THE INQUIRY, WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?
Acts xvi. ilO.—" What must I do to be saved ?*'
In the last discourse I endeavoured to show that God's plan of saving men is based on the fact that the race is by nature destitute of holiness. I illustrated this by showing that it is not meant that the race is held to be guilty of the sin of Adam ; or that it is necessary in order to salvation to suppose that the sinner is as bad as he can be; or that he is guilty for not doing that which he has no power to do; or that there are no amiable qualities in the minds of men by nature, or that there is nothing that may, in any way, be commended. I showed that it is meant that there is in the heart by nature no real love to God; no just appreciation of his character; no pleasure in the principles of his government; no desire to please him.
This is the condition, I suppose, in which the gospel finds man; this certainly is the assumption in regard to man in the way of salvation revealed in the gospel. This being supposed, the Scripture plan has, at least, consistency and meaning; this being denied, it has no consistency and no meaning. You can make nothing out of the gospel except on the supposition that " Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners;" except, in his own language, it be admitted that he " came to seek and to save that which was lost." He is not, then, in the path of salvation who does not feel and admit that he is a sinner, and who is not prepared to receive salvation as it has been provided for sinners.
We advance a step, then, at. the present time, by considering the state of mind which exists when one, impressed with these truths, begins to feel that something must be done to save his own soul; the condition when one enters on the inquiry what he must do to be saved. I may not be able to state all that will be necessary on this part of the subject in this discourse, but I would hope to be able to show you that this inquiry is at least rational and proper, and that it starts questions not beneath the attention of any.
To give some general order to the remarks which I propose to make, I shall endeavour, in the first place, to describe the state of mind to which I refer; shall then state some of the causes which produce it; and then notice some of the perplexities and embarrassments which the mind in that condition experiences.
That is an epoch in a man's life when, from a former condition of carelessness and unconcern, he is first led to ask the question what he must do to be saved f A new inquiry has come before him, evidently in every way worthy of his attention as a man, and yet in some respects as difficult as it is momentous. It is evidently a great subject, and may involve great changes in his character and plans of life, and it lies far without the range of the ordinary inquiries which come before the minds of men. The word "saved" suggests thoughts which do not enter into his ordinary investigations; the word "how" starts questions which have not entered into other matters which have occupied his attention. How a man may accumulate property; how he may gain honour; how he may become learned, accomplished, influential; how he may ward off the attacks of disease, andhow he may defend himself if in danger, are points which he may have often considered, and on which he may have definitelyformed opinions. How he is to be saved is another inquiry altogether. For this is a different question from that about becoming rich, graceful, or honoured; and the knowledge which he has gained on one of these points does not afford him any clue in his inquiries on the former topic. For how shall the knowledge of the best way of acquiring property aid a man in answering the question how he shall be saved ?
The state of mind which I am describing is that which exists when this inquiry first comes up foe consideration. It may be characterized by the single word seriousness ; or by the phrase a disposition to thought and reflection. There may be as yet a very slight sense of personal sinfulness, and almost or quite none of danger; but there is the feeling now that religion is of importance, and that it is at least worthy of inquiry—inquiry as to its truth, and as to the method of salvation which it proposes. There is a conviction hitherto uufelt of the worth of the soul, and a feeling that that should have a degree of thought and attention not before bestowed upon it. Religion somehow occupies more of the attention ; it is suggested more frequently ; it is not so easily disposed of; it is more likely to return after the mind has by a slight effort been diverted from it to other things ; it seems to come before the mind with more importunate claims than it has done before.
The power of reflecting on the past, the present, and the future, is one of the highest endowments of man, and nowhere is that power more appropriately exercised than on the suhject of religion. We think on the past, and derive valuable lessons from what we have seen and experienced, and from what has occurred to others, to guide us in that which is to come; we think on the present—on what we are—on our characters, duties, and relations, and inquire what we should be in those relations; we think on that which is to come, and inquire what we are yet to be. Thought has no limit. The past, the present, and the future; the distant, the vast, and the incomprehensible; the real and the imaginary; time and eternity; death and life; earth, hell, and heaven ; God, angels, devils, and men ; the living, and the dead; nature and grace; sin and redemption; man here and man hereafter,—all are within the proper range of thought, and all may suggest thoughts about our personal salvation.
