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Turn or Burn

Written by: Spurgeon, C.H.    Posted on: 04/01/2003

Category: Sermons

Source: CCN

                                  Preface

For more than a century, Charles Haddon Spurgeon's sermons have been consistently recognized, and their usefulness and impact have continued to the present day, even in the outdated English of the author's own day. 

Why then should expositions already so successful and of such stature and proven usefulness require adaptation, revision, rewrite or even editing? The answer is obvious.  To increase its usefulness to today's reader, the language in which it was originally written needs updating.

Though his sermons have served other generations well, just as they came from the pen of the author in the nineteenth century, they still could be lost to present and future generations, simply because, to them, the language is neither readily nor fully understandable.

My goal, however, has not been to reduce the original writing to the vernacular of our day.  It is designed primarily for you who desire to read and study comfortably and at ease in the language of our time.  Only obviously archaic terminology and passages obscured by expressions not totally familiar in our day have been revised.  However, neither Spurgeon's meaning nor intent have been tampered with.                                                   Tony Capoccia

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (C) 1978 by the New York Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

"NASB" indicates the Scripture text is taken from the New American Standard Bible, used by permission of the Lockman Foundation, a corporation not for profit, La Habra, California.

                                Turn or Burn                 (Turn from your sins or Burn for your sins)                                     by                     Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

"If a man does not repent, He will sharpen his sword; He has bent His bow and made it ready."--Psalm 7:12 (NASB) 

"If the sinner does not turn from his wicked ways, God will sharpen His sword."  So, then, God has a sword, and He will punish man on account of his sins.  This evil generation has labored to take away from God the sword of His justice; they have endeavored to prove to themselves that God will "clear the guilty," and will by no means "punish evil, disobedience, and sin."  Two hundred years ago the predominant subject of the pulpit was one of terror; it was like Mount Sinai, it thundered out the dreadful wrath of God, and from the lips of a Baxter or a Bunyan, you heard the most fearful sermons, full to the brim with warnings of judgment to come. 

Perhaps some of the Puritan fathers may have gone too far, and have given too great a prominence to the terror of the Lord in their ministry; but the age in which we live has tried to forget those terrors altogether, and if we dare to tell men that God will punish them for their sins, we are then accused of trying to frighten them into religion, and if we faithfully and honestly tell our listeners that sin will bring certain judgment, it is said that we are attempting to scare them into goodness.  Now we don't care what men mockingly accuse us of; we feel it is our duty, when men sin, to tell them that they will be punished; and so long as the world will not give up its sin, we feel we must not cease our warnings.  But the cry of the age is, that God is merciful, that God is love.  Yes, who said He wasn't? 

But remember it is equally true, God is just, severely and inflexibly just!  He would not be God, if He were not just; He could not be merciful if He were not just, for punishment of the wicked is demanded by the highest mercy to the rest of mankind.  Rest assured, however, that He is just, and that the words I am about to read you from God's word are true: "The wicked return to the grave, all the nations that forget God;"  "God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses His wrath every day;"  "If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword; He has bent His bow and made it ready.  He has also prepared for Himself deadly weapons; He makes His arrows fiery shafts" (NASB). 

Because this is a wicked age, it will not accept the idea of a real hell; and because it is hypocritical, it will speak of hell, but only with fictitious punishment.  This doctrine is so prevalent as to make even the ministers of the gospel flinch from their duty in declaring the day of wrath.  How few there are who will solemnly tell us of the judgment to come.  They preach of God's love and mercy, as they ought to do, and as God has commanded them; but what good is it to preach mercy unless they preach also the doom of the wicked?  And how shall we hope to carry out the primary purpose of preaching unless we warn men that if they "Don't repent of their sin, God will sharpen His sword in judgment?"

I fear that in too many places the doctrine of future punishment is rejected, and laughed at as a fantasy and a fire-breathing monster of our imagination; but the day will come when it shall be known to be a reality.  Ahab scoffed at the prophet Micaiah, when he said he (Ahab) would never come back alive; the men of Noah's generation laughed at the foolish old man (as they thought him), who urged them take heed, for the world would soon be drowned; but when they were climbing to the treetops, and the floods were following them, did they then say that Noah's prophecy was untrue?  And when the arrow was sticking in the heart of Ahab, and he said to his chariot driver, "Wheel around and get me out of the fighting.  I've been wounded," did he then think that Micaiah had spoke an untruth?  And so it is now. 

