THE METHOD OF SALVATION THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.
" 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, iii. 16.
My text is a part of the most important evening conversation that ever was held; I mean that between Christ and Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews. Our Lord first instructs him in the doctrine of regeneration, that grand constituent of a Christian, and pre-requisite to our admission in the kingdom of heaven; and then he proceeds to inform him of the gospel method of salvation, which contains these two grand articles: the death of Christ, as the great foundation of blessedness; and faith in him, as the great qualification upon the part of the sinner. He presents this important doctrine to us in various forms, with a very significant repetition. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so shall the Son of man be lifted up ; that is, hung on high on a cross, that whosoever believeUi in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Then follows my text, which expresses the same doctrine with great force. God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, gave him up to death, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. He goes on to mention a wonder. This earth is a rebellious province of Jehovah's dominions, and, therefore, if his Son should ever visit it,
one would think it would be as an angry judge, or as tho executioner of his Father's vengeance. But, oh, astonishing! God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might he saved. Hence the terms of life and death are thus fixed: He that believeth in him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the only begotten Son of God. Sure the heavenly rivers of pleasure flow in these verses. Never, methinks, was there so much gospel expressed in so few words. . Here take the gospel in miniature, and bind it to your hearts for ever. These verses alone, methinks, are a sufficient remedy for a dying world.
I. My text implies, that without Christ you are all in a perishing condition.
This holds true of you in particular, because it holds true of the world universally: for the world was undoubtedly in a perishing condition without Christ; and none but he could relieve it, otherwise God would never have given his only begotten Son to save it. God is not ostentatious or prodigal of his gifts, especially of so inestimable a gift as his Son, whom he loves infinitely more than the whole creation. So great, so dear a person, would not have been sent upon a mission which could have been discharged by any other being. Thousands of rams must bleed in sacrifice, or ten thousands of rivers of oil must flow; our firstborn must die for our transgressions, and the fruit of our body for the sin of our souls; or Gabriel, or some of the upper ranks of angels, must leave their thrones, and hang upon a cross, if such methods of salvation had been sufficient. All this would have been nothing in comparison of the only begotten Son of God leaving his native heaven, and all its glories, assuming our degraded nature, spending thirty4hree long and tedious years in poverty, disgrace, and persecution, dying as a malefactor and a slave in the midst of ignominy and torture, and lying a mangled, breathless corpse in the grave, We may be sure there was the highest degree of necessity ibr it, otherwise God would not have given up his dear Son to such a horrid scene of suffering.
This, then, was the true state of the world, and consequently yours without Christ; it was hopeless and desperate in every view. In that situation there would not have been so much goodness in the world as to pry the efficacy of sacrifices, prayers, tears, reformation, and repentance, or they would have been tried in vain. It would have been inconsistent with the honor of the divine perfections and government, to admit sacrifices, prayers, tears, repentance, and reformation, as a sufficient atonement .
What a melancholy view of the world have we now before us! We know the state of mankind only under the gracious government of a Mediator; and we but seldom realize what our miserable condition would have been, had this gracious administration never been set up. But exclude a Saviour in your thoughts for a moment, and then take a view of the world—helpless! hopeless!—under the righteous displeasure of God, and despairing of relief!— the very suburbs of hell! the range of malignant devils! the region of guilt, misery, and despair!—the mouth of the infernal pit!—the gate of hell ! This would have been the condition of our world had it not been for that Jesus who redeemed it; and yet in this very world he is neglected and despised.
But you will ask me, "How comes it that the world was in such an undone, helpless, hopeless condition without Christ? or what are the reasons of all this?"
The true account of this will appear from these two considerations: that all mankind are sinners; and that no other method but the mediation of Christ could render the salvation of sinners consistent with the honor of the divine perfections and government, with the public good, and even with the nature of things.
