public manners of the nation must have been; or enter a heathen temple in India, where the gods are to be worshipped, and you behold at the present hour the abominations of Venus, Baal, and Astarte. Shame is one of the first feelings of childhood, as well as one of the strongest of our manhood, and when we have become able to extinguish it, our condition is morally hopeless. The beautiful and the good can attract us no more. Hence the natural consequence was the next step in the climax, viz., "They gave themselves over unto all lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness." A fearful picture, truly! Every word is emphatic, and shows the dominion which sinful habit had acquired over them. It was their own act; they gave themselves over to it. Sin is a fearful master; it increases its dominion over us with all the rapidity of a burning fire. Every indulgence enlarges the appetite, and makes repentance more improbable and more difficult. Such were the Gentiles as Paul saw them, and described them with a master's hand. Hence the necessity of a Divine Revelation to teach, and a Divine Deliverer to redeem. The Day star has arisen to chase away the darkness and the dangers of the night. It may be objected to the apostle's description of heathenism — that it is exaggerated, and even contrary to the innate principles of human virtue and rectitude. Bur the proper answer to this is —
1. it is yet to be proved that there are innate principles of virtue in man — I admit innate capacities only — and till this is done, we may hold by the words of Paul in this matter.
2. I mentioned already that the literature and monuments of the heathen, ancient and modern, are remarkably corrupt and abominable.
3. I add that the wise men and philosophers taught sentiments of the grossest impiety and vileness, so that, as says, "In committing adultery and whoredom, they did not think themselves violating good manners." Among the refined and civilized Greeks, theft was dishonourable only when the thief had not sufficient adroitness to conceal it. The great philosopher of Athens taught Aspasia the arts of seduction. The wise men of heathenism had hardly any perception of the beauty of truth. Whitby collects some of their maxims on this subject. Menander lays down the rule, "that a lie is better than a hurtful truth"; Proclus asserts that "good is better than truth"; Darius, in Herodotus, teaches, "When telling a lie is profitable, tell it!" Plato allows you to lie as much as you please, if you do it at the proper time, for, as Maximus Tyrius asserts, "there is nothing decorous in truth, save when it is profitable, and sometimes a lie is profitable, and truth injurious to men." These specimens will be sufficient to justify the apostle in his awful denunciations of the crimes and corruptions of the heathen world.
When men have long taken a custom of sinning, they grow hardened and senseless, as the highway doth by being often trod upon, or as a labourer's hand grows hard by constant labour. And so sin becometh familiar to them, and they become "past feeling," and are "given up to work uncleanness with greediness."
The chief danger of the poison called nightshade is its tendency to deprive the stomach of sensibility, and so to render the most powerful antidotes of no avail. Exactly like this is the effect of long continued evil habits. Those who are governed by them lose all moral sensibility. Nothing will work upon them. They are "past feeling." Seeing, they see and do not perceive, and hearing, they hear and do not understand. The conscience becomes as it were "seared with a hot iron." In that state, applications which before would have made it start and tremble, fail to move it.
An old man took a little child up into his arms and put his fingers into the abundant curls of his sunny hair, and said, "Oh, dear child, while your mother sings to you and tells you about Jesus, think of Him and trust Him." Grandpa, said the little boy, "don't you trust Him?" "No, dear," he said, "I might have done so years ago, but my old heart has got so hard, nothing ever touches me now." And the old man dropped a tear as he said it.
It has long been a mystery who was the man in the iron mask. We believe that the mystery was solved some years ago, by the conjecture that he was the twin brother of Louis XIV, King of France, who, fearful lest he might have his throne disturbed by his twin brother, whose features were extremely like his own, encased his face in a mask of iron and shut him up in the Bastille for life. Your body and your soul are twin brothers. Your body, as though it were jealous of your soul, encases it as in an iron mask of spiritual ignorance, lest its true lineaments, its immortal lineage, should be discovered, and shuts it up within the Bastille of sin, lest getting liberty and discovering its royalty, it should win the mastery over the baser nature. But what a wretch was that Louis XIV, to do such a thing to his own brother! How brutal, how worse than the beasts that perish! But, sir, what art thou if thou doest thus to thine own soul, merely that thy body may be satisfied, and thy earthly nature may have a present gratification? O sirs, be not so unkind, so cruel to yourselves. But yet this sin of living for the mouth and living for the eye, this sin of living for what ye shall eat and what ye shall drink, and wherewithal ye shall be clothed, this sin of living by the clock within the narrow limits of the time that ticks by the pendulum, this sin of living as if this earth were all and there were nought beyond — this is the sin that holds this City of London, and holds the world, and binds it like a martyr to the stake to perish, unless it be set free.
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