J. C. Ryle
“He lingered.”—Genesis 19:16
First published by Drummond's Tract Depot, Stirling, Scotland
Who is this man that lingered?—Lot, the nephew of faithful Abraham. And when did he linger?—The very morning Sodom was to be destroyed. And where did he linger?—Within the walls of Sodom itself. And before whom did he linger?—Under the eyes of the two angels, who were sent to bring him out of the city.
Reader, the words are solemn, and full of food for thought. I trust they will make you think. Who knows but they are the very words your soul requires? The voice of the Lord Jesus commands you to “remember Lot’s wife.” (Luke xvii. 32.) The voice of one of His ministers invites you this day to remember Lot.
Let me try to show you,—
I. What Lot was himself:
II. What the text already quoted tells you of him:
III. What reasons may account for his lingering:
IV. What kind of fruit his lingering brought forth.
I. What was Lot?
This is a most important point. If I leave it unnoticed, I shall perhaps miss that class of professing Christians I want especially to benefit. You would perhaps say, after reading this paper, “Ah, Lot was a poor, dark creature,—an unconverted man,—a child of this world!—no wonder he lingered.”
But mark now what I say. Lot was nothing of the kind. Lot was a true believer,—a real child of God,—a justified soul,—a righteous man.
Has any one of you grace in his heart?—So also had Lot.
Has any one of you a hope of salvation?—So also had Lot.
Is any one of you a “new creature”?—So also was Lot.
Is any one of you a traveller in the narrow way which leads unto life?—So also was Lot.
Do not think this is only my private opinion,—a mere arbitrary fancy of my own,—a notion unsupported by Scripture. Do not suppose I want you to believe it, merely because I say it. The Holy Ghost has placed the matter beyond controversy, by calling him “just,” and “righteous” (2 Peter ii. 7, 8), and has given us evidence of the grace that was in him.
One evidence is, that he lived in a wicked place, “seeing and hearing” evil all around him (2 Peter ii. 8), and yet was not wicked himself. Now to be a Daniel in Babylon,—an Obadiah in Ahab’s house,—an Abijah in Jeroboam’s family,—a saint in Nero’s court, and a righteous man in Sodom, a man must have the grace of God.
Another evidence is, that he “vexed his soul with the unlawful deeds” he beheld around him. (2 Peter ii. 8.) He was wounded, grieved, pained, and hurt at the sight of sin. This was feeling like holy David, who says, “I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved, because they kept not Thy word.” “Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not Thy law.” (Psalm cxix. 136, 158.) Nothing will account for this but the grace of God.
Another evidence is, that he “vexed his soul from day to day” with the unlawful deeds he saw (2 Peter ii. 8.) He did not at length become cool and lukewarm about sin, as many do. Familiarity and habit did not take off the fine edge of his feelings, as too often is the case. Many a man is shocked and startled at the first sight of wickedness, and yet becomes at last so accustomed to see it, that he views it with comparative unconcern. This is especially the case with those who live in towns and cities. But it was not so with Lot. And this is a great mark of the reality of his grace.
Such an one was Lot,—a just and righteous man, a man sealed and stamped as an heir of heaven by the Holy Ghost Himself.
Reader, before you pass on, remember that a true Christian may have many a blemish, many a defect, many an infirmity, and yet be a true Christian nevertheless. You do not despise gold because it is mixed with much dross. You must not undervalue grace because it is accompanied by much corruption. Read on, and you will find that Lot paid dearly for his “lingering.” But do not forget, as you read, that Lot was a child of God.
II. Let us pass on to the second thing I spoke
of. What does the text, already quoted, tell us about Lot’s behaviour?
The words are wonderful and astounding: “He lingered;” and the more you consider the time and circumstances, the more wonderful you will think them.
Lot knew the awful condition of the city in which he stood; “the cry” of its abomination “had waxen great before the Lord” (Gen. xix. 13): and yet “he lingered.”
Lot knew the fearful judgment coming down on all within its walls; the angels had said plainly, “The Lord hath sent us to destroy it” (Gen. xix. 13): and yet Lot knew that God was a God who always kept His word, and if He said a thing would surely do it. He could hardly be Abraham’s nephew, and live long with him, and not be aware of this. Yet “he lingered.”
