THE PERMANENT CHARACTER OF THE LOST AND THE SAVED
Sermon preached by Mr. D. G. Crowter on Lord’s Day morning,
6th May, 1990, at Gower Street Memorial Chapel.
“He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still:
and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” Revelation 22.11.
1. A Permanent Condition in Prospect
The most important thing about you is your true character Â— what you really, really are. I don’t mean what you think you are necessarily, or what other people think you are, but what you are in the sight of God. That is really what matters about you – how you stand in the sight of the holy God before whom we all must appear in due course. And there are two kinds of characters, basically, who are found in the Word of God – just two. So each of us must belong either to one or to the other. There are first the unjust, the filthy; are you one of those? Then there are the righteous and holy; do you belong there? You see what immense importance there is to these considerations. As we stand, each one of us, before the eyes of a most holy God, we are found either in one state or the other. You cannot be both; but you must be one or the other; because there are only two which are so described by God Himself.
Now looking at this word which speaks of the unjust and the filthy, and the righteous and the holy, you might say; “Well, you often say to us that it is possible to be changed, to be saved, to be born again; to be changed from being unjust or unrighteous to being righteous.” Of course I often do say that; it is very possible for that vital change to take place and it is so very desirable. But you might think, “Well, in this verse it seems as though there is no possible change. For the Lord is saying that as these characters are, there they must remain; that they are there for ever and ever, that they will still be as they are now”. Now we must understand the Word of God in its context. It is very wrong to take a verse right out of its setting, the place where it is found in the Word. And the Lord Jesus is saying just before these words, “Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand;” that is, it is near. And yet at that moment the seal was not to be put on these sayings. They were like words written in a scroll; but it wasn’t to be sealed up; it was still readable. Yet the time for the sealing of it was at hand. We find a similar expression in the tenth chapter, concerning the mighty angel who came down from heaven, clothed with a cloud. He “sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are; and the earth, and the things
that therein are; and the sea, and the things which are therein; that there should be time no longer.” And then he says that “the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.” The words of Jesus following our text, are: “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”
The gospel is preached now. You have often heard it. But it will not be so always. The time is near when there will be no more preaching of the gospel – not for you, anyway. Our lives here are short at best, and you do not know whether the Lord Jesus Christ will return to this earth today, or tomorrow, or any other particular day. You have often heard the words of the truth of the gospel. But what effect have they had on you? Are you still filthy, unjust? You have so often heard that “the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin”. But have you been to the fountain to be cleansed? Or are you still filthy in the sight of God? You see this is a matter of such urgency. The Saviour Himself says three times in these last words of the Book of the Scriptures: “I come quickly.” He is coming to this earth again; and then it will be too late to repent, too late to believe, too late to seek Him, too late to be saved. O my dear friends, how urgent these matters really are, this question of our salvation! None of us know whether we shall live to the end of the day, or whether the Saviour may return before then. Our wisdom is to fly to Him now, to seek that cleansing which He is so able to give. Today, Jesus is saving precious souls. He has said, ‘Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” But do you come? Do you feel your need of this tremendous, vital change to take place, a change in your whole character?
The gospel is preached in the earth now. You have heard it many times; but one time will be the last time, for one reason or another. And there is this solemn consideration, that characters become confirmed and engrained. It is so possible to become hardened under the preaching of the gospel, so that you do not hear as you once did, and it seems to mean nothing to you. And it may be, that before the end of time, this word really applies to individuals: “He that is filthy, let him be filthy still.” God is so gracious in the invitations of the gospel; but they are only for a certain limited time. ‘Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
Now in this matter God is perfectly just. It is solemnly true that those who are content to carry on in their filthiness, and to be unjust before God, if they remain in that state, will be there for ever and ever. The time will come when there will be no possible change through all eternity. And they will have what they themselves desired. They wished to be so, and they will be so. On the other land, those who loved righteousness, those who hungered and
thirsted after righteousness, those who really wanted to be holy -well, they shall be that, and they will be that for all eternity. In these things God is absolutely just and right.
