An Unanswerable Question
A question asked by Christ, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”Matthew 16:26.
Possibly you have observed that a great deal of the teaching of Jesus was by the method of interrogation. He was always asking questions. I find that during the last few days of His life, He asked upwards of fifty different questions of His disciples, such as, “Who do men say that I, the Son of man, am?”; “Who do you say that I am?”; “Will ye also go away?”; “Could you not watch with me one hour?”
I have just quoted these at random, but you will find if you keep that thought in mind, that it was a favorite method of the Master to teach by interrogation. And the answer to the question was the lesson He desired to teach. Many of these questions of the Bible are absolutely unanswerable. The text, for instance, “What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
If you can find an answer to that question, I would like you to let me have it. “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”
A Two-Fold Meaning
These and many other questions of the Scripture are absolutely unanswerable. The word translated “soul” in the text has a two-fold meaning. The same Greek word is elsewhere translated, “life.” What shall a man be profited if he gain the whole world, and lose his life? So I take it that there is a two-fold meaning here. A man may have his soul saved at last but have lost his life, but it is your privilege, and the desire of God that both your soul and your life should be saved.
You remember that on one occasion, Jesus coming to a certain village, sent some of His disciples before Him that they might make ready to receive Him as He passed by. I do not think that He desired them to give Him a reception, but I think He desired the sick folks, the sorrowing, and those who were in despair to be brought out, that He might heal them. When He came to that village the people turned away from Him. Luke says, “They did not receive Him because His face was as though He would go to Jerusalem.” These people were prejudiced against the Jews and their place of worship. So they would not receive Him because He made as though He would go to Jerusalem.
Even the best of us may fall, and fail at our strongest point. So John, who was noted for his tenderness and love, was the man who wanted to call down fire from Heaven and burn these people up. He said: “Master, wilt thou call down fire from Heaven and burn them up?” Jesus said: “You know not what manner of spirit ye are of.”If ever you feel like burning anybody up you had better ask yourself a question or two about your Christianity. Sometimes Christians feel like John felt. The natural heart is a very deceitful thing and it is desperately wicked. Jesus said: “John, that is not of Me. That might have done well enough back in the days of the law, but this is the day of grace, and the day of mercy, and I have ‘not come to destroy men’s lives; I have come to save them.’”
I talked to a company of boys and girls this afternoon in the Friendship Club, and I was trying to impress upon them that great truth that Christ desires to save the WHOLE MAN.
Let me give you an illustration. A very wealthy man out in this Western country, some time ago, was passing away. His time had come, and for days he was lying there upon his bed, and in those days he began to reckon values in the light of God’s throne, and he made a decision for Christ and became a Christian. He called his only son to his bedside, and said to him: “Son, I presume that you think your father has made a great success of life.” “Yes,” said the boy, “All this state, all this country would consider you a successful man. No man has made a greater success in life than you have.”
“My boy, I have called you here to tell you that is a mistake. I have been a miserable failure. I have gathered about me many things that the world calls great and good, but these things wither and decay, and I must leave them. I find I have lost the biggest and best there is in life. Here at the end of my earthly career I am making a decision that I should have made at the beginning. God is love. His mercy is higher than the heavens, or He would not have saved a sinner such as I am; He has saved me, but I am going into His presence and I have nothing to show for my life upon Earth.”
His soul was saved, but he had lost his life. One of our hymns expresses it. The writer of this hymn was facing the same problem. Going into eternity, having accepted Christ a few days before, but with the thought of coming into God’s presence without anything that could be put to his credit.
“Must I go—and empty-handed?
Thus my dear Redeemer meet?
Not one day of service give Him?
Lay no trophy at His feet?
“Not at death I shirk or falter,
For my Saviour saves me now;
But to meet Him empty-handed,
Tho’t of that now clouds my brow.”
Do you see what I mean, brother? You may have your soul saved at the last, but you may lose your life.
Let me give you two pictures from the Scriptures. A man that had wasted all his substance in riotous living. A man who had become so degraded that we have no way of identifying him but by his crime—the “dying thief,” crucified for his crime in the last moment cries out, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” And Jesus Christ seems to have forgotten that he was dying, in His great desire and willingness to save a soul, and turning to the thief, He said: “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.”
Thank God for grace!Thank God for a Saviour that never casts out any man! A thief dying on the cross in the morning is banqueting with Jesus in the kingdom in the evening. “Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” That is salvation through grace. A SAVED SOUL, BUT A LOST LIFE.