You tell us that we speak lies, when we warn you of judgment to come; but in that day when your trouble shall fall on you, and when destruction shall overwhelm you, will you say we were liars then?  Will you then turn around and scoff, and say we did not speak the truth?  Rather my hearers the highest honor will be given to him who was the most faithful in warning men concerning the wrath of God.  I have often trembled at the thought, that, here I am standing before you, and constantly engaged in the work of the ministry, and what if, when I die, I should be found unfaithful to your souls, how sorrowful will be our meeting in the world of spirits?  It would be a dreadful thing if you were able to say to me in the world to come, "Sir, you flattered us; you did not tell us of the solemnities of eternity; you did not rightly dwell upon the awful wrath of God; you spoke to us feebly and weakly, you were somewhat afraid of us; you knew we could not bear to hear of eternal torment, and therefore you kept it back and never mentioned it!"  Why, I believe that if you were able you would look me in the face and curse me through all of eternity, if that would have been my conduct.  But, by God's help, it shall never be. 

Come what may, when I die, I shall, with God's help, be able to say "I am innocent of the blood of all men."  So far as I know God's truth, I will endeavor to speak it; and though criticism and censure be poured on my head a hundred times, I will welcome it, if I may but be faithful to this unstable generation, faithful to God, and faithful to my own conscience.  Let me, then, endeavor, and, by God's help, I will do it as solemnly and as tenderly as I can, to proclaim to you that have not yet repented, most affectionately reminding you of your future doom, if you should die without repenting of your sins.  "If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword."

In the first place, "what is the repenting here mean?"  In the second place, let us dwell on the "necessity there is for men's repenting, otherwise God will punish them;" and then, thirdly, let me remind you of the "means whereby men can be turned from the error of their ways, and the weakness and frailty of their nature amended by the power of divine grace."

I. In the first place, my listeners, let me endeavor to explain to you the NATURE OF THE REPENTING.  It says, "If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword."

To begin, then: the repenting here meant is genuine, not artificial--not that which stops with a bunch of promises and vows, but that which deals with the real acts of life.  Possibly one of you will say, this morning, "Look, I will turn to God; from this time forward I will not sin, but I will endeavor to walk in holiness; my vices shall be abandoned, my evil will be thrown the winds, and I will turn to God with a sincere heart;" but, maybe tomorrow you will have forgotten this; you will weep a tear or two under the preaching of God's word, but by tomorrow every tear shall have been dried, and you will utterly forget that you ever came to church at all. 

How many of us are like men who see their faces in a mirror, and walk away and forget what we looked like!  Yes, my friends, it is not your promise of repentance that can save you; it is not your vow, it is not your solemn declaration, it is not the tear that is dried more easily than the dew-drop by the sun; it is not the momentary emotion of the heart, which constitutes a real turning to God.  There must be a true and actual abandonment of sin, and a turning to righteousness in real act and deed in every day life.  Do you say you are sorry, and repent, and yet go on from day to day, just as you always have before?  Will you now bow your heads, and say, "Lord, I repent," and in a little while commit the same acts of sin again?  If you do, your repentance is worse than nothing, and will make your punishment even more sure; for he that makes a promise to his Maker, and does not keep his promise, has committed another sin, in that he has attempted to deceive the Almighty, and lie to the God that made him.  Repentance, to be true, to be evangelical, must be a repentance which really affects our outward behavior.

Next, repentance to be true "must be total."  How many will say, "Lord, I will give up this sin and the this other one; but there are certain favorite lusts which I must hang on to."  O friends, in God's name let me tell you, it is not the giving up of one sin, nor fifty sins, which is true repentance; it is the serious giving up of every sin.  If you conceal one of these accursed vipers in your heart, then your repentance is nothing but a fake.  If you indulge in only one lust, and give up every other, then that one lust, like one leak in a ship, will sink your soul.  It is not sufficient just to give up your outward sins; it is not enough just to give up the most wicked sin of your daily life; it is all or nothing which God demands "Repent" He says; and when he commands you to repent, He means, repent of all your sins, otherwise He never can accept your repentance as being real and genuine.  The truly repentant person hates all of their sins, not just certain ones.  He says, "Cover yourself with the finest gold, O sin, I will still hate you!  Yes, cover yourself with pleasure, make yourself flashy, like the snake with its turquoise scales--I still hate you, for I know your venom, and I run from you, even when you come to me in the most illusive clothing."  All sin must be given up, or else you will never have Christ; all evil must be renounced, or else the gates of heaven must be locked to keep you out forever.  Let us, remember, then, that for repentance to be sincere, it must be total repentance.

