Adapted from a Sermon by J.C. Ryle
“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
There are few texts better known than John 3:16. We have very likely heard them, or read them, or quoted them, a hundred times. But have we ever considered what a vast amount of truth this text contains? No wonder that Luther called it “the Bible in miniature!”—And have we ever considered the word which forms the turning-point of the text, and the immensely solemn question which arises out of it? The word I refer to is “believes.” The Lord Jesus says, “Whoever believes should not perish.” Now, do we believe?
Questions about religion are seldom popular. They frighten people. They force them to look within, and to think. The failing businessman does not like his books to be searched. The dishonest manager does not like his accounts to be examined. And the unconverted Christian does not like to be asked searching questions about his soul.
But questions about religion are very useful. The Lord Jesus Christ asked many questions during His ministry on earth. The servant of Christ ought not to be ashamed to do likewise. Questions about things necessary to salvation,—questions which probe the conscience, and bring men face to face with God,—such questions often bring life and health to souls. I know few questions more important than the one which arises out of this text:—Do we believe?
The question before us is no easy one to answer. It will not do to deflect it with the offhand answer, “Of course I believe.” True belief is no such “a matter of course” as many suppose. Countless Protestants and Roman Catholics are constantly saying on Sundays, “I believe,” who know nothing whatever of believing. They cannot explain what they mean. They neither know what, nor in whom, they believe. They can give no account of their faith. A belief of this kind is utterly useless. It can neither satisfy, nor sanctify, nor save.
In order to see clearly the importance of “believing,” we should ponder well the words of Christ in this well known verse. It is by the unfolding of these words, that I want to show the weight of the question, “Do you believe?”
There are four things which I want to consider, and to impress upon your minds. These four things are as follows:
I. God’s mind towards the world:—He “loved” it.
II. God’s gift to the world:—“He gave his only Son.”
III. The only way to obtain the benefit of God’s gift: —“Whoever believes in Him should not perish.”
IV. The marks by which true belief may be known.
I. Let us consider, in the first place, God’s mind towards the world:—He “loved” it.
The Bible teaches us that God’s love extends to all mankind. “His mercy is over all that he has made.” (Psalm 145:9.) He did not love the Jews only, but the Gentiles also. He does not love His own elect only. He loves all the world.
But what kind of love is this with which the Father looks upon all mankind? It cannot be a poor, distant and detached love, or else He would cease to be a perfect God. No! The worldwide love of which Jesus speaks, is a love of kindness, pity, and compassion. Fallen as man is, and provoking as man’s ways are, the heart of God is full of kindness towards him. While as a righteous Judge He hates sin, He is yet able in a certain sense to love sinners! The length and breadth of His compassion are not to be measured by our feeble measures. We are not to suppose that He is one like ourselves. (Num 23:19) Righteous, and holy, and pure as God is, it is yet possible for God to love all mankind. “His mercies never come to an end.” (Lam. 3:22.)
Let us think, for a moment, how wonderful is this extent of God’s love. Look at the state of mankind in every part of the earth, and note the amazing quantity of wickedness and ungodliness by which it is defiled.—Look at the millions of heathen worshipping wood and stones, and stocks and bonds, and living in a spiritual darkness “that may be felt.” (Ex. 10:21) —Look at the millions of Roman Catholics, burying the truth under manmade traditions, and giving the honour due to Christ to the church, the saints, and the priest.—Look at the millions of Protestants who are content with a mere formal Christianity, and know nothing of Christian believing or Christian living, except the name.—Look at the land in which we live this very day, and mark the sins which abound even in a privileged nation like our own. Think how immorality, and lying, and swearing, and pride, and covetousness, and infidelity, are crying aloud to God from one shore to the other. And then remember that God loves this world!
No wonder that we find it written that He is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Exod. 34:6.) That He is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”—That He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”—And that He has “no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”—(2 Peter3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4; Ezek. 33:1.) There is not a man or woman on earth whom God regards with absolute hatred or complete indifference. His mercy is like all His other attributes. It passes knowledge. God loves the world.
There are have always been many strange doctrines about the love of God. It is a precious truth which Satan works hard to obscure by misleading falsehoods and perversion. Let us grasp it firmly, and stand on our guard.
Beware of the common idea that God the Father is an angry Being, whom sinful man can only consider with fear, and from whom he must flee to Christ for safety. Cast it aside as a baseless and unscriptural notion. Contend earnestly for all the attributes of God,—for His holiness and His justice, as well as for His love. But never allow for one moment that there is any lack of love towards sinners in any Person in the Blessed Trinity. The Father loves, and the Son loves, and the Holy Spirit loves. When Christ came on earth, the kindness and love of God toward man appeared. (Titus 3:4.) The cross is the effect of the Father’s love, and not the cause. Redemption is the result of the compassion of all three Persons in the Trinity. To place the Father and the Son in opposition one to another, is weak and crude theology. Christ died, not because God the Father hated, but because He loved the world.