Thought gives birth to new plans, new hopes, new prospects in the lives of men. It leads to permanent revolutions of character ; to the exchange of wild and visionary schemes for those of soberness and reality; to corrections of follies, to enlargement of views, and to the formation of generous and noble purposes. No man is likely to be injured by calm and serious reflection; none can be by the questions which true religion suggests.
There are inquiries pertaining to religion which are worthy of thought, and which have been so regarded by the profoundest thinkers of our race. Some of the most careful and laboured investigations tp which the human mind has given birth have had reference to religion; suggested by the single inquiry how a man can be saved. Much of the profound reasoning of Socrates, Plato, Cicero, Seheca, Bacon, and Locke, like all that we have of Paul's writings, had reference to religion. More minds have been employed on this inquiry than on any other one subject in which men have been interested, and the inquiry has been pursued with a zeal and ardour such as has been felt on no other. The inquiries which religion suggests are sufficiently various, dignified, and important, to be worthy of the most careful reflection of every man. Is there a God ? Is there an hereafter ? Is the soul immortal ? Is there a way by which sin can be pardoned, and by which a sinner can be saved ? Has God devised a plan by which a sinner can be justified, and are there conditions on which the benefits of that plan are proposed to men ? Does the Bible contain the record of the way by which a sinner may be saved; or if not, where may such a record be found ? Is the Christian religion true ? If so, what are its claims, hopes, privileges ? What is the way of salvation which is revealed, and how may one be assured that he is walking in that way ?
And there are personal questions which demand thought. AVhat has been the character of our lives ? What are our hopes for the future ? How are we regarded in the view of the holy law of God ; how by the Author and Administrator of that law ? Are we living in accordance with the purpose for which we were made ? Are wc prepared for our exit from this present life ? Have we done all that we ought to do; all that our consciences require us to do; all that wc have ourselves deemed it desirable to do, that we may be ready for our departure ?
The state of mind which I am endeavouring to describe is that in which these inquiries begin to assume something of their proper magnitude. This will not always, indeed, be manifested by assuming the position of an avowed inquirer on the subject of religion. It will be gather, perhaps, in some such ways as these:—conscious seriousness when the subject of religion is alluded to, accompanied with a feeling of its importance such as has not been usual in the mind; a willingness to examine the arguments in favour of religion, and a growing interest in them as addressed to the understanding; an increasing conviction that this world is not a satisfactory portion for the soul, and a disposition to inquire whether the universe has not something better in reserve; a disposition to reflect on the past life—more now on its faults than on its virtues—more on the neglect of duty than on the performance of duty—more on the internal feelings than on the external conduct—more on the thoughts and the motives than on the outward deeds—more on the treatment of God than on the treatment of men—and more on the now conscious want of holiness towards God than on personal amiableness and morality. You seem to be far less perfect than you supposed you were. You see more errors of judgment; more aberrations from what your conscience tells you you should be; more things in which the motives were doubtful or wrong; more cases in which there was an improper indulgence of passion and criminal desire. Your temper has been less amiable; your treatment of your father less respectful, and of your mother less kind; your compassion for the suffering and the sad less tender; your charities less generous; your principles of life less scrupulously exact than you had supposed. You begin to feel, as you have not heretofore done, that you are a sinner; and the inquiry is springing up in your mind as one that claims attention, What must I do to be savedf Religion begins to appear to your mind to be the most important of all subjects; and you feel that, whatever may be the inclination of the heart in regard to it, it ought to be attended to. It is beginning to be seen to be a subject that pertains to you as a personal matter; and the inquiry, "What must I do to be saved?" is one that begins to have a place among those in which your own mind is deeply interested. It may be, as yet, merely an awakened interest in religion; or it may be that there is deep and pungent " conviction" for sin —an overwhelming sense of past guilt—such as the jailer in the text seems to have had, when all the sins of a past life are brought to the remembrance, and the intensest interest is thrown into the question, " What must I do to be saved ?"
