Sermon XXVI

SERMON XXVI.

FAITH A CONDITION OF SALVATION.

Mark xvi. 16.—"He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved."

In illustrating this text, I propose to answer the question, why faith has been demanded as one of the conditions of salvation. The objections to giving such prominence to faith in a system of revealed religion, and to making the whole question of salvation turn on it, are objections more commonly felt than urged; but they are such that it will not do to pass them by as unworthy of notice. They are such as these:—that the rewards which God has to dispense to men are elsewhere bestowed, not according to their faith, but according to their character and conduct; that it would seem to be proper that the retributions of the future state should be according to what a man does, and not according to what he believes; that it is not probable that the retributions of eternity would be made to turn on any mere state of mind, and that if they did, there is no reason why the state of mind implied in faith should be selected in preference to any other; and that to make eternal life depend on the exercise of faith is, in fact, to propose a reward for credulity, and to justify the remark sneeringly made by the sceptic, that " our holy religion is founded on faith, not on reason."* Perhaps to these objections, some would be disposed to add another, that even the Scriptures themselves declare that when the rewards of eternity shall be apportioned on the final trial, the retribution will be " according to the deeds done in the body," and that the grand question which will come up will be, not what a man has believed, but what he has done.

These objections are worthy of particular consideration. I propose, then, to draw your attention to the inquiry why faith in the Lord Jesus Christ has been made an indispensable condition of salvation. The inquiry will be exhausted if the following points can be made clear:—that it is proper that there should be some conditions of salvation; what would be the proper characteristics of such conditions; and whether these characteristics are found in the faith that is required in the gospel. * Hume.

You will perceive that the argument which I propose to conduct is one that is to be derived very materially from an appeal to the common sense of men, and will rest much on what calm reflection will show to each one to be proper in the case. I regard this mode of argument as legitimate, because I suppose that, in fact, the gospel makes its appeal to the common sense of mankind, and is to be kept up by that from age to age.

I. It is proper that there should be some conditions of salvation ; that is, that there should be something in view of which the rewards of eternal life shall be bestowed, or which will constitute the public reason why they are bestowed. The essential idea here is, that in order to our being saved, there should be something on our part which will indicate our wish to be saved; or which will show that we regard salvation as a great and desirable thing, and that we are willing to be saved in the method proposed. This proposition is so clear, that I suppose it will be admitted by all persons, unless it be held that all men will be saved; and even then it would hardly be maintained that men would be saved without any conditions—that is, without anything that would be a public and sufficient reason why they should be admitted into heaven.

That, if men are saved, there are to be some conditions on which it is to be done, seems to be clear, because it is the universal law under which we live. There are certain well-understood terms on which we expect that the Divine favours will be bestowed, and the knowledge of these constitutes the basis of all our calculations and efforts. It is true that favours are sometimes conferred without respect to any known conditions; but it is also true that such interpositions are very rare, and that they never enter into a wise man's calculations as a basis of action. Thus, sometimes, a man may, in pulling up a shrub, like Atahualpi, open a vein of silver; sometimes a man may discover a valuable mine of gold or copper on his farm; sometimes he may unexpectedly be found to be heir to a great estate in a distant land; or some one of whom he knows little, and on whom he may have no claim, may, by a mere freak, leave all his property to him by will. But these things occur so rarely, and are regulated by laws so subtle, if regulated by laws at all, that they are not the ordinary rules on which men act, and they can never enter into the calculations of a wise man. As there are no known conditions on which they are regulated, we do not form our plans in view of them, and, in fact, our plans are the same as if it were understood that they were never to occur.

The great law under which we act is different. It is, that there are conditions on which all that we hope for depends. There are things appointed by which we are to show our interest in it; our sense of its value; our desire to obtain it. If we arc to have anything, it is on certain conditions:—if wealth, we ard to labour for it; if health, we are to take proper precautions in, regard to it; if reputation, we are to show that we deserve it. There is not one thing which we expect under the operation of chance or hap-hazard, or which a wise man would calculate on from that source; and since this is the general law under which we live, no one can complain that the offer of heaven is put on the same footing. In fact, no one does complain. Each man supposes that there is some condition on which eternal happiness may be obtained. Each one supposes in his heart that he does certain things, or that he believes certain things, which will he regarded as the ground or reason why he should be made happy hereafter. One man, with this view, maintains a life of strict integrity and honesty; another is kind to his family, to the distressed, to the poor; another is the friend of his country, and glories in the name of a patriot; another is zealous in the outward duties of religion ; another puts on a hair cloth, and immures himself in a convent; another makes a pilgrimage to a distant shrine; another believes that there is one God, and that Mohammed is his prophet; and another believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Blessed, and looks for salvation only through him. In all these, and in all the other methods by which men hope to be saved, there is something which they regard as a condition of salvation ; that is, something which will indicate such a desire for salvation, or such a fitness for it, that it will constitute a public reason why they should be saved, and not lost.

