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Christ died for the Ungodly
All the passages below are taken from Charles H. Spurgeon’s book “All of Grace,” published in 1981 by Whitaker House.
When we were yet without strength,
in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
-Romans 5:6 KJV
After the anxious heart has accepted the doctrine of atonement and learned the great truth that salvation is by faith in the Lord Jesus, it is often troubled with a sense of inability toward that which is good. Many are groaning, "I can do nothing." They are not using this as an excuse, but they feel it as a daily burden. They would if they could. Each one can honestly say, "To will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not" (Romans 7:18 KJV).
This feeling seems to make all the Gospel null and void, for what is the use of food to a hungry man if he cannot get at it? Of what avail is the river of the water of life if one cannot drink? There is a story of a doctor and a poor woman's child. The learned practitioner told the mother that her little one would soon be better under proper treatment, but it was absolutely necessary that her boy regularly drink the best wine and spend a season at one of the German spas. This he said to a widow who could hardly get enough bread to eat! Now, it sometimes seems to the troubled heart that the simple Gospel of "Believe and live" is not, after all, so very simple. It asks the poor sinner to do what he cannot do. To the suddenly awakened but half-instructed person, there appears to be a missing link. Yonder is the salvation of Jesus, but how is it to be reached? The soul is without strength and does not know what to do. It lies within sight of the city of refuge, but cannot enter its gate.
Is this lack of strength provided for in the plan of salvation? It is. The work of the Lord is perfect. It begins where we are and asks nothing of us for its completion. When the Good Samaritan saw the traveler lying wounded and half dead, he did not tell him to rise and come to him, mount the donkey, and ride off to the inn. No, he "went to him" (Luke 10:34 KJV) and ministered to him. He lifted him up onto the animal and took him to the inn. Thus does the Lord Jesus deal with us in our low and wretched state.
We have seen that God justifies, that He `justifieth the ungodly" (Romans 4:5 KJV), and that He justifies them through faith in the precious blood of Jesus. We now have to see the condition these ungodly ones are in when Jesus works out their salvation. Many people who are newly awakened are troubled not only about their sin, but also about their moral weakness. They have no strength with which to escape from the mire into which they have fallen or to keep out of it in the days to come. They lament not only over what they have done, but also over what they cannot do. They feel powerless, helpless, and spiritually lifeless. It may sound odd to say that they feel dead, yet it is so. They are, in their own opinion, incapable of all good. They cannot travel the road to heaven, for their bones are broken. "None of the men of might [strength] have found their hands" (Psalm 76:5 KJV). In fact, they are "without strength." Happily, this truth is written as the commendation of God's love to us: "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly."
Here we see conscious helplessness helped by the interposition of the Lord Jesus. Our helplessness is extreme. It is not written, "When we were comparatively weak, Christ died for us," or "When we had only a little strength," but the description is absolute and unrestricted: "When we were yet without strength." We have no strength whatsoever that can aid in our salvation. Our Lord's words are emphatically true: "Without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5 KJV). I will go further than the text and remind you of the great love with which the Lord loved us even when we "were dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1 KJV). To be dead is even worse than being without strength.
The one thing that the poor strengthless sinner has to fix his mind on and firmly retain as his one ground of hope is the divine assurance that "in due time Christ died for the ungodly." Believe this, and all inability will disappear. As it is fabled of Midas that he turned everything into gold by his touch, so it is true of faith that it turns everything it touches into good. Our very needs and weaknesses become blessings when faith deals with them.
Forms of Lack of Strength
1. Weakness in Thinking and Concentration
Let us consider certain forms of this lack of strength. To begin with, one man will say, "Sir, I do not seem to have the strength to collect my thoughts and keep them fixed on those solemn topics that concern my salvation. A short prayer is almost too much for me. It is partly so, perhaps, through natural weakness, partly because I have injured myself through excessive drinking, and partly because I worry myself with worldly cares so that I am not capable of those high thoughts that are necessary before a soul can be saved."
