“He lingered.” Genesis 19:16


Adapted from a Sermon By

J.C. Ryle

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.

These are very solemn words, and full of food for thought. I hope that they will make you think. Who knows but they are the very words your soul is in need of? Luke records the voice of the Lord Jesus himself commanding you to “remember Lot’s wife.” (Luke 17:32.) I join my voice to J.C. Ryle’s in inviting you this day to remember Lot.

Let me try to show you,—

I. First, What Lot was himself:

II. Then, What the text already quoted tells you of him:

III. Thirdly, What reasons may account for his lingering:

IV. And lastly, What kind of fruit his lingering produced.

I. We begin by considering, What was Lot?

This is a central point. A misunderstanding here might cause the lessons to be lost on a whole class of professing Christians for whose benefit they are especially meant. You would perhaps say, at the end of the sermon, “Ah, Lot was a poor, dark creature,—an unconverted man,—a child of this world!—no wonder he lingered.”

But consider this carefully: 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 traveler in the narrow way which leads to life?—So also was Lot.

And this is not only a private opinion,—a mere arbitrary theory,—a notion unsupported by Scripture. No, the Holy Spirit has placed the matter beyond doubt, by calling him “just,” and “righteous” through the Apostle Peter in his second Epistle (2 Peter 2:7, 8), and has given us evidence of the grace that was in him.

One evidence is, that he lived in a wicked place, as “he saw and heard” evil all around him (2 Peter 2:8), and yet was not wicked himself. Now to be a Daniel in Babylon,—an Obadiah in Ahab’s house,—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 “was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds” that he saw all around him. (2 Peter 2:8.) He was wounded, grieved, pained, and hurt at the sight of sin. This was feeling like holy David, who says, “I look at the faithless with disgust, because they do not keep your commands,” “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.” (Psalm 119:136, 158.) Nothing will account for this but the grace of God.

Another evidence is, that his soul was “tormented day after day” with the unlawful deeds he saw (2 Peter 2:8.) 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 are shocked and startled at the first sight of wickedness, and yet becomes at last so accustomed to see it, that they come to view it with comparative unconcern. But it was not so with Lot. And this is a great mark of the reality of his grace.

Such a one was Lot,—a just and righteous man, a man sealed and stamped as an heir of heaven by the Holy Spirit Himself.

And we ought to remember, before we pass on, that a true Christian may have many a blemish, many a defect, many an infirmity, and yet be a true Christian nevertheless. We do not despise gold because it is mixed with much impurity. We must not undervalue grace because it is accompanied by much corruption. We will see that Lot paid dearly for his “lingering.” But let us not forget, as we proceed, 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 amazing and astounding: “He lingered;” and the more you consider the time and circumstances, the more amazing they will seem.

Lot knew the awful condition of the city in which he stood; “the outcry” of its abomination “had become great before the LORD” (Gen. 19:13): and yet “he lingered.

Lot knew the fearful judgment coming down on all within its walls; the angels had said plainly, “The LORD has sent us to destroy it:” (Gen. 19:13) and yet Lot knew that God was a God who always kept His word, and if He said a thing He 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 out of this place, for the LORD is about to destroy the city.” (Gen. 19:14.) And yet “he lingered.

Lot saw the angels of God standing by, waiting for him and his family to go out. And yet “be lingered.”

Lot heard the voice of those ministers of wrath ringing in his ears to induce him to go. “Up! … lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.” (Gen. 19:15.) And yet “he lingered.

He was slow when he should have been quick,—backward when he should have been forward,—delaying when he should have been hastening,—loitering when he should have been hurrying,—cold when he should have been hot. It is exceedingly strange! It seems almost incredible! It appears too amazing to be true! But the Spirit writes it down for our learning. And so it was.

And yet are there are not many of the Lord Jesus Christ’s people very like Lot?

Consider all this carefully. Mark it well. We have seen how Lot “lingered,”—It is to be feared that there are many Christian men and Christian women and children in this day very much 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. It is amazing 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 right about them. They are constantly doing things which disappoint the expectations of their ministers, and of more advanced Christian friends. It is amazing 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 person 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. It is 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 agree 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 are ready to please everybody, and accommodate 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 tear out the right eye. (Matt. 5:29, 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 creative in finding 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 mingling with unbelievers. 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 laziness, a bad temper, pride, selfishness, impatience, or whatever it may be. They allow it to retain a tolerably quiet and undisturbed place in 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 like this before themselves, and they are sure they cannot help it. And if you meet them 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 brothers and sisters of Lot. They linger.

