“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” This makes known the principle which is to be exercised in our approaches unto God, for, “without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). None but a genuine believer can obtain access unto God: all others are rigidly excluded. There must be the actual ex- ercise of faith in every spiritual work: “by faith Abel offered unto God” etc. (Heb. 11:4). The “full assurance of faith” does not here signify a firm knowledge of our sonship, but an implicit confidence in the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice and priesthood. Many Hebrews who had received in general the faith of the Gospel were wavering in their minds about the Person and office of Christ and the glorious things predicated of Him by the Apostle, and therefore he stresses the fact there must be a firm conviction of the reality and efficacy of the Atonement if we are to draw near unto God.
“Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” Here is the twofold preparation prescribed unto us for the right performance of this duty. In these expressions there is an obvious allusion unto the necessary preparations for Divine worship made by Israel under Judaism. As there were various ways in which the Jews became ceremonially and legally defiled, so there were various means appointed for their purification (Heb. 9:13). Those institutions the Apostle now applies spiritually: “our hearts” and “our bodies” signify the inward and the outward man. “Bodies washed with pure water” has no reference to baptism, but is to be understood of our members being preserved from evil and used for God. Rightly did John Owen say at the close of his exposition of these verses, “Universal sanctification upon our whole persons and the mortification in an especial manner of outward sins are required of us in our drawing nigh unto God.”
“Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience” has reference to an efficacious application of the blood of Christ unto sanctification or internal purification, so that the burden of guilt is removed. This is accomplished originally in the communication of regenerating grace at the new birth, and is repeated whenever the Spirit grants a fresh renewal and experience of the virtues of the Atonement. That a good conscience is an indispensable qualification for access to God is seen from, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:14), where “serve” signifies communion and worship. When the conscience is unpurged, the weight of condemnation lies so heavily upon it that we are then at a loss in approaching the Holy One.
Now to sum up. It is one thing to know theoretically the legal way and right of approach unto God, but it is quite another to enjoy conscious access to Him. For that, the aid of the Spirit is imperative, but He will not perform His gracious operations within us if He be grieved. If we have spent the night in ransacking the newspapers, in worldly conversation, or in backbiting the servants and saints of God, think you that the Holy Spirit will draw out your heart unto the Father when you perform your evening devotions? Not so, unless you penitently confess those sins, and sincerely determine there shall be no repetition of them. “Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you” (James 4:8). What has been before us was strikingly foreshadowed of old in connection with the approach of Israel’s priests unto God: first the blood was applied to their persons, then the oil (emblem of the Spirit), and then they washed at the laver.
The matter of our approach into the presence of God is one of vital importance, yet it is one (like so many others these days) upon which much confusion and misconception exists. We will not now attempt to canvass the principal errors pertaining thereto, for there would be little profit for either writer or reader in prosecuting such a task. Rather do we wish to call attention unto the various aspects of the subject, for it is failure to perceive these and hold their due balance which has resulted in the fostering of false impressions in quarters which some regard as being the most orthodox sections of Christendom. If one essential aspect of this subject be ignored, or if another one be emphasized to the virtual exclusion of everything else, then the most misleading and dangerous ideas must result therefrom.
Let us begin by asking the question, Is it possible for a depraved and defiled creature to obtain access unto the thrice Holy One? If there is one thing taught more plainly in the Scriptures than another it is that sin separates the sinner and God. This fearful fact is impressively set forth in Genesis 3:24: that flaming sword was the symbol of a sin-hating God, barring approach unto the emblem of His presence. When Jehovah appeared on Sinai, amid the most solemn manifestations of His awful presence, even the favoured Hebrews were commanded under pain of death to keep their distance from Him. An Israelite who became ceremonially unclean was rigidly excluded from the Camp. Even when the tabernacle and the temple were erected, the common people were not allowed to enter the holy places. In how many different ways did God make it evident that sin obstructed any access to Himself!
But not only does God debar the sinner from access, the sinner himself has no desire to approach unto Him—rather does he wish to flee as far as possible from His presence. A sense of sin and the guilt of it upon the conscience drives the sinner from the Lord. This fact was also solemnly exemplified at the dawn of human history—just as long as our first parents remained in dutiful subjection to their Maker, walking in obedience to His commandments, they enjoyed blissful communion with Him; but as soon as they became self-willed and rebellious, all was radically altered. After they had eaten of the forbidden fruit and they heard the voice of the Lord God in the Garden, they fled in terror, seeking to hide from Him. And thus it has been ever since.
Is there, then, no access to God for the fallen creature? If there were not we should not be engaged in writing this article. Access to God is possible—possible for the chief of sinners—but only via the appointed Mediator. As the Lord Jesus so emphatically declared, “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me” (John 14:6). It is through the Lord Jesus Christ, and by Him alone—not through priest or pope, Mary or the angels, good works or tears—that we may obtain access to God. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access” (Rom. 5:1, 2). In pointing this out we are covering ground which is thoroughly familiar to all our readers, truth which is still proclaimed in many places. Yet it is by no means the whole of the truth on this subject, though it is all that is presented thereon in certain quarters. It is those neglected aspects which we now desire to particularly stress.
Once again we would point out that unless we differentiate between things that differ there is bound to be confusion and error. So here. We must distinguish between the way of access which Christ has opened for sinners into the presence of God, the qualifications which are required from those entering that way, and the exercise of those qualifications so that the way is actually used. But the moment we mention “qualification” and the necessity for “exercising” the same, some will demur, insisting that we are thereby sounding a legalistic note and destroying the simplicity of the Gospel. Then let us ask- such objectors, Are hypocrites entitled to use that way of access which Christ has opened? Do “Christians” who exercise no faith, but simply offer cold and mechanical prayers, enter into God’s presence? If the objector answers No—as honesty compels him to do—then he has granted our contention, whether or not he agrees with us in detail.
How many professing Christians do really obtain personal access to and enjoy conscious communion with the Holy One? What percentage of real Christians are actually accustomed to do so? Alas, what multitudes have been deceived by Satan into supposing that all they have to do is get down on their knees, plead the name of Christ, and automatically they obtain audience with the Most High. Not so. It still holds good that, “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened that it cannot save, neither His ear heavy that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear” (Isa. 59:1, 2). The principles of the Divine government know no alteration, and allowed and unconfessed sins act as an impassable barrier between the soul and God as truly today as they did under the Old Testament economy. No change of dispensation modifies the requirements of God’s holiness or reduces the enormity of sin.