Beware, again, of the common doctrine that God’s love is limited and confined to His own elect, and that all the rest of mankind are passed by, neglected, and let alone. This also is a notion that will not stand up to the light of Scripture. The father of a prodigal son can surely love and pity him, even when he is walking after his own lusts, and refusing to return home. The Maker of all things may surely love the work of His own hands with a love of compassion, even when rebelling against Him.
Let us resist to the death the unscriptural doctrine of universal salvation. It is not true that all mankind will be finally saved. But let us not swing into the extreme of denying God’s universal compassion. It is true that God “loves the world.”—Let us maintain jealously the privileges of God’s elect. It is true that they are loved with a special love, and will be loved to all eternity. But let us not exclude any man or woman from God’s kindness and compassion. We have no right to pare down the meaning of words when Jesus says, “God loved the world.” The heart of God is far wider than that of man. There is a sense in which the Father loves all mankind.
If you are one who has never yet earnestly took up the service of Christ, and has the least desire to begin now, take comfort in the truth before you. Take comfort in the thought that God the Father is a God of infinite love and compassion. Do not hang back and hesitate under the idea that God is an angry Being who is unwilling to receive sinners, and slow to pardon. Remember this day that love is a most wonderful attribute of the Father. In Him there is perfect justice, perfect purity, perfect wisdom, perfect knowledge, infinite power. But, above all, never forget there is in the Father a perfect love and compassion. Draw near to Him with boldness, because Jesus has made a way for you. But draw near to Him also with boldness, because it is written that “He loved the world.”
If you have taken up the service of God already, never be ashamed of imitating Him whom you serve. Be full of love and kindness to all men, and full of special love to those who believe. Let there be nothing narrow, limited, stingy, or sectarian in your love. Do not only love your family and your friends;—love all mankind. Love your neighbours and your fellow-countrymen. Love strangers and foreigners. Love heathen and Moslems. Love the worst of men with a love of pity. Love all the world. Lay aside all envy and malice,—all selfishness and unkindness. To arbor such a spirit is to be no better than an infidel. “Let all that you do be done in love.”—”Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and do not tire of doing them good to your life’s end. (1 Cor. 16:14; Matt. 5:44.) This is the mind of Christ. This is the way to be like God.
God loved the world.
II. The next thing I want to consider is God’s gift to the world. “He gave His only Son.”
The way in which the truth before us is stated by our Lord Jesus Christ demands special attention. It would be well for many who talk big swelling words about “the love of God “ in the present day, if they would mark the way in which the Lord Jesus sets it before us.
The love of God towards the world is not a vague, abstract idea of mercy, which we have to take on trust, without any proof that it is true. It is a love which has been manifested by a mighty gift. It is a love which has been put before us in a plain, unmistakable, tangible form. God the Father was not content to sit in heaven, idly pitying and loving His fallen creatures on earth. He has given the mightiest evidence of His love towards us by a gift of unspeakable value. He “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” (Rom. 8:32.) He has so loved us that He has given us His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ! A higher proof of the Father’s love could not have been given.
Again, it is not written that God so loved the world that He resolved to save it, but that He so loved it that He gave Christ. His love is not displayed at the expense of His holiness and justice. It flows down from heaven to earth through one particular channel. It is set before men in one special way. It is only through Christ, by Christ, on account of Christ, and in inseparable connection with the work of Christ. Let us rejoice in God’s love by all means. Let us proclaim to all the world that God is love. But let us carefully remember that we know little or nothing of God’s love which can give us comfort, except in Jesus Christ. It is not written that God so loved the world that He will take all the world to heaven, but that He so loved it, that He has given His only Son. The one who ventures on God’s love without reference to Christ, is building on a foundation of sand.
Who can estimate the value of God’s gift, when He gave to the world His only Son? It is something unspeakable and incomprehensible. It passes man’s understanding. Two things there are which man has no arithmetic to evaluate, and no line to measure. One of these things is the extent of that man’s loss who loses his own soul. The other is the extent of God’s gift when He gave Christ to sinners.
He gave no created thing for our redemption, though all the treasures of earth, and all the stars of heaven, were at His disposal. He gave no created being to be our Redeemer, though angels, principalities and powers in heavenly places, were ready to do His will. No! He gave us One who was nothing less than His own fellow, very God of very God, His only Son. Whoever thinks lightly of man’s need and man’s sin, would do well to consider man’s Saviour. Sin must indeed be exceeding sinful, when the Father had to give His only Son to be the sinner’s Friend!
