Guest Writer Thomas DeWitt Talmage
“You have sold yourselves for nothing, and you will be redeemed without money”
The Jews had gone headlong into sin, and as punishment they had been carried captive to Babylon. They found that iniquity did not pay. Cyrus seized Babylon, and felt so sorry for these poor captive Jews that, without a dollar of compensation, he let them go home. So Isaiah’s prophecy was literally fulfilled: “You have sold yourselves for nothing, and you will be redeemed without money.”
Though I never heard of it being preached on, there is enough gospel in this text for fifty sermons. There are persons in this house who have, like the Jews of the text, sold out. You do not belong to yourselves or to God. The title deeds have been passed over to “the world, the flesh, and the devil,” but the purchaser has never paid up. “You have sold yourselves for nothing.”
When a man passes himself over to the world, he expects to receive adequate compensation. He has heard the great things that the world does for a man, and he believes it. He wants $250,000. That will be horses, houses, a summer-resort, and jolly companionship. To get it he parts with his physical health by overwork. He parts with his conscience. He parts with much domestic enjoyment. He parts with opportunities for literary culture. He parts with his soul.
And so he makes over his entire nature to the world, in four installments. He pays down the first installment, and one-fourth of his nature is gone. He pays down the second installment, and one-half of his nature is gone. He pays down the third installment, and three-quarters of his nature are gone. After many years have gone by, he pays down the fourth installment, and, lo, his entire nature is gone! Then he comes up to the world and says, “Good-morning. I have delivered to you the goods. I have passed over to you my body, my mind, and my soul, and I have come now to collect the $250,000.”
“What $250,000?” says the world. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” you say, “I come to collect the money you owe me, and I expect you now to fulfill your part of the contract.”
“But,” says the world, “I have failed. I am bankrupt. I cannot possibly pay that debt. I have not for a long while expected to pay it.”
“Well,” you then say, “give me back the goods.”
“Oh, no,” says the world, “they are all gone. I cannot give them back to you.”
And there you stand on the confines of eternity, your spiritual character gone, staggering under the consideration that “you have sold yourself for nothing.”
I tell you the world is a liar; it does not keep its promises. It is a cheat, and it fleeces everything it can put its hands on. It is a bogus world. It is a 6,000-year-old swindle. Even if it pays the $250,000 for which you contracted, it pays them in bonds that will not be worth anything in a little while. Just as a man may pay down $10,000 in hard cash and get for it worthless scrip—so the world passes over to you the $250,000 in what will not be worth a farthing to you a split-second after you are dead.
“Oh,” you say, “it will help to bury me, anyhow.”
O my brother! You need not worry about that. The world will bury you soon enough, from sanitary considerations. After you have been deceased for three or four days, you will compel the world to bury you.
Post-mortem emoluments [incomes] are of no use to you. The treasures of this world will not pass current in the future world; and if all the wealth of the Bank of England were put in the pocket of your shroud, and you in the midst of the Jordan of death were asked to pay three cents for your ferriage, you could not do it. There comes a moment in your existence beyond which all earthly values fail; and many a man has wakened in such a time to find that he has sold out for eternity, and has nothing to show for it. I should as soon think of going to Chatham Street to buy silk pocket-handkerchiefs with no cotton in them, as to go to this world expecting to find any permanent happiness. It has deceived and deluded every man that has ever put his trust in it.
History tells us of one who resolved that he would have all his senses gratified at one and the same time, and he expended thousands of dollars on each sense. He entered a room, and there were the first musicians of the land pleasing his ear. There were fine pictures fascinating his eye. There were costly aromatics regaling his nostril. There were the richest meats, wines, fruits, and confections pleasing the appetite. There was a soft couch of sinful indulgence on which he reclined. And the man declared afterward that he would give ten times what he had given if he could have one week of such enjoyment, even though he lost his soul by it.
Ah! that was the rub. He did lose his soul by it!
Cyrus the Conqueror thought for a little while that he was making a fine thing out of this world, and yet before he came to his grave, he wrote out this pitiful epitaph for his monument: “I am Cyrus. I occupied the Persian Empire. I was king over Asia. Begrudge me not this monument.” But the world in after years plowed up his sepulcher.
