Smooth Things

For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely. They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.
~ Jeremiah 6:13-14

They say still unto them that despise me, The LORD hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you.
~ Jeremiah 23:17

If a man walking in the spirit and falsehood do lie, saying, I will prophesy unto thee of wine and of strong drink; he shall even be the prophet of this people.
~ Micah 2:11

For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
~ Romans 16:18

Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?
~ Galatians 4:16

And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.
~ John 8:45

On the Smooth Things By Which Men Are Apt to be Deceived, by Thomas Chalmers. 1834.

Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:
—Isaiah xxx. 10

I propose in the following discourse to instance a few of those deceits and those smooth things which teachers may address to the people who love to be deceived, or wherewith the people themselves lay a flattering unction to their own souls. The first of these which, though not generally ranked among the smooth things, I hold to be the universal deceit, and that in virtue of which we so magnify the present world, give such an exaggerated importance to things present and things sensible, regard time as if it had all the worth and endurance of eternity, and look on eternity as a thing of remote and shadowy insignificance, the care and consideration of which may be indefinitely postponed. This is the false security of all those who make the World their all, who account it their precious and enduring portion on this side of time. It is sometimes ministered to in sermons, and particularly by those clergymen who expatiate much on the respect of good neighbourhood, on the wealth and prosperity of this life, or on other temporal blessings, as great persuasives to a life of virtue; and many are the song of affluence who minister thus deceitfully to themselves, and, like the man in the parable, say, ” Soul, thou hast goods laid up for many years, take thine ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” Now this is a delusion which we would do well in giving no rest to, but should assail by all the arguments of reason and scripture. Our hearers should be reminded, at every turn of the rapid flight of time, of death, and of judgment, and of eternity. They should be told again and again of this, for, however often it be come back upon, men let it slip into forgetfulness, and upon them it comes always once more in the character of a new lesson they have yet to learn. They are the better of being again and again told, that even as manhood is come, so old age will come, and the last sickness will come, and the very last look they will ever cast on their acquaintances will come, and the agony of parting breath will come, and the tune for the coffin that is to enclose them will come, and that hour when the company assembled will carry them to the churchyard will come, and that moment when they shall be thrown into the grave will come, and the spreading of the green sod over it—all, all will come, and in a few short years the minister who now speaks, and the people who now listen, will be carried to their long home. It is just that wealth and worldliness should be taught of their flattering hopes, and on this most levelling of all arguments, the argument of death; they who have even the greatest demand for smooth things from the preacher, of all others ought not to be spared. They should be impressively told, that they are building their chief good upon a foundation that is perishable, that they are labouring for one portion only which will be speedily wrested from them —they are labouring for a portion in this world’s substance, and in the possession of it they shall have their reward; but in regard to the substance which endureth, as for it they never laboured, so it they will never acquire. They have thought to be arrayed in perishable glory, and flutter for an hour in earthly grandeur, but that hour will soon come to its termination, and death shall leave all possessions untouched, but will lay his hard and resist. less hand on the possessor. The house may stand in castellated pride for generations, but; alas! perhaps in half a generation, death may shoot his unbidden way to the innermost apartment, and without spoiling the Lord of his property, he will spoil the property of its Lord. Men yield, and perish, aud fall like useless and forgotten things away from it. It is thus that death smiles in contempt at all human aggrandizement, he lays hold of the occupier, not the things occupied, and this is complete deprivation to him. He does not seize on the wealth, but lays his bard and resistless hand on the owner, and turns the soul adrift on the cheerless waste of an endless and neglected eternity. So much for the first of these smooth things that attaches to what may be called the carnality of our nature.