Have we ever considered to what the Father gave His only Son? Was it to be received with gratitude and thankfulness by a lost and bankrupt world? Was it to reign in royal majesty on a restored earth, and to put down every enemy under His feet? Was it to enter the world as a king, and to give laws to a willing and obedient people? No! The Father gave His Son to be “despised and rejected of men,” (Is 53:3) to be born of a poor woman, and live a life of poverty,—to be hated, persecuted, slandered, and blasphemed, to be counted a wrongdoer, condemned as a transgressor, and die the death of a criminal. Never was there such love as this! Never such condescension! The one among ourselves who cannot stoop much and suffer much in order to do good, knows nothing of the mind of Christ.
For what end and purpose did the Father give His only Son? Was it only to give an example of self-denial and self-sacrifice? No! It was for a far higher end and purpose than this. He gave Him to be a sacrifice for man’s sin, and an atonement for man’s transgression. He gave Him to be delivered up for our offences, and to die for the ungodly.
He gave Him to bear our iniquities, and to suffer for our sins, the just for the unjust. He gave Him to be made a curse for us, that we might be redeemed from the curse of the law. He gave Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. He gave Him to be a propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world. He gave Him to be a ransom for all, and to make satisfaction for our heavy debt to God by His own precious blood. (1 Pet. 3:18; Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 2:2; 1 Tim. 2:6; 1 Pet. 1:18, 19.)
He gave Him to be the Almighty Friend of all sinners of mankind,—to be their Surety and Substitute,—to do for them what they never could have done for themselves,—suffer what they could never have suffered,—and pay what they could never have paid. All that Jesus did and suffered on earth was according to the counsel and foreknowledge of God. The chief end for which He lived and died was to provide eternal redemption for mankind.
Beware of ever losing sight of the great purpose for which Christ was given by God the Father. Never let the false teaching of modern Christianity, however plausible it may sound, tempt you to forsake the old paths. Hold fast the faith once delivered to the saints,—that the special object for which Christ was given was to die for sinners, and to make atonement for them by His sacrifice on the cross. Once give up this great doctrine, and there is little worth contending for in Christianity. If Christ did not really “bear our sins on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24) as our Substitute, there can be no solid peace.
Beware, again, of holding narrow and confined views of the extent of Christ’s redemption. Consider Him as given by God the Father to be the common Saviour for all the world. See Him as the fountain for all sin and uncleanness, to which every sinner may come boldly, drink, and live. See Him as the bronze serpent set up in the midst of the camp, to which every sin-bitten soul may look and be healed. See Him as the all-powerful medicine , sufficient for the needs of all the world, and offered freely to all mankind. The way to heaven is narrow enough already, by reason of man’s pride, hardness, laziness, listlessness, and unbelief. But be careful that you do not make that way more narrow than it really is.
Let us observe what a giving religion true Christianity is. Gift, love, and free grace are the grand characteristics of the pure gospel. The Father loves the world and gives His only Son. The Son loves us and gives Himself for us. The Father and the Son together give the Holy Spirit to all who ask. All Three Persons in the Blessed Trinity give “grace upon grace” (John 1:16) to those who believe. Never let us be ashamed of being giving Christians if we profess to have any hope in Christ. Let us give freely, liberally, and self-denyingly, according as we have power and opportunity. Let not our love consist in nothing more than vague expressions of kindness and compassion. Let us show it by actions. Let us help forward the cause of Christ on earth, by money, influence, effort, and prayer. If God so loved us as to give His Son for our souls, we should count it a privilege and not a burden, to give what we can to do good to men.
If God has given us His only Son, let us beware of doubting His kindness and love in any painful providence of our daily life. Let us never allow ourselves to think hard thoughts of God. Let us never suppose that He can give us anything that is not really for our good. Let us remember the words of the apostle Paul: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32.) Let us see in every sorrow and trouble of our earthly pilgrimage, the hand of Him who gave Christ to die for our sins. That hand can never strike us except in love. He who gave us His only Son, will never withhold anything from us that is really for our good. Let us lean back on this thought and be content. Let us say to ourselves in the darkest hour of trial, “This also is ordered by Him who gave Christ to die for my sins. It cannot be wrong. It is done in love. It must be well.”
III. In the third place we will consider the way in which man obtains the benefit of God’s love and Christ’s salvation. It is written that “whoever believes … should not perish.”
This is a deeply important and central point. God has loved the world. God has given His Son “to be the Saviour of the world.” (1 John 4:14.) And yet we learn from Scripture that many people in the world never reach heaven. Here at any rate is a limitation. Here the gate is narrow and the way is difficult. Some and some only out of mankind obtain eternal benefit from Christ. Who then, and what are they?