Again: when God says, "If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword,"  He means "urgent" repentance.  You say, when we are nearing the end of our mortal life, and when we are entering the borders of the thick darkness of the future state, then we will change our ways.  But my dear listeners, do not delude yourselves.  Few have ever changed after a long life of sin.  "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?"  If so, let him that is accustomed to doing evil learn to do well.  Put no faith in the repentance which you promised yourselves that you would declare on your death beds.  There are ten thousand arguments against one, that if you do not repent in health, you will never repent in sickness. 

Too many have promised themselves a quiet time before they leave the world, when they could turn their face to the wall and confess their sins; but how few have found that time of silence!  Don't men drop dead in the streets--yes, even in the church pew?  Don't they die at their places of employment?  And when death is gradual, it offers only a feeble time for repentance.  Many a Christian has said on his death bed, "O! if I had to now seek my God; if I had to now cry to Him for mercy, what would become of me? The pain of death is enough, without the agony of repentance.  It is enough to have the body tortured with the often pains of death, without having the soul torn with sorrow."  Sinners!  God said, "Today, if you hear my voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me."

When God the Holy Spirit convinces men of sin, they will never talk of delays.  You may never have another day to repent in.  Therefore, says the voice of wisdom, "repent now."  The Jewish rabbis said, "Let every man repent one day before he dies; and since he may die tomorrow, let him take heed to turn from his evil ways today."  Even so we say, immediate repentance is that which God demands, for He has never promised you that you will have any other hour to repent in, except the one that you now have.

Furthermore; the repentance described here as being absolutely necessary is a sincere repentance.  It is not a phony tear; it is not hanging out the banner of grief, while you have frivolity in your hearts; it is not having a bright light within, and closing all the blinds on the windows by a pretended repentance.  It is the putting out the party candles in the heart; it is sorrow of soul, which is true repentance.  A man may renounce every outward sin, and yet not really repent.  True repentance, is a turning of the heart, as well as of the life; it is the giving up of the whole soul to God, to be His forever and ever; it is a renunciation of the sins of the heart, as well as the corruptions of the life. 

Yes! dear listeners, let none of us dream that we have repented when we have only made a false and make believe repentance; let none of us take that to be the work of the Spirit which is only the work of poor human nature; let us not dream that we have turned to God in true salvation, when, perhaps, we have only turned to ourselves.  And let us not think that it is enough to have turned from one vice to another, or from vice to virtue; let us remember it must be a turning of the whole soul, so that the old man is made new in Christ Jesus; otherwise we have not answered the requirements of the text--we have not turned to God.

And lastly on this point, this repentance must be "perpetual."  It is not my turning to God today that will be a proof that I am a true convert; it is the forsaking of my sin throughout my entire life, until I am laid in the grave. You need not dream that to be moral for a week will be proof that you are saved; it is a continuous rejection of evil.  The change which God works is neither a momentary nor a superficial change; not a simple cutting of the top of a weed, but a complete eradication of it; not the sweeping away of the dust of one day, but the taking away of that which is the cause of the defilement.  In olden times, when rich and generous kings came into their cities they made the fountains run with milk and wine; but the fountain was not therefore a fountain of milk and wine forever; tomorrow it will run with water as before. 

So today you may go home and pretend to pray; you may today be serious, tomorrow you may be honest, and the next day you may pretend to be devout; but if you return, as Scripture says it, "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud," your repentance will but sink you deeper into hell, instead of being a proof of divine grace in your hearts.

It is very hard to distinguish between legal repentance and evangelical repentance; however, there are certain marks by which they may be distinguished, and at the risk of tiring you, we will just notice one or two of them; and may God grant that you may find them in your own souls!  Legal repentance is a fear of damning; evangelical repentance is a fear of sinning.

Legal repentance makes us fear the wrath of God; evangelical repentance makes us fear the cause of that wrath--sin.  When a man repents with that grace of repentance which God the Spirit works in him, he repents not of the punishment which is to follow the deed, but of the deed itself; and he feels that even if there were no pit of Hell for the wicked; if there were no ever- gnawing worm of torment, and no everlasting fire, he would still hate sin.  It is such repentance as this which every one of you must have, or else you will be lost.  It must be a hatred of sin.  Do not suppose that because when it is your time to die that you will be afraid of eternal torment, therefore that will be repentance.  Every thief is afraid of the prison; but he will steal tomorrow if you set him free.  Most men who have committed murder tremble at the sight of the electric chair, but they would murder again if they were allowed to live.  It is not the hatred of the punishment that is repentance; it is the hatred of the sin itself.  Do you feel that you have such a repentance as that?  If not, these thundering words must be preached to you again--"If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His Sword" (NASB).