Now the second of these smooth things which may be addressed from the pulpit, or which men of themselves address to their own consciences, is a meagre and superficial imagination of their guilt, and proportionally to this, a slight apprehension of their danger. They hear a great deal of guilt and corruption and liability to a violated law, but they know not what they have done that should land them in so frightful a consummation. They know not how it is that they should be doomed to eternal misery. They will admit that they have failings, but nothing commensurate to the punishment of hell. There may be some desperadoes in wickedness, a few men, stubborn-hearted men, of fiend-like atrocity, whom the children of this world so little resemble, that the world, that all would shudder at them. These may be fit inmates of that dire pandemonium, but surely, as to those kind and companionable men of our own daily walk, with whom we exchange the offices of hospitality and the smiles of benignity and good-will, you could not assimilate their guilt with that of the daring outcast who passes through life in utter recklessness of all its duties and decencies. This cause of peace is distinct from the former cause. It is a judicial principle that is quite current among men that are at peace, because they do not see that theirs is at all a guilt so heinous as to bring down upon it the burden of a wound conscience, but they see a peace which is no peace, for there in all this a very complete delusion. For a man to be executed he must have outraged the laws of society. Now, if men have acquitted themselves in a tolerable way, what, they will think, have they to fear? But there is another relation to which belong distinct ‘duties, we mean the relation in which man stands, not to each being of big own species, but to the Being who created him. He may have disengaged himself Of all he owes to his fellows on earth, and yet be utterly unmindful of what he owes to heaven. He may have a liking to his fellow-men, yet have felt no attraction to him who is the great Creator and Preserver of men. There may be many a close and mutual reciprocation of mutual esteem and tenderness, and yet the whole of this terrestrial society be in a state of utter disruption from Him who is at once the source and centre of the created universe. The matter of this world might retain its cohesion, but, loosened from its attraction to the sun, it becomes an outcast from the movements of the great mundane system. This is precisely the case with the men of this world. They have broken their affinity to God. They retain many of their affinities to each other, but they live in a general departure from God. It is experimentally true, that the men of compassion and cruelty, who are so differently affected at the sight of distress, may be in the same state of practical indifference to God. It is in the spirit of sound philosophy that humanity, with all her complexional varieties of character between-one specimen and another, may be throughout impregnated with the deep spirit of ungodliness. This is the representation of that Scripture which speaks to us from heaven. When brought to the bar of public opinion, of social and conventional morality among men, you may be fully and honourably acquitted, yet when brought to the bar of higher jurisprudence, there may be laid on you the burden of an overwhelming condemnation. Then ungodliness stands forth, and then the Being who made you takes up His own cause; and then the question is made, not of the claims which men have upon, but of those peculiar claims which God as upon you. Then you are met with the question, what have you done unto God? In reference to the moralities which custom enjoins, there is perhaps not an earthly tribunal before which you might not stand. In reference to that transcendent morality which the enjoins, man’s boasted righteousness melteth away. This language is not too strong for tho guilt and turpitude of that enormity wherewith humanity is chargeable, yet the majority of our world are all unsuspicious of having a heart so vile and enormous. When a son feels a scowl on his countenance or a disregard in his heart towards him earthly you then Can readily admit that no constrained obedience of the hand can atone for the disaffection of the heart; and the parent now feels it the sorest agony of nature, that he should have brought up a. family who do not love him. Then neglect has a painful effect upon him. Yes, we are capable of feeling the utmost indignation when an earthly parent is thus robbed of that moral property which belongs to him and how then shall the far more emphatical obligation to a Father who is in heaven be regarded? What can be made of that great human family which has cast Off the allegiance Of their hearts from him, and turned every one to his own way? Do ye call it nothing that man, if not lifting up the cry of positive rebellion, should be doe, ing all sense of his own universal regardlessness? What think you of man walking through life so heedlessly and independent of his Creator, receiving from his hand the inspiration and breath he draws, but with habitual separation of the soul from him —nourished from his cradle to his grave, by the gifts of an all sustaining providence, and reckless all the while of the giver—selfishly revelling in the midst of the thousand gratifications, but without any gratitude to Him who has poured forth such luxuriance—being every hour under the guardianship of a God who watches over him, and yet with his own eyes almost continually averted from abroad upon a glorious panorama, but without the recognition of hrs unseen benefactor—inhaling fresh delight through every organ of his sentient economy, yet having all his senses steeped, as it were, in forgetfulness of that great Being who has so adapted him to the theatre which he occupies, that the air, the water, the earth, and all the elements of surrounding nature are administering to his enjoyment! You know how is denounced the ingratitude of a child to his earthly parent; and is there no denouncement against the ingratitude to our unseen, but constant benefactor? You know bow to feel for the agony of a Vent’s wounded bosom; and is there billing in that voice which says, Behold I have stretched forth my hand, and no man regarded? With what feelings should we regard the guilt of creatures who have dishonoured their Creator? the deep criminality of that soul that has departed from its God? I consider the acceptance of this smooth thing as the greatest bar in the way of gaining acceptance to man from the ordinances of religion. If people are under the imagination that there is a slight disease, they will be satisfied with a very dight remedy, and the connexion between the application of a slight remedy, and the failure of the cure is obvious. That man will not see his need of a severe application, who does not see his disease to be of an aggravated nature. He will only consent to a cure that will be superficial also—and it is with the hurt of the soul, as with the hurt of the body, the malady may be fatal, but if the patient think not so, he will be glad to put out of the way the very mildest of sanatives. And thus it is with those who slightly and smoothly feel the hurt of their own souls. They will not go to the physician with them. The Lamb of God tells them to wash out their sins in his blood, and beckons their approach to, that fountain of perfection which has been opened in the house ofJudah; but they care not for the virtue of that atonement through which the foulness of guilt may be done away, and still loss for the operation of that regenerating power which shall reach the heart, and turn all its affections from the world unto God. They will look for safety in another way than by a dark and dreary passage of spiritual distress, than in a translation into the marvellous light of the Gospel, and than by a general of so as to form them peculiar people, whose converge is in heaven, and whose great business on earth, is to, perfect their holiness. They would, therefore, decline the whole question of their eternity, or take their own way of salvations. and with upon a slender reformation to get as comfortably as they.

