The Method of Salvation Through Jesus Christ - Part II
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
Last week we heard the first two headings of a sermon of Mr. Davies on John 3:16 which he calls a bright ray of sunlight in a dying world. Never was there so much gospel expressed in so few words, he says. There is enough power in that one verse to save all of a dying world.
The first truth drawn out from the text was:
1. that without Christ, you are all in a perishing condition;
So great, so dear a person would not have been sent on a mission which could have been carried out by any other being. And therefore, since Christ is the only one able to save, if you are without him, you are surely perishing.
The second truth drawn out from the text was:
2. that through Jesus Christ a way is opened for your salvation;
All the requirements of the law, all the requirements regarding the honor and holiness and justice of God, are completely and totally upheld by Christ in his mission to save sinners. And so through Christ, what seemed impossible is possible: The way of salvation is opened to sinners.
Going on this morning we come to the last three headings of this sermon,
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 establishment 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.
Now, since all obstructions are removed on God's part, that were in the way of our salvation, why should we not all be saved? What is there to stop our crowding into heaven together? Or what is required on our part, in order to make us partakers of this salvation? Here we come to the next truth inferred from our text, namely:
3. That the grand pre-requisite to your being saved in this way, is FAITH in Jesus Christ.
The pre-condition or requirement of your being saved is faith.
Though the obstacles 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, makes his salvation impossible in the nature of things. That is: The depravity and corruption of his nature.
Until this is cured, it is impossible for him to enjoy those occupations and contemplations in which the happiness of heaven consists, and consequently he cannot be happy there. Therefore there is a need, in the very nature of things, that he should be made holy, in order to be saved; More than that, his salvation itself consists in holiness.
Now, faith is the root of all holiness in a sinner. Without a firm, real, belief of the great truths of the gospel it is impossible that a sinner should be sanctified by their influence: and without a particular faith in Jesus Christ he cannot receive from him those sanctifying influences by which alone he can be made holy, and which are conveyed through Jesus Christ, and through him alone.
Further, it would be highly inappropriate, and indeed impossible, to save a sinner against his will, or in a way he dislikes. Now FAITH, as you will now see, consists mainly in a hearty consent to, and approval of, the way of salvation through Jesus Christ. Faith is the only way in which a sinner can be saved which is consistant with the honor of God: so that the constitution of the gospel is not only just— but as merciful as it can be, when it ordains that only he who believes— shall be saved; but that he who does not believe— shall be damned.
Again: We cannot be saved through Jesus Christ, until his righteousness is so far made ours as that it will cover the demands of the law for us, and obtain the favor of God for us; but his righteousness cannot be imputed to us, or accounted ours under the law, until we are so united to him as to be one in law, or one legal person with him. Now faith is the bond of union; faith is that which unites us to Christ; and therefore without faith—we cannot receive any benefit from his righteousness.
Here then a most interesting question 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 able to give your attention to the most important affair in all the world, pay attention to this with the utmost seriousness and solemnity.
Faith in Christ includes something intellectual in it; that is, it includes a rational belief, on the testimony of God, that Jesus Christ is the only Savior of men. But yet it is not only head knowledge, like the faith of multitudes among us: it is a more practical, experimental thing; and that you may understand its nature, you must see the following things.
(1.) Faith presupposes a deep sense of our undone, helpless condition. We have seen last week, that this is the condition of the world without Christ; and you must feel in your heart that this is your condition in particular, before you can believe in him as your Savior. He came to be a Savior of those who are desperate, when no help could possibly be had from any other place, and you cannot receive him as a Savior until you feel yourselves in such a condition.
Therefore, in order for you to believe—all your pleas and excuses for your sins must be silenced, all your high conceit of your own goodness must be put to death, all your dependence on your own righteousness, on the merit of your prayers, your repentance, and good works, must be cast away, and you must feel that indeed you lie at His mercy, that God may justly reject you forever, and that all you can do—can bring him under no obligation to save you. These things you must be feel deeply, otherwise you can never receive the Lord Jesus Christ in that way in which he is proposed to you, namely, as a Savior in a desperate case.