It may be regarded, then, as the common opinion of mankind, that there should be some conditions of salvation, and this common opinion evidently accords with the Scriptures.

II. The second inquiry proposed was, What are the proper characteristics of such conditions f Making our appeal to the common sense of men, and to their observation in regard to the manner in which the Divine favour on other subjects than religion is bestowed, it will not be difficult to furnish an answer to this question. The following seem to me to be obvious and just principles in the case.

(1.) The conditions of salvation should be as easy as possible, consistently with the maintenance of other interests. That is, they should be such as not to put salvation out of the power of any for whom it is designed, and to whom it is proposed. There might be other important interests to be looked at and secured, but evidently this is one, and one which could not be overlooked. If the other interests could not be secured consistently with this, it is clear that no offer of salvation could be made. If a garrison were besieged, and a surrender were proposed and agreed on, it is plain that the conditions of the surrender should be such as could be easily complied with by all who Were embraced in the articles ; and if women and children were included in the number, it would be the height of injustice to make the terms such that they could be complied with only by armed warriors in their full strength, and that deliverance could be secured only by the highest skill of military discipline. So in salvation. A proposal for salvation should be such as will be adapted to all. It should be such as can be embraced by all. It should therefore be of such a general character that it would be applicable to all, and so easy that all could avail themselves of it. But who are the "all" embraced in a plan of salvation? Not philosophers merely; not men of learning, and rank, and experience, and wealth, and age only ;—but women, children, servants ; the poor, the unlettered, the down-trodden ; the savage, as well as the freeman and the man of civilized life. It is quite clear that a condition of salvation might be conceived of that could be complied with by a man of the intellectual power of Plato or Bacon, which would be entirely beyond the grasp of a child or a savage ; and yet it is as clear that in a system of religion designed for man, there were important reasons why the question of salvation should be made to turn on some one thing that could be complied with by all. It would be very easy to show that the distinctions made in this world by rank, and wealth, and talent are not such as it would be desirable to perpetuate in heaven, and therefore not such as could properly be laid at the foundation of a system of true religion on earth.

(2.) The conditions should, if possible, be such as would meet certain evils which already existed, or which would be likely to exist, if salvation were not provided. Thus, for example, in the methods by which property is to be bestowed on men, it would seem to be desirable, and in fact to have been a leading thing in the plan, to meet the evils which would grow out of indolence; and at the same time that property was conferred, to confer a much greater benefit on the character by the very method by which it was to be obtained. For, there are great and undeniable evils in indolence. There are great evils which exist when property can be acquired without the necessity of effort. There would be incalculable evils to mankind if their wants were all supplied without the necessity of exertion. The hard soil; the stern climate ; the very rocks of New England, are more favourable to good influences on the character than the soil and climate by which all the wants of man may be supplied under the equator ; and every blow which man is obliged to strike to secure property, is of more value to him than the property which he obtains. So all the exertions which are necessary to secure health, or honourable reputation, or a comfortable home, are designed to meet certain evils which would exist if these exertions were not necessary, and which do exist always when the ends can be reached without those means. It would be an incalculable evil for man if God should build houses for him as he creates trees; if he made wheat to grow as he does cockle and clover ; if he created flax and hemp as he does nettles and brambles ; if he manufactured the robes of princes as he does those in which the lily of the valley is adorned; and if he clothed the daughters of men with rich attire and with brilliant ornaments, as he gives its beauty to the humming-bird or the flamingo. Every exertion which he has made necessary for man or lor woman has been designed to meet some evil which would exist if such exertion were not required; and every condition which he has imposed on which these things are to be obtained, is an arrangement of benevolence. On the same principle, in making arrangements for salvation, if there were any existing evils in the mind of man by nature, or any things which would be evils if salvation had not been provided, it might be presumed that there would be an eye to those evils in arranging the terms on which men might be saved. If, for example, there were evils which arose from the want of faith in God, it might he presumed that the conditions of salvation would have some reference to those evils, and would be adapted to correct them.