And if you are a lingering soul, you cannot be 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 not find the way pleasant, but hard.

Come and look at Lot. Come and mark Lot’s history. Come and consider Lot’s lingering, and be wise.

III. Let us consider, thirdly, the reasons that may account for Lot’s lingering.

This is a very important question, and I ask your serious attention to it. To know the root of a disease is one step towards a cure. He that is forewarned is forearmed.

Is there anyone here who feels secure, and has no fear of lingering? Come and listen while I tell you a few passages of Lot’s history.

One thing that we see in Lot is this, he made a wrong choice in early life.

There was a time when Abraham and Lot lived together. They both became rich, and could live together no longer. Abraham, the elder of the two, in the true spirit of humility and courtesy, gave Lot the choice of the country, when they resolved to part company: “If you,” he said, “take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” (Gen. 13:9.)

And what did Lot do?—We are told he saw that the plains of Jordan, near Sodom, were rich, fertile and well-watered. It was a good land for cattle, and full of pastures. He had large flocks and herds, and it just suited his needs. And this was the land he chose to live in, simply because it was a rich, well-watered land.

It was near the town of Sodom! But he did not care about that.

The men of Sodom, who would be his neighbours, were wicked! It did not matter to him.

They were exceeding sinners before God ! It made no difference to him.

The pasture was rich. The land was good. He wanted such a country for his flocks and herds. And before that argument all scruples and doubts, if indeed he had any, at once disappeared.

He chose by sight, and not by faith. He asked no help from God to preserve him from mistakes. He looked to the things of time, and not of eternity. He thought of his worldly profit, and not of his soul. He considered only what would help him in this life,—he forgot the solemn business of the life to come. This was a bad beginning.

But we observe also that Lot mixed with sinners when there was no need for his doing so.

We are first told that he “moved his tent as far as Sodom.” (Gen. 13:12.) This, as we have already seen, was a great mistake.

But the next time he is mentioned, we find him actually living in Sodom itself. The Spirit says expressly, that he “was dwelling in Sodom.” (Gen. 14:12.)

His tents were left. The country was forsaken. He occupied a house in the very streets of that wicked town.

We are not told how this came about. We are not made aware of any occasion that could have arisen for it. We are sure there could have been no command of God. Perhaps his wife liked the town better than the country, for the sake of society. It is plain she had no grace herself. Perhaps she persuaded Lot it was necessary for the education of his daughters. Perhaps the daughters urged living in the town for the sake of happy company:—they were evidently light-minded young women. Perhaps Lot liked it himself, in order to make more of his flocks and herds. Men never lack reasons to confirm their wills. But one thing is very clear,—Lot dwelt in the midst of Sodom without good cause.

Now when a child of God does these two things, making wrong choices early on and mixing with sinners when there is no need, you never need be surprised if you hear, before long, unfavourable accounts about his soul. You never need wonder if he becomes deaf to the warning voice of affliction, as Lot was (Gen. 14:12), and turns out a lingerer in the day of trial, and danger, as Lot did.

Make a wrong choice,—an unscriptural choice,—in life, and settle yourself down unnecessarily in the midst of worldly people, and it is sure to damage your own spirituality, and to go backward about your eternal concerns.

This is the way to make the pulse of your soul beat slowly and feebly.

This is the way to make the edge of your feeling about sin become blunt and dull.

This is the way to dim the eyes of your spiritual discernment, till you can scarcely distinguish good from evil, and stumble as you walk.

This is the way to bring a moral paralysis on your feet and limbs, and make you go tottering and trembling along the road to Zion.

This is the way to open the door to your worst enemy,—to give the devil the upper ground in the battle,—to tie your arms in fighting,—to fetter your legs in running,—to dry up the sources of your strength,—to cripple your own energies,—to cut off your own hair, like Samson, and give yourself into the hands of the Philistines, put out your own eyes, grind at the mill, and become a slave.

Consider this carefully and wake up and mark well these words. Settle these things down in your mind. Do not forget them. Remember them in the morning. Remember them at night. Let them sink down deeply into your heart. If ever you would be safe from lingering, beware of needless mingling with worldly people. Beware of Lot’s choice. If you would not settle down into a dry, dull, sleepy, barren, heavy, carnal, senseless, frozen state of soul, beware of Lot’s choice.