My wish and prayer is that you may this day see yourselves in this true, though very humbling light. It is the lack of this sense of things, which keeps so many in unbelief. It is the lack of this, which causes the Lord Jesus to be so little esteemed, so little sought for, so little desired among us. In short, it is the lack of this, which is the great cause of so many perishing from under the gospel, and, as it were, from between the hands of a Savior! It is this, sadly! that causes them to perish, like the impenitent thief on the cross, with a Savior by their side! If you could only just for once rightly know yourselves—then you would soon know Jesus Christ, and receive salvation from him.
Again in order to understand the nature of saving faith, in the second place,
(2.) Faith implies the enlightening of the understanding to see the suitableness of Jesus Christ as a Savior, and the excellency of the way of salvation through him.
While the sinner lies undone and helpless in himself, and looking around in vain for some relief, it pleases a gracious God to shine into his heart, and enable him to see his glory in the face of Jesus Christ! Now this once neglected Savior appears not only absolutely necessary—but also all-glorious and lovely, and the sinner's heart is alive to him, and forever captivated with his beauty!
Now the neglected gospel appears in a new light, as different from all his former ideas of it, as if it were quite new thing. We do not have enough time now to enlarge on this new understanding of Christ and the gospel which faith includes; and indeed should we dwell on it ever so long, it would not be possible to convey just ideas of it to such of you as have never had the happy experience of it. In short, the Lord Jesus, and the way of salvation through him—now appear perfectly suitable, all-sufficient, and all-glorious! And in consequence of this,
(3.) The sinner is enabled to embrace this Savior with all his heart, and to give a voluntary, cheerful consent to this glorious scheme of salvation.
Now all his former unwillingness and reluctance disappear, and his heart does not draw back from the terms of the gospel anymore—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. How his heart now affectionately clings to the blessed Jesus! How he is lost in wonder, joy, and gratitude, thinking of the perfections of God, as displayed in this method of redemption! How he rejoices in it, as not only bringing happiness to him—but glory to God; as making his salvation not only consistent with—but a bright illustration of, the divine perfections, and the dignity of his government!
While he had nothing but the low and selfish principles of corrupt nature—he had no concern about the honor of God; if he might be but saved—this was all he was interested in. But now he has a noble, generous heart; now he is concerned that God should be honored in his salvation, and this method of salvation is all the more dear to him by the thought that it secures to God the supremacy, and makes his salvation second to the divine glory.
In the fourth place, in order to understand the nature of saving faith, consider that,
(4.) Faith in Jesus Christ implies a humble trust or dependence on him alone for the pardon of sin, acceptance with God, and every other blessing.
As we saw before, the sinner's self-confidence is put to death; he gives up all hopes of acceptance on the basis of his own righteousness; he is filled with self-despair, and yet he does not despair absolutely; he does not give himself up as lost—but has cheerful hopes of becoming a child of God, and being forever happy—as 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 his guilty, unworthy, helpless soul—and finds it a firm, immovable foundation, while every other ground of dependence proves to be only quicksand!
There are many who flatter themselves that they put their trust in God; but their trust lacks many qualities essential to a true faith. It is not the trust of a humble helpless soul that draws all its encouragement from the mere mercy of God, and the free offer of the gospel; but it is the presumptuous trust of a proud self-confident sinner, who draws his encouragement in part at least from his imaginary goodness and importance. It is not a trust in the mercy of God through Jesus Christ, as the only medium through which it can be honorably delivered; but either in the absolute mercy of God, without a proper reference to a Mediator, or in his mercy, as in some measure deserved or moved by something in the sinner. Examine whether your trust in God will stand this test.
I have now given you a brief answer to that grand question, What is it to believe in Jesus Christ? And I hope you understand it, though we have not spent as much time on it as we profitably could. I will only add, that this saving faith may also be known by its inseparable effects; which are such as follow:
· Faith purifies the heart, and is a lively source of inward holiness.
· Faith always produces good works, and leads us to universal obedience.
· Faith overcomes the world and all its temptations.
· Faith realizes eternal things, and brings them near; and so it is defined by the apostle, as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1)
Here I have a very important question to ask you: Who among you can say, "Well, notwithstanding all my imperfections, and all my doubts and fears, I cannot but humbly hope, after the best examination I can make, that such a faith has been produced in this heart of mine!" And can you say so indeed? Then I bring you glad tidings of great joy—you will be saved! Yes, saved you will be, in spite of earth and hell. Saved, however great your past sins have been. Which reflection introduces the glorious truth that comes next in order, namely:
4. Our text implies, that every one, without exception, whatever his former character has been, who is enabled to truly believe in Jesus Christ—shall certainly be saved.