This state of mind is necessarily connected with the way of salvation as revealed in the gospel, and, to a greater or less degree, always exists before the fitness and the beauty of that plan of salvation are perceived by the mind. Christ came to save sinners; and the whole plan of salvation is adjusted to the supposition that it is for sinners, and there is inwoven into the scheme an arrangement for making men feel that they are sinners as preliminary to, and indispensable to, a revelation of mercy through the Saviour. It is supposed that men would feel this, and ought to feel this sense of guilt, and there is a special agency appointed in the gospel to secure this state of mind in the case of all who become Christians and are saved. No man, according to the plan of salvation in the gospel, can be saved who has not a just view of himself as a sinner, and who does not come, as such, to the cross of Christ.
It is very important, therefore, to inquire what is done, under the Christian plan of salvation, to produce this state of mind. This is the next point which I proposed to illustrate.
I do not design to say to you that the feeling of thoughtfulness or solicitude is in all cases the same in intensity or in duration, or that it is always to be traced to the same causes. From the nature of the case it must vary with the time of life; with the temperament of the individual; with the general character; with the amount of education and the power of selfgovernment; and with the causes which produce the serious reflections. In some cases the seriousness may be the slow growth of many years; in others, the result of some visitation of Providence, or some message of truth coming suddenly to the soul. In some the mind may fasten on a single great sin that shall occupy all the attention, and fill all the field of vision; in others it may be a calmer view of all the past life. Among youths it may be calm, serious thought, apparently the result of early training, and when the seed sown in childhood seems to spring up and ripen as gently and as noiselessly as the grain in the harvest field does under the gently falling dew and the noiseless sunshine; in the man of strong passions, and infidel opinions, and great wickedness, it may he with the violence and commotion of the winds when they sweep along the hills, and when in their rage they twist off the gnarled oak, or tear it up by the roots. In the educated and disciplined mind it may bo apparently mere calm contemplation and profound reflection; in the uneducated and undisciplined a genuine work of grace may be going on, under all the outcries and outbreaks of what seems the wildest fanaticism and disorder. Under the steady preaching of the gospel it may be one thing, in the storm of ^ adversity and affliction it may be another; here the Spirit of truth may seem to approach the conscience through the understanding, and there through the emotions. No one would expect precisely the same feelings in John, the meek and gentle friend; Peter, the bold, the impetuous, and the rash ; and Saul of Tarsus, the zealot and the bigot, when they passed through the stages preliminary to conversion; no one would expect precisely the same feelings in the heathen jailer at Philippi, and in the conversion of a youth trained now in the Sabbath school. In certain great features we should expect indeed to find similarity or identity; in the intensity of the feeling, the amount of anxiety, the duration of this state of mind, or the causes which produced it, we might expect to find every imaginable variety. To show this I will now enumerate some of the causes which tend to produce the state of mind referred to.
First, it is produced, in some cases, by a growing sense of the unsatisfactory pature of worldly pursuits and enjoyments. With all the love which there is in the human soul for these things, there is a constant tendency to become dissatisfied with them, and to feel that they are not what the soul needs. They pall upon the senses, and there is need of new excitements and new forms of attractiveness to make them interesting. It requires much effort to keep up an interest in worldly things, and much variety and novelty to prevent a growing distaste for them; for there are wants of the soul which no brilliancy, change, and novelty in those pursuits can meet. Solomon made a designed experiment on this subject, under all the advantages which any human being can hope for, and reached results which all would reach in similar circumstances:—" I made me great works; I builded me houses ; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me : I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces : I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.—■And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy ; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun," Eccles. ii. 4—11. And who, in similar circumstances, has not had similar reflections ? How difficult is it always to prevent such reflections from springing up in the mind as the following :— ' To what purpose is all this ? Is this the end for which man should live ? Is this the way in which God designs that rational creatures should be happy ? Will this save me ? Will this prepare me to die ? Will this fit me to dwell in a holy heaven ? Is there, after all, no better portion for man than costly viands, and gay apparel, and splendid equipages, and music, and dancing ? Has man been formed for no nobler end than to eat and drink and be merry, and can he obtain nothing that shall be substantial and permanent? Is there nothing—nothing in this world or in any other—that can meet the deep desires of our nature—the aspirations of the undying mind for substantial good ?' These reflections may occur in a ball-room; in a brilliant party of pleasure; in a palace ; on a bed of down ; and when the incense of the flattery that we have long sought is wafted around us. And those reflections are often aided much by the chagrin and mortification, the neglect and the coldness, the jealousies and heart-burnings experienced in the world; and, chafed and oppressed by these, the mind begins to inquire whether there is no world that will furnish substantial good,—to reflect soberly, and to ask, What must be done to be saved ?
