The Method of Salvation Through Jesus Christ - Part I
Adapted from a Sermon by Samuel Davies, October 2, 1757
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
Mr Davies, afflicted with weak health, was often near death himself and so preached much with a view that every meeting could be the last time he would be able to address his hearers.
This present sermon, he gave at a time after he had been very close to death, and wanted earnestly to be of most service to his dear people as he calls them. The subject he chose was the one that he felt had the most direct tendency to save their souls and is just as applicable today as it was then.
And when I consider, he says, that I am speaking to an assembly of sinners, guilty, depraved, helpless creatures; and that, if ever you are saved, it will be only through Jesus Christ, in that way which the gospel reveals; when I consider that your ever-lasting life and happiness depend solely on this, namely, how you receive this Savior, and this way of salvation; When I consider these things, I can think of no subject I can more properly choose than to recommend the Lord Jesus to your acceptance, and to explain and implant the method of salvation through his mediation; or, in other words, to preach the pure gospel to you; for the gospel, in the most proper sense, is nothing else but a revelation of a way of salvation for sinners of Adam's race.
Our text furnishes us with proper materials for this purpose. Let heaven and earth hear it with wonder, joy, and shouts of praise!
"God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
These words are part of the most important evening conversation that was ever 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 element 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 on 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 must the Son of Man be lifted up; that is, hung on high on a cross, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. Then follows our text, which expresses the same teaching with great force: "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
He goes on to mention something wonderful and astonishing, a wonder.
This earth is a rebellious province of God's creation, and therefore if his Son should ever visit it, one would think it would be as an angry judge, or as the executioner of his Father's vengeance. But, how astonishing! God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.
And then the terms of life and death are laid out. Whoever believes in him is not condemned: but whoever does not believes is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. Here is a bright ray of sunlight in a dying world. Never was there so much gospel expressed in so few words. Here, take the gospel in miniature, and commit it to your hearts forever. These verses alone are a sufficient remedy for all of a dying world!
The truths I would draw out from the text for our edification are these:
1. that without Christ, you are all in a perishing condition;
2. that through Jesus Christ a way is opened for your salvation;
3. that the grand pre-requisite to your being saved in this way, is faith in Jesus Christ;
4. that every one, without exception, whatever his former character has been, who is enabled to comply with this prerequisite, shall certainly be saved;
5. and that the constitution of this method of salvation, or the mission of Christ into our world, as the Savior of sinners is a most striking and astonishing instance and display of the love of God.
The first two truths we will focus on today and, God willing, we will dwell on the last three next week.
1. Our 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 as a whole; for the world was undoubtedly in a perishing condition without Christ, and he alone could relieve it; otherwise God would never have given his only begotten Son to save it. God is not ostentatious or wasteful with 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 on a mission which could have been carried out by any other being.
If there had been any other method sufficient for our salvation, however high the cost, it could never compare with the sacrifice of God’s Son. No sacrifice can compare with the only begotten Son of God leaving heaven, and all its glories, taking on our degraded nature, spending thirty-three long and tedious years in poverty, disgrace, and persecution, dying as a wrongdoer and a slave in the midst of humiliation and torture, and lying a mangled breathless corpse in the grave. We can be sure that it was necessary in the highest degree, otherwise God would not have given up his dear Son to such a horrid scene of sufferings!
This, then, was the true state of the world without Christ, and therefore yours also; it was hopeless and desperate in every respect. In that situation all the sacrifices, prayers, tears, reformation, and repentance would have been tried in vain. It would have been inconsistent with the honor of the God’s character and government, to admit sacrifices, prayers, tears, repentance, and reformation, as a sufficient atonement. If no less than the sacrifice of the Son of God is required for our salvation, nothing we can do on our own could ever be enough.
