David Pawson’s talk on the subject of Once Saved, Always Saved?:
Any One Form of Sin Persisted In is Fatal to the Soul
by Charles Finney
“Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point is guilty of all.” – James 2:10
“He that is unjust in the least, is also unjust in much.” – Luke 16:10
In speaking from these words, I inquire,
I. What is it to persist in sin?
1. To persist in sin is not to abandon it. If a person should only occasionally, under the force of temptation, fall into a sin, any form of sin, and should repent and abandon it for a time, and should only occasionally be overcome by a temptation to commit that form of sin, it would not be proper to say that he persisted in it; for, according to this supposition, he is not wilful, or obstinate, or habitual in the commission of this sin, but it is rather accidental, in the sense that the temptation sometimes overtakes and overcomes him, notwithstanding his habitual abandonment of it and resistance to it. But if the commission be habitual, a thing allowed, a thing indulged in habitually, such a sin is persisted in.
2. A sin is persisted in, although it may not be outwardly repeated, if it be not duly confessed. An individual may be guilty of a great sin, which he may not repeat in the act; nevertheless, while he neglects or refuses to confess it, it is still on his conscience unrepented of and in that sense, is still persisted in. If the sin has been committed to the injury of some person or persons, and be not duly confessed to the parties injured, it is still persisted in.
If any of you had slandered his neighbour to his great injury, it would not do for you to merely abstain from repeating that offence. The sin is not abandoned until it is confessed, and reparation made, so far as confession can make it. If not confessed, the injury is allowed to work; and therefore the sin is virtually repeated, and therefore persisted in.
Again, 3. A sin is persisted in when due reparation has not been made. If you have wronged a person, and it is in your power to make him restitution and satisfaction, then, so long as you persist in neglecting or refusing to do so, you do not forsake the sin, but persist in it. Suppose one who had stolen your property, resolved never to repeat the act, and never to commit the like again; and yet he refuses to make restitution and restore the stolen property as far as is in his power; of course he still persists in that sin, and the wrong is permitted to remain.
I once had a conversation with a young man to this effect. He had been in the habit of stealing. He was connected with a business in which it was possible for him to steal money in small sums, which he had repeatedly done. He afterwards professed to become a Christian, but he made no restitution. He found in the Bible this text, “Let him that stole steal no more.” He resolved not to steal any more, and there let the matter rest. Of course he had no evidence of acceptance with God, for he could not have been accepted. However, he flattered himself that he was a Christian for a long time, until he heard a sermon on confession and restitution, which woke him up. He then came to me for the conversation of which I have spoken.
He was told that, if it was in his power, he must make restitution and give back the stolen money, or he could not be forgiven. But observe his perversion of Scripture. To be sure it is the duty of those who have stolen property to steal no more; but this is not all. He is bound to restore that which he has stolen, as well as to steal no more. This is a plain doctrine of Scripture, as well as of reason and conscience.
II. Any one form of sin persisted in is fatal to the soul.
I now come to the main doctrine of our texts — That is, it is impossible for a person to be saved who continues to commit any form of known sin.
1. It is fatal to the soul because any one form of sin persisted in is a violation of the spirit of the whole law. The text in James settles that: “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all.” The law requires supreme love to God, and equal love to our fellowmen.
Now sin is selfishness; and always assumes the preference of self-interest and self-gratification to obedience to God, or to our duty to our fellowmen.
Whosoever, therefore, habitually prefers himself to God, or is selfish in regard to his fellowmen, cannot be a Christian. If in any one thing he violates the law of love, he breaks the spirit of the whole law, and is living in sin.
2. Persistence in any form of sin cannot consist with supreme love to God or equal love to our fellowmen. If we love God more than ourselves, we cannot disoblige him for the sake of obliging ourselves. We cannot displease him, knowingly and habitually, for the sake of pleasing ourselves.
For we supremely love whom we supremely desire to please. If we supremely desire to please ourselves, we love ourselves supremely. If we love God supremely, we desire supremely to please him; and cannot, consistently with the existence of this love in the soul, consent to displease him.
Under the force of a powerful temptation that diverts and partially distracts the mind, one who loves God may be induced to commit an occasional sin, and occasionally to displease God.
But if he love God supremely, he will consent to displease him only under the pressure of a present and powerful temptation that diverts attention and partially distracts the mind. So that his sin cannot be habitual; and no form of sin can habitually have dominion over him if he is truly a Christian.
3. The text in James affirms the impossibility of real obedience in one thing, and of persistent disobedience in another, at the same time. It seems to me a great and common error to suppose that persons can really obey God in the spirit of obedience in some things, while at the same time there are certain other things in which they withhold obedience; in other words, that they can obey one commandment and disobey another at the same time — that they can perform one duty acceptably, and at the same time refuse to perform other duties.
Now the text in James is designed flatly to contradict this view of the subject. It asserts as plainly as possible, that disobedience in any one point is wholly inconsistent with true obedience, for the time being, in any other respect; that the neglect of one duty renders it impossible, for the time being, to perform any other duty with acceptance; in other words, no one can obey in one thing and disobey in another at the same time.
But 4. Real obedience to God involves and implies supreme regard for his authority.
Now if any one has a supreme regard for God’s authority in any one thing, he will yield to his authority in everything.
But if he can consent to act against the authority of God in any one thing for the time being, he cannot be accepted in anything; for it must be that, while in one thing he rejects the authority of God, he does not properly accept it in any other. Hence, if obedience to God be real in anything, it extends for the time being, and must extend, to everything known to be the will of God.
Again, 5. One sin persisted in is fatal to the soul, because it is a real rejection of God’s whole authority. If a man violates knowingly any one of God’s commandments as such, he rejects the authority of God; and if in this he rejects the authority of God, he rejects his whole authority, for the time being, on every subject. So that if he appears to obey in other things while in one thing he sets aside and condemns God’s authority, it is only the appearance of obedience, and not real obedience. He acts from a wrong motive in the case in which he appears to obey. He certainly does not act out of supreme respect to God’s authority; and therefore he does not truly obey him. But surely one who rejects the whole authority of God cannot be saved.
I fear it is very common for persons to make a fatal mistake here; and really to suppose that they are accepted in their obedience in general, although in some things or thing they habitually neglect or refuse to do their duty.
They live, and know that they live, in the omission of some duty habitually, or in the violation of their own consciences on some point habitually; and yet they keep up so much of the form of religion, and do so many things that they call duties, that they seem to think that these will compensate for the sin in which they persist. Or rather, so many duties are performed, and so much of religion is kept up, as will show, they think, that upon the whole they are Christians; will afford them ground for hope, and give them reasons to think that they are accepted while they are indulging, and know that they are, in some known sin.
They say, To be sure, I know that I neglect that duty; I know that I violate my conscience in that thing; but I do so many other things that are my duty, that I have good reason to believe that I am a Christian.
Now this is a fatal delusion. Such persons are totally deceived in supposing that they really obey God in anything. “He that is unjust in the least, is really unjust also in much;” and “whosoever will keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all.”
Again, 6. Any form of sin persisted in is fatal to the soul, because it is inconsistent with true repentance. Sin, however great, will be forgiven if repented of. But what is repentance? Repentance is not mere sorrow for sin, but it is the heart-renunciation of sin; it is the giving up of sin from the heart, and of all sin as sin; it is the rejection of it because it is that abominable thing which God hates; it is the turning of the heart from self-seeking to supreme love to God and equal love to our fellowmen; it is heart-reformation; it is heart-rejection of sin; it is heart-turning to God. Now, while any one sin is persisted in and not given up, there can be no true repentance; for, after all, this form of sin is preferred to the will of God — the indulgence of self in this particular is preferred to pleasing God. There can, therefore, be no true repentance unless all known sin be for the time utterly abandoned.
7. Persistence in any form of sin is fatal to the soul, because it is utterly inconsistent with saving faith. That faith is saving which actually does save from sin and no other faith is saving or can be — that faith is justifying which is sanctifying. True faith works by love; it purifies the heart; it overcomes the world.
These are expressly affirmed to be the characteristics of saving faith. Let no one suppose that his faith is justifying, when, in fact, it does not save him from the commission of sin; for he cannot be justified while he persists in the commission of any known sin. If his faith does not purify his heart, if it does not overcome the world and overcome his sins, it can never save him.
Again, 8. Persistence in any one form of sin is fatal to the soul, because it withstands the power of the gospel. The gospel does not save whom it does not sanctify. If sin in any form withstands the saving power of the gospel; if sin does not yield under the influence of the gospel; if it be persisted in, in spite of all the power of the gospel on the soul; of course the gospel does not, cannot, save that soul. Such sin is fatal.
But again, 9. Persistence in any one form of sin is fatal to the soul, because the grace of the gospel cannot pardon what it cannot eradicate.
As I have already said, a sin cannot be pardoned while it is persisted in. Some persons seem to suppose that, although they persist in many forms of sin, yet the grace of God will pardon sins that it has not power to eradicate and subdue. But this is a great mistake. The Bible everywhere expressly teaches this — that if the gospel fails to eradicate sin, it can never save the soul from the consequences of that sin.
But again, 10. If the gospel should pardon sin which it did not eradicate, this would not save the soul.
Suppose God should not punish sin; still, if the soul be left to the self-condemnation of sin, its salvation is naturally impossible. It were of no use to the sinner to be pardoned, if left under this self-condemnation. This is plain. Let no one, therefore, think that, if his sins are not subdued by the grace of the gospel, he can be saved.
But again, 11, and lastly. Sin is a unit in its spirit and root. It consists in preferring self to God.
Hence, if any form of preferring self to God be persisted in, no sin has been truly abandoned; God is not supremely loved; and the soul cannot, by any possibility, in such a case, be saved.
1. What a delusion the self-righteous are under.
Every man is aware that he has sinned at some time, and that he is a sinner. But there are many who think that, upon the whole, they perform so many good deeds, that they are safe. They are aware that they are habitually neglecting God and neglecting duty, that they neither love God supremely nor their neighbour as themselves; yet they are constantly prone to give themselves credit for a great deal of goodness. Now let them understand that there is no particle of righteousness in them, nor of true goodness, while they live in neglect of any known duty to man — while they are constantly prone to give themselves credit for a great deal of goodness. But they seem to think that they have a balance of good deeds.
2. How many persons indulge in little sins, as they call them; but they are too honest, they think, to indulge in great crimes. Now both these texts contradict this view. “He that is unjust in that which is least, is unjust also in much.” If a man yields to a slight temptation to commit what he calls a small sin, it cannot be a regard for God that keeps him from committing great sins. He may abstain from committing great sins through fear of disgrace or of punishment, but not because he loves God. If he does not love God well enough to keep from yielding to slight temptations to commit small sins, surely he does not love him well enough to keep from yielding to great temptations to commit great sins.
Again, 3. We see the delusion of those who are guilty of habitual dishonesties, tricks of trade for example, and yet profess to be Christians.
How many are there who are continually allowing themselves to practise little dishonesties, little deceptions, and to tell little lies in trade; and yet think themselves Christians! Now this delusion is awful; it is fatal. Let all such be on their guard, and understand it.
But again, 4. We see the delusion of those professors of religion who allow themselves habitually to neglect some known duty, and yet think themselves Christians. They shun some cross; there is something that they know they ought to do which they do not, and this is habitual with them. Perhaps all their Christian lives they have shunned some cross, or neglected the performance of some duty, and yet they think themselves Christians. Now let them know assuredly that they are self-deceived.
5. Many, I am sorry to say, preach a gospel that is a dishonour to Christ. They really maintain, at least they make this impression, though they may not teach it in words and form, that Christ really justifies men while they are living in the habitual indulgence of known sin.
Many preachers seem not to be aware of the impression which they really leave upon their people. Probably, if they were asked whether they hold and preach that any sin is forgiven which is not repented of; whether men are really justified while they persist in known sin, they would say, No. But, after all, in their preaching, they leave a very different impression. For example, how common it is to find ministers who are in this position: You ask them how many members they have in their church. Perhaps they will tell you, Five hundred. How many, do you think, are living up to the best light which they have? How many of them are living from day to day with a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man, and are not indulging in any known sin either of omission or commission? who are living and aiming to discharge punctually and fully every duty of heart to God and to all their fellowmen? Push the inquiry, and ask, How many of your church can you honestly say, before God, you think are endeavouring to live without sin? who do not indulge themselves in any form of transgression or omission?
They will tell you, perhaps, that they do not know a member of their church, or at least they know but very few, of whom they can say this. Now ask them further, How many of your church do you suppose to be in a state of justification? and you will find that they have the impression that the great mass of their church are in a state of justification with God; in a state of acceptance with him; in a state in which they are prepared to die; and if they should die just in this state by any sudden stroke of Providence, and they should be called upon to preach their funeral sermon, they would assume that they had gone to heaven.
While they will tell you that they know of but very few of their church of whom they can conscientiously say, I do not believe he indulges himself in any known sin; yet, let one of that great majority, of whom he cannot say this, suddenly die, and this pastor be called to attend his funeral, would he not comfort the mourners by holding out the conviction that he was a Christian, and had gone to heaven? Now this shows that the pastor himself, whatever be his theoretical views of being justified while indulging in any known sin, is yet, after all, practically an antinomian; and practically holds, believes, and teaches that Christ justifies people while they are living in the neglect of known duty, while they are knowingly shunning some cross, while they persist in known sin. Ministers, indeed, often leave this impression upon their churches (and I fear Calvinistic ministers quite generally), that if they are converted, or ever were, they are justified, although they may be living habitually and always in the indulgence of more or less known sin, living in the habitual neglect of known duty, indulging various forms of selfishness. And yet they are regarded as justified Christians: and get the impression, even from the preaching of their ministers, that all is well with them; that they really believe the gospel and are saved by Christ.
Now this is really antinomianism. It is a faith without law; it is a Saviour that saves in and not from sin. It is presenting Christ as really setting aside the moral law and introducing another rule of life; as forgiving sin while it is persisted in, instead of saving from sin.
6. Many profess to be Christians, and are indulging the hope of eternal life, who know that they never have forsaken all forms of sin; that in some things they have always fallen short of complying with the demands of their own consciences. They have indulged in what they call little sins; they have allowed themselves in practices, and in forms of self-indulgence, that they cannot justify; they have never reformed all their bad habits, and have never lived up to what they have regarded as their whole duty. They have never really intended to do this; have never resolutely set themselves in the strength of Christ, to give up every form of sin, both of omission and commission; but, on the contrary, they know that they have always indulged themselves in what they condemn. And yet they call themselves Christian! But this is as contrary to the teaching of the Bible as possible. The Bible teaches, not only that men are condemned by God if they indulge themselves in what they condemn; but, also, that God condemns them if they indulge in that the lawfulness of which they so much as doubt. If they indulge in any one thing the lawfulness of which is in their own estimation doubtful, God condemns them. This is the express teaching of the Bible. But how different is this from the common ideas that many professors of religion have!