The number or seriousness of the sins make no difference; and the reason is, the sinner is not received into favor, in whole or in part—because of anything he has done—but solely and entirely on 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 given to the sinner as his by imputation, the law can make no more demands on him for great sins—than for small sins; for many sins—than for few sins; because all demands are fully satisfied by the obedience of Jesus Christ to the law. You see that sinners of all characters who believe in him are seen as equal in this respect: they are all admitted on one common footing, the righteousness of Christ; and that is as sufficient for one as another.
This encouraging truth is most abundantly supported by the Holy Scriptures. Observe the blessed ‘whoever’ so often repeated. " whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." Whoever he may be, however vile, however guilty, however unworthy, if he does but believe, he will not perish—but have everlasting life. What an wonderful assurance is this from the lips of him who has the final states of men in his hands! The same blessed lips have also declared, "Whoever comes to me I will never cast out." (John 6:37) "Let the one who desires take the water of life without price." (Rev. 22:17) He 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.
During his earthly ministry he was reproached by his enemies for his friendship to publicans and sinners; but to be sure, instead of reproaching, we must love him on this account. When he rose from the dead, he did not rise with angry resentment against his murderers; no—but he singles them out from a world of sinners, to make them the first offers of pardon through the blood which they had just shed! He orders that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, “beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47) At Jerusalem, where he had been crucified a few days before, there he orders the first publication of pardon and life to be made!
See what kind of sinners He chose to make the monuments of His grace in the city of Corinth. We read in 1 Corinthians 6: "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God!" (1 Cor 6:9)
What a dismal catalogue is this! It is not surprising that such a vile crew should not inherit the kingdom of heaven; they are fit only for the infernal prison of hell! And yet astonishingly! The text goes on, "Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God!" (1 Cor 6:9-11) What sinner after this—can despair of mercy after his believing in Jesus!
Paul was another instance of the same kind: "The saying is trustworthy," he says, a saying that may be depended on as true, "deserving of full acceptance," from a guilty world, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life." (1 Tim 1:15, 16) A sinner of less size would not have answered this end so well; but if Saul the persecutor obtains mercy by his believing—then who can despair?
You see that certainly you are not excluded from Christ and life by the greatness of your sins; but if you perish it must be for another reason: it must be on account of your willful unbelief in not accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior. If you reject him, then indeed you must perish, however small your sins have been; for it is only his death that can make atonement for the slightest guilt; and if you have no interest in that, the guilt of the smallest sin will sink you into eternal ruin.
Here is a door wide enough for you all—if you will but enter in by faith. Come, then, enter in, you who have until now been outstanding in sin, ringleaders in vice—come now take the lead, and show others the way to Jesus Christ; idolaters, thieves, and murderers, if such be among you, there is salvation even for you, if you will but believe. Truly! how astonishing is the love of God revealed in this way: a consideration which introduces the last inference from our text, namely,
5. That the establishment of this method of salvation, or the mission of a Savior into our world, is a most striking and astonishing display of the love of God.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life!"
View the scheme all throughout—and you will discover love, infinite love, in every part of it. Consider the great God as self-content and independent of all his creatures; and what but love, self-moved love, could excite him to make such provision for an inferior part of them! Consider the world sunk in sin, not only without merit—but most deserving of everlasting punishment, and what but love could move him to have mercy upon such a world! Consider the Savior 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 Savior! Consider the manner in which he was sent—as a gift, a free unmerited gift; God “gave his only Son!" And what but infinite love could give such an unspeakable gift!
Consider the blessings poured out through this Savior, deliverance from hell and the enjoyment of everlasting life—and what but the love of God could bestow 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, which brings nothing—but receives all—and what but divine love could make such a gracious appointment! “It depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace.” (Rom 4:16) Consider the indefinite extent or the universality of the offer, which takes in sinners of the vilest character, and excludes no one: "That whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life!" Consider what love is this! But I must leave it as the theme of your meditations, not only here below—but through all eternity! Eternity will be too short to pry into this mystery, and it will occupy the understandings of men and angels through the unfolding of eternal ages!
And now, to draw towards a conclusion, I would hold a treaty with each one of 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 give a gleam of hope to such a sinner as I, the only method that can afford a gleam of hope to you.