The world clapped its hands and stamped its feet in honor of Charles Lamb; but what does he say? “I walk up and down, thinking I am happy, but feeling I am not.”
Call the roll, and be quick about it.
Samuel Johnson, the learned! Happy? “No. I am afraid I shall someday get crazy.”
William Hazlitt, the great essayist! Happy? “No. I have been for two hours and a half going up and down Paternoster Row with a volcano in my breast.”
Smollett, the witty author! Happy? “No. I am sick of praise and blame, and I wish to God that I had such circumstances around me that I could throw my pen into oblivion.”
Buchanan, the world-renowned writer, exiled from his own country, appealing to Henry VIII for protection! Happy? “No. Over mountains covered with snow, and through valleys flooded with rain, I come a fugitive.”
Molière, the popular dramatic author! Happy? “No. That wretch of an actor just now recited four of my lines without the proper accent and gesture. To have the children of my brain so hung, drawn, and quartered, tortures me like a condemned spirit.”
I went to see a worldling die. As I went into the hall, I saw its floor was tessellated [tiled], and its wall was a picture-gallery. I found his death-chamber adorned with tapestry until it seemed as if the clouds of the setting sun had settled in the room. The man had given forty years to the world—his wit, his time, his genius, his talent, his soul.
Did the world come in to stand by his deathbed, and clearing off the vials of bitter medicine, put down any compensation? Oh, no! The world does not like sick and dying people, and leaves them in the lurch. It ruined this man, and then left him. He had a magnificent funeral. All the ministers wore scarves, and there were forty-three carriages in a row; but the departed man appreciated not the obsequies [funeral rites].
I want to persuade my audience that this world is a poor investment. It does not pay 90 percent satisfaction, nor 80 percent, nor 20 percent, nor 2 percent, nor 1 percent. It gives no solace when a dead babe lies on your lap. It gives no peace when conscience rings its alarm. It gives no explanation in the day of dire trouble. At the time of your decease it takes hold of the pillowcase, shakes out the feathers, then jolts down in their place sighs, groans, and execrations, and then makes you put your head on it.
O you who have tried this world, is it a satisfactory portion? Would you advise your friends to make the investment? No. “You have sold yourselves for nothing.” Your conscience went. Your hope went. Your Bible went. Your heaven went. Your God went.
When a sheriff under a writ from the courts sells a man out, the officer generally leaves a few chairs and a bed, and a few cups and knives; but in this awful vendue [auction] in which you have been engaged, the auctioneer’s mallet has come down on body, mind, and soul: Going. going, gone! “You have sold yourselves for nothing.”
How could you do so? Did you think that your soul was a mere trinket which for a few pennies you could buy in a toy shop? Did you think that your soul, if once lost, might be found again if you went out with torches and lanterns? Did you think that your soul was short-lived, and that, panting, it would soon lie down for extinction?
Or had you no idea what your soul was worth? Did you ever put your forefingers on its eternal pulses? Have you never felt the quiver of its peerless wing? Have you not known that, after leaving the body, the first step of your soul reaches to the stars, and the next step to the farthest outposts of God’s universe, and that it will not die until the day when the everlasting Jehovah expires?
O my brother, what possessed you that you should part with your soul so cheap? “You have sold yourselves for nothing.”
But I have some good news to tell you. I want to engage in a litigation for the recovery of that soul of yours. I want to show that you have been cheated out of it. I want to prove, as I will, that you were crazy on that subject, and that the world, under such circumstances, has no right to take the title deed from you. If you will join me, I shall get a decree from the High Chancery Court of Heaven reinstating you into the possession of your soul.
“Oh,” you say, “I am afraid of lawsuits; they are so expensive, and I cannot pay the cost.”
Then have you forgotten the last half of my text? “You have sold yourselves for nothing, and you will be redeemed without money.”
Money is good for a great many things, but it cannot do anything in this matter of the soul. You cannot buy your way through. Dollars and pounds sterling mean nothing at the gate of mercy. If you could buy your salvation, heaven would be a great speculation, an extension of Wall Street. Bad men would go up and buy out the place, and leave us to shift for ourselves.
But as money is not a lawful tender, what is?
I will answer, “Blood!”
Whose? Are we to go through the slaughter?
Oh, no, it wants richer blood than ours. It wants a King’s blood. It must be poured from royal arteries. It must be a sinless torrent.