(3.) The conditions of salvation should be such as to show, on the part of him who would obtain it, an interest in the thing, and a desire to secure it, which would be in some degree commensurate with its importance. We may argue this because it is actually the condition under which we live. The efforts which men are willing to put forth, the self-denials which they are willing to practise, the perils which they are willing to encounter, furnish the measure of their estimate of the value of the object. It seems to have been a general principle of the Divine arrangements not to bestow favours on men unless they showed that they so valued them as to be willing to make efforts to procure them. Thus, the danger encountered by the pearldiver, shows his sense of the value of the pearl; the labour which a farmer is willing to lay out on his farm, shows his estimate of the value of the harvest; the perils which a merchant will encounter to procure in a far-distant city a stock of goods, show his sense of the value of gain; the willing privations to which the soldier submits in the tented field, show his sense of the worth of glory. The degree of interest which we have in anything is expressed in this way, and so expressed as to be intelligible to all men.

It could not be expected that salvation would be conferred on us in any way in which our desire for it should not be expressed, any more than it would be expected that diamonds, or gold, or earthly crowns would be. Accordingly it would be reasonable to suppose that the conditions of salvation would be such that by complying with them there might be the honest indication of a desire to be saved. It would be unaccountable, if the matter of salvation should be arranged in this respect in a way unlike anything else; and if we should find that it was bestowed upon men where no desire was expressed, and there was nothing which could be construed into a wish to be saved.

(4.) The conditions of salvation should be clearly such as to have a good influence on the character; to enlarge the mind ; to elevate the aims; to cultivate the nobler powers of our nature. This may bo observed to be the character and tendency of all the conditions which God has made necessary, in securing any object which he approves. The cultivation of the earth, for example, is in itself adapted to produce a happier effect on the human mind in keeping it pure, and raising the thoughts to God, than any other worldly occupation—for it had more directly the appointment of the Deity. In that appointment, emanating as it did from God, there is nothing in itself that is fitted to enfeeble the mind; to debase the powers; to degrade our nature; to arouse gross and sensual propensities; to excite mad and turbulent passions. So in the appointment respecting salvation, it cannot be supposed that the conditions would be such as to debase and degrade our nature ; it cannot be believed that anything would be specified that would call forth our sensual propensities, or that would make our views more contracted and narrow. We should look for that which will expand the mind ; which will elevate the thoughts to higher objects than those on the earth; which will lead us up to God, and to the contemplation of nobler relations than any which we sustain here below. Whether faith, as a condition of salvation, is adapted to open the eyes on other worlds, and to bring higher and more important relations and interests to view than those disclosed by sense, would be a fair and legitimate subject of inquiry.

III. The third inquiry proposed was, Whether these characteristics are found in the requirement of faith as a condition of salvation f In answering this question, it would be easy to go over again the points which have been specified, and to show, in regard to faith as a condition of salvation, that it is one of the easiest terms which could be proposed, and that it is adapted to man as such—to all classes of men; that it meets certain great evils in the world which have been originated by the want of faith, and which have always existed where there has been no confidence in God; that it is a condition in which the highest interest may be shown in salvation, and the highest desire to be saved ; and that it is fitted eminently to elevate the thoughts, and to purify the heart, and to accomplish just those effects which ought to be accomplished on the mind of a being like man, leading him to act, not under the influence of sense, but with reference to the world to come. But to dwell on these points would be only to go over the ground again which we have already trod; and the subject is capable of illustration in a somewhat different form, and in a manner that shall bear more directly on the question why faith in Christ particularly is required in order to salvation.

Bearing in mind the remarks now made—that a restoration to confidence would meet innumerable evils in a family, in a commercial community, between neighbours, and between nations, where it had been disturbed, and that the restoration of confidence in God would meet all the evils under which this world labours now,—I proceed to show why faith in Christ particularly is made so important as a condition of salvation. With reference to this, two remarks may be made.

(1.) The first is, that we are to repose faith or confidence in Christ, as authorized to negotiate the terms of reconciliation between God and man. The whole system of revealed religion proceeds on the fact—a fact which is apparent without any revelation—that an alienation exists between God and man, or that man is in a state of revolt. It was with reference to this alienation that the Son of God came into the world, to accomplish the most difficult of all undertakings, that of reconciling opposing minds, and of bringing them into harmony. On the■ one hand, there was the Infinite Mind of God, whose law had been violated, and whose government had been rejected and outraged, and whose threatenings had been disregarded; and on the other, there were countless millions of minds that were or would be wholly alienated from the Creator. To bring the holy Creator and the millions of rebellious created minds to harmony ; to propose the terms on which God was willing to pardon; to make such arrangements that he could consistently pardon; and to bring the minds of revolted men to a willingness to be reconciled, and to cease their rebellion,—was the work undertaken by this Great Peacemaker.

