"The common salvation."—Jude 3.
"The common faith."—Titus i. 4.
JUDE was probably one of Christ's brothers, and a man of position and influence in the Church. He is writing to the whole early Christian community, numbering men widely separated from each other by nationality, race, culture, and general outlook on life; and he beautifully and humbly unites himself with them all as recipients of a "common salvation." Paul is writing to Titus, the veteran leader to a raw recruit. Wide differences of mental power, of maturity of religious experience, separated the two; and yet Paul beautifully and humbly associates himself with his pupil, as exercising a "common faith."
Probably neither of the writers meant more than to bring himself nearer to the persons whom they were respectively addressing; but their language goes a great deal further than the immediate application of it. The "salvation" was " common" to Jude and his readers, as "the faith" was to Paul and Titus, because the salvation and the faith are one, all the world over. It is for the sake of insisting upon this community, which is universal, that I have ventured to isolate these two fragments from their proper connection, and to bring them together. But you will notice that they take up the same thought at two different stages, as it were. The one declares that there is but one remedy and healing for all the world's woes; the other declares that there is but one way by which that remedy can be applied. All who possess "the common salvation" are so blessed because they exercise " the common faith."
I.—Note the underlying conception of a universal deepest need.
That Christian word "salvation" has come to be threadbare and commonplace, and slips over people's minds without leaving any dint. We all think we understand it. Some of us have only the faintest and vaguest conception of what it means, and have never realised the solemn view of human nature and its necessities which lies beneath it. And I want to press that upon you now. The word "to save" means either of two things—to heal from a sickness, or to deliver from a danger. These two ideas of sickness to be healed and of dangers to be secured from enter into the Christian use of the word. Underlying it is the implication that the condition of humanity is universally that of needing healing of a sore sickness, and of needing deliverance from an overhanging and tremendous danger. Sin is the sickness, and the issues of sin are the danger. And sin is making myself my centre and my law, and so distorting and flinging out of gear, as it were, my relations to God.
Surely it does not want many words to show that that must be the most important thing about a man. Deep down below all superficialities there lies this fundamental fact, that he has gone wrong with regard to God; and no amount of sophistication about heredity and environment and the like can ever wipe out the blackness of the fact that men willingly do break through the law, which commands us all to yield ourselves to God, and not to set ourselves up as our own masters and our own aims and ends, independently of Him. I say that is the deepest wound of humanity.
In these days of social unrest there are plenty of voices round us that proclaim other needs as being clamant, but, oh, they are all shallow and surface as compared with the deepest need of all; and the men that come round the sick bed of humanity and say, "Ah, the patient is suffering from a lack of education," or "the patient is suffering from unfavourable enviroment," have diagnosed the disease superficially. There is something deeper the matter than that, and unless the physician has probed further into the wound than these surface appearances, I am afraid his remedy will go as short a way down as his conception of the evil goes.
Oh, brethren, there is something else the matter with us than ignorance or unfavourable conditions. "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint." The tap-root of all human miseries lies in the solemn fact of human transgression. That is a universal fact. Wide differences part us, but there is one thing that we have all in common: a conscience and a will that lifts itself against disliked good. Beneath all surface differences of garb there lies the same fact, the common sickness of sin. The king's robe, the pauper's uniform, the student's gown, the mill-hand's fustian, the naked savage's brown skin, each cover a heart that is evil, and because it is evil, needs salvation from sickness and deliverance from danger.
For do not forget that if it is true that men have driven their rebellious chariots through God's law, they cannot do that without bringing down God's hand upon them, and they ought not to be able to do it; and He would not be a loving God if it were not so. There are dangers; dangers from the necessary inevitable consequences, here and yonder, of rebellion against Him.
Now, do not let us lose ourselves in generalities. That is the way in which many of us have all our lives long blunted the point of the message of the Gospel to our hearts. That is what we do with all sorts of important moral truths. For instance, I suppose there never was a time in your lives when you did not believe that all men must die. But I suppose most of us can remember some time when there came upon us, with a shock which made some of us cower before it as an unwelcome thing, the thought, " And I must."
The common sickness? Yes !" Thou art the man." Oh, brother, whatever you may have or whatever you may want, be sure of this: that your deepest needs will not be met, your sorest sickness will not be healed, your most tremendous peril not secured against, until the fact of your individual sinfulness and the consequences of that fact are somehow or other dealt with, staunched, and swept away. Somuch, then, for the first point.
