Abstract of a Sermon Preached on October 11, 1998
In Matthew 5:29-30 we read, “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”
It may be supposed that “cut it off and cast it from thee” does not comprise two things, but is only an emphatic way of saying one. If a man found no more than this in the text, I would have little inclination to dispute with him. Nevertheless, I believe the two things may be distinguished, and in a manner which is neither forced nor artificial, but quite natural, and very profitable also.
If we read the text without “cast it from thee,” we feel a very great loss. “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” I say we feel a very great loss in reading the text thus, and it is not merely a loss of emphasis, but a loss of substance.
It is usually by experience that we learn the true import of Scripture, and the distinction between “cut it off” and “cast it from thee” first appeared to me when I was dealing with a young lady about her soul. She was in an ungodly relationship with an ungodly young man, and I of course insisted that she break it off. She did so, but I afterwards learned that she was still writing to him. She had cut it off, but she had not cast it from her. She was holding on to it yet, keeping the way open to repent of her repentance.
But this is not the way of a penitent sinner. When a man is convicted of sin, he is very much ashamed of himself, and of his sin. His only thought is to get rid of it. We see this very plainly in the conversion of Bud Robinson. He went to a camp meeting to have some fun. Had a pistol in one pocket and a deck of cards in the other. Went in and sat down by a girl, to flirt with the girl. But the Spirit of God soon got a hold of his heart, and he went down the aisle to cast himself headlong in “the altar,” to cry to God for mercy. When he was going down the aisle he said that the pistol in one pocket felt as big as a mule, and the deck of cards in the other pocket as heavy as a bale of cotton. He was ashamed of them. He only wanted to get rid of them.
When I was converted nearly thirty-five years ago, my first thought was to get rid of my cigarettes. I was converted in my bed in the night, and converted precisely when I was brought to feel ashamed of my smoking. When I got up in the morning, my first thought was to get rid of those cigarettes. They were in my jacket pocket, hanging in the corner of the kitchen. I put on my jacket, and went outside, got on my bicycle, rode down the hogsback to the bridge over the Pelican River, and threw them in. And you know, it never once entered my mind, while I was riding down to the river, to have one last cigarette. That in fact never entered my mind until thirty-four years later, just a few weeks ago, when I was talking with a young man about the nature of repentance. Not that it then entered my mind to have one last smoke. No, but it then for the first time occurred to me that it might have been possible for such a thought to have entered my mind. I never thought of having one last cigarette at the time, and it wasn't until thirty-four years later that it ever dawned upon me that such a thought was possible. But morally it wasn't possible. I was ashamed of the things, and only thought of casting them from me. If I had then been capable of thinking of having one last cigarette, before I cast them from me, my repentance would not have been worth a nickel, and it would not have lasted a week.
I knew a woman who was converted when I was a boy. She was also a smoker. She was converted on her knees beside the sofa in her living room, and her first thought was to get rid of her cigarettes. She pushed them under the couch cushion in front of her, and forgot about them. A week later one of the family found them under the cushion, and thought she was holding on to them. But she was doing no such thing. She had no thought of having one last cigarette, any more than I did, and neither was she keeping them on hand in case she decided to repent of her repentance. Her only thought was to cast them from her, and she put them in the first place that presented itself, and left them there.
When Bud Robinson went down the aisle with that deck of cards in his pocket, feeling as heavy as a bale of cotton, do you suppose he was thinking about playing one last game of poker? If he had been, his repentance would not have been worth a cent.