But it is evident that this work could not be accomplished by him, unless there were confidence in him on both sides of this unhappy controversy. In infinitely smaller matters, when nations are alienated, and have long been contending, if a mediator should propose arrangements of peace, or if ambassadors are appointed to negotiate a peace, it is clear that the matter could not proceed a step, unless there were confidence on both sides in the mediator or ambassador.

Christ is a great Mediator; a Peacemaker between God and man. On the part of God, there was every reason to repose entire confidence in so great an undertaking; for he was his only-begotten Son, eternally in his bosom, and loved, with an infinite love, before the foundation of the world, John xvii. 24. By him the worlds had been made (John i. 3; Heb. i. 2); by him they had been sustained; and under him, with reference to the work of redemption, their affairs had been administered up to the time when he appeared in the flesh. God the Father reposed unlimited confidence in him when he appointed him to be the Mediator, and entrusted to him the execution of the great purpose of reconciling the world again to the Divine government. This confidence reposed in Christ in the work of mediation is often referred to in the New Testament by the Saviour himself, and by the sacred penmen. " This is my beloved Son," was declared from heaven at his baptism, " in whom I am well pleased," Matt. iii. 17. " Father," said the Saviour, just before his death, " glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again," John xii. 28. " Thou hast given him power," said he again, " over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him," John xvii. 2. " All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth; go ye therefore and teach all nations," Matt, xxviii. 18,19. " I am the way," said he, " and the truth, and the life ; no man cometh unto the Father but by me," John xiv. 6. So we are told that "there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus," 1 Tim. ii. 5. These things show the degree of confidence which God reposed in him in the work of mediation—entrusting to him the message of mercy, appointing him to convey it to men, and endowing him as Mediator with all the power and authority which were requisite to accomplish so great a work.

But confidence in Christ is not less required in regard to the other party than in respect of Him who had appointed him. It 'is clear that, unless we have confidence in him as the messenger and ambassador of God ; unless we regard him as sent from heaven and authorized to propose terms of reconciliation ; unless we feel that he can make a definite arrangement, and that what he proposes will be sanctioned by God; unless we feel that he is authorized to propose terms of pardon, and to declare our sins forgiven, and to pronounce us accepted and justified, it would be impossible for us to avail ourselves of any arrangement for salvation through him. We should feel that we were trifling with a great subject; and in our serious moments, and when we think of the great interests at stake, we should be in no humour to trifle. None of Ms would seriously think of embracing any terms of reconciliation with God proposed by Mohammed, or Zoroaster, or Confucius ; by Lord Herbert or Mr. Hume ; for we suppose that none of these men were authorized to propose terms of salvation ; we have no faith in them—no confidence in them as ambassadors of God, whatever we may think of them in other respects. We should feel no more safe in regard to salvation after such a negotiation than we did before. The primary ground of faith, therefore, in Christ is, that we should have confidence in him as a mediator, an ambassador, a peacemaker; as authorized to propose to us the terms on which peace may be obtained with an offended Creator. All this was involved in the idea of the Messiahship, and particularly of his being the " Great Prophet that should come into the world." " If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins," John viii. 24.

(2.) The second remark to which I referred, showing specifically why faith in Christ is demanded, is, that he himself is in fact the only Saviour; it is by his agency and merits only that we can be received into the favour of God. He came not only to bring the message of reconciliation, and to propose the terms, but to do and to suffer whatever was necessary to be done and suffered in order that we might be accepted of the Father, or in order that we might be saved consistently with the interests of justice. The case somewhat resembles what it would be in the instance of an ambassador coming to negotiate a peace, who should not only come to propose the terms, but should actually have in his possession that which alone could be regarded as a reparation for wrong done by one of the parties to the other, and who should come not only to persuade the party which had done the wrong to be willing to be reconciled, but also to take the benefit of what he was ready to furnish to repair all the evil done, and to satisfy the other party. In such a case, it would not be unreasonable to ask confidence in himself, or to make this one of the conditions by which the favour might be available. In fact, it could not be consistently made available in any other way, or on any other condition; and unless there were faith in him, the negotiation could proceed no further.