7. Especially is this true of those who habitually indulge in the neglect of known duties, and who habitually shun the cross of Christ. Many persons neglect family prayer, and yet admit that they ought to perform it. How many females will even stay away from the female prayer-meeting to avoid performing the duty of taking a part in those meetings! How many indulge the hope that they are saved, while they know that they are neglecting, and always have neglected, some things, and even many things, that they admit to be their duty. They continue to live on in those omissions; but they think they are Christians because they do not engage in anything that is openly disgraceful, or, as they suppose, very bad.
Now there are many that entirely overlook the real nature of sin. The law of God is positive. It commands us to consecrate all our powers to his service and glory; to love him with all our heart and our neighbour as ourself. Now to neglect to do this is sin; it is positive transgression; it is an omission which always involves a refusal to do what God requires us to do. In other words, sin is the refusal to do what God requires us to do. It is the neglect to fulfil our obligations. If one neglects to pay you what he owes you, do you not call that sin, especially if the neglect involves necessarily the refusal to pay when he has the means of payment?
Sin really consists in withholding from God and man that love and service which we owe them — a withholding from God and man their due.
Now, where any one withholds from God and man what is their due, is this honest? is this Christian? And while this withholding is persisted in, can an individual be in a justified state? No, indeed!
The Bible teaches that sin is forgiven when it is repented of, but never while it is persisted in. The Bible teaches that the grace of God can save us from sin — from the commission of sin, or can pardon when we repent and put away sin; but it never teaches that sin can be forgiven while it is persisted in.
Let me ask you who are here present, Do you think you are Christians? Do you think, if you should die in your present state, that you are prepared to go to heaven? that you are already justified in Christ?
Well now, let me further ask, Are you so much as seriously and solemnly intending to perform to Christ, from day to day, your whole duty, and to omit nothing that you regard as your duty either to God or man? Are you not habitually shunning some cross? omitting something because it is a trial to perform that duty? Are you not avoiding the performance of disagreeable duties, and things that are trying to flesh and blood? Are you not neglecting the souls of those around you? Are you not failing to love your neighbour as yourself? Are you not neglecting something that you yourself confess to be your duty? and is not this habitual with you?
And now, do you suppose that you are really to be saved while guilty of these neglects habitually and persistently? I beg of you, be not deceived.
8. The impression of many seems to be, that grace will pardon what it cannot prevent; in other words, that if the grace of the gospel fails to save people from the commission of sin in this life, it will nevertheless pardon them and save them in sin, if it cannot save from sin.
Now, really, I understand the gospel as teaching that men are saved from sin first, and, as a consequence, from hell; and not that they are saved from hell while they are not saved from sin. Christ sanctifies when he saves. And this is the very first element or idea of salvation, saving from sin. “Thou shalt call his name Jesus,” said the angel, “for he shall save his people from their sins.” “Having raised up his Son Jesus,” said the apostle, “he hath sent him to bless you in turning every one of you from his iniquities.”
Let no one expect to be saved from hell, unless the grace of the gospel saves him first from sin.
Again, 9. There are many who think that they truly obey God in most things, while they know that they habitually disobey Him in some things. They seem to suppose that they render acceptable obedience to most of the commandments of God, while they are aware that some of the commandments they habitually disregard. Now the texts upon which I am speaking expressly deny this position, and plainly teach that if in any one thing obedience is refused, if any one commandment is disobeyed, no other commandment is acceptably obeyed, or can be for the time being.
Do let me ask you who are here present, Is not this impression in your minds that, upon the whole, you have evidence that you are Christians?
You perform so many duties and avoid so many outbreaking sins; you think that there is so great a balance in your favour, that you obey so many more commands than you disobey, that you call yourselves Christians, although you are aware that some of the commandments you never seriously intended to comply with, and that in some things you have always allowed yourself to fall short of known duty. Now, if this impression is in your minds, remember that it is not authorised at all by the texts upon which I am speaking, nor by any part of the Bible. You are really disobeying the spirit of the whole law. You do not truly embrace the gospel; your faith does not purify your heart and overcome the world; it does not work by love, and therefore it is a spurious faith, and you are yet in your sins. Will you consider this? Will you take home this truth to your inmost soul?
10. There are many who are deceiving themselves by indulging the belief that they are forgiven, while they have not made that confession and restitution which is demanded by the gospel. In other words, they have not truly repented; they have not given up their sin. They do not outwardly repeat it; neither do they in heart forsake it.
They have not made restitution; and therefore they hold on to their sin, supposing all is right if they do not repeat it; that Christ will forgive them while they make no satisfaction, even while satisfaction is in their power. This is a great delusion, and is greatly dishonouring to Christ. As if Christ would disgrace himself by forgiving you while you persist in doing your neighbour wrong!
This he cannot do; this he will not, must not do. He loves your neighbour as really as he loves you. He is infinitely willing to forgive provided you repent and make the restitution in your power; but until then, he cannot, will not.
I must remark again, 11. That from the teachings of these texts it is evident that no one truly obeys in any one thing, while he allows himself to disobey in any other thing. To obey God truly in anything, we must settle the question of universal obedience; else all our pretended obedience is vain. If we do not yield the whole to God; if we do not go the whole length of seriously giving up all, and renouncing in heart every form of sin, and make up our minds to obey him in everything, we do not truly obey him in anything.
Again, 12. From this subject we can see why there are so many professors of religion that get no peace, and have no evidence of their acceptance. They are full of doubts and fears. They have no religious enjoyment, but are groping on in darkness and doubt; are perhaps praying for evidence and trying to get peace of mind, but fall utterly short of doing so.
Now, in such cases you will often find that some known sin is indulged; some known duty continually neglected; some known cross shunned; something avoided which they know to be their duty, because it is trying to them to fulfil their obligation. It is amazing to see to what an extent this is true.
Some time since, an aged gentleman visited me, who came from a distance as an inquirer. He had been a preacher, and indeed was then a minister of the gospel; but he had given up preaching because of the many doubts that he had of his acceptance with Christ. He was in great darkness and trouble of mind; had been seeking religion, as he said, a great part of his life; and had done everything, as he supposed, in his power, to obtain evidence of his acceptance.
When I came to converse with him, I found that there were sins on his conscience that had been there for many years; plain cases of known transgression, of known neglect of duty indulged all this while. Here he was, striving to get peace, striving to get evidence, and even abandoning preaching because he could not get evidence; while all the time these sins lay upon his conscience. Amazing! amazing!
Again, 13. I remark, That total abstinence from all known sin is the only practicable rule of life. To sin in one thing and obey in another at the same time is utterly impossible. We must give up, in heart and purpose, all sin, or we in reality give up none. It is utterly impossible for a man to be truly religious at all, unless in the purpose of his heart he is wholly so and universally so. He cannot be a Christian at home and a sinner abroad; or a sinner at home and a Christian abroad.
He cannot be a Christian on the Sabbath, and a selfish man in his business or during the week. A man must be one or the other; he must yield everything to God, or in fact he yields nothing to God.
He cannot serve God and mammon. Many are trying to do so, but it is impossible. They cannot love both God and the world; they cannot serve two masters; they cannot please God and the world. It is the greatest, and yet the most common, I fear, of all mistakes, that men can be truly but knowingly only partially religious; that in some things, they can truly yield to God, while in other things they refuse to obey him. How common is this mistake! If it is not, what shall we make of the state of the churches?
How are we to understand the great mass of professors? How are we to understand the great body of religious teachers, if they do not leave the impression, after all, on the churches, that they can be accepted of God while their habitual obedience is only very partial; while, in fact, they pick and choose among the commandments of God, professing to obey some, while they allow themselves in known disobedience of others. Now, if in this respect the church has not a false standard; if the mass of religious instruction is not making a false impression on the churches and on the world in this respect, I am mistaken. I am sorry to be obliged to entertain this opinion, and to express it; but what else can I think? How else can the state of the churches be accounted for? How else is it that ministers hope that the great mass of their churches are in a safe state? How else is it that the great mass of professors of religion can have any hope of eternal life in them, if this is not the principle practically adopted by them, that they are justified while only rendering habitually but a very partial obedience to God; that they are really forgiven and justified while they only pick and choose among the commandments, obeying those which it costs them little to obey, and are not disagreeable and not unpopular; while they do not hesitate habitually to disobey where obedience would subject them to any inconvenience, require self-denial, or expose them to any persecution?
Again, 14. From what has been said, it will be seen that partial reformation is no evidence of real conversion. Many are deceiving themselves on this point. Now we should never allow ourselves to believe that a person is converted if we perceive that his reformation extends to certain things only, while in certain other things he is not reformed; especially when, in the case of those things in which he is not reformed, he admits that he ought to perform those duties, or to relinquish those practices. If we find him still persisting in what he himself admits to be wrong, we are bound to assume and take it for granted that his conversion is not real.
Again, 15. Inquirers can see what they must do.
They must abandon all sin; they must give up all for Christ: they must turn with their whole heart and soul to him; and must make up their minds to yield a full and hearty obedience as long as they live. They must settle this in their minds; and must cast themselves upon Christ for forgiveness for all the past, and grace to help in every time of need for the future. Only let it be settled in your mind fully that you will submit yourself to the whole will of God; and then you may expect, and are bound to expect, him to forgive all the past, however great your sins may have been.
You can see, Inquirer, why you have not already obtained peace. You have prayed for pardon; you have prayed for peace; you have endeavoured to get peace, while, in fact, you have not given up all; you have kept something back. It is a perfectly common thing to find that the inquirer has not given up all. And if you do not find peace, it is because you have not given up all.
Some idol is still retained; some sin persisted in — perhaps some neglect — perhaps some confession is not made that ought to have been made, or some act of restitution. You have not renounced the world, and do not, in fact, renounce it, and renounce everything, and flee to Christ.
Choices, Deeds and Consequences
by A.W. Tozer
Now, there’s a voice that’s speaking to us tonight. In the Word and out of Heaven this voice speaks … and it says “Consider”. And consider means, of course, to look at closely and to think about seriously. And all society is conspiring to prevent us from doing this.
Organized human society wants us to do everything but this one thing: consider our ways. And the Holy Ghost says “Consider your ways”. Now this is more important than any other thing that you could consider. You may give consideration to a house, to a car, to a journey, to health, to insurance, to any one of a number or of many legitimate things. But more than all these it is important that you consider your ways. And when the scripture says “Consider your ways,” it means consider your moral ways. Now it’s vitally important that you study this. More important than any branch of learning that you might engage in anywhere at any time, that you give careful, serious, intelligent and honest consideration to your ways. And I ask also that you’ll notice that it’s your own ways that you are to consider. And this is exactly contrary to our common habit. For our common habit practically never is to consider our own ways but always to consider other people’s ways.
The Pharisees were a classic terrible example of people who knew the sins of everybody but themselves. They did not know their own sins. They considered the sins of the harlot. They considered the sin of the tax collector. They knew the sin of the drunkard. But they never knew their own sin at all. Society’s not only in a conspiracy to prevent us from considering, but it is in a particular conspiracy to prevent us from considering our own ways. And since the human mind is so constituted that it must consider something, we compromise by considering other people’s ways.
We read the newspapers and we ‘tut-tut,’ and scold, and raise our eyebrows, and we can’t understand why people do the things they do. But the Scripture says not consider the criminal in the newspaper account. It says consider your own ways. And it is the work of the Holy Ghost to focus my attention upon my own ways. And now as we do this I want you to set your ways over against this one thing tonight: the law of choices and consequences.
Now, everything is related to its past, and to its future. Every act that is committed, every thing that exists, every word that you utter, and every deed that you do is related to two things: it’s related to the past, as a consequence; and it is related to the future, as an effect which will produce another consequence. The simple illustration as I often give, is that of the egg in the nest, the egg lying in the nest is an effect of another act, the previous act, the bird, the act of the bird that laid it, but while it is an effect, a consequence of an act it is also the cause of another thing, and that is the new bird that will be hatched out after awhile. It is a link between what was and what will be and so are you and so is every thought you have, and so is every deed you do a link between something that made you do or think or say this thing and that which will be the result of your having said or thought or done this thing.
Now, everything is a consequence. The curse doesn’t come causeless and the blessing doesn’t come causeless. Everything is a result. Everything is an effect. It is an effect of something else. But everything is not only a consequence of something else. Everything has consequences in something else. And the simplest word that you uttered today was a result of some conditioning of your mind and heart yesterday. And this simplest, most casual utterance today will have consequences – they may only be mild, but there will be consequences, tomorrow. For everything you are or say or do or think resulted from some choice you made and everything you are or do or say or think will result in some future saying or doing or being or thinking.
Now, everything has consequences of dual importance so everything is of dual importance. It is important for what it is in itself and it is important for what it causes to be. It is important, we being intelligent and moral creatures, we are accountable for our acts. I think it would make a wonderful difference in our lives if we were to remember, and if we were to believe that we are going to be accountable for our acts, that we are going to give account to God for every deed and every word. And we’re intelligent and we’re moral, we have intelligence to appraise a situation, we have moral perception to know its quality and therefore we will be accountable, and each act that we do has consequence in our own moral structure.
I am not sure, but this may be, finally and at last, the most vitally, terribly important thing about consequences and acts and effects and causes. That is what everything does to our own moral structure. What it does to our lives. For what we are will determine our destiny. Our moral fabric will determine heaven or hell for us. This cheap, modern idea that we go to heaven by kind of a nickel-in-the-slot, pull down the lever and take out your ticket idea, and that if I accept Jesus I go to heaven and if I don’t accept Him I go to hell. I heard a man on the radio not long ago telling, and trying to make it very plain that it didn’t require righteousness to go to heaven; it required nothing but accepting Jesus.
Well, what he forgot was that the act of accepting Christ, if it is a true indeed act of accepting Christ, has an instant effect upon the whole moral life and it changes the man from being a bad man to being a good man. It is ridiculous to say that heaven is the garbage pail for all the wickedness of men, only by grace the Lord takes foulness in! No king ever took the garbage pail into the king’s parlor! And God is not going, by some trick of grace, to take evil, foul-minded, self-righteous and vile people into His heaven. When He saves a man, He saves him from sin! And if he’s not saved from sin he’s not saved at all! And there is no act of grace and no trick of mercy and no trick of justification that can take an unholy man into the presence of God or take an evil man into God’s holy Heaven! He came not to call the righteous, but sinners. He came not to call people who thought they were righteous, but people who knew they were sinful! But when He calls us to Himself and saves us. He saves us out of our past and out of our iniquity and by the twofold act of justification, or the threefold act of justification, regeneration and sanctification He makes people fit for heaven.
The idea that justification is imparted righteousness and that it is a robe of righteousness put over a dirty filthy fellow who terribly needs a bath and that that dirty, filthy fellow filled with cooties and the accumulations of dirt of his lifetime will stand boldly in God Almighty’s holy Heaven among seraphim and cherubim and archangels and the spirits of just men made perfect and blithely and flippantly say ‘I belong in hell. I’m a filthy man but what are you going to do about it? I have on me the robe of Christ’s righteousness and that’s enough.’ This is a heresy as terrible and as devastating as the heresy promulgated by the falsely-called Jehovah’s Witnesses!
God saves only sinners, and He saves only sinners who know they’re sinners. He saves only sinners who admit they’re sinners, but He saves sinners from being sinners to being good men and full of the Holy Ghost! And when we teach anything else we’re teaching heresy! A frightful heresy! The choir sang tonight the song of John Newton. John Newton was a Puritan, and John Newton would have been horrified and stood aghast if he had heard the doctrines that we’re hearing now!
