Being Plain Statements on Some of the Weightier Matters of Christianity
by John Charles Ryle, 1878
[Bible citations converted to all Arabic numerals. Notes moved as nearly into the place of citations as may be practical. Spelling and punctuation selectively modernized.]
Chapters 1–4 5–7 8–11 12–16 17–19 Home
2 Our Souls
3 Few Saved
4 Our Hope
5 Alive or Dead
6 Our Sins
9 The Cross of Christ
10 The Holy Ghost
11 Having the Spirit
13 The Heart
14 Christ’s Invitation
17 Christ’s Power to Save
The volume now in the reader’s hands consists of a series of papers, systematically arranged, on the lading truths of Christianity which are “necessary to salvation”.
Few, probably, will deny that there are some things in religion about which we may think other people hold very erroneous views, and are, notwithstanding, in no danger of being finally lost. About baptism and the Lord’s Supper – about the Christian ministry, – about forms of prayer and modes of worship, – about the union of the Church and State, – about all these things it is commonly admitted that people may differ widely and yet be finally saved. No doubt there are always bigots and extreme partisans who are ready to excommunicate everyone who cannot pronounce their Shibboleth on the above-named points. But, speaking generally, to shut out of heaven all who disagree with us about these things is to take up a position which most thoughtful Christians condemn as unscriptural, narrow, and uncharitable.
On the other hand, there are certain great truths of which some knowledge by common consent appears essential to salvation, such truths are the immortality of the soul, – the sinfulness of human nature, – the work of Christ for us as our Redeemer, – the work of the Holy Ghost in us, – forgiveness, – justification, – conversion, – faith, – repentance, – the marks of a right heart, – Christ’s invitations, – Christ’s intercession, – and the like. If truths like these are not absolutely necessary to salvation, it is difficult to understand how any truths whatever can be called necessary. If people may be saved without knowing anything about these truths, it appears to me that we may throw away our Bibles altogether and proclaim that the Christian religion is of no use. From such a miserable conclusion I hope most people will shrink back with horror.
To open out and explain these great necessary truths, – to confirm them by Scripture, to enforce them by home appeals to the conscience of all who read this volume, – this is the simple object of the series of papers which is now offered to the public.*
[*To this statement, I frankly admit, the first and two last papers in the volume form an exception. Inspiration, Election, and Perseverance are undoubtedly points about which good men in every age have disagreed and will disagree perhaps while the world stands. The immense importance of inspiration in this day, and the extraordinary neglect into which election and perseverance have fallen, notwithstanding the Seventeenth Article, are my reasons for inserting the three papers.]
The name which I have selected will prepare the reader to expect no new doctrines in this volume. It is simple, unadulterated, old-fashioned Evangelical theology. It contains nothing but the “old Paths” in which the Apostolic Christians, the Reformers, the best English Churchmen for the last three hundred years, and the best Evangelical Christians of the present day have persistently walked. From these “paths” I see no reason to depart. They are so often sneered at and ridiculed as old-fashioned, effete, worn out, and powerless in the Nineteenth Century. Be it so. “None of these things move me.” I have yet to learn that there is any system of religious teaching by whatever name it may be called, High, or Broad, or Romish, or Neologian, which produces one quarter of the effect on human nature that is produced by the old, despised system of doctrine which is commonly called Evangelical. I willingly admit the zeal, earnestness, and devotedness of many religious teachers who are not Evangelical. But I firmly maintain that the way of the school to which I belong is the “more excellent way”. The longer I live, the more I am convinced that the world needs no new Gospel, as some profess to think. I am thoroughly persuaded that the world needs nothing but a bold, full, unflinching teaching of the “old paths”. The heart of man is the same in every age. The spiritual medicine which it requires is always the same. The same Gospel which was preached by Latimer, and Hooper, and Bradford, – by Hall, Davenant, Usher, Reynolds, and Hopkins, – by Manton, Brooks, Watson, Charnock, Owen, and Gurnall, – by Romaine, Venn, Grimshaw, Hervey, and Cecil, – this is the gospel which alone will do real good in the present day. The leading doctrines of that gospel are the substance of the papers which compose this volume. They are the doctrines I firmly believe, of the Bible and the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England. They are doctrines which I find wear well, and in the faith of them I hope to live and die.
I repeat most emphatically that I am not ashamed of what are commonly called “Evangelical principles”. Fiercely and bitterly as those principles are assailed on all sides – loudly and scornfully as some proclaim that they have done their work and are useless in this day – I see no evidence whatever that they are defective or decayed, and I see no reason for giving them up. No doubt other schools of thought produce great outward effects on mankind, gather large congregations, attain great popularity, and by means of music, ornaments, gestures, postures, and a generally histrionic ceremonial make a great show of religion. I see it all, and I am not surprised. It is exactly what a study of human nature by the light of the Bible would lead me to expect. But for real inward effects on hearts and outward effects on lives, I see no teaching so powerful as thorough, genuine Evangelical teaching. Just in proportion as the preachers of other schools borrow Evangelical weapons and Evangelical phraseology, I see them obtaining influence. No doubt the good that is done in the world is little, and evil abounds. But I am certain that the teaching which does most good is that of the despised Evangelical school. It is not merely true and good up to a certain point, and then defective and needing additions, as some tell us; it is true and good all round, and needs no addition at all. If those who hold Evangelical views were only more faithful to their own principles, and more bold, and uncompromising, and decided, both in their preaching and their lives, they would soon find, whatever infidels and Romanists may please to say, that they hold the only lever which can shake the world.
The readers of the many tracts which God has allowed me to send forth for thirty years must not expect much that they have not seen before in “Old Paths”. Experience has taught me at last that the peculiar tastes of all classes of society must be consulted if good is to be done by the press. I am convinced that there are thousands of people in England who are willing to read a volume, but will never look at anything in the form of a tract. It is for them that I now send forth “Old Paths”.
Those who read through this book continuously and without a pause will doubtless observe a certain degree of sameness and similarity in some of the papers. The same thoughts are occasionally repeated though in a different dress. To account for this, I will ask them to remember that most of the papers were originally written separately and at long intervals of time, in some cases of as much as twenty years. On calm reflection I have thought it better to republish them pretty much as they originally appeared. Few readers of a religious book like this read it all through at once; and a great majority, I suspect, find it enough to read quietly only one or two chapters at a time.
I now send forth the volume with a deep sense of its many defects; but with an earnest prayer that id may do some good.
J. C. Liverpool
1 – Inspiration.
“All Scripture is given, by inspiration of God.” – 2 Tim. 3:16.
How was the Bible written? – “Whence is it? From heaven, or of men?” – Had the writers of the Bible any special or peculiar help in doing their work? – Is there anything in the Bible which makes it unlike all other books, and therefore demands our respectful attention? – These are questions of vast importance. They are questions to which I wish to offer an answer in this paper. To speak plainly, the subject I propose to examine is that deep one, the inspiration of Scripture. I believe the Bible to have been written by inspiration of God, and I want others to be of the same belief.
The subject is always important. I place it purposely in the very forefront of the papers which compose this volume. I ask a hearing for the doctrines which I am about to handle, because they are drawn from a book which is the “Word of God.” Inspiration, in short, is the very keel and foundation of Christianity. If Christians have no Divine book to turn to as the warrant of their doctrine and practice, they have no solid ground for present peace or hope, and no right to claim the attention of mankind. They are building on a quicksand, and their faith is vain. We ought to be able to say boldly, “We are what we are, and we do what we do, because we have here a book which we believe to be the Word of God.”
The subject is one of peculiar importance in the present day. Infidelity and skepticism abound everywhere. In one form or another they are to be found in every rank and class of society. Thousands of Englishmen are not ashamed to say that they regard the Bible as an old obsolete Jewish book, which has no special claim on our faith and obedience, and that it contains many inaccuracies and defects. Myriads who will not go so far as this are wavering and shaken in their belief, and show plainly by their lives that they are not quite sure the Bible is true. In a day like this the true Christian should be able to set his foot down firmly, and to render a reason of his confidence in God’s Word. He should be able by sound arguments to meet and silence the gainsayer, if he cannot convince him. He should be able to show good cause why he thinks the Bible is “from heaven, and not of men.”
The subject without doubt is a very difficult one. It cannot be followed up without entering on ground which is dark and mysterious to mortal man. It involves the discussion of things which are miraculous, and supernatural, and above reason, and cannot be fully explained. But difficulties must not turn us away from any subject in religion. There is not a science in the world about which questions may not be asked which no one can answer. It is poor philosophy to say we will believe nothing unless we can understand everything! We must not give up the subject of inspiration in despair because it contains things “hard to be understood”. There still remains a vast amount of ground which is plain to every common understanding. I invite my readers to occupy this ground with me today, and to hear what I have got to say on the Divine authority of God’s Word.
In considering the subject before us, there are two things which I propose to do: –
I. In the first place, I shall try to show the general truth, that the Bible is given by inspiration of God.
II. In the second place, I shall try to show the extent to which the Bible is inspired.
I trust that all who read this paper will take up the subject in a serious and reverent spirit. This question of inspiration is no light one. It involves tremendously grave consequences. If the Bible is not the Word of God and inspired, the whole of Christendom for 1800 years has been under an immense delusion; –half the human race has been cheated and deceived, and churches are monuments of folly. – If the Bible is the Word of God and inspired, all who refuse to believe it are in fearful danger; – they are living on the brink of eternal misery. No man, in his sober senses, can fail to see that the whole subject demands most serious attention.
I. In the first place, I propose to show the general truth, – that the Bible is given by inspiration of God.
In saying this, I mean to assert that the Bible is utterly unlike all other books that were ever written, because its writers were specially inspired, or enabled by God, for the work which they did. I say that the Book comes to us with a claim which no other book possesses. It is stamped with Divine authority. In this respect it stands entirely alone. Sermons, and tracts, and theological writings of all kinds, may be sound and edifying, but they are only the handiwork of uninspired man. The Bible alone is the Book of God.
Now I shall not waste time in proving that the Scriptures are genuine and authentic, that they were really written by the very men who profess to have written them, and that they contain the very things which they wrote. I shall not touch what are commonly called external evidences. I shall bring forward the book itself, and put it in the witness box. I shall try to show that nothing can possibly account for the Bible being what it is, and doing what it has done, except the theory that it is the Word of God. I lay it down broadly, as a position which cannot be turned, that the Bible itself, fairly examined, is the best witness of its own inspiration. I shall content myself with stating some plain facts about the Bible, which can neither be denied nor explained away. And the ground I shall take up is this, – that these facts ought to satisfy every reasonable inquirer that the Bible is of God, and not of man. They are simple facts, which require no knowledge of Hebrew, or Greek, or Latin, in order to be understood; yet they are facts which prove to my own mind conclusively that the Bible is superhuman, or not of man.
(a) It is a fact, that there is an extraordinary fullness and richness in the contents of the Bible. It throws more light on a vast number of most important subjects than all the other books in the world put together. It boldly handles matters which are beyond the reach of man, when left to himself. It treats of things which are mysterious and invisible, – the soul, the world to come, and eternity, – depths which man has no line to fathom. All who have tried to write of these things, without Bible light, have done little but show their own ignorance. They grope like the blind; they speculate; they guess; they generally make the darkness more visible, and land us in a region of uncertainty and doubt. How dim were the views of Socrates, Plato, Cicero, and Seneca! A well-taught Sunday scholar, in this day, knows more spiritual truth than all these sages put together.
The Bible alone gives a reasonable account of the beginning and end of the globe on which we live. It starts from the birthday of sun, moon, stars, and earth in their present order, and shows us creation in its cradle. It foretells the dissolution of all things, when the earth and all its works shall he burned up, and shows us creation in its grave. It tells us the story of the world’s youth; and it tells us the story of its old age. It gives us a picture of its first days; and it gives us a picture of its last. How vast and important is this knowledge! Can this be the handiwork of uninspired man? Let us try to answer that question.
The Bible alone gives a true and faithful account of man. It does not flatter him as novels and romances do; it does not conceal his faults and exaggerate his goodness; it paints him just as he is. It describes him as a fallen creature, of his own nature inclined to evil, – a creature needing not only a pardon, but a new heart, to make him fit for heaven. It shows him to be a corrupt being under every circumstance, when left to himself, – corrupt after the loss of paradise, – corrupt after the flood, – corrupt when fenced in by divine laws and commandments, – corrupt when the Son of God came down and visited him in the flesh, – corrupt in the face of warnings, promises, miracles, judgments, mercies. In one word, it shows man to be by nature always a sinner. How important is this knowledge! Can this be the work of uninspired minds? Let us try to answer that question.
The Bible alone gives us true views of God. By nature man knows nothing clearly or fully about Him. All his conceptions of Him are low, groveling, and debased. What could be more degraded than the gods of the Canaanites and Egyptians, – of Babylon, of Greece, and of Rome? What can be more vile than the gods of the Hindus and other heathen in our own time? – By the Bible we know that God hates sin. The destruction of the old world by the flood; the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah; the drowning of Pharaoh and the Egyptians in the Red Sea; the cutting off the nations of Canaan; the overthrow of Jerusalem and the Temple; the scattering of the Jews; – all these are unmistakable witnesses. – By the Bible we know that God loves sinners. His gracious promise in the day of Adam’s fall; His longsuffering in the time of Noah; His deliverance of Israel out of the land of Egypt; His gift of the law at Mount Sinai; His bringing the tribes into the promised land; His forbearance in the days of the Judges and Kings; His repeated warnings by the mouth of His prophets; His restoration of Israel after the Babylonian captivity; His sending His Son into the world, in due time, to be crucified; His commanding the Gospel to be preached to the Gentiles; – all these are speaking facts. – By the Bible we learn that God knows all things. We see Him foretelling things hundreds and thousands of years before they take place, and as He foretells so it comes to pass. He foretold that the family of Ham should be a servant of servants, – that Tyre should become a rock for drying nets, – that Nineveh should become a desolation, – that Babylon should be made a desert, – that Egypt should be the basest of kingdoms, – that Edom should be forsaken and uninhabited,– and that the Jews should not be reckoned among the nations. All these things were utterly unlikely and improbable. Yet all have been fulfilled. Once more I say, how vast and important is all this knowledge! Can this Book be the work of uninspired man? Let us try to answer that question.
The Bible alone teaches us that God has made a full, perfect, and complete provision for the salvation of fallen man. It tells of an atonement made for the sin of the world, by the sacrifice and death of God’s own Son upon the cross. It tells us that by His death for sinners, as their Substitute, He obtained eternal redemption for all that believe on Him. The claims of God’s broken law have now been satisfied. Christ has suffered for sin, the just for the unjust. God can now be just, and yet the justifier of the ungodly. It tells us that there is now a complete remedy for the guilt of sin, – even the precious blood of Christ; and peace, and rest of conscience for all who believe on Christ. “Whosoever believeth on Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” It tells us that there is a complete remedy for the power of sin, – even the almighty grace of the Spirit of Christ. It shows us the Holy Ghost quickening believers, and making them new creatures. It promises a new heart and a new nature to all who will hear Christ’s voice, and follow Him. Once more I say, how important is this knowledge! What should we know of all this comfortable truth without the Bible? Can this Book be the composition of uninspired men? Let us try to answer that question.
The Bible alone explains the state of things that we see in the world around us. There are many things on earth which a natural man cannot explain. The amazing inequality of conditions, – the poverty and distress, – the oppression and persecution, – the shakings and tumults, – the failures of statesmen and legislators, – the constant existence of uncured evils and abuses, – all these things are often puzzling to him. He sees, but does not understand. But the Bible makes it all clear. The Bible can tell him that the whole world lieth in wickedness, – that the prince of the world, the devil, is everywhere, – and that it is vain to look for perfection in the present order of things. The Bible will tell him that neither laws nor education can ever change men’s hearts, – and that just as no man will ever make a machine work well, unless he allows for friction, – so also no man will do much good in the world, unless he always remembers that human nature is fallen, and that the world he works in is full of sin. The Bible will tell him that there is “a good time” certainly coming, – and coming perhaps sooner than people expect it, –a time of perfect knowledge, perfect justice, perfect happiness, and perfect peace. But the Bible will tell him this time shall not be brought in by any power but that of Christ coming to earth again. And for that second coming of Christ, the Bible will tell him to prepare. Once more, I say, how important is all this knowledge!
All these are things which men could find nowhere except in the Scriptures. We have probably not the least idea how little we should know about these things if we had not the Bible. We hardly know the value of the air we breathe, and the sun which shines on us, because we have never known what it is to be without them. We do not value the truths on which I have been just now dwelling, because we do not realize the darkness of men to whom these truths have not been revealed. Surely no tongue can fully tell the value of the treasures this one volume contains. Set down that fact in your mind, and do not forget it. The extraordinary contents of the Bible are a great fact which can only be explained by admitting its inspiration. Mark well what I say. It is a simple broad fact, that in the matter of contents, the Bible stands entirely alone, and no other book is fit to be named in the same day with it. He that dares to say the Bible is not inspired, let him give a reasonable account of this fact, if he can.
(b) It is another fact that there is an extraordinary unity and harmony in the contents of the Bible, which is entirely above man. We all know how difficult it is to get a story told by any three persons, not living together, in which there are not some contradictions and discrepancies. If the story is a long one, and involves large quantity of particulars, unity seems almost impossible among the common run of men. But it is not so with the Bible. Here is a long book written by not less than thirty different persons. The writers were men of every rank and class in society. One was a lawgiver. One was a warlike king. One was a peaceful king. One was a herdsman. One had been brought up as a publican, – another as a physician, – another as a learned Pharisee, – two as fishermen, – several as priests. They lived at different intervals over a space of 1500 years; and the greater part of them never saw each other face to face. And yet there is a perfect harmony among all these writers? They all write as if they were under one dictation. The style and handwriting may vary, but the mind that runs through their work is always one and the same. They all tell the same story. They all give one account of man, – one account of God, – one account of the way of salvation, – one account of the human heart. You see truth unfolding under their hands, as you go through the volume of their writings, – but you never detect any real contradiction, or contrariety of view.
Let us set down this fact in our minds, and ponder it well. Tell us not that this unity might be the result of chance. No one can ever believe that but a very credulous person. There is only one satisfactory account to be given of the fact before us. – The Bible is not of man, but of God.
(c) It is another fact that there is an extraordinary wisdom, sublimity and majesty in the style of the Bible, which is above man. Strange and unlikely as it was, the writers of Scripture have produced a book which even at this day is utterly unrivalled. With all our boasted attainments in science and art and learning, we can produce nothing that can be compared with the Bible. Even at this very hour, in 1877, the book stands entirely alone. There is a strain and a style and a tone of thought about it, which separate it from all other writings. There are no weak points, no motes, and flaws, and blemishes. There is no mixture of infirmity and feebleness, such as you will find in the works of even the best Christians. “Holy, holy, holy,” seems written on every page. To talk of comparing the Bible with other “sacred books” so-called, such as the Koran, the Shasters, or the book of Mormon, is positively absurd. You might as well compare the sun with a rushlight – or Skiddaw with a molehill, – or St. Paul’s with an Irish hovel, – or the Portland vase with a garden pot, – or the Koh-i-noor diamond with a bit of glass.* God seems to have allowed the existence of these pretended revelations, in order to prove the immeasurable superiority of His own Word. To talk of the inspiration of the Bible, as only differing in degree from that of such writings as the works of Homer, Plato, Shakespeare, Dante, and Milton, is simply a piece of blasphemous folly. Every honest and unprejudiced reader must see that there is a gulf between the Bible and any other book, which no man can fathom. You feel, on turning from the Scriptures to other works, that you have got into a new atmosphere. You feel like one who has exchanged gold for base metal, and heaven for earth. And how can this mighty difference be accounted for? The men who wrote the Bible had no special advantages. They lived in a remote corner of the civilized earth. They had, most of them, little leisure, few books, and no learning, – such as learning is reckoned in this world. Yet the book they compose is one which is unrivalled! There is but one way of accounting for this fact. – They wrote under the direct inspiration of God.
[*Carlyle’s estimate of the Koran is given, in “Hero-worship,” in the following words. “It is a wearisome, confused jumble, crude, recondite, abounding in endless iterations, long-windedness, entanglement, insupportable stupidity. In sort nothing but a sense of duty could carry any European through the Koran, with its unreadable masses of lumber.”
John Owen says, “There are no other writings in the world beside the Bible that ever pretended unto a divine original, but they are not only from their matter, but from the manner of their writing, and the plain footsteps of human artifice and weakness therein, sufficient for their own conviction, and do openly discover their own vain pretensions.” (The Reason of Faith. Works, vol. iv., p. 34, Johnston’s Edition.)]
(d) It is another fact that there is an extraordinary accuracy in, the facts and statements of the Bible, which is above man. Here is a book which has been finished and before the world for nearly 1800 years. These 1800 years have been the busiest and most changeful period the world has ever seen. During this period the greatest discoveries have been made in science, the greatest alterations in the ways and customs of society, the greatest improvements in the habits and usages of life. Hundreds of things might be named which satisfied and pleased our forefathers, which we have laid aside long ago as obsolete, useless, and old-fashioned. The laws, the books, the houses, the furniture, the clothes, the arms, the machinery, the carriages of each succeeding century, have been a continual improvement on those of the century that went before. There is hardly a thing in which faults and weak points have not been discovered. There is scarcely an institution which has not gone through a process of sifting, purifying, refining, simplifying, reforming, amending, and changing. But all this time men have never discovered a weak point or a defect in the Bible. Infidels have assailed it in vain. There it stands, – perfect, and fresh, and complete, as it did eighteen centuries ago. The march of intellect never overtakes it. The wisdom of wise men never gets beyond it. The science of philosophers never proves it wrong. The discoveries of travelers never convict it of mistakes. – Are the distant islands of the Pacific laid open? Nothing is found that in the slightest degree contradicts the Bible account of man’s heart. – Are the ruins of Nineveh and Egypt ransacked and explored? Nothing is found that overturns one jot or tittle of the Bible’s historical statements. – How shall we account for this fact? Who could have thought it possible that so large a book, handling such a vast variety of subjects, should at the end of 1800 years, be found so free from erroneous statements? There is only one account to be given of the fact. – The Bible was written by inspiration of God.
(e) It is another fact that there is in the Bible an extraordinary suitableness to the spiritual wants of all mankind. It exactly meets the heart of man in every rank or class, in every country and climate, in every age and period of life. It is the only book in existence which is never out of place and out of date. Other books after a time become obsolete and old-fashioned: the Bible never does. Other books suit one country or people, and not another: the Bible suits all. It is the book of the poor and unlearned no less than of the rich and the philosopher. It feeds the mind of the labourer in his cottage, and it satisfies the gigantic intellects of Newton, Chalmers, Brewster, and Faraday. Lord Macaulay, and John Bright, and the writers of brilliant articles in the Times, are all under obligations to the same volume. It is equally valued by the converted New Zealander in the southern hemisphere, and the Red River Indian in the cold north of America, and the Hindu under the tropical sun.