Remember this in choosing a dwelling-place, or residence. It is not enough that the house is comfortable,—the situation good,—the air fine,—the neighbourhood pleasant,—the expenses small,—the rent cheap. There are other things yet to be considered. You must think of your immortal soul. Will the house you think of help you towards heaven or hell?—Is the Gospel preached within an easy distance?—Is Christ crucified within reach of your door?—Is there a real man of God near, who will watch over your soul? If you love life, do not to overlook this. Beware of Lot’s choice.

Remember this in choosing a calling, a place, or profession in life. It is not enough that the salary is high,—the wages good,—the labour light,—the advantages many,—the prospects of advancement most favourable. Think of your soul, your immortal soul. Will it be fed or starved? Will it be prospered or drawn back? I can only urge you, by the mercies of God, to be careful what you do. Make no rash decision. Look at the place in every light, the light of God as well as the light of the world. Beware of Lot’s choice.

Remember this in choosing a husband or wife, if you are unmarried. It is not enough that your eye is pleased,—that your tastes are met,—that your mind finds rest,—that there is amiability and affection,—that there is a comfortable home life. There needs something more than this. There is a life yet to come. Think of your soul, your immortal soul. Will it be helped upwards, or dragged downwards by the union you are planning?—Will it be made more heavenly, or more earthly,—drawn nearer to Christ, or to the world?—Will its religion grow in vigour, or will it decay? I can only pray that you allow this to enter into your calculations. Think, as old Baxter said, and think, and think, and think again, before you commit yourself. “Do not be unequally yoked” (2 Cor. 6:14.) Marriage is nowhere named among the means of conversion. Remember Lot’s choice.

Remember this if you are ever offered a job which would keep you away from church. It is not enough to have good pay, and regular employment, the confidence of the directors, and the best chance of rising to a higher post. These things are very well in their way, but they are not everything. How will your soul fare if you are kept away from the means of grace?—What day in the week will you have for God and eternity?—What opportunities will you have for hearing the Gospel preached? I solemnly warn you to consider this. It will profit you nothing to fill your bank account, if you bring leanness and poverty on your soul. Beware of selling your Sabbath for the sake of a good position. Beware of Lot’s choice.

Someone may perhaps think, “a believer need not fear,—he is a sheep of Christ, he will never perish,—he cannot come to much harm, it cannot be that such small matters can be that important.”

But if you are one who thinks this, be warned, for if you neglect them, your soul will never prosper! A true believer will certainly not be cast away, although he may linger; but if he does linger, it is useless to imagine that his religion will thrive.

Grace is a tender plant. Unless you cherish it and nurse it well, it will soon become sick in this evil world. It may droop, though it cannot die.

The hottest iron will soon become cold. It requires effort and toil to bring it to a red heat. It requires nothing but letting alone, or a little cold water, to become black and hard.

You may be an earnest zealous Christian now. You may feel like David in his prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” (Psalm 30:6.) But do not be deceived. You have only got to walk in Lot’s steps, and make Lot’s choice, and you will soon come to Lot’s state of soul. Allow yourself to do as he did,—presume to act as he acted, and be very sure you will soon discover you have become a wretched lingerer, like him.

You will find, like Samson, the presence of the Lord is no longer with you.

You will prove to your own shame an undecided, hesitating man, in the day of trial.

There will come a disease on your religion, and eat out its vitality without your knowing it.

There will come a fading of your spiritual strength, and it will waste away insensibly.

And before long you will wake up to find your hands hardly able to do the Lord’s work, and your feet hardly able to carry you along the Lord’s way, and your faith no bigger than a grain of mustard seed;—and this, perhaps, at some turning point in your life, at a time when the enemy is coming in like a flood, and your need is the greatest.

Now if you do not want to become a lingerer in religion, consider these things! Beware of doing what Lot did.

IV. Let us consider now, in the fourth and last place, what kind of fruit Lot’s lingering spirit bore at last.

There are not a few who will feel disposed to say, “After all Lot was saved,—he was justified,—he got to heaven. I want no more. If I do but get to heaven, I will be content.”