One man wrote a book or a tract or something and called it ‘Only Bad Men Go To Heaven’. Trying to impress upon the listeners that self-righteousness wouldn’t get you into heaven – that’s true; trying to impress upon us the idea that it was only by grace and faith, and that not of ourselves, it’s a gift of God, and that’s true; trying to impress upon the minds of the people that no man by his good works or his good deeds or his good acts can ever be good enough to get to heaven and that he must stand in the righteousness of Christ.
But making, nevertheless, by that kind of a statement the grace of God and turning it into lasciviousness! No bad man ever goes to heaven! The harlot and the idolater and the liar and the fearful and the unbelieving shall have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone!
Now I say that each act has consequences in our moral structure, in what we are, which is by far the most important thing about you. Nobody, nobody fools me by their dress. And certainly nobody fools the Holy Ghost! And nobody impresses the Holy Ghost by how good looking he or she is, nor the color of their skin. Nobody impresses the Holy Ghost with their education or their degrees, nor where they’ve been or how many stickers they’ve got on their suitcase. I preached one time at Wheaton College, and I told the professors, God bless them (it’s a good college – they gave me a degree), but I told them that this idea that we go around the world and come back all over with stickers. I said, ‘Go home and wash the stickers off, Professor! We don’t care where you’ve been; we want to know where you’re going!’
And our consequences, our choices, I say, have consequences in our moral structure – either to strengthen virtue, or to rot the nerve center of virtue. You’ve met people whose virtue has been rotted – like a tree ready to crash – it’s rotted at the core and center. And then it has a secondary consequence in what it does to others. For no man lives to himself, and no man is an island, as they’re saying now. And either directly or indirectly, you are deeply influencing somebody else. You don’t know who it is, maybe, (or maybe you do), but you’re deeply influencing somebody. And if you’re a carelessly-living Christian, there may be persons who will use your careless life as a shield, a hiding place for their own much-more-serious iniquity! Or, there may be those who kneel at night and thank God for you, and say, ‘God, make me like brother So-and-so, make me like Mrs. So-and-so.’ It can be either way, for deeds have consequences, and deeds are the result of choices. Impulsive choices, but choices. Carefully thought-out choices, but choices.
And I say that our most vital acts are our choices, always, our most vital acts! No act has as far-reaching consequences as the act of choosing. I repeat, everything we are, is a result of choices we made, everything we are today is a result of choices we made yesterday. And everything we will be tomorrow will be the result of choices we make today. And those choices may be good or they may be bad; they may be ignorant or they may be well-advised; they may be impulsive or they may be after much thought made; they may be made out of spite. Many a pair of lovers have had a blow-up and a fight, and the girl rushed out and married somebody else and said, ‘I’ll show that twerp!’ And then she lived with her second choice for a lifetime and whispered to people who knew her in years to come, ‘This was the mistake of my life!’ Selfish choices, cowardly choices, choices that are made because we’re afraid to make other ones and careful choices – we can make them; and wise, unselfish, far-seeing, courageous choices, humble, faith-inspired, God-obeying choices – we can make all of those.
Now, I’m asking you this night about your life and character, and reminding you that how you are today, what you chose yesterday to be, because neither the blessing nor the curse comes causeless. We must live, and continue to live, in the light of choices and consequences, and this distinguishes the wise man from the fool [in] that the wise man knows that he must give account of the deeds done in the body and the fool doesn’t.
I don’t like to use the word ‘fool’ because it’s not a good word. It’s a contemptuous word, and I wouldn’t use it myself. I don’t think that I would say, without some hesitation, that any given man was a fool. But in the Bible, the word is used quite a lot, and a fool in the Bible is not a man of retarded mentality. He’s not even a man who may have lost his mind. In the Bible, a fool is a man who acts without regard to consequences. It has nothing to do with his IQ, nothing to do with his education, nothing to do with his cultural level.
These playboys, these rich playboys we read about, they’ve had all the education they could get, they have all the money and the best clothes, and the best cars and the best homes and the best food and they’re exposed to the … I use the word ‘best’ not in its moral sense at all, but in the sense of the finest that can be had with money and prestige, and yet they’re playboys and they live their lives out, and every once in a while you’ll hear some old, wrinkled playboy dying – and they all do after a while, as we all do. He’s had all the women he’s wanted, because he had the money to buy them. And he’s had all of the acceptance in society because he had money and his name was in the paper, and now he’s got to die. And he dies as a fool dies for he dies without thought of consequence. He lived without thought of consequence and made his choices but he may think about them when he’s dying but it’s too late then.
It doesn’t make any difference about the IQ, I say. The difference is not a mental one, but a moral one. It’s not even – it is a moral one, but it’s further in yet than that, for morals as I understand and use the word has to do with ethics and righteousness and my relation to my fellow man and myself, but it’s deeper in than that. It’s in the spirit of the man. In the Bible, a wise man is not necessarily an educated man; he could be. In the Bible, the wise man is not a man of high cultural levels, necessarily; he could be. In the Bible, a wise man is a man who acts with an eye to consequences. He thinks, ‘What will the result of this be?’ And then he acts in a way that will bring him consequences that he won’t have to be ashamed of, or afraid of in the day to come. And this explains wisdom and folly as God sees it.
There was that man that our Lord told about and called a fool. Now I don’t think his neighbors said he was a fool. I don’t think they did. I think that if he stopped to nod to a farmer along the road, the farmer hustled home and told his wife, ‘What do you think, Mabel, Mr. So-and-so nodded to me today and called me by my first name.’ And if he went to a Grange meeting, he would be the first one to get the floor. Everybody would sit down while he talked. And if he ran for some little office, he’d get elected. Why? Because he was a land-owner, a big farmer, and a big guy, and a big wheel, and he had to tear down his barns and build bigger ones because he’d had a bumper crop. And when his hired men came in with their hats twirling around their thumbs awkwardly, and shifted from foot to foot, and said, ‘Mr. So-and-so, boss, we have more to acre out on the south forty than we’ve ever had! You won’t believe it when I tell you how many cartloads of wheat and corn I’ve brought in! And we’ve filled the barns!’
‘Well,’ he said, ‘We’re going to have to do some remodelling.’ He rubbed his hands and he went out and remodelled. Then he ate his supper. Talked to his wife all the time about his big barns and the grain. And as he was eating he said, ‘I don’t feel so well.’ His wife said, ‘Oh, you’re busy today, all the excitement and all. Get to bed early.’
So he went off to bed that night and his wife went up later. She spoke to him. She was getting herself ready for bed; she tried to carry on a conversation; she got no answer. She raised her voice a bit; got no answer. Finally went over and looked at him and then shook him and then screamed.
‘This night thy soul has been required of thee, thou fool!’ said Jesus.
An educated man, a man of some standing in the neighborhood. A wealthy man, a man who looked ahead. But a man who never thought beyond his last heartbeat! He was a fool! Our Lord said so! Hell is full of fools, and Heaven is full of wise men. And there’ll never be a fool in Heaven and there’ll never be a wise man in hell, according to God’s definitions. For according to God’s definition, a fool is one who acts without regard to consequences, and who chooses without thinking of eternity, and nobody will be in Heaven like that. And according to God’s definition a wise man, I may have mixed that up, but I’m trying to show the difference between two. The wise man is the one who chooses thinking of tomorrow, and Heaven will be filled with men like that. And hell will be filled with the opposite who lived for today. And not necessarily evil men.
The idea that God loves evil men and can’t stand a decent man is a modern heresy! It’s not true and never was true! There’s nothing in the Bible to lead us to believe that it’s true. But if the evil man became wise long enough to make his eternal choice in the light of eternal consequences and chose God and Christ and the blood of the Lamb and repentance and deliverance from sin, he’s a wise man and God accounts him such; and Heaven will be filled with such.
And if the good decent fellow who lived a decent life on earth, and was well thought of by the people, and perhaps preached into some kind of gentle limbo when he died, the pastor didn’t have quite the courage to say that this upstanding Canadian citizen’s in Heaven knowing he’s a scoundrel, though reasonably decent and everybody liked him. Why if he didn’t preach him to heaven he preached him to the front gate. You’ve been present at funerals where there were men who never turned their face upward to look at God. They ate and drank, and never like the chicken that drinks and looks up to God, or never like the bird that sang His praise but thought only of themselves and lived for themselves; yet they’re pretty decent fellows. Pretty decent fellows, they are. I know a lot of them.
But they were fools, because they made their choices. They chose whom they wanted to marry and they married that person but they didn’t think of eternity when they did it! They chose what they wanted to do with their money and they did it. They chose what they were going to say and they said, as the brother read in the Psalm this morning, ‘Our mouths are our own, our tongues belong to us. Who can tell us what to say with our tongues?’ So they said what they would, but they didn’t think of the Judgment Day, and tomorrow, and the awful face of God, and the great white throne. And they were fools!
Hell, I say, is full of fools, and Heaven is full of wise men! There are wise men in Heaven who couldn’t read and write when they were on earth, and there are fools in hell who had degrees after their name like the tail on a kite! They knew everything but the one thing. They were fools!
‘Therefore choose,’ says the Holy Ghost. And the great main choice is between life and death. Now I ask you to notice that you shall choose has been decided for you. But what you shall choose has been left to your own decision. It’s already been decided that every man has to choose. We can’t escape that. ‘Choose you this day,’ says the Holy Ghost. But what we choose is left to ourselves. The eternal decrees of God that our Presbyterian friends like to talk about take in this: that I must choose, but they do not take in what I choose. As soon as the eternal decrees determine what I choose, I’m no longer a free moral agent. I’m no longer free at all. I’m an automaton, a Mr. X, an electric brain, and God controls me from heaven and I have no choice of my own.
Now brethren, free choice is necessary to holiness, just as it is necessary to sin. If a man can’t sin, he can’t be holy. Because if he can’t sin, he isn’t free, and if he isn’t free, he can’t be holy, for holiness is moral freedom of choice, resulting in a right choice – a choice of holiness and righteousness.
Now, nobody ever deliberately chose death, I’m sure of that. Wasn’t it Tennyson that said, ‘No matter what crazy sorrow saith / No man that ever breathed with mortal breath / Has ever really longed for death. ‘Tis life, not death for which we pant.’ And nobody ever longed for death. They just choose the path that leads there! So they’ve chosen it by a series of small choices. They made the last choice of moral folly! They chose death. Not that they looked at death and said, ‘I choose you!’ But they looked at all the pleasant ways that lead there and said, ‘I choose you!’
Young couples that get out in a car on a night like this, drink a little (you can get it somewhere), and get excited and worked up, and go out onto the highway, full of jokes, borderline, and all other kind. They zoom down the highway. Not one of them is choosing death. Not one of them is choosing death.
Ask the driver as he stops somewhere for gas, ‘Do you want to die?’ If you can get him still long enough, and quiet long enough, he’ll say, ‘Why do you ask me a foolish question?! Of course not!’
Ask the girl that sits beside him, ‘Do you want to die?’ And she said, ‘No, I’m too young. I’ve got my life ahead of me. I’m just having some fun.’
Ask the two in the back seat, sitting as close as one, and say, ‘Do you two want to die?’ And they say, ‘No we don’t want to die, of course not! We want to live and love, and enjoy the world.”
Nobody wants to die. But they wanted to drink! And they wanted to see how much was in the old car. And the boy at the wheel wanted to show off before his giggling companions. And as they round a bend, they lose control and the poor, hard-working cops come along later and (sick inside) drag them out. One or two of them dead, and a couple more broken. They didn’t choose to die! They simply chose the way that leads there!
Choose you this day. ‘I set before you the way of life and the way of death, choose you this day.’ Toronto hasn’t chosen death. Toronto’s just chosen to have burlesque shows on Sunday, if I read the paper right! Toronto hasn’t chosen to die and rot, like New York and Chicago. ‘Toronto the good’ has just decided that they can’t be old-fashioned and puritanical any longer. So they’ve opened the door. And brother, when you open that Pandora box, you let out all the devils and evil that is possible to know.
They say that before Rome collapsed under the blows of the Norsemen, that policemen had to accompany women on the streets – it wasn’t safe. And in great areas and sections of the city of Chicago, my wife and I never allowed our daughter to go alone. Never! Somebody had to be with her.
Cities don’t choose to rot and die; they just choose to do that which leads them to rot and die! And just as men do not choose life – or death – they do not choose life, in itself! No man can stand up and say, ‘I choose life.’ In that sense he says, ‘I choose the one who gives life. I choose the way to life. I choose life by choosing the way that leads there. I choose life by choosing the one that gives life. I choose life by repudiating death.’
I choose life! I’ve made a lot of fool choices in my time, I suppose. But I’ve never regretted the one I made when I decided that I would become a Christian. There was nobody in my home that was a Christian – nobody – not any influence anywhere, anywhere in my whole circle of relations and close friends, not one! But by the good mercy of God, I said I would. I didn’t know what I was getting myself in for! I didn’t know the joys, and I didn’t know the sorrows. I didn’t know the pleasures and I didn’t know the hardships. But I chose.
And so men choose life by choosing the course that leads to life. Doesn’t the Bible say, ‘Choose you this day … choose life’? Yes! But you can’t walk up and say, ‘I choose life.’ You have to come where the life is. You choose water, but you come where the water is, and drink. You choose to be saved, but you have to come where the Lord and Savior is to be saved and give yourself into His hands.
So we make the right choice by starting with repentance. I’m talking to people who are taking their religion very casually – very casually indeed! You’re very casual about it all. Watch out that you don’t cast your lot with mortality! Watch out that you don’t say to the worms, ‘They are my sister.’ Watch out that you don’t say to death, ‘This is my brother!’ You can’t afford to be casual.
There are people that would influence you. Some of you would be better Christians if you weren’t under the influence of certain who aren’t good Christians. Some of you are being influenced to make wrong choices. And those that influence you are blind. Or they’re hard or they’re calloused or they’re morally irresponsible, and they’re influencing you! But did you ever think they can’t help you in that day? Can’t help you!
When the Jews wanted to kill Jesus, they hunted his least worthy disciple, Judas – the one that they figured would be the one they could reach, as they say in politics. So they went to him and sure enough, they’d guessed right; they could reach him; he could be bought. So they said, ‘We’d like to arrest your master but we’re not familiar with his face. We don’t know which one he is, and we don’t want to make a scene. We’d like to slip in quietly and put some handcuffs on the one that’s your master, but they’re all dressed alike, and we don’t know one from the other.
He said, ‘I’ll tell you who he is, for a price. Eighteen dollars. For eighteen dollars I’ll tell you who.’ They said, ‘All right. Here’s the eighteen dollars.’ He said, ‘Now, we’ll figure it like this: when I get to a certain place, I’ll run up to one of the twelve – the eleven – and I’ll kiss one of them, and the one that I kiss, that’s your man.’