It is the only book, moreover, which seems always fresh and evergreen and new. For eighteen centuries it has been studied and prayed over by millions of private Christians, and expounded and explained and preached to us by thousands of ministers. Fathers, and Schoolmen, and Reformers, and Puritans, and modern divines, have incessantly dug down into the mine of Scripture, and yet have never exhausted it. It is a well never dry, and a field which is never barren. It meets the hearts and minds and consciences of Christians in the nineteenth century as fully as it did those of Greeks and Romans when it was first completed. It suits the “Dairyman’s daughter” as well as Persis, or Tryphena, or Tryphosa, – and the English Peer as well as the converted African at Sierra Leone. It is still the first book which fits the child’s mind when he begins to learn religion, and the last to which the old man clings as he leaves the world.* In short, it suits all ages, ranks, climates, minds, conditions. It is the one book which suits the world.
[*I have always been strongly in favour of secular education in the sense of education without theology. But I must confess I have been no less seriously perplexed to know by what practical measures the religious feeling, which is the essential basis of conduct, could be kept up in the present chaotic state of opinion on these matters without the use of the Bible.”
“Consider the great historical fact that for three centuries this Book has been woven into the life of all that is best and noblest in English history; – that it has become the national epic of Britain, and is as familiar to noble and simple from John o’ Groat’s Home to the Land’s End, as Dante and Tasso once were to the Italians; – that it is written in the best and purest English, and abounds in exquisite beauties of mere literary form; – and finally, that it forbids the veriest hind who never left his village to be ignorant of other countries and other civilizations, and of a great past, stretching back to the furthest limits of the oldest nations in the world. By the study of what other book could children be so much humanized and made to feel that each figure in that vast historical procession fills, like themselves, but a momentary space in the interval between two eternities, and earns the blessings or the curses of all time, according to its effort to do good and hate evil, even as they also are earning their payment for their work?” – Professor Huxley on School Boards (Huxley’s Critiques and Essays, p. 51.)]
Now how shall we account for this singular fact? What satisfactory explanation can we give? There is only one account and explanation. – The Bible was written, by Divine inspiration. It is the book of the world, because He inspired it who formed the world, – who made all nations of one blood, – and knows man’s common nature. It is the book for every heart, because He dictated it who alone knows all hearts, and what all hearts require. It is the book of God.
(f) Last, but not least, it is a great fact that the Bible has had a most extraordinary effect on the condition of those nations in which it has been known, taught, and read.
I invite any honest-minded reader to look at a map of the world, and see what a story that map tells. Which are the countries on the face of the globe at this moment where there is the greatest amount of idolatry, or cruelty, or tyranny, or impurity, or misgovernment, or disregard of life and liberty and truth? Precisely those countries where the Bible is not known.– Which are the Christian countries, so-called, where the greatest quantity of ignorance, superstition, and corruption, is to be found at this very moment? The countries in which the Bible is a forbidden or neglected book, – such countries as Spain and the South American States. – Which are the countries where liberty, and public and private morality have attained the highest pitch? The countries where the Bible is free to all, like England, Scotland, Germany, and the United States. Yes! when you know how a nation deals with the Bible, you may generally know what a nation is.
But this is not all. Let us look nearer home. Which are the cities on earth where the fewest soldiers and police are required to keep order? London, Manchester, Liverpool, New York, Philadelphia, – cities where Bibles abound. – Which are the countries in Europe where there are the fewest murders and illegitimate births? The Protestant countries, where the Bible is freely read. – Which are the Churches and religious bodies on earth which are producing the greatest results by spreading light and dispelling darkness? Those which make much of the Bible, and teach and preach it as God’s Word. The Romanist, the Neologian, the Socinian, the deist, the skeptic, or the friends of mere secular teaching, have never yet shown us one Sierra Leone, one New Zealand, one Tinnevelly, as the fruit of their principles. We only can do that who honour the Bible and reverence it as God’s Word. Let this fact also be remembered. He that denies the Divine inspiration of the Bible, let him explain this fact if he can.*
[*“The Bible is the fountain of all true patriotism and loyalty in States; – it is the source of all true wisdom, sound policy, and equity in Senates, Council chambers, and Courts of Justice; – it is the spring of all true discipline and obedience, and of all valour and chivalry, in armies and fleets, in the battlefield and on the wide sea; – it is the origin of all probity and integrity in commerce and in trade, in marts and in shops, in banks and exchanges, in the public resorts of men and the secret silence of the heart,;—it is the pure, unsullied fountain of all love and peace, happiness, quietness and joy, in families and households. —Wherever it is duly obeyed it makes the desert of the world to rejoice and blossom as the rose.” – Wordsworth on Inspiration, p. 113.]
I place these six facts about the Bible before my readers, and I ask them to consider them well. Take them all six together, treat them fairly, and look at them honestly. Upon any other principle than that of divine inspiration, those six facts appear to me inexplicable and unaccountable. Here is a book written by a succession of Jews, in a little corner of the world, which positively stands alone. Not only were its writers isolated and cut off in a peculiar manner from other nations, but they belonged to a people who have never produced any other book of note except the Bible ! There is not the slightest proof that, unassisted and left to themselves, they were capable of writing anything remarkable, like the Greeks and Romans. Yet these men have given the world a volume which for depth, unity, sublimity, accuracy, suitableness to the wants of man, and power of influencing its readers, is perfectly unrivalled. How can this be explained ? How can it be accounted for ? To my mind there is only one answer. The writers of the Bible were divinely helped and qualified for the work which they did. The book which they have given to us was written by inspiration of God.*
[*“The little ark of Jewish literature still floats above the surges of time, while mere fragments of the wrecked archives of the huge oriental empires, as well as of the lesser kingdoms that surrounded Judaea, are now and then cast on our distant shores.” – Rogers on the Superhuman Origin of the Bible, p. 311.]
For my own part, I believe that in dealing with skeptics, and unbelievers, and enemies of the Bible, Christians are too apt to stand only on the defensive. They are too often content with answering this or that little objection, or discussing this or that little difficulty, which is picked out of Scripture and thrown in their teeth. I believe we ought to act on the aggressive far more than we do, and to press home on the adversaries of inspiration the enormous difficulties of their own position. We have a right to ask them how they can possibly explain the origin and nature of the Bible, if they will not allow that it is of Divine authority? We have a right to say, – “Here is a book which not only courts inquiry but demands investigation. We challenge you to tell us how that ‘Book was written.” – How can they account for this Book standing so entirely alone, and for nothing having ever been written equal to it, like it, near it, or fit to be compared with it for a minute? I defy them to give any rational reply on their own principles. On our principles we can. To tell us that man’s unassisted mind could have written the Bible is simply ridiculous. It is worse than ridiculous: it is the height of credulity. In short, the difficulties of unbelief are far greater than the difficulties of faith. No doubt there are things “hard to be understood” if we accept the Scriptures as God’s Word. But, after all, they are nothing compared to the hard things which
rise up in our way, and demand solution if we once deny inspiration. There is no alternative. Men must either believe things which are grossly improbable, or else they must accept the great general truth that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.
II. The second thing which I propose to consider is the extent to which the Bible is inspired. Assuming, as a general truth, that the Bible is given by Divine inspiration, I wish to examine how far and to what degree its writers received Divine help. In short, what is it exactly that we mean when we talk of the Scriptures as “the Word of God”?
This is, no doubt, a difficult question, and one about which the best Christians are not entirely of one mind. The plain truth is that inspiration is a miracle; and, like all miracles, there is much about it which we cannot fully understand. – We must not confound it with intellectual power, such as great poets and authors possess. To talk of Shakespeare and Milton and Byron being inspired, like Moses and St. Paul, is to my mind almost profane. – Nor must we confound it with the gifts and graces bestowed on the early Christians in the primitive Church. All the Apostles were enabled to preach and work miracles, but not all were inspired to write. – We must rather regard it as a special supernatural gift, bestowed on about thirty people out of mankind, in order to qualify them for the special business of writing the Scriptures; and we must be content to allow that, like everything miraculous, we cannot entirely explain it, though we can believe it. A miracle would not be a miracle, if it could be explained. That miracles are possible, I do not stop to prove here. I never trouble myself on that subject until those who deny miracles have fairly grappled with the great fact that Christ rose again from the dead. I firmly believe that miracles are possible and have been wrought; and among great miracles I place the fact that men were inspired by God to write the Bible. Inspiration, therefore, being a miracle, I frankly allow that there are difficulties about it which at present I cannot fully solve.
The exact manner in which the minds of the inspired writers of Scripture worked when they wrote, I do not pretend to explain. Very likely they could not have explained it themselves. I do not admit for a moment that they were mere machines holding pens, and, like typesetters in a printing office, did not understand what they were doing. I abhor the “mechanical” theory of inspiration. I dislike the idea that men like Moses and St. Paul were no better than organ pipes, employed by the Holy Ghost, or ignorant secretaries or amanuenses who wrote by dictation what they did not understand. I admit nothing of the kind. I believe that in some marvelous manner the Holy Ghost made use of the reason, the memory, the intellect, the style of thought, and the peculiar mental temperament of each writer of the Scriptures. But how and in what manner this was done I can no more explain than I can the union of two natures, God and man, in the person of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. I only know that there is both a Divine and a human element in the Bible, and that while the men who wrote it were really and truly men, the book that they wrote and handed down to us is really and truly the Word of God. I know the result, but I do not understand the process. The result is, that the Bible is the written Word of God; but I can no more explain the process than I can explain how the water became wine at Cana, or how five loaves fed five thousand men, or how a word raised Lazarus from the dead. I do not pretend to explain miracles, and I do not pretend to explain fully the miraculous gift of inspiration. The position I take up is that, while the Bible writers were not “machines,” as some sneeringly say, they only wrote what God taught them to write. The Holy Ghost put into their minds thoughts and ideas, and then guided their pens in writing them. When you read the Bible you are not reading the unaided, self-taught composition of erring men like ourselves, but thoughts and words which were suggested by the eternal God. The men who were employed to indite the Scripture spake not of themselves. They “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter 1:21). He that holds a Bible in his hand should know that he holds “not the word of man but of God.” (1 Thess. 2:13.)
Concerning the precise extent to which the Bible is inspired, I freely admit that Christians differ widely. Some of the views put forth on the subject appear to me erroneous in the extreme. I shall not shrink from giving my own opinion and stating my reasons for maintaining it. In matters like these I dare not call any man master. Painful as it is to disagree with able and gifted men on religious questions, I dare not take up views of inspiration which my head and heart tell me are unsound, however high and honoured the names of those who maintain them. I believe in my conscience that low and defective views of the subject are doing immense damage to the cause of Christ in these last days.
Some hold that some of the books of Scripture are not inspired at all, and have no more authority or claim to our reverence than the writings of any ordinary man. – Others who do not go so far as this, and allow that all the books in the Bible are inspired, maintain that inspiration was only partial, and that there are portions in almost every book which are uninspired. – Others hold that inspiration means nothing more than general superintendence and direction, and that, while the Bible writers were miraculously preserved from making mistakes in great things and matters necessary to salvation, in things indifferent they were left to their own unassisted faculties, like any other writers. – Some hold that all the ideas in the Bible were given by inspiration, but not the words and language in which they are clothed, – though how to separate ideas from words it is rather hard to understand! – Some, finally, allow the thorough inspiration of all the Bible, and yet maintain that it was possible for the writers to make occasional mistakes in their statements, and that such mistakes do exist at this day.
From all these views I totally and entirely dissent. They all appear to me more or less defective, below the truth, dangerous in their tendency, and open to grave and insuperable objections. The view which I maintain is that every book, and chapter, and verse, and syllable of the Bible was originally given by inspiration of God. I hold that not only the substance of the Bible, but its language, – not only the ideas of the Bible, but its words, – not only certain parts of the Bible, but every chapter of the book, – that all and each are of Divine authority. I hold that the Scripture not only contains the Word of God, but is the Word of God. I believe the narratives and statements of Genesis, and the catalogues in Chronicles, were just as truly written by inspiration as the Acts of the Apostles. I believe Ezra’s account of the nine-and-twenty knives, and St. Paul’s message about the cloak and parchments, were as much written under Divine direction as the 20th of Exodus, the 17th of John, or the 8th of Romans. I do not say, be it remembered, that all these parts of the Bible are of equal importance to our souls. Nothing of the kind! But I do say they were all equally given by inspiration.*
[*“We affirm that the Bible is the Word of God. and that it is not marred with human infirmities. We do not imagine, with some, that the Bible is like a threshing floor on which wheat and chaff lie mingled together, and that it is left for the reader to winnow and sift the wheat from the chaff by the fan and sieve of his own mind.” – Wordsworth on “Inspiration” (p. 11).]
In making this statement I ask the reader not to misunderstand my meaning. I do not forget that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek. The inspiration of every word, for which I contend, is the inspiration of every original Hebrew and Greek word, as the Bible writers first wrote it down. I stand up for nothing more and nothing less than this. I lay no claim to the inspiration of every word in the various versions and translations of God’s Word. So far as those translations and versions are faithfully and correctly done, so far they are of equal authority with the original Hebrew and Greek. We have reason to thank God that many of the translations are, in the main, faithful and accurate. At any rate our own English Bible, if not perfect, is so far correct, that in reading it we have a right to believe that we re reading in our own tongue not the word of man but of God.
Now the view for which I contend, – that every word of the Bible is inspired, – is not accepted by many good Christians, and is bitterly opposed in many quarters. I shall therefore mention a few reasons why it appears to me the only safe and tenable view which can be adopted, and the only one which is free from innumerable objections. If I err in maintaining it I have the comfort, at any rate, of erring in good company. I only take up the same ground which almost all the Fathers occupied; which Bishop Jewell, and Hooker, and Owen, took up long ago; and which Chalmers, Robert Haldane, Gaussen, Bishop Wordsworth, M’Caul, Burgon, and Archdeacon Lee of the Irish Church, have ably defended in modern days. I know, however, that men’s minds are variously constituted. Arguments and reasons which appear weighty to some are of no weight with others. I shall content myself with setting down in order the reasons which satisfy me.
(a) For one thing, I cannot see how the Bible can be a perfect rule of faith and practice if it is not fully inspired, and if it contains any flaws and imperfections. If the Bible is anything at all, it is the statute book of God’s kingdom, – the code of laws and regulations by which the subjects of that kingdom are to live, – the register deed of the terms on which they have peace now and shall have glory hereafter. Now, why are we to suppose that such a book will be loosely and imperfectly drawn up, any more than legal deeds are drawn up on earth? Every lawyer can tell us that in legal deeds and statutes every word is of importance, and that property, life, or death may often turn on a single word. Think of the confusion that would ensue if wills, and settlements, and conveyances, and partnership deeds, and leases, and agreements, and acts of parliament were not carefully drawn up and carefully interpreted, and every word allowed its due weight. Where would be the use of such documents if particular words went for nothing, and every one had a right to add, or take away, or alter, or deny the validity of words, or erase words at his own discretion? At this rate we might as well lay aside our legal documents altogether. Surely we have a right to expect that in the book which contains our title deeds for eternity every word will be inspired, and nothing imperfect admitted. If God’s statute book is not inspired, and every word is not of Divine authority, God’s subjects are left in a pitiable state. I see much in this.
(b) For another thing, if the Bible is not fully inspired and contains imperfections, I cannot understand the language which is frequently used about it in its own pages. Such expressions as “The oracles of God;” – “He saith;” – “God saith” – “the Holy Ghost spake by Esaias the prophet;” – “the Holy Ghost saith,” – “Today if ye will hear His voice,” –would appear to me inexplicable and extravagant if applied to a book containing occasional blemishes, defects, and mistakes. (Acts 7:38, Rom. 3:2, Heb. 5:12, 1 Peter 4:11, Ephes. 4:8, Heb. 1:8, Acts 28:25, Heb. 3:7, 10:15; Rom. 9:25). Once grant that every word of Scripture is inspired, and I see an admirable propriety in the language. I cannot understand “the Holy Ghost,” making a mistake, or an “oracle” containing anything defective! If any man replies that the Holy Ghost did not always speak by Isaiah, I will ask him who is to decide when He did and when He did not? I see much in this.
(c) For another thing, the theory that the Bible was not given by inspiration of God, appears to me utterly at variance with several quotations from the Old Testament which I find in the New. I allude to those quotations in which the whole force of the passage turns on one single word, and once even on the use of the singular instead of the plural number. Take, for instance, such quotations as “The Lord said unto my Lord.” (Matt. 22:44.) – “I said, Ye are gods.” (John 10:34.) – “To Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” (Gal. 3:16.) – “He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare Thy name unto my brethren.” (Heb. 2:11, 12.) – In every one these cases the whole point of the quotation lies in a single word.* But if this is so, it is hard to see on what principle we can deny the inspiration of all the words of Scripture. At any rate, those who deny verbal inspiration will find it difficult to show us which words are inspired and which are not. Who is to draw the line, and where is it to be drawn? I see much in this.
[*It would be easy to multiply texts in proof of this point. I will only name the following: Heb. 2:8, 3:7–19, 4:2–11, 12:27.]
(d) For another thing, if the words of Scripture are not all inspired, the value of the Bible as a weapon in controversy is greatly damaged, if not entirely taken away. Who does not know that in arguing with Jews, Arians, or Socinians, the whole point of the texts we quote against them often lies in a single word? What are we to reply if an adversary asserts that the special word of some text, on which we ground an argument, is a mistake of the writer, and therefore of no authority? To my mind it appears that the objection would be fatal. It is useless to quote texts if we once admit that not all the words of which they are composed were given by inspiration. Unless there is some certain standard to appeal to we may as well hold our tongues. Argument is labour in vain if our mouths are to be stopped by the retort, “That text is not inspired.” I see much in this.
(e) For another thing, to give up verbal inspiration appears to me to destroy the usefulness of the Bible as an instrument of public preaching in instruction. Where is the use of choosing a text and making it the subject of a pulpit address, if we do not believe that every word of the text is inspired? Once let our hearers get hold of the idea that the writers of the Bible could make mistakes in the particular words they used, and they will care little for any reproofs, or exhortations, or remarks which are based on words. – “How do you know,” they might ask us, “that this word, about which you made such ado yesterday, was given by the Holy Ghost? How do you know that St. Paul, or St. Peter, or St. John did not make a mistake, and use the wrong word? That they could make mistakes about words you yourself allow.” – I know not what others may think. For myself, I could give no answer. I see much in this.
(f) Last, but not least, the denial of verbal inspiration appears to me to destroy a great part of the usefulness of the Bible as a source of comfort and instruction in private reading. Where is the true Christian student of the Bible who does not know that words, particular words, afford a large portion of the benefit which he derives from his daily reading? How much the value of many a cherished text depends on some single phrase, or the number of a substantive, or the tense of a verb? Alas! there would be an end of all this if we once concede that each word is not inspired; and that, for anything we know, some much loved favourite substantive or verb, or pronoun, or adverb, or adjective, was an Apostle’s mistake, and the word of man, not of God! What others might think I know not. For myself, I should be tempted to lay aside my Bible in despair, and become of all men most miserable. I see much in this.
Now, I freely grant that many excellent Christians think that the view I maintain is open to serious objections. That the Bible, generally speaking, is given by inspiration, they firmly maintain. But they shrink from maintaining that inspiration extends to every word of Scripture. I am sorry to differ from these worthy people. But I cannot see the weight and force of their objections. Fairly and honestly examined, they fail to carry conviction to my mind.
(a) Some object that there are occasional statements in the Bible which contradict the facts of history. Are these all verbally inspired? – My answer is that it is far more easy to assert this than to prove it. There is nothing of which we have so few trustworthy remains as very ancient history, and if ancient uninspired history and Bible history seem to disagree, it is generally safer and wiser to believe that Bible history is right and other history wrong. At any rate, it is a singular fact that all recent researches in Assyria, Babylon, Palestine, and Egypt, show an extraordinary tendency to confirm the perfect accuracy of the Word of God. The lamented Mr. Smith’s discoveries at Babylon are a remarkable example of what I mean. There are buried evidences which God seems to keep in reserve for these last days. If Bible history and other histories cannot be made to agree at present, it is safest to wait.
(b) Some object that there are occasional statements in the Bible which contradict the facts of natural science. Are these all inspired? – My answer is again, that it is far more easy to assert this than to prove it. The Bible was not written to teach a system of geology, botany, or astronomy, or a history of birds, insects, and animals, and on matters touching these subjects it wisely uses popular language, such as common people can understand. No one thinks of saying that the Astronomer Royal contradicts science because he speaks of the sun’s “rising and setting.” If the Bible said anywhere that the earth was a flat surface, – or that it was a fixed globe round which the sun revolved, – or that it never existed in any state before Adam and Eve, – there might be something in the objection. But it never does so. It speaks of scientific subjects as they appear. But it never flatly contradicts science.*
[*“The language of the Scripture is necessarily adapted to the common state of man’s intellectual development in which he is not supposed to be possessed of science. Hence the phrases used by Scripture are precisely those which science soon teaches man to consider inaccurate. Yet they are not on that account the less fitted for their purpose, for if any terms had been used adapted to a more advanced state of knowledge, they must have been unintelligible to those to whom the Scripture was first addressed.” – Whewell’s Philosophy of Inductive Science. Vol. i., p. 686.]
(c) Some object that there are occasional statements in the Bible which are monstrous, absurd, and incredible. Are they really obliged to believe that Eve was tempted by the devil in the form of a serpent, – that Noah was saved in an ark, – that the Israelites crossed the Red Sea between two walls of water, – that Balaam’s ass spoke, – and that Jonah actually went into the whale’s belly? Are all these statements inspired? – My answer is that Christ’s apostles speak of these things as historical facts, and were more likely to know the truth about them than we are. After all, do we believe in miracles or not? Do we believe that Christ Himself rose from the dead? Let us stick to that one grand miracle first, and disprove it if we can. If we do believe it, it is foolish to object to things because they are miraculous.
(d) Some object that there are things mentioned occasionally in the Bible which are so trifling that they are unworthy to be called inspired. They point to St. Paul’s writing about his cloak, and books, and parchments, and ask if we really think that the Apostle wrote about such little matters by inspiration of God? – I answer that the least things affecting any of God’s children are not too small for the notice of Him who “numbers the hairs of our heads”. There are excellent and edifying lessons to be learned from the cloak and the parchments, as Robert Haldane has shown most convincingly, in his work on the Evidences of Divine Revelation. After all, man knows very little what is great and what is small in God’s sight. The history of Nimrod “the mighty hunter” is dispatched in three verses of Genesis, and the history of a Syrian dwelling in tents, called Abraham, fills up no less than fourteen chapters. The microscope applied to the book of nature, can show us God’s hand in the least lichen that grows on the top of Scawfell as well as in the cedar of Lebanon. The veriest trifles, as they seem to us in the Book of Scripture, may turn out to be most striking confirmations of its truth. Paley has shown this admirably in his “Horae Paulinae,” and Professor Blunt in his “Undesigned Coincidences.”