So this word brings before us the subject of the permanent condition of the lost and the saved. Certainly when the Saviour comes again, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump”, there will be no possibility of any further change. As you are then, you will be for all eternity. Either so happy and blessed, or under the solemn, everlasting curse of God. You may not think now that there is such a great difference between the people of God and the people of the wicked one, between the just and the unjust. They may seem to be similar to you. But in the sight of God there is a vast difference. There is a great gulf between them. The one group He sees as being filthy in their sins, under His solemn and just curse;
and the other He sees to be perfect in His dear Son, cleansed from all their sin, spotless in His righteousness, and accepted through His redeeming blood. In the sight of God there is such a vast difference between these two kinds of characters. And soon that condition is to be finally, for ever, fixed.
2. The Permanent State of the Lost
The state of the lost is described in these two words, unjust and filthy. First they are unjust, which is the same really as unrighteous. This word is really a legal term; it reminds us of courts of law, of justice. And in that respect, in the court of law, the only thing that really matters, the only question, is; “Is this person guilty, or not?” If a man is suspected, say, of stealing coal, he may have his hands black. But that in itself is of no importance, except possibly as a proof or an evidence of what he has been doing. The law doesn’t condemn a man because his hands are black, because he is filthy;
but it does condemn a person if he or she has done something wrong, something contrary to the law. Those who are unjust as regards the law must be condemned by its sentence. And here this means the Law of God, His holy and perfect, just and righteous Law. Now that is how we have to be compared. You may think that your life is fairly good, and reasonably straight. You might draw a line on a piece of paper, as best you can, and think that that was pretty straight. But if you bring a steel rule to it, with all the markings and the very straight edge, you would find that your line was really very crooked. It has to be brought up against something which is really straight to show how crooked it is. And our lives need to be brought up to the Law of God, which declares what they really are like, and shows that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”; that by nature no man is just. We are all fallen creatures, and condemned by that holy Law of God which says, “Thou shalt
love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind and with all thy strength.” And that means always; without a moment’s intermission. And, “Thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself.” Those two great commandments we cannot possibly face up to. Every one of us has broken the holy Law of God, and by nature we are under His curse, for He says: “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the Law to do them.” So we are all unjust as we are by nature.
Then there is this second word filthy. That isn’t a very pleasant word; but then sin isn’t a very pleasant thing. In the sight of God it is such an abomination, it is so loathsome to Him. And by nature we are all filthy – that is vile and foul in the sight of God because of the uncleanness of our hearts. What is it that makes us so filthy? In the days of Jesus, there were those who took great pains to wash cups, tables and plates and so on that were to be used for eating, and to wash their hands very thoroughly before they ate. Well, that was quite all right as far as it went. But when they began to think they were clean inside because they were clean outside, it was such a mistake to make. And Jesus said, “That which cometh out of a man, that defileth a man.” That’s what makes him filthy. “For from within, out of the heart of man, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, lasciviousness, an evil eye, covetousness, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come out of the heart of man and defile a man.” Those are the things which are found in our hearts; and they do make us filthy in the sight of God. As we read in Paul’s Epistle to Titus, “unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure, but even their mind and conscience is defiled.” And you can see the evidence of that all around you in this world. Men by nature love that which is really disgraceful, which is filthy in the sight of God. Even to a merely upright man these things are often regarded as filthy and polluted. But how much more in the sight of an infinitely holy God! By nature it is solemnly true that we are all unjust with regard to the Law of God, and filthy in the eyes of a holy God. And dear friend, if you stay like that, you will be like that for all eternity; and you will have to suffer the agonising consequences of being in that state. The time will certainly come when this word applies: “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still.” There is a somewhat similar word to this in the first chapter of Proverbs. Again you might find it surprising that it should be written. God says:
“Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me.” Later on in the Proverbs we read that the Lord says, “I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.” You see, that applies now. But the time will come when this appliesÂ— “Then shall they call upon me and
I will not answer. They shall seek me early but they shall not find me.” Earlier on we read this, “Turn you at my reproof; behold I will pour out my Spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.” There is the gracious invitation; here is the solemn judgment, “Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no man regarded, I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh.”