Here is another. A young man, a scholar, with every prospect before him to make a great name in the world. He gets a soul vision of Jesus and he has the courage to acknowledge his sin. Standing on his feet, he cries: “Jesus, what wilt thou have me to do?” Jesus told him what to do and where to go. “Thou art a chosen vessel.”And that man, with tears, by night and by day, over land and seas, went forth to herald this great message of the Cross, until the whole world felt the throb of power that God had given to him. He is dying in prison. They are going to take his head off, but hear him shout:
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
“Henceforth, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.”
“For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Not everybody that dies a Christian can talk like that. Most people who are Christians will go into His presence like the dying thief—empty-handed. Oh God! Grant that I, on that day, may be able to come rejoicing, bringing some sheaves with me! Don’t you want that, beloved friend? “What is my crown? What will be my rejoicing,” asks Paul. “Are not ye in the presence of the Lord at His coming?” If there is anything that will make a man gladder than Heaven itself, it will be to look into the face of a few people that he has influenced to come to Jesus Christ.
I am going to ask you, if you are a Christian man or woman, or a sinner, for that matter, to read the third chapter of 1 Corinthians, where Paul speaks about us coming some day into the presence of Christ, to have our works tried. Not being judged for any sin. No man that places his faith in Jesus as his Saviour will ever have to stand at the judgment bar and answer for his sins. He bared His back to the smiter. He took the penalty of my sins and bore them on the Cross. There is no judgment to them that are in Christ Jesus. Thank God for that! Isn’t that worthwhile? So clean does He wipe the slate of your past sins that they will never be brought against you any more.
Our Works Tested
But every man must give an account of himself before God. Our works will be tried of what sort they be. They will be tested as by fire. Paul says, if any man’s works stand the test, he will receive a reward. I will never be rewarded for being saved, but I WILL BE REWARDED FOR MY SERVICE. If any man’s works be burned up, he will suffer loss. The loss of his soul? No! No! He himself shall be saved, but his works will be burned up.What shall a man profit if he gain the whole world, and lose his life?
The text has another meaning. The Master is speaking about the spiritual capacity of man, or, shall I say, about that part of you and me that is going to survive the death of the body. I have a feeling that the immortality of the soul is innate in the human breast. Men cannot get away from it. They cannot make themselves believe that when they lie down in death, and the body is carried out to the burial place, that is the end of it. There is that conviction that SOMEWHERE IN ANOTHER REALM THEY WILL LIVE AGAIN.
A young woman whom I knew well had made a misstep in her early life. One night in a low dance hall a young woman died in her presence. This seemed to awaken her conscience, and one of the first places she attended was a meeting of this character. The preacher was talking about the “Unpardonable Sin,” and he made out that it was some heinous thing that men and women do, and God left them forever. As she listened she came to feel that she had committed that sin. In her hopeless condition she went out of that meeting, and down to the foot of the street and walked out on the Bay front, making up her mind that as she came near she would walk in the Bay and bury her shame.
When she came to the edge of the wharf, the electric light threw her shadow on the water and it arrested her. She said, “Oh, I could not do it for I was afraid to meet God!”
If you could make humanity doubt the IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL you would have ten thousand suicides in Chicago for every one you have now. There is the conviction in the human breast that WE SHALL LIVE AGAIN. If I understand the teaching of the Scripture, that great truth is plainly taught throughout the New Testament. Well now, this soul that shall survive the death of the body, may be lost.That is suggested by the text, “For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
The soul may be lost in two ways. Recoverably, like the sheep in the story of the Good Shepherd, away on the mountains bleeding and torn; like the boy in the far country, that for a long while managed to forget his home and his father, but in time his mind went back to the old father’s home and love, and he said: “I will arise and go home.” The father ran and met him and then called for great rejoicing, because he that was lost had been found.
It is a great thing when you recognize that you are lost, like that boy. It is a great thing when you recognize that you are lost, like that sheep, for when you recognize it you will find the Good Shepherd is right at your side to save you. Whenever I hear a man say that he is a sinner, and I believe he is in earnest, I know that right near that man is a Saviour, just waiting to take his sin away.
We had a poor fellow in our hospital. One day at noon when I went to pray with him, in the hour of his death, I talked to him first about his sickness. He said, “That is not bothering me. I am dying and I am afraid to meet God.”
I read him some passages of Scripture, and said: “I am going to kneel down here to pray.” It was in a ward, and I said to him: “Try to follow me as I pray.” And I only said one or two sentences when he sobbed right out so that everybody heard him. “Oh God, I AM SUCH A SINNER!”