(e) Some object that there are grave discrepancies in some of the Bible histories, especially in the four Gospels, which cannot be made to harmonize and agree. Are the words, they ask, all inspired in these cases? Have the writers made no mistakes? – I answer that the number of these discrepancies is grossly exaggerated, and that in many cases they are only apparent, and disappear under the touch of common sense. Even in the hardest of them we should remember, in common fairness, that circumstances are very likely kept back from us which entirely reconcile everything, if we only knew them. Very often in these days when two honest, veracious men give a separate account of some long story, their accounts do not quite tally, because one dwells on one part and the other on another. All well-informed students of history know that the precise day when Charles I erected his standard at Nottingham, in the Parliamentary war, has not been settled to this hour.
(f) Some object that Job’s friends, in their long speeches, said many weak and foolish things. Were all their words inspired? – An objection like this arises from an illogical and confused idea of what inspiration means. The book of Job contains an historical account of a wonderful part of the old patriarch’s history, and a report both of his speeches and of those of his friends. But we are nowhere told that either Job or Eliphaz and his companions spoke all that they spoke by the Holy Ghost. The writer of the book of Job was thoroughly inspired to record all they said. But whether they spoke rightly or wrongly is to be decided by the general teaching of Scripture. No one would say that St. Peter was inspired when he said, “I know not the Man,” in the High Priest’s palace. But the writer of the Gospel was inspired when he wrote it down for our learning. In the Acts of the Apostles the letter of Claudius Lysias was certainly not written by inspiration, and Gamaliel, and the town clerk of Ephesus and Tertullus were not inspired when they made their speeches. But it is equally certain that St. Luke was inspired to write them down and record them in his book.
(g) Some object that St. Paul, in the 7th chapter of the 1st epistle to the Corinthians, when giving certain advice to the Corinthian Church, says at one time, “Not I, but the Lord,” and at another, “I, not the Lord.” And they ask, Does not this show that in part of his advice he was not inspired? – answer, Not at all. A careful study of the chapter will show that when the Apostle says “Not I, but the Lord,” he lays down some principles on which the Lord had spoken already; and when he says “I, not the Lord,” he gives advice on some point about which there had been no revelation hitherto. But there is not the slightest proof that he is not writing all the way through under direct inspiration of God.
(h) Some object that there are many various readings of the words of Scripture, and that we cannot, therefore, feel sure that we have the original inspired Word of God. I answer that the various readings, when fairly examined, will prove to be absurdly exaggerated in number and importance. Dr. Kennicott, Bengel, and others have proved this long ago. No doubt we may have lost a few of the original words. We have no right to expect infallibility in transcribers and copyists, before the invention of printing. But there is not a single doctrine in Scripture which would be affected or altered if all the various readings were allowed, and all the disputed or doubtful words were omitted. Considering how many hands the Bible passed through before printing was invented, and who the transcribers were, it is marvelous that the various readings are so few! The fact that about the immense majority of all the words in the old Hebrew and Greek Scriptures there is no doubt at all, is little short of a miracle, and demands much thanksgiving to God. One thing is very certain. There is no ancient book which has been handed down to us with so good a text and so few various readings as the Bible.
(i) Finally, some object that occasional parts of the Bible are taken out, copied, and extracted from the writings of uninspired men, such as historical chronicles, and pedigrees, and lists of names. Are all these to be regarded as inspired? – I reply that there seems no reason why the Holy Ghost should not direct the Bible writers to use materials made ready to their hands, as well as facts which they had seen themselves, and by so directing them, invested such words as they used with Divine authority. When St. Paul quoted lines from heathen poets he did not mean us to regard them as inspired. But he was taught by God to clothe his ideas in the words which they had used, and by so doing he very likely obtained a favourable reading from many. And when we read such quotations, or read lists of names taken from Jewish chronicles and registers, we need not doubt that Bible writers were taught to use such materials by inspiration of God.
I leave the objections to verbal inspiration at this point, and will detain my readers no longer with them. I will not pretend to deny that the subject has its difficulties, which will probably never be completely solved. I cannot perhaps clear up such difficulties as the mention of ”Jeremy the prophet” in Matthew 27, or reconcile the third and sixth hour in St. John’s and St. Mark’s account of the crucifixion, or explain Stephen’s account of Jacob’s burial in the seventh chapter of Acts, to my own entire satisfaction. But I have no doubt these difficulties can be explained, and perhaps will be some day. These things do not move me. I expect difficulties in such a deep and miraculous matter as inspiration, which I have not eyes to see through. I am content to wait. It was a wise saying of Faraday, that “there are many questions about which it is the highest philosophy to keep our minds in a state of judicious suspense.” It should be a settled rule with us never to give up a great principle, when we have got hold of it, on account of difficulties. Time often makes things clear which at first look dark. The view of inspiration which presents to my own mind the fewest difficulties, is that in which all the words of Scripture, as well as the thoughts, are regarded as inspired. Here I take my stand.
Remember what I have just said. Never give up a great principle in theology on account of difficulties. Wait patiently, and the difficulties may all melt away. Let that be an axiom in your mind. Suffer me to mention an illustration of what I mean. Persons who are conversant with astronomy know that before the discovery of the planet Neptune there were difficulties which greatly troubled the most scientific astronomers, respecting certain aberrations of the planet Uranus. These aberrations puzzled the minds of astronomers; and some of them suggested that they might possibly prove the whole Newtonian system to be untrue. But just at that time a well-known French astronomer, named Leverrier, read before the Academy of Science at Paris a paper, in which he laid down this great axiom, – that it did not become a scientific man to give up a principle because of difficulties which apparently could not be explained. He said in effect, “We cannot explain the aberrations of Uranus now; but we may be sure that the Newtonian system will be proved to be right, sooner or later. Something may be discovered one day which will prove that these aberrations may be accounted for, and yet the Newtonian system remain true and unshaken.” A few years after, the anxious eyes of astronomers discovered the last great planet, Neptune. This planet was shown to be the true cause of all the aberrations of Uranus; and what the French astronomer had laid down as a principle in science was proved to be wise and true. The application of the anecdote is obvious. Let us beware of giving up any first principle in theology. Let us not give up the great principle of plenary verbal inspiration because of apparent difficulties. The day may come when they will all be solved. In the meantime we may rest assured that the difficulties which beset any other theory of inspiration are tenfold greater than any which beset our own.
Let me now conclude this paper with a few words of plain application. Let us lay aside all deep discussion of hard things about the manner of inspiration. Let us take it for granted that, in some way or other, whether we can explain it or not, we hold the Bible to be the Word of God. Let us start from this point. Let my readers give me a hearing, while I say a few things which appear to me to deserve their attention.
1. Is the Bible the Word of God? Then mind that you do not neglect it. Read it: read it! Begin to read it this very day. What greater insult to God can a man be guilty of than to refuse to read the letter God sends him from heaven? Oh, be sure, if you will not read your Bible, you are in fearful danger of losing your soul!
You are in danger, because God will reckon, with you for your neglect of the Bible in the day of judgment. You will have to give account of your use of time, strength, and money; and you will also have to give account of your use of the Word. You will not stand at that bar on the same level, in point of responsibility, with the dweller in central Africa, who never heard of the Bible. Oh, no! To whom much is given, of them much will be required. Of all men’s buried talents, none will weigh them down so heavily as a neglected Bible. As you deal with the Bible, so God will deal with your soul. Will you not repent and turn over a new leaf in life, and read your Bible?
You are in danger, because there is no degree of error in, religion into which you may not fall. You are at the mercy of the first clever Jesuit, Mormonite, Socinian, Turk, or Jew, who may happen to meet you. A land of unwalled villages is not more defenseless against an enemy than a man who neglects his Bible. You may go on tumbling from one step of delusion to another, till at length you are landed in the pit of hell. I say once more, Will you not repent and read your Bible?
You are in danger, because there is not a, single reasonable excuse you can allege for neglecting the Bible. You have no time to read it forsooth! But you can make time for eating, drinking, sleeping, getting money and spending money, and perhaps for newspaper reading and smoking. You might easily make time to read the Word. Alas, it is not want of time, but waste of time that ruins souls! – You find it too troublesome to read, forsooth! You had better say at once it is too much trouble to go to heaven, and you are content to go to hell. Truly these excuses are like the rubbish round the walls of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s days. They would all soon disappear if, like the Jews, you had “a mind to work”. I say for the last time, Will you not repent and read your Bible?
Believe me, believe me, the Bible itself is the best witness of its own inspiration. The men who quibble and make difficulties about inspiration are too often the very men who never read the Scriptures at all. The darkness and hardness and obscurity they profess to complain of are far more often in their own hearts than in the book. Oh, be persuaded! Take it up and begin to read.
2. Is the Bible the Word of God? Then be sure you always read it with deep reverence. Say to your soul, whenever you open the Bible, “O my soul, thou art going to read a message from God.” The sentences of judges, and the speeches of kings, are received with awe and respect. How much more reverence is due to the words of the Judge of judges and King of kings! Avoid, as you would cursing and swearing, that irreverent habit of mind into which some modern divines have unhappily fallen, in speaking about the Bible. They handle the contents of the holy book as carelessly and disrespectfully as if the writers were such men as themselves. They make one think of a child composing a book to expose the fancied ignorance of his own father, – or of a pardoned murderer criticizing the handwriting and style of his own reprieve. Enter rather into the spirit of Moses on Mount Horeb: – “Put thy shoes from off thy feet; the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”
3. Is the Bible the Word of God? Then be sure you never read it without fervent prayer for the help and teaching of the Holy Spirit. Here is the rock on which many make shipwreck. They do not ask for wisdom and instruction, and so they find the Bible dark, and carry nothing away from it. You should pray for the Spirit to guide you into all truth. You should beg the Lord Jesus Christ to “open your understanding,” as He did that of His disciples. The Lord God, by whose inspiration the book was written, keeps the keys of the book, and alone can enable you to understand it profitably. Nine times over in one Psalm does David cry, “Teach me.” Five times over, in the same Psalm, does he say, “Give me understanding.” Well says John Owen, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, “There is a sacred light in the Word: but there is a covering and veil on the eyes of men, so that they, cannot behold it aright. Now, the removal of this veil is the peculiar work of the Holy Spirit.” Humble prayer will throw more light on your Bible than Poole, or Henry, or Scott, or Burkitt, or Bengel, or Alford, or Wordsworth, or Barnes, or Ellicott, or Lightfoot, or any commentary that ever was written.
The Bible is a large book or a small one, a dark or a bright one, according to the spirit in which men read it. Intellect alone will do nothing with it. Wranglers and first-class men will not understand it unless their hearts are right as well as their heads. The highest critical and grammatical knowledge will find it a sealed book without the teaching of the Holy Ghost. Its contents are often “hid to the wise and prudent and revealed to babes.” Remember this, and say always, when you open your Bible, “O God, for Christ’s sake, give me the teaching of the Spirit.”
4. Finally, is the Bible the Word of God? Then let us all resolve from this day forward to prize the Bible more. Let us not fear being idolaters of this blessed book. Men may easily make an idol of the Church, of ministers, of sacraments, or of intellect. Men cannot make an idol of the Word. Let us regard all who would damage the authority of the Bible, or impugn its credit, as spiritual robbers. We are travelling through a wilderness: they rob us of our only guide. We are voyaging over a stormy sea: they rob us of our only compass. We are toiling over a weary road: they pluck our staff out of our hands. And what do these spiritual robbers give us in place of the Bible? What do they offer as a safer guide and better provision for our souls? Nothing! absolutely nothing! Big swelling words! Empty promises of new light! High sounding jargon; but nothing substantial and real! They would fain take from us the bread of life, and they do not give us in its place so much as a stone. Let us turn a deaf ear to them. Let us firmly grasp and prize the Bible more and more, the more it is assaulted.
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. God has given us the Bible to be a light to guide us to everlasting life. Let us not neglect this precious gift. Let us read it diligently, walk in its light, and we shall be saved.
The following quotations about inspiration, from the works of four eminent British theologians, I venture to think deserve attentive perusal. They are valuable in themselves on account of the arguments which they contain. They also supply abundant proof that the high view of verbal inspiration which I advocate in this paper is no modern invention, but an “old path,” in which many of God’s ablest children have walked, and found it a good way.
1. Bishop Jewell, author of the “Apology,” was unquestionably one of the most learned of the English Reformers. Let us hear what he says:—
“St. Paul, speaking of the Word of God, saith, ‘the whole Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable.’ Many think the Apostle’s speech is hardly true of the whole Scripture, – that all and every part of the Scripture is profitable. Much is spoken of genealogies and pedigrees, of lepers, of sacrificing goats and oxen, etc. These seem to have little profit in them: to be idle and vain. If they show vain in thine eyes, yet hath not the Lord set them down in vain. The words of the Lord are pure words, as the silver tried in a furnace of earth refined seven times. There is no sentence, no clause, no word, no syllable, no letter, but it is written for thy instruction: there is not one jot but it is sealed and signed with the blood of the Lamb. Our imaginations are idle, our thoughts are vain: there is no idleness, no vanity, in the Word of God. Those oxen and goats which were sacrificed teach thee to kill the uncleanness and filthiness of thine heart: they teach thee that thou art guilty of death, when thy life must be redeemed by the death of some beast: they lead thee to believe the forgiveness of sins by a more perfect sacrifice, since it was not possible that the blood of bulls or of goats should take away sins. That leprosy teacheth thee the uncleanness and leprosy of thy soul. These genealogies and pedigrees lead us to the birth of our Saviour Christ, so that the whole Word of God is pure and holy. No word, no letter, no syllable, nor point or prick thereof, but is written and preserved for thy sake.” – Jewell on the Holy Scriptures.
2. Richard Hooker, author of the “Ecclesiastical Polity,” is justly respected by all schools of thought in the Church of England as “the judicious Hooker”. Let us hear what he says:—
“Touching the manner how men, by the Spirit of Prophecy in Holy Scripture, have spoken and written of things to come, we must understand, that as the knowledge of that they spake, so likewise the utterance of that they knew, came not by those usual and ordinary means whereby we are brought to understand the mysteries of our salvation, and are wont to instruct others in the same. For whatsoever we know, we have it by the hands and ministry of men, who led us along like children from a letter to a syllable, from a syllable to a word, from a word to a line, from a line to a sentence, from a sentence to a side, and so turn over. But God Himself was their instructor. He Himself taught them, partly by dreams and visions in the night, partly by revelations in the day, taking them aside from amongst their brethren, and talking with them as a man would talk with his neighbours in the way. Thus they became acquainted even with the secret and hidden counsels of God; they saw things which themselves were not able to utter, they beheld that whereat men and angels are astonished, they understood in the beginning what should come to pass in the last days. God, who lightened thus the eyes of their understanding, giving them knowledge by unusual and extraordinary means, did also miraculously Himself frame and fashion their words and writings, insomuch that a greater difference there seemeth not to be between the manner of their knowledge, than there is between the manner of their speech and ours. ‘We have received,’ saith the Apostle, ‘not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are given to us of God: which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost doth teach.’ This is that which the Prophets mean by those books written full within and without; which books were so often delivered them to eat, not because God fed them with ink and paper, but to teach us, that so often as He employed them in this heavenly work, they neither spake nor wrote any word of their own, but uttered syllable by syllable as the Spirit put it in their mouths, no otherwise than the harp or the lute doth give a sound according to the direction of his hands that holdeth it and striketh it with skill.” – Hooker’s Works. Vol. iii, pp. 537, 540.
3. John Owen, Dean of Christ Church. Oxford, was the most learned and argumentative of the Puritans. Let us hear what he says:—
“Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. When the word was thus brought to them it was not left to their own understandings, wisdom, minds, memories, to order, dispose, and give it out; but they were borne, actuated, carried out by the Holy Ghost, to speak, deliver, and write all that, and nothing but that, – to very tittles, – that was so brought unto them. They invented not words themselves, suited to the things they had learned, but only expressed the word that they received. Though their mind and understanding were used in the choice of words (whence arise all the differences in their manner of expression), yet they were so guided that their words were not their own, but immediately supplied unto them. Not only the doctrine they taught was the word of truth, – truth itself, – but the words whereby they taught it were words of truth from God Himself. Thus, allowing the contribution of proper instruments for the reception and representation of words which answer to the mind and tongue of the Prophets in the coming of the voice of God to them, – every apex of the written Word is equally divine, and as immediately from God as the voice wherewith, or whereby, He spake to us in the Prophets ; and is therefore accompanied with the same authority in itself and to us.” – Owen on the Divine Original of the Scripture. Vol. xvi., p. 305.
4. Dr. Chalmers was probably the most intellectual and deep-thinking theologian that intellectual Scotland has ever produced. Let us hear what he says:
(a) “The subject matter of the Bible had to pass through the minds of the selected Prophets and Apostles, and to issue thence in language ere it comes forth in the shape of Scripture upon the world. Now it is here that we meet the advocates of a partial or mitigated inspiration, and would make common cause against one and all of them. There is not one theory short, by however so little, of a thorough and perfect inspiration, – there is not one of them but is chargeable with the consequence, that the subject matter of revelation suffers and is deteriorated in the closing footsteps of its progress; and just before it settles into that ultimate position, where it stands forth to guide and illuminate the world. It existed purely in heaven. It descended purely from heaven to earth. It was deposited purely by the great Agent of revelation in the minds of the Apostles. But then we are told that when but a little way from the final landing place, then, instead of being carried forward purely to the situation where alone the great purpose of the whole movement was to be fulfilled, then was it abandoned to itself, and then were human infirmities permitted to mingle with it, and to mar its luster. Strange, that just when entering on the functions of an authoritative guide and leader to mankind, that then, and not till then, the soil and the feebleness of humanity should be suffered to gather around it. Strange, that, with the inspiration of thoughts, it should make pure ingress into the minds of the Apostles; but wanting the inspiration of words should not make pure egress to that world in whose behalf alone, and for whose admonition alone, this great movement originated in heaven, and terminated in earth. Strange, more especially strange, in the face of the declaration that not unto themselves but unto us they ministered these things, – strange, nevertheless, that this revelation should come in purely to themselves, but to us should come forth impurely, with somewhat, it would appear, with somewhat the taint and the obscuration of human frailty attached to it. – It matters not at what point in the progress of this celestial truth to our world the obscuration has been cast upon it. It comes to us a dim and desecrated thing at last; and man instead of holding converse with God’s unspotted testimony, has an imperfect, a mutilated Bible put into his hands.”
(b) “Such being our views, it is the unavoidable consequence of them that we should hold the Bible, for all the purposes of a revelation, to be perfect in its language, as well as perfect in its doctrine. And for this conclusion it is not necessary that we should arbitrate between the theories of superintendence and suggestion. The superintendence that would barely intercept the progress of error, we altogether discard, – conceiving, that, if this term be applicable to the process of inspiration at all, it must be that efficient superintendence which not only secures that, negatively, there shall be nothing wrong, – but which also secures that, affirmatively, there should at all times have emanated from the sacred penmen, the fittest topics, and these couched in the fittest and most appropriate expression. Whether this has been effected partly by superintendence and partly by suggestion, or wholly by suggestion, we care not. We have no inclination and no taste for these distinctions. Our cause is independent of them; nor can we fully participate in the fears of those alarmists who think that our cause is materially injured by them. The important question with us is not the process of the manufacture, but the qualities of the resulting commodity. The former we hold not to be a relevant, and we are not sure that it is a legitimate inquiry. It is on the latter we take our stand ; and the superabundant testimonies of Scripture on the worth and the perfection and the absolute authority of the Word – these form the strongholds of an argument that goes to establish all which the most rigid advocates for a total and infallible inspiration ought to desire. Our concern is with the work, and not with the workmanship ; nor need we intrude into the mysteries of the hidden operation, if only assured by the explicit testimonies of Scripture that the product of that operation, is, both in substance and expression, a perfect directory of faith and practice. We believe that, in the composition of that record, men not only thought as they were inspired, but spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. But our argument for the absolute perfection of Holy Writ is invulnerably beyond the reach even of those who have attempted to trace with geographical precision the line which separates the miraculous from the natural; and tell us when it was that Apostles wrote the words which the Spirit prompted them, and when it was that they wrote the words which the Spirit permitted them. To the result, in our humble apprehension, it positively matters not. Did they speak the words that the Spirit prompted, – these words were therefore the best. Did they speak the words which the Spirit permitted, – it was because these words were the best. The optimism of the Bible is alike secured in both these ways; and the sanction of the Spirit extended, both in respect of sentiments end of sayings, to every clause of it. In either way, they effectively are the words of the Spirit; and God through the Bible is not presenting truths through the medium of others’ language. He in effect has made it His own language; and God, through the Bible, is speaking to us.”
(c) “It is the part of Christians to rise like a wall of fire around the integrity and inspiration of Scripture; and to hold them as intact and inviolable as if a rampart were thrown around them whose foundations are on earth and whose battlements are in heaven. It is this tampering with limits that destroys and defaces everything; and therefore it is precisely when the limit is broken that the alarm should be sounded. If the battle cry is to be lifted at all, it should be lifted at the outset; and so on the first mingling, by however so slight an infusion, of things human with things divine, all the friends of the Bible should join heart and hand against so foul and fearful a desecration.” – Chalmers’ Christian Evidences, Vol. ii., pp. 371, 372, 375, 376, 396.
1 – Our Souls!
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? – Mark 8:36.
The saying of our Lord Jesus Christ, which stands at the head of this page, ought to ring in our ears like a trumpet blast. It concerns our highest and best interests. It concerns OUR SOULS.
What a solemn question these words of Scripture contain! What a mighty sum of profit and loss they propound to us for calculation! Where is the accountant who could reckon it up? Where is the clever arithmetician who would not be baffled by that sum? – “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
I wish to offer a few plain remarks, to enforce and illustrate the question which the Lord Jesus asks in the passage before us. I invite the serious attention of all who read this volume. May all who take it up feel more deeply than they ever yet felt the value of an immortal soul! It is the first step toward heaven to find out the true worth of our souls.
I. The first remark I have to make is this. Every one of us has an undying soul.
I am not ashamed to begin my paper with these words. I dare say that they sound strange and foolish to some readers. I dare say that some will exclaim, “Who knoweth not such things as these? Who ever thinks of doubting that we have souls?” But I cannot forget that the world is just now fixing its attention on material things to a most extravagant extent. We live in an age of progress, – an age of steam engines and machinery, of locomotion and invention. We live in an age when the multitude are increasingly absorbed in earthly things, – in railways, and docks, and mines, and commerce, and trade, and banks, and shops, and cotton, and corn, and iron, and gold. We live in an age when there is a false glare on the things of time, and a great mist over the things of eternity. In an age like this it is the bounden duty of the ministers of Christ to fall back upon first principles. Necessity is laid upon us. Woe is unto us, if we do not press home on men our Lord’s question about the soul! Woe is unto us, if we do not cry aloud, “The world is not all. The life that we now live in the flesh is not the only life. There is a life to come. We have souls.”