II.—Now a word as to the common remedy. One of our texts gives us that—" the common salvation."
You all know what I am going to say, and so, perhaps, you suppose that it is not worth while for me to say it. I dare say some of you think that it was. not worth while coming here to-night to hear the whole, threadbare, common-place story. Well! is it. worth while for me to speak once more to men that have so often heard and so often neglected? Let me try. Oh, that I could get you one by one, and drive home to each single soul that is listening to me, or perhaps, that is not listening, the message that I have to bring!
"The common salvation." There is one remedy for the sickness. There is one safety against the danger. There is only one, because it is the remedy for all men, and it is the remedy for all men because it is the remedy for each. Jesus Christ deals, as no one else has ever pretended to deal, with this outstanding fact of my transgression and yours.
He, by His death, as I believe, has saved the world from the danger, because He has set right the world's relations to God. I am not going, at this stage of my sermon, or to my present audience, to enter upon anything in the nature of discussion. My purpose is an entirely different one. I want to press upon you, dear brethren, this plain fact, that since there is a God, and since you and I have sinned, and since things are as. they are, and the consequences will be as they will be, both in this world and in the next, we all stand in danger of death—death eternal, which comes from, And, in one sense, consists of, separation in heart and mind from God.
You believe in a judgment day, do you not? Whether you do or not, you have only to open your ■eyes, you have only to turn them inwards, to see that «ven here and now, every sin and transgression and disobedience does receive its just recompense of reward. You cannot do a wrong thing without hurting yourself, without desolating some part of your nature, without enfeebling your power of resistance to evil and aspiration after good, without lowering yourself in the scale of being, and making yourself ashamed to stand before the bar of your own conscience. You cannot do some wrong things, that some of you are fond of doing, without dragging after them consequences, in this world, of anything but an agreeable kind. Sins of the flesh avenge themselves in kind, as some of you young men know, and will know better in the days that are before you. Transgressions which are plain and clear in the eyes of even the world's judgment draw after them damaged reputations, enfeebled health, closed doors of opportunity, and a whole host of such things. And all these are but a kind of premonitions and overshadowings of that solemn judgment that lies beyond. For all men will have to eat the fruit of their doings and drink that which they have prepared. But on the Cross, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, bore the weight of the world's sin, yours and mine and every man's. There is one security against the danger; and it is that He, fronting the incidence of the Divine law, says, as He said to His would-be captors in the garden, " If ye seek Me, let these go their way." And they go their way by the power of His atoning death.
Further, Jesus Christ imparts a life that cures the sickness of sin.
What is the meaning of this Whitsuntide that all the Christian world is professing to keep to-day? Is it to commemorate a thing that happened nineteen centuries ago, when a handful of Jews for a few minutes had the power of talking in other languages, and a miraculous light flamed over their heads and then disappeared? Was that all? Have you and I any share in it? Yes. For if Pentecost means anything it means this, that, all down through the ages, Jesus Christ is imparting to men that cleave to Him the real gift of a new life, free from all the sickness of the old, and healthy with the wholesomeness of His own. perfect sinlessness, so that, however inveterate and engrained a man's habits of wrong-doing may have been, if he will turn to that Saviour, and let Him work upon him, he will be delivered from his evil. The leprosy of his flesh, though the lumps of diseased matter may be dropping from the bones, and the stench of corruption may drive away human love and sympathy, can be cleansed, and his flesh become like the flesh of a little child, if only he will trust in Jesus Christ. The sickness can be cured. Christ deals with men in the depths of their being. He will give you, if you will, a new life and new tastes, directions, inclinations, impulses, perceptions, hopes, and capacities, and the evil will pass away, and you will be whole.
Ah, brethren, that is the only cure. I was talking a minute or two ago about imperfect diagnoses; and there are superficial remedies too. Men round us are trying, in various ways to staunch the world's wounds, to heal the world's sicknesses. God forbid that I should say a word to discourage any such! I would rather wish them ten times more numerous than they are; but at the same time I believe that, unless you deal with the fountain at its head, you will never cleanse the stream, and that you must have the radical change, which comes by the gift of a new life in Christ, before men can be delivered from the sickness of their sins. And so all these panaceas, whilst they may do certain surface good, are, if I may quote a well-known phrase, like "pills against an earthquake," or like giving a lotion to cure pimples, when the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint. You will never cure the ills of humanity until you have delivered men from the dominion of their sin.
