Turn or Burn
Written by: Spurgeon, C.H. Posted on: 04/01/2003
For more than a century, Charles Haddon Spurgeon's sermons have been
consistently recognized, and their usefulness and impact have continued to
the present day, even in the outdated English of the author's own day.
Why then should expositions already so successful and of such stature and
proven usefulness require adaptation, revision, rewrite or even editing?
The answer is obvious. To increase its usefulness to today's reader, the
language in which it was originally written needs updating.
Though his sermons have served other generations well, just as they came
from the pen of the author in the nineteenth century, they still could be
lost to present and future generations, simply because, to them, the
language is neither readily nor fully understandable.
My goal, however, has not been to reduce the original writing to the
vernacular of our day. It is designed primarily for you who desire to read
and study comfortably and at ease in the language of our time. Only
obviously archaic terminology and passages obscured by expressions not
totally familiar in our day have been revised. However, neither Spurgeon's
meaning nor intent have been tampered with.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from the HOLY
BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (C) 1978 by the New York Bible Society, used
by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
"NASB" indicates the Scripture text is taken from the New American Standard
Bible, used by permission of the Lockman Foundation, a corporation not for
profit, La Habra, California.
Turn or Burn
(Turn from your sins or Burn for your sins)
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)
"If a man does not repent, He will sharpen his sword; He has bent His bow and
made it ready."--Psalm 7:12 (NASB)
"If the sinner does not turn from his wicked ways, God will sharpen His
sword." So, then, God has a sword, and He will punish man on account of his
sins. This evil generation has labored to take away from God the sword of
His justice; they have endeavored to prove to themselves that God will
"clear the guilty," and will by no means "punish evil, disobedience, and
sin." Two hundred years ago the predominant subject of the pulpit was one of
terror; it was like Mount Sinai, it thundered out the dreadful wrath of God,
and from the lips of a Baxter or a Bunyan, you heard the most fearful
sermons, full to the brim with warnings of judgment to come.
Perhaps some of the Puritan fathers may have gone too far, and have given too
great a prominence to the terror of the Lord in their ministry; but the age
in which we live has tried to forget those terrors altogether, and if we dare
to tell men that God will punish them for their sins, we are then accused of
trying to frighten them into religion, and if we faithfully and honestly tell
our listeners that sin will bring certain judgment, it is said that we are
attempting to scare them into goodness. Now we don't care what men mockingly
accuse us of; we feel it is our duty, when men sin, to tell them that they
will be punished; and so long as the world will not give up its sin, we feel
we must not cease our warnings. But the cry of the age is, that God is
merciful, that God is love. Yes, who said He wasn't?
But remember it is equally true, God is just, severely and inflexibly just!
He would not be God, if He were not just; He could not be merciful if He were
not just, for punishment of the wicked is demanded by the highest mercy to
the rest of mankind. Rest assured, however, that He is just, and that the
words I am about to read you from God's word are true: "The wicked return to
the grave, all the nations that forget God;" "God is a righteous judge, a
God who expresses His wrath every day;" "If a man does not repent, He will
sharpen His sword; He has bent His bow and made it ready. He has also
prepared for Himself deadly weapons; He makes His arrows fiery shafts"
Because this is a wicked age, it will not accept the idea of a real hell; and
because it is hypocritical, it will speak of hell, but only with fictitious
punishment. This doctrine is so prevalent as to make even the ministers of
the gospel flinch from their duty in declaring the day of wrath. How few
there are who will solemnly tell us of the judgment to come. They preach of
God's love and mercy, as they ought to do, and as God has commanded them; but
what good is it to preach mercy unless they preach also the doom of the
wicked? And how shall we hope to carry out the primary purpose of preaching
unless we warn men that if they "Don't repent of their sin, God will sharpen
His sword in judgment?"
I fear that in too many places the doctrine of future punishment is rejected,
and laughed at as a fantasy and a fire-breathing monster of our imagination;
but the day will come when it shall be known to be a reality. Ahab scoffed
at the prophet Micaiah, when he said he (Ahab) would never come back alive;
the men of Noah's generation laughed at the foolish old man (as they thought
him), who urged them take heed, for the world would soon be drowned; but when
they were climbing to the treetops, and the floods were following them, did
they then say that Noah's prophecy was untrue? And when the arrow was
sticking in the heart of Ahab, and he said to his chariot driver, "Wheel
around and get me out of the fighting. I've been wounded," did he then think
that Micaiah had spoke an untruth? And so it is now.