Let us stablish it in our minds as a great fact, that we all carry within our bosoms something that will never die. This body of ours, which takes up so much of our thoughts and time, to warm it, dress it, feed it, and make it comfortable, – this body alone is not all the man. It is but the lodging of a noble tenant, and that tenant is the immortal soul! The death which each of us has one day to die does not make an end of the man. All is not over when the last breath is drawn, and the doctor’s last visit has been paid, – when the coffin is screwed down, and the funeral preparations are made, – when “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” has been pronounced over the grave, – when our place in the world is filled up, and the gap made by our absence from society is no longer noticed. No: all is not over then! The spirit of man still lives on. Every one has within him an undying soul.
I do not stop to prove this. It would be a mere waste of time. There is a conscience in all mankind which is worth a thousand metaphysical arguments. There is a voice within, which speaks out loudly at times, and will be heard, – a voice which tells us, whether we like it or not, that we have, every one of us, an undying soul. What though we cannot see our souls? Are there not millions of things in existence which we cannot see with the naked eye? Who that has looked through the telescope or microscope can doubt that this is the case? What though we cannot see our souls? We can feel them. When we are alone, on the bed of sickness, and the world is shut out, – when we watch by the deathbed of a friend, – when we see those whom we love lowered into the grave, – at times like these, who does not know the feelings which come across men’s minds? Who does not know that in hours like these something rises in the heart, telling us that there is a life to come, and that all, from the highest to the lowest, have undying souls?
You may go all over the world, and take the evidence of every age and time. You will never receive but one answer on this subject. You will find some nations buried in degrading superstition, and mad after idols. You will find others sunk in the darkest ignorance, and utterly unacquainted with the true God. But you will not find a nation or people amongst whom there is not some consciousness that there is a life to come. The deserted temples of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, the Druidical remains of our own native land, the splendid pagodas of Hindustan, the Fetish worship of Africa, the funeral ceremonies of the New Zealand chiefs, the conjurers’ tents among the North American tribes, – all, all speak with the same voice, and tell the same story. Far down in the human heart, beneath the rubbish heaped up by the Fall, there is an inscription which nothing can efface, telling us that this world is not all, and that every one of us has an undying soul.
I do not stop to prove that men have souls, but I do ask every reader of this paper to keep it ever before his mind. Perhaps your lot is cast in the midst of some busy city. You see around you an endless struggle about temporal things. Hurry, bustle, and business hem you in on every side. I can well believe you are sometimes tempted to think that this world is everything, and the body all that is worth caring for. But resist the temptation, and cast it behind you. Say to yourself every morning when you rise, and every night when you lie down, “The fashion of this world passeth away. The life that I now live is not all. There is something beside business, and money, and pleasure, and commerce, and trade. There is a life to come. We have all immortal souls.”
I do not stop to prove the point, but I do ask every reader to realize the dignity and responsibility of having a soul. Yes: realize the fact, that in your soul you have the greatest talent which God has committed to your charge. Know that in your soul you have a pearl above all price, compared to which all earthly possessions are trifles light as air. The horse that wins the Derby or the St. Leger, attracts the attention of thousands: painters paint it, and engravers engrave it, and vast sums of money turn on its achievements. Yet the weakest infant in a working man’s family, is far more important in God’s sight than that horse. The spirit of the beast goeth downwards; but that infant has an immortal soul. – The pictures at our great exhibitions are visited by admiring crowds: people gaze on them with wonder, and talk with rapture of the “immortal works” of Rubens, Titian, and other great masters. But there is no immortality about these things. The earth, and all its works shall be burned up. The little babe that cries in a garret, and knows nothing of fine art, shall outlive all those pictures, for it has a soul which shall never die. – There shall be a time when the Pyramids and the Parthenon shall alike crumble to nothing, – when Windsor Castle and Westminster Abbey shall be cast down and pass away, – when the sun shall cease to shine, and the moon no more give her light. But the soul of the humblest labourer is of far more enduring stuff. It shall survive the crash of an expiring universe, and live on to all eternity. Realize, I say once more, the responsibility and dignity of having a never-dying soul. You may be poor in this world; but you have a soul. You may be sickly and weak in body; but you have a soul. You may not be a king, or a queen, or a duke, or an earl; yet you have a soul. The soul is the part of us which God chiefly regards. The soul is “the man”.
“The guinea’s worth is in the gold,
And not the stamp upon it.”
The soul which is in man is the most important thing about him.
I do not stop to prove that men have souls, but I do ask all men to live as if they believed it. Live as if you really believed that we were not sent into the world merely to spin cotton, and grow corn, and hoard up gold, but to “glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever.” Read your Bible and become acquainted with its contents. Seek the Lord in prayer and pour out your heart before Him. Go to a place of worship regularly and hear the Gospel preached. Keep the Sabbath holy and give God His day. And if any ask you the reason why: if wife, or child, or companion say, “What are you about?” – answer them boldly, like a man, and say, “I do these things because I have a soul.”
II. The Second remark I have to make is this. Any one may lose his own soul.
This is a sorrowful portion of my subject. But it is one which I dare not, cannot pass by. I have no sympathy with those who prophesy nothing but peace, and keep back from men the awful fact that they may lose their souls. I am one of those old-fashioned ministers who believe the whole Bible, – and everything that it contains. I can find no Scriptural foundation for that smooth-spoken theology, which pleases so many in these days, and according to which everybody will get to heaven at last. I believe that there is a real devil. I believe that there is a real hell. I believe that it is not charity to keep back from men that they may be lost. Charity shall I call it? If you saw a brother drinking poison, would you hold your peace? – Charity I shall I call it? If you saw a blind man tottering towards a precipice, would you not cry out “Stop”? Away with such false notions of charity! Let us not slander that blessed grace, by using its name in a false sense. It is the highest charity to bring the whole truth before men. It is real charity to warn them plainly when they are in danger. It is charity to impress upon them, that they may lose their own souls for ever in hell.
Man has about him a wonderful power for evil. Weak as we are in all that is good, we have a mighty power to do ourselves harm. You cannot save that soul of yours, my brother: remember that! You cannot make your own peace with God. You cannot wipe away a single sin. You cannot blot out one of the black records which stand in the book of God against you. You cannot change your own heart. But there is one thing you can do, – you can lose your own soul.
But this is not all. Not only can we all lose our own souls, but we are all in imminent peril of doing it. Born in sin, and children of wrath, we have no natural desire to have our souls saved. Weak, corrupt, inclined to sin, we “call good evil, and evil good.” Dark and blind, and dead in trespasses, we have no eyes to see the pit which yawns beneath our feet, and no sense of our guilt and danger. And yet our souls are all this time in awful peril! If any one were to sail for America in a leaky ship, without compass, without water, without provisions, who does not see that there would be little chance of his crossing the Atlantic in safety? If you were to place the Koh-i-noor diamond in the hands of a little child, and bid him carry it from Tower Hill to Bristol, who does not perceive the doubtfulness of that diamond arriving safely at the end of the journey? Yet these are but faint images of the immense peril in which we stand by nature of losing our souls.
But some one may ask, How can a man lose his soul? There are many answers to that question. Just as there are many diseases which assault and hurt the body, so there are many evils which assault and injure the soul. Yet however numerous the ways in which a man may lose his own soul, they may be classed under three general heads. Let me show briefly what they are.
For one thing, you may murder your soul by running into open sin, and serving lusts and pleasures. Adultery and fornication, drunkenness and reveling, blasphemy and Sabbath-breaking, dishonesty and lying, are all so many shortcuts to perdition. “Let no man deceive you with vain words, for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.” (Ephes. 5:6.)
For another thing, you may poison your own soul by taking up some false religion. You may drug it with traditions of man’s invention, and a round of ceremonies and observances which never came down from heaven. You may lull it to sleep with opiates which stupefy the conscience, but do not heal the heart. Strychnine and arsenic will do their work quite as effectually as the pistol or sword, though with less noise. Let no man deceive you. “Beware of false prophets.” When men commit their souls to blind leaders, both must fall into the ditch. A false religion is quite as ruinous as no religion at all.
For another thing, you may starve your soul to death by trifling and indecision. You may idle through life with a name upon the baptismal register, but not inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life, – with a form of godliness, but without the power. You may trifle on year after year, taking no interest in that which is good, content to sneer at the inconsistencies of professors, and flattering yourself because you are no bigot, or party man, or professor, it will be “all right” with your soul at last. “Let no man deceive you with vain words.” Indecision is just as ruinous to the soul as a false religion or no religion at all. The stream of life can never stand still. Whether you are sleeping or waking, you are floating down that stream. You are coming nearer and nearer to the rapids. You will soon pass over the falls, and, if you die without a decided faith, be cast away to all eternity.
Such then are the three chief ways in which you can lose your soul. Does any one who is reading this paper know which of these ways he is taking? Search and look whether I have touched your own case. Find out whether or not you are losing your soul.
But does it take much trouble to ruin a soul? Oh, no! It is a downhill journey. There is nothing required at your hands. There is no need of exertion. You have only to sit still, and do as others do in the circle in which God’s providence has placed you, – to swim with the tide, to float down the stream, to go with the crowd, – and by and by the time of mercy will be past for evermore! “Wide is the gate that leadeth to destruction.”
But are there many, you will ask, who are losing their souls? Yes, indeed there are! Look not at the inscriptions and epitaphs on tombstones if you would find the true answer to that question! As Dr. Watts says, they are “Taught to flatter and to lie.” All men are thought respectable and “good sort of people” as soon as they are dead. But look at the Word of God, and mark well what it says. The Lord Jesus Christ declares, “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it: – broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat.” (Matt. 7:13, 14.)
But who is responsible for the loss of our souls? No one but ourselves. Our blood will be upon our own heads. The blame will lie at our own door. We shall have nothing to plead at the last day, when we stand before the great white throne and the books are opened. When the King comes in to see His guests, and says, “ Friend, how camest thou in, not having a wedding garment?” we shall be speechless. We shall have no excuse to plead for the loss of our souls.
But where does the soul go to when lost? There is only one solemn answer to that question. There is but one place to which it can go, and that is hell. There is no such thing as annihilation. The lost soul goes to that place where the worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched, – where there is blackness and darkness, wretchedness and despair for ever. It goes to hell, – the only place for which it is meet, – since it is not meet for heaven. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, with all the nations that Forget God.” “The end of those things is death!” (Rom. 6:21.)
Let me say plainly that we ministers are full of fears about many who profess and call themselves Christians. We fear lest they should lose at last their precious souls. We fear lest that arch-impostor, Satan, should cheat them out of salvation, and lead them captive at his will. We fear lest they should wake up in eternity, and find themselves lost for evermore! We fear, because we see so many living in sinful habits, so many resting in forms and ceremonies which God never commanded, so many trifling with all religion whatsoever, so many, in short, ruining their own souls. We see these things, and are afraid.
It is just because I feel that souls are in danger that I write this paper, and invite men to read it. If I thought there was no such place as hell I would not write as I do. If I thought that as a matter of course all people would go to heaven at last, I would hold my peace and leave them alone. But I dare not do so. I see danger ahead, and I would fain warn every man to flee from the wrath to come. I see peril of shipwreck, and I would light a beacon and entreat every man to seek the harbour of safety. Do not despise my warning. Examine your own heart: find out whether you are in a way to be lost or saved. Search and see how matters stand between yourself and God: do not commit the enormous folly of losing your own soul. We live in an age of great temptation. The devil is going about and is very busy. The night is far spent. The time is short. Do not lose your own soul.
III. The Third remark which I desire to make is this. The loss of any man’s soul is the heaviest loss which he can suffer.
I feel unable to set forth this point as I ought. No living man can show the full extent of the loss of the soul. No one can paint that loss in its true colours. No: we shall never understand it till we have passed through the valley of the shadow of death, and wake up in another world! Never till then shall we know the value of an immortal soul.
I might say that nothing can make up for the loss of the soul in the life which now is. You may have all the riches of the world, – all the gold of Australia and of California, all the honours which your country can bestow upon you. You may be the owner of half a county. You may be one whom kings delight to honour, and nations gaze upon with admiration. But all this time, if you are losing your soul, you are a poor man in the sight of God. Your honours are but for a few years. Your riches must be left at last. “Naked came we into the world, and naked must we go out.” No light heart, no cheerful conscience, will you have in life, unless your soul is saved. Of all your money or broad acres, you will carry nothing with you when you die. A few feet of earth will suffice to cover that body of yours when life is over. And then, if your soul be lost, you will find yourself a pauper to all eternity. Verily it shall profit a man nothing to gain the whole world if he lose his own soul.
I might say that when the soul is lost it is a loss that cannot be retrieved. Once lost, it is lost for evermore. The loss of property may be retrieved in this world. The loss of health and character are not always irreparable. But no man who has once drawn his last breath can ever retrieve his lost soul. Scripture reveals to us no purgatory beyond the grave. Scripture teaches us that, once lost, we are lost for ever. Verily a man will find that there is nothing he can give to buy back and redeem his soul.
But I feel deeply that arguments like these fall far below the level of the subject. The time is not yet come when we shall fully realize what a soul is worth. We must look far forward. We must place ourselves in imagination in a different position from that which we now occupy, before we shall form a right estimate of the thing we are considering. The blind man cannot understand beautiful scenery. The deaf man cannot appreciate fine music. The living man cannot fully realize the amazing importance of a world to come.
Does any reader of this paper wish to have some faint idea of the value of a soul? Then go and measure it by the opinions of dying people. The solemnity of the closing scene strips off the tinsel and pretence of things, and makes men see them as they really are. What would men do then for their souls? I have seen something of this, as a Christian minister. Seldom, very seldom, have I found people careless, thoughtless, and indifferent about the world to come, in the hour of death. The man who can tell good stories, and sing good songs to merry companions, turns very grave when he begins to feel that life is leaving his body. The boasting infidel at such a season has often cast aside his infidelity. Men like Paine and Voltaire have often shown that their vaunted philosophy breaks down when the grave is in sight. Tell me not what a man thinks about the soul when he is in the fullness of health; tell me rather what he thinks when the world is sinking beneath him, and death, judgment, and eternity loom in sight. The great realities of our being will then demand attention, and must be considered. The value of the soul in the light of time is one thing, but seen in the light of eternity it is quite another. Never does living man know the value of the soul so well as when he is dying, and can keep the world no longer.
Does any one wish to have a still clearer idea of the soul’s value? Then go and measure it by the opinions of the dead. Read in the sixteenth chapter of St. Luke the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. When the rich man awoke in hell and in torments, what did he say to Abraham? “Send Lazarus to my father’s house: – For I have five brethren, – that he may testify to them, – lest they also come to this place of torment.” That rich man probably thought little or nothing of the souls of others while be lived upon the earth. Once dead and in the place of torment, he sees things in their true colours. Then he thinks of his brethren, and begins to care for their salvation. Then he cries, “Send Lazarus to my father’s house. I have five brethren. Let him testify unto them.” If that wonderful parable did nothing else, it would teach us what men think when they awake in the next world. It lifts a corner of the veil which hangs over the world to come, and gives us a glimpse of what dead men think of the value of the soul.
Does any one wish to have the clearest idea that can be given of the soul’s value? Then go and measure it by the price which was paid for it 1800 years ago. What an enormous and countless price it was which was paid! No gold, no silver, no diamonds were found sufficient to provide redemption: no angel in heaven was able to bring a ransom. Nothing but the blood of Christ, – nothing but the death of the eternal Son of God upon the cross, was found sufficient to buy for the soul deliverance from hell. Go to Calvary in spirit, and consider what took place there, when the Lord Jesus died. See the blessed Saviour suffering on the cross. Mark what happens there when He dies. See how there was darkness for three hours over the face of the earth. The earth quakes. The rocks are rent. The graves are opened. Listen to His dying words: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” Then see in all that marvelous transaction something which may give you an idea of the value of the soul. In that awful scene we witness payment of the only price which was found sufficient to redeem men’s souls.
We shall all understand the value of the soul one day, if we do not understand it now. God grant that no one who reads this paper may understand it too late. – A lunatic asylum is a pitiable sight. It wrings the heart to see in that gloomy building some man, who had once a princely fortune, but has squandered it, and brought himself to hopeless insanity by drunkenness. – A shipwreck is a pitiable sight. It makes one melancholy to see some gallant vessel, which once “walked the water like a thing of life,” stranded on a rocky shore, with a drowned crew and a scattered cargo lying round her on the beach. But of all sights that can affect the eye and grieve the heart, I know none so pitiable as the sight of a man ruining his own soul. No wonder that Jesus wept when He drew nigh unto Jerusalem for the last time. It is written, that “He beheld the city and wept over it!” (Luke 19:41) He knew the value of souls, if the Scribes and Pharisees did not. We may learn from those tears of His, – if from nothing else, – the value of man’s soul, and the amount of loss which he will sustain if that soul is cast away.
I charge every reader of this paper, while it is called today, to open his eyes to the worth of his soul. Rise to a sense of the awfulness of losing a soul. Strive to know the real preciousness of that mighty treasure committed to your charge. The value of all things will change greatly one day. The hour cometh when banknotes shall be worth no more than waste paper, and gold and diamonds shall be as the dust of the streets, – when the palace of the peer and the cottage of the peasant shall both alike fall to the ground, – when stocks and funds shall be all unsaleable, and grace and faith and good hope be no longer underrated and despised. In that hour you will find out, in a way you never found out before, the value of the immortal soul. Soul-loss will then be seen to be the greatest of losses, and soul-gain the greatest of gains. Seek to know the value of the soul now. Do not be like the Egyptian Queen, who, in foolish ostentation, took a pearl of great value, dissolved it in acid, and then drank it off. Do not, like her, cast away the “pearl of great price,” which God has committed to your charge. Once lost, no loss can compare with the loss of the soul.
IV. The Fourth and last remark I have to make is this. Any man’s soul may be saved.
I bless God that the Gospel of Christ enables me to proclaim these glad tidings, and to proclaim them freely and unconditionally to every one who reads these pages. I bless God, that after all the solemn things I have been saying, I can wind up with a message of peace. I could not bear the awful responsibility of telling men that everyone has a soul, – that any one may lose his soul, – that the loss of the soul is a loss for which nothing can make up, – if I could not also proclaim that any man’s soul may be saved.
I think it possible that this proclamation may sound startling to some readers of this paper. I remember the time when it would have sounded startling to me. But I am persuaded that it is neither more nor less than the voice of the everlasting Gospel, and I am not ashamed to make it known to all who have an ear to hear. I say boldly, that there is salvation in the Gospel for the chief of sinners. I say confidently, that any one and every one may have his soul saved!
I know that we are all sinners by nature, – fallen, guilty, corrupt, covered with sin. I know that the God with whom we have to do is a most holy Being, of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and One who cannot look upon that which is evil. I know also that the world in which our lot is cast, is a hard world for religion. It is a world full of cares and troubles, of unbelief and impurity, of opposition and hatred to God. It is a world in which religion is like an exotic, – a world which has an atmosphere that makes religion wither away. But, notwithstanding all this, hard as this world is, holy as God is, sinful as we are by nature, – I say, that any one and every one may be saved. Any man or woman may be saved from the guilt, the power, the consequences of sin, and be found at length at the right hand of God in everlasting glory.
I fancy I hear some reader exclaim, “How can these things be?” No wonder that you ask that question. This is the great knot which heathen philosophers could never untie. This is the problem which all the sages of Greece and of Rome could not solve. This is the question which nothing can answer but the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. That answer of the Gospel I now desire to place before you.
I proclaim then, with all confidence, that any one’s soul may be saved, (1) because Christ has once died. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has died upon the cross to make atonement for men’s sins. “Christ has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” (1 Pet. 3:18) Christ has borne our sins in His own body on the tree, and allowed the curse we all deserved to fall on His head. Christ by His death has made satisfaction to the holy law of God which we have broken. That death was no common death: it was no mere example of self-denial; it was no mere death of a martyr, such as were the deaths of a Ridley, a Latimer, or a Crammer. The death of Christ was a sacrifice and propitiation for the sin of the whole world. It was the vicarious death of an Almighty Substitute, Surety, and Representative of the sons of men. It paid our enormous debt to God. It opened up the way to heaven to all believers. It provided a fountain for all sin and uncleanness. It enabled God to be just, and yet to be the justifier of the ungodly. It purchased reconciliation with Him. It procured perfect peace with God for all who come to Him by Jesus. The prison doors were set open when Jesus died. Liberty was proclaimed to all who feel the bondage of sin, and desire to be free.
For whom, do you suppose, was all that suffering undergone, which Jesus endured at Calvary? Why was the holy Son of God dealt with as a malefactor, reckoned a transgressor, and condemned to so cruel a death? For whom were those hands and feet nailed to the cross? For whom was that side pierced with the spear? For whom did that precious blood flow so freely down? Wherefore was all this done? It was done for you! It was done for the sinful, – for the ungodly! It was done freely, voluntarily, – not by compulsion, – out of love to sinners, and to make atonement for sin. Surely, then, as Christ died for the ungodly, I have a right to proclaim that any one may be saved.
Furthermore, I proclaim with all confidence, that any one may be saved, (2) because Christ still lives. That same Jesus who once died for sinners, still lives at the right hand of God, to carry on the work of salvation which He came down from heaven to perform. He lives to receive all who come unto God by Him, and to give them power to become the sons of God. He lives to hear the confession of every heavy-laden conscience, and to grant, as an almighty High Priest, perfect absolution. He lives to pour down the Spirit of adoption on all who believe in Him, and to enable them to cry, Abba, Father! He lives to be the one Mediator between God and man, the unwearied Intercessor, the kind Shepherd, the elder Brother, the prevailing Advocate, the never-failing Priest and Friend of all who come to God by Him. He lives to be wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption to all His people, – to keep them in life, to support them in death, and to bring them finally to eternal glory.
For whom, do you suppose, is Jesus sitting at God’s right hand? It is for the sons of men. High in heaven, and surrounded by unspeakable glory, He still cares for that mighty work which He undertook when He was born in the manger of Bethlehem. He is not one whit altered. He is always in one mind. He is the same that He was when He walked the shores of the sea of Galilee He is the same that He was when He pardoned Saul the Pharisee, and sent him forth to preach the faith he had once destroyed. He is the same that He was when He received Mary Magdalene, – called Matthew the publican, – brought Zacchaeus down from the tree, and made them examples of what His grace could do. And He is not changed. He is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever. Surely I have a right to say that any one may be saved, since Jesus lives.