Jesus Christ heals society by healing the individual. There is no other way of doing it. If the units are corrupt the community cannot be pure. And the only way to make the units pure is that they shall have Christ on the Cross for their redemption, and Christ in the heart for their cleansing. And then all the things that men try to produce in the shape of social good and the like, apart from Him, will come as a consequence of the new state of things that arises when the individuals are renewed. Apart from Him all human attempts to deal with social evils are inadequate. There is a terrible disillusionising and disappointment awaiting many eager enthusiasts to-day, who think that by certain external arrangements, or by certain educational and cultivated processes, they can mend the world's miseries, You educate a nation. Well and good, and one result of it is that your bookshops get choked with trash, and that vice has a new avenue of approach to men's hearts. You improve the economic condition of the people. Well and good, and one result of it is that a bigger percentage than ever of their funds finds its way into the drink-shop. You give a nation political power. Well and good, and one result of it is that the least worthy and the least wise have to be flattered and coaxed, because they are the rulers. Every good thing, divorced from Christ, becomes an ally of evil, and the only way by which the dreams and desires of men can be fulfilled is by the salvation which is in Him entering the individual hearts and thus moulding society.
III.—Now, lastly, the common means of possessing the common healing.
My second text tells us what that is—" the common faith." That is another of the words which is so familiar that it is unintelligible, which has been dinned into your ears ever since you were little children, and in the case of many of you excites no definite idea, and is supposed to be an obscure kind of thing that belongs to theologians ^and preachers, but has little to do with your daily lives. There is only one way by which this healing and safety that I have been speaking about can possibly findjfts way into a man's heart. You have all been trained from childhood to believe that men are saved by faith, and a great many of you, I dare say, think that men might have been saved by some other way, if God had chosen to appoint it so. But that is a clear mistake. If it is true that salvation is a gift from God, then it is quite plain that the only thing that we require is an outstretched hand. If it is true that Jesus Christ's death on the Cross has brought salvation to all the world, then it is quite plain that, His work being finished, we have no need to come in pottering with any works of ours, and that the only thing we have to do is to accept it. If it is true that Jesus Christ will enter men's hearts, and there give a new spirit and a new life, which will save them from their sins and make them free from the law of sin and death, then it is plain that the one thing that we have to do is to open our hearts and say, "Come in, Thou King of Glory, come in!" Because salvation is a gift; because it is the result of a finished work; because it is imparted to men by the impartation of Christ's own life to them: for all these reasons it is plain that the only way by which God can save a man is by that man's putting his trust in Jesus Christ. It is no arbitrary appointment. The only possible way of possessing "the common salvation" is by the exercise of "the common faith."
So we are all put upon one level, no matter how different we may be in attainments, in mental capacity —geniuses and blockheads, scholars and ignoramuses, millionaires and paupers, students and savages, we are all on the one level. There is no carriage road into heaven. We have all to go in at the strait gate, and there is no special entry for people that como with their own horses; and so some people do not like to have to descend to that level, and to go with the ruck and the undistinguished crowd, and to be saved just in the same fashion as Tom, Dick, and Harry, and they turn away.
There was a book published not long ago—I have not read it—with a very conceited title," The Religion of a Literary Man." I should have thought that the religion of a literary man was just the same as the religion of a lurryman; and that if cultivated people insist upon having a private door of their own into Heaven, it is extremely likely that they will find themselves shut out. '■' There is no difference ... all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace."
Plenty of people believe in a "common salvation," meaning thereby a vague, indiscriminate gift that is flung broadcast over the mass. Plenty of people believe in a " common faith." We hear, for instance, about a "national Christianity," and a "national recognition of religion," and "Christian nations," and the like. There are no Christian nations except nations of which the individuals are Christians, and there is no "common faith" except the faith exercised in common by all the units that make up a community.
So do not suppose that anything short of your own personal act brings you into possession of "the common salvation." The table is spread, but you must take the bread into your own hands, and you must masticate it with your own teeth, and you must assimilate it in your own body, or it is no bread for you. The salvation is a "common," like one of the great prairies, but each separate settler has to peg off his own claim, and fence it in, and take possession of it, or he has no share in the broad land. So remember that "the common salvation" must be made the individual salvation by the individual exercise of " the common faith." Cry, "Lord! I believe!" and then vou will have the right to say, "The Lord is my strength; He also is become my salvation."