You tell us that we speak lies, when we warn you of judgment to come; but in
that day when your trouble shall fall on you, and when destruction shall
overwhelm you, will you say we were liars then? Will you then turn around
and scoff, and say we did not speak the truth? Rather my hearers the highest
honor will be given to him who was the most faithful in warning men
concerning the wrath of God. I have often trembled at the thought, that,
here I am standing before you, and constantly engaged in the work of the
ministry, and what if, when I die, I should be found unfaithful to your
souls, how sorrowful will be our meeting in the world of spirits? It would
be a dreadful thing if you were able to say to me in the world to come, "Sir,
you flattered us; you did not tell us of the solemnities of eternity; you did
not rightly dwell upon the awful wrath of God; you spoke to us feebly and
weakly, you were somewhat afraid of us; you knew we could not bear to hear of
eternal torment, and therefore you kept it back and never mentioned it!"
Why, I believe that if you were able you would look me in the face and curse
me through all of eternity, if that would have been my conduct. But, by
God's help, it shall never be.
Come what may, when I die, I shall, with God's help, be able to say "I am
innocent of the blood of all men." So far as I know God's truth, I will
endeavor to speak it; and though criticism and censure be poured on my head a
hundred times, I will welcome it, if I may but be faithful to this unstable
generation, faithful to God, and faithful to my own conscience. Let me,
then, endeavor, and, by God's help, I will do it as solemnly and as tenderly
as I can, to proclaim to you that have not yet repented, most affectionately
reminding you of your future doom, if you should die without repenting of
your sins. "If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword."
In the first place, "what is the repenting here mean?" In the second place,
let us dwell on the "necessity there is for men's repenting, otherwise God
will punish them;" and then, thirdly, let me remind you of the "means whereby
men can be turned from the error of their ways, and the weakness and frailty
of their nature amended by the power of divine grace."
I. In the first place, my listeners, let me endeavor to explain to you the
NATURE OF THE REPENTING. It says, "If a man does not repent, He will sharpen
To begin, then: the repenting here meant is genuine, not artificial--not that
which stops with a bunch of promises and vows, but that which deals with the
real acts of life. Possibly one of you will say, this morning, "Look, I
will turn to God; from this time forward I will not sin, but I will endeavor
to walk in holiness; my vices shall be abandoned, my evil will be thrown the
winds, and I will turn to God with a sincere heart;" but, maybe tomorrow you
will have forgotten this; you will weep a tear or two under the preaching of
God's word, but by tomorrow every tear shall have been dried, and you will
utterly forget that you ever came to church at all.
How many of us are like men who see their faces in a mirror, and walk away
and forget what we looked like! Yes, my friends, it is not your promise of
repentance that can save you; it is not your vow, it is not your solemn
declaration, it is not the tear that is dried more easily than the dew-drop
by the sun; it is not the momentary emotion of the heart, which constitutes a
real turning to God. There must be a true and actual abandonment of sin, and
a turning to righteousness in real act and deed in every day life. Do you
say you are sorry, and repent, and yet go on from day to day, just as you
always have before? Will you now bow your heads, and say, "Lord, I repent,"
and in a little while commit the same acts of sin again? If you do, your
repentance is worse than nothing, and will make your punishment even more
sure; for he that makes a promise to his Maker, and does not keep his
promise, has committed another sin, in that he has attempted to deceive the
Almighty, and lie to the God that made him. Repentance, to be true, to be
evangelical, must be a repentance which really affects our outward behavior.
Next, repentance to be true "must be total." How many will say, "Lord, I
will give up this sin and the this other one; but there are certain favorite
lusts which I must hang on to." O friends, in God's name let me tell you, it
is not the giving up of one sin, nor fifty sins, which is true repentance; it
is the serious giving up of every sin. If you conceal one of these accursed
vipers in your heart, then your repentance is nothing but a fake. If you
indulge in only one lust, and give up every other, then that one lust, like
one leak in a ship, will sink your soul. It is not sufficient just to give
up your outward sins; it is not enough just to give up the most wicked sin of
your daily life; it is all or nothing which God demands "Repent" He says; and
when he commands you to repent, He means, repent of all your sins, otherwise
He never can accept your repentance as being real and genuine. The truly
repentant person hates all of their sins, not just certain ones. He says,
"Cover yourself with the finest gold, O sin, I will still hate you! Yes,
cover yourself with pleasure, make yourself flashy, like the snake with its
turquoise scales--I still hate you, for I know your venom, and I run from
you, even when you come to me in the most illusive clothing." All sin must
be given up, or else you will never have Christ; all evil must be renounced,
or else the gates of heaven must be locked to keep you out forever. Let us,
remember, then, that for repentance to be sincere, it must be total
Again: when God says, "If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword,"
He means "urgent" repentance. You say, when we are nearing the end of our
mortal life, and when we are entering the borders of the thick darkness of
the future state, then we will change our ways. But my dear listeners, do
not delude yourselves. Few have ever changed after a long life of sin.
"Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?" If so, let
him that is accustomed to doing evil learn to do well. Put no faith in the
repentance which you promised yourselves that you would declare on your death
beds. There are ten thousand arguments against one, that if you do not
repent in health, you will never repent in sickness.
Too many have promised themselves a quiet time before they leave the world,
when they could turn their face to the wall and confess their sins; but how
few have found that time of silence! Don't men drop dead in the
streets--yes, even in the church pew? Don't they die at their places of
employment? And when death is gradual, it offers only a feeble time for
repentance. Many a Christian has said on his death bed, "O! if I had to now
seek my God; if I had to now cry to Him for mercy, what would become of me?
The pain of death is enough, without the agony of repentance. It is enough
to have the body tortured with the often pains of death, without having the
soul torn with sorrow." Sinners! God said, "Today, if you hear my voice, do
not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of
testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me."
When God the Holy Spirit convinces men of sin, they will never talk of
delays. You may never have another day to repent in. Therefore, says the
voice of wisdom, "repent now." The Jewish rabbis said, "Let every man repent
one day before he dies; and since he may die tomorrow, let him take heed to
turn from his evil ways today." Even so we say, immediate repentance is that
which God demands, for He has never promised you that you will have any other
hour to repent in, except the one that you now have.
Furthermore; the repentance described here as being absolutely necessary is a
sincere repentance. It is not a phony tear; it is not hanging out the banner
of grief, while you have frivolity in your hearts; it is not having a bright
light within, and closing all the blinds on the windows by a pretended
repentance. It is the putting out the party candles in the heart; it is
sorrow of soul, which is true repentance. A man may renounce every outward
sin, and yet not really repent. True repentance, is a turning of the heart,
as well as of the life; it is the giving up of the whole soul to God, to be
His forever and ever; it is a renunciation of the sins of the heart, as well
as the corruptions of the life.
Yes! dear listeners, let none of us dream that we have repented when we have
only made a false and make believe repentance; let none of us take that to be
the work of the Spirit which is only the work of poor human nature; let us
not dream that we have turned to God in true salvation, when, perhaps, we
have only turned to ourselves. And let us not think that it is enough to
have turned from one vice to another, or from vice to virtue; let us remember
it must be a turning of the whole soul, so that the old man is made new in
Christ Jesus; otherwise we have not answered the requirements of the text--we
have not turned to God.
And lastly on this point, this repentance must be "perpetual." It is not my
turning to God today that will be a proof that I am a true convert; it is the
forsaking of my sin throughout my entire life, until I am laid in the grave.
You need not dream that to be moral for a week will be proof that you are
saved; it is a continuous rejection of evil. The change which God works is
neither a momentary nor a superficial change; not a simple cutting of the top
of a weed, but a complete eradication of it; not the sweeping away of the
dust of one day, but the taking away of that which is the cause of the
defilement. In olden times, when rich and generous kings came into their
cities they made the fountains run with milk and wine; but the fountain was
not therefore a fountain of milk and wine forever; tomorrow it will run with
water as before.
So today you may go home and pretend to pray; you may today be serious,
tomorrow you may be honest, and the next day you may pretend to be devout;
but if you return, as Scripture says it, "A dog returns to its vomit," and,
"A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud," your repentance
will but sink you deeper into hell, instead of being a proof of divine grace
in your hearts.
It is very hard to distinguish between legal repentance and evangelical
repentance; however, there are certain marks by which they may be
distinguished, and at the risk of tiring you, we will just notice one or two
of them; and may God grant that you may find them in your own souls! Legal
repentance is a fear of damning; evangelical repentance is a fear of sinning.
Legal repentance makes us fear the wrath of God; evangelical repentance makes
us fear the cause of that wrath--sin. When a man repents with that grace of
repentance which God the Spirit works in him, he repents not of the
punishment which is to follow the deed, but of the deed itself; and he feels
that even if there were no pit of Hell for the wicked; if there were no ever-
gnawing worm of torment, and no everlasting fire, he would still hate sin.
It is such repentance as this which every one of you must have, or else you
will be lost. It must be a hatred of sin. Do not suppose that because when
it is your time to die that you will be afraid of eternal torment, therefore
that will be repentance. Every thief is afraid of the prison; but he will
steal tomorrow if you set him free. Most men who have committed murder
tremble at the sight of the electric chair, but they would murder again if
they were allowed to live. It is not the hatred of the punishment that is
repentance; it is the hatred of the sin itself. Do you feel that you have
such a repentance as that? If not, these thundering words must be preached
to you again--"If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His Sword" (NASB).