Once more I proclaim, with all confidence, that any one may be saved, (3) because the promises of Christ’s gospel are full, free, and unconditional. “Come unto Me,” says the Saviour, “all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” – “He that believeth on the Son shall not perish, but have eternal life.” – “He that believeth on Him is not condemned.” – “Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out.” – “Every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him may have everlasting life.” – “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life.” – “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.” “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.” (Matt. 11:28, John 3:15, 18; 6:37, 40, 47; 7:37; Rev. 22:17)
For whom, do you suppose, were these words spoken ? Were they meant for the Jews only ? No : for the Gentiles also !—Were they meant for people in old times only ? No : for people in every age !—Were they meant for Palestine and Syria only ? No : for the whole world, —for every name and nation and people and tongue !Were they meant for the rich only ? No : for the poor as well as for the rich !—Were they meant for the very moral and correct only ? No : they were meant for all,—for the chief of sinners,—for the vilest of offenders,—for all who will receive them ! Surely when I call to mind these promises, I have a right to say that any one and every one may be saved. Any one who reads these words, and is not saved, can never blame the Gospel. If you are lost, it is not because you could not be saved. If you are lost, it is not because there was no pardon for sinners, no Mediator, no High Priest, no fountain open for sin and for uncleanness, no open door. It is because you would have your own way, because’ you would cleave to your sins, because you would not come to Christ, that in Christ you might have life.
I make no secret of my object in sending forth this volume. My heart’s desire and prayer to God for you is, that your soul may be saved. This is the grand object for which every faithful minister is ordained. This is the end for which we preach, and speak, and write. We want souls to be saved. They know not what they say, who charge us with worldly motives, and tell us we only wish to advance our order, and promote priest-craft. We know nothing of such feelings. May God forgive those who lay these things to our charge! We labour for higher objects. We want souls to be saved! We love the Church of England: we feel deep affection for her Prayer book, her Articles, her Homilies, her Forms for the Worship of God. But one thing we feel even more deeply, – we want souls to be saved. We desire to pluck some brands from the burning. We desire to be the honoured instruments in the hand of God of leading some souls to a knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord.
And now I will conclude this paper by three words of affectionate application, which I heartily pray God to bless to the spiritual good of many souls. I know not into whose hands these pages may fall. I draw my bow at a venture. I can only pray God that He may send an arrow home to some consciences, and that many who read this volume may lay it down smiting upon their breasts and saying, “What must I do to be saved?”
(1) My first word of application shall be a word of affectionate warning. That word of warning is short and simple, – Do not neglect your own soul.
I have little doubt that this volume will fall into the hands of some who are often tried with anxiety about the things of this life. You are “careful and troubled about many things.” You seem to live in a constant whirl of business, hurry, and trouble. You see around you thousands who care for nothing but what they shall eat, and what they shall drink, and what they shall put on. You are often sorely tempted to think it is no use to try to have any religion. I say to you, in God’s name, Resist the temptation. It comes from the devil. I say to you, Never forget the one thing needful! Never forget your immortal soul!
You may tell me, perhaps, that the times are hard. They may be hard; but it is my duty to remind you that time is short, and will be soon changed for eternity. You may tell me that you must live; but it is my duty to remind you that you must also die, and be ready to meet your God. What should we think of a man who in time of famine fed his dog and starved his child? Should we not say that he was a heartless and unnatural father? Well: take heed that you do not do something like this yourself. Do not forget your soul in your anxiety for your body. Do not, in your concern about the life that now is, forget that which is to come. Do not neglect your soul!
Whatever you may have been in time past, I beseech you for time to come to live as one who feels that he has an immortal soul! Lay down this book with a holy determination, by God’s help, to “cease to do evil, and learn to do well.” Do not be ashamed, from this time forward, to care about your soul’s interests. Do not be ashamed to read your Bible, to pray, to keep the Sabbath holy, and to hear the Gospel preached. Of sin and ungodliness you may well be ashamed. You never need be ashamed of caring for your soul. Let others laugh if they will: they will not laugh at you one day. Take it patiently. Bear it quietly. Tell them you have made up your mind, and do not mean to alter. Tell them that you have learned one thing, if nothing else, and that is that you have a precious soul. And tell them you have resolved that, come what will, you will no longer neglect that soul.
(2) My second word of application shall be an affectionate invitation to all who desire their souls to be saved. I invite every reader of this paper who feels the value of his soul, and desires salvation, to come to Christ without delay, and be saved. I invite him to come to Christ by faith, and commit his soul to Him, that he may be delivered from the guilt, the power, and the consequences of sin.
My tongue is not able to tell, and my mind is too weak to explain, the whole extent of God’s love towards sinners, and of Christ’s willingness to receive and save souls. You are not straitened in Christ, but in yourself. You mistake greatly if you doubt Christ’s readiness to save. I know there are no obstacles between that soul of yours and eternal life, except your own will. “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” (Luke 15:10) You may have heard something of the wonders of the choruses at the Crystal Palace concerts. But what is all that burst of harmony in the “Hallelujah Chorus,” to the outburst of joy which is heard in heaven when a soul turns from darkness to light? What is it all but a mere whisper, compared to the “joy of angels” over one sinner taught to see the folly of sin, and to seek Christ? Oh, come and add to that joy without delay!
If you love life, I beseech you to lay hold on Christ at once, that your soul may be saved. Why not do it today? Why not this day join yourself to the Lord Jesus in an everlasting covenant which cannot be broken? Why not resolve, before tomorrow’s sun dawns, to turn from the service of sin, and turn to Christ? Why not go to Christ this very day, and cast your soul on Him, with all its sins and all its unbelief, with all its doubts and all its fears? – Are you poor? Seek treasure in heaven and be rich. – Are you old? Hasten, hasten to be ready for your end, and prepare to meet your God. – Are you young? Begin well, and seek in Christ a never-failing friend, who will never forsake you. – Are you in trouble, careful about this life? Seek Him who alone can help you and bear your burdens: seek Him who will never disappoint you. When others turn their backs upon you, then will Jesus Christ the Lord take you up. – Are you a sinner, a great sinner, a sinner of the worst description? It shall all be remembered no more if you only come to Christ: His blood shall cleanse all sin away. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow.
Go then, and cry to the Lord Jesus Christ. Think of the value of your soul, and think of the one way of salvation. Call on the Lord in earnest prayer. Do as the penitent thief did: pour out your heart before Him: cry, “Lord remember me, even me.” Tell him you come to Him, because you have heard that He “receives sinners,” and because you are a sinner and want to be saved. Tell Him the whole story of your past life. Tell Him, if you will, that you have been an unbeliever, a profligate, a Sabbath-breaker, a godless, reckless, ill-tempered man. He will not despise you. He will not cast you out. He will not turn His back upon you. He never breaks the bruised reed, or quenches the smoking flax. No man ever came to Him and was cast out. Oh, come to Christ, and your soul shall live!
(3) My last word of application shall be an affectionate exhortation, to every reader of this paper who has found out the value of his soul, and believed in Jesus Christ. That exhortation shall be short and simple. I beseech you to cleave to the Lord with all your heart, and to press towards the mark for the prize of your high calling.
I can well conceive that you find your way very narrow. There are few with you and many against you. Your lot in life may seem hard, and your position may be difficult. But still cleave to the Lord, and He will never forsake you. Cleave to the Lord in the midst of persecution. Cleave to the Lord, though men laugh at you and mock you, and try to make you ashamed. Cleave to the Lord, though the cross be heavy and the fight be hard. He was not ashamed of you upon the Cross of Calvary: then do not be ashamed of Him upon earth, lest He should be ashamed of you before His Father who is in heaven. Cleave to the Lord, and Ire will never forsake you. In this world there are plenty of disappointments, – disappointments in properties, and families, and houses, and lands, and situations. But no man ever yet was disappointed in Christ. No man ever failed to find Christ all that the Bible says He is, and a thousand times better than he had been told before.
Look forward, look onward and forward to the end! Your best things are yet to come. Time is short. The end is drawing near. The latter days of the world are upon us. Fight the good fight. Labour on. Work on. Strive on. Pray on. Read on. Labour hard for your own soul’s prosperity. Labour hard for the prosperity of the souls of others. Strive to bring a few more with you to heaven, and by all means to save some. Do something, by God’s help, to make heaven more full and hell more empty. Speak to that young man by your side, and to that old person who lives near to your house. Speak to that neighbour who never goes to a place of worship. Speak to that relative who never reads the Bible in private, and makes a jest of serious religion. Entreat them all to think about their souls. Beg them to go and hear something on Sundays which will be for their good unto everlasting life. Try to persuade them to live, not like the beasts which perish, but like men who desire to be saved. Great is your reward in heaven, if you try to do good to souls. Great is the reward of all who confess Christ before the sons of men. The honours of this world will soon be at an end for ever. The rewards which our gracious Queen bestows are only enjoyed for a few short years. The “Victoria Cross” will not be long worn by those brave soldiers who won it so gallantly and deserve it so richly. The place that knows them now shall soon know them no more: a few more years and they will be gathered to their fathers. But the crown which Christ gives never fades. Seek that crown, my believing reader. Labour for that crown. It will make amends for all that you have to pass through in this troublous world. The rewards of Christ’s soldiers are for evermore. Their home is eternal. Their glory never comes to an end.
3 – Few Saved!
“Are there few that be saved?” – Luke 13:23.
I take it for granted that every reader of this paper calls himself a Christian. You would not like to be reckoned a deist, or an infidel. You profess to believe the Bible to be true. The birth of Christ the Saviour, – the death of Christ the Saviour, – the salvation provided by Christ the Saviour, – all these are facts which you have probably never doubted. But, after all, will Christianity like this profit you anything at last? Will it do your soul any good when you die? In one word, – Shall you be saved?
It may be you are now young, healthy and strong. Perhaps you never had a day’s illness in your life, and scarcely know what it is to feel weakness and pain. You scheme and plan for future years, and feel as if death was far away, and out of sight. Yet, remember, death sometimes cuts off young people in the flower of their days. The strong and healthy of the family do not always live the longest. Your sun may go down before your life has reached its midday. Yet a little while, and you may be lying in a narrow, silent home, and the daisies may be growing over your grave. And then, consider, – Shall you be saved?
It may be you are rich and prosperous in this world. You have money, and all that money can command. You have “honour, love, obedience, troops of friends.” But remember, “riches are not for ever.” You cannot keep them longer than a few years. “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.” (Prov. 27:24, Heb. 9:27) And then, consider, – Shall you be saved?
It may be you are poor and needy. You have scarcely enough to provide food and raiment for yourself and family. You are often distressed for want of comforts, which you have no power to get. Like Lazarus, you seem to have “evil things” only, and not good. But nevertheless, you take comfort in the thought that there will be an end of all this. There is a world to come, where poverty and want shall be unknown. Yet, consider a moment, – Shall you be saved?
It may be you have a weak and sickly body. You hardly know what it is to be free from pain. You have so long parted company with health, that you have almost forgotten what it is like. You have often said in the morning, “Would God it were evening,” – and in the evening, “Would God it were morning.” There are days when you are tempted by very weariness to cry out with Jonah, “It is better for the to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:3) But remember, death is not all. There is something else beyond the grave. And then, consider, – Shall you be saved?
If it was an easy thing to be saved, I would not write as I do in this volume. But is it so? Let us see.
If the common opinion of the world as to the number of the saved was correct, I would not trouble men with searching and hard questions. But is it so? Let us see.
If God had never spoken plainly in the Bible about the number of the saved, I might well be silent. But is it so? Let us see.
If experience and facts left it doubtful whether many or few would be saved, I might hold my peace. But is it so? Let us see.
There are four points which I propose to examine in considering the subject before us.
I. Let me explain what it is to be saved.
II. Let me point out the mistakes which are common in the world about the number of the saved.
III. Let me show what the Bible says about the number of the saved.
IV. Let me bring forward some plain facts as to the number of the saved.
A calm examination of these four points, in a day of widespread carelessness about vital religion, will be found of vast importance to our souls.
I. First of all let me explain what it is to be saved.
This is a matter that must be cleared up. Till we know this, we shall make no progress. By being “saved” I may mean one thing, and you may mean another. Let me show you what the Bible says it is to be “saved,” and then there will be no misunderstanding.
To be saved, is not merely to profess and call ourselves Christians. We may have all the outward parts of Christianity, and yet be lost after all. We may be baptized into Christ’s Church, – go to Christ’s table, – have Christian knowledge, – be reckoned Christian men and women – and yet be dead souls all our lives, – and at last, in the judgment day, be found on Christ’s left hand, among the goats. No: this is not salvation! Salvation is something far higher and deeper than this. Now what is it?
(a) To be saved, is to be delivered in this present life from the guilt of sin, by faith in Jesus Christ, the Saviour. It is to be pardoned, justified, and freed from every charge of sin, by faith in Christ’s blood and mediation. Whosoever with his heart believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, is a saved soul. He shall not perish. He shall have eternal life. This is the first part of salvation, and the root of all the rest. But this is not all.
(b) To be saved, is to be delivered in this present life from the power of sin, by being born again, and sanctified by Christ’s spirit. It is to be freed from the hateful dominion of sin, the world, and the devil, by having a new nature put in us by the Holy Ghost. Whosoever is thus renewed in the spirit of his mind, and converted, is a saved soul. He shall not perish. He shall enter into the glorious kingdom of God. This is the second part of salvation. But this is not all.
(c) To be saved, is to be delivered in the day of judgment, from all the awful consequences of sin. It is to be declared blameless, spotless, faultless, and complete in Christ, while others are found guilty, and condemned for ever. It is to hear those comfortable words, – “Come, ye blessed!” while others are hearing those fearful words, – “Depart, ye cursed!” (Matt. 25:34, 41) It is to be owned and confessed by Christ, as one of His dear children and servants, while others are disowned and cast off for ever. It is to be pronounced free from the portion of the wicked, – the worm that never dies, – the fire that is not quenched, – the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, that never ends. It is to receive the reward prepared for the righteous, in the day of Christ’s second coming; – the glorious body, – the kingdom that is incorruptible, – the crown that fadeth not away, – and the joy that is for evermore. This is complete salvation. This is the “redemption” for which true Christians are bid to look and long. (Luke 21:28) This is the heritage of all men and women who believe and are born again. By faith they are saved already. In the eye of God their final salvation is an absolutely certain thing. Their names are in the book of life. Their mansions in heaven are even now prepared. But still there is a fullness of redemption and salvation which they do not attain to while they are in the body. They are saved from the guilt and power of sin; – but not from the necessity of watching and praying against it. They are saved from the fear and love of the world; – but not from the necessity of daily fighting with it. They are saved from the service of the devil; – but they are not saved from being vexed by his temptations. But when Christ comes the salvation of believers shall be complete. They possess it already in the bud. They shall see it then in the flower.
Such is salvation. It is to be saved from the guilt, power, and consequences of sin. It is to believe and be sanctified now, and to be delivered from the wrath of God in the last day. He that has the first part in the life that now is, shall undoubtedly have the second part in the life to come. Both parts of it hang together. What God has joined together, let no man dare to put asunder. Let none dream he shall ever be saved at last, if he is not born again first. Let none doubt, if he is born again here, that he shall assuredly be saved hereafter.
Let it never be forgotten that the chief object of a minister of the Gospel is to set forward the salvation of souls. I lay it down as a certain fact that he is no true minister who does not feel this. Talk not of a man’s orders. All may have been done correctly, and according to rule. He may wear a black coat, and be called a “reverend” man. But if the saving of souls is not the grand interest – the ruling passion – the absorbing thought of his heart, – he is no true minister of the Gospel: he is a hireling, and not a shepherd. Congregations may have called him, – but he is not called by the Holy Ghost. Bishops may have ordained him, – but not Christ.
For what purpose do men suppose that ministers are sent forth? Is it merely to wear a surplice, – and read the services, – and preach a certain number of sermons? Is it merely to administer the sacraments, and officiate at weddings and funerals? Is it merely to get a comfortable living, and be in a respectable profession? No, indeed! we are sent forth for other ends than these. We are sent to turn men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. We are sent to persuade men to flee from the wrath to come. We are sent to draw men from the service of the world to the service of God, – to awaken the sleeping, – to arouse the careless, – and “by all means to save some.” (1 Cor. 9:22)
Think not that all is done when we have set up regular services, and persuaded people to attend them. Think not that all is done, when full congregations are gathered, and the Lord’s table is crowded, and the parish school is filled. We want to see manifest work of the Spirit among people, – an evident sense of sin, – a lively faith in Christ, – a decided change of heart, – a distinct separation from the world, – a holy walk with God. In one word, we want to see souls saved; and we are fools and impostors, – blind leaders of the blind, – if we rest satisfied with anything less.
After all the grand object of having a religion is to be saved. This is the great question that we have to settle with our consciences. The matter for our consideration is not whether we go to church or chapel, – whether we go through certain forms and ceremonies, – whether we observe certain days, and perform a certain number of religious duties. The matter is whether, after all, we shall be “saved”. Without this all our religious doings are weariness and labour in vain.
Never, never let us be content with anything short of a saving religion. Surely to be satisfied with a religion which neither gives peace in life, nor hope in death, nor glory in the world to come, is childish folly.
II. Let me, in the second place, point out the mistakes which are common in the world about the number of the saved.
I need not go far for evidence on this subject. I will speak of things which every man may see with his own eyes, and hear with his own ears.
I will try to show that there is a wide-spread delusion abroad about this matter, and that this very delusion is one of the greatest dangers to which our souls are exposed.
(a) What then do men generally think about the spiritual state of others while they are alive? What do they think of the souls of their relations, and friends, and neighbours, and acquaintances? Let us just see how that question can be answered.
They know that all around them are going to die, and to be judged. They know that they have souls to be lost or saved. And what, to all appearance, do they consider their end is likely to be?
Do they think those around them are in danger of hell? There is nothing whatever to show they think so. They eat and drink together; they laugh, and talk, and walk, and work together. They seldom or never speak to one another of God and eternity, – of heaven and of hell. I ask any one, who knows the world, as in the sight of God, is it not so?
Will they allow that anybody is wicked or ungodly? Never, hardly, whatever may be his way of life. He may be a breaker of the Sabbath; he may be a neglecter of the Bible; he may be utterly without evidence of true religion. No matter! His friends will often tell you, that he may not make so much profession as some, but that he has a “good heart” at the bottom, and is not a wicked man. I ask any one, who knows the world, as in God’s sight, is it not so?
And what does all this prove? It proves that men flatter themselves there is no great difficulty in getting to heaven. It proves plainly that men are of opinion that most persons will be saved.
(b) But what do men generally think about the spiritual state of others after they are dead?..Let us just see how this question can be answered.
Men allow, if they are not infidels, that all who die have gone to a place of happiness, or of misery. And to which of these two places do they seem to think the greater part of persons go, when they leave this world?
I say, without fear of contradiction, that there is an unhappily common fashion of speaking well of the condition of all who have departed this life. It matters little, apparently, how a man has behaved while he lived. He. may have given no signs of repentance, or faith in Christ; he may have been ignorant of the plan of salvation set forth in the Gospel; he may have shown no evidence whatever of conversion or sanctification; he may have lived and died like a creature without a soul. And yet, as soon as this man is dead, people will dare to say that he is “probably happier than ever he was in his life.” They will tell you complacently, they “hope he is gone to a better world.” They will shake their heads gravely, and say they “hope he is in heaven.” They will follow him to the grave without fear and trembling, and speak of his death afterwards as “a blessed change for him.” They may have disliked him, and thought him a bad man while he was alive; but the moment he is dead they turn round in their opinions and say they trust he is gone to heaven! I have no wish to hurt any one’s feelings. I only ask any one, who knows the world, – Is it not true?
And what does it all prove? It just supplies one more awful proof that men are determined to believe it is an easy business to get to heaven. Men will have it that most persons are saved.
(c) But again, what do men generally think of ministers who preach fully the doctrines of the New Testament? Let us see how this question can be answered.
Send a clergyman into a parish who shall “declare all the counsel of God,” and “keep back nothing that is profitable.” Let him be one who shall clearly proclaim justification by faith, – regeneration by the Spirit, – and holiness of life. Let him be one who shall draw the line distinctly between the converted and the unconverted, and give both to sinners and to saints their portion. Let him frequently produce out of the New Testament a plain, unanswerable description of the true Christian’s character. Let him show that no man who does not possess that character can have any reasonable hope of being saved. Let him constantly press that description on the consciences of his hearers, and urge upon them repeatedly that every soul who dies without that character will be lost. Let him do this, ably and affectionately, and after all, what will the result be?
The result will be, that while some few repent and are saved, the great majority of his hearers will not receive and believe his doctrine. They may not oppose him publicly. They may even esteem him, and respect him as an earnest, sincere, kindhearted man, who means well. But they will go no further. He may show them the express words of Christ and His Apostles; he may quote text upon text, and passage upon passage: it will be to no purpose. The great majority of his hearers will think him “too strict,” and “too close,” and “too particular”. They will say among themselves, that the world is not so bad as the minister seems to think, – and that people cannot be so good as the minister wants them to be, – and that after all, they hope they shall be all right at the last! I appeal to any minister of the Gospel, who has been any length of time in the ministry, whether I am not stating the truth. Are not these things so?
And what does it prove? It just makes one more proof that men generally are resolved to think that salvation is not a very hard business, and that after all most people will be saved.
Now what solid reason can men show us for these common opinions? Upon what Scripture do they build this notion, that salvation is an easy business, and that most people will be saved? What revelation of God can they show us, to satisfy us that these opinions are sound and true?
They have none, – literally none at all. They have not a text of Scripture which, fairly interpreted, supports their views. They have not a reason which will bear examination. They speak smooth things about one another’s spiritual state, just because they do not like to allow there is danger. They build up one another into an easy, self- satisfied state of soul, in order to soothe their consciences and make things pleasant. They cry “Peace, peace,” over one another’s graves, because they want it to be so, and would fain persuade themselves that so it is. Surely against such hollow, foundationless opinions as these, a minister of the Gospel may well protest.
The plain truth is that the world’s opinion is worth nothing in matters of religion. About the price of an ox, or a horse, or a farm, or the value of labour, – about wages and work, – about money, cotton, coals, iron and corn, – about arts, and sciences, and manufactures, – about railways, and commerce, and trade, and politics, – about all such things the men of the world may give a correct opinion. But we must beware, if we love life, of being guided by man’s judgment in the things that concern salvation. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him.” (1 Cor. 2:14)
Let us remember, above all, that it never will do to think as others do, if we want to get to heaven. No doubt it is easy work to “go with the crowd” in religious matters. It will save us much trouble to swim with the stream and tide. We shall be spared much ridicule: we shall be freed from much unpleasantness. But let us remember, once for all, that the world’s mistakes about salvation are many and dangerous. Unless we are on our guard against them we shall never be saved.
III. Let me show, in the third place, what the Bible says about the number of the saved.
There is only one standard of truth and error to which we ought to appeal. That standard is the Holy Scripture. Whatsoever is there written we must receive and believe: whatsoever cannot be proved by Scripture we ought to refuse.