Three things are absolutely necessary if any is to have access to God. First, he must have the legal right or title to do so. Second, he must possess the necessary moral fitness. Third, he must be spiritually and experimentally empowered. Our legal right to approach unto God is found alone in the merits of Christ: His sacrificial work and the present exercise of His Priesthood give me title to draw near unto the Throne of Grace. But does that cover the whole matter? Is nothing more than a legal title required? Ah, the real saint knows otherwise from painful experience. How often has he entered his closet, sought audience with the Divine Majesty, pleaded the blood of Christ, yet without any conscious access. So far from any conscious approach to Him, God seems far off, and all is darkness and deadness in the soul. Like the Spouse in the Canticles, he seeks his Beloved, but finds Him not.
“Behold I go forward, but He is not there: and backward, but I cannot perceive Him. On the left hand, where He doth work, but I cannot behold Him: He hideth Himself on the right hand, that I cannot see Him” (Job 23:8, 9). Has that painful experience of Job’s never been duplicated in your own? Was his case altogether exceptional? Far from it, as the recorded lamentations of others of God’s children clearly show. “Why standest Thou afar off, O LORD? why hidest Thou Thyself in times of trouble?” (Psa. 10:1). Yes, even the sweet Psalmist of Israel knew what it was to feel God’s distance from him and to be denied conscious access to Him. “How long wilt Thou forget me, O LORD, forever? how long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me?” (Psa. 13:1). Again and again this was his agonizing experience. And there are seasons in the history of all believers when such language is just as suitable to express their experience as Psalm 46 or Psalm 150 is suited to their cases on other occasions.
“For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Eph. 2:18). The words we have placed in italics present another vital aspect of our subject, showing as they do the Christian’s dependence upon the agency of the Holy Spirit. Herein each person of the blessed Trinity is accorded His own distinctive place in the economy of re- demption: access is unto the Father, it is through Christ, but it is by the Spirit. The sinful believer can no more approach unto the Father without the gracious operations of the Spirit than he could without the mediation of the Lord Jesus. One has procured for us the legal right; the Other supplies the experimental enablement. The exercise of faith, as we shall yet see, is another essential prerequisite for drawing near to God, but the actings of faith lie not within our own unaided power—He who first imparted this heavenly gift must quicken and energize it if it is to function properly.
“For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” What place is given to this part of the Truth in most sections of Christendom today? None at all. And even where the third Person of the Godhead is duly owned and honoured, how feebly do the saints apprehend their imperative need of the Spirit’s daily working within them. His operations are essential if our leaden hearts are to be raised above the things of time and sense, if our affections are to flow forth unto their rightful Object, if faith is to be duly acted upon Him, if a sense of His presence is to be communicated unto the soul. But will the Spirit perform these gracious operations if we are indifferent as to whether or not our conduct grieves Him? If a Christian has spent his evening at the card-table or the theatre, and before retiring to rest bows his knees, will the Holy Spirit, at that time, draw out the heart of such an one and grant him conscious access to the Father?
What has just been raised brings us to still another aspect of our subject—there must be a moral fitness if the suppliant is to obtain access to God. Alas, that so little is heard about this in the ministry of the day. Yet the reason for this omission is not far to seek: where the dominant object is the pleasing of the hearer, little will be said in condemnation of a carnal walk, and still less of the serious consequences thereof. But though the pulpit has become so unfaithful, God abides faithful, and He will not wink at evil doing. No, not in His own children, nor will He allow the sacred name of Christ to be used as a passport into His presence by the workers of iniquity. Is it not written, “With the pure Thou wilt show Thyself pure; and with the obstinate Thou wilt show Thyself obstinate” (Psa. 18:26); that means what it says, and says what it means.
Loose walking severs communion with God, and then will He act distantly toward us. An earthly parent (who is prudent) will not conduct himself with the same familiarity and cordiality toward a disobedient child as he will unto a dutiful one. Our folly must be repented of and humbly acknowledged before fellowship can be restored with God. Yea, even if our fault be only against a fellow-creature it must be righted before God will accept our worship: “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matt. 5:23, 24)—how many are unable to obtain conscious access to God through failure at this very point! “Turn ye unto Me, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will turn unto you” (Zech. 1:3): if we would have God turn unto us in mercy we must turn unto Him in obedience.
“Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace” (Rom. 5:1, 2). This brings before us still another aspect of our subject: the necessity for the exercise of faith in order to approach God. The same truth is presented again in, “In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him” (Eph. 3:12). Faith is the appointed means of access, for it is the hand which receives every blessing from God. Faith in God’s willingness to grant us an audience, faith in the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning sacrifice to provide us with the title of approach: faith in the Divine promises that if we contritely confess our sins He will cleanse us therefrom. At first a small degree of faith enables the Christian to approach unto God, but as he advances in the knowledge of his own heart and of God’s hatred of sin, stronger faith needs to be exercised if we are to draw near the heavenly Throne with confidence. Yet we must be very careful not to mistake blatant presumption for holy assurance.
“Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us through the veil (that is to say, His flesh); and having a High Priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:19-22). This is what may be termed the classic passage on our present theme, gathering up as it does into one comprehensive statement the essential features thereof. But what a solemn example it affords of the lack of proportion which now so generally prevails: we are probably safe in saying that for every once verse 22 is quoted, verse 19 is cited 20 times. It is this disproportion which has distorted the Truth and led to the error mentioned by us in the earlier paragraphs. Let us now carefully examine these verses.
The passage opens by announcing that Christians have “liberty” (margin) or a “freedom with confidence” to approach unto God, this language presenting a designed contrast from the case of national Israel under the old economy. This liberty to draw near unto the heavenly Mercy-seat is “by the blood of Jesus.” The foundation of all confidence in our access to God and the title to approach unto Him lies in the infinitely meritorious sacrifice which Christ offered unto God on our behalf, and this we must ever plead before Him. Our encouragement so to do lies in the office which our Saviour now exercises on behalf of His people, namely, “High Priest over the house of God.” This is most blessedly brought before us in, “for we have not a High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin: let us therefore come boldly (freely) unto the Throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15, 16).
In what next follows in our passage we are shown the way or manner in which we are to make use of the unspeakable privilege described in verses 19-21. In other words, we are required to meet the terms of verse 22 if we are to enjoy conscious access unto the thrice holy God. First, let us draw near with “a true heart.” This is the principal qualification. A “true heart” is one that beats true unto God. It denotes sincerity in contrast from hypocrisy. It is not the reverent posture of the body or the language of the lips with which God is chiefly concerned, but rather with the heart—the seat of our affections. They who worship Him, “must worship Him in spirit and in truth,” or their performance is utterly futile. The mere outward performance of religious duties, no matter how scrupulously undertaken, is not sufficient—it is with the sincerity of our hearts God has chief regard to in all our approaches unto Him. God will bear with infirmities, but not with hypocrisy.