But one more point.  When a man is possessed of true and evangelical repentance, I mean the gospel repentance which saves the soul-he not only hates sin for its own sake, but despises it so extremely and utterly that he feels that no repentance, of his own can help to wash it out; and he acknowledges that it is only by an act of sovereign grace that his sins can be washed away.  Now, if any of you suppose that you repent of your sins and yet imagine that by a life of holy living you can blot them out; if you suppose that by walking uprightly in the future you can obliterate your past sins, you have not yet truly repented; for true repentance, makes a man feel that

                        Could his zeal no rest know,                         Could his tears forever flow,                         All for sin could not atone;                         Christ must save, and Christ alone.

And if your sin is so killed in you that you hate it as a corrupt and abominable thing, and you would bury it out of your sight, and feel that it could never be buried, unless Christ Himself shall dig the grave, then you have repented of sin.  We must humbly confess that we deserve God's wrath, and that we cannot prevent it by any works of our own; and we must put our trust solely and entirely in the blood and accomplishments of Jesus Christ.  If you have not repented in this way, again we shout in the words of David, "If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword." 

II.  And now the second point: it is even a more terrible one to dwell upon, and if I went by my own feelings I would not even mention it; but we must not consider our feelings in the work of the ministry, any more than we should if we were physicians of men's bodies.  We must sometimes use the knife, when we feel that they would die without it.  We must frequently make sharp gashes into men's consciences, in the hope that the Holy Spirit will bring them to life.  We declare, then, that there is a NECESSITY that God should sharpen His sword and punish men, if they will not "turn" from their sins.  Earnest Baxter used to say, "Sinner! turn or burn; it is your only alternative; TURN, or BURN!"  And it is true.  I think I can show you why men must "turn" from their sins, or else they will "burn" for their sins.

1.  First, we cannot expect that the God of the Bible would allow sin to go unpunished.  Some may imagine it; they may dream their intellects into a state intoxication, so as to fantasize a God apart from justice; but no man who has any common sense, can imagine a God without justice.  You cannot conceive of a good king or of a good government that could exist without Justice, much less of God, the Judge and King of all the earth, without justice in His heart.  To imagine Him all love, and no justice, would be to make Him less than God.  He would not be capable of ruling this world if He had not justice in His heart.  There is in man a natural perception of the fact, that if God exists, He must be just; and I can cannot imagine that you can believe in a God, without believing also in the punishment of sin.  It would be difficult to imagine Him elevated high above His creatures, seeing all their disobedience, and yet looking with the same composure upon the good and upon the evil; you cannot imagine Him giving the same reward of praise to the wicked and to the righteous.  The idea of God, assumes justice; and when you say the word "justice" it would be the same as saying the word "God."

2.  But to imagine that there will be no punishment for sin, and that man can be saved without repentance, is to deny all the Scriptures.  What! are the records of divine history nothing?  And if they be true, then God must have God changed drastically, if He no longer punishes sin?  What! did He once rebuke Eden, and drive our parents out of that happy garden, on account of a little theft, as man would class it?  Did He drown the world with water and inundate creation with the floods that He had buried in the heart of the earth?  And will He not punish sin?

Let the burning fire which fell on Sodom testify to you that God is just; let the open mouth of the earth which swallowed up Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, warn you that He will not spare the guilty; let the mighty works of God which He did in the Red Sea, the wonders which He brought on Pharaoh, and the miraculous destruction which he brought on Sennacherib, tell you that God is just.  And would it be out of place for me to mention in the same argument th judgments of God even in our own age; but have there never been such?  This world is not the dungeon where God punishes sin, but still there are instances in which we cannot but believe that He actually did avenge it.  I do not believe that every accident is a judgment; I am far from believing that the death of men and women in a burning theater building is a punishment upon them for their sin, since the same thing has occurred in divine service, to our perpetual sorrow. 

I believe judgment is reserved for the next world; I could not account for providence, if I believed that God punishes here, "Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no!"  It has injured religion for men to say, for instance, that because a boat capsized and the people in it were drowned on the Lord's Day that it was a judgment on those persons.  We assuredly believe that it was sinful to spend the day in pleasure rather than being with God's people in fellowship in the church, but we deny, that it was a punishment from God.  God usually reserves His  punishment for a future state; but yet, we say, there have been a few instances in which we cannot but believe that men and women have been punished for their sins in this life through God's providence. 