This is a very common form of sinful weakness. Note this! You are without strength on this point, and there are many like you. They could not carry out a train of consecutive thought to save their lives. Many poor men and women are illiterate and untrained, and they find deep thought to be very hard work. Others are so light and trifling by nature that they could no more follow out a long process of argument and reasoning than they could fly. They could never attain to the knowledge of any profound mystery if they spent their whole life in the effort.
You need not, therefore, despair. What is necessary to salvation is not continuous thought but a simple reliance upon Jesus. Hold onto this one fact: "In due time Christ died for the ungodly." This truth will not require you to do any deep research or profound reasoning or convincing argument. There it stands: "In due time Christ died for the ungodly."
Fix your mind on that, and rest there. Let this one great, gracious, glorious fact lie in your spirit until it permeates all your thoughts and makes you rejoice even though you are without strength. Rejoice that the Lord Jesus has become your strength and your song; yes, He has become your salvation (Exodus 15:2 KJV). According to the Scriptures, it is a revealed fact that "in due time Christ died for the ungodly" when they were "yet without strength." Maybe you have heard these words hundreds of times, and yet you have never before perceived their meaning. There is a wonderful thing about them. Jesus did not die for our righteousness, but He died for our sins. He did not come to save us because we were worth saving, but because we were utterly worthless, ruined, and undone. He did not come to earth out of any reason that was in us, but solely and only because of reasons that He took from the depths of His own divine love.
In due time Jesus died for those whom He describes not as godly but as "ungodly," describing them with as hopeless an adjective as He could have selected. Even if you think little, fasten your mind to this truth, for it is fitted to the smallest capacity and is able to cheer the heaviest heart. Let this text lie under your tongue like a sweet morsel until it dissolves into your heart and flavors all your thoughts. People who have never shone in science nor displayed the least originality of thinking have nevertheless been fully able to accept the doctrine of the Cross and have been saved. Why should you not?
2. Inability to Repent
I hear another man cry, "Oh, sir, my lack of strength lies mainly in that I cannot repent sufficiently!" What a curious idea men have of what repentance is! Many believe that so many tears are to be shed and so many groans are to be heaved and so much despair is to be endured. Where do they get this unreasonable notion? Unbelief and despair are sins. Therefore, I do not see how they can be constituent elements of acceptable repentance. Yet there are many who regard them as necessary parts of true Christian experience. They are in great error.
Still, I know what they mean, for in the days of my darkness, I used to feel the same way. I desired to repent, but I thought that I could not do it. Yet, all the while, I was repenting. Odd as it may sound, I felt that I could not feel. I used to get into a corner and weep because I could not weep. I was bitterly sorrowful because I could not sorrow for sin. What a jumble it all is when in our unbelieving state we begin to judge our own condition! It is like a blind man looking at his own eyes. My heart was melted within me for fear because I thought that my heart was as hard as stone. My heart was broken to think that it would not break. Now I can see that I was exhibiting the very thing that I thought I did not possess; but then I did not know where I was.
Oh, that I could help others into the light that I now enjoy! I would gladly say a word that might shorten the time of their bewilderment. I would say a few plain words and ask the Comforter to apply them to the heart.
Remember that the man who truly repents is never satisfied with his own repentance. We can no more repent perfectly than we can live perfectly. However pure our tears, there will always be some dirt in them; there will be something to be repented of even in our best repentance. Yet listen! To repent is to change your mind about sin and Christ and all the great things of God. There is sorrow implied in this, but the main point is the turning of the heart from sin to Christ. If there is this turning, you have the essence of true repentance, even though no alarm and no despair have ever cast their shadow on your mind.