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”—Acts 4:12
These words are striking in themselves. But they are much more striking if you consider when and by whom they were spoken.
They were spoken by a poor and unpopular Christian, in the midst of a persecuting Jewish Council and it was a wonderful confession about Christ. These words were spoken by the lips of the Apostle Peter. This is the man who, a few weeks before, abandoned Jesus and fled: this is the very man who three times denied his Lord. There is another spirit in him now. He now stands up boldly before priests and Sadducees, and tells them the truth to their face, saying: “[Jesus] is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name in heaven given to men by which we must be saved” [Acts 4:11-12].
In considering this serious subject there are three things I wish to do:
I. First, to show you the doctrine being declared here by the Apostle.
II. Secondly, to show you some reasons why this doctrine must be true.
III. Thirdly, to show you some consequences that naturally flow from the doctrine.
I. First let me show you the doctrine of the text.
Let us make sure that we correctly understand what the Apostle Peter means. He says of Christ, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name in heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Now what is this? This is a very critical statement that we need to clearly understand.
He means that no one can be saved from sin—from its guilt, power, and consequences—except by Jesus Christ.
He means that no one can have peace with God the Father—obtain forgiveness of sin in this world, and escape the wrath of God that is coming after death—except through the atoning death and mediation of Jesus Christ.
Only in Christ will we find God’s rich provision of salvation for sinners. Only in Christ will we find God’s abundant mercies coming down from Heaven to earth.
Only the blood of Christ can cleanse us; only the righteousness of Christ’s can clothe us; Only the sacrifice of Christ can give us a title to heaven. Jews and Gentiles, educated and uneducated, rich and poor—everyone, no matter what their position or standing in life must either be saved by Jesus Christ or lost forever.
And the Apostle emphatically adds, “There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” There is no other person commissioned, sealed, and appointed by God the Father to be the Savior of sinners, except Christ. The keys of life and death are only found in His hand, and all who want to be saved must go to Him.
There was only one place of safety in the day when the flood came upon the earth, and that was Noah’s ark. All other places and things—mountains, towers, trees, rafts, boats—all were completely useless. Likewise, there is only one hiding place for sinners who want to escape the storm of God’s anger—they must hide their souls in Christ.
There was only one man to whom the Egyptians could go to in the time of famine, when they wanted food—they could only go to Joseph: it was a waste of time to go to anyone else. Likewise, there is only One to whom hungering souls must go, if they don’t want to perish forever—they must go to Christ.
There was only one word that could save the lives of the men of Ephraim in the day when the men of Gilead fought with them, and took control of the fords of the Jordan [Judges 12]—they must say the word “Shibboleth,” or die. Well, in the same way, there is only one name that will save us when we stand at the gate of heaven—we must name the name of Jesus as our only hope, or be thrown into the Lake of Fire forever.
Such is the doctrine of the text. “Salvation is found in no one else but Jesus Christ: in Him is complete salvation—salvation to the uttermost, salvation for the very chief of sinners;—without Jesus there is no salvation at all.” This doctrine is in perfect harmony with our Lord’s own words in the Book of John: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” [John 14:6]. It is the same thing that Paul told the Corinthians: “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” [1 Corinthians 3:11]. And it is the same truth that John tells us in his first Epistle: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” [1 John 5:11-12]. All these texts state the same undeniable truth, that there is no salvation except through the person of Jesus Christ.
Dear friends, make sure that you understand this before you pass from this world. Perhaps you think this is old news. Perhaps you feel, “These are ancient things: who doesn’t know this simple truth? Of course we believe there is no salvation except by Christ.” But listen carefully to what I say: make sure that you understand this doctrine, or else in time you will stumble, and be offended at what I am about to say.
Remember that you are to base your entire salvation on the person of Christ and on Christ only. You are to totally reject and dismiss all other hopes and trusts. You are not to rest partially on Christ—partially on doing all you can—partially on going to church—partially on receiving the Lord’s Supper. In the matter of your justification Christ is to be everything. This is the doctrine of the text before us this morning.
Remember that heaven is standing before you, and Christ is the only door into it; hell is beneath you, and only Christ is able to deliver you from it; the devil is behind you and accusing you of sin, and Christ is the only place of safety from the devil’s wrath and accusations; the law is against you, and only Christ is able to redeem you; sin is weighing you down, and only Christ is able to take it away. This is the doctrine of the text before us this morning.
Now do you see it? I hope you do. But I fear many who think so, may find, before this sermon is over, that they really don’t.
II. Let me show you, in the second place, some reasons why the doctrine of the text, that Jesus is the only way of salvation, must be true.
I could cut short this part of the subject with one simple argument: “God says so.” “One plain text,” said an old preacher, “is as good as a thousand reasons.”
But I will not do this. I intend to answer the many objections that are ready to rise in many hearts against this doctrine, by pointing out the strong foundations on which it stands.
(1) Let me then say, for one thing, the doctrine, that Jesus is the only way of salvation, must be true, because man is what man is.
Now, what is man? There is one broad, sweeping answer, which takes in the whole human race: man is a sinful creature. All children of Adam born into the world, whatever their name or nation is, are corrupt, wicked, and defiled in the sight of God. Their thoughts, words, ways, and actions are all, more or less, defective and imperfect.
Is there no country on the face of the earth where sin doesn’t reign? Is there no happy valley, no secluded island, where innocence can be found? Is there no tribe on earth, far away from civilization, and commerce, and money, and weapons, and luxury, and books, where morality and purity flourish? No, dear friends: there is none. Look over all the voyages and travels you can lay your hand on, from Columbus down to Capt Cook, and you will see the truth of what I am asserting. The most isolated islands of the Pacific Ocean—islands cut off from all the rest of the world, islands where every person there are all ignorant of Rome and Paris, London and Jerusalem—these islands have been found to be full of impurity, cruelty, and idolatry. The footprints of the devil have been traced to every shore. The truthfulness of the third chapter of Genesis has been established everywhere. Whatever else savages have been found ignorant of, they have never been found ignorant of sin.
But are there no men or women in the world who are free from this corruption of nature? Have there not been high and exalted souls who have every now and then lived faultless lives? Have there not been some, if it is only a few, who have done everything that God required, and thus proved that sinless perfection is a possibility? No, dear friends: there have been none. Look over all the biographies and lives of the holiest Christians; note how the brightest and best of Christ’s people have always had the deepest sense of their own failures and corruption. They groan, they mourn, they sigh, they weep over their own shortcomings: it is one of the common grounds on which they meet. Patriarchs and Apostles, Early Church Fathers and Reformers, Luther and Calvin, Knox and Bradford, Rutherford and Bishop Hall, Wesley and Whitefield, Martyn and M’Cheyne—all are in total agreement in being totally aware of their own sinfulness. The more light they have, the more humble they seem to be; the more holy they are, the more they seem to feel their own unworthiness, and to glory, not in themselves, but in Christ.