Now, it strikes me, that this second is very nearly connected with the third of the smooth things which I shall instance. A man who feels his disease so slight, will be satisfied with a very slight remedy; and accordingly the remedy which men are satisfied with, is resting on the general merciful of God. God is represented as a Being of tenderness, thus making it the whole character of the Godhead, and in this way lulling themselves into a deceitful security—not thinking of one set of attributes, justice, truth, and righteousness, but keeping these in the background, and bringing in the foreground, God being of universal tenderness and benignity, and who will not be severe on the follies of his poor erring creatures. The third, then, of the smooth things, is a false trust in the general mercy of God. They who are under this delusion, look unto God as a God of tenderness, and nothing else, In the employment of the imagery of domestic life, they ascribe to Him the fondness rather than the authority of a Father. In the ingenuity of their imagination there is not the slightest approach to severity, and far less sternness of character. There is but one expression they will tolerate, that Of gentleness and complacency—all else is banished from their creed, and is no sooner offered to their notice, than all their antipathies are put in arms against it. The smile of an indulgent Deity is that with which they constantly regale themselves, while the scowl of an indignant Deity is that upon which they would most carefully shut their eyes. They would admit of no other aspect of religion than that of uniform blessedness, and they appeal to all that is mild and merciful. They look on the soft and flowery landscape, or towards that evening sky behind the inimitable touches of whose loveliness one could almost wish to rest, and infer all that is benignant in the Creator. Confining our prospects to the realities with which earth is peopled, and leaving the fields of poesy, and viewing the waving field or placid lake, it is most readily thought, that surely he from whose creating touch all this loveliness has arisen, must himself be altogether gracious, benignant, and merciful. At present, we do not stop to observe, that if the divinity is to be interpreted by the spirit of nature, nature has earthquakes, hurricanes, and thunders, as well as the other things on which they love to dwell, but we hold it of more importance to remark, that the delusion which i’ thus fostered, is not confined to the sons and daughters of poetry. It is a delusion that may be recognised in humble life, and which we believe to be of standing operation on our most untutored peasantry. I have often heard from people In humble life, such expressions as, we are poor frail creatures, and God never made us to die. There is a disposition even among the poorest of society to build upon the goodness of the divine character. They ascribe a certain facility of temperament to Heaven’s sovereign, a sort of easy good nature of which they avail themselves. They fondly dwell on the maxim, that God is ever ready to pardon. It is this beholding of the goodness, without along with it the severity of God, that lulls the human spirit into a fatal complacency with its own state and prospects. It is this in virtue of which man may take to himself the privilege of sinning just as much as he pleases. From this fearful state of relaxation arise this dislike for a religion of gloom, and this demand for a religion of cheerfulness and pleasure. It is thus that men keep out of view the holiness, and justice, and high sovereign state which compose the awfulness of the character of Deity. It is this that serves to break down the fence between obedience and sin, to nullify all moral government, and, by tampering as it does With the authority of the divine jurisprudence, to overspread the face of our world with a deep and erroneous security, at the very time that each may be walking in the counsel of his own heart. Now, this delusion requires very strenuous management on the part of the minister who is faithful, for its exposure. In expounding the character of God, and more especially his ways to men, the faithful minister cannot too frequently enter his protest against the smooth thing which I have noticed. He cannot too loudly and frequently maintain to his hearers, that there is a righteousness on the part of