Christ and His benefits are only available to those who believe. To believe, in the language of the New Testament, is simply to trust. Trusting and believing are the same thing. This is a doctrine repeatedly laid down in Scripture, in plain and unmistakable language. Those who will not trust or believe in Him have no part in Him. Without believing there is no salvation. It is vain to suppose that any will be saved, merely because Christ was incarnate,—or because Christ is in heaven,—or because they belong to Christ’s Church,—or because they are baptized,—or because they have received the Lord’s supper. All this is entirely useless to any man except he believes.
Without faith, or trust, on his part, all these things together will not save his soul. We must have personal faith in Christ, personal dealings with Christ, personal transactions with Christ, or we are lost for evermore. It is utterly false and unscriptural to say that Christ is in every man. Christ no doubt is for everyone, but Christ is not in everyone. He dwells only in those hearts which have faith; and all, unhappily, do not have faith. He that does not believe in the Son of God is yet in his sins, “the wrath of God remains on him.” “Whoever does not believe,” says our Lord Jesus Christ in words that are fearfully clear,—“will be condemned.” (John 3:36, Mark 16:16 )
But Christ and all His benefits are the property of anyone of mankind that believes. Everyone that believes on the Son of God, and trusts his soul to Him, is at once pardoned, forgiven, justified, counted righteous and innocent, and freed from all liability to condemnation. His sins, however many, are at once cleansed away by Christ’s precious blood. His soul, however guilty, is at once clothed with Christ’s perfect righteousness. It does not matter what he may have been in time past. His sins may have been of the worst kind. His former character may be of the blackest description. But does He believe on the Son of God? This is the one question. If he does believe, he is justified from all things in the sight of God.—It does not matter that he can bring to Christ nothing to recommend him, no good works, no long-proved amendments, no unmistakable repentance and change of life. But does he this day believe in Jesus Christ? This is the grand question. If he does, he is at once accepted. He is accounted righteous for Christ’s sake.
But what is this believing, which is of such unique importance. What is the nature of this faith which gives a man such amazing privileges? This is an important question. Consider well the answer. Here is a rock on which many make shipwreck. There is nothing really mysterious and hard to understand about saving belief. But the whole difficulty arises from man’s pride and self-righteousness. It is the very simplicity of justifying faith at which thousands stumble. They cannot understand it because they will not stoop.
Believing on Christ is no mere intellectual assent, or belief of the head. This is no more than the faith of devils. We may believe that there was a divine Person called Jesus Christ, who lived and died and rose again, two thousand years ago, and yet never believe so as to be saved. Doubtless there must be some knowledge before we can believe. There is no true religion in ignorance. But knowledge alone is not saving faith.
Believing on Christ, again, is not mere feeling something about Christ. This is often no more than temporary excitement, which, like the early dew, soon passes away. We may be pricked in conscience, and feel drawings toward the gospel, like Herod and Felix. We may even tremble and weep, and show much affection for the truth and those that profess it. And yet all this time our hearts and wills may remain utterly unchanged, and secretly chained down to the world. Doubtless there is no saving faith where there is no feeling. But feeling alone is not faith.
True belief in Christ is the unreserved trust of a heart convinced of sin; trust in Christ, as an all-sufficient Saviour. It is the combined act of the whole man’s head, conscience, heart, and will. It is often so weak and feeble at first, that he who has it cannot be persuaded that he has it. And yet, like life in the newborn infant, his belief may be real, genuine, saving, and true. The moment that the conscience is convinced of sin, and the head sees Christ to be the only One who can save, and the heart and will lay hold on the hand that Christ holds out, at that moment there is saving faith. In that moment a man believes.
True belief in Christ is so immensely important that the Holy Spirit has graciously used many figures in the Bible in describing it. The Lord God knows the slowness of man to understand spiritual things. He has therefore multiplied forms of expression, in order to set faith fully before us. The man who cannot understand “believing” in one form of words, will perhaps understand it in another.
(1) Believing is the soul’s coming to Christ. The Lord Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger.” “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (John 6:35; Matt. 11:28.) Christ is that Almighty Friend, Advocate, and Physician, to whom all sinners, needing help, are commanded to apply. The believer comes to Him by faith, and is relieved.
(2) Believing is the soul’s receiving Christ. The Apostle Paul says, “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord.” (Col. 2:6.) Christ offers to come into man’s heart with pardon, mercy, and grace, and to dwell there as its Peacemaker and King. He says, “I stand at the door and knock.” (Rev. 3:20.) The believer hears His voice, opens the door, and lets Christ in, as his Master, Priest, and King.