Now what does all this seem to prove? In my mind it seems to prove that human nature is so tainted and corrupt that, left to himself, no man could be saved. Man’s case appears to be a hopeless one without a mighty Savior. There must be a Mediator, an Atonement, an Advocate, to make such poor sinful creatures acceptable with God: and I find this nowhere, except in the person of Jesus Christ. Heaven for man without a mighty Redeemer, peace with God for man without a mighty Intercessor, eternal life for man without an eternal Savior—in one word, salvation without Christ—all appear to me to be utter impossibilities.
I lay these things before you, and ask you to consider them. I know it is one of the hardest things in the world to realize the sinfulness of sin. To say we are all sinners is one thing; to have an idea what sin must be in the sight of God is something else. Sin is too much a part of us to allow us to see it as it is: we don’t feel our own moral deformity. We are like those animals in creation which are vile and loathsome to our senses, but are not so to themselves, nor yet to one another: their loathsomeness is their nature, and they don’t perceive it. Our corruption is part and parcel of ourselves, and at our best we have only a feeble comprehension of its intensity.
But this you can be sure of—if you could see your own lives with the eyes of the angels who never fell, you would never doubt this point for a moment. Depend on it, no one can really know what man is, and not see that the doctrine of our text must be true. There can be no salvation except though Christ.
(2) Let me say another thing. The doctrine of our text, that Jesus is the only way of salvation, must be true, because God is what God is.
Now what is God? That is indeed a deep question. We know something of His attributes: He has not left Himself without witness in creation; He has mercifully revealed to us many things about Himself in His Word. We know that God is a Spirit—eternal, invisible, almighty—the Maker of all things, the Preserver of all things—holy, just, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-remembering— infinite in mercy, in wisdom, and in purity.
But, what is sad, is how base and demeaning our greatest ideas are when we come to put down on paper what we believe God to be! How many words and expressions we use whose complete meaning we cannot understand! How many things our tongues say about God which our minds are utterly unable to conceive! How small a part of Him do we really see! How little of Him can we possibly know! How poor and worthless are any words of ours to convey any idea of Him who made this mighty world out of nothing, and with whom “one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day!” How weak and inadequate are our poor feeble intellects to conceive of Him who is perfect in all of His works—perfect in the greatest as well as perfect in the smallest, perfect in appointing the days and hours in which Jupiter, with all its satellites, will travel around the sun—perfect in forming the smallest insect that creeps over a few feet of our little globe! How little can our busy helplessness comprehend a Being who is always commanding and directing all things, in heaven and earth, by universal providence: controlling and directing the rise and fall of nations and dynasties, like Nineveh and Carthage; directing the exact length to which men like Alexander and Napoleon will extend their conquests; directing the smallest step in the life of the humblest believer among His people: all at the same time, all continuously, all perfectly—all for His own glory.
The blind man is no judge of the paintings of Rubens or Titian; the deaf man is insensible to the beauty of Handel’s music; the person who lives in Greenland can have but a faint notion of the climate of the tropics; the Australian savage can only form in his mind a remote conception of a locomotive engine, however well you may describe it: there is no place in their minds to take in these things; they have no set of thoughts which can comprehend them; they have no mental fingers to grab hold of them. And, in just the same way, the best and brightest ideas that man can form of God, compared to the reality which we will one day see, are indeed weak and faint.
But, my friend, the one thing that I think is very clear is this: The more any one considers calmly who God really is, the more they must feel the immeasurable distance between God and themselves: the more they meditate, the more they must see that there is a great gulf between them and God. Their conscience, I think, will tell them, if they will let it speak, that God is perfect, and they are imperfect; that God is very high, and they are very low; that God is glorious majesty and they are nothing but a poor worm: and that if they are ever to stand before Him in judgment with any comfort, then they must have a mighty helper, or they will not be saved.
And what is all this but the very doctrine of our text? What is all this but coming around to the conclusion I am urging you to make? With such a person as God to give account to, we must have a mighty Savior. We must have an Almighty Friend and Advocate on our side—who can answer every charge that can be laid against us, and plead our cause with God on equal terms. We want this, and nothing less than this. Vague notions of mercy will never give true peace. And such a Savior, such a Friend, such an Advocate is nowhere to be found except in the person of Jesus Christ.
I lay this reason before you. I well know that people may have false notions of God as well as everything else, and shut their eyes against the truth; but I say boldly and confidently, no man or woman can really have high and honorable views of who God is, and escape the conclusion that the doctrine of our text must be true. There can be no possible salvation except by Jesus Christ.
(3) Let me say, in the third place, this doctrine must be true, because the Bible is what the Bible is.
All through the Bible, from Genesis down to Revelation, there is only one simple account of the way in which a man or woman must be saved. It is always the same: only by our Lord Jesus Christ—through faith; never by our own works and righteousness.
You see it dimly revealed at first: it looms through the mist of a few promises, but there it is. You see it more clearly later: it is taught by the pictures and symbols of the law of Moses.
You have it still more clearly as time goes by: the Prophets saw in visions many particulars about the Redeemer that was to come.
Finally, you have the complete revelation, in the sunshine of New Testament history: Christ incarnate—Christ crucified —Christ rising again, Christ preached to the world.
But one golden thread runs through the whole Bible; no salvation except by Jesus Christ. The bruising of the serpent’s head predicted in the day of the fall; the clothing of our first parents with animal skins, the sacrifices of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the Passover, and all the particulars of the Jewish law—the high priest, the altar, the daily offering of the lamb, the holy of holies entered only by blood, the scapegoat, the cities of refuge—all are many witnesses to the truth set forth in the text: all preach with one voice, salvation only by Jesus Christ.
In fact, this truth appears to me to be the great focus of the Bible, and all the different parts and portions of the book are meant to pour light on it. I can gather from it no ideas of pardon and peace with God except in connection with this truth. If I could read of one soul in it who was saved without faith in the Savior, I might perhaps not speak so confidently. But when I see that faith in Christ—whether in a coming Christ or a crucified Christ—was the prominent feature in the religion of all who went to heaven; when I see Abel owning Christ in his better sacrifice, at one end of the Bible, and the saints in glory in John’s vision rejoicing in Christ, at the other end of the Bible; when I see a man like Cornelius, who was devout, and feared God, and gave to the poor and prayed, told, in effect that in order to be saved, he was to send for Peter, and hear of Christ; when I see all these things I say, I feel bound to believe that the doctrine of the text is the doctrine of the whole Bible. No salvation, no way to heaven, except through Jesus Christ.