Thus, we are required to exercise faith in the Lord Jesus. We are destitute of merit. We have violated the law of God, and can do nothing to repair the wrong. We are debtors to an incalculable amount to justice ; and we have nothing with which to pay the debt. We can do absolutely nothing to vindicate our own conduct; to repair the past wrong; to undo the evils that we have done; to make up for the dishonour which we have put on the law of God, to atone for our thousands of faults and follies. At this point the Son of God appears, and he comes with the assurance that he has himself perfectly obeyed the law, and has done all the honour to it which can be done by obedience; that he has suffered a most bitter death—a death aggravated by every form of cruelty—as an expiation for our sins; that he will become the guarantee or surety that the law shall suffer no dishonour if we are saved, and that no injury shall result from our pardon; that in fact all the good effects have been secured which could be by our being doomed to bear the penalty of the law ourselves; and that all that is needful for us now is to become united to him by an indissoluble bond, to put ourselves under his protection, and to be so identified with him that it will be proper to treat us as he is treated—to treat us a 1/ we had personally obeyed the law, or borne its penalty. That which will constitute the closest union in the case, and which will do most to render this identity of treatment proper, is faith; simple confidence in him as our Saviour, and reliance on his merits. If that exists, we are safe—safe as he is, and destined to the same glorious inheritance in heaven ; if that does not exist, we are left as we were without a Saviour, and the law is suffered to take its course, and we perish. The primary ground of condemnation is not that we have not believed on him—but it is, that we were before under condemnation for our sins, and should have been whether he had come to save us or not. That, however, is greatly aggravated, showing at once the justice of the previous ground of condemnation, and greatly enhancing it, that we did not embrace his offered conditions of deliverance: as when a man is sick, and is likely to die, and certainly will die if he does not take a certain medicine, and yet refuses to take it, the primary ground of the difficulty is not that he will not take the medicine ; the main, the essential difficulty preceded that, and would have existed whether the medicine had been provided or not—but, as a moral being, his case may be greatly aggravated by rejecting the only thing which would save him from the grave.

I have thus stated some of the reasons, as I understand them, why faith in the Redeemer is required as one of the indispensable conditions of salvation. Two remarks may be suggested in conclusion:—

(1.) The gospel is adapted to man. Its conditions are of such a nature as was clearly proper in a system of religion designed for man, as such, contemplating the race as made up of a great variety of classes and conditions—the rich and the poor; the high and the low; the free and the bond ; the learned, and the ignorant. It was plain that the terms should not be such as would be adapted to one class to the exclusion of another, but should have such a reference to what was common to us as men, and what was practicable, that they might be embraced by all. Thus salvation resembles all the arrangements which God has made for the race—and is like the air which we breathe, and the water which we drink at the fountain, and the fruit which we pluck from the tree,—adapted not to kings and philosophers only, but to children and peasants ; not to princesses only that shine in courts, and delicate females that " will not adventure the sole of the foot upon the ground," but to her who has her home in the most secluded valley, or who, in the wildest sportiveness of nature, trips lightly over the hills. And to despise religion on this account; to pass it by neglected; to deem it unworthy of our notice because it has been embraced, and loved, and enjoyed by the poor, the uneducated, the unrefined—is as wise as it would be to refuse to breathe the air of heaven because those of humbler rank breathe it; or to taste the water of the fountain because "one on whom fair science never dawned" stoops down and drinks there; or to refuse to find pleasure in the landscape, or the light of the sun, because some poor slave has seen beauty in the prospect, and felt his soul expand with the feeling that he was a creature of God—or because some poor wretch has looked out from the grated window of a dungeon, and felt a ray of comfort come into his soul as he was permitted to see the beams of the morning illuminate the tops of the distant hills.

(2.) It follows, that if there are conditions proposed for salvation, if these conditions are not complied with, then there is no rational ground for hope of eternal life. So we feel and know about other things ; and why shall we not about salvation ? We avail ourselves of the conditions on which property, health, reputation, may be obtained; and feel that the only rational basis of hope in the case is, that we comply with the terms on which these things are offered to men. If we are unwilling to comply with these conditions, and the favour is withheld, we feel that we have only ourselves to blame. But these terms are not as easy as those on which salvation is offered. It is easier for a man to be certain of going to heaven, than it is to be certain of being rich, or of enjoying health, or of being honoured. A very small part of the toil which the merchant or the farmer endures to procure wealth; a very small part of the self-denial which the soldier practises to obtain honour; a very small part of the painstaking which the invalid resorts to when he goes to other lands to restore himself to health—and often in each case in vain—would secure beyond doubt the salvation of the soul. The means appointed are more easy; the result is more certain from the voice of experience ; the promise is more sure. But if man will not employ those means, why should he not fail of salvation, just as certainly as he must be poor, or sick, or unhonoured, if he gives himself up to indolence, and makes no effort to be rich, vigorous in body, or honoured ? And if at last he perishes, when the conditions of salvation were so easy and so available, whom shall he blame but himself? And how can he avoid perishing if he will not avail himself of the only terms on which God has ever promised eternal life ? In view, then, of all these considerations, I repeat once more the solemn declaration of Him who is " the way, the truth, and the life," your final Judge and mine:— " He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; and he that believeth not shall be damned."