In the 1860 Catechism he wrote for the African-Americans seeking admission to the church he pastored in Charleston, South Carolina, John Lafayette Girardeau included a short address to the inquirer, "in the hope that the truths contained in the Catechism may be enforced in the form of direct exhortation." The beauty and power of these gospel words depict the heart of this evangelistic pastor, and challenge the modern church's lack of evangelistic zeal and its truncated gospel. Use these words in your preaching; include them in your personal evangelism; share them with the lost in as many forms as you can come up with.
My Friend, are you inquiring about the salvation of your never-dying soul? You are right. You cannot live here very long. You must soon die, and pass into eternity; and if that one soul, which God has given you, be lost, your all is lost. Will you listen to some affectionate advice on this all-important subject?
First, then, consider how great a sinner you are in God’s sight. You have broken His Law, that holy, just and righteous Law which angels and all good beings reverence and obey. You have wickedly trampled under foot all the commands of God’s Law, and you know full well that you have not had the shadow of an excuse for so doing. That Law says, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” You have sinned, and you, therefore, deserve to die. Consider, too, how you have abused God’s great goodness and mercy to you. Ever since you were born God has been blessing you. He has given you clothing, food and shelter, and has mercifully provided for all your wants. Above all, He so loved sinners that He gave His only-begotten Son to die for them; and you have also despised this His amazing mercy, and refused to take God’s crucified Son as your Savior and your Lord. Think, too, how far short you have come of God’s glory in all things. You have not loved Him nor obeyed Him in any degree as He requires. You are a great sinner in God’s sight. Your sins are exceedingly offensive and abominable to Him, your Maker and your Judge. If He should cut you down and send you to hell, there to suffer forever and ever, He would treat you just as you deserve. O my friend, pray earnestly to God that He would convince you of your sins, by His Holy Spirit. Pray to Him to open your eyes that you may see your awful danger. Pray to Him to show you your great and manifold sins. Pray to Him to make you deeply feel your need of Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin and hell.
You cannot save yourself. You have no goodness to recommend you to God’s favor. You are vile and wicked in the sight of a holy God. You have no righteousness. “All your righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” They cannot cover you in the day of God’s wrath. You cannot obey the Law in your own strength, for you have broken it already and its awful curse is now resting on your soul. Nothing that you can do can lift that curse from your soul. It threatens to sink you down into the bottomless pit. No works that you can do can save you. “By the deeds of the Law shall no flesh be justified.” If you pray in your own strength, that will not save you. If you try to serve God, in your own strength, that will not save you. Pray that God would show you that you are “miserable and poor and blind and naked;” that you are “dead in trespasses and sins;” and that unless He have mercy upon you, and save you, you must be lost and undone forever and ever.
Are you, then, shut up to final despair? Is there no hope for you? Hear, O sinner, what God has done to save us. He is full of pity, love and mercy, to poor, guilty, wretched sinners. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Yes, Jesus Christ, God’s well-beloved Son, saw us in our sinfulness and misery, and touched with heavenly pity for us, He came down to this world to save us. Jesus took the place of sinners. Jesus suffered, and bled, and died for sinners, that He might deliver them from the dreadful curse of the Law. He died and rose again from the dead, and now ever liveth in heaven to intercede for sinners.
Do you ask, now, what you must do to be saved? This blessed Savior, Jesus Christ, who suffered and died for sinners, graciously invites you to come to Him, that you may have everlasting life. Listen to His sweet invitation to sinners! “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Do you want rest from the burden of your sins? Go to Jesus and He will give you rest. Do you want to be happy? Hear what He says: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” Be not afraid to venture your soul upon Him. “The Spirit and the Bride say, Come; and let him that heareth say, come; and let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.” Think not, because you are a great sinner, that He will not receive you. Hear what Jesus says: “Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.” The first thing, then, for you to do, is to go to the Lord Jesus, and believe in Him. When the Jews asked Christ what they must do, He answered, “This is the work of God, that ye believe in Him whom He hath sent.” When the jailor asked Paul and Silas when he must do to be saved, the Apostle told him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
Go, then, O sinner, to Jesus Christ the Savior, and go just as you are. Stay not in the vain hope that you can make yourself any better than you now are. You cannot prepare yourself to go to Christ. The greater your sins are, the greater is your need of Christ. He “came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” Carry all your sins to Him. Lay them all on Him. “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” You have nothing but sins to give to Him, and He is willing to take them, and, in exchange, to give you His finished righteousness. What you want is mercy. Plead with God, for Christ’s sake, to have mercy upon you, to wash you in the atoning blood of Jesus, and to pardon all your sins. Trust alone in the righteousness of Christ. You have none of your own. Beseech God to accept you as righteous in His sight for the sake of His dear Son Jesus Christ. Do this, and being justified by faith, you shall have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
And, sinner, go to Jesus at once. Do not suppose that it is your duty to spend a long time in seeking pardoning mercy, before you ought to expect to find it. God has made it your duty to believe in Christ now. And suppose you die before you find Christ as your Savior, of what good will your seeking be to you? Your life is uncertain. Tomorrow you may die; and if you die out of Christ, you will be lost forever. Be in earnest. Press your case in prayer before God. Plead as for your life that He would not enable you to believe in Christ, and to lay hold upon Him as He is freely offered in the Gospel. If God should please to keep you waiting some time before He gives you an answer of peace, be not discouraged. Draw nearer to Christ, and cry, “Lord, help me;” and never cease to cry for mercy, until God, for Jesus’ sake, pardons your sins and converts your soul.
And should God in infinite mercy be pleased to hear your prayer, and speak pardon to your soul, oh think of your crucified Savior, and think of your sins that nailed Him to the tree, until your heart melts into penitence at His feet. Plead with Him for strength to enable you to give up all your sins, and to do all His commands. And as you went to Jesus, at first, a poor, worthless, helpless sinner, so continue to go to Him every day and hour of your life. Trust in Christ, love Christ, live for Christ; and when you come to die, Christ will be with you, and give you the victory over death. Your body will sleep in Jesus till the glorious resurrection morning; and your happy, ransomed soul will go at once to be with Jesus, and to sing His praise forever and ever. Thus, to you, to live will be Christ, and to die will be gain.