(3) Believing is the soul’s building on Christ. The Apostle Paul says, you are “built up in him.”—“You are … built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” (Col. 2:7, Eph. 2:20) Christ is that sure cornerstone, that strong foundation, which alone can bear the weight of a sinful soul. The believer places his hopes for eternity on Him, and is safe. The earth may be shaken and dissolved; but he is built upon a rock, and will never be confounded.
(4) Believing is the soul’s putting on Christ. The Apostle Paul says, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal.3:27.) Christ is that pure white robe which God has provided for all sinners who would enter heaven. The believer puts on this robe by faith, and is at once perfect and free from any spot in God’s sight.
(5) Believing is the soul’s laying hold on Christ. The Apostle Paul says, that “we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.” (Heb. 6:18.) Christ is that true city of refuge, to which the man fleeing from the avenger of blood runs, and in which he is safe. Christ is that altar which provided a sanctuary to him who laid hold on its horns. Christ is that almighty hand of mercy, which God holds out from heaven to lost and drowning sinners. The believer lays hold on this hand by faith, and is delivered from the pit of hell.
(6) Believing is the soul’s eating Christ. The Lord Jesus says, “My flesh is true food…Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:55, 58.) Christ is that divine food which God has provided for starving sinners. He is that divine bread which is at the same time life, nourishment, and medicine. The believer feeds on this bread of life by faith. His hunger is relieved. His soul is delivered from death.
(7) Believing is the soul’s drinking Christ. The Lord Jesus says, “My blood is true drink.” (John 6:55.) Christ is that fountain of living water which God has opened for the use of all thirsty and sin-defiled sinners, proclaiming, “Let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” (Rev. 22:17.) The believer drinks of this living water, and his thirst is quenched.
(8) Believing is the soul’s committal of itself to Christ. The Apostle Paul says, “He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” (2 Tim.1:12 NASB) Christ is the appointed keeper and guardian of souls. It is His role to preserve from sin, death, hell, and the devil, anything committed to his charge. The believer places his soul in the hands of the Almighty treasure-keeper, and is insured against loss to all eternity. He trusts himself to Him and is safe.
(9) Last, but not least, believing is the soul’s looking to Christ. The writer of Hebrews describes the saints as “looking to Jesus.” (Heb. 12:2.) Christ is that bronze serpent which God has set up in the world for the healing of all sin-bitten souls who desire to be cured. The believer looks to Him by faith, and has life, health, and spiritual strength.
One common remark applies to all the nine expressions which I have just gone through. They all give us the simplest idea of faith, or believing and trusting, that man can want. Not one of them implies the notion of anything mysterious, great, or deserving in the act of belief. All represent it as something within reach of the weakest and feeblest sinner, and within the understanding of the most ignorant and unlearned. Grant for a moment that a man says he cannot understand what faith in Christ is. Let him look at the nine expressions under which faith is described in Scripture, and say, if he can, that he cannot understand them. Surely he must allow that coming to Christ, looking to Christ, committing our souls to Christ, laying hold on Christ, are simple ideas. Then let him remember that coming, looking, and committing our souls to Christ, are, in other words, believing.
And now, if there is anyone here who wants to have peace of conscience in his religion, I urge you to firmly grasp the great doctrine which has been set before you, and never let it go. Hold fast the grand truth that saving faith is nothing but simple trust in Christ, that faith alone justifies, and that the one thing that is needed in order to obtain an interest in Christ is to believe.—No doubt repentance, holiness, and love are excellent things: they will always accompany true faith. But in the matter of justification, they have nothing to do. In that matter, the one thing that is needed is to believe.—No doubt belief is not the only grace to be found in the heart of a true Christian. But only belief gives him an interest in Christ. Prize that doctrine as the peculiar treasure of Christianity. Once let it go, or add anything to it, and there can be no real inward peace.
Prize the doctrine for its suitableness to the needs of fallen man. It places salvation within reach of the lowest and vilest sinner, if he has but a heart and will to receive it. It does not ask him for works, righteousness, merit, goodness, worthiness. It requires nothing of him. It strips him of all excuses. It deprives him of all pretext for despair. His sins may have been of the worst kind. But will he believe? Then there is hope.
Prize the doctrine for its glorious simplicity. It brings eternal life near to the poor, and ignorant, and unlearned. It does not ask a man for a long confession of doctrinal facts. It does not require a store of head-knowledge, and an acquaintance with articles and creeds. Does the man, with all his ignorance, come to Christ as a sinner, and commit himself entirely to Him for salvation? Will he believe? If he will, there is hope.
