One quiet summer evening, on the pathway of a nearby town, the writer of this story saw, a little distance behind him, two men, apparently returning from their daily work in the fields. One of these, walking faster than either his companion or myself, soon overtook me, and a we began a conversation about the serious matter of eternity.
It soon became obvious that this poor man, like thousands of others was making a fatal mistake as to the way of salvation in seeking for rest and peace in his own reformed life, instead of in Christ's precious sacrifice and death!
He told me with great eagerness and undisguised satisfaction, the story of his altered ways, and, like a clever artist, was making use of the wicked immorality of the past, as a dark background upon which to picture the moral worth of the present. He was now no longer a drinking man, but a sober one!
Instead of filthy language filling his mouth, prayer-saying and Bible-reading had taken their place. Moreover, he was as regular now at a place of praise & worship as he had previously been at the bars.
“So far so good,” was my response; “but is that all you have to rest upon for salvation?"
“Well, I really am a praying man now; and if you were to come to our town, and ask others about me, nearly everyone would tell you what a sad character I once was, and what a different man I am now."
“I am, by no means, calling in question the truth of what you tell me,” I replied, "but a guilty past history has placed a most solemn question between your soul and a holy God—the question of your sins, I mean, and what I wish to know is, whether or not this is all you have to say as to the settlement of it?"
“Well, I can’t think of anything else!"
“Then, I must tell you that there is one verse in God’s word which is a most serious one for you to consider, and it is this: 'God requireth that which is past.'" (Eccl 3:15)
Just at that point in our conversation, we happened to be walking rather sharply down a steep hill, when suddenly I missed my companion from my side. Turning quickly round to see the cause, I found him standing perfectly still, and looking down to the ground, as if wrapped in thought, with a facial expression of great concern on his countenance.
“What is the matter?” I asked, as he continued standing in silent thought. And then there came from his lips a definite proof that this single line of God’s word had done its own searching work in his soul and he said, “If that’s in the Bible, I’m lost !"
“Well, it certainly is in the Bible, and it will be easy for me to let you see it for yourself.” So, drawing out my pocket Bible, I turned to the third chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes, and, pointing with my finger to each word, read, aloud and slowly, the last six words in the 15th verse; “God requireth that which is past.”
“Then I’m lost!" he groaned.
Now, is it difficult to understand, dear reader, how it was that this solemn conclusion should have been arrived at by him? Let us inquire. Reformation has only to do with seeking to fix the present or the future; it supposes, upon the very face of it, that the past is not right.
But God’s requirements, as we have seen, reach into the past; and who can change even one small thing of the past? Who can alter what has already been done!?
Therefore, instead of clearing you, your ”turning over a new leaf” only condemns you; for, if the past was ok, there would be no need for a new start; and if it was blotted with sin, then most certainly will God’s righteous requirements have to account for it, sooner or later.
Is it not clear, then, dear reader, that every ”new leaf” you have ”turned over” has been but a fresh clause added, by your own hand, to the indictment already against you—an additional seal of your condemnation? You may have never dreamed of this, but it is still true!
There stands that solemn statement in the living word of God- a truth just as unchangeable as your past conduct — "God requireth that which is past." The marginal reading of the verse is: "God requireth that which is driven away." And is not this what men and women try to do? We “drive away” from our memories the painful records of the past, for it is truly distasteful for us when the iniquity of our lives encircle us us, (see how David expresses it, Psalm 49:5).
But what good is it when we trive to drive away sin from our memory, if God still sees it?
Then, it may be asked, is there no escape - no remedy, for the consequences of the past?
There can be only one answer. There is NO ESCAPE—none whatever, except it come through the meeting of God’s righteous requirements.
But, blessed be God, such an escape has been provided. The very God who said, "Without shedding of blood is no remission," Hebrews 9:22, has also said, "The life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul," Leviticus 17:11.
He can now say of the guiltiest, "Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom," Job 33:24.
Now we are not left to guess as to who or what this "Ransom" is, the God of all grace has furnished us fully with the answer: "There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus; who gave Himself a RANSOM for all, to be testified in due time."
What unsearchable treasures of grace are revealed in those two little sentences—"I have found," and "I have given." —"I have found a Ransom!" and " I have given the blood! "
The renewed mind does not know which is more marvelous, the greatness of the provision, or the freeness of the gift.
While the more that is known about this undeserved favor, the more does the wonder increase."
God demonstrates His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us," Romans 5:8. And, through that precious shed blood, God can declare Himself righteous, while He clears from every charge of condemnation the weakest true believer in Jesus.
Let me quote for you the words of Scripture. "To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness; that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus," Romans 3:26.
For the true believer, therefore, it a certainty that the righteous requirements of God MUST be met....and that they HAVE BEEN met.
"For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God," 1 Peter 3:18.
“Righteousness demands no more,
But mercy yields her boundless store.”
It was a true privilege to tell this newly-awakened soul that if left to his own effort of self-reformation, he must be eternally lost, yet that the Son of man had come "to seek and to save that which was lost," and that He had finished the work which the Father gave Him to do.
God was now satisfied with the one settlement made at the cross, on the sinner’s behalf, and that the only way to get the blessing was simply to believe on Him who made that settlement. For "by Him ALL THAT BELIEVE are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” Acts 13:39.
And now, my reader, what of your case? If God, this night were to require your soul of you; to call upon you for an answer for a lifetime of sin, could you meet such a demand? You know that you could not. Like Job, you could not answer Him "one of a thousand."
To stand upon your own merit would be to be eternally lost. "Enter not into judgment with Thy servant, O Lord," said David, "for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified." But if, as a poor repentant one, you turn to Christ for salvation, there will be joy in the presence of the angels of God about you. God is gratified in beholding the feeblest longings for Christ in you, and He is satisfied with the finished work of Christ for you.
But I solemnly warn you, that if you persist in evading this vital question, and content yourself with the thought of mere moral reformation, either now or at a future time, then be sure of this, that the time is rapidly approaching when, as surely as that field laborer was pulled up, face to face with God’s righteous demands, so will you be.
He was arrested in time; take heed that your awakening does not come in Eternity!
Consider well, I beg you, the solemn sequel of such a waking up; and before you close this screen, bow to God’s righteous claims; thankfully accept His gracious provision; trust in the precious blood of Christ; and then you will be able, with another, to record, your happy experience:
"Sweetest rest and peace have filled me
Sweeter praise than tongue can tell;
God is satisfied with Jesus,
I am satisfied as well.”
George Cutting [lightly edited]