Last night I happened to find a digital copy of an old book called The Gospel of Forgiveness, published in 1878 by Scottish theologian Robert Candlish. It is essentially a 19th-century “gospel book,” written to convince sinners to come to Christ. Within its cover the reader finds a great deal of warmhearted gospel appeal. One get the sense that Mr. Candlish knew both his Bible and his audience. In Chapter 16 (pp. 262-263) he wants to impress upon the reader that in Christ, God has drawn near to guilty sinners. But they must respond to God’s invitation to believe on his Son. He then makes a double appeal, starting with a word of warning:
Sinner, careless sinner, the day of wrath is near. God bringeth near his work of retribution to thee. Near, at the very door, ready this very day, this very hour, to seize thee, and drag thee to the bar, and open to thee the books, and read to thee thine everlasting doom.
That is stern stuff indeed. It’s a cultured form of what some might call “hellfire and damnation” preaching. Having started with the bad news, Candlish does not stop there.
But, sinner, in another sense God brings his righteousness near to you. He brings near to you Christ, the Lord, his own beloved Son. And in his glorious person and his finished work, he brings near to you a righteousness all his own; a righteousness full, perfect, spotless, divine; a righteousness that will stand the chiefest sinner in good stead at the most trying hour; a righteousness sufficient to procure the cancelling of all your guilt, and the full salvation of your souls. This righteousness does God even now, in a preached Gospel and by a striving Spirit, bring near to you.
Then like any good evangelist, Candlish makes his appeal:
Yes! sinner, death is near, but grace is nearer. Judgment is near, but Christ is nearer. Hell is near, but this blessed book, with all its promises, is nearer. Eternity is near, but the eternal Savior is nearer.
Then the direct invitation to come to Christ:
Oh! be persuaded now to own and receive, and welcome and embrace that righteousness of God which he brings so very near; to say to Jesus, “My Redeemer, my Savior, my Lord and my God.”
Finally, there is a reminder that the door of salvation will not be open forever.
Is it not high time? The wolf is coming—fast coming—nearer and nearer every moment. Already he is upon you. One spring!—But lo ! nearer still, the good Shepherd! Between thee and devouring ruin, already all but grasping thee, the good Shepherd yet for one more instant stands. Now, even now, Wilt thou not hear his voice, and cast thyself into his arms, and believe and be saved.
This is great gospel preaching. We could use a lot more of it today.
Dr. Ray Pritchard is the founder and President of Keep Believing Ministries.