QUESTION. But you will say to me, "What, not know Christ? I hope we are better bred than that! Has Christ been preached so long in our streets—and we not know Him?"
ANSWER 1. I wish there were not many people grossly ignorant of Christ, who understand nothing of His person, offices, or privileges. A minister told me that not long since, he went to visit a neighbor of his parish lying on his deathbed, a man eighty years of age, one who came frequently to church. This minister questioned him about what sin was—and the man said he did not know; he asked him who Christ was—and he told him he did not know. So the minister said to him, "If you do not know Christ, how do you think to go to heaven?" His answer was this, "If I cannot get to heaven, I will just stay here." Oh, gross ignorance! Balaam's donkey spoke better sense to the prophet.
That people have been very ignorant of Jesus Christ appears by this, because they have been so inclined to error, so greedy to drink in every new opinion as soon as the devil has set it abroach!
ANSWER 2. Whereas you say, "Can we be ignorant of Christ in this broad daylight of the gospel?" I say, a man may have excellent head notions of Christ—and may be able to make an elegant discourse of Him—and yet not know Him savingly. Though he is not rationally ignorant of Christ—yet he may be spiritually ignorant. There is a threefold defect in the knowledge of most. It is a speculation without conviction, affection, or operation.
Their supposed knowledge is merely a speculation, without conviction. Men are not thoroughly convinced of the excellencies of Christ. John 16:8: "And when He (that is the Holy Spirit) comes, He shall convince the world of sin." Strange! Was not Christ in the world? Had He not made many sermons about sin? It is true, He had; but the Jews were not yet convinced of it. Therefore He shall send His Spirit to convince them. "And of righteousness." Why? Had not Christ told them that there was no righteousness to be found, but in Him—that they could graft their hopes of salvation upon no other stock besides? Yes, they had heard Christ say so—but they were not yet convinced; therefore the Spirit shall come and convince them. Hence I gather that men may have a speculative knowledge of Christ—yet be ignorant of Him, that is, not know Him convincingly. And that they do not have a convincing knowledge is clear; for were they convinced in their consciences of the lovely excellencies of Christ, would they value a lust or trifle? Would they, with Judas, prefer thirty pieces of
silver before Him?
Their "knowledge" is a speculation, without affection. Men have notions of Christ—but are not warmed with love for Christ. Their knowledge is like the moon: it has light in it—but no heat. True knowledge of Christ is like fire to the ice—it melts it into water. So this saving knowledge melts the sinner into tears of love. I do the hypocrite no wrong—to tell him that he bears no true affection to Jesus Christ. There is a great deal of difference between the knowledge that the prisoner has of the judge—and the knowledge the child has of the parent. The prisoner knows the judge—but has no affection for him; his knowledge is joined with fear and hatred. But the child's knowledge of his parent is joined with affection; he loves to be in his presence. The hypocrite knows Christ as the prisoner does the judge, or as the devils knew Him (Mark 1:24), with a knowledge of horror and amazement; whereas true knowledge is filial. The affections are drawn forth in an inflamed manner after Him. The apostle has an elegant expression to set forth the nature of true knowledge; he calls it "the savor of the knowledge of Him" (2 Corinthians 2:14). A man tastes a savory sweetness in his meat—but hypocrites have no taste for Christ.
Their "knowledge" is a speculation, without operation. The knowledge that hypocrites have of Christ, has no saving influence upon them; it does not make them more holy. It is one thing to have a notion of Christ—another thing to fetch virtue from Christ. The knowledge of hypocrites is a dead, barren knowledge; it does not brings forth the child of obedience. There is a great deal of difference between a scholar who studies medicine for the theory and notion—and one who studies medicine to practice it. Hypocrites are not practitioners; they are all head and no feet; they do not walk in Christ (Colossians 2:6). Their knowledge is informing—but not transforming; it does not make them one jot the better; it does not leave a spiritual tincture of holiness behind. Such knowledge is no better than ignorance.
1 John 2:4: "He who says, 'I know Him,' and keeps not His commandments, is a liar—and the truth is not in him." A man may have a speculative knowledge—and be no better than a devil. This is the reason why men do not embrace Christ, who is infinitely lovely, because they do not know His worth. Though they are not intellectually ignorant of Christ—yet they are spiritually ignorant. To this day the veil is upon their hearts.
Branch 3. If Jesus Christ is so lovely—it shows us the misery of a man who lives and dies without Christ.
Behold his misery who lives without Christ. He is very deformed and unlovely; for all loveliness flows from Christ. A sinner in the state of nature is like an infant tumbling in its blood. Ezekiel 16:6: "You were in your blood." In Leviticus 13, the leper in the law was but the sad emblem of a sinner. The leper was to live alone, as being unworthy to come into the congregation of the holy. The leper wore three marks to be known by: his garments torn, his head bare, his mouth covered. He was to cry, "Unclean, unclean." This spiritual leprosy is upon every Christless sinner.