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 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 clear answer this day; the matter cannot wait, and the duty is so plain, that there is nothing needed to make it clearer.
A Roman ambassador, treating about peace with the ambassador of a neighboring state, and finding him trying to gain time by shuffling and tedious negotiations, drew a circle around him, and said, "I demand an answer before you go out of this circle." Such a circle let the walls of this house, or the extent of my voice, be to you: before you leave this house, or go out of hearing, I insist on a full, decisive answer to this proposal, Whether you will believe in Jesus Christ this day, or not?
But before I go on any further, I would remove one stumbling-block out of your way. You are apt to object, "You teach us that faith is the gift of God, and that we cannot believe of ourselves; why then do you exhort us to believe? Or how can we be concerned to carry out that which it is impossible for us to do?"
In answer to this, I grant the premises are true; and God forbid that I should so much as hint that faith is the spontaneous growth of corrupt nature, or that you can come to Christ without the Father's drawing you: but the conclusions you draw from these premises are very wrong. I exhort and persuade you to believe in Jesus Christ, because it is while such means are used with sinners, and by the use of them, that it pleases God to enable them to comply, or to work faith in them. I would therefore use those means which God is pleased to bless for this end. I exhort you to believe in order to put you to the test; for it is putting it to the test, and that only, which can fully convince you of your own inability to believe; and until you are convinced of this, you can never expect strength from God.
I exhort you to believe, because, sinful and enfeebled as you are, you are capable of using various preparations to faith. You may pray, hear the gospel, and attend to all the outward means of grace with natural seriousness; you may endeavor to get acquainted with your own helpless condition, and, as it were, put yourselves in the way of divine mercy; and though all these means cannot of themselves produce faith in you—yet it is only in the use of these means, that you are to expect divine grace to work it in you: never was faith yet produced in one soul, while lying down, lazy, and inactive!
I hope you can see now the good reasons why I should exhort you to believe, and also see my goal in it; I therefore renew the proposal to you, that you should this day, as guilty, unworthy, self-despairing sinners—receive of the only begotten Son of God as your Savior, and fall in with the gospel-method of salvation; and I once more demand your answer. I would by no means, if possible, leave this pulpit today day until I have effectually impressed this on you. I would have us all this day, before we part, consent to God's covenant, that we may go away to our houses—justified with God!
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 need, by the immense blessings proposed in the gospel, and by the heavy curse denounced against unbelievers!
All the blessings of the gospel, pardon of sin, sanctifying grace, eternal life, and whatever you can need—will become yours this day, if you but believe in the Son of God! Then let desolation overrun our land, let public and private disasters crowd upon you, and turn you into 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 place of eternal rest!
Let devils accuse you before God, let conscience indict you as guilty, let the fiery law make its demands on you—you have a righteousness in Jesus Christ which is sufficient to answer all demands, and having received it by faith, you may plead it as your own by law. Truly Happy souls! You may 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, tragically! 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. That old complaint of Isaiah has been justly repeated thousands of times; "Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?"(Is 53:1) And will the gospel produce fruit in you, in this small assembly? Are you all this day determined to believe? If so, I pronounce you blessed in the name of the Lord; but if not, I must denounce your doom!
Be it known to you then from the living God, that if you continue in this unbelief—then 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, "Whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God!" (John 3:18) "Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him!" (John 3:36) This is your doom repeatedly pronounced by him whom you must realize to be the best friend of sinners; and if he condemns you—then who can justify you?
Be it also 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 heathen who perished without the law; for consider that 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 into this world; and he is set for the fall—as well as the rising again of many. 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, that "Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light!" (John 3:19) On this principle Jesus pronounced the doom of Chorazin and Bethsaida more intolerable than that of Sodom and Gomorrah. (Matt. 11:21, 22)
And now, does not all this move you? Are you not alarmed at the thought of perishing; of perishing by the hand of a Savior 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? Are you really hardy enough to risk 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 in order to deliver my own soul from guilt, I must have you bear witness that I have endeavored to discharge my commission; whatever reception you give it. I 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 day of judgment, that I am clear of your blood! You will remember it among a thousand painful reflections millions of years from now, when the memory of it will torture your hearts like a vulture! Many sermons forgotten on earth—are remembered in hell, and haunt the guilty mind forever. My hope is that you would believe, and so prevent this dreadful effect from the present sermon!