You may feel that you are pretty good down here, but when you recognized, like this poor fellow, that you are coming into the presence of God, even your righteousness will be as filthy rags. I almost shouted for joy when I heard that man cry out, for I know when you can get a sinner in that spirit, he is going to cross over the line from darkness to light. It is a great thing to find out that you are lost in that way.
BUT IT MEANS BEING LOST IN ANOTHER WAY. Irrevocably lost, where no message of salvation ever comes. Lost where no Saviour ever seeks to save. Lost where the cry for help is never heard.
Listen! I am not trying to terrify you, but I have been facing these Scriptures for years, and of late years, when the tendency seems to be to let up on this subject of sin, I have had to fall on my face and pray that God would give me courage to be true, no matter what the cost might be, and tell men the truth regarding the matter of sin and eternal death. Nearly every picture in the Bible of a lost soul was painted by Jesus Christ Himself. Not by Peter, not by Paul, not by John, but by Jesus.
You remember the man who came to the wedding feast without the wedding garment, how they bound him hand and foot. Jesus said: “Cast him into outer darkness.”
Don’t find fault with me. Those are the words of Jesus. Back of the picture there is a terrible reality, or Jesus was a deceiver. A poor man dies at a rich man’s gate. He is carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also dies and is buried, and “in hell lifts up his eyes, being in torment.” Jesus said it—not me. The rich man cried: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame.”
There is a great gulf fixed in spite of all the mediums in creation, so that the good cannot come to the bad. Thank heaven! The rich man said, “Well, if I cannot get any relief, I would like you to send somebody from this world to preach to my brothers, who are also sinners.”
Now, if it is possible for the spirit of a good godly mother or a good godly brother to come back and preach the gospel, I believe they would have been sent at that time from Heaven, to preach the gospel to those boys that were in that rich man’s house.
But listen! Nobody will be sent from the place of peace. If he comes he must come from some other place. There is no sin in all the world that is so surely under God’s curse as the sin of dealing with witchcraft or necromancy. No! said Jesus, “They cannot pass from us; they have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.”
Let us look at that picture. A man crying in torment desires a change. No change can be made. He has fixed his destiny. I suppose I will get a lot of letters because of this sermon. I never preach a sermon like this without stirring up opposition. Believing as I do in the Word of God, I would be cruel if I did not preach it. I want to be honest and fair with you in bringing this story to you. I don’t bring it because it is any pleasure to me. I wish that every one in this place could turn and escape the sufferings of a lost soul.
And let me say this also. YOUR SOUL MAY BE SAVED TONIGHT, AND YOU MAY KNOW IT NOW! Isn’t that pointed enough? It may all take place RIGHT NOW. Why do I believe that? “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son that we might not perish.” What is the great truth there? You will perish if you do not believe in Him. God so loved the world that HE GAVE His Son that we MIGHT NOT PERISH but have EVERLASTING life. Jesus gave His life on Calvary. He tasted death for every man. He died the just for the unjust. And “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” “Him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out.” I know it because of these great truths of the Scripture, and I can give you a testimony of fact.
“I came to Jesus as I was.
Weary, and worn, and said;
I found in Him a resting-place,
And He hath made me glad.”
Oh, thank God for that glad day! G-L-A-D! What a word that is. He has made me glad. God bless you, men, don’t you think a fellow can know when he is glad? Don’t you think, when you are hungry and have had a good meal, you will know it? I remember when the pains of hell got hold upon me. When I took a look at the Cross, He made me glad. But again, if your soul is ever lost, you alone will be responsible.I know there are hypocrites in the church. I know there are a lot of folks that make Christianity a cloak. They come to us as lambs, but inwardly they are as wolves. But the inconsistencies of all other people will not serve as an excuse for you.
“What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” It is your “OWN SOUL,” and if you lose it, it is your losing and you are alone responsible.
Let us take the full value of Christ’s words. If you gain the whole world, what would you have? Only something that is PERISHABLE, “For the world passeth away.”It cannot satisfy you, “for the desire of it also passeth away.”
Oh Brother, there is nothing that can compensate you; nothing to look to if you lose your own soul. “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Jesus Christ is in this building tonight. He is standing right at your heart. He is saying, “If you will open the door I will come in to you, and will sup with you.” If I can be honest at all, take my word for it—if you will meet these conditions you will know that your soul is saved, as well as you know your name. Blessed be God for evermore!
Now, I am going to leave you to answer the question, for when it comes to the saving of the soul, it is an individual matter. You alone can make the decision. It takes courage to do it. God help you!
(NOTE) A very solemn hush was over the great congregation of people at the close of this sermon, and a number came forward to the inquiry room, the greater part of whom were men.