But if this is the thought of your heart, let me show you one or two things in Lot’s history which deserve attention, and may perhaps persuade you to change your mind.

It is important to consider this carefully. There is much evidence that supports that eminent holiness, and eminent usefulness, are most closely connected,—that happiness and following the Lord fully go side by side,—and that if believers will linger, they must not expect to be useful in their day and generation, or to enjoy great comfort and peace in believing.

i) Mark then, for one thing, Lot did no good among the inhabitants of Sodom.

Lot lived in Sodom many years. No doubt he had many precious opportunities for speaking of the things of God, and trying to turn souls away from sin. But Lot seems to have accomplished just nothing at all. He appears to have had no weight or influence with the people who lived around him. He possessed none of that respect and reverence which even the men of the world will frequently concede to a bright servant of God.

Not one righteous person could be found in all Sodom, outside the walls of Lot’s home. Not one of his neighbours believed his testimony. Not one of his acquaintances honoured the Lord when he worshipped. Not one of his servants served his master’s God. Not one of “all the people to the last man” cared a jot for his opinion when he tried to restrain their wickedness. “This fellow came to sojourn,” said they, “and he has become the judge!.” (Gen. 19:9.) His life carried no weight. His words were not listened to. His religion attracted no one.

And this is not surprising. As a general rule, lingering souls do no good to the world, and bring no credit to God’s cause. Their salt has too little savour to season the corruption around them. They are not epistles of Christ who can be known and read by all. (2 Cor. 3:2) Remember this.

ii) Mark another thing. Lot helped none of his family towards heaven.

We are not told how large his family was. But this we know,—he had a wife and two daughters at least, in the day he was called out of Sodom, if he did not have more children besides.

But whether Lot’s family was large or small, one thing, seems perfectly clear,—there was not one among them all that feared God.

When he “went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters,” and warned them to flee from the coming judgments, we are told, he seemed to them “to be jesting.” (Gen. 19:14) What fearful words those are. It was as good as saying, “Who cares for anything you say?” So long as the world stands, those words will be a painful proof of the contempt with which a lingerer in religion is regarded.

And what was Lot’s wife? She left the city in his company, but she did not go far. She did not have enough faith to see the need for such a hasty departure. She left her heart in Sodom when she began to flee. She looked back from behind her husband, in spite of the plainest command not to do so (Gen. 19:17), and was at once turned into a pillar of salt.

And what were Lot’s two daughters? They escaped indeed,—but only to do the devil’s work. They became their father’s tempters to wickedness, and led him to commit the foulest of sins.

In short, Lot stood alone in his family. He was not made the means of keeping one soul back from the gates of hell.

And is this surprising? Lingering souls are seen through by their own families, and, when seen through, despised. Their nearest relations understand inconsistency, if they understand nothing else in religion. They draw the sad, but not unnatural conclusion, “Surely if he believed all he professes to believe, he would not go on as he does.” Lingering parents seldom have godly children. The eye of the child drinks in far more than the ear. A child will always observe what you do much more than what you say. Remember this.

iii) Mark a third thing. Lot left no evidences behind him when he died.

We know but little about Lot after his escape from Sodom, and all that we do know is not encouraging. His pleading for Zoar, because it was “a little one,” (v.20)—his leaving Zoar afterwards,—and his conduct in the cave,—all, it all tells the same story. It all shows the weakness of the grace that was in him, and the low state of soul into which he had fallen.

We do not know how long he lived after his escape. We do not know where he died, or when he died,—whether he saw Abraham again,—what was the manner of his death,—what he said, or what he thought. All these are hidden things. We are told of the last days of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David,—but not one word about Lot. What a gloomy death-bed the death-bed of Lot must have been!

The Scripture appears to draw a veil around him on purpose. There is a painful silence about his latter end. He seems to go out like an expiring lamp, and leave a bad taste behind him. And had we not been specially told in the New Testament that Lot was “just” and “righteous,” we would be led to doubt whether Lot was a saved soul at all.

But we should not be surprised by his sad end. Lingering believers will generally reap according to how they have sown. Their lingering often meets them when their spirit is departing. They have little peace at the last. They reach heaven, to be sure, but they reach it in darkness and storm. They are saved, “but only as through fire.” (1 Cor 3:15)

Let us consider these three things carefully:

- Lot did no good among the inhabitants of Sodom,

- Lot helped none of his family towards heaven,

- Lot left no evidences behind him when he died.