But where is the King? I see a great many thrones and a great many occupants, yet none coming to the rescue.
But after a while the clock of night in Bethlehem strikes twelve, and the silver pendulum of a star swings across the sky, and I see the King of heaven rising up, and He descends, and steps down from star to star, from cloud to cloud, lower and lower, until He touches the sheep-covered hills, and then on to another hill, this last skull-covered, and there, at the sharp stroke of persecution, a rill incarnadine [red] trickles down; and we who could not be redeemed by money are redeemed by precious and imperial blood.
We have in this day professed Christians who are so rarefied and etherealized that they do not want a religion of blood. What do you want? You seem to want a religion of brains. The Bible says, “The life is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11). No atonement without blood. Ought not the apostle to know? What did he say? “You are redeemed not with corruptible things, such as silver and gold, but by the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:19). You put your lancet into the arm of our holy religion and withdraw the blood, and you leave it a mere corpse, fit only for the grave. Why did God command the priests of old to strike the knife into the kid, the goat, the pigeon, the bullock, and the lamb? So that when the blood rushed out from these animals on the brazen altar of the ancient Tabernacle, the people should be compelled to think of the coming carnage of the Son of God. No blood, no atonement.
I think that God intended to impress us with the vividness of that color. The green of the grass, the blue of the sky, would not have startled and aroused us like this deep crimson. It is as if God had said: “Now, sinner, wake up and see what the Savior endured for you. This is not water. This is not wine. It is blood. It is the blood of my own Son. It is the blood of the Immaculate One. It is the blood of God.” “Without the shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22).
Many a man in court of law has pled “not guilty,” but nevertheless has been condemned because there was blood found on his hands, or blood found in his room. What shall we do in the Last Day if it be found that we have recrucified the Lord of glory and have never repented of it? You must believe in the blood or die. No escape. Unless you let the sacrifice of Jesus go in your stead, you yourself must suffer. It is either Christ’s blood or your blood.
“Oh,” says someone, “the thought of blood sickens me.”
Good. God intended it to sicken you with your sin. Do not act as though you had nothing to do with that Calvary massacre. You did. Your sins were the implements of torture. Those implements were not made of steel, iron, and wood, so much as of your sins. Guilty of this homicide [crucifying the Son of Man], this regicide [crucifying the King Eternal], and this deicide [crucifying the Son of God], confess your guilt today. Ten thousand voices of heaven bring in the verdict against you of guilty, guilty, guilty! Prepare to die, or believe in that blood. Stretch yourself out for the sacrifice, or accept the Savior’s sacrifice. Do not fling away your one chance.
It seems to me as if all Heaven were trying to bid in your soul. The first bid it makes is the tears of Christ at the tomb of Lazarus; but that is not a high enough price. The next bid Heaven makes is the sweat of Gethsemane; but it is too cheap a price. The next bid Heaven makes is the whipped back of Pilate’s hall; but it is not a high enough price. Can it be possible that Heaven cannot buy you in?
Heaven tries once more. It says, “I bid this time for that man’s soul the tortures of Christ’s martyrdom, the blood on His temple, the blood on His cheek, the blood on His chin, the blood on His hand, the blood on His side, the blood on His knee, the blood on His foot—the blood in drops, the blood in rills, the blood in pools coagulated beneath the cross; the blood that wet the tips of the soldiers’ spears, the blood that plashed warm in the faces of His enemies.”
Glory to God, that bid wins it! The highest price that was ever paid for anything was paid for your soul. Nothing could buy it but blood! The estranged property is bought back. Take it. “You have sold yourselves for nothing, and you will be redeemed without money.” O atoning blood, cleansing blood, life-giving blood, sanctifying blood, glorifying blood of Jesus! Why not burst into tears at the thought that for you He shed it—for you the hard-hearted, for you the lost?
“No,” says someone, “I will have nothing to do with it except that, like the Jews, I put both my hands into that carnage and scoop up both palms full, and throw it on my head and cry, ‘His blood be on us and on our children’ [Matthew 27:25]!”
Can you do such a shocking thing as that? Just rub your handkerchief across your brow and look at it. It is the blood of the Son of God whom you have despised and driven back all these years. Oh, do not do that any longer! Come out frankly, boldly, and honestly, and tell Christ you are sorry. You cannot afford to treat so roughly Him on whom everything depends.