I don’t know what use you make of your Bible—whether you read it or whether you don’t—whether you read it all, or whether you only read the parts that you like; but this I tell you plainly, if you read and believe the whole Bible, you will find it hard to escape the doctrine that there is no salvation except through the person and blood of Jesus Christ. I don’t see how you can consistently reject what I have been endeavouring to prove. Christ is the way, and the only way; Christ is the truth, and the only truth; Christ is the life, and the only life.
Such are the reasons which seem to me to confirm the truth laid down in our text. What man is—what God is—what the Bible is—all appear to me to lead us on to the same great conclusion: no possible salvation without Christ. I leave them with you, and move on.
III. And now, in the third and last place, let me show you some consequences which flow naturally out of our text.
This is a critical part of our subject. The truth I have been trying to set before you is absolutely critical for mankind and I must speak of it with urgency. If Christ is the only way of salvation, what are we to feel about the many people in the world? This is the point I am now going to take up.
I believe that many persons would go with me as far as I have gone, and would go no further. They will allow my premises, but they will have nothing to do with my conclusions. They think it unloving to say anything which appears to condemn others. For my part I cannot understand such love: it seems to me the kind of love which would see a neighbor slowly drinking poison, but never intervene to stop him; a love which would allow migrants to embark in a leaky, un-seaworthy vessel, and not intervene to prevent them; a love which would see a blind man walking near a precipice, and think it wrong to cry out, and tell him there was danger.
I believe the greatest love is to tell the greatest quantity of truth. I believe it is a lack of love to hide the legitimate consequences of such a text as we are now considering, or to close our eyes to them. And I solemnly call on every one who really believes there is no salvation in anyone but Christ and no other name, given under heaven whereby we must be saved—I solemnly call on those persons to listen to me, while I set before them some of the tremendous consequences of our text.
One mighty consequence then, which seems to be learned from this text, is the utter uselessness of any religion without Christ.
There are many to be found today who have this kind of religion. They would not like to be called Deists, but they are Deists. They believe that there is a God, that there is what they are pleased to call Providence, that God is merciful, that there will be a life after death—this is about the sum and substance of their creed; and as to the distinguishing tenets of Christianity, they don’t seem to recognize them at all. Now I denounce such a system as a baseless fabric—its foundation is nothing but man’s ideas—its hopes an utter delusion. The god of such people is an idol of their own invention, and not the glorious God of the Scriptures—their god is a miserably imperfect creature: without holiness, without justice, without any attribute but that of vague indiscriminate mercy. Such a religion is nothing but a toy to play with: it is far too unreal to die with. It utterly fails to meet the needs of man’s conscience: it offers no remedy; it affords no rest for the souls of men and women; it cannot comfort, for it cannot save. Beware of it if you love life. Beware of a religion without Christ.
Another consequence to be learned from the text is, the folly of any religion in which Christ is not given the first place.
I need not remind you how many hold to a system of this kind. The Socinian tells us that Christ was a mere man; that His blood had no more efficacy or value than that of another; that His death on the cross was not a real atonement and propitiation of man’s sins; and that, after all, one must work their way to heaven, and not just have faith. I solemnly declare that I believe such a system is disastrous to the souls of men and women. It seems to me to strike at the very root of the whole plan of salvation which God has revealed in the Bible, and practically to nullify the greater part of the Scriptures. It overthrows the priesthood of the Lord Jesus, and strips Him of His office; it converts the whole system of the law of Moses touching sacrifices and ordinances, into a meaningless form; it seems to say that the sacrifice of Cain was just as good as the sacrifice of Abel; it puts a man adrift on the sea of uncertainty, by taking from him the finished work of a divine Mediator. Beware of Deism. If you love life, beware of the least attempt to depreciate and undervalue the person of Christ, and His offices and works. The only name by which you can be saved, is the name that is above every other name, and the slightest contempt poured on it is an insult to the King of Kings. The salvation of your soul has been established by God the Father on Christ, and no other; and if Christ were not God Himself, He never could accomplish it: there could be no salvation at all.
Another consequence to be learned from our text is the great error, committed by those who add anything to Christ, as being necessary to salvation.
It is an easy thing to profess belief in the Trinity, and reverence for our Lord Jesus Christ, and yet to make some addition to Christ as the ground of hope, and so to overthrow the doctrine of the text as really and completely as by denying it altogether.
The Roman Catholic Church does this systematically. She adds things over and above the requirements of the Gospel, by her own invention. She speaks as if Christ’s finished work was not a sufficient foundation for a sinner’s soul, and as if it were not enough to say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” She sends men and women to penances and absolution, to masses and extreme unction, to fasting and bodily mortification, to the Virgin and the saints—as if these things could add to the safety there is in Christ Jesus. And in doing this she greatly sins against our text. Let us beware of any Roman Catholic additions to the simple way of the Gospel.
But I fear the Roman Catholic Church does not stand alone in this matter: I fear there are thousands of professing Protestants who are often erring in the same direction, although, of course, in a very different degree; they begin adding, perhaps without thinking, other names to the name of Christ, or attaching importance to them which they ought never receive. The ultra Churchman in England who thinks God’s covenanted mercies are tied to a system of church government in which bishops are the chief clerics—the ultra Evangelical, who traces every evil in the Church to its connection with the State and denominations, and can talk of nothing but the independent system—the ultra Baptist, who shuts out from the Lord’s table every one who has not received his views of baptism—the ultra Plymouth Brethren, who believes all knowledge resides within his own church, and condemns every one outside as a poor weak babe in Christ;—all these, I say, however unwittingly, appear to me to have a most uncomfortable tendency to add to the doctrine of our text. All seem to me to be practically declaring that salvation is not to be found simply and solely in Christ; all seem to me to be practically adding another name to the name of Jesus whereby men and women must be saved—even the name of their own denomination and sect; all seem to me to be practically replying to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” not merely, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” but also “Come and join us.”
Now I call upon every true Christian to beware of such extremism. In saying this I don’t want to be misunderstood. I like everyone to be decided in his views of church matters, and to be fully persuaded of their correctness; all I ask is that you will not put these things in the place of Christ, or place them anywhere near Him, or speak of them as if you thought them needful to salvation. However dear to us our own particular views may be, let us beware of thrusting them in between the sinner and the Savior, let us beware, in short, of adding to the doctrine of the text. In the things of God’s Word, let us remember that addition, as well as subtraction, is a great sin.
The last consequence which seems to me to be learned from our text is, the utter absurdity of supposing that we ought to be satisfied with a man’s state of soul if he is simply sincere.
