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TO SOULS IN AGONY - ADAPTED FROM C. H. SPURGEON
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Dr. B. H. Carroll, founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, called C. H. Spurgeon, "The greatest preacher since Paul." Evangelist D. L. Moody said, "I have read everything by Spurgeon I can get my hands on." Dr. W. A. Criswell said, "When I get to Heaven, after I see the Saviour and my own dear family, I want to see Charles Haddon Spurgeon. To me he is the greatest preacher who has ever lived. The Apostle Paul wrote the inspired Word. Spurgeon interprets it in all its rich meaning to my heart."
This morning it is my privilege to deliver to you as best I can the basic thoughts of a sermon by Spurgeon on Psalm 116:3, 4, and 8. I am not giving all of his sermon. It was originally printed in 1874, while the great preacher was absent from his pulpit due to illness.
Here, then, is an abbreviated version of Spurgeon's sermon, titled, "To Souls in Agony" (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 21, Pilgrim Publications, sermon number 1,216). I am giving it in a shortened form, and in modern English.
"The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul… For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling" (Psalm 116:3, 4, 8).
I will apply the text as a description of the condition of an awakened sinner. I will speak of a sinner under conviction. I will speak, first, of his soul's condition; then of his course of action (what he should do); and of his deliverance.
I. First, here is the wretched condition into which
many an awakened person has been brought.
From our text I am saying that an awakened conscience feels the sorrows of death. You may have griefs similar to those who are on their death beds. I went through that state of mind myself, and I will describe it to you. What are the sorrows of death?
One of the sorrows of death comes by the dying sinner looking back. He sees nothing in his past life that gives him comfort. He may become so miserable that he wishes he had never been born. Many a person who has been awakened to his sinfulness has felt, like John Bunyan did, that he would rather have been born a toad or a snake, instead of a man who lived as he has lived. Have you ever felt, or are you now beginning to feel, that sorrow of death? Some of us have felt it quite strongly.
Another sorrow of death is grief over the present. The dying man knows that all his strength and hope are gone. His health is gone. He is very different now that he is dying than he used to be, and he knows it. It is the same way with an awakened sinner. He feels the sickness of sin destroying him. The Holy Spirit blows upon a person and destroys his hopes, till the man is sick to death of himself. An awakened sinner is like a dying man. He feels death in his soul. He used to think he could repent and believe, and save himself whenever he wanted. But now the cold reality of death has come over him, and he hears Christ say,
"Without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5).
A person can feel paralyzed when he is thoroughly awakened. Such a person sees his strength leaving him. Then the sorrows of death get ahold of him.
Another sorrow of death, when you are awakened, comes when you find out that friends cannot help you. The wife and children of a dying man cannot help him. They wish they could, but they cannot. The love your family and friends have for you cannot help you now. In the same way, the awakened sinner discovers that no other human being can help him, not even the pastor. His sickness is too terrible for any person he knows to find a cure for it. His wound is too deep for anyone he knows to sew it up and heal it. The sorrows of death, in these ways, surround him.
Probably the worst sorrow in the death of the ungodly man is the prospect of the future. The past is bad, but the future is even worse. The dying man trembles at the thought of his awful future - and so does the awakened sinner. I myself, before I was converted, was afraid. I felt doomed by my sin. In this way many sinners feel the sorrows of death surround them. They are all around them - these sorrows of the past, the present, and the future.
This description becomes even more graphic in the next sentence. Awakened sinners sometimes feel what they describe as the pains of Hell. This does not mean that they feel the actual pains of Hell. But what they feel is a foretaste of the pains they will feel some day in Hell. And those pains may be, and often are, experienced by an awakened conscience. What are these pains of Hell?
First, there is the pain of remorse, a sorrow for sin because of its penalty, a dreadful horror of the thought of having lived a life of sin. The awakened sinner sees that God is just and right to punish him for his sins. When I felt this, I cried,
"My soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than life"
Another of the pains of Hell is a sense of condemnation. Lost souls are called the "damned" - in other words, the condemned. Surely some of us, before we believed in Jesus, felt that we were condemned.
"Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them" (Galatians 3:10).
I knew that I had not continually obeyed everything in the law of God at all times. I knew I could not be saved by keeping the law, because I could not obey it perfectly. I knew that I was under a curse for not obeying God's law completely. I was under judgment, condemned, under a curse.
And then I read in the Bible,
"He that believeth not is condemned already" (John 3:18).
Condemned already! I was cursed for not obeying the law. I was condemned already for not believing on the Son of God! Cursed and condemned - let those who have experienced it tell you - it feels like the pains of Hell.
Probably the worst pain of an awakened conscience is the sense of hopelessness that comes, a terrible despair, unrelieved by any hope of improvement in the future. Some of us were driven to that, too. All hope of being saved was lost. Since I had rejected Jesus before, I feared that His mercy was gone forever. May Christ deliver you from that awful whirlpool of hopelessness. Yes - hopelessness is one of the pains of Hell that awakened sinners sometimes feel.
There is another pain of Hell which the awakened feel - and that is a crushing sense of misery. Though not in Hell yet - some of you feel as bad as if you were there - remorse, condemnation and despair. These hymns express feelings like that:
O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see?
(Helen H. Lemmel, 1864).
Not the labors of my hands Can fulfill Thy law's demands.
(Augustus Toplady, 1740-1778).
Not what these hands have done Can save this guilty soul;
Not what this toiling flesh has borne Can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do Can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears Can ease my awful load.
("Not What These Hands Have Done" by Horatius Bonar, 1808-1889).