All mankind are sinners. This is too evident to need
Eroof. They are sinners, rebels against the greatest and est of beings, against their Maker, their liberal Benefactor, and their rightful Sovereign, to whom they are under stronger and more endearing obligations than they can be under to any creature, or even to the entire system of creatures; sinners, rebels in every part of our globe; none righteous, no, not one; all sinners, without exception; sinners from age to age for thousands of years. Thousands, millions, innumerable multitudes of sinners. What an obnoxious race is this ! There appears no difficulty in the way of justice to punish such creatures. But what seeming insuperable difficulties appear in the way of salvation! Let me mention a few of them, to recommend that blessed Saviour who has removed them all.
If such sinners be saved, how shall the holiness and justice of God be displayed ? How shall he give an honorable view of himself to all worlds, as a being of perfect purity, and an enemy to all moral evil ?
If such sinners be saved, how shall the honor of the divine government and law be secured? How shall the dignity of a law appear, if a race of rebels may trifle with it with impunity? How can the sinner be saved, and yet the evil of sin be displayed, and all other beings be deterred from it for ever ? How can sin be discouraged by pardoning it? Its evil displayed by letting the criminal escape punishment ? These are such difficulties, that nothing but divine wisdom could surmount them.
These difficulties lie in the way of a mere pardon and exemption from punishment; but salvation includes more than this. When sinners are saved, they are not only pardoned, but received into high favor, made the children, the friends, the courtiers of the King of heaven. How can the sinner be not only delivered from punishment, but also advanced to a state of perfect happiness ? Not only escape the displeasure of his offended sovereign, but be received into full favor, and advanced to the highest honor and dignity; how can this be done without casting a cloud over the purity and justice of the Lord of all, without sinking his law and government into contempt ? how can sinners, I say, be saved without the salvation being attended with these bad consequences?
To save men at random, without considering the consequences, to distribute happiness to private persons with an undistinguishing hand, this would be at once inconsistent with the character of the Supreme Magistrate of the universe, and with the public good. Private persons are at liberty to forgive private offences; nay, it is their duty to forgive; and they can hardly offend by way of excess in the generous virtues of mercy and compassion. But the case is otherwise with a magistrate; he is obliged to consult the dignity of his government and the interest of the public; and he may easily carry his lenity to a very dangerous extreme, and by his tenderness to criminals do an extensive injury to the state. This is particularly the case with regard to the great God, the universal Supreme Magistrate of all worlds. And this ought to be seriously considered by those men of loose principles among us, who look upon God only under the fond character of a father, or a being of infinite mercy; and thence conclude that they have little to fear from him for all their audacious iniquities. There is no absolute necessity that sinners should be saved; justice may be suffered to take place upon them. But there is the most absolute necessity that the Ruler of the world should both be, and appear to be, holy and just. There is the most absolute necessity that he should support the dignity of his government, and guard it from contempt, that he should strike all worlds with a proper horror of sin, and represent it in its genuine, infernal colors, and so consult the good of the whole rather than a part.
And must we then give up ourselves and all our race as lost beyond recovery ? There are seemingly insuperable difficulties in the way; and we have seen that neither men nor angels can prescribe any relief; which leads me to add,
II. My text implies, that through Jesus Christ a way is opened for your salvation. He, and he only, was found equal to the undertaking; and before him all these mountains become a plain; all these difficulties vanish; and now God can be just, can secure the dignity of his character, as the ruler of the world, and answer all the ends of government, and yet justify and save the sinner that believeth in Jesus. This is plainly implied in this glorious epitome of the gospel: God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Without this gift all was lost; but now, whosoever believeth in him may be saved; saved in a most honorable way. Was it necessary that the holiness and justice of God should be displayed in the salvation of sinners ? See how bright they shine in a suffering Saviour! Now, it appears that such is the holiness and justice of God, that he will not let even his own Son escape unpunished, when he stands in the low place of sinners. Could the execution of everlasting punishment upon the hateful criminals themselves ever give so bright a display of these attributes ? It were impossible. Again,
Was it a difficulty to save sinners, and yet maintain the rights of the divine government, and the honbr of the law ? See how this difficulty is removed by the obedience and death of Christ! Now it appears that the rights of the divine government are so sacred and inviolable, that they must be maintained, though the darling Son of God should fall a sacrifice to justice; and that not one offence against this government can be pardoned, without his making a full atonement. Further,
Was it a difficulty how sinners might be saved, and yet the evil of sin be displayed in all its horrors ? Go to the cross of Christ; there, ye fools, that make a mock of sin, there learn its malignity, and its hatefulness to the great God. There you may see it so great an evil, that when it is but imputed to the man that is God's fellow, as the surety of sinners, it cannot escape punishment. What an enormous evil must that be, which cannot be connived at even in the favorite of Heaven, the only begotten Son of God! Surely nothing besides could give so striking a display of its malignity !