This is a very common heresy indeed, and one against which we all need to be on our guard. There are thousands who say today, “We have nothing to do with the opinions of others. They may perhaps be mistaken, though it is possible they are right and we are wrong: but if they are sincere, we hope they will be saved, even as we are.” And all this sounds tolerant and loving, and people like to believe their own views are also considered as such.
Now I believe such notions are entirely contradictory to the Bible, whatever else they may be. I cannot find in Scripture that any one ever got to heaven merely by sincerity, or was accepted with God if he was only earnest in maintaining his own views. The priests of Baal were sincere when they cut themselves with knives till the blood gushed out; but still that did not prevent Elijah from commanding them to be treated as wicked idolaters. Manasseh, King of Judah, was doubtless sincere when he burned his children in the fire to Moloch; but who doesn’t know that he brought on himself great guilt by doing so. The apostle Paul, as a Pharisee, was sincere while he persecuted the Church, but when his eyes were opened he mourned over this as a special wickedness. Let us beware of allowing for a moment that sincerity is everything, and that we have no right to speak against a man’s spiritual state because of the sincere opinions he holds. On such principles, many atrocities committed in the name of religion might each and all be defended. However, they will not stand: they will not bear the test of Scripture. Once we allow such notions to be true, then you might as well throw your Bible away. Sincerity is not Christ, and therefore sincerity cannot atone for sin.
I am sure that these consequences sound very unpleasant to the minds of some. But I tell you of them advisedly and deliberately. I say calmly that a religion without Christ, a religion that takes away from Christ, a religion that adds anything to Christ, a religion that puts sincerity in the place of Christ—all are dangerous: all are to be avoided, and all are alike contrary to the doctrine of our text.
You may not like this. You may think that I am unloving, narrow-minded, bigoted, and so forth: so be it. But you will not tell me my doctrine is not that of the Word of God. That doctrine is, salvation in Christ to the very uttermost—but without Christ there is no salvation at all.
I feel it a duty to bear my solemn testimony against the spirit of the day in which we live; to warn you against its infection. It is not Atheism I fear so much, in the present times, as Pantheism. It is not the system which says nothing is true, so much as the system which says everything is true; it is not the system which says there is no Savior, so much as the system which says there are many saviors and many ways to peace. It is the system which is so liberal that it dares not say anything is false; it is the system which is so loving that it will allow everything to be true; it is the system which seems ready to honor others as well as our Lord Jesus Christ and to class them all together. The system tells us not to condemn or to treat with disrespect the writings of Confucius and Zoroaster, Socrates and Mohammad, the Hindus of India and the African devil-worshippers, Arius and Pelagius, Ignatius Loyola and Socinus. It is the system which commands us to smile complacently on all creeds and systems of religion: the Bible and the Koran, the Hindu Veda and the old wives’ tales of Rabbinical writers and the rubbish of the Early Church Fathers’ traditions, and the book of Mormon by Joseph Smith—we are told to listen to them all: none are to be denounced as lies. It is the system which is so scrupulous about the feelings of others, that we are never to say that they are wrong; it is the system which is so liberal that it calls a man a bigot if he dares to say, “I know my views are right.” This is the world system, this is the tone of feeling which I fear this very day. This is the world system of today which I desire emphatically to testify against and denounce.
What is it but a bowing down before a great idol specifically called liberality? What is it all but a sacrificing of truth upon the altar of a caricature of love? Beware of it, beware that the rushing stream of public opinion does not carry you away. Beware of it, if you believe the Bible. Has the Lord God spoken to us in the Bible, or has He not? Has He shown us the way of salvation plainly in that Bible, or has He not? Has He declared to us the dangerous state of all those who do not agree with the Holy Scriptures, or has He not? Focus your mind, and look these questions fairly in the face, and give them an honest answer. Tell us that there is some other inspired book beside the Bible, and then we will know what you mean; tell us that the whole Bible is not inspired, and then we will know where to meet you: but grant for a moment that the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, is God’s truth, and then I don’t know in what way you can escape the doctrine of the text. From the liberality which says everybody is right, from the love which forbids you to say anyone is wrong, from the peace which is bought at the expense of truth—may the good Lord deliver you!
I speak for myself: I find no resting-place between downright Evangelical Christianity and downright infidelity, whatever others may find. I see no half-way house between them. I can see consistency in an infidel, however much I may pity him; I can see consistency in the full maintenance of Evangelical truth: but as to a middle course between the two—I cannot see it; and I say so plainly. Let it be called intolerant and unloving. I can hear God’s voice nowhere except in the Bible, and I can see no salvation for sinners in the Bible except through Jesus Christ. In Him I see abundance: without Him I see none. And as for those who hold to religions in which Christ is not everything, whoever they may be, I have a most uncomfortable feeling about their safety. I do not for a moment say that none of them are saved, but I say that those who are saved are saved by their disagreement with their own principles, and in spite of their own system. The man who wrote the famous line, “He can’t be wrong whose life is in the right,” was a great poet undoubtedly, but he was a wretched divine.
Let me conclude with a few words by way of application.
First of all, if there is no salvation except in Christ, make sure that you have an interest in that salvation yourself.
Do not be content with hearing, and approving, and assenting to the truth, and going no further. Seek to have a personal interest in this salvation: lay hold by faith for your own soul; do not rest till you know and feel that you have gotten actual possession of that peace with God which Jesus offers, and that Christ is yours, and you are Christ’s. If there were two, or three, or more ways of getting to heaven, there would be no necessity for pressing this matter upon you. But if there is only one way, you will hardly wonder that I say, “Make sure that you are in it.”
Secondly, if there is no salvation except in Christ, then try to do good to the souls of all who do not know Him as a Savior.
There are millions and millions in this miserable condition—millions in foreign lands, millions in your own country, millions who are not trusting in Christ. You ought to feel for them if you are a true Christian; you ought to pray for them; you ought to work for them, while there is yet time. Do you really believe that Christ is the only way to heaven? Then live as if you believed it.
Look around the circle of your own relatives and friends: count them up one by one, and think how many of them are not yet in Christ. Try to do good to them in some way or other: act as a man or woman should act who believes his friends to be in danger. Do not be content with their being kind and sociable, gentle and good-tempered, moral, and courteous; be unhappy about them till they come to Christ, and trust in Him: for you ought to be distressed over their condition. Leave no one alone who is without Christ—take every opportunity to reaching them. I know all this may sound like enthusiasm and fanaticism. I wish there was more of it in the world: anything, I am sure, is better than a quiet indifference about the souls of others, as if everybody was on their way to heaven. Nothing, to my mind, so proves our little faith, as our lack of feelings about the spiritual condition of those around us.