God—that there is a law which will not be trampled upon—that there is a lawgiver that will not be insulted—that there is a throne of high jurisprudence that is guarded and upheld by all the secrets of truth, and a voice of authority of which we are told that heaven and earth shall pass away, ere one of its words pass away. In the economy of the government under which we sit, there is no compromise with sin—the face of God is unchangingly set against it. There is no toleration with God for what is impure or unholy. There may an access be found in his goodness towards the sinner, but towards the sin there is nothing save unsparing warfare. Sitting, as he does, in lofty and unapproachable sacredness, he cannot feel the least toleration for sin, but in that way in which his justice shall be vindicated. And surely, my brethren, were we to read the Bible, we would be convinced that these views accord with the real nature of God. What displays, for example, have we in Scripture the history of God’s hatred of sin, from which the august Being who presides over the world has never once been known to change! In the whole history of God’s ways, we cannot light upon a single instance of his falling back from the severity of justice—-not from the hour of the one transgression of our first parent—not from the flood which rained down from heaven to wash away wickedness from the face of a world that Heaven could no longer tolerate—not from the promulgation of the Law from Mount Sinai, when the thunder and lightnings gave awful demonstration of its authority-—not from the entrance of Israel into the promised land, when God, to avouch the truth and terror of his judgments, gave forth his edict to exterminate the nations who were before him—not from the subsequent dealings of many with his own perverse children among he sent famine und pestilence, and against whom all his prophecies of evil were felt; and, lastly, not in that terrible period when the Jewish economy was swept away, even the cries of a compassionate Saviour did not avert the approaching overthrow. In all this there is a lesson for us. How awful are the threats of Heaven against impurity! Let us then beware of laying any flattering mention to our own souls. But while we thus expose the vanity of this confidence in the general mercy of God, the Gospel mercy cannot be too freely and fully and affectionately urged on the hearts Of sinners. I do not like to pass from the third to the fourth delusion, with the view of exposing it, without one passing reference, at least, to the sure and infallible way in which all who put their trust in God’s mercy, on the footing on which he proposes it, will most certainly be saved. You should be told, then, that though God is a God whose justice must be vindicated, it is not because of his delight in the sufferings of his creatures, ‘but because of his justice, and holiness, and truth. His delight is in the happiness of that sentient nature which he himself has formed, and except it be to the injury ‘of those high moral attributes, he ever rejoices in scattering the fruits of his beneficence over a grateful and rejoicing family. When he is vindictive it is because of the righteousness of his character, and because the stability of a righteous character demands it. Could he so manage it as that this lofty connexion would not suffer by it, could the sacredness of the Godhead, of which so direct a manifestation is given in his work of vengeance, be carried forward to a work of mercy, then would we be assured that he has no pleasure in the death of his children, after such a way had been opened up and cleared of all its impediments, would appear alone causing his grace and goodness clearly to descend and spread over even to the utmost limits of his sensible creation. It is this which distinguishes the evangelical mercy, which is gratuitously held out to the acceptance of all, from that general mercy in which so many confide, but by which none can be saved. Were we asked, in brief definition, to state what that is which embraces in the Gospel its essential characteristic, we should say a mercy in awful conjunction with righteousness. It magnifies and does honour to the law in which it cancels the guilt that has been ‘incurred. All the exhibition that God could have given of his character is still given unmutilated. The mercy of the gospel mixes with the truth of the law.