What a sad view of the world we now have before us! Under the teaching of the Bible, Christians see mankind in relation to a Mediator, and a reconciling God. We seldom realize what our miserable condition would have been, had this gracious plan of salvation never been set up. But exclude a Savior in your thoughts for a moment, and then take a view of the world: Helpless! Hopeless!—Under the righteous displeasure of God; and with no hope of relief!—The very suburbs of hell! In the presence of evil devils! The region of guilt, misery, and despair!—the mouth of the infernal bottomless 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 did it come about, that the world was in such an undone, helpless, hopeless condition without Christ; or what are the reasons of all this?" The answer to this will appear from these two considerations, that all mankind are sinners; and that no other method but the mediation of Christ could make the salvation of sinners, consistent with the honor of God’s perfections and government, with the public good, and even with the nature of things.
All mankind are sinners. This is too evident to need proof. They are sinners, rebels against the greatest and best of beings; against their Maker, their generous Benefactor, and their rightful Sovereign to whom they are under stronger and more engaging obligations than they can be under to any creature, or even to the entire system of creatures! All are sinners and rebels against God; none are righteous, no, not one; all are sinners, without exception: sinners from age to age for thousands of years; thousands, millions, innumerable multitudes of sinners! What an obnoxious race this is! It is not difficult at all to see justice punishing such creatures. But what seemingly insurmountable difficulties appear in the way of their salvation! Let me mention a few of them to show how wonderful that blessed Savior is who has removed them all:
If such sinners are saved, how will the holiness and justice of God be displayed? How will he give an honourable view of himself to all creation as a being perfect in purity, and an enemy to all moral evil?
If such sinners are saved, how will the honor of the divine government and law be maintained? How will the dignity of the law appear, if a race of rebels may despise it with impunity? What a sorry law must that be, which has no penalties, or whose penalties may be dispensed with at a whim! What a contemptible government, that may be insulted and rejected, and the offender admitted into favor without being punished as an example? No government can long exist under such principles of excessive indulgence. In passing, how strikingly relevant are these words to Canada and much of the Western world in our day.
How can such sinners be saved and yet the good of the public upheld, which is always the end of every wise and good ruler? By the public good I do not mean the happiness of mankind alone, but I mean the happiness of all reasonable creatures collectively; in comparison of which, the happiness of mankind alone is only one part, which should always give way to the public good.
Sin has a direct tendency to scatter misery and ruin wherever its infection reaches. Therefore the public good cannot properly be addressed without giving a loud and effectual warning against all sin, and dealing with offenders in such a manner as to deter others from offending. But how can this be done? How can the sinner be saved and yet the evil of sin displayed and all other beings be deterred from it forever? How can sin be discouraged by pardoning it? How can its evil be displayed by letting the criminal escape punishment? These are such difficulties, that nothing but divine wisdom could ever 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 of the King of heaven! They are not only delivered from punishment but also advanced to a state of perfect positive happiness, and nothing short of this can make such creatures as ourselves, happy. Now, when this is considered, the difficulties rise all the more.
But this is indeed the true state of the case here; how can the sinner be not only delivered from punishment but also brought to a state of perfect happiness? How can the sinner not only escape the wrath of his offended God, but be received into full favor, and brought 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; without diminishing the evil of sin, and emboldening others to follow in that path, and so at once defacing the character of the supreme Ruler, and the public good? The question is, how can sinners be saved, without the salvation being accompanied with these evil consequences?
And here you must remember, that these consequences must be dealt with. To save men at random, without considering the consequences, to distribute happiness to individual people indiscriminately, this would be at once inconsistent with the character of the supreme Judge of the universe, and with the public good.
Private people are free to forgive private offences; more than that, it is their duty to forgive; and they can hardly offend by being too merciful and compassionate. But the case is different with a judge; he is required to consult the dignity of his government and the interest of the public; and he can easily carry his leniency to a very dangerous extreme, and by his tenderness to criminals do great harm to the state! This is particularly the case with regard to the great God, the universal supreme Judge 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 doting father, or a being only of infinite mercy; and from this come to the conclusion that they have little to fear from him for all their bold iniquities.
There is no absolute necessity that sinners should be saved: justice may be allowed to take its course with 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 make it known in its genuine infernal colors, and so consult the good of the whole, rather than a part. Certainly, there is the highest and most absolute necessity for these things; and they cannot be dispensed with as matters of arbitrary choice. And unless these ends can be answered in the salvation of men they cannot be saved at all. No, they must all perish rather than God should act out of character, as the supreme Judge of the universe, or bestow private favours to criminals, to the detriment of the public good.