I remember one which I hesitate to relate to you.  I saw the wretched creature myself.  He had dared to call down on his head the most awful curses that man could utter.  In his rage and fury he said that he wished his head were twisted on one side, that his eyes were put out, and that his jaws were locked: a moment afterward the lash of his whip--with which he had been cruelly treating his horse--entered his eye, brought on first inflammation, and then lock-jaw, and when I saw him he was just in the very position in which he had asked to be placed, for his head was twisted around, his eyesight was gone, and he could not speak except through his closed teeth. 

You will remember a similar instance happening at Davizes, where a woman declared that she had paid the price of a sack of grain, when in fact she had the money hidden in her hand, and she immediately fell down dead on the spot.  Some of these may have been singular coincidences; but I am not so naive as to suppose that they were brought about by chance, I think the will of the Lord was in it.  I believe they were some faint indications that God was just, and that although the full shower of His wrath does not fall on men in this life, He does pour a drop or two on them, to let us see how He will one day punish the world for its sin.

3.  But why do I have to bring these arguments to you, my listeners?  Your own consciences will tell you that God must punish sin.  You may laugh at me, and say that you have no such "belief."  I did not say you had, but I said that your conscience tells you so, and conscience has more power over men than what they think to be their belief.  As John Bunyan said, "Mr. Conscience had a very loud voice, and though Mr. Understanding shut himself up in a dark room where he could not see, yet he used to thunder out so loudly in the streets, that Mr. Understanding used to shake in his house through what Mr. Conscience said."  And it is true so often.  You say in your understanding, "I cannot believe God will punish sin;" but you know He will.  You don't want to confess your secret fears because to do so would be to give up what you have so often most bravely asserted.  But because you assert it with such boasting and high-sounding words, I think you don't really believe it, for if you did, you would not need to look so big while saying it.  I know this, that when you are sick or hurt that you cry out for mercy.  I know that when you are dying you will believe in a hell.  Conscience makes cowards of us all, and makes us believe, even when we say we don't, that God must punish sin.

Let me tell you a story; I have told it before, but it is a striking one, and sets out in a true light how easily men will be brought in times of danger to believe in a God, and a God of justice too, though they have denied Him before.  In the backwoods of Canada there lived a good minister, who one evening went out to meditate, as Isaac did, in the fields.  He soon found himself on the borders of a forest, which he entered, and walked along a path which had been walked on before him; meditating, and still meditating, until at last the shadows of twilight gathered around him, and he began to think how might have to spend the night in the forest.  He trembled at the idea of remaining there, with the poor shelter of a tree that he would be compelled to climb. 

All of a sudden he saw a light in the distance, among the trees, and thinking that it might be from the window of some cottage where he would find a hospitable retreat, he hurried to it, and, to his surprise saw a space cleared, and trees laid down to make a platform, and upon it a speaker addressing a multitude.  He thought to himself, "I have stumbled on a crowd of people, who in this dark forest have assembled to worship God, and some minister is preaching to them, at this late hour of the evening, concerning the kingdom of God, and His righteousness;" but to his surprise and horror, when he came nearer, he found a young speaking loudly against God, daring the Almighty to do His worst upon him, speaking terrible things in anger against the justice of the Most High, and venturing most bold and awful assertions concerning his own disbelief in a future state. 

It was altogether a extraordinary scene; it was lighted up by a fire of pine- knots which cast a glare here and there, while the thick darkness in other places still reigned.  The people were intent on listening to the speaker, and when he sat down thunders of applause were given to him; each one seeming to emulate the other in his praise.  The minister thought to himself, "I must not let this pass; I must rise and speak; the honor of my God and His cause demands it."  But he was afraid to speak, for he did not know what to say, having come there suddenly; but he would have spoken anyway, had not something else occurred.  A man of middle age, robust and strong, rose, and leaning on his staff, he said: "My friends, I have a word to speak to you tonight.  I am not about to refute any of the arguments of the speaker; I shall not criticize his style; I shall say nothing concerning what I believe to be the blasphemies he has uttered; but I shall simply relate to you a fact, and after I have done that you shall draw your own conclusions."

"Yesterday I walked by the side of the river over there; I saw on its waters a young man in a boat.  The boat was out of control; it was going fast toward the rapids; he could not use the oars, and I saw that he was not capable of bringing the boat to the shore.  I saw that young man wring his hands in agony; in a little while he gave up the attempt to save his life, kneeled down and cried with a desperate sincerity, 'O God! save my soul!  If my  body can't be saved, save my soul.'  I heard him confess that he had been a b

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