And so he went up to Jesus and said, ‘Rabbi’. Jesus turned and sadly said to him, ‘Friend’. He kissed his cheek, and they grabbed him. Then later on, when Judas had an attack of conscience, and the money burned like fire in his hand, and he saw them lead his loved friend away, he turned against himself viciously and ran back to these evil men and threw the eighteen dollars at their feet and said, ‘I have betrayed innocent blood!’ And they said – oh, the infinitely devilish cynicism of this – they said, ‘What’s that to us? You see to that!’
That fellow that’s leading you off, he’s influencing you now and leading you away, but in that day he’ll say, ‘What’s that to me? I can’t answer for you. You see to that!’
That business partner that’s persuading you to cut edges and corners and be a bit crooked – he smiles and pats your back and tells people, ‘Good old Joe, he’s a great guy, he’s a great guy, ha-ha!’ But there’ll be a day when ‘good old Joe’ will stand all by himself, and that’ll be you, and your business partner won’t be able to help you at all.
I tell you, I’m frankly trying to influence you! I have nothing to gain by your choosing the right; not a dime have I to gain by it. I have nothing to lose if you choose the wrong, and yet I plead with you in the language of the Holy Ghost. God sets before you life and death, blessing and cursing, therefore choose life. Choose life by choosing the Living One. Choose life by repudiating death and sin. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. He that hath the Son hath Life, and he that hath not the Son hath not life. Choose life by choosing the Living One who is the Life. And I am earnestly trying to influence you to choose the right Way and the right One.
I am trying to influence you Christians who are living casual Christian lives to put away that wickedness and consider your ways, and this night start to live a Christian life that will shame the devil, please God, and start you on the way to victorious living and fruitful service and holy character. Choose you. You must make the choice. That choice will result in deeds, and deeds will result in destiny. This is an honor God’s bestowed upon us – that we can choose. Have you chosen? Do you choose? What have you chosen?
And those of you who tonight are halfway in between and you don’t know whether to believe or doubt, you don’t know whether to surrender or ‘bull-it’ through a little longer, you don’t know whether to say yes or no. I am seriously trying to influence you to say yes to God and no to sin. Yes to Jesus, as the song says, and no to the devil. What about it?
You that are tempted, oh so deeply and bitterly tempted and you don’t know which way to turn. I’m earnestly trying to get you to turn the way of righteousness and God. Will you do it, tonight? Let’s pray …
[Prayer not recorded on the audio]
God’s Love For A Sinning World
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” — John 3:16.
Sin is the most expensive thing in the universe. Nothing else can cost so much. Pardoned or unpardoned, its cost is infinitely great. Pardoned, the cost falls chiefly on the great atoning Substitute; unpardoned, it must fall on the head of the guilty sinner.
The existence of sin is a fact everywhere experienced — everywhere observed. There is sin in our race everywhere and in awful aggravation.
Sin is the violation of an infinitely important law — a law designed and adapted to secure the highest good of the universe. Obedience to this law is naturally essential to the good of creatures. Without obedience there could be no blessedness even in heaven.
As sin is a violation of a most important law, it cannot be treated lightly. No government can afford to treat disobedience as a trifle, inasmuch as everything — the entire welfare of the government and of all the governed — turns upon obedience. Just in proportion to the value of the interests at stake is the necessity of guarding law and of punishing disobedience.
The law of God must not be dishonoured by anything He shall do. It has been dishonoured by the disobedience of man; hence, the more need that God should stand by it, to retrieve its honour. The utmost dishonour is done to law by disowning, disobeying, and despising it. All this, sinning man has done. Hence, this law being not only good, but intrinsically necessary to the happiness of the governed, it becomes of all things most necessary that the law-giver should vindicate his law. He must by all means do it.
Hence, sin has involved God’s government in a vast expense. Either the law must be executed at the expense of the well-being of the whole race, or God must submit to suffer the worst results of disrespect to His law — results which in some form must involve a vast expense.
Take for example any human government. Suppose the righteous and necessary laws which it imposes are disowned and dishonoured. In such a case the violated law must be honoured by the execution of its penalty, or something else not less expensive, and probably much more so, must be endured. Transgression must cost happiness, somewhere, and in vast amount.
In the case of God’s government it has been deemed advisable to provide a substitute — one that should answer the purpose of saving the sinner, and yet of honouring the law. This being determined on, the next great question was — How shall the expense be met?
The Bible informs us how the question was in fact decided. By a voluntary conscription — shall I call it — or donation? Call it as we may, it was a voluntary offering. Who shall head the subscription? Who shall begin where so much is to be raised? Who will make the first sacrifice? Who will take the first step in a project so vast? The Bible informs us. It began with the Infinite Father. He made the first great donation. He gave His only begotten Son — this to begin with — and having given Him first, He freely gives all else that the exigencies of the case can require. First, He gave His Son to make the atonement due to law; then gave and sent His Holy Spirit to take charge of this work. The Son on His part consented to stand as the representative of sinners, that He might honour the law, by suffering in their stead. He poured out His blood, made a whole life of suffering a free donation on the altar — withheld not His face from spitting, nor His back from stripes — shrunk not from the utmost contumely that wicked men could heap on Him. So the Holy Ghost also devotes Himself to most self-denying efforts unceasingly, to accomplish the great object.
It would have been a very short method to have turned over His hand upon the wicked of our race, and sent them all down quick to hell, as once He did when certain angels “kept not their first estate.” Rebellion broke out in heaven. Not long did God bear it, around His lofty throne. But in the case of man He changed His course — did not send them all to hell, but devised a vast scheme of measures, involving most amazing self-denials and self-sacrifices, to gain men’s souls back to obedience and heaven.
For whom was this great donation made? “God so loved the world,” meaning the whole race of men. By the “world” in this connection cannot be meant any particular part only, but the whole race. Not only the Bible, but the nature of the case, shows that the atonement must have been made for the whole world. For plainly if it had not been made for the entire race, no man of the race could ever know that it was made for himself, and therefore not a man could believe on Christ in the sense of receiving by faith the blessings of the atonement. There being an utter uncertainty as to the persons embraced in the limited provisions which we now suppose to be made, the entire donation must fail through the impossibility of rational faith for its reception. Suppose a will is made by a rich man bequeathing certain property to certain unknown persons, described only by the name of “the elect.” They are not described otherwise than by this term, and all agree that although the maker of the will had the individuals definitely in his mind, yet that he left no description of them, which either the persons themselves, the courts, nor any living mortal can understand. Now such a will is of necessity altogether null and void. No living man can claim under such a will, and none the better though these elect were described as residents of Oberlin. Since it does not embrace all the residents of Oberlin, and does not define which of them, all is lost. All having an equal claim and none any definite claim, none can inherit. If the atonement were made in this way, no living man would have any valid reason for believing himself one of the elect, prior to his reception of the Gospel. Hence he would have no authority to believe and receive its blessings by faith. In fact, the atonement must be wholly void — on this supposition — unless a special revelation is made to the persons for whom it is intended.
As the case is, however, the very fact that a man belongs to the race of Adam — the fact that he is human, born of woman, is all-sufficient. It brings him within the pale. He is one of the world for whom God gave His Son, that whosoever would believe in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life.
The subjective motive in the mind of God for this great gift was love, love to the world. God so loved the world that He gave His Son to die for it. God loved the universe also but this gift of His Son sprang from love to our world. True, in this great act He took pains to provide for the interests of the universe. He was careful to do nothing that could in the least let down the sacredness of His law. Most carefully did He intend to guard against misapprehension as to His regard for His law and for the high interests of obedience and happiness in His moral universe. He meant once for all to preclude the danger lest any moral agent should be tempted to undervalue the moral law.
Yet farther, it was not only from love to souls, but from respect to the spirit of the law of His own eternal reason, that He gave up His Son to die. In this the purpose to give up His Son originated. The law of His own reason must be honoured and held sacred. He may do nothing inconsistent with its spirit. He must do everything possible to prevent the commission of sin and to secure the confidence and love of His subjects. So sacred did He hold these great objects that He would baptize His Son in His own blood, sooner than peril the good of the universe. Beyond a question it was love and regard for the highest good of the universe that led Him to sacrifice His own beloved Son.
Let us next consider attentively the nature of this love. The text lays special stress on this — God so loved — His love was of such a nature, so wonderful and so peculiar in its character, that it led Him to give up His only Son to die. More is evidently implied in this expression than simply its greatness. It is most peculiar in its character. Unless we understand this, we shall be in danger of falling into the strange mistake of the Universalists, who are forever talking about God’s love for sinners, but whose notions of the nature of this love never lead to repentance or to holiness. They seem to think of this love as simply good nature, and conceive of God only as a very good-natured being, whom nobody need to fear. Such notions have not the least influence towards holiness, but the very opposite. It is only when we come to understand what this love is in its nature that we feel its moral power promoting holiness.
It may be reasonably asked, If God so loved the world with a love characterized by greatness, and by greatness only, why did He not save all the world without sacrificing His Son? This question suffices to show us that there is deep meaning in this word so, and should put us upon a careful study of this meaning.
1. This love in its nature is not complacency — a delight in the character of the race. This could not be, for there was nothing amiable in their character. For God to have loved such a race complacently would have been infinitely disgraceful to Himself.
2. It was not a mere emotion or feeling. It was not a blind impulse, though many seem to suppose it was. It seems to be often supposed that God acted as men do when they are borne away by strong emotion. But there could be no virtue in this. A man might give away all he is worth under such a blind impulse of feeling, and be none the more virtuous. But in saying this we do not exclude all emotion from the love of benevolence, nor from God’s love for a lost world. He had emotion, but not emotion only. Indeed, the Bible everywhere teaches us that God’s love for man, lost in his sins, was paternal — the love of a father for his offspring — in this case, for a rebellious, froward, prodigal offspring. In this love there must of course blend the deepest compassion.
3. On the part of Christ, considered as Mediator, this love was fraternal. “He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” In one point of view, He is acting for brethren, and in another for children. The Father gave Him up for this work and of course sympathizes in the love appropriate to its relations.
4. This love must be altogether disinterested, for He had nothing to hope or to fear — no profit to make out of His children if they should be saved. Indeed, it is impossible to conceive of God as being selfish, since His love embraces all creatures and all interests according to their real value. No doubt He took delight in saving our race — why should He not? It is a great salvation in every sense, and greatly does it swell the bliss of heaven — greatly will it affect the glory and the blessedness of the Infinite God. He will eternally respect Himself for love so disinterested. He knows also that all His Holy creatures will eternally respect Him for this work and for the love that gave it birth. But let it also be said, He knew they would not respect Him for this great work unless they should see that He did it for the good of sinners.
5. This love was zealous — not that cold-hearted state of mind which some suppose — not an abstraction, but a love deep, zealous, earnest, burning in His soul as a fire that nothing can quench.
6. The sacrifice was a most self-denying one. Did it cost the Father nothing to give up His own beloved Son to suffer, and to die such a death? If this be not self-denial, what can be? Thus to give up His Son to so much suffering — is not this the noblest self-denial? The universe never could have the idea of great self-denial but for such an exemplification.
7. This love was particular because it was universal; and also universal because it was particular. God loved each sinner in particular, and therefore loved all. Because He loved all impartially, with no respect of persons, therefore He loved each in particular.
8. This was a most patient love. How rare to find a parent so loving his child as never to be impatient. Let me go round and ask, how many of you, parents, can say that you love all your children so well, and with so much love, and with love so wisely controlling, that you have never felt impatient towards any of them — so that you can take them in your arms under the greatest provocations and love them down, love them out of their sins, love them into repentance and into a filial spirit? Of which of your children can you say, Thank God, I never fretted against that child — of which, if you were to meet him in heaven, could you say, I never caused that child to fret? Often have I heard parents say, I love my children, but oh, how my patience fails me! And, after the dear ones are dead, you may hear their bitter moans, Oh, my soul, how could I have caused my child so much stumbling and so much sin!
But God never frets — is never impatient. His love is so deep and so great that He is always patient.
Sometimes, when parents have unfortunate children — poor objects of compassion — they can bear with anything from them; but when they are very wicked, they seem to feel that they are quite excusable for being impatient. In God’s case, these are not unfortunate children, but are intensely wicked — intelligently wicked. But oh, His amazing patience — so set upon their good, so desirous of their highest welfare, that however they abuse Him, He sets Himself to bless them still, and weep them down, and melt them into penitence and love, by the death of His Son in their stead!
9. This is a jealous love, not in a bad sense, but in a good sense — in the sense of being exceedingly careful lest anything should occur to injure those He loves. Just as husband and wife who truly love each other are jealous with ever wakeful jealousy over each other’s welfare, seeking always to do all they can to promote each other’s true interests.
This donation is already made — made in good faith — not only promised, but actually made. The promise, given long before, has been fulfilled. The Son has come, has died, has made the ransom and lives to offer it — a prepared salvation to all who will embrace it.
The Son of God died not to appease vengeance, as some seem to understand it, but under the demands of law. The law had been dishonoured by its violation. Hence, Christ undertook to honour it by giving up to its demands His suffering life and atoning death. It was not to appease a vindictive spirit in God, but to secure the highest good of the universe in a dispensation of mercy.
Since this atonement has been made, all men in the race have a right to it. It is open to every one who will embrace it. Though Jesus still remains the Father’s Son, yet by gracious right He belongs in an important sense to the race — to everyone; so that every sinner has an interest in His blood if he will only come humbly forward and claim it. God sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world — of whomsoever would believe and accept this great salvation.
God gives His Spirit to apply this salvation to men. He comes to each man’s door and knocks, to gain admittance, if He can, and show each sinner that he may now have salvation. Oh, what a labour of love is this!
This salvation must be received, if at all, by faith. This is the only possible way. God’s government over sinners is moral, not physical, because the sinner is himself a moral and not a physical agent. Therefore, God can influence us in no way unless we will give Him our confidence. He never can save us by merely taking us away to some place called heaven — as if change of place would change the voluntary heart. There can, therefore, be no possible way to be saved but by simple faith.
Now do not mistake and suppose that embracing the Gospel is simply to believe these historical facts without truly receiving Christ as your Saviour. If this had been the scheme, then Christ had need only to come down and die; then go back to heaven and quietly wait to see who would believe the facts. But how different is the real case! Now Christ comes down to fill the soul with His own life and love. Penitent sinners hear and believe the truth concerning Jesus, and then receive Christ into the soul to live and reign there supreme and for ever. On this point many mistake, saying, If I believe the facts as matters of history it is enough. No! No! This is not it by any means. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” The atonement was indeed made to provide the way so that Jesus could come down to human hearts and draw them into union and sympathy with Himself — so that God could let down the arms of His love and embrace sinners — so that law and government should not be dishonoured by such tokens of friendship shown by God toward sinners. But the atonement will by no means save sinners only as it prepares the way for them to come into sympathy and fellowship of heart with God.
Now Jesus comes to each sinner’s door and knocks. Hark! what’s that? what’s that? Why this knocking? Why did He not go away and stay in heaven if that were the system, till men should simply believe the historical facts and be baptized, as some suppose, for salvation. But now, see how He comes down — tells the sinner what He has done — reveals all His love — tells him how holy and sacred it is, so sacred that He can by no means act without reference to the holiness of His law and the purity of His government. Thus impressing on the heart the most deep and enlarged ideas of His holiness and purity, He enforces the need of deep repentance and the sacred duty of renouncing all sin.