The fourth and last, and here I shall be brief, of the smooth things which I shall instance, is that which many, and some of those who are called the professing people of God, love to be told of from the pulpit, or to cherish, in the secret complacency Of their own hearts, a certain antinomian security which they connect with the doctrines of grace and justification by faith. This is a delusion which cannot be too frequently protested against. It stands opposed to all the tenor of the New Testament, and Christianity is everywhere represented as a busy, laborious, ever-doing, and pains-taking service; and, therefore, when we see people reposing on their orthodoxy and making use of it as a soporific to lull themselves, we should ply them with questions founded on the true representation which the New Testament gives. Are they running so as that they may obtain? Are they ‘fighting so as that they may gain a bard won victory? ‘Are they striving so as that they may force an entrance at the strait gate! Where, we ask, are there any symptoms of warfare? There is whole host of people who do stand forth and signalize themselves as the religious Of the day; but amid all their appearance and profession where is the practical result? Where is the strenuous, the sustained effort that cometh out from the heart and willing hands? How few are there who are labouring for heaven, as pressed with the conviction that without labour they will not obtain it, and that even after the utmost labour they will scarcely reach the goal? Surely, if they proceeded on this view of the matter, the appearance would be that Of men upon the stretch, Of men in a state of constant and great urgency, and who are beset with many obstacles. Now, we scarcely meet with. this degree of intensity, not certainly among all, if indeed among any. of those who are called the professing Christians. They have more the semblance of men who have been lulled asleep by the sound of a pleasant song, than of men roused to action. Their orthodoxy acts rather as a sedative than a stimulant. They are more like men under under the power of a lethargy than in readiness for service, having their loins girt and their lamps burning. Christianity is deeply injured whenever it is imagined that this activity and labour is not needed. They are sadly misled in creeds who fancy that the death of Christ is that in which the believer has only to rest and do nothing. Instead of this it is the starting post. Christ gave himself for us,” says the Apostle, ” that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.” The faith of the gospel go enlarges the heart as to make him on whom it has acted run in the way of its commandments. The work which is given a Christian to do is not a work done so easily that it may be lightly, carelessly, or superficially gone about, but of such difficulty that they who do accomplish it, accomplish it scarcely. Keep thy heart with all diligence. To keep a strict and resolute guardianship over the inner man amid the temptations by which he is plied from without, and most insidiously operated on from within—to follow after peace when surrounded by provocatives for war—to maintain charity—to be patient under calumny and injustice, and master that most difficult of all achievements, the love of enemies—to put away all the incitements of sensuality, is at once difficult and arduous. In addition to the labours of the unseen spirit we have to labour in our closets, in our families, in the ordinances of religion, in attention to offices of social intercourse, in the visitations of liberality and kindness. These are the toils of Christianity here. These are the treasures laid up for us in heaven, but not as forming our title-deeds to the glorious inheritance of the saints. All the possible acts and virtues Of humanity cannot build up a claim, but they form an indispensable character—they compose not that imputed righteousness of Christ, but that personal righteousness of his disciples, which is their essential qualification. These mark the work and labour of Christianity such, that it scarcely can be done. These give emphatic truth to the saying, t’ That the righteous can scarcely be saved.”— Awake, therefore, if you would escape the fearfulness, the doom of those who say Lord, Lord, while they do not the will of their Father who is in heaven. I add no more. Amen.