And in this, consists the difficulty. Call a meeting of all the philosophers and wise men of the world, and they can never get over this difficulty, without help from the gospel. This, no doubt, puzzled all the angels, who pry so deeply into the mysteries of heaven, before the gospel was fully revealed. We can imagine the angels, when they saw the fall of man, giving him up as desperate. "Alas! (they might have cried) the poor creature is gone! He and all his race are lost forever." This, they knew, had been the doom of their fellow-angels that sinned; and could they hope better for man? Then, they had not seen any of the wonders of pardoning love and mercy. Could they ever have thought that the glorious person, who filled the great throne, and was their Creator and Lord, would ever become a man, and die, like a criminal to redeem an inferior class of creatures? No! Had this thought occurred to them they would probably have shuddered at it, as blasphemy!
And must we then give up ourselves and all our race as lost beyond hope? There are huge and seemingly insurmountable difficulties in the way; and we have seen that neither men nor angels can offer any help. But, "Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel!" Isaiah 44:23. Which leads me to add, in the second place,
2. Our text implies, that only through Jesus Christ, is a way opened for your salvation.
He, and he alone was found able to undertake it; and before him all these mountains of difficulty became 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 who believes in Jesus!
This is plainly implied in this glorious essence of the gospel: "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life!" Without this gift—all was lost; but now, whoever believes in him may be saved; saved in a most honourable way. This becomes clear, as we consider the power, Christ’s mediation had to remove the difficulties mentioned. But I would first make two general remarks.
1. The first is: That God being considered in this affair in his public character, as Supreme Judge, or Governor of the world— all the punishment which he is concerned to see inflicted upon sin is only such as answers the ends of government. Private revenge must vent itself on the very person of the offender, or be disappointed. But to a ruler, as such, it may in some cases make no difference, whether the punishment is delivered to the very person who offended, or to a substitute suffering in his place. It may make no difference whether the very same punishment, as to kind and degree, threatened in the law, be inflicted— or a punishment equivalent to it. If the honor of the ruler and his government is maintained, if all disobedience is properly discouraged; if, in short, all the ends of government can be answered— then such things as these make no difference. Therefore, if these ends would be answered by Christ's suffering in the place of sinners— then there would be no objection against it.
2. This remark introduces another, namely: That Jesus Christ was such a person that his suffering as the substitute or surety of sinners, answered all the ends of government which could be answered by the execution of the punishment upon the sinners themselves. To impose suffering upon the innocent, when unwilling, is unjust; but Jesus was willing to undertake the dreadful task. And besides, he was a free person, his own property— and therefore he had a right to dispose of his life as he pleased. He was also a person of infinite dignity, and infinitely beloved by his Father; and these considerations made the merit of his sufferings for a short time, and another kind of punishment than that of hell— equal; in fact, more than the everlasting sufferings of sinners themselves.
Jesus Christ was also above the law; that is, not obligated to be subject to that law which he had made for his creatures; and therefore his obedience to the law, not being necessary for himself— might be imputed to others. Whereas creatures are incapable of doing more than they are bound to do, being required to obey their divine law-giver for themselves to the utmost of their abilities; and therefore their obedience, however perfect, can be sufficient only for themselves— but cannot be imputed to others. So it appears, in general, that the ends of God's righteous government are as effectually answered by the sufferings of Christ in the place of sinners, as they could be by the everlasting punishment of the sinners themselves; Indeed, we will see now how they are answered in a more striking and wonderful way! To mention particular points,
i) 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 Savior! 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 place of condemned sinners, though he himself had not the slightest stain of guilt. Could the execution of everlasting punishment on the hateful criminals themselves ever give so bright a display of these attributes? It is impossible!
ii) Again: Was it a difficulty to save sinners, and yet uphold the rights of the divine government, and the honor of the law? See how this difficulty is removed by the obedience and death of Christ! Now it is clearly shown, that the rights of the divine government are so sacred and inviolable, that they must be maintained, though the dear Son of God himself, should fall a sacrifice to justice; and that not one offence against this government can be pardoned, without his making a full atonement.