1. The Bible teaches that sinners may forfeit their birthright and put themselves beyond the reach of mercy. It is not long since I made some remark to you on the manifest necessity that God should guard Himself against the abuses of His love. The circumstances are such as create the greatest danger of such abuse, and, therefore, He must make sinners know that they may not abuse His love, and cannot do it with impunity.
2. Under the Gospel, sinners are in circumstances of the greatest possible responsibility. They are in the utmost danger of trampling down beneath their feet the very Son of God. Come, they say, let us kill Him and the inheritance shall be ours. When God sends forth, last of all, His own beloved Son, what do they do? Add to all their other sins and rebellions the highest insult to this glorious Son! Suppose something analogous to this were done under a human government. A case of rebellion occurs in some of the provinces. The king sends his own son, not with an army, to cut them down quick in their rebellion, but all gently, meekly, patiently, he goes among them, explaining the laws of the kingdom and exhorting them to obedience. What do they do in the case? With one consent they combine to seize him and put him to death!
But you deny the application of this, and ask me, Who murdered the Son of God? Were they not Jews? Aye, and have you, sinners, had no part in this murder? Has not your treatment of Jesus Christ shown that you are most fully in sympathy with the ancient Jews in their murder of the Son of God? If you had been there, would any one have shouted louder than you, Away with Him — crucify Him, crucify Him? Have you not always said, Depart from us — for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways?
3. It was said of Christ that, Though rich He became poor that we through His poverty might be rich. How strikingly true is this? Our redemption cost Christ His life; it found Him rich, but made Him poor; it found us infinitely poor, but made us rich even to all the wealth of heaven. But of these riches none can partake till they shall each for himself accept them in the legitimate way. They must be received on the terms proposed, or the offer passes utterly away, and you are left poorer even than if no such treasures had ever been laid at your feet.
Many persons seem entirely to misconceive this case. They seem not to believe what God says, but keep saying, If, if, if there only were any salvation for me — if there were only an atonement provided for the pardon of my sins. This was one of the last things that was cleared up in my mind before I fully committed my soul to trust God. I had been studying the atonement; I saw its philosophical bearings — saw what it demanded of the sinner; but it irritated me, and I said — If I should become a Christian, how could I know what God would do with me? Under this irritation I said foolish and bitter things against Christ — till my own soul was horrified at its own wickedness, and I said — I will make all this up with Christ if the thing is possible.
In this way many advance upon the encouragements of the Gospel as if it were only a peradventure, an experiment. They take each forward step most carefully, with fear and trembling, as if there were the utmost doubt whether there could be any mercy for them. So with myself. I was on my way to my office, when the question came before my mind — What are you waiting for? You need not get up such an ado. All is done already. You have only to consent to the proposition — give your heart right up to it at once — this is all. Just so it is. All Christians and sinners ought to understand that the whole plan is complete — that the whole of Christ — His character, His work, His atoning death, and His ever-living intercession — belong to each and every man, and need only to be accepted. There is a full ocean of it. There it is. You may just as well take it as not. It is as if you stood on the shore of an ocean of soft, pure water, famishing with thirst; you are welcome to drink, and you need not fear lest you exhaust that ocean, or starve anybody else by drinking yourself. You need not feel that you are not made free to that ocean of waters; you are invited and pressed to drink — yea to drink abundantly! This ocean supplies all your need. You do not need to have in yourself the attributes of Jesus Christ, for His attributes become practically yours for all possible use. As saith the Scripture — He is of God made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. What do you need? Wisdom? Here it is. Righteousness? Here it is. Sanctification? Here you have it. All is in Christ. Can you possibly think of any one thing needful for your moral purity, or your usefulness which is not here in Christ? Nothing. All is provided here. Therefore you need not say, I will go and pray and try, as the hymn,
“I’ll go to Jesus tho’ my sin
Hath like a mountain rose,
Perhaps He will admit my plea;
Perhaps will hear my prayer.”
There is no need of any perhaps. The doors are always open. Like the doors of Broadway Tabernacle in New York, made to swing open and fasten themselves open, so that they could not swing back and shut down upon the crowds of people thronging to pass through. When they were to be made, I went myself to the workmen and told them by all means to fix them so that they must swing open and fasten themselves in that position.
So the door of salvation is open always — fastened open, and no man can shut it — not the Pope, even, nor the devil, nor any angel from heaven or from hell. There it stands, all swung back and the passage wide open for every sinner of our race to enter if he will.
Again, sin is the most expensive thing in the universe. Are you well aware, O sinner, what a price has been paid for you that you may be redeemed and made an heir of God and of heaven? O what an expensive business for you to indulge in sin.
And what an enormous tax the government of God has paid to redeem this province from its ruin! Talk about the poor tax of Great Britain and of all other nations superadded; all is nothing to the sin-tax of Jehovah’s government — that awful sin-tax! Think how much machinery is kept in motion to save sinners! The Son of God was sent down — angels are sent as ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation; missionaries are sent, Christians labour, and pray and weep in deep and anxious solicitude — all to seek and save the lost. What a wonderful-enormous tax is levied upon the benevolence of the universe to put away sin and to save the sinner! If the cost could be computed in solid gold what a world of it — a solid globe of itself! What an array of toil and cost, from angels, Jesus Christ, the Divine Spirit, and living men. Shame on sinners who hold on to sin despite of all these benevolent efforts to save them! who instead of being ashamed out of sin, will say — Let God pay off this tax; who cares! Let the missionaries labour, let pious women work their very fingers off to raise funds to keep all this human machinery in motion; no matter: what is all this to me? I have loved my pleasures and after them I will go! What an unfeeling heart is this!
Sinners can very well afford to make sacrifices to save their fellow sinners. Paul could for his fellow sinners. He felt that he had done his part toward making sinners, and now it became him to do his part also in converting them back to God. But see there — that young man thinks he cannot afford to be a minister, for he is afraid he shall not be well supported. Does he not owe something to the grace that saved his soul from hell? Has he not some sacrifices to make, since Jesus has made so many for him, and Christians too, in Christ before him — did they not pray and suffer and toil for his soul’s salvation? As to his danger of lacking bread in the Lord’s work, let him trust his Great Master. Yet let me also say that churches may be in great fault for not comfortably supporting their pastors. Let them know God will assuredly starve them if they starve their ministers. Their own souls and the souls of their children shall be barren as death if they avariciously starve those whom God in His providence sends to feed them with the bread of life.
How much it costs to rid society of certain forms of sin, as for example, slavery. How much has been expended already, and how much more yet remains to be expended ere this sore evil and curse and sin shall be rooted from our land! This is part of God’s great enterprise, and He will press it on to its completion. Yet at what an amazing cost! How many lives and how much agony to get rid of this one sin!
Woe to those who make capital out of the sins of men! Just think of the rumseller — tempting men while God is trying to dissuade them from rushing on in the ways of sin and death! Think of the guilt of those who thus set themselves in array against God! So Christ has to contend with rumsellers who are doing all they can to hinder His work.
Our subject strikingly illustrates the nature of sin as mere selfishness. It cares not how much sin costs Jesus Christ — how much it costs the Church, how much it taxes the benevolent sympathies and the self-sacrificing labours of all the good in earth or heaven; no matter; the sinner loves self-indulgence and will have it while he can. How many of you have cost your friends countless tears and trouble to get you back from your ways of sin? Are you not ashamed when so much has been done for you, that you cannot be persuaded to give up your sins and turn to God and holiness?
The whole effort on the part of God for man is one of suffering and self-denial. Beginning with the sacrifice of His own beloved Son, it is carried on with ever renewed sacrifices and toilsome labours — at great and wonderful expense. Just think how long a time these efforts have been protracted already — how many tears, poured out like water, it has cost — how much pain in many forms this enterprise has caused and cost — yea, that very sin which you roll as a sweet morsel under your tongue! God may well hate it when He sees how much it costs, and say — O do not that abominable thing that I hate!
Yet God is not unhappy in these self-denials. So great is His joy in the results, that He deems all the suffering but comparatively a trifle, even as earthly parents enjoy the efforts they make to bless their children. See them; they will almost work their very hands off; mothers sit up at night to ply their needle till they reel with fatigue and blindness; but if you were to see their toil, you would often see also their joy, so intensely do they love their children.
Such is the labour, the joy, and the self-denial of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, in their great work for human salvation. Often are they grieved that so many will refuse to be saved. Toiling on in a common sympathy, there is nothing, within reasonable limits, which they will not do or suffer to accomplish their great work. It is wonderful to think how all creation sympathizes, too, in this work and its necessary sufferings. Go back to the scene of Christ’s sufferings. Could the sun in the heavens look down unmoved on such a scene? O no, he could not even behold it — but veiled his face from the sight! All nature seemed to put on her robes of deepest mourning. The scene was too much for even inanimate nature to bear. The sun turned his back and could not look down on such a spectacle!
The subject illustrates forcibly the worth of the soul. Think you God would have done all this if He had had those low views on this subject which sinners usually have?
Martyrs and saints enjoy their sufferings — filling up in themselves what is lacking of the sufferings of Christ; not in the atonement proper, but in the subordinate parts of the work to be done. It is the nature of true religion to love self-denial.
The results will fully justify all the expense. God had well counted the cost before He began. Long time before He formed a moral universe He knew perfectly what it must cost Him to redeem sinners, and He knew that the result would amply justify all the cost. He knew that a wonder of mercy would be wrought — that the suffering demanded of Christ, great as it was, would be endured; and that results infinitely glorious would accrue therefrom. He looked down the track of time into the distant ages — where, as the cycles rolled along, there might be seen the joys of redeemed saints, who are singing their songs and striking their harps anew with the everlasting song, through the long long, LONG eternity of their blessedness; and was not this enough for the heart of infinite love to enjoy? And what do you think of it, Christian? Will you say now, I am ashamed to ask to be forgiven? How can I bear to receive such mercy! It is the price of blood, and how can I accept it? How can I make Jesus so much expense?
You are right in saying that you have cost Him great expense — but the expense has been cheerfully met — the pain has all been endured, and will not need to be endured again, and it will cost none the more if you accept than if you decline; and moreover still, let it be considered Jesus Christ has not acted unwisely; He did not pay too much for the soul’s redemption — not a pang more than the interests of God’s government demanded and the worth of the soul would justify.
O, when you come to see Him face to face, and tell Him what you think of it — when you are some thousands of years older than you are now, will you not adore that wisdom that manages this scheme, and the infinite love in which it had its birth? O what will you then say of that amazing condescension that brought down Jesus to your rescue! Say, Christian, have you not often poured out your soul before your Saviour in acknowledgment of what you have cost Him, and there seemed to be a kind of lifting up as if the very bottom of your soul were to rise, and you would pour out your whole heart. If anybody had seen you they would have wondered what had happened to you that had so melted your soul in gratitude and love.
Say now, sinners will you sell your birthright? How much will you take for it? How much will you take for your interest in Christ? For how much will you sell your soul? Sell your Christ! Of old they sold Him for thirty pieces of silver; and ever since, the heavens have been raining tears of blood on our guilty world. If you were to be asked by the devil to fix the sum for which you would sell your soul, what would be the price named? Lorenzo Dow once met a man as he was riding along a solitary road to fulfil an appointment, and said to him — Friend, have you ever prayed? No. How much will you take never to pray hereafter? One dollar. Dow paid it over, and rode on. The man put the money in his pocket, and passed on, thinking. The more he thought, the worse he felt. There, said he, I have sold my soul for one dollar! It must be that I have met the devil! Nobody else would tempt me so. With all my soul I must repent, or be damned forever!
How often have you bargained to sell your Saviour for less than thirty pieces of silver! Nay, for the merest trifle!
Finally, God wants volunteers to help on this great work. God has given Himself, and given His Son, and sent His Spirit; but more labourers still are needed; and what will you give? Paul said, I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Do you aspire to such an honour? What will you do — what will you suffer? Say not, I have nothing to give. You can give yourself — your eyes, your ears, your hands, your mind, your heart, all; and surely nothing you have is too sacred and too good to be devoted to such a work upon such a call! How many young men are ready to go? and how many young women? Whose heart leaps up, crying, Here am I! send me?
Salvation By Faith
Preached at St. Mary’s Oxford, before the university, on June 18, 1738
“By Grace are ye saved through faith.” Ephesians 2.8
1. All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favour; his free, undeserved favour; favour altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies. It was free grace that “formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul,” and stamped on that soul the image of God, and “put all things under his feet.” The same free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all things. For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God’s hand. “All our works, Thou, O God, hast wrought in us.” These, therefore, are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also the gift of God.
2. Wherewithal then shall a sinful man atone for any the least of his sins With his own works No. Were they ever so many or holy, they are not his own, but God’s. But indeed they are all unholy and sinful themselves, so that every one of them needs a fresh atonement. Only corrupt fruit grows on a corrupt tree. And his heart is altogether corrupt and abominable; being “come short of the glory of God,” the glorious righteousness at first impressed on his soul, after the image of his great Creator. Therefore, having nothing, neither righteousness nor works, to plead, his mouth is utterly stopped before God.
3. If then sinful men find favour with God, it is “grace upon grace!” If God vouchsafe still to pour fresh blessings upon us, yea, the greatest of all blessings, salvation; what can we say to these things, but, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!” And thus it is. herein “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died” to save us “By grace” then “are ye saved through faith.” Grace is the source, faith the condition, of salvation.
Now, that we fall not short of the grace of God, it concerns us carefully to inquire, –
I. What faith it is through which we are saved.
II. What is the salvation which is through faith.
III. How we may answer some objections.
I. What faith it is through which we are saved.
1. And, first, it is not barely the faith of a heathen.
Now, God requireth of a heathen to believe, “that God is; that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him;” and that he is to be sought by glorifying him as God, by giving him thanks for all things, and by a careful practice of moral virtue, of justice, mercy, and truth, toward their fellow creatures. A Greek or Roman, therefore, yea, a Scythian or Indian, was without excuse if he did not believe thus much: the being and attributes of God, a future state of reward and punishment, and the obligatory nature of moral virtue. For this is barely the faith of a heathen.
2. Nor, secondly, is it the faith of a devil, though this goes much farther than that of a heathen. For the devil believes, not only that there is a wise and powerful God, gracious to reward, and just to punish; but also, that Jesus is the Son of God, the Christ, the Saviour of the world. So we find him declaring, in express terms, “I know Thee who Thou art; the Holy One of God” (Luke 4:34). Nor can we doubt but that unhappy spirit believes all those words which came out of the mouth of the Holy One, yea, and whatsoever else was written by those holy men of old, of two of whom he was compelled to give that glorious testimony, “These men are the servants of the most high God, who show unto you the way of salvation.” Thus much, then, the great enemy of God and man believes, and trembles in believing, –that God was made manifest in the flesh; that he will “tread all enemies under his feet;” and that “all Scripture was given by inspiration of God.” Thus far goeth the faith of a devil.
3. Thirdly. The faith through which we are saved, in that sense of the word which will hereafter be explained, is not barely that which the Apostles themselves had while Christ was yet upon earth; though they so believed on him as to “leave all and follow him;” although they had then power to work miracles, to “heal all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease;” yea, they had then “power and authority over all devils;” and, which is beyond all this, were sent by their Master to “preach the kingdom of God.”