Can any reader of this paper subscribe to this? If he cannot, there is little chance of his being moved by any words of mine. If he can, let him give me his attention for a few moments, and I will tell him some solemn things.
Let us look, then, for one thing, at one single text of Scripture, and examine it well. We shall find it in Matthew 7:13, 14: – “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Now these are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are the words of Him who was very God, and whose words shall never pass away. They are the words of Him who knew what was in man, who knew things to come, and things past, – who knew that He should judge all men at the last day. And what do those words mean? Are they words which no man can understand without a knowledge of Hebrew or Greek? No: they are not! Are they a dark, unfulfilled prophecy, like the visions in Revelation, or the description of Ezekiel’s temple? No: they are not! Are they a deep mysterious saying, which no human intellect can fathom? No: they are not! The words are clear, plain, and unmistakable. Ask any labouring man who can read, and he will tell you so. There is only one meaning which can be attached to them. Their meaning is, that many people will be lost, and few will be found saved.
Let us look, in the next place, at the whole history of mankind as respects religion, as we have it given in the Bible. Let us go through the whole four thousand years, over which the history of the Bible reaches. Let us find, if we can, one single period of time at which godly people were many, and ungodly people were few.
How was it in the days of Noah? The earth we are told expressly was “filled with violence”. The imagination of man’s heart was only “evil continually”. (Gen. 6:5, 12) “All flesh had corrupted his way.” The loss of paradise was forgotten. The warnings of God, by Noah’s mouth, were despised. And at length, when the flood came on the world and drowned every living thing, there were but eight people who had faith enough to flee for refuge to the ark! And were there many saved in those days? Let any honest reader of the Bible give an answer to that question. There can be no doubt what the answer must be.
How was it in the days of Abraham, and Isaac, and Lot? It is evident that in the matter of religion they stood very much alone. The family from which they were taken was a family of idolaters. The nations among whom they lived were sunk in gross darkness and sin. When Sodom and Gomorrah were burned there were not five righteous people to be found in the four cities of the plain. When Abraham and Isaac desired to find wives for their sons, there was not a woman in the land where they sojourned to whom they could wish to see them married. And were there many saved in those days? Let any honest reader of the Bible give an answer to that question. There can be no doubt what the answer must be.
How was it with Israel in the days of the Judges? No one can read the book of Judges, and not be struck with the sad examples of man’s corruption which it affords. Time after time we are told of the people forsaking God, and following idols. In spite of the plainest warnings, they joined affinity with the Canaanites, and learned their works. Time after time we read of their being oppressed by foreign kings, because of their sins, and then miraculously delivered. Time after time we read of the deliverance being forgotten, and of the people returning to their former sins, like the sow that is washed to her wallowing in the mire. And were there many saved in those days? Let any honest reader of the Bible give an answer to that question. There can be no doubt what the answer must be.
How was it with Israel in the days of the Kings? From Saul, the first king, down to Zedekiah, the last king, their history is a melancholy account of backsliding, and declension, and idolatry, – with a few bright exceptional periods. Even under the best kings there seems to have been a vast amount of unbelief and ungodliness, which only lay hid for a season, and burst out at the first favourable opportunity. Over and over again we find that under the most zealous kings “the high places were not taken away.” Mark how even David speaks of the state of things around him: “Help, Lord, for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.” (Psalm 12:1) Mark how Isaiah describes the condition of Judah and Jerusalem: “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot, even unto the crown of the head, there is no soundness in it.” – “Except the Lord of Hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and should have been like unto Gomorrah.” (Isaiah 1:5–9) Mark how Jeremiah describes his time: “Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can find a man, if there be any that executeth judgment, that seeketh the truth, and I will pardon it.” (Jer. 5:1) Mark how Ezekiel speaks of the men of his times: “The word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, the house of Israel is to me become dross: all they are brass, and iron, and tin and lead in the midst of the furnace: they are even the dross of silver.” (Ezek. 22:17,18) Mark what he says in the sixteenth and twenty-third chapters of his prophecy about the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. And were there many saved in those days? Let any honest reader of the Bible give an answer to that question. There can be no doubt what the answer must be.
How was it with the Jews when our Lord Jesus Christ was on earth? The words of Saint John are the best account of their spiritual state: “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” (John 1:11) He lived as no one born of woman had ever lived before, – a blameless, harmless, holy life. “He went about doing good.” (Acts 10:38) He preached as no one ever preached before. Even the officers of his enemies confessed, “Never man spake like this man.” (John 7:46) He did miracles to confirm His ministry, which, at first sight, we might have fancied would have convinced the most hardened. But, notwithstanding all this, the vast majority of the Jews refused to believe Him. Follow our Lord in all His travels over Palestine, and you will always find the same story. Follow Him into the city, and follow Him into the wilderness; follow Him to Capernaum and Nazareth, and follow Him to Jerusalem; follow Him among Scribes and Pharisees, and follow Him among Sadducees and Herodians: everywhere you will arrive at the same result. They were amazed; – they were silenced; – they were astonished; – they wondered; – but very few became disciples! The immense proportion of the nation would have none of His doctrine, and crowned all their wickedness by putting Him to death. And were there many saved in those days? Let any honest reader of the Bible give an answer to that question. There can be no doubt what the answer must be.
How was it with the world in the days of the Apostles? If ever there was a period when true religion flourished it was then. Never did the Holy Ghost call into the fold of Christ so many souls in the same space of time. Never were there so many conversions under the preaching of the Gospel as when Paul and his fellow labourers were the preachers. But still, it is plain from the Acts of the Apostles, that true Christianity was “everywhere spoken against”. (Acts 28:22) It is evident that in every city, even in Jerusalem itself, true Christians were a small minority. We read of perils of all kinds which the Apostles had to go through, – not only perils from without, but perils from within, – not only perils from the heathen, but perils from false brethren. We hardly read of a single city visited by Paul where he was not in danger from open violence and persecution. We see plainly, by some of his epistles, that the professing Churches were mixed bodies, in which there were many rotten members. We find him telling the Philippians a painful part of his experience, – “Many walk, of whom I tell you, even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ; whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is their shame, who mind earthly things.” (Philip. 3:18, 19) And were there many saved in those days? Let any honest reader of the Bible give an answer to this question. There can be no doubt what that answer must be.
I ask any honest-minded unprejudiced reader of the volume to weigh well the lessons of the Bible which I have just brought forward. Surely they are weighty and solemn, and deserve serious attention.
Let no one think to evade their force by saying that the Bible only tells the story of the Jews. Think not to comfort yourself by saying that “perhaps the Jews were more wicked than other nations, and many people were probably saved among other nations, though few were saved among the Jews.” You forget that this argument tells against you. You forget that the Jews had light and privileges which the Gentiles had not, and with all their sins and faults, were probably the holiest and most moral nation upon earth. As to the moral state of people among the Assyrians, and Egyptians, and Greeks, and Romans, it is fearful to think what it must have been. But this we may be sure of, – that if many were ungodly among the Jews, the number was far greater among the Gentiles. If few were saved in the green tree, alas, how much fewer must have been saved in the dry!
The sum of the whole matter is this: the Bible and the men of the world speak very differently about the number of the saved. According to the Bible, few will be saved: according to the men of the world, many. – According to the men of the world few are going to hell: according to the Bible few are going to heaven. – According to the men of the world salvation is an easy business: according to the Bible the way is narrow and the gate is strait. – According to the men of the world few will be found at last seeking admission into heaven when too late: according to the Bible many will be in that sad condition, and will cry in vain, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” Yet the Bible was never wrong yet. The most unlikely and improbable prophecies about Tyre, Egypt, Babylon, and Nineveh, have all come true to the letter. And as in other matters, so it will be about the number of the saved. The Bible will prove quite right and the men of the world quite wrong.
IV. Let me show, in the last place, some plain facts about the number of the saved.
I ask particular attention to this part of the subject. I know well that people flatter themselves that the world is far better and wiser than it was 1800 years ago. We have churches, and schools, and books. We have civilization, and liberty, and good laws. We have a far higher standard of morality in society than that which once prevailed. We have the power of obtaining comforts and enjoyments which our forefathers knew nothing of. Steam, and gas, and electricity, and chemistry, have effected wonders for us. All this is perfectly true. I see it, and I am thankful. But all this does not diminish the importance of the question; – Are there few or many of us likely to be saved?
I am thoroughly satisfied that the importance of this question is painfully overlooked. I am persuaded that the views of most people about the quantity of unbelief and sin in the world are utterly inadequate and incorrect.
I am convinced that very few people, whether ministers or private Christians, at all realize how few there are in a way to be saved. I want to draw attention to the subject, and I will therefore bring forward a few plain facts about it.
But where shall I go for these facts? I might easily turn to the millions of heathen, who in various parts of the world are worshipping they know not what. But I shall not do so. – I might easily turn to the millions of Mahometans who honour the Koran more than the Bible, and the false prophet of Mecca more than Christ. But I shall not do so. – I might easily turn to the millions of Roman Catholics who are making the Word of God of none effect by their traditions. But I shall not do so.
I shall look nearer home. I shall draw my facts from the land in which I live, and then ask every honest reader whether it be not strictly true that few are saved.
I invite any intelligent reader of these pages to imagine himself in any parish in Protestant England or Scotland at this day. Choose which you please, a town parish, or a country parish, – a great parish or a small. Let us take our New Testaments in our hands. Let us sift the Christianity of the inhabitants of this parish, family by family, and man by man. Let us put on one side any one who does not possess the New Testament evidence of being a true Christian. Let us deal honestly and fairly in the investigation, and not allow any one to be a true Christian who does not come up to the New Testament standard of faith and practice. Let us count every man a saved soul in whom we see something of Christ, – some evidence of true repentance, – some evidence of saving faith in Jesus, – some evidence of real evangelical holiness. Let us reject every man in whom, on the most charitable construction, we cannot see these evidences, as one “weighed in the balances, and found wanting.” Let us apply this sifting process to any parish in this land, and see what the result would be.
(a) Let us set aside, first of all, those persons in a parish who are living in any kind of open sin. By these I mean such as fornicators, and adulterers, and liars, and thieves, and drunkards, and cheats, and revilers, and extortioners. About these I think there can be no difference of opinion. The Bible says plainly, that “they which do such things, shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:21) Now will these persons be saved? The answer is clear to my own mind: In their present condition they will not.
(b) Let us set aside, in the next place, those persons who are Sabbath-breakers. I mean by this expression, those who seldom or never go to a place of worship, though they have the power, – those who do not give the Sabbath to God, but to themselves, – those who think of nothing but doing their own ways, and finding their own pleasure upon Sundays. They show plainly that they are not meet for heaven! The inhabitants of heaven would be company they could not like. The employments of heaven would be a weariness to them, and not a joy. Now will these persons be saved? The answer is clear to my mind: In their present condition they will not.
(c) Let us set aside, in the next place, all those persons who are careless and thoughtless Christians. I mean by this expression, those who attend many of the outward ordinances of religion, but show no signs of taking any real interest in its doctrines and substance. They care little whether the minister preaches the Gospel or not. They care little whether they hear a good sermon or not. They would care little if all the Bibles in the world were burned. They would care little if an Act of Parliament were passed forbidding any one to pray. In short, religion is not the “one thing needful” with them. Their treasure is on earth. They are just like Gallio, to whom it mattered little whether people were Jews or Christians: he “cared for none of these things.” (Acts 18:17) Now will these persons be saved? The answer is clear to my own mind: In their present condition they will not.
(d) Let us set aside, in the next place, all those who are formalists and self-righteous. I mean by this expression, those who value themselves on their own regularity in the use of the forms of Christianity, and depend either directly or indirectly on their own doings for their acceptance with God. I mean all who rest their souls on any work but the work of Christ, or any righteousness but the righteousness of Christ. Of such the Apostle Paul has expressly testified, “By the deeds of the law shall no flesh living be justified.” – “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 3:20, 1 Cor. 3:11) And dare we say, in the face of such texts, that such as these will be saved? The answer is plain to my own mind: In their present condition they will not.
(e) Let us set aside, in the next place, all those who know the Gospel with their heads, but do not obey it with their hearts. These are those unhappy persons who have eyes to see the way of life, but have not will or courage to walk in it. They approve sound doctrine. They will not listen to preaching which does not contain it. But the fear of man, or the cares of the world, or the love of money, or the dread of offending relations, perpetually holds them back. They will not come out boldly, and take up the cross, and confess Christ before men. Of these also the Bible speaks expressly: “Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” – “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” – “If any man is ashamed of Me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.” (James 2:17, 4:17; Luke 9:26) Shall we say that such as these will be saved? The answer is clear to my own mind: In their present condition they will not.
(f) Let us set aside, in the last place, all those who are hypocritical professors. I mean by that expression, all those whose religion consists in talk and high profession, and in nothing besides. These are they of whom the prophet Ezekiel speaks, saying, “With their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.” – “They profess that they know God, but in works they deny Him.” – They “have a form of godliness, but they have not the power” of it. (Ezek. 33:31, Titus 1:16, 2 Tim. 3:5) They are saints at church, and saints to talk to in public. But they are not saints in private, and in their own homes; and worst of all, they are not saints in heart. There can be no dispute about such persons. Shall we say that they will be saved? There can only be one answer: In their present condition they will not.
And now, after setting aside these classes which I have described, I ask any sensible thinking reader to tell me how many persons in any parish in England will there be left behind? How many, after sifting a parish thoroughly and honestly, – how many men and women will remain who are in a way to be saved? How many true penitents, – how many real believers in Christ, – how many truly holy, people will there be found? I put it to the conscience of every reader of this volume to give an honest answer, as in the sight of God. I ask you whether, after sifting a parish with the Bible in the fashion described, you can come to any conclusion but this, – that few persons, – sadly few persons, are in a way to be saved?
It is a painful conclusion to arrive at, but I know not how it can be avoided. It is a fearful and tremendous thought, that there should be so many churchmen in England, and so many dissenters, so many seat holders, and so many pew renters, so many hearers, and so many communicants, – and yet, after all, so few in a way to be saved! But the only question is, Is it not true? – It is vain to shut our eyes against facts. It is useless to pretend not to see what is going on around us. The statements of the Bible and the facts of the world we live in will lead us to the same conclusion: Many are being lost, and few being saved!
(a) I know well that many do not believe what I am saying, because they think there is an immense quantity of deathbed repentance. They flatter themselves that multitudes who do not live religious lives will yet die religious deaths. They take comfort in the thought that vast numbers of persons turn to God in their last illness and are saved at the eleventh hour. I will only remind such persons that all the experience of ministers is utterly against the theory. People generally die just as they have lived. True repentance is never too late: – but repentance deferred to the last hours of life is seldom true. A man’s life is the surest evidence of his spiritual state, and if lives are to be witnesses, then few are likely to be saved.
(b) I know well that many do not believe what I am saying, because they fancy it contradicts the mercy of God. They dwell on the love to sinners which the Gospel reveals.
They point to the offers of pardon and forgiveness which abound in the Bible. They ask us if we maintain, in the face of all this, that only few people will be saved. I answer, I will go as far as any one in exalting God’s mercy in Christ, but I cannot shut my eyes against the fact that this mercy profits no man so long as it is willfully refused. I see nothing wanting, on God’s part, for man’s salvation. I see room in heaven for the chief of sinners. I see willingness in Christ to receive the most ungodly. I see power in the Holy Ghost to renew the most ungodly. But I see, on the other hand, desperate unbelief in man: he will not believe what God tells him in the Bible. I see desperate pride in man: he will not bow his heart to receive the Gospel as a little child. I see desperate sloth in man: he will not take the trouble to arise and call upon God. I see desperate worldliness in man: he will not loose his hold on the poor perishable things of time, and consider eternity. In short, I see the words of our Lord continually verified: “Ye will not come unto Me, that ye might have life” (John 5:40), and therefore I am driven to the sorrowful conclusion that few are likely to be saved.
(c) I know well that many will not believe what I am saying, because they refuse to observe the evil there is in the world. They live in the midst of a little circle of good people: they know little of anything that goes on in the world outside that circle. They tell us the world is a world which is rapidly improving and going on to perfection. They count up on their fingers the number of good ministers whom they have heard and seen in the last year. They call our attention to the number of religious societies, and religious meetings, to the money which is subscribed, to the Bibles and tracts which are being constantly distributed. They ask us if we really dare to say, in the face of all this, that few are in the way to be saved. In reply, I will only remind these amiable people, that there are other people in the world besides their own little circle, and other men and women besides the chosen few whom they know in their own congregation. I entreat them to open their eyes, and see things as they really are. I assure them there are things going on in this country of ours of which they are at present in happy ignorance. I ask them to sift any parish or congregation in England, with the Bible, before they condemn me hastily. I tell them, if they will do this honestly, they will soon find that I am not far wrong, when I say that few are likely to be saved.
(d) I know well that many will not believe me, because they think such a doctrine very narrow-minded and exclusive. I utterly deny the charge. I disclaim any sympathy with those Christians who condemn everybody outside their own communion, and appear to shut the door of heaven against everybody who does not see everything with their eyes. Whether Roman Catholics, or Episcopalians, or Free Churchmen, or Baptists, or Plymouth Brethren, whosoever does anything of this kind, I reckon him an exclusive man. I have no desire to shut up the kingdom of heaven against anyone. All I say is, that none will enter that kingdom, except converted, believing, and holy souls; and all I take on myself to assert is, that both the Bible and facts combine to prove that such persons are few.
(e) I know well that many will not believe what I am saying, because they think it a gloomy, uncharitable doctrine. It is easy to make vague, general assertions of this kind. It is not so easy to show that any doctrine deserves to be called “gloomy and uncharitable” which is scriptural and true. There is a spurious charity, I am afraid, which dislikes all strong statements in religion, – a charity which would have no one interfered with, – a charity which would have everyone let alone in his sins, – a charity which, without evidence, takes for granted that everybody is in a way to be saved, – a charity which never doubts that all people are going to heaven, and seems to deny the existence of such a place as hell. But such charity is not the charity of the New Testament, and does not deserve the name. Give me the charity which tries everything by the test of the Bible, and believes nothing and hopes nothing that is not sanctioned by the Word. Give me the charity which St. Paul describes to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 13:1, etc.): the charity which is not blind, and deaf, and stupid, but has eyes to see and senses to discern between him that feareth God and him that feareth Him not. Such charity will rejoice in nothing but “the truth,” and will confess with sorrow that I tell nothing but the truth when I say that few are likely to be saved.
(f) I know well that many will not believe me, because they think, it presumptuous to have any opinion at all about the number of the saved. But will these people dare to tell us that the Bible has not spoken plainly as to the character of saved souls? And will they dare to say that there is any standard of truth except the Bible? Surely there can be no presumption in asserting that which is agreeable to the Bible. I tell them plainly that the charge of presumption does not lie at my door. I say that he is the truly presumptuous man who, when the Bible has said a thing clearly and unmistakably, refuses to receive it.
(g) I know, finally, that many will not believe me, because they think my statement extravagant, and unwarrantable. They regard it as a piece of fanaticism, unworthy of the attention of a rational man. They look on ministers who make such assertions, as weak minded persons, and wanting in common sense. I can bear such imputations unmoved. I only ask those who make them to show me some plain proof that they are right and I am wrong. Let them show me, if they can, that anybody is likely to get to heaven whose heart is not renewed, who is not a believer in Jesus Christ, who is not a spiritually-minded and holy man. Let them show me, if they can, that people of this description are many, compared with those who are not. Let them, in one word, point to any place on earth where the great majority of the people are not ungodly, and the truly godly are not a little flock. Let them do this, and I will grant they have done right to disbelieve what I have said. Till they do this, I must maintain the sorrowful conclusion, that few persons are likely to be saved.
And now it only remains to make some practical application of the subject of this paper. I have set forth as plainly as I can the character of saved people. – I have shown the painful delusions of the world as to the number of the saved. – I have brought forward the evidence of the Bible on the subject. – I have drawn from the world around us plain facts in confirmation of the statements I have made. – May the Lord grant that all these solemn truths may not have been exhibited in vain!
I am quite aware that I have said many things in this paper which are likely to give offence. I know it. It must be so. The point which it handles is far too serious and heart-searching to be otherwise than offensive to some. But I have long had a deep conviction that the subject has been painfully neglected, and that few things are so little realized as the comparative numbers of the lost and saved. All that I have written, I have written because I firmly believe it to be God’s truth. All that I have said, I have said, not as an enemy but as a lover of souls. You do not count him an enemy who gives you a bitter medicine to save your life. You do not count him an enemy who shakes you roughly from your sleep when your house is on fire. Surely you will not count me an enemy because I tell you strong truths for the benefit of your soul. I appeal, as a friend, to every man or woman into whose hands this volume has come. Bear with me, for a few moments, while I say a few last words to impress the whole subject on your conscience.
(a) Are there few saved? Then, shall you be one of the few? Oh, that you would see that salvation is the one thing needful! Health, and riches, and titles, are not needful things. A man may gain heaven without them. But what shall the man do who dies not saved! Oh, that you would see that you must have salvation now, in this present life, and lay hold upon it for your own soul! Oh, that you would see that “saved” or “not saved” is the grand question in religion! High Church or Low Church, Churchman or Dissenter, all these are trifling questions in comparison. What a man needs in order to get to heaven is an actual personal interest in Christ’s salvation. Surely, if you are not saved, it will be better at last never to have been born.
(b) Are there few saved? Then, if you are not one of the few already, strive to be one without delay. I know not who and what you are, but I say boldly, Come to Christ and you shall be saved. The gate that leads to life may be strait, but it was wide enough to admit Manasseh, and Saul of Tarsus, and why not you? The way that leads to life may be narrow, but it is marked by the footsteps of thousands of sinners like yourself. All have found it a good way. All have persevered, and got safe home at last. Jesus Christ invites you. The promises of the Gospel encourage you. Oh, strive to enter in without delay!
(c) Are there few saved? Then, if you are doubtful whether you are one of the few, make sure work at once, and be doubtful no more. Leave no stone unturned in order to ascertain your own spiritual state. Be not content with vague hopes and trusts. Rest not on warm feelings and temporary desires after God. Give diligence to make your calling and election sure. Oh, give me leave to say, that if you are content to live on uncertain about salvation, you live the maddest life in the world! The fires of hell are before you, and you are uncertain whether your soul is insured. This world below must soon be left, and you are uncertain whether you have a mansion prepared to receive you in the world above. The judgment will soon be set, and you are uncertain whether you have an Advocate to plead your cause. Eternity will soon begin, and you are uncertain whether you are prepared to meet God. Oh, sit down this day, and study the subject of salvation! Give God no rest till uncertainty has disappeared, and you have got hold of a reasonable hope that you are saved.