Therefore a man in a state of unregeneracy is in Scripture compared to most vile things most: to a dog (Revelation 22:15); to a swine (2 Peter 2:22); to a viper(Matthew 3:7); and to a devil (John 6:70). A sinner's heart is a poisoned spring; it is like a piece of muddy ground which defiles the purest water that runs through it. The heathen had this kind of notion engrafted into them for, as authors report, they had their stone pots of water set at the doors of their temple, where they used to wash before they went to sacrifice.
A sinner is blind (Revelation 3:17)—and the more blind because he thinks he sees. He is dead; and although he may be decked with some moral virtues, this is but like strewing flowers upon a dead corpse (Ephesians 2:1). Dead things have no beauty in them. A sinner out of Christ is a filthy, vile creature; he is nothing but dregs; he is hell epitomized. There is no part of him sound. The man who had his running sore in his flesh (Leviticus 15:2) was but a type of a sinner who has the plague-sores of sin running upon him (1 Kings 8:38). Oh, how ghastly and deformed is every Christless soul! God loathes him. Zechariah 11:8: "My soul loathed them!" So abominable and detestable is a sinner, that God stands afar off (Psalm 138:6). He will not come near the stench of him.
The sinner is so deformed and diseased that, when he comes to be converted, the first thing he does is to loathe himself. Ezekiel 36:31: "You shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities." Thus unlovely is every person out of Christ. If he brags of his goodness, it is because he never yet looked at his face in the looking-glass of God's Word so that would discover his spots and blemishes.
Behold his misery who dies without Christ. Though Jesus Christ is so infinitely beautiful, the sinner shall see none of His beauty. Christ will put a veil upon his face, as Moses did when his face shone (Exodus 34:33). Nay, that is not all; though Christ is so lovely in Himself—yet to an ungodly sinner He will be dreadful to behold. A wicked man shall see nothing in Christ that is lovely. The Sun of Righteousness will be eclipsed to him. His beauty will be changed into fury. The Lambwill be turned to a Lion. Christ's visage will strike the heart of a sinner with horror and dread. King Ahasuerus was pleasant to Queen Esther to behold when he held forth the golden scepter; but how dreadful was his visage to Haman, when he arose from the banquet of wine in his wrath! His look carried death in its face. So, though Christ is so lovely in Himself—and full of smiling beauty to His saints—yet to those who reject Him and die in their sins, oh, how ghastly and frightening will His looks be! His eyes will be as a flame of fire! (Revelation 1:14).
Christ is represented with a bow and a crown (Revelation 6:2). He will appear to the saints with a crown—very lovely and glorious to behold; but to the wicked He will appear with His bow—to shoot at them with the arrows of His indignation. We read in Psalm 97:2 that "clouds and darkness are round about Him." To believers Christ will shine forth with His rays of majesty and beauty; but to the wicked He will cover Himself with a cloud of displeasure. This will be the hell of hell to the damned—they shall be shut out from a sight of Christ's glory—and shall behold only a sight of His wrath! "And they cried to the mountains and the rocks—Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb!" (Revelation 6:16). "Christ," said Jerome, "will be as dreadful to a sinner, as the sight of hell-fire!"
Branch 1. If Christ is so infinitely lovely—then let us labor to get a part in Christ so that the cursed deformity of our nature may be taken away—and the bespangled beauties of holiness may shine in us! It is little comfort for the soul to say, "Christ is altogether lovely," unless it can also say, "My Beloved is mine!" (Song of Solomon 2:16). Ignatius did not care what befell him—as long as he had Christ. Clear your interest in Christ; the ground of salvation is union with Christ. "There are," said Bernard, "many professors who have nothing of Christ in them." Oh, labor to be made one with Christ, to have Christ not only in your Bible—but in your heart; renounce your own
beauty, all your abilities, moralities, and duties. These are a rotten bough to hold on to. Philippians 3:9: "That I may be found in Him, not having my own righteousness."
When Augustus Caesar desired the senate of Rome to join with him in the consulship, the senate answered that they held it a great disparagement to him to join any consul with him. So Jesus Christ takes it as a great disparagement to Him—to join our duties, with His merits. O sinner, cast away your beggars' rags—so that you may put on Christ's lovely robes. I would not take you off from your duty—but from confidence in your duty. Noah's dove might make use of her wings to fly—but she did not trust her wings—but the ark. A man makes use of his feet to go over a bridge—but he trusts the bridge for safety. Christians, while they walk with the feet of obedience, must trust Christ as the bridge to lead them over the devouring sea of hell. In short, if you should get a saving interest in Christ, rely on Christ by faith—and resign yourself up to Christ by service.
A believer with one hand receives Christ—and with the other hand gives himself up to Christ. Christ says to a believer, "With My body, yes, with My blood, I endow you." And a believer says to Christ, "With my soul I worship You." O Christian, part with all—for a part in this lovely Savior!