The time, dear friends, will come when it will be too late to enter in. You know how it was with the foolish virgins. They were too late. They went to buy oil; but the bridegroom came, and the door was shut, and they were shut out for ever. And the time will come when the unjust and the filthy will be shut out of heaven for ever and ever. They will continue in this state for evermore. I just dread to think of any of you being in that condition; when you hear the one true gospel declared to you, that Jesus saves, that He is able and willing to save; that “now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.” Today, but not necessarily tomorrow. How urgent this matter is! Are you still unjust? Are you still filthy in the sight of God? Well, why is it? If that is the case, it is only because you have rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ, and in so doing you have rejected the Son of God Himself. Because He says, “Come – come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He can cleanse you from all your sin. Through Him you may be accounted righteous, just, in the sight of God; but not in any other way. How very solemn this matter is!
3. The Permanent State of the Saved
But then there is the fixed and permanent character of the others
– the righteous and the holy. Their character also is going to be decided for ever. These are first called righteous, or just. There are people who are righteous – people in this chapel who are righteous in the sight of God. And how does that happen? How can those who are unjust become just in the sight of God? How can those who are condemned by His holy Law, and liable to everlasting punishment, be made righteous for ever and ever? Well, not by trying to be good;
not by doing all sorts of things which they think will make them acceptable in the sight of God; not by improving their lives by their own efforts – not that at all. Never, never can it be that way. “By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight.” So we find Job asking that great question, “How can man be just with God?” How can he be seen and be counted as righteous before the eyes of the Most High? Not by trying to be good, but by trusting in the One who is really righteous. God says, “By his knowledge shall my
righteous servant justify many.” He shall make them just, because He has the righteousness which we have not; He has a perfect
righteousness to give, a righteousness which is as perfect as His own holy character. It is His own spotless righteousness which He produced by His life of obedience, His obedience unto death. So one could say in the hymn:
“Fully I am justified,
Free from sin, and more than free;
Guiltless, since for me he died,
Righteous, since he lived for me.”
We read in that striking word in 2 Corinthians, that God the Father
Â“hath made him (the Son) to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” So the apostle John says also, “If any man sin” – and we all do, sadly; and by that sinning we become filthy and defiled – “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins.” He is the righteous One. The only way to be righteous, is to be united to Jesus Christ, for His righteousness to be counted ours. That is the only possible way.
And thus we read of those in the Word of God who were righteous characters. “Abraham believed God, and his faith was counted for righteousness.” He had no righteousness of his own any more than you have; but he believed in the righteousness of Jesus, through the promise that God had given. And as he believed, his Faith was counted for righteousness; he was accounted righteous in the sight of God. Thus it is by trusting alone in the righteousness of the God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now is your trust really there? Are you resting upon His perfect
righteousness? How foolish it is ever to think that we can do anything of our own which will be sufficient, which will count as righteousness in the sight of God! How filthy it would be in comparison with the spotless righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ! He is “the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”
Are you righteous? Then you will be righteous for ever. This is a legal term again, of course. Justice and righteousness are legal terms, and when God pronounces a man just, then he is just for ever. God will never go back on His word. If He has exonerated that person from all the blame and guilt of sin, then there will be no going back on that. There will be no change in that sentence of God. And he who is righteous in Jesus Christ will be righteous for all eternity. Does that mean you? Are you righteous? The Saviour says, ‘Behold, I come quickly.” If He were to come now, would He find you righteous? Would He know and see that you are resting alone in His finished work, in His perfect redemption?
And then these people are also said to be holy. What a lovely
word that is! O what a beautiful word is this word ‘holy’. That is the purpose of God towards His children, that they should at last be “holy, and unblameable, and unreprovable in his sight.” This word ‘holy’ is so often spoken of God Himself. He is the holy, holy, holy God; He is the Holy One of Israel; we so often read in the Word of the Holy Spirit. God is so holy. How wonderful it is that those who are filthy may become holy! That really means to be like the Lord Jesus Christ. As one puts it in the hymn, looking to those saved sinners above;
“In Jesus’ image, shining bright,
With rapture they adore
The holy, holy, holy God
In glory evermore.”