(d) Are there few that be saved? Then, if you are one, be thankful. Chosen and called of God, while thousands around you are sunk in unbelief – seeing the kingdom of God, while multitudes around you are utterly blind, – delivered from this present evil world, while crowds are overcome by its love and fear – taught to know sin, and God, and Christ, while numbers, to all appearance as good as you, live in ignorance and darkness, – Oh, you have reason every day to bless and praise God! Whence came this sense of sin, which you now experience? Whence came this love of Christ, – this desire after holiness, – this hungering after righteousness, – this delight in the Word? Has not free grace done it, while many a companion of your youth still knows nothing about it, or has been cut off in his sins? You ought indeed to bless God! Surely Whitefield might well say, that one anthem among the saints in heaven will be “Why me, Lord? Why didst Thou choose me?”
(e) Are there few that be saved? Then, if you are one, do not wonder that you often find yourself standing alone. I dare believe you are sometimes almost brought to a standstill, by the corruption and wickedness that you see in the world around you. You see false doctrine abounding. You see unbelief and ungodliness of every description. You are sometimes tempted to say, “Can I really be in the right in my religion? Can it really be that all these people are in the wrong?” Beware of giving way to thoughts like these. Remember, you are only having practical proof of the truth of your Master’s sayings. Think not that His purposes are being defeated. Think not that His work is not going forward in the world. He is still taking out a people to His praise. He is still raising up witnesses to Himself, here and there, all over the world. The saved will yet be found to be a “multitude that no man can number,” when all are gathered together at last. (Rev. 7:9) The earth will yet be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. All nations shall serve Him: all kings shall yet delight to do Him honour. But the night is not yet spent. The day of the Lord’s power is yet to come. In the mean time all is going on as He foretold 1800 years ago. Many are being lost and few saved.
(f) Are there few saved? Then, if you are one, do not be afraid of having too much religion. Settle it down in your mind that you will aim at the highest degree of holiness, and spiritual-mindedness, and consecration to God, – that you will not be content with any low degree of sanctification. Resolve that, by the grace of God, you will make Christianity beautiful in the eyes of the world. Remember that the children of the world have but few patterns of true religion before them. Endeavour, as far as in you lies, to make those few patterns recommend the service of your Master. Oh, that every true Christian would recollect that he is set as a lighthouse in the midst of a dark world, and would labour so to live that every part of him may reflect light, and no side be dim!
(g) Are there few saved? Then, if you are one, use every opportunity of trying to do good to souls. Settle it down in your mind that the vast majority of people around you are in awful danger of being lost for ever. Work every engine for bringing the Gospel to bear upon them. Help every Christian machinery for plucking brands from the burning. Give liberally to every Society which has for its object to spread the everlasting Gospel. Throw all your influence heartily and unreservedly into the cause of doing good to souls. Live like one who thoroughly believes that time is short and eternity near, – the devil strong and sin abounding, – the darkness very great and the light very small, – the ungodly very many and the godly very few, – the things of the world mere transitory shadows, and heaven and hell the great substantial realities. Alas, indeed, for the lives that many believers live! How cold are many, and how frozen, – how slow to do decided things in religion, and how afraid of going too far, – how backward to attempt anything new, – how ready to discourage a good movement,—how ingenious in discovering reasons why it is best to sit still, – how unwilling ever to allow that “the time” for active exertion is come, –how wise in finding fault, – how shiftless in devising plans to meet growing evils! Truly a man might sometimes fancy, when he looks at the ways of many who are counted believers, that all the world was going to heaven, and hell was nothing but a lie.
Let us all beware of this state of mind! Whether we like to believe it or not, hell is filling fast, – Christ is daily holding out His hand to a disobedient people, – many many are in the way to destruction, – few, few are in the way to life. Many, many are likely to be lost. Few, few are likely to be saved.
Once more I ask every reader, as I asked at the beginning of this paper, – Shall you be saved? If you are not saved already, my heart’s desire and prayer to God is, that you may seek salvation without delay. If you are saved, my desire is that you may live like a saved soul, – and like one who knows that saved souls are few.
4 – Our Hope!
“Good hope through grace.” – 2 Thess. 2:16.
“I hope” is a very common expression. Everybody can say, “I hope.” About no subject is the expression used so commonly as it is about religion. Nothing is more frequent than to hear men turn off some home-thrust at conscience by this convenient form of words, “I hope.” –“I hope it will be alright at last.” – “I hope I shall be a better man some day.” – “I hope we shall all get to heaven.” – But why do they hope? On what is their hope built? Too often they cannot tell you! Too often it is a mere excuse for avoiding a disagreeable subject. “Hoping,” they live on. “Hoping,” they grow old. “Hoping,” they die at last, – and find too often that they are lost for ever in hell.
I ask the serious attention of all who read this paper. The subject is one of the deepest importance: “We are saved by hope.” (Rom. 8:24) Let us, then, make sure that our hope is sound. – Have we a hope that our sins are pardoned, our hearts renewed, and our souls at peace with God? Then let us see to it that our hope is “good,” and “lively,” and one “that maketh not ashamed.” (2 Thess. 2:16, 1 Pet. 1:3, Rom. 5:5) Let us consider our ways. Let us not shrink from honest, searching inquiry into the condition of our souls. If our hope is good, examination will do it no harm. If our hope is bad, it is high time to know it, and to seek a better.
There are five marks of a really “good hope”. I desire to place them before my readers in order. Let us ask ourselves what we know of them. Let us prove our own state by them. Happy is he who can say of each of these marks, – “I know it by experience. This is my hope about my soul.”
I. In the first place, a good hope is a hope that a man can explain. What saith the Scripture? “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” (1 Pet. 3:15)
If our hope is sound we must be able to give some account of it. We must be able to show why, and wherefore, and on what grounds, and for what reason we expect to go to heaven when we die. Now can we do this?
Let no one misunderstand my meaning. I do not say that deep learning and great knowledge are absolutely needful to salvation. A man may know twenty languages, and have the whole body of divinity at his fingers’ ends, and yet be lost; a man may be unable to read, and have a very weak understanding, and yet be saved. But I do say that a man must know what his hope is, and be able to tell us its nature. I cannot believe that a man has got possession of a thing if he knows nothing about it.
Once more, let no one misunderstand my meaning. I do not say that a power of talking well is necessary to salvation. There may be many fine words on a man’s lips, and not a whit of grace in his heart; there may be few and stammering words, and yet deep feeling within, planted there by the Holy Ghost. There are some who cannot speak many words for Christ, and yet would die for Him. But for all this, I do say that the man who has a good hope ought to be able to tell us why. If he Can tell us no more than this, that “he feels himself a sinner, and has no hope but in Christ,” it is something. But if he can tell us nothing at all, I must suspect that he has got no real hope.
I am aware that the opinion just expressed displeases many. Thousands can see no necessity for that clear knowledge which I believe to be essential to a saving hope. So long as a man goes to church on Sunday, and has his children baptized, they think we ought to be content. “Knowledge,” they tell us, “may be very well for clergymen and professors of theology; but it is too much to require it of common men.”
My answer to all such people is short and simple. Where in the whole New Testament shall we find that men were called Christians, unless they knew something of Christianity? Will any one try to persuade me that a Corinthian Christian, or a Colossian, or Thessalonian, or Philippian, or Ephesian, could not have told us what was his hope about his soul? Let those believe it who will: I, for one, cannot. I believe that in requiring a man to know the ground of his hope I am only setting up the standard of the New Testament. Ignorance may suit a Roman Catholic well enough. He belongs to what he considers to be the true Church! He does as his priest tells him! He asks no more! – But ignorance ought never to be the characteristic of a Protestant Christian. He ought to know what he believes, and if he does not know he is in a bad way.
I ask every reader of this paper to search his heart, and see how the matter stands with his soul. Can you tell us nothing more than this, that “you hope to be saved”? Can you give no explanation of the grounds of your confidence? Can you show us nothing more satisfactory than your own vague expectation? If this be the case you are in imminent peril of being lost forever. Like Ignorance, in Pilgrim’s Progress, you may get to your journey’s end, and be ferried by Vainhope over the river, without much trouble. But, like Ignorance, you may find to your sorrow that there is no admission for you into the celestial city. None enter in there but those who “know what as well as whom they have believed.”*
[*“Now, while I was gazing upon all these things, I turned my head to look back, and saw Ignorance coming up to the river side: but he soon got over, and that without half the difficulty which the other two men met with. For it happened that there was then in that place one Vainhope, a ferry man, that with his boat helped him over; so he, as the other I saw, did ascend the hill to come up to the gate, only he came alone; neither did any man meet him with the least encouragement. When he was come up to the gate, he looked up to the writing that was above, and then began to knock, supposing that entrance should have been quickly administered to him. But he was asked by the man that looked over the top of the gate, ‘Whence come you? And what would you have?’ He answered, ‘I have ate and drank in the presence of the King, and He has taught in our streets.’ Then they asked him for his certificate, that they might go in and show it to the King. So he fumbled in his bosom for one, and found none. Then said they, ‘Have you none?’ But the man answered never a word.
“So they told the King; but He would not come down to see him, but commanded the two shining ones that conducted Christian and Hopeful to the City, to take Ignorance and bind him hand and foot, and have him away. Then they took him up, and carried him through the air to the door that I saw in the side of the hill, and put him in there. Then I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gate of heaven, as well as from the city of destruction.” – Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.]
I lay down this principle as a starting point, and I ask my readers to consider it well. I admit most fully that there are different degrees of grace among true Christians. I do not forget that there are many in the family of God whose faith is very weak, and whose hope is very small. But I believe confidently, that the standard of requirement I have set up is not a whit too high. I believe that the man who has a “good hope” will always be able to give some account of it.
II. In the second place, a good hope is a hope that is drawn from Scripture. What says David? “I hope in Thy word.” – “Remember the word unto Thy servant, upon which Thou hast caused me to hope.” What says St. Paul? “Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Psalm 119:81, 49; Rom. 15:4)
If our hope is sound we ought to be able to turn to some text, or fact, or doctrine of God’s Word, as the source of it. Our confidence must arise from something which God has caused to be written in the Bible for our learning, and which our heart has received and believed.
It is not enough to have good feelings about the state of our souls. We may flatter ourselves that all is right, and that we are going to heaven when we die, and yet have nothing to show for our expectations but mere fancy and imagination. “The heart is deceitful above all things.” – “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.” (Jer. 17:9, Prov. 28:26) – I have frequently heard dying people say that “they felt quite happy and ready to go.” I have heard them say that “they felt as if they craved nothing in this world.” And all this time I have remarked that they were profoundly ignorant of Scripture, and seemed unable to lay firm hold on a single truth of the Gospel! I never can feel comfort about such people. I am persuaded that there is something wrong in their condition. Good feelings without some warrant of Scripture do not make up a good hope.
It is not enough to have the good opinion of others about the state of our souls. We may be told by others on our death beds, to “keep up our spirits,” and “not to be afraid.” We may be reminded that we have “lived good lives, – or had a good heart, – or done nobody any harm, – or not been so bad as many;” and all this time our friends may not bring forward a word of Scripture, and may be feeding us on poison. Such friends are miserable comforters. However well meaning, they are downright enemies to our souls. The good opinion of others, without the warrant of God’s Word, will never make up a good hope.
If a man would know the soundness of his own hope, let him search and look within his heart for some text: or doctrine, or fact out of God’s book. There will always be some one or more on which your soul hangs, if you are a true child of God. The dying thief in London, who was visited by a City Missionary, and found utterly ignorant of Christianity, laid hold on one single fact in a chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel which was read to him, and found comfort in it. That fact was the story of the penitent thief. “Sir,” he said, when visited the second time, “are there any more thieves in that book from which you read yesterday?” – The dying Hindu who was found by a missionary on a roadside, had grasped one single text in the First Epistle of St. John, and found in it peace. That text was the precious saying, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) – This is the experience of all true Christians. Unlearned, humble, poor, as many of them are, they have got hold of something in the Bible, and this causes them to hope. The hope which “maketh not ashamed” is never separate from God’s Word.
Men wonder sometimes that ministers press them so strongly to read the Bible. They marvel that we say so much about the importance of preaching, and urge them so often to hear sermons. Let them cease to wonder, and marvel no more. Our object is to make you acquainted with God’s Word. We want you to have a good hope, and we know that a good hope must be drawn from the Scriptures. Without reading or hearing you must live and die in ignorance. Hence we cry, “Search the Scriptures.” “Hear, and your soul shall live.” (John 5:39, Isa. 55:3)
I warn every one to beware of a hope not drawn from Scripture. It is a false hope, and many will find out this to their cost. That glorious and perfect book, the Bible, however men despise it, is the only fountain out of which man’s soul can derive peace. Many sneer at the old book while living, who find their need of it when dying. The Queen in her palace and the pauper in the workhouse, the philosopher in his study and the child in the cottage, – each and all must be content to seek living water from the Bible, if t hey are to have any hope at all. Honour your Bible, – read your Bible, – stick to your Bible. There is not on earth a scrap of solid hope for the other side of the grave which is not drawn out of the Word.*
[*“The hope of eternal life is a hope of the greatest blessing that can be conceived. It is a hope bottomed only on the pure Word of God. When you examine your hearts you find some hope of being saved, and that in the day of the Lord you shall stand with peace and confidence before your Judge. Why so? Wherefore do you hope for this? Is it not because God hath said it? Is it not because the God that cannot lie hath spoken it? If you expect to be saved upon any other ground but because God hath said it, ye must change your mind ere you be saved; for ye are off the rock, ye are off the sure foundation that all God’s Israel must rest upon.” – Traill.]
III. In the third place, a good hope is a hope that rests entirely on Jesus Christ. What says St. Paul to Timothy? He says that Jesus Christ “is our hope”. What says he to the Colossians? He speaks of “Christ in you the hope of glory.” (1 Tim. 1:1, Col. 1:27)
The man who has a good hope founds all his expectations of pardon and salvation on the mediation and redeeming work of Jesus the Son of God. He knows his own sinfulness; he feels that he is guilty, wicked, and lost by nature: but he sees forgiveness and peace with God offered freely to him through faith in Christ. He accepts the offer: he casts himself with all his sins on Jesus, and rests on Him. Jesus and His atonement on the cross, – Jesus and His righteousness, – Jesus and His finished work, – Jesus and His all-prevailing intercession, – Jesus, and Jesus only, is the foundation of the confidence of his soul.
Let us beware of supposing that any hope is good which is not founded on Christ. All other hopes are built on sand. They may look well in the summer time of health and prosperity, but they will fail in the day of sickness and the hour of death. “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11).
Church membership is no foundation of hope. We may belong to the best of Churches, and yet never belong to Christ. We may fill our pew regularly every Sunday, and hear the sermons of orthodox, ordained clergymen, and yet never hear the voice of Jesus, or follow Him. If we have nothing better than Church membership to rest upon we are in a poor plight: we have nothing solid beneath our feet.
Reception of the sacraments is no foundation of hope. We may be washed in the waters of baptism, and yet know nothing of the water of life. We may go to the Lord’s table every Sunday of our lives, and yet never eat Christ’s body and drink Christ’s blood by faith. Miserable indeed is our condition if we can say nothing more than this! We possess nothing but the outside of Christianity: we are leaning on a reed.
Christ Himself is the only true foundation of a good hope. He is the rock, – His work is perfect. He is the stone, – the sure stone, – the tried cornerstone. He is able to bear all the weight that we can lay upon Him. He only that buildeth and “believeth on Him shall not be confounded.” (Deut. 32:4, Isa. 28:16, 1 Peter 2:6)
This is the point on which all true saints of God in every age have been entirely agreed. Differing on other matters, they have always been of one mind upon this. Unable to see alike about Church government, and discipline, and liturgies, they have ever seen alike about the foundation of hope. Not one of them has ever left the world trusting in his own righteousness. Christ has been all their confidence: they have hoped in Him, and not been ashamed.*
[*“Consider how it is with the most holy and eminent saints when dying. Did you ever see or hear any boasting of their own works and performances? They may, and do own to the praise of His grace, what they have been made to be, what they have been helped to do or suffer for Christ’s sake. But when they draw near to the awful tribunal, what else is in their eye and heart, but only free grace, ransoming blood, and a well-ordered covenant in Christ the surety ? They cannot bear to have any make mention to them of their holiness, their own grace, and attainments.
“He is a wise and happy man that can anchor his soul on that rock on which he can ride out the storm of death. Why should men contend for that in their life that they know they must renounce at their death ? or neglect that truth now, that they must betake themselves unto then It is a great test of the truth of the doctrine about the way of salvation when it is generally approved by sensible dying men.” – Traill.]
Would any one like to know what kind of death-beds a minister of the Gospel finds comfort in attending ? Would you know what closing scenes are cheering to us, and leave favourable impressions on our minds ? We like to see dying people making much of Christ. So long as they can only talk of “the Almighty,” and “Providence,” and “God,” and “mercy,” we must stand in doubt. Dying in this state, they give no satisfactory sign. Give us the men and women who feel their sins deeply, and cling to Jesus,—who think much of His dying love,—who like to hear of His atoning blood,—who return again and again to. the story of His cross. These are the death-beds which leave good evidence behind them. For my part I had rather hear the name of Jesus come heartily from a dying relative’s lips, than see him die without a word about Christ, and then be told by an angel that he was saved.”*
[*The dying words of Mr. Ash, the Puritan, are well-deserving of notice. He said, “When I consider my best duties, I sink, I die, I despair. But when I think of Christ, I have enough. He is all and in all.”
The words of Mr. Cecil shortly before his death are very remarkable. He said, “I know myself to be a wretched, worthless sinner, having nothing in myself but poverty and sin. I know Jesus Christ to be a glorious and almighty Saviour. I see the full efficacy of his atonement and grace; and I cast myself entirely on Him, and wait at His footstool.” A short time before his decease he requested one of his family to write down for him the following sentence in a book: “‘None but Christ, none but Christ,’ said Lambert, dying at a stake: the same in dying circumstances, with his whole heart, says Richard Cecil.”]
IV. In the fourth place, a good hope is a hope that is felt inwardly in the heart. What says St. Paul? He speaks of “hope that maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.” He speaks of “rejoicing in hope”. (Rom. 5:5, 12:12)
The man who has a good hope is conscious of it. He feels within him something that another man does not: he is conscious of possessing a well-grounded expectation of good things to come. This consciousness may vary exceedingly in different persons. In one it may be strong and well-defined; in another it may be feeble and indistinct. – It may vary exceedingly in different stages of the same person’s experience. At one time he may be full of “joy and peace in believing”; at another he may be depressed and cast down. But in all persons who have a “good hope,” in a greater or less degree, this consciousness does exist.
I am aware that this truth is one which has been fearfully abused and perverted. It has been brought into great disrepute by the fanaticism, enthusiasm, and extravagance of some professing Christians. Mere animal excitement has been mistaken for the work of the Holy Ghost. The overwrought feelings of weak and nervous people have been prematurely and rashly supposed to be the result of grace. Men and women have been hastily pronounced “converted,” who have soon gone back to the world, and proved utterly “unconverted” and dead in sins. And then has come in the devil. Contempt has been poured on religious feelings of every description: their very existence has been denied and scouted; and the result is that the very name of “feelings” in religion is in many quarters dreaded and disliked.
But the abuse and perversion of a truth must never be allowed to rob us of the use of it. When all has been said that can be said against fanaticism and enthusiasm, it is still undeniable that religious feelings are plainly spoken of and described in Scripture. The Word of God tells us that the true Christian has “peace,” and “rest,” and “joy,” and “confidence”. It tells us of some who have the “witness of the Spirit,” – of some who “fear no evil,” – of some who enjoy “assurance,” – of some who “know whom they have believed,” – of some who “are persuaded that they shall never be separated from the love of God in Christ.” These are the feelings for which I contend: this is that sober, inward experience in which I see nothing extravagant, enthusiastic, or fanatical. Of such feelings I say boldly, no man need be ashamed. I go further, and say that no man has a “good hope” who does not know something, however faintly, of these feelings in his own heart. I go further still, and say that to hold any other doctrine is to cast dishonour on the whole work of the Holy Ghost.
Will any one tell us that God ever intended a true Christian to have no inward consciousness of his own Christianity? Will any one say that the Bible teaches that people can pass from death to life, be pardoned, renewed, and sanctified, and yet feel nothing of this mighty change within? Let those think it who will: I can hold no such doctrine. I would as soon believe that Lazarus did not know that he was raised from the grave, or Bartimeus that he was restored to sight, as believe that a man cannot feel within him the Spirit of God.
Can a weary man lie down in bed and not feel rested? Can the parched traveler in an African desert drink water and not feel refreshed? Can the starved sailor, in Arctic regions, draw near to the fire and not feel warmed? Can the half-naked, hungry, homeless wanderer in our streets be clothed, fed, and housed, and not feel comforted? Can the fainting sick man receive the healing cordial, and not feel revived? I cannot believe it. I believe that in each case something will be felt. – Just so I cannot believe that a man can be a true Christian if he does not feel something within. A new birth, a pardon of sins, a conscience sprinkled with Christ’s blood, an indwelling of the Holy Ghost, are no such small matters as men seem to suppose. He that knows anything of them will feel them: there will be a real, distinct witness in his inward man.
Let us beware of a hope that is not felt, and a Christianity that is destitute of any inward experience. They are idols of the present day, and idols before which thousands are bowing down. Thousands are trying to persuade themselves that people may be born again, and have the Spirit, and yet not be sensible of it, – or that people may be members of Christ, and receive benefit from Him, who have neither faith nor love towards His name. These are the favourite doctrines of modern days! These be the gods which have taken the place of Diana and Mercury, and “the image which fell down from Jupiter!” These be the last new deities invented by poor, weak, idolatrous man! From all such idols let us keep ourselves with jealous care. Golden as their heads may be, their feet are no better than clay. They cannot stand: they must, sooner or later, break down. Miserable indeed are the prospects of those who worship them! Their hope is not the hope of the Bible: it is the hope of a dead corpse. Where Christ and the Spirit are their presence will be felt!
Can any one in his senses suppose that the apostle Paul would have been content with Christians who knew nothing of inward feelings? Can we fancy that mighty man of God sanctioning a religion which a person might have, and yet experience nothing within? Can we picture to ourselves a member of one of the Churches he founded, who was utterly unacquainted with peace, or joy, or confidence towards God, and was yet approved by the great apostle of the Gentiles as a true believer! Away with the idea! It will not bear reflection for a moment. The testimony of Scripture is plain and explicit. Talk as men will about enthusiasm and excitement, there are such things as feelings in religion. The Christian who knows nothing of them is not yet converted, and has everything to learn. The cold marble of a Grecian statue may well be unimpassioned. The dried mummy from Egypt may well look stiff and still. The stuffed beast in a museum may well be motionless and cold. They are all lifeless things. But where there is life there will always be some feeling. The “good hope” is a hope that can be felt.