Above all, prize the doctrine for the glorious breadth and fulness of its terms. It does not say “the elect” who believe, or “the rich” who believe, or “the moral” people who believe, or “the Churchman” who believes, or “the Baptist” who believes,—these, and these only will be saved. No! it uses a far more encompassing word.
It says, “Whoever believes … should not perish.” Whoever,—whatever his past life, conduct, or character,—whatever his name, rank, people, or country,—whatever his denomination, and whatever place of worship he may have attended,—“Whoever believes in Christ should not perish.”
This is the gospel. And of it is of this gospel that the Apostle Paul wrote those words, “if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8.)
IV. The fourth and last thing we will consider is a point of great practical importance: the marks by which true belief in Christ may be discerned and known.
The faith or believing of which we have been considering, is a grace of such importance, that we may naturally expect to hear of many counterfeits of it. There is a dead faith as well as a living one,—a faith of devils as well as a faith of God’s elect,—a faith which is vain and useless, as well as a faith that justifies and saves. How can a man know whether he has true faith? How will he find out whether he believes to the saving of his soul? This may be found out. True faith may always be known by certain marks. These marks are laid down unmistakably in Scripture. Let us look at these marks in order.
(1) He that believes in Christ has inward peace and hope.
It is written, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And “We who have believed enter that rest.” (Rom. 5:1; Heb. 4:3.) The believer’s sins are pardoned, and his iniquities taken away. His conscience is no longer burdened with the load of unpardoned transgressions. He is reconciled to God, and is one of His friends. He can look forward to death, judgment, and eternity without fear. The sting of death is taken away. When the great assize of the last day is held, and the books are opened, there will be nothing laid to his charge. When eternity begins, he is provided for. He has a hope laid up in heaven, and a city which cannot be moved. He may not be fully aware of all these privileges. His sense and view of them may vary greatly at different times, and be often obscured by doubts and fears. Like a child who is yet under age, though heir to a great fortune, he may not be fully aware of the value of his possessions. But with all his doubts and fears, he has a real, solid, true hope, which will hold up to examination, and at his best moments he will be able to say, “I feel a hope which does not make me ashamed.” (Rom. 5:5.)
(2) He that believes in Christ has a new heart.
It is written, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”—“to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”—“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” (2 Cor. 5:17; John 1:12, 13; 1 John 5:1.) A believer no longer has the same nature with which he was born. He is changed, renewed, and transformed after the image of his Lord and Saviour. He that has his mind set on the things of the flesh, has no saving faith. True faith and spiritual regeneration are inseparable companions. An unconverted person is not a believer!
(3) He that believes in Christ is a holy person in heart and life.
It is written that God “cleanses the heart by faith;” and, “everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (Acts.15:9; 1 John 3:3.) A believer loves what God loves, and hates what God hates. His heart’s desire is to walk in the way of God’s commandments, and to abstain from all forms of evil. His wish is to follow after the things which are just, and pure, and honest, and lovely, and of good report, and to cleanse himself from all filthiness of flesh and spirit. He falls far short of his aim in many things. He finds his daily life a constant fight with indwelling corruption. But he fights on, and resolutely refuses to serve sin. Where there is no holiness, we may be sure there is no saving faith. An unholy man is not a believer!
(4) He that believes on Christ works godly works.
It is written, that “faith works by love.” (Gal.5:6.) True belief will never make a man idle, or allow him to sit still, contented with his own religion. It will stir him to do acts of love, kindness, and charity, according as he sees the opportunity. It will constrain him to walk in the steps of his Master, who “went about doing good.” (Acts 10:38.) In one way or another, it will make him work. The works that he does may attract no notice from the world. They may seem small and insignificant to many persons. But they are not forgotten by Him who notices a cup of cold water given for His sake. Where there is no working love, there is no faith. A lazy, selfish Christian, has no right to regard himself as a believer!
(5) He that believes on Christ overcomes the world.
It is written, that “ everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” (1 John 5:4.) A true believer is not ruled by the world’s standard of right and wrong, of truth and error. He is independent of the world’s opinion. He cares little for the world’s praise. He is not moved by the world’s blame. He does not seek the world’s pleasures. He is not ambitious of the world’s rewards. He looks at things unseen. He sees an invisible Saviour, a coming judgment, a crown of glory that will never fade away. The sight of these objects makes him think comparatively little of this world. Where the world reigns in the heart, there is no faith. A man that is habitually conformed to the world, has no title to the name of a believer!
(6) He that believes on Christ, has an inward testimony of his belief.