But there are plenty of people who repent after this fashion. When I have preached repentance to some people, they have told me they would quit smoking as soon as they finished their pack of cigarettes. Do you know what I tell such people? I say, “No, you won't. You won't quit when you finish that pack. You'll go out and buy another one.” And I have never been wrong about that. In determining to quit after they finished their pack, they were not determining to quit at all, but in fact determining not to quit. Anyone who determines to repent in the future thereby determines not to repent in the present, and when the future becomes the present, his true determination will be seen. He will then be of just the same mind as he is today—determined not to repent in the present. And if one of these folks came to me and said, “You were wrong: I did quit after I finished my pack,” I would say, “That's fine, but your repentance won't last a week.” Such repentance is too shallow to be of any worth. No convicted and penitent sinner ever dreamed of sinning one last time before he quit. He is ashamed of his sin, and his only thought is to cast it from him.
And if he does not think of sinning one last time before he casts it away, no more does he think of keeping it near him, in case his repentance should prove to be too much for him. The man who quits his drinking, but keeps a bottle in the cupboard “just in case,” has not repented at all. He may have cut it off, but he hasn't cast it from him, and he will return to it, sure enough. A friend of mine dealt with a man who professed conversion. He was living with a girl in fornication, and upon his professed conversion he moved out of the house into a trailer in the yard. My friend told him, “That's not good enough. In two weeks you'll be right back in the house.” The only safe thing is to put some distance between you and your sin, and this is the only thought of the truly penitent. When Sam Hadley repented of his drinking, he was sitting on a whiskey barrel in a bar. He walked up to the bar and pounded it until the glasses rattled, and said, “Boys, I will never take another drink.” And what then? Did he sit down at the bar, or go back and sit down on the whiskey barrel? Oh, no. He says, “My only thought was to fly from the place.” He went outside, and went straight to the police station, though there was no place on earth he dreaded as he did the police station. He was living daily in dread of arrest, but he went straight to the police station, and asked the captain to lock him up. When the captain asked him why he wanted to be locked up, he said, “So I can't get near whiskey.” This was casting it from him. Those who keep it near by “just in case” have got no repentance worth the name. Their repentance ought to be repented of, and the fact is, their repentance will be repented of, though not in the sense in which it ought to be. They ought to repent of it because it didn't go far enough, but they will repent of it because it went too far. They keep their sin near by in case they should wish to alter their purpose, which only goes to prove that their purpose is three-fourths altered already.
For what other purpose would a man keep his sin near by? We once had a young man in this church who never should have been in it. He came to the meeting one day wearing a shirt with a Playboy emblem on it. I talked to him about it, and told him he couldn't wear such a shirt—not only that he couldn't wear it to the meetings, but that he couldn't wear it at all. He promised to do as I required, but I didn't really trust him, so I talked to him about it again a short time later, to see what he had done about it. He assured me that he was not wearing it. I asked him what he had done with it. He said it was hanging in the closet. He had cut it off, because I required it of him, but he had no compulsion to cast it from him, no loathing of it, no shame for it. He excused it, not to me, but to another. I told him we could no more allow him to have it in his closet than we could allow him to wear it. No one would see it in his closet, but for what purpose would he keep it? No man would see it in his closet, but God would. I told him Achan was not wearing his goodly Babylonish garment when Israel was defeated. It wasn't even hanging in his closet. It was hidden under his tent. But God saw it there, and it brought a snare and defeat upon the whole congregation. The sin was not in wearing the thing, but in possessing it, and I could no more allow him to keep it in his closet than I could allow him to wear it.
But the plain fact is, if he had had any shame over it, I would not have had to require anything of him. He himself would have been possessed by a desire not only to cut it off, but to cast it from him.
When sinners are awakened, they are brought as it were face to face with the judge of all the earth. They are then as a man under arrest, with his hands and his pockets full of contraband materials. His only thought is, How can I get rid of these? Again, when sinners are convicted of sin, they are as ashamed of their sins as they are of themselves. They do not think then of holding on to the sin, but only of casting it away.
And this I suppose to be the best test of the reality of repentance. A sinner who clings to sin has not repented at all. The man who cuts it off, but declines to cast it from him, may not cling to it with his hand, but he clings to it with his heart. This is lukewarm, half-way repentance, and it is really nothing better than no repentance at all.