Thirdly, if there is no salvation except in Christ, let us love all who love the Lord Jesus with sincerity, and exalt Him as their Savior, whoever they may be.
Let us not draw back, because they do not see eye to eye with us in everything. Whether a person is an Independent, a Wesleyan or a Baptist, let us love them if they truly love Christ, and gives Christ His rightful place. We are all traveling fast towards a place where names and forms and Church government will be nothing, and Christ will be everything: let us get ready for that place now, by loving all who are in the way that leads to it.
This is true love: to believe all things and hope all things, so long as we see Bible doctrines maintained and Christ exalted. Christ must be the single standard by which all opinions must be measured. Let us honor all who honor Him: but let us never forget that the same apostle Paul who wrote about love, also says, “If any man does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be cursed.” If our love and tolerance are wider than that of the Bible, they are worth nothing at all: indiscriminate love is no love at all, and indiscriminate approval of all religious opinions, is only a new name for infidelity. Let us hold out our right hand to all who love the Lord Jesus, but let us beware how we go beyond this.
Lastly, if there is no salvation except by Christ, then you must not be surprised if ministers of the Gospel preach a lot about Him.
We cannot tell you too much about the name which is above every name: you cannot hear of Him too often. You may hear too much about controversy in our sermons—you may hear too much of men and books, of works and duties, of forms and ceremonies, of sacraments and ordinances—but there is one subject which you never hear too much of: you can never hear too much of Christ.
When we become tired of preaching Christ, then we are false ministers: when you are wearied of hearing of Him, your souls are in an unhealthy state. When we have preached Him all our lives, the half of His excellence will remain untold. When you see Him face to face in the day of His appearing, you will find there was more in Him than your heart ever conceived.
Let me leave you with the words of an old writer, to which I desire humbly to subscribe. “I know no true religion but Christianity; no true Christianity but the doctrine of Christ: the doctrine of His divine person, of His divine office, of His divine righteousness, and of His divine Spirit, which all that are His must believe. I know no true ministers of Christ but such as make it their business, in their calling, to commend Jesus Christ, in His saving fullness of grace and glory, to the faith and love of men and women; no true Christian but one united to Christ by faith and love, unto the glorifying of the name of Jesus Christ, in the beauty of Gospel holiness. Ministers and Christians of this spirit have been for many years my brothers, sisters, and friends, and I hope shall ever be, wherever the hand of God shall lead me.” Amen.
My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Scripture reading: Acts 5:14-42
Only believe! God will not fail you, beloved. It is impossible for God to fail. Believe God; rest in Him. The Bible is the most important book in the world. But some people have to be pressed in before they can be pressed on. Oh, this glorious inheritance of holy joy and faith, this glorious baptism in the Holy Spirit–it is a perfected place. “All things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17), because “you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:23).
God means for us to walk in this royal way. When God opens a door, no man can shut it (Rev. 3:8). John made a royal way, and Jesus walked in it. Jesus left us the responsibility of allowing Him to bring forth through us the greater works (John 14:12). Jesus left His disciples with much and with much more to be added until God receives us in that Day.
When we receive power, we must stir ourselves up with the truth that we
are responsible for the need around us. God will supply all our need so that the need of the
needy may be met through us. God has given us a great indwelling force of power. If we do not step into our privileges, it is a tragedy.
There is no standing still. “As He is, so are we in this world” (1John 4:17)
We must dare to press on until God comes forth in mighty power. May God give us the hearing of faith so that the power may come down like a cloud. Press on until Jesus is glorified and multitudes are gathered in.. “We are the offspring of God” (Acts 17:29), and we have divine impulses. After we have received, we will have power. We have been focusing too much on feeling the power. God is waiting for us to act. Jesus lived a life of perfect activity. He lived in the realm of divine appointment.
Thought for today: God’s rest is an undisturbed place where heaven bends to meet you.
Come to Revival at Coal Hill Assembly of God with Missionary Pastor Stephen McKay
Without fear of challenge Jesus could say: “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). His claim does not surprise us in the least. What is surprising, however, is that he should then say to his disciples, and so by implication to us: “Ye are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). For he does not exhort us to be that light; he plainly says that we are the world’s light, whether we bring our illumination out into places where men can see it, or hide it away from them. The divine life planted in us, which itself is so utterly foreign to the world all around it, is a light source designed to illumine to mankind the world’s true character by emphasizing through contrast its inherent darkness. Accordingly Jesus goes on: “Even so let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” From this it is clear that to separate ourselves from the world today, and thus deprive it of its only light, in no way glorifies God. It merely thwarts his purpose in us and in mankind.
It is true that, as we saw earlier, the career of John the Baptist was rather different. He did in fact withdraw from the world to live austerely in desert places apart, subsisting, we are told, on locusts and wild honey. Men went out there to seek him, for even there he was a burning and a shining light. Yet we are reminded that “he was not that Light.” He came only to bear witness to it. His testimony was the last and greatest of an old prophetic order, but it was so because it pointed forward to Jesus. Jesus alone was “the true Light which lighteth every man, coming into the world”; and he certainly “was in the world,” not outside of it (John 1:9, 10). Christianity derives from him. God can use a John crying in the wilderness, but he never intended his Church to be a select company living by the principle of abstinence.
Earlier we saw how abstinence-“handle not, nor taste, nor touch”-was merely one more element in the world system, and as such was itself suspect (Col. 2:21). But we must go a stage further than this, and once again the apostle Paul comes to our help. In Romans 14:17 he shows how the Christian life is something removed al. together from controversy about what we do and what we don’t do. “The kingdom of God is not eating.and drinking”-not, that is to say, to be conceived in those terms at all-“but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost,” which are in a realm wholly different. The Christian lives, and is guided, not by rules specifying just how far he may mix with men, but by these inward qualities which are mediated to him by God’s Holy Spirit.
Righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost: It may be good for a moment to direct our attention to the second of these. For peace, we find, is a potent element in God’s answer to his Son’s prayer that he would keep us from the evil one (John 17:15).
In God himself there is a peace, a profound undisturbedness of spirit, which keeps him untroubled and undistressed in the face of unspeakable conflict and contradiction. “In the world ye have tribulation,” Jesus says, but “in me ye may have peace” (John 16:33). How easily we get troubled as soon as something goes wrong! But do we ever pause to consider what went wrong with the great purpose upon which God had set his heart? God, who is light, had an eternal plan. Causing light to shine out of darkness he designed this world to be the arena of that plan. Then Satan, as we know, stepped in to thwart God, so that men came to love darkness rather than light. Yet in spite of that setback, the implications of which we appreciate all too little, God preserves in himself a quite undisturbed peace. It is that peace of God which, Paul tells us, is to garrison our hearts and thoughts in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7).