It is written, that “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself.” (1 John 5:10.) In considering this mark, we have to be careful. The witness of the Spirit is unquestionably a very difficult subject. But it is certain that a true believer always has inward feelings peculiar to himself,—feelings which are inseparably connected with his faith, and flow from it,—feelings of which unbelievers know nothing at all. He has “received the Spirit of adoption,” by which he regards God as a reconciled Father, and looks up to Him without fear. (Rom. 8:15.) He has the testimony of his conscience, sprinkled with Christ’s blood, that weak as he is, he rests on Christ. He has hopes, joys, fears, sorrows, consolations, expectations, of which he knew nothing before he believed. He has inward evidences which the world cannot understand, but which are better to him than all the books of evidence in existence. Feelings are, no doubt, very deceitful. But where there are no inward religious feelings there is no faith. A man who knows nothing of an inward, spiritual, experimental religion, is not yet a believer
(7) Last, but not least, he that believes on Christ, has a special regard in all his religion to the person of Christ Himself.
It is written, “To you who believe, He is precious.” (1 Pet. 2:7. NKJV) That text deserves special notice. It does not say “Christianity” is precious, or the “gospel” is precious, or “salvation” is precious, but Christ Himself. A believer’s religion does not consist in mere intellectual assent to a certain set of propositions and doctrines. It is not a mere cold belief of a certain set of truths and facts concerning Christ. It consists in union, communion, and fellowship with an actual living Person, even Jesus the Son of God. It is a life of faith in Jesus, confidence in Jesus, leaning on Jesus, drawing out of the fulness of Jesus, speaking to Jesus, working for Jesus, loving Jesus, and looking for Jesus to come again. The Apostle Paul said, “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.”—“For to me to live is Christ.” (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:21.) Such words may sound like enthusiasm to many. But where there is true faith, Christ will always be known and realized, as an actual living personal Friend. He that knows nothing of Christ as his own Priest, Physician, and Redeemer, knows nothing yet of believing!
Consider well these seven marks of believing faith. Not all believers have them equally. And it is not to say that no one will be saved who cannot discover all these marks in himself. In this world many believers are so weak in faith, that they go doubting all their days, and make others doubt about them too. But nonetheless these are the marks to which a man should first direct his attention, if he would know whether he believes.
Where these seven marks are completely absent, there is not ground for telling a man that he is a true believer. He may be called a Christian. He may have been baptized with Christian baptism, and be a member of a Christian church. But if he knows nothing of peace with God, conversion of heart, newness of life, and victory over the world, no one should dare pronounce him a believer. He is yet dead in trespasses and sins. Except he awakes to newness of life, he will perish everlastingly.
But if someone has about him the seven marks just described, we may feel a strong confidence about the state of his soul. He may be poor and needy in this world, but he is rich in the sight of God. He may be despised and sneered at by man, but he is honourable in the sight of the King of kings. He is travelling towards heaven. He has a mansion ready for him in the Father’s house. He is cared for by Christ, while on earth. He will be owned by Christ before assembled worlds, in the life which is to come.
(1) And now, as we come to a close, we come back to the question, with which we began. I press that question on the conscience of every one here present. I ask you, in my Master’s name, whether you yet know anything of the subject of it? I ask you to squarely look at the question. I ask you, Do you believe?
Do you believe? I think it impossible to overrate the immense importance of the question before you. Life or death, heaven or hell, blessing or cursing, all hinge and turn upon it. He that believes on Christ is not condemned. He that does not believe shall be damned. If you believe you are pardoned, justified, accepted in God’s sight, and have a title to everlasting life. If you do not believe, you are perishing daily. Your sins are all upon your head, sinking you down to perdition. Every hour you are so much the nearer to hell.
Do you believe? It matters nothing what others are doing. The question concerns yourself. The folly of other men is no excuse for yours. The loss of heaven will not be less bitter, because you lose it with others. Look at home. Think of your own soul.
Do you believe? It is no answer to say, that “you sometimes hope Christ died for you.” The Scriptures never tell us to spend our time in doubts and hesitation on that point. We never read of a single case of one who stood still on that ground. Salvation is never made to turn on the question, whether Christ died for a man or not. The turning-point which is always set before us is believing.
Do you believe? This is the point to which all must come at last, if they would be saved. It will mean little, when we hang on the brink of the grave, what we have professed, and to what denomination we have belonged. All this will sink into nothing, in comparison with the question before us this morning. All will be useless, if we have not believed.
Do you believe? This is the common mark of all saved souls. Regardless of denomination, all meet on this common ground, if they are children of God. On other matters, they are often in hopeless disagreement. But in living by faith on Jesus Christ, they are all one.