Secondly, there are, in other cases, or in these, the secret, silent workings of the conscience, prompting to the inquiry, What must be done to be saved f Conscience is sometimes armed with a terrific power—a power that rives the soul as the lightning does the gnarled oak; but it is not that to which I now refer. It has also a comparatively milder and more humble office ; a gentler power; a stiller voice. It silently reminds the soul of the obligations of religion, and gently and kindly awakens it to reflection, and stimulates it to the performance of longneglected duty. It becomes a friendly counsellor, makes kind suggestions, urges us to pray, keeps before us the remembrance of some duty that is unperformed, or some sin which we strive in vain to forget. It leads us to " think on our ways," to " ponder the paths of our feet," and opens to us reflections of the deepest interest in regard to that which is past and that which is to come, and thus leads the mind along gently to the inquiry, " What must I do to be saved ?"
Thirdly, there are in other cases the recollected instructions of earlier years, now strangely and nrysteriously brought to the memory. The father, the mother, the pastor, the Sabbath school teacher, the friend, may be dead, or may be far far away. But their lessons of virtue and their counsels may come with freshness and power to your minds as you stand in calm contemplation near their graves. Or, roaming in a distant clime, far away from the home of your childhood, in the land of strangers, where no one seems to feel an interest in you, and you feel an interest in no one of the multitudes around you, you may think of the counsels of a parent, of the family Bible, of the morning and evening sacrifice in your father's house ; and, the question, which may scarcely have occurred to you for years, may spring up anew in your mind, " What shall I do to be saved ?" Or, even in the dense and crowded city, a stranger amidst the jostling multitudes that care neither for you nor for one another; where you know no one, and no one knows you; where no one of all that crowd along the thronged avenue greets you with a kind look, or would care if you should die ; where no one sympathizes with your sorrows, or would miss you if you were never seen there again,—in the unutterable sense of loneliness which a strange youth feels in such a city,—your home, and your father, and your mother, and the influence of religion there, and the sweet and calm peace which religion produces there, or the calm peace which it shed on the last hours of some loved one, may come to your memory, and the involuntary question may arise, " What shall I do to be saved ?" Or perhaps, having long forgotten these lessons, now on the deep, or in a distant land, or remote from the scones of childhood in your own country, you may take up the long-neglected Bible, and the first passage which may greet you may be one that shall start the inquiry, " What must I do to be saved ?"
Fourthly, there is another class in whose minds the inquiry may be started by some of the scenes of nature—some of the works of God, that may fix the roving thoughts, and lead the mind upward and onward. Creation is full of God, and his voice may be heard in everything round about us. When, weary with the toils of the day, the merchant comes to his dwelling; when the " ploughman homeward plods his weary way;" when the seaman in a calm sees his sails hang loosely, and his " ship like a painted thing upon a painted ocean;" when in the still evening the zephyr gently breathes, God speaks often in tones as gentle to the soul. Then the mind is calm, and the passions are hushed, and nature is still, and all in and around prompts to serious thought, and leads the soul to the contemplation of the world to come. And so when the thunder-peal breaks on the hills, or over the dwelling in the silence of the night; when the tempest sweeps along, and the oak is prostrated on the mountain, God often speaks to the soul and awakens solemn thought. Luther was awakened to a sense of sin and danger, and led to ask the question, " What must I do to be saved ?" by the terrors of the tempest, and God made the lightning and the storm the means of arousing his mind to do the great work which he had for him to accomplish. He was then twenty-two years of age. He was on his way from his home to the academy at Erfurth. On his journey he was overtaken by a violent storm. The thunder roared. He threw himself upon the ground on his knees. His hour he apprehended had come. Death, judgment, and eternity were before him in all their terrors, and spoke with a voice which he could no. longer resist. " Encompassed," as he said, " with the anguish and terror of death, he made a vow that, if God would deliver him from this danger, he would forsake the world and devote himself to his service." * That event changed the course of his life—changed the destiny of nations. And who, in conscious danger, has not felt the inquiry cross the mind, as Luther and the jailer did, " What must I do to be saved ?"