But, dear friend, you must be holy to get there. To reach heaven you must be holy, because everyone there is holy. We read those words at the end of the previous chapter; “There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination or maketh a lie, but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” You must be holy to reach heaven. Without holiness “no man shall see the Lord.” “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.” And no-one else will be able to face the holy God but those that are pure in heart. We were singing those words:
“Make and keep me pure within.”
We so need the work of God’s Spirit to that end. On one of the walls in this chapel there is a memorial to Richard Burnham, who wrote such beautiful hymns. One of them goes like this with regard to this matter of holiness – that this is how the people of God become holy:
“The Holy Spirit leads them on,
A holy Christ to view;
And while by faith they view His face,
Their souls grow holy too.”
As they see the face of the Lord Jesus in the gospel, as they see something of His glory there, of His suitability and sufficiency as an Almighty Saviour, they become a little like Him. As it is written,
“We all, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Do you feel to be unholy? Well of course, we are still, all of as, in some sense. With regard to our old nature we are unholy in ourselves. But the Spirit of God can make you holy. And that is the purpose of God towards all His dear children. The apostle says to the Thessalonians, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly (completely); and I pray God that your whole spirit and soul and
body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” Now do YOU long to be holy? Would you love to be perfectly holy? Because, if that is so, you are already holy in some degree. You have those holy desires and a holy nature to desire like that. And if you are .somewhat holy now, you will be perfectly holy soon; you will be absolutely holy for ever and ever “in Jesus’ image shining bright.”
And so my dear friends, this word divides. It really draws a line through this congregation, and every congregation. There are two halves to this verse, very plainly so. There are two characters in the verse; and before long, characters will be fixed. There will be no possibility of any more change when the Saviour returns. Then it will be for ever that we are either unjust and filthy, or righteous and holy. And what about you? Where will you be in that great Day? The Saviour will divide. There is that parable concerning the fish that were caught in the net. Some of them were good and some of them were bad; they were caught in a great net, the gospel net, so to speak. And the time came when the angels were to divide. “They gathered the good into vessels but they cast the bad away.” And you see, there is no possibility then of any deception. You may put on a pretence now, but there will be no possibility of any pretending then. As you are, you will be. If you are holy and righteous, you will inherit eternal life. But if you are unjust and filthy, you will go into everlasting punishment, which we all so richly deserve.
Now four times in this verse we have the word ‘let; “let this be so”. The word ‘let’ occurs very many times in the Scripture; and mainly in two different ways. There is the ‘let’ of grace, where Jesus so graciously invites sinners to come to Him, as He still does in the gospel today. He says, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, for he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Another ‘let’ of grace is in the Epistle to the Hebrews;
“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Others are in this chapter: “Let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” These are all ‘lets’ of grace. The Lord is so gracious to invite sinners to come to Him, and even to take without money and without price freely the Water of life. So long, for a certain period in this present life, the Lord’s gracious invitations continue. He says, ‘Let’. “Let them come to me.” That’s what that word really means in the gospel, to suffer, or let; “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” So said the gracious Saviour.
But there is also a ‘let’ of judgment, of justice. When the time of grace comes to an end, there is the ‘let’ of justice, as here. “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still.” Dear friends, the time must come, it will surely come, when this word is fully operative, when there are these permanent characters which can no longer be altered. Now is the time to hear and to obey the gospel invitations; soon it will be too late, for ever. You see, in this word there is a fixed condition set before us. Character tends to become engrained. You have a conscience, for instance. It tells you when things are wrong. To some extent it will reprove you. But if you disobey the voice of conscience it gets quieter and quieter, and in the end you may not hear it at all. Sin hardens people; it makes people harder and harder. And as character is confirmed, the aspects of that character become engrained into our being. We become harder and harder, and the case becomes more and more desperate, and solemn.
O dear friends, do listen to the word of God here. The Saviour says, “Behold, I come quickly.” No one can say how quickly. We can be certain that He will come, and then He will separate exactly these two different kinds of characters. Dear friends, to go to heaven you must be holy and righteous. You must be. And the only way is through the work of the Spirit of God and through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ. The only safe place is in Christ; in Him, the true City of Refuge. To be in Him is to be safe for all eternity.
May God bless His Word to us. Amen.