Do you believe? What reason can you give for unbelief, that will stand up to examination? Life is short and uncertain. Death is sure. Judgment is inevitable. Sin is exceeding sinful. Hell is an awful reality. Christ alone can save you. There is no other name given under heaven, whereby you can be saved. If not saved, the blame will be on your own head. You will not believe! You will not come to Christ, that He may give you life!
Take warning this day. You must either believe on Christ, or perish everlastingly. Do not rest until you can answer the question well. Never be satisfied, till you can say, By the grace of God I do believe.
(2) And now a word of advice. I offer it to all who are convinced of sin, and dissatisfied with their own spiritual condition. I urge you to come to Christ by faith at once. I invite you this day to believe on Christ to the saving of your soul.
I will not let you put me off by the common objection, “We cannot believe,—we must wait until God gives us faith.” It is true that saving faith, like true repentance, is the gift of God. It is true that we have no natural power of our own to believe on Christ, receive Christ, come to Christ, lay hold on Christ, and commit our souls to Christ. But faith and repentance are laid clearly down in Scripture as duties which God requires at any man’s hands. “He commands all people everywhere to repent.” “This is his commandment, that we believe.” (Acts 17:30; 1 John 3:23.) And it is laid down with no less clearness, that unbelief and impenitence are sins for which man will be held accountable, and that he who does not repent and believe destroys his own soul. (Mark 16:16; Luke 13:3.)
Will any one say that it is right for a man to sit still in sin? Will any one say that a sinner on the road to hell ought to wait idly for some power to take him up and put him in the way to heaven? Will anyone say that it is right for a man to continue quietly serving the devil, in open rebellion against God, and that he is to make no effort, no struggle, no attempt to turn towards Christ?
Let others say these things if they will. But there is no support for them in Scripture. I will not try to explain what cannot be explained, and unravel what cannot be unraveled. I will not try to describe in what way an unconverted man can look to Christ, or repent, or believe. But this is certain, that it is the plain duty of all who preach God’s word to urge every unbeliever to repent and believe. And this is certain, that the man who will not accept the invitation, will find at last that he has ruined his own soul!
Trust Christ, look to Christ, cry to the Lord Jesus Christ, if you never yet believed, about your soul. If you do not have the right feelings yet, ask Him to give you right feelings. If you dare not think that you have true faith yet, ask Him to give you faith. But in any case do not sit still. Do not idle away your soul into hell in ignorant unscriptural laziness.
Do not live on in senseless inactivity,—waiting for you know not what,—expecting what you cannot explain, increasing your guilt every day,—offending God by continuing in lazy unbelief—and hourly digging a grave for your own soul. Arise and call upon Christ! Awake and cry to Jesus about your soul! Whatever difficulties there may be about believing, one thing at least is abundantly clear,—no man ever perished and went to hell from the foot of the cross. If you can do nothing else, lie down at the foot of the cross.
(3) I end all by a word of exhortation to all believers who hear these words. I address them as fellow-pilgrims and companions in tribulation. I exhort them, if they love life, and have found any peace in believing, to pray daily for an increase of faith. Let your prayer be continually, “Lord, increase my faith.”
True faith comes in many degrees. The weakest faith is enough to join the soul to Christ, and to secure salvation. A trembling hand may receive a healing medicine. The feeblest infant may be heir to the richest possessions. The least faith gives a sinner a title to heaven as surely as the strongest. But little faith can never give so much comfort as strong faith. According to the degree of our faith will be the degree of our peace, our hope, our strength for duty, and our patience in trial. Surely we should pray continually, “Increase our faith.”
Would you have more faith? Do you find believing so pleasant that you would like to believe more? Then take care that you are diligent in the use of every means of grace,—diligent in your private communion with God,—diligent in your daily watchfulness over time, disposition, and tongue,—diligent in your private Bible-reading,—diligent in your own private prayers. It is vain to expect spiritual prosperity, when we are careless about these things. Let those who will call it over precise and legal to be particular about them. But consider that there never was an eminent saint who neglected them.
Would you have more faith? Then seek to become more acquainted with Jesus Christ. Study your blessed Saviour more and more, and strive to know more of the length and breadth and height of His love. Study Him in all His offices, as the Priest, the Physician, the Redeemer, the Advocate, the Friend, the Teacher, the Shepherd of His believing people. Study Him as one who not only died for you, but is also living for you at the right hand of God, —as one who not only shed His blood for you, but daily intercedes for you at the right hand of God,—as one who is soon coming again for you, and will stand once more on this earth.
The miner who is fully persuaded that the rope which draws him up from the pit will not break, is drawn up without anxiety and alarm. The believer who is thoroughly acquainted with the fulness of Jesus Christ, is the believer who travels from grace to glory with the greatest comfort and peace.
Then let your daily prayers always contain these words, “Lord, increase my faith.”