Fifthly, there are others in whose minds the inquiry is started by the dispensations of Providence. The providence which embarrasses you in your business ; which throws unexpected obstacles in your way when you are grasping the world, and living for this world alone ; which strips away your property by causes which you could not foresee and could not surmount,—how much adapted is it to show you that there is a Presiding Being over the affairs of men; to lead you to inquire why he placed these obstacles in your path; to lead you to ask the question * D'Aubign£.
whether there are not higher ends for which you should live? The providence which takes away your health, and lays you for weeks on a bed of languishing, appears to be designed to lead you to reflect on the feebleness of your frame; on the uncertain tenure of the hold on life ; on the higher scenes which await man in the future world ; and to lead you to ask on that bed of languishing, " What must I do to be saved?" The providence which takes away a lovely child, how much fitted is it to lead the mind to sober thought! Yesterday it was blithe and playful, and your home was happy; to-day it lies pale and cold in death, and you cannot but feel that God has designed that you should pause in your career, and reflect on death and the coming world.
And, Sixthly, there are those, in great numbers, who are led to reflection and to inquiry by the warnings of his word. The preaching of the gospel is God's great ordinance for awakening the attention of men to the subject of religion, and arousing them to thought and solicitude in regard to their immortal welfare. To secure this is one of the great ends contemplated by the institution of the ministry of reconciliation ; and it is every way adapted to the end in view. Of those who become Christians, by far the largest portion are awakened to a sense of their sin and danger under the preaching of the gospel; and more frequently the inquiry is started, " What must I do to be saved," in this manner than in all other methods combined.
I might go on to speak of many other methods by which the attention of the sinner is arrested, and by which he is brought to serious reflection :—his own solemn thoughts when alone ; the conversation of a stranger; the counsel of a friend; the Bible that he casually opens; the tract that is laid in his way; the book that he has been induced by a friend to read; the deep feeling that sometimes pervades a community in a revival of religion ; or some secret, silent influence of the Eternal Spirit on his mind that he is never able to trace to any secondary cause. One thing cannot but strike you in all this: it is the variety of methods—the numberless ways—in which God makes his appeal to men ; the countless modes of access which he has to the soul, prompting to the great inquiry, " What must I do to be saved f" And yet, in all cases, with all the endless variety of means employed, and all the variety of emotions and feelings produced, arising from age, and temperament, and diversity of education, and the manner in which the appeal is brought to the mind— the general character of the feeling is the same: it is awakened interest in religion ; it is a growing conviction of its importance ; it is calm reflection ; it is a sense of danger and insecurity in the present state; it is a feeling that something ought to be done in order to be saved.
At this stage, however, everything seems to be full of perplexity. Doubts arise on the whole subject of religion. What is to be believed as true and what is to be done, are alike points on which the mind is often in the utmost perplexity. Amidst the thousand opinions entertained in the church, which is to be believed ? Who shall tell us what is true ? Who shall guide us into the path of peace ? And another thing is equally perplexing—what is to be done. Something, it is clear, should be done ; but what shall it be ? In this state of feeling, the jailer came to Paul and Silas to know what should be done; in a similar state of feeling many would give worlds if some one would tell them with certainty what they should do.
I desire now, in conclusion, to suggest a few thoughts, by way of counsel, applicable to this state of mind.