Lot believed there was danger,—for he went to his sons-in-law, and warned them to flee: “Up!” he said, “Get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city.” (Gen. xix. 14.) And yet “he lingered.”
Lot saw the angels of God standing by, waiting for him and his family to go forth. And yet “be lingered.”
Lot heard the voice of those ministers of wrath ringing in his ears to hasten him. “Arise! lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.” (Gen. xix. 15.) And yet “he lingered.”
He was slow when he should have been quick,—backward when he should have been forward,—trifling when he should have been hastening,—loitering when he should have been hurrying,—cold when he should have been hot. It is passing strange! It seems almost incredible! It appears too wonderful to be true! But the Spirit writes it down for our learning. And so it was.
And yet, reader, there are many of the Lord Jesus Christ’s people very like Lot.
Mark well what I say. I repeat it that there may be no mistake about my meaning. I have shown you that Lot “lingered,”—I say that there are many Christian men and Christian women in this day very like Lot.
There are many real children of God who appear to know far more than they live up to, and see far more than they practise, and yet continue in this state for many years. Wonderful that they go as far as they do, and yet go no further!
They hold the Head, even Christ, and love the truth. They like sound preaching, and assent to every article of Gospel doctrine, when they hear it. But still there is an indescribable something which is not satisfactory about them. They are constantly doing things which disappoint the expectations of their ministers, and of more advanced Christian friends. Marvellous that they should think as they do, and yet stand still!
They believe in heaven, and yet seem faintly to long for it;—and in hell, and yet seem little to fear it. They love the Lord Jesus; but the work they do for Him is small. They hate the devil; but they often appear to tempt him to come to them. They know the time is short; but they live as if it were long, They know they have a battle to fight; yet a man might think they were at peace. They know they have a race to run; yet they often look like people sitting still. They know the Judge is at the door, and there is wrath to come; and yet they appear half asleep. Astonishing they should be what they are, and yet be nothing more!
And what shall we say of these people? They often puzzle godly friends and relations. They often cause great anxiety. They often give rise to great doubts and searchings of heart. But they may be classed under one sweeping description: they are all brethren and sisters of Lot. They linger.
These are they who get the notion into their minds, that it is impossible for all believers to be very holy and very spiritual. They allow that eminent holiness is a beautiful thing. They like to read about it in books, and even to see it occasionally in others. But they do not think that all are meant to aim at so high a standard.
At any rate, they seem to make up their minds it is beyond their reach.
These are they who get into their heads false ideas of charity, as they call it. They would fain please everybody, and suit everybody, and be agreeable to everybody. But they forget they ought first to be sure that they please God.
These are they who dread sacrifices, and shrink from self-denial. They never appear able to apply our Lord’s command, to “cut off the right hand and pluck out the right eye.” (Matt. v. 29, 30.) They spend their lives in trying to make the gate more wide, and the cross more light. But they never succeed.
These are they who are always trying to keep in with the world. They are ingenious in discovering reasons for not separating decidedly, and in framing plausible excuses for attending questionable amusements, and keeping up questionable friendships. One day you are told of their attending a Bible reading: the next day perhaps you hear of their going to a ball. They are constantly labouring to persuade themselves that to mix a little with worldly people on their own ground does good. Yet in their case it is very clear they do no good, and only get harm.
These are they who cannot find it in their heart to quarrel with their besetting sin, whether it be sloth, indolence, ill-temper, pride, selfishness, impatience, or what it may. They allow it to remain a tolerably quiet and undisturbed tenant of their hearts. They say it is their health, or their constitutions, or their temperaments, or their trials, or their way. Their father, or mother, or grandmother, was so before themselves, and they are sure they cannot help it. And when you meet after the absence of a year or so, you hear the same thing.
But all, all, all may be summed up in one single sentence. They are the brethren and sisters of Lot. They linger.
Ah, reader, if you are a lingering soul, you are not happy! You know you are not. It would be strange indeed if you were so. Lingering is the sure destruction of a happy Christianity. A lingerer’s conscience forbids him to enjoy inward peace.
Perhaps at one time you did run well. But you have left your first love,—you have never felt the same comfort since, and you never will till you return to your first works. Like Peter, when the Lord Jesus was taken prisoner, you are following the Lord afar off; and, like him, you will find the way not pleasant, but hard.
Come and look at Lot. Come and mark Lot’s history. Come and consider Lot’s lingering, and be wise.
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