Now, since all obstructions are removed on God's part, that lay in the way of our salvation, why should we not all be saved together ? What is there to hinder our crowding into heaven promiscuously ? Or, what is there requisite on our part, in order to make us partakers of this salvation ? Here it is proper to pass on to the next truth inferred from the text, namely:
HI. That the grand pre-requisite to your being saved in this way, is faith in Jesus Christ. Though the obstructions on God's part are removed by the death of Christ, yet there is one remaining in the sinner, which cannot be removed without his consent; and which, while it remains, renders his salvation impossible in the nature of things; that is, the depravity and corruption of his nature. Till this is cured, he cannot relish those fruitions and employments in which the happiness of heaven consists, and consequently be happy there. Therefore there is a necessity in the very nature of things, that he should be made holy, in order to be saved; nay, his salvation itself consists in holiness. Now, faith is the root of all holiness in a sinner. Without a firm realizing belief of the great truths of the gospel, it is impossible a sinner should be sanctified by their influence; and without a particular faith in Jesus Christ, he cannot derive from him those sanctifying influences by which alone he can be made holy, and which are conveyed through Jesus Christ, and through him alone.
Here, then, a most interesting inquiry presents itself: "What is it to believe in Jesus Christ? or, what is that faith which is the grand pre-requisite to salvation ?" If you are capable of attention to the most interesting affair in all the world, attend to this with the utmost seriousness and solemnity.
(1.) Faith pre-supposes a deep sense of our undone, helpless condition. I told you before, this is the condition of the world without Christ; and you must be sensible at heart that this is your condition in particular, before you can believe in him as your Saviour. He came to be a Saviour in a desperate case, when no relief could possibly be had from any other quarter, and you cannot receive him under that character till you feel yourselves in such a case; 'therefore, in order to your believing, all your pleas and excuses for your sins must be silenced, all your high conceit for your own goodness must be mortified, all your dependence upon your own righteousness, upon the merit of your prayers, your repentance, and good works, must be cast down, and you must feel that indeed you lie at mercy, that God may justly reject you for ever, and that all you can do can bring him under no obligation to save you.
I wish and pray you may this day see yourselves in this true, though mortifying light. It is the want of this sense of things that keeps such crowds of persons unbelievers among us. It is the want of this that causes the Lord Jesus to be so little esteemed, so little sought for, so little desired among us. In short, it is the want of this that is the great occasion of so many perishing from under the gospel, and, as it were, from between the hands of a Saviour. It is this, alas! that causes them to perish, like the impenitent thief on the cross, with a Saviour by his side.
(2.) Faith implies the enlightening of the understanding to discover the suitableness of Jesus Christ as a Saviour, and the excellency of the way of salvation through him. In short, the Lord Jesus, and the way of salvation through him, appear perfectly suitable, all-sufficient, and all-glorious; and, in consequence of this,
(3.) The sinner is enabled to embrace this Saviour with all his heart, and to give a voluntary, cheerful consent to this glorious scheme of salvation. Now all his former unwillingness and reluctance are subdued, and his heart no more draws back from the terms of the gospel, but he complies with them, and that not merely out of constraint and necessity, but out of free choice, and with the greatest pleasure and delight.
(4.) Faith in Jesus Christ implies an humble^ trust or dependence upon him alone for the pardon of sin, acceptance with God, and every blessing. As I told you before, the sinner's self-confiderice is mortified; he gives up all hopes of acceptance upon the footing of his own righteousness ; he is filled with self-despair, and yet he does not despair absolutely; he does not give up himself as lost, but has cheerful hopes of becoming a child of God, and being for ever happy, guilty and unworthy as he is: and what are these hopes founded upon ? Why, upon the mere free grace and mercy of God, through the righteousness of* Jesus Christ. On this he ventures a guilty, unworthy, helpless soul, and finds it a firm immovable foundation, while every other ground of dependence proves but a quicksand.