V. In the last place, a good hope is a hope that is manifested outwardly in the life. Once more, what saith the Scripture? “Everyone that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.” (1 John 3:3)
The man that has a good hope will show it in all his ways. It will influence his life, his character, and his daily conduct; it will make him strive to be a holy, godly, conscientious, spiritual man. He will feel under a constant obligation to serve and please Him from whom his hope comes. He will say to himself, “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me?” He will feel, “I am bought with a price: let me glorify God with body and spirit, which are His.” – “Let me show forth the praises of Him who bath called me out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Let me prove that I am Christ’s friend, “by keeping His commandments.” (Psalm 116:12, 1 Cor. 6:20, 1 Peter 2:9, John 15:14)
This is a point which has been of infinite importance in every age of the Church. It is a truth which is always assailed by Satan, and needs guarding with jealous care. Let us grasp it firmly, and make it a settled principle in our religion. If there is light in a house it will shine through the windows: if there is any real hope in a man’s soul it will be seen in his ways. Show me your hope in your life and daily behaviour. Where is it? Wherein does it appear? If you cannot show it, you may be sure it is nothing better than a delusion and a snare.
The times demand a very distinct testimony from all ministers on this subject. The truth on this point requires very plain speaking. Let us settle it in our minds deeply, and beware of letting it go. Let no man deceive us with vain words. “He that doeth righteousness is righteous.” “He that saith he abideth in Him, ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.” (1 John 2:6, 3:7) The hope that does not make a man honest, honourable, truthful, sober, diligent, unselfish, loving, meek, kind, and faithful in all the relations of life, is not from above. It is only “the talk of the lips which tendeth to penury.” “He that boasteth himself of a false gift, is like clouds and wind without rain.” (Prov. 14:23, 25:11)
(a) There are some in the present day who flatter themselves they have a good hope because they possess religious knowledge. They are acquainted with the letter of their Bibles; they can argue and dispute about points of doctrine: they can quote texts by the score, in defense of their own theological opinions. They are perfect Benjamites in controversy: – they can “sling stones at an hair-breadth, and not miss.” (Judges 20:16) And yet they have no fruits of the Spirit, no charity, no meekness, no gentleness, no humility, nothing of the mind that was in Christ. And have these people a hope? Let those believe it who will, I dare not say so. I hold with St. Paul, “Though a man speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not charity, he is become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though a man has the gift of prophecy, and understands all mysteries, and all knowledge, and has not charity, he is nothing.” Yes: hope without charity is no hope at all. (1 Cor. 13:1–3)
(b) There are some again who presume to think they have a good hope because of God’s everlasting election. They boldly persuade themselves that they were once called and chosen of God to salvation. They take it for granted that there was once a real work of the Spirit on their hearts, and that all therefore must be well. They look down upon others, who are afraid of professing as much as they do. They seem to think, “We are the people of God, we are the temple of the Lord, we are the favoured servants of the Most High, – we are they that shall reign in heaven, and none beside.” And yet these very people can lie, and cheat, and swindle, and be dishonourable! Some of them can even get drunk in private, and secretly commit sins of which it is a shame to speak! And have they a good hope? God forbid that I should say so! The election which is not “unto sanctification” is not of God, but of the devil. The hope that does not make a man holy is no hope at all.
(c) There are some in this day who fancy they have a good hope because they like hearing the Gospel. They are fond of hearing good sermons. They will go miles to listen to some favourite preacher, and will even weep and be much affected by his words. To see them in church one would think, “Surely these are the disciples of Christ, surely these are excellent Christians!” – And yet these very people can plunge into every folly and gaiety of the world. Night after night they can go with their whole heart to the opera, the theatre, or the ball. They are to be seen on the racecourse. They are forward in every worldly revel. Their voice on Sunday is the voice of Jacob, but their bands on week days are the hands of Esau. – And have these people a good hope? I dare not say so. “The friendship of the world is enmity with God;” the hope that does not prevent conformity to the world, is no hope at all. “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.” (James 4:4, 1 John 5:4)
Let us beware of any hope that does not exercise a sanctifying influence over our hearts, lives, tastes, conduct, and conversation. It is a hope that never came down from above. It is mere base metal, and counterfeit coin. It lacks the mint stamp of the Holy Ghost, and will never pass current in heaven. The man that has a real hope, no doubt, may be overtaken in a fault; He may stumble occasionally in his practice, and be drawn aside from the right path for a while. But the man that can allow himself in any willful and habitual breach of God’s law is rotten at the heart. He may talk of his hope as much as he pleases, but he has none in reality. His religion is a joy to the devil, a stumbling block to the world, a sorrow to true Christians, and an offence to God. Oh, that man would consider these things! Oh, that many would use some such prayer as this, “ From antinomianism and hypocrisy, good Lord, deliver me!”
I have now done what I proposed to do. I have shown the five leading marks of a sound good hope. – (1) It is a hope that a man can explain. (2) It is a hope that is drawn from Scripture. (3) It is a hope that is founded on Christ. (4) It is a hope that is felt within the heart. (5) It is a hope that is manifested outwardly in the life. – Such, I firmly believe is the hope of all true Christians, of every name, and Church, and denomination, and people, arid tongue. Such is the hope that we must have, if we mean to go to heaven. Such is the hope without which, I firmly believe, no man can be saved. Such is “the good hope through grace.”
Suffer me now to apply the whole subject to the conscience of every reader in a practical way. What shall it profit us to know truths unless we use them? What shall it avail us to see the real nature of a good hope unless the matter be brought home to our own souls? This is what I now propose to do, if God permit, in the remainder of this paper. May the spirit of God apply my words to the heart of every reader of these pages with mighty power! Man may speak, and preach, and write, but God alone can convert.
(1) My first word of application shall be a question. I offer it to all who read this paper, and I entreat each reader to give it an answer. That question is, “What is your own hope about your soul?”
I do not ask this out of idle curiosity. I ask it as an ambassador for Christ, and a friend to your best interests. I ask it in order to stir up self-inquiry, and promote your spiritual welfare. I ask, “What is your hope about your soul?”
I do not want to know whether you go to church or chapel: there will be no account of these differences in heaven. I do not want to know whether you approve of the Gospel, and think it very right and proper that people should have their religion, and say their prayers; all this is beside the mark: it is not the point. The point I want you to look at is this, “What is your hope about your soul?”
It matters nothing what your relations think. It matters nothing what other persons in the parish or town approve. The account of God will not be taken by towns, or by parishes, or by families: each must stand forth separately and answer for himself. “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Rom. 14:12) And what is the defense you mean to set up? What is to be your plea? “What is your hope about your soul?”
Time is short, and is passing quickly away: yet a few years, and we shall be all dead and gone. The trees perhaps are cut down out of which our coffins will be made; the winding sheets perhaps are woven which will surround our bodies; the spades perhaps are made that will dig our graves. Eternity draws near. There ought to be no trifling. “What, what is your hope about your soul?” Another world will soon begin. Trade, politics, money, lands, cottages, palaces, eating, drinking, dressing, reading, to hunting, shooting, drawing, working, dancing, feasting, will soon be at an end for ever. There will remain nothing but a heaven for some, and a hell for others. “What, what is your hope about your soul?”
I have asked my question. And now I ask every reader as in the sight of God, What is your reply?
Many would say, I believe, if they spoke the truth, “I don’t know anything about it. I suppose I am not what I ought to be. I dare say I ought to have more religion than I have. I trust I shall have more some day. But as to any hope at present, I really don’t know.”
I can quite believe that this is the state of many. I have seen enough of the spiritual ignorance of men to fill me with deep sorrow. I am convinced that there is no error, or heresy, or “ism,” which is ruining so many souls as the heresy of ignorance. I am convinced that there are myriads of people in England who do not even know the A B C of Christianity, and are nothing better than baptized heathen. I have heard of a man, in his last days, whose only hope was, “that he had always kept his Church, and voted for the Blues.” I have heard of a woman, who was asked on her deathbed where she hoped to go, and said, “She hoped she should go with the crowd.” I have little doubt that there are thousands of people in this country who are much in the same condition, knowing nothing whatever about their state before God. If this be the condition of any reader of this paper, I can only say, May God convert you! May God awaken you! May God open your eyes before it is too late!*
[*“When we deal with the carnal, secure, careless sinners (and they are a vast multitude), and ask them a reason of that hope of heaven they pretend to, is not this their common answer; “I live inoffensively; I keep God’s law as well as I can; whenever I fail, I repent, and beg God’s mercy for Christ’s sake: my heart is sincere, though my knowledge and attainments be short of others.” If we go on further to inquire what acquaintance they have with Jesus Christ? what application their souls have made to Him? what workings of faith on Him? what use they have made of His righteousness for justification and of His Spirit for sanctification? what they know of living by faith on Jesus Christ? we are barbarians to them. And in this sad state thousands in England live, and die, and perish eternally. Yet so thick is the darkness of the age, that many of them live here and go hence with the reputation of good Christians; and some of them may have their funeral sermon and praise preached by an ignorant flattering minister; though it may be the poor creatures did never, in the whole course of their lives, nor at their deaths, employ Jesus Christ so much for any entry to heaven, purchased by His blood and accessible by faith in Him, as a poor Turk doth Mahomet for a room in his beastly paradise!” – Traill.]
Look at that man who goes to the Bank of England on a dividend day, and asks to be paid a large sum of money. Is his name down among the list of people to be paid? No! – Has he any title or right to claim payment? No: he has none! – He only knows that other people are receiving money, and that he would like to receive some too. You know well that you would call the man “out of his mind”: you would say he was nothing better than a madman. But stop! Take care what you are saying! You are the real madman, if you mean to claim heaven at last, when you have no title, no warrant, no ground of hope to show. Once more, I say, May God open your eyes!
But many, I believe, would reply to my question that “they have hope.” They would say, “I am not as bad as some, at any rate. I am no heathen. I am no infidel. I have some hope about my soul.”
If this be your case, I beseech you to consider calmly what your hope really is. I entreat yen not to be content with saying, like a parrot, “I hope, – I hope, – I hope;” but to examine seriously into the nature of your confidence, and to make sure that it is well-founded. – Is it a hope you can explain? – Is it scriptural? – Is it built on Christ? – Is it felt in your heart? – Is it sanctifying to your life? – All is not gold that glitters. I have warned you already that there is a false hope as well as a true: I offer the warning again. I beseech you to take heed that you be not deceived. Beware of mistakes.
There are ships lying quietly in Liverpool and London docks, about to sail for every part of the globe. They all look equally trustworthy, so long as they are in harbour; they have all equally good names, and are equally well-rigged and painted: but they are not all equally well-found and equally safe. Once let them put to sea, and meet with rough weather, and the difference between the sound and unsound ships will soon appear. – Many a ship which looked well in dock has proved not seaworthy when she got into deep water, and has gone down at last with all hands on board! Just so it is with many a false hope. It has failed completely, when most wanted: it has broken down at last, and ruined its possessor’s soul. You will soon have to put to sea. I say again, beware of mistakes.
I leave my question here. I earnestly pray that God may apply it to the hearts of all who read this paper. I am sure it is much needed. I believe there never was a time when there was so much counterfeit religion current, and so many “false hopes” passing off for true. There never was a time when there was so much high profession, and so little spiritual practice, so much loud talk about preachers, and parties, and Churches, and so little close walking with God, and real work of the Spirit. There is no lack of blossoms in Christendom, but there is a melancholy scarcity of ripe fruit. There is an abundance of controversial theology, but a dearth of practical holiness. There are myriads who have a name to live, but few whose hearts are really given to Jesus Christ, – few whose affections are really set on things above. There will be some awful failures yet in many quarters: there will be still more awful disclosures at the last day. There are many hopes nowadays, which are utterly destitute of foundation. I say, for the last time, Beware of mistakes.
(2) My second word of application shall be a request. I make it to all readers of this paper who feel they have no hope and desire to have it. It is a short simple request. I entreat them to seek “a good hope” while it can be found.
A good hope is within the reach of any man, if he is only willing to seek it. It is called emphatically in Scripture, a “good hope through grace.” It is freely offered, even as it was freely purchased: it may be freely obtained, “without money and without price.” Our past lives do not make it impossible to obtain it, however bad they may have been; our present weaknesses and infirmities do not shut us out, however great they may be. The same grace which provided mankind with a hope, makes a free, full, and unlimited invitation: – “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely”; – “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find.” (Rev. 22:17, Matt. 7:7.)
The Lord Jesus Christ is able and willing to give “a good hope” to all who really want it. He is sealed and appointed by God the Father to give the bread of life to all that hunger, and the water of life to all that thirst. “It pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell.” (Col. 1:19) In Him there is pardon and peace with God, bought by the precious blood which He shed upon the cross. In Him there is joy and peace for any believer, and a solid, well-grounded expectation of good things to come. In Him there is rest for the weary, refuge for the fearful, a cleansing fountain for the unclean, medicine for the sick, healing for the brokenhearted, and hope for the lost. Whosoever feels labouring and heavy-laden with sin, whosoever feels anxious and distressed about his soul, whosoever feels afraid of death and unfit to die, – whosoever he is, let him go to Christ and trust in Him. This is the thing to be done: this is the way to follow. Whosoever wants “hope,” let him go to Christ.
If any reader of this paper really wants to enjoy a good hope, let him seek it from the Lord Jesus Christ. There is every encouragement to do so. The Thessalonians in old time were, like the Ephesians, dead in trespasses and sins, having no hope, and without God in the world; but when St. Paul preached Jesus to them, they arose from their miserable state and became new men. God gave them a “good hope through grace.” The door through which Manasseh and Magdalene entered, is still open: the fountain in which Zacchaeus and Matthew were washed, is still unsealed. Seek hope from Christ, and you shall find it.
Seek it honestly, and with no secret reserve. The ruin of many is that they are not fair and straightforward. They say that they “try as much as they can,” and that they really “want to be saved,” and that they really “look to Christ”; and yet in the chamber of their own heart there lies some darling sin, to which they privately cling, and are resolved not to give it up. They are like Augustine, who said, “Lord convert me: but not now.” Seek honestly, if you wish to find a good hope.
Seek it in humble prayer. Pour out your heart before the Lord Jesus, and tell Him all the wants of your soul. Do as you would have done had you lived in Galilee eighteen hundred years ago, and had a leprosy: go direct to Christ, and lay before Him your cares. Tell Him that you are a poor, sinful creature, but that you have heard He is a gracious Saviour, and that you come to Him for “hope” for your soul. Tell Him that you have nothing to say for yourself, – no excuse to make, nothing of your own to plead, – but that you have heard that He “receives sinners,” and as such you come to Him. (Luke 15:2)
Seek it at once without delay. Halt no more between two opinions: do not linger another day. Cast away the remnants of pride which are still keeping you back: draw nigh to Jesus as a heavy-laden sinner, and “lay hold upon the hope set before you.” (Heb. 6:18) This is the point to which all must come at last if they mean to be saved. Sooner or later they must knock at the door of grace and ask to be admitted. Why not do it at once? – Why stand still looking at the bread of life? Why not come forward and eat it? – Why remain outside the city of refuge? Why not enter in and be safe? – Why not seek hope at once, and never rest till you find it? Never did soul seek honestly in the way I have marked out, and fail to find!*
[*The words of Traill on this point of coming to Christ by faith, deserve many thoughts. They throw light on a subject which is constantly misunderstood. – He says, “When we come to deal with a poor, awakened sinner, who seeth his lost estate, and that he is condemned by the law of God, we find the same principles (pride and ignorance) working in him. We see him sick and wounded: we tell him where his help lies, in Jesus Christ ; and what his proper work is, to apply to Him by faith. What is his answer: ‘Alas,’ says the man, have been, and I am so vile a sinner, my heart is so bad, and so full of plagues and corruptions, that I cannot think of believing on Christ. But if I had but repentance, and some holiness in heart and life, and such and such gracious qualifications, I would then believe.” This his answer is as full of nonsense, ignorance and pride, as words can contain or express. It implies: (1) ‘If I were pretty well recovered, I would employ the Physician, Christ; (2) There is some hope to work out these good things by myself, without Christ; (3) When I come to Christ with a price in my hand I shall be welcome; (4) I can come to Christ when I will.’ So ignorant are people naturally of faith in Jesus Christ; and no words, or warnings, or plainest instructions can beat into men’s heads and hearts that the first coming to Christ by faith, and believing on Him, is not a believing we shall be saved by Him, but a believing on Him, that we may be saved by Him.” – Traill’s Works.]
(3) My last word of application shall be counsel. I offer it to all who have really obtained “good hope through grace.” I offer it to all who are really leaning on Christ, walking in the narrow way, and led by the Spirit of God. I ask them to accept advice from one who hopes that he is “their brother and companion in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ.” (Rev. 1:9) I believe the advice to be sound and good.
(a) If you have a good hope be zealous and watchful over it. Beware that Satan does not steal it away for a season, as he did from David and Peter. Beware that you do not lose sight of it by giving way to inconsistencies, and by conformity to the world. Examine it often, and make sure that it is not becoming dim: keep it bright by daily carefulness over your temper, thoughts, and words; keep it healthy by hearty, fervent, and continual prayer. The hope of the Christian is a very delicate plant. It is an exotic from above: it is not a plant of natural growth. It is easily chilled and nipped by the cold frosts of this world. Unless watered and tended carefully, it will soon dwindle away to a mere nothing, and scarcely be felt or seen. None find out this so painfully as dying believers who have not walked very closely with God. They find that they have sown thorns in their dying pillows, and brought clouds between themselves and the sun.
(b) For another thing, if you have a good hope, keep it always ready. Have it at your right hand, prepared for immediate use: look at it often, and take care that it is in good order. Trials often break in upon us suddenly, like an armed man. Sicknesses and injuries to our mortal frame sometimes lay us low on our beds without any warning. Happy is he who keeps his lamp well trimmed, and lives in the daily sense of communion with Christ!
Did you ever see a fire engine in some old country house? Did you ever remark how often it lies for months in a dark shed, untouched, unexamined, and uncleaned? The valves are out of order; the leather hose is full of holes; the pumps are rusty and stiff. A house might be almost burnt to the ground before it could lift a pailfull of water. In its present state it is a well-nigh useless machine.
Did you ever see a ship in ordinary, in Portsmouth harbour? The hull may perhaps be good and sound; the keel and topsides, and timbers and beams, and decks may be all that you could desire. But she is not rigged, or stored, or armed, or fit for service. It would take weeks and months to make her ready for sea. In her present state she could do little for her country’s defense.
The hope of many a believer is like that fire engine, and that ship. It exists, – it lives, – it is real, – it is true, it is sound, – it is good: it came down from heaven: it was implanted by the Holy Ghost. But, alas, it is not ready for use! Its possessor will find that out, by his own want of joy and sensible comfort, when he comes to his deathbed. Beware that your hope be not a hope of this kind. If you have a hope keep it ready for use, and within reach of your hand.
(c) For another thing, if you have a good hope, seek and pray that it may grow more and more strong every year. Do not be content with a “day of small things”; covet the best gifts: desire to enjoy full assurance. Strive to attain to Paul’s standard, and to be able to say,” I know whom I have believed,” – “I am persuaded that neither death nor life shall separate me from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ.” (2 Tim. 1:12, Rom. 8:38.)
Believe me, this part of my counsel is one that deserves close attention. Believe me, the things before us all will try our hope of what sort it is. Sickness and death are solemn things. They strip off all the tinsel and paint from a man’s religion; they discover the weak places in our Christianity; they strain our hopes to the very uttermost, and often make us well nigh despair. Old Christian, in Pilgrim’s Progress, had a sore trial at his latter end in crossing the cold river before he entered the celestial city. Faithful and true as he was, he still cried out, “All thy billows go over me,” and had a hard struggle to keep his footing. May we all lay this to heart? May we seek to know and feel that we are one with Christ and Christ in us! He that has hope does well; but he that has assurance does better. Blessed indeed are they who “abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost.” (Rom. 15:13)
(d) Finally, if you have a good hope, be thankful for it, and give God daily praise. Who has made you to differ? Why have you been taught to feel your sins, and nothingness, while others are ignorant and self-righteous? Why have you been taught to look to Jesus, while others are looking to their own goodness, or resting on some mere form of religion? Why are you longing and striving to be holy, while others are caring for nothing but this world? Why are these things so? There is but one answer, – Grace, grace, free grace, has done it all. For that grace praise God. For that grace be thankful.
Go on, then, to your journey’s end, “rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.” (Rom. 5:2) Go on, rejoicing in the thought that though you are a poor sinner Jesus is a most gracious Saviour, and that though you have trials here for a little season, heaven shall soon make amends for all.
Go on, wearing hope as a helmet in all the battles of life, – a hope of pardon, a hope of perseverance, a hope of acquittal in the judgment day, a hope of final glory. Put on the breastplate of righteousness: take the shield of faith; have your loins girt about with truth: wield valiantly the sword of the Spirit. But never forget – as ever you would be a happy Christian – never forget to put on the “helmet of hope.” (1 Thess. 5:8)
Go on, in spite of an ill-natured world, and be not moved by its laughter or its persecution, its slanders or its sneers. Comfort your heart with the thought that the time is short, the good things yet to come, the night far spent, the “morning without clouds” at hand. (2 Sam. 23:4) When the wicked man dies his expectation perishes; but your expectation shall not deceive you, – your reward is sure.
Go on, and be not cast down because you are troubled by doubts and fears. You are yet in the body: this world is not your rest. The devil hates you because you have escaped from him, and he will do all he can to rob you of peace. The very fact that you have fears is an evidence that you feel you have something to lose. The true Christian may ever be discerned by his warfare quite as much as by his peace, and by his fears quite as much as by his hopes. The ships at anchor at Spithead may swing to and fro with the tide, and pitch heavily in a southeastern gale; but so long as their anchors hold the ground they ride safely, and have no cause to fear. The hope of the true Christian is the “anchor of his soul, sure and steadfast.” (Heb. 6:19) His heart may be tossed to and fro sometimes, but he is safe in Christ. The waves may swell, and lift him up and down, but he will not be wrecked.
Go on, and “hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:13) Yet a little time, and faith shall be changed to sight, and hope to certainty: you shall see even as you have been seen, and know even as you have been known. A few more tossings to and fro on the waves of this troublesome world, – a few more battles and conflicts with our spiritual enemy, – a few more years of tears and partings, of working and suffering, of crosses and cares, of disappointments and vexations, – and then, then we shall be at home. The harbour lights are already in view: the haven of rest is not far off. There we shall find all that we have hoped for, and find that it was a million times better than our hopes. There we shall find all the saints, – and no sin, no cares of this world, no money, no sickness, no death, no devil. There, above all, we shall find Jesus, and be ever with the Lord! (1 Thess. 4:17) Let us hope on. It is worth while to carry the cross and follow Christ. Let the world laugh and mock, if it will; it is worth while to have “a good hope through grace,” and be a thorough decided Christian. I say again, – Let us hope on.