Now it is clearly shown, that the Supreme Ruler is not to be trifled with— but that his injured honor must be repaired, though at the expense of his Son's blood and life! Now, the precept of the law is perfectly obeyed in every part, and a full equivalent to its penalty endured, by a person of infinite dignity! And it is only upon this footing, that is, of complete satisfaction to all the demands of the law— that any of the rebellious sons of men can be restored into favor. This is an atoning sacrifice which Christ alone could give. To sinners it is utterly impossible, either by doing or suffering. They cannot do all the things that are written in the law; nor can they endure its penalty, without being forever miserable! And therefore, the law has received a more complete satisfaction in Christ— than it would ever receive from the offenders themselves.
iii) 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, you senseless, who make a mockery of sin— there learn its stunning harmfulness, and its hatefulness to the great God. There you may see it is so great an evil, that when it is but imputed to the man who is God's equal, as the surety of sinners— it cannot escape punishment. No, when that dreadful stain was put on him, immediately the commission was given to divine justice, "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the LORD of hosts. “Strike the shepherd!" (Zech. 13:7)
When Christ stood in the place of sinners, even the Father did not spare his own Son— but gave him up to death. That the criminals themselves, who are an inferior race of creatures, should not escape— would not be strange: but what an enormous evil must that be, which cannot be overlooked— even in the favourite of heaven, the only begotten Son of God! Surely nothing besides could give so striking a display of the darkness and evil of sin!
(iv) Was it a difficulty how to reconcile the salvation of sinners— and the public good? That is, how to forgive sins— and yet give an effective warning against it? How to receive the sinner into favor— and advance him to the highest honor and happiness, and in the meantime deter all other beings from offending? All this is provided for in the sufferings of Christ in the place of sinners!
Let all creation look to his cross, and receive the warning which his wounds, and groans, and blood, and dying agonies proclaim aloud! And surely they can never dare to sin without restraint. Now they may see that the only instance of pardon to be found in the universe— was brought about by such means as are not likely to be repeated; by the incarnation and death of the Lord of glory. And can they flatter themselves that he will leave his throne and hang upon a cross, as often as any of his creatures recklessly dare to offend him? No! such a miracle as this, the utmost effort of divine grace, is not often to be repeated. And therefore, if they dare to sin, it is at their peril. They have no reason to flatter themselves they will be favoured like fallen man; but rather to expect they will share in the doom of the fallen angels!
Or if they should think sin may escape with but a slight punishment, here they may be convinced of the contrary. If the Dear Son of heaven, the Lord of glory, though personally innocent, suffers so much when sin is merely imputed to him, what shall the sinners themselves feel, who can claim no favor based on their own importance, or personal innocence? "If they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?" (Luke 23:31)
And so, friends, you may see how a way is opened through Jesus Christ for our salvation. All the ends of divine government may be answered, and yet you pardoned, and made happy. Those attributes of the divine nature, such as mercy and justice, which seemed to clash— are now reconciled; now they mingle their beams, and both shine with a brighter glory in the salvation of sinners, than either of them could apart. And must you not acknowledge this divine God-like scheme? Can you look round you over the works of the creation, and see the divine wisdom in every object, and can you not see the divine hand at work in this still more glorious work of redemption? Redemption, which gives a full and glorious view of the Deity.
And will not men and angels join in wonder and praise at the survey of this amazing scheme? Angels are enrapt in wonder and praise, and will be so to all eternity. See in Scripture! How they pry into this mystery! See! How they sing! "Glory to God in the highest;" (Luke 2:14) and celebrate the Lamb who was slain! And shall not men, who are so personally concerned in the affair, join with them? Are there none here present in this assembly to join with them? Surely, no one can refuse!
Without Christ you are all in a perishing condition but through Christ a way is opened for your salvation. Next week, God willing, we will dwell on how it is that a person enters into this way, this path which leads to eternal life.
But since there is no guarantee that you or I will still be here next week, to receive these life giving instructions, I leave you with these blessed verses of Scripture, Bible promises from the God who cannot lie, to read and meditate on:
“What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” (Rom 4:3)
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Rom 10:9)
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)