But one more point. When a man is possessed of true and evangelical
repentance, I mean the gospel repentance which saves the soul-he not only
hates sin for its own sake, but despises it so extremely and utterly that he
feels that no repentance, of his own can help to wash it out; and he
acknowledges that it is only by an act of sovereign grace that his sins can
be washed away. Now, if any of you suppose that you repent of your sins and
yet imagine that by a life of holy living you can blot them out; if you
suppose that by walking uprightly in the future you can obliterate your past
sins, you have not yet truly repented; for true repentance, makes a man feel
Could his zeal no rest know,
Could his tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Christ must save, and Christ alone.
And if your sin is so killed in you that you hate it as a corrupt and
abominable thing, and you would bury it out of your sight, and feel that it
could never be buried, unless Christ Himself shall dig the grave, then you
have repented of sin. We must humbly confess that we deserve God's wrath,
and that we cannot prevent it by any works of our own; and we must put our
trust solely and entirely in the blood and accomplishments of Jesus Christ.
If you have not repented in this way, again we shout in the words of David,
"If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword."
II. And now the second point: it is even a more terrible one to dwell upon,
and if I went by my own feelings I would not even mention it; but we must not
consider our feelings in the work of the ministry, any more than we should if
we were physicians of men's bodies. We must sometimes use the knife, when we
feel that they would die without it. We must frequently make sharp gashes
into men's consciences, in the hope that the Holy Spirit will bring them to
life. We declare, then, that there is a NECESSITY that God should sharpen
His sword and punish men, if they will not "turn" from their sins. Earnest
Baxter used to say, "Sinner! turn or burn; it is your only alternative; TURN,
or BURN!" And it is true. I think I can show you why men must "turn" from
their sins, or else they will "burn" for their sins.
1. First, we cannot expect that the God of the Bible would allow sin to go
unpunished. Some may imagine it; they may dream their intellects into a
state intoxication, so as to fantasize a God apart from justice; but no man
who has any common sense, can imagine a God without justice. You cannot
conceive of a good king or of a good government that could exist without
Justice, much less of God, the Judge and King of all the earth, without
justice in His heart. To imagine Him all love, and no justice, would be to
make Him less than God. He would not be capable of ruling this world if He
had not justice in His heart. There is in man a natural perception of the
fact, that if God exists, He must be just; and I can cannot imagine that you
can believe in a God, without believing also in the punishment of sin. It
would be difficult to imagine Him elevated high above His creatures, seeing
all their disobedience, and yet looking with the same composure upon the good
and upon the evil; you cannot imagine Him giving the same reward of praise to
the wicked and to the righteous. The idea of God, assumes justice; and when
you say the word "justice" it would be the same as saying the word "God."
2. But to imagine that there will be no punishment for sin, and that man
can be saved without repentance, is to deny all the Scriptures. What! are
the records of divine history nothing? And if they be true, then God must
have God changed drastically, if He no longer punishes sin? What! did He
once rebuke Eden, and drive our parents out of that happy garden, on
account of a little theft, as man would class it? Did He drown the world
with water and inundate creation with the floods that He had buried in the
heart of the earth? And will He not punish sin?
Let the burning fire which fell on Sodom testify to you that God is just;
let the open mouth of the earth which swallowed up Korah, Dathan, and
Abiram, warn you that He will not spare the guilty; let the mighty works of
God which He did in the Red Sea, the wonders which He brought on Pharaoh,
and the miraculous destruction which he brought on Sennacherib, tell you
that God is just. And would it be out of place for me to mention in the
same argument th judgments of God even in our own age; but have there never
been such? This world is not the dungeon where God punishes sin, but still
there are instances in which we cannot but believe that He actually did
avenge it. I do not believe that every accident is a judgment; I am far
from believing that the death of men and women in a burning theater
building is a punishment upon them for their sin, since the same thing has
occurred in divine service, to our perpetual sorrow.
I believe judgment is reserved for the next world; I could not account for
providence, if I believed that God punishes here, "Those eighteen who died
when the tower in Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty
than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!" It has injured
religion for men to say, for instance, that because a boat capsized and the
people in it were drowned on the Lord's Day that it was a judgment on those
persons. We assuredly believe that it was sinful to spend the day in
pleasure rather than being with God's people in fellowship in the church,
but we deny, that it was a punishment from God. God usually reserves His
punishment for a future state; but yet, we say, there have been a few
instances in which we cannot but believe that men and women have been
punished for their sins in this life through God's providence.