4. What faith is it then through which we are saved It may be answered, first, in general, it is a faith in Christ: Christ, and God through Christ, are the proper objects of it. herein, therefore, it is sufficiently, absolutely distinguished from the faith either of ancient or modern heathens. And from the faith of a devil it is fully distinguished by this: it is not barely a speculative, rational thing, a cold, lifeless assent, a train of ideas in the head; but also a disposition of the heart. For thus saith the Scripture, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness;” and, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thy heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”
5. And herein does it differ from that faith which the Apostles themselves had while our Lord was on earth, that it acknowledges the necessity and merit of his death, and the power of his resurrection. It acknowledges his death as the only sufficient means of redeeming man from death eternal, and his resurrection as the restoration of us all to life and immortality; inasmuch as he “was delivered for our sins, and rose again for our justification.” Christian faith is then, not only an assent to the whole gospel of Christ, but also a full reliance on the blood of Christ; a trust in the merits of his life, death, and resurrection; a recumbency upon him as our atonement and our life, as given for us, and living in us; and, in consequence hereof, a closing with him, and cleaving to him, as our “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,” or, in one word, our salvation.
II. What salvation it is, which is through this faith, is the Second thing to be considered.
1. And, First, whatsoever else it imply, it is a present salvation. It is something attainable, yea, actually attained, on earth, by those who are partakers of this faith. For thus saith the Apostle to the believers at Ephesus, and in them to the believers of all ages, not, Ye shall be (though that also is true), but, “Ye are saved through faith.”
2. Ye are saved (to comprise all in one word) from sin. This is the salvation which is through faith. This is that great salvation foretold by the angel, before God brought his First-begotten into the world: “Thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins.” And neither here, nor in other parts of holy writ, is there any limitation or restriction. All his people, or, as it is elsewhere expressed, “all that believe in him,” he will save from all their sins; from original and actual, past and present sin, “of the flesh and of the spirit.” Through faith that is in him, they are saved both from the guilt and from the power of it.
3. First. From the guilt of all past sin: for, whereas all the world is guilty before God, insomuch that should he “be extreme to mark what is done amiss, there is none that could abide it;” and whereas, “by the law is” only “the knowledge of sin,” but no deliverance from it, so that, “by” fulfilling “the deeds of the law, no flesh can be justified in his sight”: now, “the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, is manifested unto all that believe.” Now, “they are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.” “Him God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for (or by) the remission of the sins that are past.” Now hath Christ taken away “the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” he hath “blotted out the handwriting that was against us, taking it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.” “There is therefore no condemnation now to them which” believe “in Christ Jesus.”
4. And being saved from guilt, they are saved from fear. Not indeed from a filial fear of offending; but from all servile fear; from that fear which hath torment; from fear of punishment; from fear of the wrath of God, whom they now no longer regard as a severe Master, but as an indulgent Father. “They have not received again the spirit of bondage, but the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father: the Spirit itself also bearing witness with their spirits, that they are the children of God.” They are also saved from the fear, though not from the possibility, of falling away from the grace of God, and coming short of the great and precious promises. Thus have they “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. They rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And the love of God is shed abroad in their hearts, through the Holy Ghost, which is given unto them.” And hereby they are persuaded (though perhaps not at all times, nor with the same fullness of persuasion), that “neither death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate them from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
5. Again: through this faith they are saved from the power of sin, as well as from the guilt of it. So the Apostle declares, “Ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not” (1 John 3:5ff.). Again, “Little children, let no man deceive you. he that committeth sin is of the devil. Whosoever believeth is born of God. And whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” Once more: “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not” (1 John 5:18).
6. he that is, by faith, born of God sinneth not (1.) by any habitual sin; for all habitual sin is sin reigning: But sin cannot reign in any that believeth. Nor (2.) by any wilful sin: for his will, while he abideth in the faith, is utterly set against all sin, and abhorreth it as deadly poison. Nor (3.) By any sinful desire; for he continually desireth the holy and perfect will of God. and any tendency to an unholy desire, he by the grace of God, stifleth in the birth. Nor (4.) Doth he sin by infirmities, whether in act, word, or thought; for his infirmities have no concurrence of his will; and without this they are not properly sins. Thus, “he that is born of God doth not commit sin”: and though he cannot say he hath not sinned, yet now “he sinneth not.”
7. This then is the salvation which is through faith, even in the present world: a salvation from sin, and the consequences of sin, both often expressed in the word justification; which, taken in the largest sense, implies a deliverance from guilt and punishment, by the atonement of Christ actually applied to the soul of the sinner now believing on him, and a deliverance from the power of sin, through Christ formed in his heart. So that he who is thus justified, or saved by faith, is indeed born again. he is born again of the Spirit unto a new life, which “is hid with Christ in God.” And as a new-born babe he gladly receives the adolon, “sincere milk of the word, and grows thereby;” going on in the might of the Lord his God, from faith to faith, from grace to grace, until at length, he come unto “a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
III. The first usual objection to this is,
1. That to preach salvation or justification, by faith only, is to preach against holiness and good works. To which a short answer might be given: “It would be so, if we spake, as some do, of a faith which was separate from these; but we speak of a faith which is not so, but productive of all good works, and all holiness.”
2. But it may be of use to consider it more at large; especially since it is no new objection, but as old as St. Paul’s time. For even then it was asked, “Do we not make void the law through faith” We answer, First, all who preach not faith do manifestly make void the law; either directly and grossly, by limitations and comments that eat out all the spirit of the text; or indirectly, by not pointing out the only means whereby it is possible to perform it. Whereas, Secondly, “we establish the law,” both by showing its full extent and spiritual meaning; and by calling all to that living way, whereby “the righteousness of the law may be fulfilled in them.” These, while they trust in the blood of Christ alone, use all the ordinances which he hath appointed, do all the “good works which he had before prepared that they should walk therein,” and enjoy and manifest all holy and heavenly tempers, even the same mind that was in Christ Jesus.
3. But does not preaching this faith lead men into pride We answer, Accidentally it may: therefore ought every believer to be earnestly cautioned, in the words of the great Apostle “Because of unbelief,” the first branches “were broken off: and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear. If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God! On them which fell, severity; but towards thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” And while he continues therein, he will remember those words of St. Paul, foreseeing and answering this very objection (Rom. 3:27), “Where is boasting then It is excluded. By what law of works Nay: but by the law of faith.” If a man were justified by his works, he would have whereof to glory. But there is no glorying for him “that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5). To the same effect are the words both preceding and following the text (Eph. 2:4ff.): “God, who is rich in mercy, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved), that he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves.” Of yourselves cometh neither your faith nor your salvation: “it is the gift of God;” the free, undeserved gift; the faith through which ye are saved, as well as the salvation which he of his own good pleasure, his mere favour, annexes thereto. That ye believe, is one instance of his grace; that believing ye are saved, another. “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” For all our works, all our righteousness, which were before our believing, merited nothing of God but condemnation; so far were they from deserving faith, which therefore, whenever given, is not of works. Neither is salvation of the works we do when we believe, for it is then God that worketh in us: and, therefore, that he giveth us a reward for what he himself worketh, only commendeth the riches of his mercy, but leaveth us nothing whereof to glory.
4. “However, may not the speaking thus of the mercy of God, as saving or justifying freely by faith only, encourage men in sin” Indeed, it may and will: Many will “continue in sin that grace may abound:” But their blood is upon their own head. The goodness of God ought to lead them to repentance; and so it will those who are sincere of heart. When they know there is yet forgiveness with him, they will cry aloud that he would blot out their sins also, through faith which is in Jesus. And if they earnestly cry, and faint not, it they seek him in all the means he hath appointed; if they refuse to be comforted till he come; “he will come, and will not tarry.” And he can do much work in a short time. Many are the examples, in the Acts of the Apostles, of God’s working this faith in men’s hearts, even like lightning falling from heaven. So in the same hour that Paul and Silas began to preach, the jailer repented, believed, and was baptized; as were three thousand, by St. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, who all repented and believed at his first preaching And, blessed be God, there are now many living proofs that he is still “mighty to save.”
5. Yet to the same truth, placed in another view, a quite contrary objection is made: “If a man cannot be saved by all that he can do, this will drive men to despair.” True, to despair of being saved by their own works, their own merits, or righteousness. And so it ought; for none can trust in the merits of Christ, till he has utterly renounced his own. he that “goeth about to stablish his own righteousness” cannot receive the righteousness of God. The righteousness which is of faith cannot be given him while he trusteth in that which is of the law.
6. But this, it is said, is an uncomfortable doctrine. The devil spoke like himself, that is, without either truth or shame, when he dared to suggest to men that it is such. It is the only comfortable one, it is “very full of comfort,” to all self-destroyed, self-condemned sinners. That “whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed that the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him”: here is comfort, high as heaven, stronger than death! What! Mercy for all For Zacchaeus, a public robber For Mary Magdalene, a common harlot Methinks I hear one say “Then I, even I, may hope for mercy!” And so thou mayest, thou afflicted one, whom none hath comforted! God will not cast out thy prayer. Nay, perhaps he may say the next hour, “Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee;” so forgiven, that they shall reign over thee no more; yea, and that “the Holy Spirit shall bear witness with thy spirit that thou art a child of God.” O glad tidings! tidings of great joy, which are sent unto all people! “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters: Come ye, and buy, without money and without price.” Whatsoever your sins be, “though red like crimson,” though more than the hairs of your head, “return ye unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon you, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
7. When no more objections occur, then we are simply told that salvation by faith only ought not to be preached as the first doctrine, or, at least, not to be preached at all. But what saith the Holy Ghost “Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, even Jesus Christ.” So then, that “whosoever believeth on him shall be saved,” is, and must be, the foundation of all our preaching; that is, must be preached first. “Well, but not to all.” To whom, then are we not to preach it Whom shall we except The poor Nay; they have a peculiar right to have the gospel preached unto them. The unlearned No. God hath revealed these things unto unlearned and ignorant men from the beginning. The young By no means. “Suffer these,” in any wise, “to come unto Christ, and forbid them not.” The sinners Least of all. “He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Why then, if any, we are to except the rich, the learned, the reputable, the moral men. And, it is true, they too often except themselves from hearing; yet we must speak the words of our Lord. For thus the tenor of our commission runs, “Go and preach the gospel to every creature.” If any man wrest it, or any part of it, to his destruction, he must bear his own burden. But still, “as the Lord liveth, whatsoever the Lord saith unto us, that we will speak.”
8. At this time, more especially, will we speak, that “by grace are ye saved through faith”: because, never was the maintaining this doctrine more seasonable than it is at this day. Nothing but this can effectually prevent the increase of the Romish delusion among us. It is endless to attack, one by one, all the errors of that Church. But salvation by faith strikes at the root, and all fall at once where this is established. It was this doctrine, which our Church justly calls the strong rock and foundation of the Christian religion, that first drove Popery out of these kingdoms; and it is this alone can keep it out. Nothing but this can give a check to that immorality which hath “overspread the land as a flood.” Can you empty the great deep, drop by drop Then you may reform us by dissuasives from particular vices. But let the “righteousness which is of God by faith be brought in, and so shall its proud waves be stayed. Nothing but this can stop the mouths of those who “glory in their shame, and openly deny the Lord that bought them.” They can talk as sublimely of the law, as he that hath it written by God in his heart To hear them speak on this head might incline one to think they were not far from the kingdom of God: but take them out of the law into the gospel; begin with the righteousness of faith; with Christ, “the end of the law to every one that believeth;” and those who but now appeared almost, if not altogether, Christians, stand confessed the sons of perdition; as far from life and salvation (God be merciful unto them!) as the depth of hell from the height of heaven.
9. For this reason the adversary so rages whenever “salvation by faith” is declared to the world: for this reason did he stir up earth and hell, to destroy those who first preached it. And for the same reason, knowing that faith alone could overturn the foundations of his kingdom, did he call forth all his forces, and employ all his arts of lies and calumny, to affright Martin Luther from reviving it. Nor can we wonder thereat; for, as that man of God observes, “How would it enrage a proud, strong man armed, to be stopped and set at nought by a little child coming against him with a reed in his hand!” especially when he knew that little child would surely overthrow him, and tread him under foot. Even so, Lord Jesus! Thus hath Thy strength been ever “made perfect in weakness!” Go forth then, thou little child that believest in him, and his “right hand shall teach thee terrible things!” Though thou art helpless and weak as an infant of days, the strong man shall not be able to stand before thee. Thou shalt prevail over him, and subdue him, and overthrow him and trample him under thy feet. Thou shalt march on, under the great Captain of thy salvation, “conquering and to conquer,” until all thine enemies are destroyed, and “death is swallowed up in victory.”
Now, thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ; to whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, for ever and ever. Amen
Edited anonymously at the Memorial University of Newfoundland with corrections and other modifications by Ryan Danker and George Lyons of Northwest Nazarene University.
Copyright 1999 by the Wesley Center for Applied Theology. Text may be freely used for personal or scholarly purposes or mirrored on other web sites, provided this notice is left intact. Any use of this material for commercial purposes of any kind is strictly forbidden without the express permission of the Wesley Center at Northwest Nazarene University, Nampa, ID 83686. Contact the Webmaster for permission.
”Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son: — Whom he did predestinate, them he also called. And whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” Romans 8:29, 30.
1. Our beloved brother Paul,” says St. Peter, “according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his Epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:15, 16)
2. It is not improbable, that among those things spoken by St. Paul, which are hard to be understood, the Apostle Peter might place what he speaks on this subject in the eighth and ninth chapters of his epistle to the Romans. And it is certain not only the unlearned, but many of the most learned men in the world, and not the “unstable” only, but many who seemed to be well established in the truths of the gospel, have for several centuries, “wrested” these passages “to their own destruction.”
3. “Hard to be understood” we may well allow them to be, when we consider how men of the strongest understanding, improved by all the advantages of education, have continually differed in judgment concerning them. And this very consideration, that there is so wide a difference upon the head between men of the greatest learning, sense, and piety, one might imagine would make all who now speak upon the subject exceedingly wary and self-diffident. But I know not how it is, that just the reverse is observed in every part of the Christian world. No writers upon earth appear more positive than those who write on this difficult subject. Nay, the same men, who, writing upon any other subject, are remarkably modest and humble, on this alone lay aside all self-distrust,
And speak ex cathedraa infallible.
This is peculiarly observable of almost all those who assert the absolute decrees. But surely it is possible to avoid this: Whatever we propose, may be proposed with modesty, and with deference to those wise and good men who are of a contrary opinion; and the rather, because so much has been said already, on every part of the question, so many volumes have been written, that it is scarcely possible to say anything which has not been said before. All I would offer at present, not to the lovers of contention, but to men of piety and candour, are a few short hints, which perhaps may cast some light on the text above recited.
4. The more frequently and carefully I have considered it, the more I have been inclined to think that the apostle is not here (as many have supposed) describing a chain of causes and effects; (this does not seem to have entered into his heart;) but simply showing the method in which God works; the order in which the several branches of salvation constantly follow each other. And this, I apprehend, will be clear to any serious and impartial inquirer, surveying the work of God either forward or backward; either from the beginning to the end, or from the end to the beginning.