I do not know how you will get away from this subject. You see that you are sold out, and that Christ wants to buy you back. There are three persons who come after you tonight: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They unite their three omnipotences in one movement for your salvation. You will not take up arms against the triune God, will you? Is there enough muscle in your arm for such a combat?
By the highest throne in heaven, and by the deepest chasm in hell, I beg you look out. Unless you allow Christ to carry away your sins, they will carry you away. Unless you allow Christ to lift you up, they will drag you down. There is only one hope for you, and that is the blood. Christ, the sin-offering, bearing your transgressions. Christ, the surety, paying your debts. Christ, the divine Cyrus, loosening your Babylonian Captivity.
Would you not like to be free? Here is the price of your liberation—not money, but blood. I tremble from head to foot, not because I fear your presence, for I am used to that, but because I fear that you will miss your chance for immortal rescue, and die. This is the alternative divinely put: “He who believes on the Son shall have everlasting life; and he that believes not on the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).
In the Last Day, if you now reject Christ, every drop of that sacrificial blood, instead of pleading for your release, as it would have pleaded if you had repented, will plead against you. It will say, “They refused the ransom. They chose to die. Let them die. They must die. Down with them to the weeping and the wailing. Depart! go away from Me. You would not have Me. Now I will not have you. Sold out for eternity.”
O Lord God of the Judgement Day! Avert that calamity! Let us see the quick flash of the cimeter [scimitar, large, curved blade] that slays the sin but saves the sinner. Strike, omnipotent God, for the soul’s deliverance! Beat, O Eternal Sea, with all your waves against the barren beach of that rocky soul, and make it tremble! Oh, the oppressiveness of the hour, the minute, the second, on which the soul’s destiny quivers, and this is that hour, that minute, that second!
I wonder what proportion of this audience will be saved? What proportion will be lost? When the SS Schiller went down (1875), out of 380 people only 40 were saved. When the SS Ville du Havre went down (1873), out of 340 about 50 were saved. Out of this audience today, how many will get to the shore of heaven? It is no idle question for me to ask, for many of you I shall never see again until the day when the books are open.
Some years ago there came down a fierce storm on the seacoast, and a vessel got in the breakers and was going to pieces. They threw up some signal of distress, and the people on the shore saw them. They put out in a lifeboat. They came on, and they saw the poor sailors, almost exhausted, clinging to a raft. And so afraid were the boatmen that the men would give up before they got to them, they gave them three rounds of cheers, and cried: “Hold on, there! Hold on! We’ll save you!” After a while the boat came up. One man was saved by having the boat hook put in the collar of his coat; and some in one way, and some in another; but they all got into the boat.
“Now,” says the captain, “for the shore. Pull away now, pull!”
The people on the land were afraid the lifeboat had gone down. They said, “How long the boat stays. Why, it must have been swamped, and they have all perished together!”
Men and women on the pierheads and on the beach were wringing their hands. While they waited and watched, they saw something looming up through the mist, and it turned out to be the lifeboat. As soon as it came within speaking distance, the people on the shore cried, “Did you save any of them? Did you save any of them?”
And as the boat swept through the boiling surf and came to the pierhead, the captain waved his hand over the exhausted sailors that lay flat on the bottom of the boat, and cried, “All saved! Thank God! All saved!”
So may it be today. The waves of your sin run high, the storm is on you, the danger is appalling. O Shipwrecked Soul, I have come for you! I cheer you with this gospel hope. God grant that within the next ten minutes we may row with you into the harbor of God’s mercy. And when these Christian men gather around to see the result of this service, and the glorified gathering on the pierheads of heaven to watch and to listen, may we be able to report, “All saved!” Young and old, good and bad! “All saved!” Saved from sin, death, and hell. Saved for time. Saved for eternity.
“And so it came to pass that they all escaped safe to land” (Acts 27:44).
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: South Street Seaport and Brooklyn Bridge (c 1900)
Featured for this series are photographs of old New York.
*Adapted from “Sold Out,” Thomas DeWitt Talmage [1832-1902], New Tabernacle Sermons Vol I (New York: George Munro, 1886). Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.