These are the feelings that awakened sinners often experience.
"The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me. I found trouble and sorrow" (Psalm 116:3-4).
The sorrows of death - the memories, the present situation, the horrible future - the pains of Hell - condemnation, hopelessness, a crushing sense of misery - often come to a person who is being awakened by the Spirit of God.
Thus I have taken the two great sentences of the text - "The sorrows of death compassed me," and "The pains of hell gat hold upon me." But the case was worse than this. The awakened soul found no relief and no escape. These things were felt in all their terror. Notice the language, "The sorrows of death compassed me." It is a very strong word. When hunters seek their prey they often make a circle around the entrapped animal. The poor, panting creature looks to the right, but a man with a spear is there. He looks to the left, and there are the dogs. In front of him and behind him are more men with spears, more hounds, more hunters. There is no way to escape. In the same way an awakened sinner sees no rescue, no way that he can escape.
The text says, "The pangs [pains] of hell gat hold upon me." "Gat hold," as if the jaws of a lion had clamped down on him, or the arms of a gorilla were crushing the poor man. Many an awakened sinner has felt that God has got ahold of him - and will throw him into Hell for his sins. Many have felt like that - and have felt they could not escape. Some people who have never known conviction lightly ask, "Why don't they just stop feeling like that - or say a quick prayer - and get it over with?" This is foolishness. Would you ask a man who has had both legs broken why he doesn't walk home? When a person is broken to pieces, tell him what Christ did for him - and say very little about what he should do.
Once more, the Psalmist felt no comfort from any of the efforts he made. He said, "I found trouble and sorrow." That means he looked for something, but the only thing he found was trouble and sorrow. You can come to church, but if you think that coming to church will save you, you will only find trouble and sorrow. Yes, you should come to church, but there is something else you must do. If all you do is come to church, you will find trouble and sorrow. You must come to Christ!
None but Jesus, none but Jesus Can do helpless sinners good.
("Come, Ye Sinners" by Joseph Hart, 1712-1768).
That brings me to the last part of this sermon.
II. Second, the awakened sinner's course of action.
What did he do? He called on the name of the Lord. "Then called I upon the name of the Lord." Oh sinner, if God has been at work on you, and awakened you to your awful condition, call upon the Lord now. The sinner had forgotten the Lord until then, but now he remembered the Lord. No one but the Lord can help you if you fear Hell, and are filled with trouble and sorrow over your sins. Jesus died on the Cross to pay for your sins. He rose from the dead to give you life. Call on Jesus and He will save you from sin, the grave, and Hell itself.
When did he call? "Then called I upon the name of the Lord." When his condition was at its very worst, then he called on the Lord. Why didn't he wait until he was a better person? He knew that waiting is dangerous. "Then called I." As the song put it,
If you tarry till you're better, You will never come at all.
("Come, Ye Sinners," ibid.).
"Then called I." That is, when I could call on no one else but the Lord. No sinner ever calls upon Christ until he finds that he has nowhere else to go to. Although you only come when there is nowhere else to go, yet Jesus will receive you - because He loves you.
And now for the prayer itself. There it is, in verse four:
"O Lord, I beseech thee [I beg thee, I plead to thee], deliver my soul" (Psalm 116:4).
It was a very natural prayer. He just said what he meant - and he meant what he said. And that is the way to pray.
It was a very short prayer. Many prayers are too long. The important thing is not how long you pray, but whether you really mean what you pray - how earnestly you pray. "O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul." It was like the publican's prayer, "God be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:13). It was like the prayer of the thief who was dying on the cross beside Jesus, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom" (Luke 23:42). "O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul." It was a short and earnest prayer.
Turn all your desires toward Jesus, and let this be the intense prayer of your heart, "O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul."
This poor sinner got what he asked for. Look at verse eight:
"For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling" (Psalm 116:8).
His prayer was answered! He got what he asked for!
My sins had brought me near the grave,
The grave of black despair,
I look'd, but there was none to save
Till I look'd up in prayer.
(Psalm 30 by C. H. Spurgeon, 1834-1892).
But I want you to notice that he got more than he asked for. He prayed, "O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul." Christ did deliver his soul - but he got two other things as well.
He got deliverance, but he also got his tears wiped away, and he was also delivered from falling. God took away his tears and made him stable as well. Through the grace of God, David was delivered from spiritual death, and the eternal death to which it leads. The tears were wiped away from his eyes. Forgiveness brings joy whenever it comes. And then, having gained salvation and joy, the Lord gave him stability. The fear of future apostasy was removed.
Grace will complete what grace begins,
To save from sorrows or from sins;
The work that wisdom undertakes
Eternal mercy ne'er forsakes.
(Psalm 138 by Isaac Watts, 1719).
Last of all - these same blessings can be yours. You can pray the same prayer, and receive the same deliverance, because Christ is the same Saviour. God says to you, "Believe on my Son, Jesus Christ. Trust Him wholly and your soul is delivered." "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31).
Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched, Weak and wounded, sick and sore,
Jesus ready stands to save you, Full of pity, joined with power:
He is able, He is able, He is willing, doubt no more.
("Come, Ye Sinners" by Joseph Hart, 1712-1768).
Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Psalm 116:1-8.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
"Come, Ye Sinners" (by Joseph Hart, 1712-1768).
THE OUTLINE OF
TO SOULS IN AGONY - ADAPTED FROM C. H. SPURGEON
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
"The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul…For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling" (Psalm 116:3, 4, 8).
I. The wretched condition into which many an awakened
II. The awakened sinner's course of action, Psalm 116:4;
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