If you find it difficult to repent, it will greatly help you to firmly believe that "in due time Christ died for the ungodly." Think of this again and again. How can you continue to be hardhearted when you know that out of supreme love "Christ died for the ungodly"? Let me persuade you to reason with yourself like this: "Ungodly as I am, though this heart of steel will not relent, though I hit my chest in vain, yet He died for such as I am, because He died for the ungodly. Oh, that I may believe this and feel the power of it in my unmerciful heart!"
Blot out every other reflection from your soul; sit down by the hour and meditate deeply on this one resplendent display of unmerited, unexpected, unparalleled love: "Christ died for the ungodly." Carefully read over the narrative of the Lord's death as you find it in the four Gospels. If anything can melt your stubborn heart, it will be a view of the sufferings of Jesus and the knowledge that He suffered all this for His enemies.
O Jesus, sweet the tears I shed,
While at Thy cross I kneel,
Gaze on Thy wounded, fainting head,
And all Thy sorrows feel.
My heart dissolves to see Thee bleed,
This heart so hard before;
I hear Thee for the guilty plead,
And grief o'erflows the more.
'Twas for the sinful Thou didst die,
And I a sinner stand:
Convinc'd by Thine expiring eye,
Slain by Thy pierced hand.
Surely, the Cross is that wonder-working rod that can bring water out of a rock. If you understand the full meaning of the divine sacrifice of Jesus, you must repent of ever having been opposed to One who is so full of love. It is written, "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn" (Zechariah 12:10 KJV). Repentance will not make you see Christ, but to see Christ will give you repentance. You may not make a christ out of your repentance, but you must look to Christ for repentance. The Holy Spirit, by turning us to Christ, turns us from sin. Look away, then, from the effect to the cause, from your own repenting to the Lord Jesus, who is exalted on high to give repentance.
3. Tormenting and Blasphemous Thoughts
I have heard another say, "I am tormented with horrible thoughts. Wherever I go, blasphemies steal in on me. Frequently, at my work, a dreadful suggestion forces itself upon me. Even in my bed, I am startled from my sleep by whispers of the evil one. I cannot get away from this horrible temptation." Friend, I know what you mean, for I myself have been hunted by this wolf. A man might as well hope to fight a swarm of flies with a sword as to master his own thoughts when they are set on by the devil. A poor tempted soul, assailed by satanic suggestions, is like a traveler I have read about. His head and ears and whole body were attacked by a swarm of angry bees. He could not keep them off or escape from them. They stung him everywhere and threatened to kill him. I do not wonder that you feel that you have no strength to stop these hideous and abominable thoughts that Satan pours into your soul. Yet I would remind you of the Scripture before us: "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly."
Jesus knew where we were and where we should be. He saw that we could not overcome "the prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2 KJV). He knew that we would be greatly worried by the devil. Yet, even then, when He saw us in that condition, Christ died for the ungodly. Cast the anchor of your faith on this. The devil himself cannot tell you that you are not ungodly.
Believe, then, that Jesus died even for such as you are. Remember Martin Luther's way of cutting the devil's head off with his own sword. "Oh," said the devil to Martin Luther, "you are a sinner." "Yes," said Luther, "Christ died to save sinners." Thus he smote him with his own sword. Hide in this refuge and stay there: "In due time Christ died for the ungodly." If you stand on that truth, your blasphemous thoughts, which you do not have the strength to drive away, will go away by themselves, for Satan will see that he is achieving nothing by plaguing you with them.
These thoughts, if you hate them, are not yours but are injections of the devil. He is responsible, and not you. If you strive against them, they are no more yours than are the cursings and falsehoods of rioters in the street. It is by means of these thoughts that the devil wants to drive you to despair, or at least keep you from trusting Jesus. The poor diseased woman could not come to Jesus because of the crowd. You are in much the same condition because of the rush and crowd of these dreadful thoughts. Still, she put forth her finger and touched the fringe of the Lord's garment, and she was healed. (See Mark 5:25-34.) Do the same.