I remember one which I hesitate to relate to you. I saw the wretched
creature myself. He had dared to call down on his head the most awful
curses that man could utter. In his rage and fury he said that he wished
his head were twisted on one side, that his eyes were put out, and that his
jaws were locked: a moment afterward the lash of his whip--with which he
had been cruelly treating his horse--entered his eye, brought on first
inflammation, and then lock-jaw, and when I saw him he was just in the very
position in which he had asked to be placed, for his head was twisted
around, his eyesight was gone, and he could not speak except through his
You will remember a similar instance happening at Davizes, where a woman
declared that she had paid the price of a sack of grain, when in fact she
had the money hidden in her hand, and she immediately fell down dead on the
spot. Some of these may have been singular coincidences; but I am not so
naive as to suppose that they were brought about by chance, I think the
will of the Lord was in it. I believe they were some faint indications
that God was just, and that although the full shower of His wrath does not
fall on men in this life, He does pour a drop or two on them, to let us see
how He will one day punish the world for its sin.
3. But why do I have to bring these arguments to you, my listeners? Your
own consciences will tell you that God must punish sin. You may laugh at me,
and say that you have no such "belief." I did not say you had, but I said
that your conscience tells you so, and conscience has more power over men
than what they think to be their belief. As John Bunyan said, "Mr.
Conscience had a very loud voice, and though Mr. Understanding shut himself
up in a dark room where he could not see, yet he used to thunder out so
loudly in the streets, that Mr. Understanding used to shake in his house
through what Mr. Conscience said." And it is true so often. You say in your
understanding, "I cannot believe God will punish sin;" but you know He will.
You don't want to confess your secret fears because to do so would be to give
up what you have so often most bravely asserted. But because you assert it
with such boasting and high-sounding words, I think you don't really believe
it, for if you did, you would not need to look so big while saying it. I
know this, that when you are sick or hurt that you cry out for mercy. I
know that when you are dying you will believe in a hell. Conscience makes
cowards of us all, and makes us believe, even when we say we don't, that God
must punish sin.
Let me tell you a story; I have told it before, but it is a striking one, and
sets out in a true light how easily men will be brought in times of danger to
believe in a God, and a God of justice too, though they have denied Him
before. In the backwoods of Canada there lived a good minister, who one
evening went out to meditate, as Isaac did, in the fields. He soon found
himself on the borders of a forest, which he entered, and walked along a path
which had been walked on before him; meditating, and still meditating, until
at last the shadows of twilight gathered around him, and he began to think
how might have to spend the night in the forest. He trembled at the idea of
remaining there, with the poor shelter of a tree that he would be compelled
All of a sudden he saw a light in the distance, among the trees, and thinking
that it might be from the window of some cottage where he would find a
hospitable retreat, he hurried to it, and, to his surprise saw a space
cleared, and trees laid down to make a platform, and upon it a speaker
addressing a multitude. He thought to himself, "I have stumbled on a crowd
of people, who in this dark forest have assembled to worship God, and some
minister is preaching to them, at this late hour of the evening, concerning
the kingdom of God, and His righteousness;" but to his surprise and horror,
when he came nearer, he found a young speaking loudly against God, daring the
Almighty to do His worst upon him, speaking terrible things in anger against
the justice of the Most High, and venturing most bold and awful assertions
concerning his own disbelief in a future state.
It was altogether a extraordinary scene; it was lighted up by a fire of pine-
knots which cast a glare here and there, while the thick darkness in other
places still reigned. The people were intent on listening to the speaker,
and when he sat down thunders of applause were given to him; each one seeming
to emulate the other in his praise. The minister thought to himself, "I must
not let this pass; I must rise and speak; the honor of my God and His cause
demands it." But he was afraid to speak, for he did not know what to say,
having come there suddenly; but he would have spoken anyway, had not
something else occurred. A man of middle age, robust and strong, rose, and
leaning on his staff, he said: "My friends, I have a word to speak to you
tonight. I am not about to refute any of the arguments of the speaker; I
shall not criticize his style; I shall say nothing concerning what I believe
to be the blasphemies he has uttered; but I shall simply relate to you a
fact, and after I have done that you shall draw your own conclusions."
"Yesterday I walked by the side of the river over there; I saw on its waters a
young man in a boat. The boat was out of control; it was going fast toward
the rapids; he could not use the oars, and I saw that he was not capable of
bringing the boat to the shore. I saw that young man wring his hands in
agony; in a little while he gave up the attempt to save his life, kneeled
down and cried with a desperate sincerity, 'O God! save my soul! If my
body can't be saved, save my soul.' I heard him confess that he had been a
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