5. And, First, let us look forward on the whole work of God in the salvation of man; considering it from the beginning, the first point, till it terminates in glory. The first point is, the foreknowledge of God. God foreknew those in every nation those who would believe, from the beginning of the world to the consummation of all things. but, in order to throw light upon this dark question, it should be well observed, that when we speak of God’s foreknowledge, we do not speak according to the nature of things, but after the manner of men. For, if we speak properly, there is no such thing as either foreknowledge or afterknowledge in God. All time, or rather all eternity, (for the children of men,) being present to him at once, he does not know one thing in one point of view from everlasting to everlasting. As all time, with everything that exists therein, is present with him at once, so he sees at once, whatever was is, or will be, to the end of time. But observe: We must not think they are because he knows them. No: he knows them because they are. Just as I (if one may be allowed to compare the things of men with the deep things of God) now know the sun shines: Yet the sun does not shine because I know it, but I know it because he shines. My knowledge supposes the sun to shine; but does not in anywise cause it. In like manner, God knows that man sins; for he knows all things: Yet we do not sin because he knows it, but he knows it because we sin; and his knowledge supposes our sin, but does not in anywise cause it. In a word, God, looking on all ages, from the creation to the consummation, as a moment, and seeing at once whatever is in the hearts of all the children of men, knows every one that does or does not believe, in every age or nation. Yet what he knows, whether faith or unbelief, is in nowise caused by his knowledge. Men are as free in believing or not believing as if he did not know it at all.
6. Indeed, if man were not free, he could not be accountable either for his thoughts, word, or actions. If he were not free, he would not be capable either of reward or punishment; he would be incapable either of virtue or vice, of being either morally good or bad. If he had no more freedom than the sun, the moon, or the stars, he would be no more accountable than them. On supposition that he had no more freedom than them, the stones of the earth would be as capable of reward, and as liable to punishment, as man: One would be as accountable as the other. Yea, and it would be as absurd to ascribe either virtue or vice to him as to ascribe it to the stock of a tree.
7. But to proceed: “Whom he did foreknow, them he did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.” This is the Second step: (To speak after the manner of men: For in fact, there is nothing before or after in God:) In other words, God decrees, from everlasting to everlasting, that all who believe in the Son of his love, shall be conformed to his image; shall be saved from all inward and outward sin, into all inward and outward holiness. Accordingly, it is a plain undeniable fact all who truly believe in the name of the Son of God do now “receive the end of their faith, the salvation of their souls;” and this in virtue of the unchangeable, irreversible, irresistible decree of God, — “He that believeth shall be saved;” “he that believeth not, shall be damned.”
8. “Whom he did predestinate, them he also called.” This is the Third step: (Still remembering that we speak after the manner of men:) To express it a little more largely: According to his fixed decree, that believers shall be saved, those whom he foreknows as such, he calls both outwardly and inwardly, — outwardly by the word of his grace, and inwardly by his Spirit. This inward application of his word to the heart, seems to be what some term “effectual calling:” And it implies, the calling them children of God; the accepting them “in the Beloved;” the justifying them “freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.”
9. “Whom he called, them he justified.” This is the Fourth step. It is generally allowed that the word “justified” here is taken in a peculiar sense; that it means he made them just or righteous. He executed his decree, “conforming them to the image of his Son;” or, as we usually speak, sanctified them.
10. It remains, “whom he justified, them he also glorified.” This is the Last step. Having made them “meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light,” he gives them “the kingdom which was prepared for them before the world began.” This is the order wherein, “according to the counsel of his will,” the plan he has laid down from eternity, he saves those whom he foreknew; the true believers in every place and generation.
11. The same great work of salvation by faith, according to the foreknowledge and decree of God, may appear in a still clearer light, if we view it backward, from the end to the beginning. Suppose then you stood with the “great multitude which no man can number, out of every nation, and tongue, and kindred, and people,” who “give praise unto Him that stretch upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever;” you would not find one among them all that were entered into glory, who was not a witness of that great truth, “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord;” “not one of all that innumerable company who was not sanctified before he was glorified. By holiness he was prepared for glory; according to the invariable will of the Lord, that the crown, purchased by the blood of his son, should be given to none but those who are renewed by his Spirit. He is become “the author of eternal salvation” only “to them that obey him;” “that obey him inwardly and outwardly; that are holy in heart, and holy in all manner of conversation.
12. And could you take view of all those upon earth who are now sanctified, you would find no one of these had been sanctified till after he was called. He was first called, not only with an outward call, by the word and the messengers of God, but likewise with an inward call, by his Spirit applying his word, enabling him to believe in the only-begotten Son of God, and bearing testimony with his spirit that he was a child of God. And it was by this very means they were all sanctified. It was by a sense of the love of God shed abroad in his heart, that everyone of them was enabled to love God. Loving God, he loved his neighbor as himself, and had power to walk in all his commandments blameless. This is a rule which admits of no exception. God calls a sinner his own, that is, justifies him, before he sanctifies. And by this very thing, the consciousness of his favour, he works in him that grateful, filial affection, from which spring every good temper, and word, and work.
13. And who are they that are thus called of God, but those whom he had before predestinated, or decreed, to “conform to the image of his Son” This decree (still speaking after the manner of men) precedes every man’s calling: Every believer was predestinated before he was called. For God calls none, but “according to the counsel of his will,” according to this proqesis, or plan of acting, which he had laid down before the foundation of the world.
14. Once more: As all that are called were predestinated, so all whom God has predestinated he foreknew. He knew, he saw them as believers, and as such predestinated them to salvation, according to his eternal decree, “He that believeth shall be saved.” Thus we see the whole process of the work of God, from the end to the beginning. Who are glorified None but those who were first sanctified. Who are sanctified None but those who were first justified. Who are justified None but those who were first predestinated Who are predestinated None but those whom God foreknew as believers. Thus the purpose and word of God stand unshaken as the pillars of heaven: — “He that believeth shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.” And thus God is clear from the blood of all men; since whoever perishes, perishes by his own act and deed. “They will not come unto me,” says the Savior of men; and “there is no salvation in any other.” They “will not believe;” and there is no other way either to present or eternal salvation. Therefore, their blood is upon their own head; and God is still “justified in his saying” that he “willeth all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of his truth.”
15. The sum of all is this: the almighty, all-wise God sees and knows, from everlasting to everlasting, all that is, that was, and that is to come, through one eternal now. With him nothing is either past or future, but all things equally present. He has, therefore, if we speak according to the truth of things, no foreknowledge, no afterknowledge. This would be ill consistent with the Apostle’s words, “With him is no variableness or shadow of turning;” and with the account he gives of himself by the Prophet, “I the Lord change not.” Yet when he speaks to us, knowing whereof we are made, knowing the scantiness of our understanding, he lets himself down to our capacity, and speaks of himself after the manner of men. Thus, in condescension to our weakness, he speaks of his own purpose, counsel, plan, foreknowledge. Not that God has any need of counsel, of purpose, or of planning his work beforehand. Far be it from us to impute these to the Most High; to measure him by ourselves! It is merely in compassion to us that he speaks thus of himself, as foreknowing the things in heaven or earth, and as predestinating or fore-ordaining them. But can we possibly imagine that these expressions are to be taken literally To one who was so gross in his conceptions might he not say, “Thinkest thou I am such an one as thyself” Not so: As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than thy ways. I know, decree, work, in such a manner as it is not possible for thee to conceive: But to give thee some faint, glimmering knowledge of my ways, I use the language of men, and suit myself to thy apprehensions in this thy infant state of existence.
16. What is it, then, that we learn from this whole account It is this, and no more: — (1.) God knows all believers; (2) wills that they should be saved from sin; (3) to that end, justifies them, (4) sanctifies and (5) takes them to glory.
O that men would praise the Lord for this his goodness; and that they would be content with this plain account of it, and not endeavour to wade into those mysteries which are too deep for angels to fathom!
Edited by Dave Giles and George Lyons with minor corrections by Ryan Danker for the Wesley Center for Applied Theology at Northwest Nazarene University.
On Divine Providence
“Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Luke 12:7.
1. The doctrine of divine providence has been received by wise men in all ages. It was believed by many of the eminent Heathens, not only philosophers, but orators and poets. Innumerable are the testimonies concerning it which are scattered up and down in their writings; agreeable to that well-knowing saying in Cicero, Deorum moderamine cuncta geri: “That all things, all events in this world, are under the management of God.” We might bring a cloud of witnesses to confirm this, were any so hardy as to deny it.
2. The same truth is acknowledged at this day in most parts of the world; yea, even by those nations which are so barbarous as not to know the use of letters. So when Paustoobee, an Indian Chief, of the Chicasaw nation in North America, was asked, “Why do you think the Beloved Ones (so they term God) take care of you” he answered, without any hesitation, “I was in the battle with the French; and the bullet went on this side; and this man died, and that man died; but I am alive still; and by this I know that the beloved Ones take care of me.
3. But although the ancient as well as modern Heathens had some conception of a divine providence, yet the conceptions which most of them entertained concerning it were dark, confused, and imperfect; Yea, the accounts which the most enlightened among them gave, were usually contradictory to each other. Add to this, that they were by no means assured of the truth of those very accounts: They hardly dared to affirm anything, but spoke with the utmost caution and diffidence; insomuch that what Cicero himself, the author of that noble declaration, ventures to affirm in cool blood, at the end of his long dispute upon the subject, amounts to no more than this lame and impotent conclusion: Mihi verisimilior videbatur Cotta oratin: “What Cotta said,” (the person that argued in the defence of the being and providence of God,) “seemed to me more probable than what his opponent had advanced to the contrary.”
4. And it is no wonder: For only God himself can give a clear, consistent, perfect account (that is, as perfect as our weak understanding can receive, in this our infant state of existence; or, at least, as is consistent with the designs of his government) of his manner of governing the world. And this he hath done in his written word: All the oracles of God, all the Scriptures, both of the Old Testament and the New, describe so many scenes of divine providence. It is the beautiful remark of a fine writer, “Those who object to the Old Testament in particular, that it is not a connected history of nations, but only a congeries of broken, unconnected events, do not observe the nature and design of these writings. They do not see, that Scripture is the history of God.” Those who bear this upon their minds will easily perceive that the inspired writers never lose sight of it, but preserve one unbroken, connected chain from the beginning to the end. All over that wonderful book, as “life and immortality”(immortal life) is gradually “brought to light,” so is Immanuel, God with us, and his kingdom ruling over all.
5. In the verses preceding the text, our Lord had been arming his disciples against the fear of man: “Be not afraid,”says he,(verse 4,)”of them that can kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.” He guards them against this fear, first, by reminding them of what was infinitely more terrible than anything which man could inflict: “Fear Him, who after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell.” He guards them farther against it, by the consideration of an over-ruling providence: “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God” Or, as the words are repeated by St. Matthew, with a very inconsiderable variation, (10:29, 30) “Not one of them shall fall on the ground without you Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
6. We must indeed observe, that this strong expression, through repeated by both the Evangelists, need not imply,(though if any one thinks it does, he may think so very innocently,) that God does literally number as the hairs that are on the heads of all his creatures: But it is a proverbial expression, implying, that nothing is so small or insignificant in the sight of men as not to be an object of the care and providence of God, before whom nothing is small that concerns the happiness of any of his creatures.
7. There is scarce any doctrine in the whole compass of revelation, which is of deeper importance than this. And ,at the same time, there is scarce any that is so little regarded, and perhaps so little understood. Let us endeavor then, with the assistance of God, to examine it to the bottom; to see upon what foundation it stands, and what it properly implies.
8. The eternal, almighty, all-wise, all-gracious God is the Creator of heaven and earth. He called out of nothing, by his all-powerful word, the whole universe, all that is. “Thus the heavens an the earth were created, and all the hosts of them.” And after he had set all things else in array, the plants after their kinds, fish and fowl, beasts and reptiles, after their kinds, “He created man after his own image.” And the Lord saw that every distinct part of the universe was good. But when he saw everything he had made, all in connection with each other, “behold, it was very good.”
9. And as this all-wise, all-gracious Being created all things,so he sustains all things. He is the Preserver as well as the Creator of everything that exists. “He up holdeth all things by the word of his power;” that is, by his powerful word. Now it must be that he knows everything he has made, and everything he preserves, from moment to moment; otherwise, he could not preserve it, he could not continue to it the going which he has given it. And it is nothing strange that He who is omnipresent, who “filleth heaven and earth,” who is intimately present. If the eye of man discerns things at a small distance; the eye of an eagle, what is at a greater; the eye of an angle, what is at a thousand times greater distance; (perhaps taking in the surface of the earth at one view;) how shall no the eye of God see everything, through the whole extent of creation Especially considering, that nothing is distant from Him in whom we all “live, and move, and have our being.”
10. It is true, our narrow understandings but imperfectly comprehend this. But whether we comprehend it or no, we are certain that so it is. As certain as it is, that he created all things, and that he still sustains all that is created; so certain it is, that he is present, at all times, in all places; that he is above, beneath; that he “besets us behind and before,” and, as it were, “lays his hand upon us.” We allow, “such knowledge is too high” and wonderful for us; we “cannot attain unto it.” The manner of his presence no man can explain, nor, probably, any angel in heaven. Perhaps what the ancient philosopher speaks of the soul, in regard to its residence in the body, that it is tota in toto, et, tota in qualibet parte, might, in some sense, be spoken of the omnipresent Spirit, in regard to the universe: That he is not only “All in the whole,” but “All in every part.” Be this as it may, it cannot be doubted but He sees every atom of his creation, and that a thousand times more clearly than we see the things that are close to us: Even of these we see only the surface, while He sees the inmost essence of every thing.
11. The omnipresent God sees and knows all the properties of the beings that he hath made. He knows all the connections, dependencies, and relations, and all the ways wherein one of them can affect another. In particular, he sees all the inanimate parts of the creation, whether in heaven above, or in the earth beneath. He knows how the stars, comets, or planets above influence the inhabitants of the earth beneath; what influence the lower heavens, with their magazines of fire, hail, snow, and vapors, winds, and storms, have on our planet; and what effects may be produced in the bowels of the earth by fire, air, or water; what exhalations may be raised therefrom, and what changes wrought thereby; what effects every numeral or vegetable may have upon the children of men: All these lie naked and open to the eye of the Creator and Preserver of the universe.
12. He knows all the animals of the lower world, whether beasts, birds, fishes, reptiles, or insects: He knows all the qualities and powers he hath given them, from the highest to the lowest: He knows every good angel and every evil angel in every part of his dominions; and looks from heaven upon the children of men over the whole face of the earth. He knows all the hearts of the sons of men, and understands all their thoughts: He sees what any angel, any devil, any man, either thinks, or speaks, or does; yea, and all they feel. He sees all their sufferings, with every circumstance of them.