Jesus died for those who are guilty of "all manner of sin and blasphemy" (Matthew 12:31 KJV). Therefore, I am sure He will not refuse those who are unwillingly the captives of evil thoughts. Cast yourself upon Him, thoughts and all, and prove that He is mighty to save. He can still those horrible whisperings of the fiend, or He can enable you to see them in their true light so that you will not be worried by them. In His own way, He can and will save you and, at length, give you perfect peace. Only trust Him for this and everything else.
4. Lack of Power to Believe
The form of inability that lies in a supposed lack of power to believe is sadly perplexing. We are not strangers to the cry,
Oh, that I could believe,
Then all would easy be;
I would, but cannot; Lord, relieve,
My help must come from Thee.
Many remain in the dark for years because they have no strength, they say, to give up all power and rest in the power of Another, the Lord Jesus. Indeed, this whole matter of believing is a very curious thing, for people do not get much help by trying to believe. Believing does not come by trying. If a person were to make a statement of something that happened today, I would not tell him that I would try to believe him. If I believed in the truthfulness of the man who told me the incident and said that he saw it, I would accept the statement at once. If I did not think he was a truthful man, I would, of course, disbelieve him. There would be no trying in the matter. Now, when God declares that there is salvation in Christ Jesus, I must either believe Him at once or call Him a liar. Surely, you will not hesitate as to which is the right path in this case. The witness of God must be true, and we are bound at once to believe in Jesus.
Yet possibly you have been trying to believe too much. Do not aim at great things. Be satisfied to have a faith that can hold in its hand this one truth: "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." He laid down His life for men while they were not yet believing in Him, nor were able to believe in Him. He died for men, not as believers but as sinners. He came to make these sinners into believers and saints, but when He died for them, He viewed them as utterly without strength. If you believe that Christ died for the ungodly, your faith will save you, and you may go in peace. If you will trust your soul to Jesus, who died for the ungodly, even though you cannot believe all things or move mountains or do any other wonderful works, yet you will be saved. It is not great faith but true faith that saves. Salvation lies not in the faith but in the Christ in whom faith trusts. Faith as a grain of mustard seed will bring salvation. It is not the amount of faith but the sincerity of faith that is the point to be considered. Surely, a man can believe what he knows to be true; and as you know Jesus to be true, you can believe in Him.
The cross, which is the object of faith, is also, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the cause of it. Sit down and watch the dying Savior until faith springs up spontaneously in your heart. There is no place like Calvary for creating confidence. The air of that sacred hill brings health to trembling faith. Many a watcher there has said,
While I view Thee, wounded, grieving,
Breathless on the cursed tree,
Lord, I feel my heart believing
That Thou suffer'dst thus for me.
5. Inability to Stop Sinning
"Alas!" cries another, "my trouble is that I cannot quit my sinning. I know that I cannot go to heaven and carry my sin with me." I am glad that you know that, for it is quite true. You must be divorced from your sin, or you cannot be married to Christ. Recall the question that flashed into the mind of young Bunyan while he was playing sports on Sunday: "Wilt thou have thy sins and go to hell, or wilt thou quit thy sins and go to heaven?" That brought him to a dead stop. That is a question that every man will have to answer, for there is no going on in sin and going to heaven. That cannot be. You must quit sin or quit hope.
Do you reply, "Yes, I am willing enough. `To will is present with me; but how to perform that which [I would] I find not' (Romans 7:18 KJV). Sin masters me, and I have no strength." Come, then, if you have no strength; this text is still true: "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." Can you still believe that? No matter how many other things may seem to contradict it, will you still believe it? God has said it, and it is a fact; therefore, hold on to it tightly, for your only hope lies there. Believe this, trust Jesus, and you will soon find power with which to slay your sin. However, apart from Him, the armed strongman will hold you forever as his bondslave.