I shall only add, this faith may also be known by its inseparable effects; which are such as follow: Faith purifies the heart, and is a lively principle of inward holiness; faith is always productive of good works, and leads to universal obedience; faith overcomes the world and all its temptations; faith realizes eternal things, and brings them near; and hence it is defined by the apostle, The substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.
IV. My text implies, that every one, without exception, whatever his former character has been, that is enabled to believe in Jesus Christ, shall certainly be saved.
The number or aggravations of sin do not alter the case; and the reason is, the sinner is not received into favor, in whole or in part, upon the account of any thing personal, but solely and entirely upon the account of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Now, this righteousness is perfectly equal to all the demands of the law; and therefore, when this righteousness is made over to the sinner as his by imputation, the law has no more demands upon him for great sins than for small, for many than for few; because all demands are fully satisfied by the obedience of Jesus Christ to the law.
This encouraging truth has the most abundant support from the Holy Scriptures. Observe the agreeable indefinite whosoever so often repeated. " Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life." Whosoever he be, however vile, however guilty, however unworthy, if he does but believe, he shall not perish, but have everlasting life. What an agreeable assurance is this from the lips of him who has the final states of men at his disposal! The same blessed lips has also declared, Him that cometh unto me, 1 will in no wise cast out. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. lie has given you more than bare words to establish you in the belief of this truth; upon this principle he has acted, choosing some of the most abandoned sinners to make them examples, not of his justice as we might expect, but of his mercy, for the encouragement of others. You may see what monsters of sin he chose to make the monuments of his grace in Corinth. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. What a dismal catalogue is this! It is no wonder such a crew should not inherit the kingdom of heaven; they are fit only for the infernal prison; and yet, astonishing! it follows, such were some of you ; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the spirit of our God. 1 Cor. vi. 9-11. Here is a door wide enough for you all, if you will but enter in by faith*. Come, then, enter in, you that have hitherto claimed a horrid precedence in sin, that have been ringleaders in vice, come now, take the lead, and show others the way to Jesus Christ; harlots, publicans, thieves, and murderers, if such be among you, there is salvation even for you, if you will but believe. O! how astonishing is the love of God discovered in this way; a consideration which introduces the last inference from my text, namely,
V. That the constitution of this method of salvation, or the mission of a Saviour into our world, is a most striking and astonishing display of the love of God: God so loved the world tlvat he gave his only begotten Son, &c.
View the scheme all through, and you will discover love, infinite love, infinite love in every part of it. Consider the world sunk in sin, not only without merit, but most deserving of everlasting punishment, and what but love could move God to have mercy upon such a world ? Consider the Saviour provided, not an angel, not the highest creature, but his Son, his only begotten Son; and what but love could move him to appoint such a Saviour? Consider the blessings conferred through this Saviour, deliverance from perdition, and the enjoyment of everlasting life, and what but the love of God could confer such blessings ? Consider the condition upon which these blessings are offered—faith, that humble, self-emptied grace, so suitable to the circumstances of a poor sinner, that brings nothing but receives all: and what but divine love could make such a gracious appointment? It is by faith, that it may be by grace.
And now, my brethren, to draw towards a conclusion, I would hold a treaty with you this day about the reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ. I have this day set life and death before you; I have opened to you the method of salvation through Jesus Christ; the only method in which you can be saved; the only method that could afford a gleam of hope to such a sinner as I in my late approach to the eternal world.* And now I would bring the matter home, and propose it to you all to consent to be saved in this method, or, in other words, to believe in the only begotten Son of God; this proposal I seriously make to you; and let heaven and earth, and your own consciences, witness that it is made to you; I also insist for a determinate answer this day; the matter will not admit of a delay, and the duty is so plain, that there is no need of time to deliberate.