(1.) The first is, Cherish the disposition to reflection. Be willing to think on your ways; to ponder calmly and seriously so important a subject as religion. Be willing to think it all over—the past, the present, the future; your character, your hopes, your dangers, your duties, your privileges, and },our destiny. He willing to think on the question whether religion is true ; what it is ; whether its hopes may be yours. He is not far from the kingdom of God who is willing to think on the subject of religion, and in all honesty to follow out the result of his own reflections. Need I urge any more reasons for this counsel ? It is a subject worthy of thought. Assuredly, if there is anything that can properly claim the attention of the human mind it is this. What are all things else in respect to us, compared with the salvation of our own souls ? And who is injured by calm and careful thought ? Who is made the poorer, or the less worthy to be respected, by sober reflection ? What merchant is more likely to fail by reflecting carefully on his business ; what youth endangers his reputation by considerate reflection on his character and plans; what student is retarded in the attainment of knowledge by attentive thoughtfulness on his studies ; what physician is injured by a close application of his mind to the symptoms of disease and the right methods of healing; what lawyer by close attention to the law and the evidence in the case entrusted to him ? But again, what interests are there which are not jeoparded by recklessness and want of thought? How often is fortune squandered ; is health ruined ; is the opportunity of preparing for honour and usefulness lost; is life itself the forfeit of a want of reflection! How many bankrupts are there who might have been saved by timely thought; how many drunkards who might have been happy and useful by proper reflection ; how many are there now useless to the world, who would have been ornaments to society if in early years they had reflected calmly on their privileges, and thoughtfully pursued the paths of learning or business ! I counsel you, therefore, to cherish every serious thought that passes through your minds on the subject of religion, and to be willing to follow where sober thought would lead you.
(2.) I counsel you to avoid the scenes which would be likely to dissipate your serious reflections. You may be less ready to follow me in this than in the former, and yet this is essential if j■ou would secure the salvation of the soul. But do not misunderstand me. I do not counsel you to immure yourself in a cloister. I advise not a useless and a gloomy asceticism. I ask you not to be morose, sour, dissocial, melancholy. All these I regard as infinitely far from religion, alike in its beginnings in the soul, and in its highest progress towards perfection.
But there are scenes which are unfavourable to serious reflection, and which tend to dissipate serious thought, and which one must consent to leave for ever if he would serve God and follow the Saviour. The theatre, the ball-room, the circles of gaiety, the places of revelry—how can they be made to be favourable to serious thought; how are they consistent with an earnest desire to be saved ? Between those scenes and the calm and serene spirit of the gospel—between the spirit which reigns there, and that which reigned in the bosom of the Saviour, there is such a contrast that the one cannot live where the other does; and if you make up your mind to have the one, you must make up your mind not to have the other.
I am sensible that, even to a mind under the degree of thoughtfulness which I have now been endeavouring to describe, it is one of the most difficult things that I can exhort you to do, to follow the counsel which I am now giving. So fascinating is that gay and brilliant world; so many of your friends find pleasure there ; so entirely may you seem to be shut out from all society if you ,withdraw from that; so many ties bind you to it by a network so interlaced and so strong; and so much would you dread to have it whispered around to " lover and friend" that you are becoming serious, that I do not wonder at the difficulty of breaking away» Yet, there is no option. If you would be a Christian, if you would find the way of salvation, you must make up your mind, if need be, to bear the frowns, the sneers, the ridicule of the world—for the path to heaven and to glory lies not through scenes of vanity and of sin.
(3.) I counsel you to pray. For what is more appropriate than prayer in the state of mind which I have described ? Where should one go who is asking what he shall do to be saved, if not to God ? You are just beginning to grapple with great questions that are too much for the unaided human mind. You are beginning to think about themes on which the profoundest human intellects have been employed, and which are the subject of the contemplation of angels and seraphs. You are beginning to reflect on the past, and the future ; the distant, the grand, the infinite, when every thought takes hold on eternity. You are commencing an inquiry which has never been continued long, and which has never been conducted to a happy issue without prayer. To your mind all is dark, and in this inquiry you need above all things the guidance of the Father of lights, and you will never find the path to heaven till " in his light you see light." What, then, can be more appropriate for a human being in these circumstances than prayer ?
Are there any of you whose minds are in the condition described in this discourse—serious, thoughtful, pondering the question, What shall I do to be saved ? Go to your closets. Pray. Alone with the God that made you—with the Father of lights—with, him who hears prayer—ask him this great question, AVhat must I do to be saved ? If your Maker has never heard the voice of prayer before come from your lips, this night, ere you slumber, let him hear the humble, fervent cry for knowledge, for mercy, for salvation.