Personally, I could never have overcome my own sinfulness. I tried and failed. My evil tendencies were too much for me until, in the belief that Christ died for me, I cast my guilty soul on Him. And then I received a conquering principle by which I overcame my sinful self. The doctrine of the Cross can be used to slay sin as the old warriors used their huge two-handed swords and mowed down their foes at every stroke. There is nothing like faith in the sinner's Friend; it overcomes all evil. If Christ has died for me---ungodly as I am, without strength as I am---then I can no longer live in sin, but must rouse myself to love and serve Him who has redeemed me. I cannot trifle with the evil that slew my Best Friend. I must be holy for His sake. How can I live in sin when He has died to save me from it?
See what a splendid help this is to you who are without strength---to know and believe that in due time Christ died for such ungodly ones as you are. Have you caught the idea yet? It is, somehow, so difficult for our darkened, prejudiced, and unbelieving minds to see the essence of the Gospel. At times I have thought, when I have finished preaching, that I have presented the Gospel so clearly that the nose on one's face could not be more plain. Yet I perceive that even intelligent hearers have failed to understand what was meant by "Look unto me, and be ye saved" (Isaiah 45:22 KJV). Converts usually say that they did not know the Gospel until such and such a day, yet they had heard it for years. The Gospel is unknown, not from lack of explanation, but from absence of personal revelation. This the Holy Spirit is ready to give and will give to those who ask Him. Yet, when given, the sum total of the truth revealed lies within these words: "Christ died for the ungodly."
6. The Fear of Man
I hear another person bewailing himself thus: "Oh, sir, my weakness lies in this: I do not seem to keep spiritual things in my mind long! I hear the Word on a Sunday, and I am impressed. Yet, during the week, I meet with an evil companion, and my good feelings are all gone. My fellow workmen do not believe in anything, and they say such terrible things. I do not know how to answer them, so I find myself knocked over." I know this Plastic Pliable very well, and I tremble for him. However, at the same time, if he is really sincere, his weakness can be met by divine grace. The Holy Spirit can cast out the evil spirit of the fear of man. He can make the coward brave.
Remember, my poor vacillating friend, you must not remain in this state. It will never do to be mean and beggarly to yourself. Stand upright and look at yourself. See if you were ever meant to be like a toad under a rotary cultivator, afraid for your life either to move or to stand still. Do have a mind of your own.
This is not a spiritual matter only, but one that concerns ordinary human nature. I would do many things to please my friends, but to go to hell to please them is more than I would venture. It may be very well to do this and that for good fellowship, but it will never do to lose the friendship of God in order to keep on good terms with men. "I know that," says the man, "but still, though I know it, I cannot get enough courage. I cannot show my colors. I cannot stand fast." Well, to you, also, I have the same text to bring: "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly."
If Peter were here, he would say, "The Lord Jesus died for me even when I was such a poor weak creature that the maid who kept the fire drove me to lie and to swear that I did not know the Lord." (See Matthew 26:69-74 KJV) Yes, Jesus died for those who forsook Him and fled. Take a firm grip on this truth: Christ died for the ungodly while they were yet without strength. This is your way out of your cowardice. Get this thought, "Christ died for me," worked into your soul, and you will soon be ready to die for Him. Believe that He suffered in your stead and offered for you a full, true, and satisfactory atonement. If you believe that fact, you will be forced to feel, "I cannot be ashamed of Him who died for me." A full conviction that this is true will give you fearless courage.
Look at the saints in the martyr age. In the early days of Christianity, when this great thought of Christ's exceeding love was sparkling in all its freshness in the church, men were not only ready to die, but also grew ambitious to suffer and even presented themselves by the hundreds at the judgment seats of the rulers, confessing the Christ. I do not say that they were wise to court a cruel death, but it proves my point that a sense of the love of Jesus lifts the mind above all fear of what man can do to us. Why should it not produce this effect in you? Oh, that it might now inspire you with a brave resolve to come out on the Lord's side and be His follower to the end!
May the Holy Spirit help us to come thus far by faith in the Lord Jesus, and it will be well! [85-103]
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