Let us be careful not to misunderstand the meaning as so many are prone to do in the things that concern their souls!

It is not to say that believers who do not “linger” will, invariably, be great instruments of usefulness to the world. Noah preached one hundred and twenty years, and no one believed him. The Lord Jesus was not esteemed by His own people, the Jews.

It is not to say that believers who do not linger, will, invariably, be the means of converting their families and relations. David’s children were, many of them, ungodly. The Lord Jesus was not believed on, even by his own brothers.

But what we do see is a clear connection between Lot’s evil choice and Lot’s lingering;—and between Lot’s lingering and his un-profitableness to his family and the world. It seems that the Spirit meant to make him a beacon to all professing Christians. And the lessons we can draw from the whole history, deserve serious reflection.

In closing, a few words especially to all who call themselves believers in Christ.

We live in days when a lingering, Lot-like religion abounds. A very shallow and superficial Christianity is the fashion in our day.

But to walk closely with God, to be really spiritually-minded,—to behave like strangers and pilgrims,—to be distinct from the world in how we use our time, in conversation, in amusements, in how we dress,—to bear a faithful witness for Christ in all places,—to leave a savour of our Master in every society, to be prayerful, humble, unselfish, meek,—to be jealously afraid of sin, and tremblingly, alive to our danger from the world,—these, these rare things today. They are not common among those who are called true Christians, and, worst of all, the absence of them is not felt and bewailed as it should be.

Let us all take Ryle’s advice today and not turn away from it. He us urging us plainly to endeavour to make our calling and election sure. Let us not be slothful, careless, content with a small measure of grace. Let us not to be satisfied with being a little better than the world. Let us not attempt what really can never be done,—that is, to serve Christ, and yet keep in with the world. I can only urge you , do not be a lingering soul.

Would you know what the times demand?—the decay of morality,—the uprooting of the family,—the stir and restlessness of men’s minds?—They all say,—Christian! do not linger!

Would you be found ready for Christ at His second appearing,—your lamp burning, yourself bold, and prepared to meet Him. Then do not linger!

Would you enjoy much comfort in your religion,—feel the witness of the Spirit within you,—know whom you have believed,—and not be a gloomy and sad Christian? Then do not linger!

Would you enjoy strong assurance of your own salvation, in the day of sickness, and on your deathbed?—Would you see with the eye of faith heaven opening, and Jesus rising to receive you? Then do not linger!

Would you leave great and strong evidences behind you when you are gone?—Would you like us to lay you in the grave with comfortable hope, and talk of your state after death without a doubt? Then do not linger!

Would you be useful to the world in your day and generation?—Would you draw men from sin to Christ, and make your Master’s cause beautiful in their eyes? Then do not linger!

Would you help your children and relatives towards heaven, and make them say, “We will go with you”?—and not make them infidels and despisers of true religion? Then do not linger!

May not one of us here present linger! Time does not,—death does not,—judgment does not,—the devil does not,—the world does not. Neither let the children of God linger.

Are you a lingerer? Has your heart felt heavy, and your conscience striken, while you have been hearing these words? Does something within you whisper, “I am the man”?

How is it with your soul?

If you are a lingerer, you must just go to Christ at once and be cured,—you must use the old remedy. You must turn again to Christ and be healed. The way to do a thing is to do it. So do it right now!

Do not think for a moment your case hopeless. Do not think that because you have been living in a dry and heavy state of soul for so long, that there is no hope of being revived. Is not the Lord Jesus Christ an appointed Physician for the soul? Did He not cure every form of disease? Did not He cast out every kind of devil? Did He not raise poor backsliding Peter? Do not doubt but earnestly believe that He will yet revive His work within you! Only turn from lingering, and confess your folly, and come,—come at once to Christ. Blessed are the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “Only acknowledge your guilt.”—“Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness.” (Jer 3:13, 22.)

And remember the souls of others, as well as your own. If at any time you see any brother or sister lingering, try to awaken them,—try to arouse them,—try to stir them up. Let us all exhort one another as we have opportunity. Let us provoke one another to love and good works. Let us not be afraid to say to each other, “Brother, or sister, have you forgotten Lot? Awake! and remember Lot;—Awake, and linger no more.”

“Brother, or sister, have you forgotten Lot?”