13. And is the Creator and Preserver of the world unconcerned for what he sees therein Does he look upon these things either with a malignant or heedless eye Is he an Epicurean god Does he sit at ease in the heaven, without regarding the poor inhabitants of earth It cannot be. He hath made us, not we ourselves, and he cannot despise the work of his own hands. We are his children: And can a mother forget the children of her womb Yea, she may forget; yet will not God forget us! On the contrary, he hath expressly declared, that as his “eyes are over all the earth,”so he “is loving to every man, and his mercy is over all his works.” Consequently, he is concerned every moment for what befalls every creature upon earth; and more especially for everything that befalls any of he children of men. It is hard, indeed, to comprehend this; nay, it is hard to believe it, considering the complicated wickedness, and the complicated misery, which we see on every side. But believe it we must, unless we will make God a liar; although it is sure, no man can comprehend it. It behoves us, then, to humble ourselves before God, and to acknowledge our ignorance. Indeed, how can we expect hat a man should be able to comprehend a worm How much less can it be supposed, that a man can comprehend God!
For how can finite measure infinite
14. He is infinite in wisdom as well as in power: And all his wisdom is continually employed in managing all the affairs of his creation for the good of all his creatures. For his wisdom and goodness go hand in hand: They are inseparably united, and continually act in concert with Almighty power, for the real good of all his creatures. His power being equal to his wisdom and goodness, continually co-operates with them. And to him all things are possible: He doeth whatsoever pleaseth him, in heaven and earth, and in the sea, and all deep places: And we cannot doubt of his exerting all his power, as in sustaining, so in governing, all that he has made.
15. Only he that can do all things else cannot deny himself: He cannot counteract himself, or oppose his own work. Were it not for this, he would destroy all sin, with its attendant pain in a moment. He would abolish wickedness out of his whole creation, and suffer not trace of it remain. But in so doing he would counteract himself; he would altogether overturn his own work, and undo all that he has been doing since he created man upon the earth. For he created man in his own image: A spirit like himself; a spirit endued with understanding, with will or affections, and liberty; without which, neither his understanding nor his affections could have been of any use, neither would he have been capable either or vice or virtue. He could not be a moral agent, any more than a tree or a stone. If, therefore, God were thus to exert his power, there would certainly be no more vice; but it is equally certain, neither could there be any virtue in the world. Were human liberty taken away, men would be as incapable of virtue as stones. Therefore,(with reverence be it spoken,) the Almighty himself cannot do this thing. He cannot thus contradict himself, or undo what he has done. He cannot destroy out of the soul of man that image of himself wherein he make him: And without doing this, he cannot abolish sin and pain out of the world. But were it to be done, it would imply no wisdom at all; but barely a stroke of omnipotence. Whereas all the manifold wisdom of God (as well as all his power and goodness) is displayed in governing man as man; not as a stock or stone, but as an intelligent and free spirit, capable of choosing either good or evil. Herein appears the depth of the wisdom of God, in his adorable providence; in governing men, so as not to destroy either their understanding, will, or liberty. He commands all things, both in heaven and earth, to assist man in attaining the end of his being, in working out his won salvation, so far as it can be done without compulsion, without over-ruling his liberty. An attentive inquirer may easily discern, the whole frame of divine providence is so constituted as to afford man every possible help, in order to his doing good and eschewing evil, which can be done without turning man into a machine; without making him incapable of virtue or vice, reward or punishment.
16. Meantime, it has been remarked by a pious writer, that here is, as he expresses it, a three-fold circle of divine providence, over and above that which presides over the whole universe. We do not now speak of that over-ruling hand which governs the inanimate creation, which sustains the sun, moon, and stars in their stations, and guides their motions; we do not refer to his care of the animal creation, every part of which we know is under His government, “who giveth food unto the cattle, and feedeth the young ravens that call upon him;” but we here speak of that superintending providence which regards the children of men. each of these is easily distinguished from the other, by those who accurately observe the ways of God. The outermost circle includes the whole race of mankind, all the descendants of Adam, all the human creatures that are dispersed over the face of the earth. This comprises not only the Christian world, those that name the name of Christ, but the Mahometans also, who considerably out-number even the nominal Christians; yea, and the Heathens likewise, who very far out-number the Mahometans and Christians put together. “Is he the God of the Jews,” says the Apostle, “and not of the Gentiles also” And so we may say, Is he the God of the Christians, and not of the Mahometans and Heathens Yea, doubtless of the Mahometans and Heathens also. His love is not confined: “The Lord is loving unto every man, and his mercy is over all his works.” He careth for the very outcasts of men: It may truly be said,
Free as the air thy bounty streams O’er all thy works: Thy mercies’ beams Diffusive as they sun’s arise.
17. Yet it may be admitted, that He takes more immediate care of those that are comprised in the second, the smaller circle; which includes all that are called Christians, all that profess to believe in Christ. We may reasonably think that these, in some degree, honor him, at least more than the Heathens do: God does, likewise, in some measure, honor them, and has a nearer concern for them. By many instances it appears, that the prince of this world has not so full power over these as over the Heathens. The God whom they even profess to serve, does, in some measure, maintain his own cause; so that the spirits of darkness do not reign so uncontrolled over them as they do over the heathen world.
18. Within the third, the innermost circle, are contained only the real Christians; those that worship God, not in form only, but in spirit and in truth. Herein are comprised all that love God, or, at least, truly fear God and work righteousness; all in whom is the mind which was in Christ, and who walk as Christ also walked. The words of our Lord above recited peculiarly refer to these. It is to these in particular that he says, “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” He sees their souls and their bodies; he takes particular notice of all their tempers, desires, and thoughts, all their words and actions. He marks all their sufferings, inward and outward, and the source whence they arise; so that we may well say,
Thou know’st thy pains thy servants feel, Thou hear’st thy children’s cry; And their best wishes to fulfil, Thy grace is ever nigh.
Nothing relative to these is too great, nothing too little, for His attention. He has his eye continually, as upon every individual person that is a member of this his family, so upon every circumstance that relates either to their souls or bodies; either to their inward or outward state; wherein either their present or eternal happiness in is any degree concerned.
19. But what say the wise men of the world to this They answer, with all readiness, “Who doubts of this We are not Atheists. We all acknowledge a providence: That is, a general providence; for, indeed the particular providence, of which some talk, we know not what to make of: Surely the little affairs of men are far beneath the regard of the great Creator and Governor or the universe! Accordingly,
“He sees with equal eyes, as Lord of all,
A hero perish, or a sparrow fall.” Does he indeed I cannot think it; because (whatever that fine poet did, or his patron, whom he so deeply despised, and yet grossly flattered) I believe the Bible; wherein the Creator and Governor of the world himself tells me quite the contrary. That he has a tender regard for the brute creatures, I know: He does, in a measure, “take care for oxen:” He “provideth food for the cattle,”as well as “herbs for the use of men.” “The lions roaring after their prey, do seek their meat from God.” “He openeth his hand, and filleth all things living with plenteousness.”
The various troops of sea and land In sense of common want agree; All wait on thy dispensing hand, And have their daily alms from Thee. They gather what thy stores disperse, Without their trouble to provide: Thou ope’st thy hand; the universe,
The craving world, is all supplied. Our heavenly Father feedeth the fowls of the air: But mark! “Are no ye much better than they” Shall he not then “much more feed you,” who are pre-eminent by so much odds He does not, in that sense, look upon you and them “with equal eyes;” set you on a level with them; least of all, does he set you on a level with brutes, in respect of life and death: “Right precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” Do you really think the death of a sparrow is equally precious in his sight He tells us, indeed, that “not a sparrow falleth on the ground without our Father;” but he asks. at the same time, “Are ye not of more value than many sparrows
20. But, in support of a general, in contradiction to a particular providence, the same elegant poet lays it down as an unquestionable maxim,
The Universal Cause Acts not by partial, but by general laws:
Plainly meaning, that he never deviates from those general laws in favor of any particular person. This is a common supposition; but which is altogether inconsistent with the whole tenor of Scripture: For if God never deviates from these general laws, then there never was a miracle in the world; seeing every miracle is a deviation from the general laws of nature. Did the Almighty confine himself to these general laws, when he divided the Red Sea when he commanded the waters to stand on a heap, and make a way for his redeemed to pass over Did he act by general laws, when he caused the sun to stand still for the space of a whole day No; nor in any of the miracles which are recorded either in the Old or New Testament.
21. But it is on supposition that the Governor of the world never deviates from those general laws, that Mr. Pope adds those beautiful lines in full triumph, as having now clearly gained the point: –
Shall burning Etna, if a sage requires, Forget to thunder, and recall her fires On air or sea new motions be imprest, O blameless Bethel! to relieve thy breast! When the loose mountain trembles from on high, Shall gravitation cease, if you go by Or some old temple, nodding to its fall,
For Chartres’ head reserve the hanging wall We answer, If it please God to continue the life of any of his servants, he will suspend that or any other law of nature: The stone shall not fall; the fire shall not burn; the foods shall not flow; or, he will give his angels charge, and in their hands shall they bear him up, through and above all dangers!
22. Admitting then, that, in the common course of nature, God does act by general laws, he has never precluded himself from making exceptions to them, whensoever he pleases; either by suspending that law in favor of those that love him, or by employing his mighty angels: By either of which means he can deliver out of all danger them that trust in him.
“What! You expect miracles then” Certainly I do, if I believe the Bible: For the Bible teaches me, that God hears and answers prayer: But every answer to prayer is, properly, a miracle. For if natural causes take their course, if things go on in their natural way, it is no answer at all. Gravitation therefore shall cease, that is, cease to operate, whenever the Author of it pleases. Cannot the men of the world understand these things That is no wonder: It was observed long ago, “An unwise man doth no consider this, and a fool doth not understand these things That is no wonder: It was observed long ago, “An unwise man doth not consider this, and a fool doth not understand it.”
23. But I have not done with this same general providence yet. By the grace of God, I will sift it to the bottom: And I hope to show it is such stark-staring nonsense, as every man of sense ought to be utterly ashamed of.
You say, “You allow a general providence, but deny a particular one.” And what is a general, of whatever kind it be, that includes no particulars Is not every general necessarily made up of its several particulars Can you instance in any general that is not Tell me any genus, if you can, that contains no species What is it that constitutes a genus, but so many species added together What, I pray, is a whole that contains no parts Mere nonsense and contradiction! Every whole must, in the nature of things, be made up of its several parts; insomuch that if there be no parts, there can be no whole.
24. As this is a point of the utmost importance, we may consider it a little farther. What do you mean by a general providence, contradistinguished from a particle Do you mean a providence which superintends only the larger parts of the universe Suppose the sun, moon, and stars. Does it not regard the earth too You allow it does. But does it not likewise regard the inhabitants of it Else what doth the earth, an inanimate lump of matter, signify Is not one spirit, one heir of immortality, of more value than all the earth yea, though you add to it the sun, moon, and stars nay, and the whole inanimate creation Might we no say, “These shall perish; but” this “remaineth: These all shall wax old as doth a garment;” but this (it may be said in a lower sense, even of the creature) is “the same, and his “years shall not fail”
25. Or do you mean, when you assert a general providence, distinct from a particle one, that God regards only some parts of the world, and does not regard others What parts of it does he regard Those without, or those within, the solar system Or does he regard some parts of the earth, and not others Which parts Only those within the temperate zones What parts then are under the care of his providence Where will you lay the line Do you exclude from it those that live in the torrid zone or those that dwell within the arctic circles Nay, rather say, “The Lord is loving to every man,” and his care “is over all His works.”
26. Do you mean (for we would fain find out your meaning, if you have any meaning at all) that the providence of God does indeed extend to all parts of the earth, with regard to great and singular events, such as the rise and fall of empires; but that the little concerns of this or that man are beneath the notice of the Almighty Then you do not consider that great and little are merely relative terms, which have place only with respect to men. With regard to the Most High, man and all the concerns of men are nothing, less than nothing, before Him. And nothing is small in his sight that in any degree affects the welfare of any that fear God and work righteousness. What becomes, then, of your general providence, exclusive of a particle Let it be for ever rejected by all rational men, as absurd, self-contradictory nonsense. We may then sum up the whole scriptural doctrine of providence in that fine saying of St. Austin, Ita praesidet singulis sicut universis, et universis sicut singulis!
Father, how wide thy glories shine, Lord of the universe-and mine! Thy goodness watches o’er the whole, As all the world were but one soul; Yet keeps my every sacred hair, As I remain’d thy single care!
27. We may learn from this short view of the providence of God, First, to put our whole trust in Him who hath never failed them that seek him. Our blessed Lord himself makes the very use of the great truth now before us. “Fear not, therefore:” If you truly fear God, you need fear none beside. He will be a strong tower to all that trust in him from the face of you enemies. What is there either in heaven or in earth that can harm you, while you are under the care of the Creator and Governor of heaven and earth! Let all earth and all hell combine against you; yea, the whole animate and inanimate creation; they cannot harm while God is on your side: His favorable kindness covers you as a shield.
28. Nearly allied to this confidence in God is the thankfulness we owe for his kind protection. Let those give thanks whom the Lord thus delivers from the hand of all their enemies. What an unspeakable blessing it is to be the peculiar care of Him that has all power in heaven and earth! How can we sufficiently praise him, while we are under his wings, and his faithfulness and truth are our shield and buckler!
29. But meantime we should take the utmost care to walk humbly and closely with our God. Walk humbly: For if you in anywise rob God of his honor, of you ascribe anything to yourself, the things which should have been for you wealth will prove to you an “occasion of falling.” And walk closely: See that you have a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man. It is so long as you so this that you are the peculiar care of your Father which is in heaven. But let not the consciousness of his caring for you make you careless, indolent, or slothful: On the contrary, while you are penetrated with that deep truth, “The help that is done upon earth, He doeth it himself,” be as earnest and diligent in the use of all the means as if you were your own protector.
Lastly: In what a melancholy condition are those who do not believe there is any providence; or, which comes to exactly the same point, not a particular one! Whatever station they are in, as long as they are in the world, they are exposed to numberless dangers which no human wisdom can foresee, and no human power can resist. And there is no help! If they trust in men, they find them “deceitful upon the weights.” In many cases they cannot help; in others, they will not. But were they ever so willing, they will die: Therefore vain is the help of man and God is far above, out of their sight: They expect no help from Him. These modern (as well as the ancient) Epicureans have learned that the
Universal Cause Acts not by partial, but by general laws.
He only takes care of the great globe itself; not of its puny inhabitants. He heeds not how those
Vagrant emmets crawl At random on the air-suspended ball.
How uncomfortable is the situation of that man who has no father hope than this! But, on the other hand, how unspeakably “happy is the man that hath the Lord for his help, and whose hope is in the Lord his God!” who can say, “I have set the lord always before me; because he is on my right hand, I shall not be moved!” Therefore, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: For thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff comfort me.”
Edited by Chris Thompson with corrections by Ryan Danker and George Lyons of Northwest Nazarene University (Nampa, Idaho) for the Wesley Center for Applied Theology.
Copyright 1999 by the Wesley Center for Applied Theology. Text may be freely used for personal or scholarly purposes or mirrored on other web sites, provided this notice is left intact. Any use of this material for commercial purposes of any kind is strictly forbidden without the express permission of the Wesley Center at Northwest Nazarene University, Nampa, ID 83686. Contact the webmaster for permission.