I hope you now see good reasons why I should exhort you to believe, and also perceive my design in it; I therefore renew the proposal to you, that you should this day, as guilty, unworthy, self-despairing sinners, accept of the only begotten Son of God as your Saviour, and fall in with the gospel method of salvation; and I once more demand your answer. I would by no means, if possible, leave the pulpit this day till I have effectually recommended the blessed Jesus, my Lord and Master, to your acceptance. I am strongly bound by the vows and resolutions of a sickbed to recommend him to you; and now I would endeavor to perform my vows, I would have us all this day, before we part, consent to God's covenant, that we may go away justified to our houses. To this I persuade and exhort you, in the name and by the authority of the great God, by the death of Jesus Christ for sinners, by your own most urgent and absolute necessity, by the immense blessings proposed in the gospel, and by the heavy curse denounced against unbelievers.
* This sermon was preached a little after recovery from a severe fit of Bickness.
All the blessings of the gospel—pardon of sin, sanctifying grace, eternal life, and whatever you can want, shall become yours this day, if you but believe in the Son of God; then let desolation overrun our land, let public and private calamities crowd upon you, and make you so many Jobs for poverty and affliction, still your main interest is secure; the storms and waves of trouble can only bear you to heaven, and hasten your passage to the harbor of eternal rest. Let devils accuse you before God, let conscience indict you and bring you in guilty, let the fiery law make its demands upon you, you have a righteousness in Jesus Christ that is sufficient to answer all demands, and, having received it by faith, you may plead it as your own in law. Happy souls! rejoice in hope of the glory of God, for your hope will never make you ashamed !
But I expect, as usual, some of you will refuse to comply with this proposal. This, alas! has been the usual fate of the blessed gospel in all ages and in all countries; as some have received it, so some have rejected it. Be it known to you from the living God, that if any of you continue in unbelief, you shut the door of mercy against yourselves, and exclude yourselves from eternal life. Whatever splendid appearances of virtue, whatever amiable qualities, whatever seeming good works you have, the express sentence of the gospel lies in full force against you, He that believeth not sfudl be damned. Mark, xvL 16. He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the only begotten Son of God. John, iii. 18. He that believeth not sfiall not see life ; but the wrath of God abideth upon him. John, iii. 36. This is your doom repeatedly pronounced by him whom you must own to be the best friend of human nature; and if he condemn, who can justify you ?
Be it known to you, that you will not only perish, but you will perish with peculiar aggravations; you will fall with no common ruin; you will envy the lot of heathens who perished without the law: for, OI you incur the peculiarly enormous guilt of rejecting the gospel, and putting contempt upon the Son of God. This is a horrid exploit of wickedness, and this God resents above all the other crimes of which human nature is capable. Hence Christ is come for judgment as well as for mercy upon this world, and he is set for the fall as well as the rising again of many in Israel. You now enjoy the light of the gospel, which
has conducted many through this dark world to eternal day; but remember also, this is the condemnation; that is, it is the occasion of the most aggravated condemnation, thai light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light.
And now does not this move you ? Are you not alarmed at the thought of perishing; of perishing by the hand of a Saviour rejected and despised; perishing under the stain of his profaned blood; perishing not only under the curse of the law, but under that of the gospel, which is vastly heavier ? O ! are you hardy enough to venture upon such a doom ? This doom is unavoidable if you refuse to comply with the proposal now made to you.
I must now conclude the treaty; but for my own acquit' tance, I must take witness that I have endeavored to dis charge my commission, whatever reception you give it. ] call heaven and earth, and your own consciences to witness, that life and salvation, through Jesus Christ, have been offered to you on this day; and if you reject it, remember it; remember it whenever you see this place; remember it whenever you see my face, or one another; remember it, that you may witness for me at the supreme tribunal, that I am clear of your blood. Alas! you will remember it among a thousand painful reflections millions of ages hence, when the remembrance of it will rend your hearts like a vulture. Many sermons forgotten upon earth are remembered in hell, and haunt the guilty mind for ever. O that you would believe, and so prevent this dreadful effect from the present sermon !