What does “garrison” really mean? It means that my foe has to fight through the armed guard at the gates before he can reach me. Before I can be touched, the garrison itself has first to be overcome. So I dare to be as peaceful as God, for the peace that is keeping God is keeping me. This is something that the world knows nothing about. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I untoyou” (John 14:27).
How utterly men failed to understand Jesus! Whatever he did was wrong in their eyes, for the light that was in them was darkness. They even dared to identify the Spirit that was in him with Beelzebub the prince of devils. Yet when they accused him of gluttony and drunkenness, what was his response? “Father, I thank thee!” (Matt. 11:19,25). He was unmoved, because in Spirit he abode in the peace of God.
Or recall that last night before his passion. Everything seemed to be going wrong: a friend going out into the night to betray him, another drawing a sword in anger, people going into hiding, or running away naked in their eagerness to escape. In the midst of it all Jesus said to those who had come to take him, “I am he,” so peacefully and so quietly that instead of him being nervous it was they who trembled and fell backwards. This was an experience that has been repeated in the martyrs of every age. They could be tortured or burned, but because they possessed his peace, the onlookers could only wonder at their dignity and composure. It is no surprise to us therefore that Paul describes this peace as beyond understanding.
How striking is the contrast Jesus draws between “in the world” where we are to have tribulation, and “in me” where we may have peace. If God has placed us in the one, to be thronged by its pressures and claims and needs, he has placed us also in the Other, to be held by him undisturbed amid it all. Jesus himself once asked, “Who touched me?” The believing touch of one in that Capernaum multitude registered with him. It matched his own heart of compassion, whereas the pressure of the rest crowding upon him had no such effect. All their impatient jostling did not touch him in the least, for there was little in common between them and him. “Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” If our life is the life of men, we are swayed by the world. If it is the life of the Spirit it is unmoved by worldly pressures.
“Righteousness and peace and joy”: with such things is the kingdom of God concerned. Never let us be drawn away, therefore, into the old realm of “eating and drinking,” for it is neither the prescription of these things nor their prohibition that concerns us, but another world altogether. So we who are of the kingdom need not abstain. We overcome the world not by giving up the world’s things but by being otherworldly in a positive way: by possessing, that is, a love and a joy and a peace that the world cannot give andthat men sorely need.
Far from seeking to avoid the world we need to see how privileged we are to have been placed there by God. “As thou didst send me into the world, even so send I them into the world.” What a statement! The Church is Jesus’ successor, a divine settlement planted here right in the midst of Satan’s territory. It is something that Satan cannot abide, any more than he could abide Jesus himself, and yet it is something that he cannot by any means rid himself of. It is a colony of heaven, an alien intrusion on his territory, and one against which he is utterly powerless. “Children of God,” Paul calls us, “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye are seen as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15). God has deliberately placed us in the cosmos to show it up for what it is. We are to expose to the divine light, for all men to see them, its God-defying rebelliousness on the one hand and its hollowness and emptiness on the other.
And our task does not stop there. We are to proclaim to men the good news that, if they will turn to it, that light of God in the face of Jesus Christ will set them free from the world’s vain emptiness into the fullness that is his. It is this twofold mission of the Church that accounts for Satan’s hatred. There is nothing that goads him so much as the Church’s presence in the world. Nothing would please him more than to see its telltale light removed. The Church is a thorn in the side of God’s adversary, a constant source of irritation and annoyance to him. We make a heap of trouble for Satan simply by being in the world. So why leave it?
“Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15). This is the Christian’s privilege. It is also his duty. Those who try to opt out of the world only demonstrate that they are still in some degree in bondage to its ways of thinking. We who are “not of it” have no reason at all to try to leave it, for it is where we should be.
So there is no need for us to give up our secular employments. Far from it, for they are our mission field. In this matter there are no secular considerations, only spiritual ones. We do not live our lives in separate compartments, as Christians in the Church and as secular beings the rest of the time. There is not a thing in our profession or in our employment that God intends should be dissociated from our life as his children. Everything we do, be it in field or highway, in shop, factory, kitchen, hospital or school, has spiritual value in terms of the kingdom of Christ. Everything is to be claimed for him. Satan would much prefer to have no Christians in any of these places, for they are decidedly in his way there. He tries therefore to frighten us out of the world, and if he cannot do that, to get us involved in his world system, thinking in its terms, regulating our behavior by its standards. Either would be a triumph for him. But for us to be in the world, yet with all our hopes, all our interests and all our prospects out of the world, that is Satan’s defeat and God’s glory.
Of Jesus’ presence in the world it is written that “the darkness overcame it not” (John 1:5 margin). Nowhere in Scripture does it tell us of sin that we are to “overcome” it, but it distinctly says we are to overcome the world. In relation to sin God’s word speaks only of deliverance; it is in relation to the world that it speaks of victory.
We need deliverance from sin, because God never intended we should have any touch with it; but we do not need, nor should we seek, deliverance from the world, for it is in the purpose of God that we touch it. We are not delivered out of the world, but being born from above, we have victory over it. And we have that victory in the same sense, and with the same unfailing certainty, that light overcame darkness.
“This is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith. And who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4, 5). The key to victory is always our faith relationship with the victorious Son. “Be of good cheer,” he said. “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Only Jesus could make such a claim; and he could do so because he could earlier affirm: “The prince of the world … hath nothing in me” (John 14:30). It was the first time that anyone on earth had said such a thing. He said it, and he overcame. And through his overcoming the prince of the world was cast out and Jesus began to draw men to himself.
And because he said it, we now dare say it too. Because of my new birth, because “whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world,” I can be in the same world as my Lord was in, and in the same sense as he was I can be utterly apart from it, a lamp set on a lampstand, giving light to all who enter the house. “As he is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). The Church glorifies God, not by getting out of the world but by radiating his light in it. Heaven is not the place to glorify God; it will be the place to praise him. The place to glorify him is here.
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The notion that we enter the Christian life by an act of acceptance is true, but that is not all the truth. There is
much more to it than that. Christianity involves an acceptance and a repudiation, an affirmation and a denial.
And this not only at the moment of conversion but continually thereafter day by day in all the battle of life till the
great conflict is over and the Christian is home from the wars. To live a life wholly positive is, fortunately,
impossible. Were any man able to do such a thing it could be only for a moment. Living positively would be like
inhaling continuously without exhaling. Aside from its being impossible, it would be fatal. Exhalation is as
necessary to life as inhalation. To accept Christ it is necessary that we reject whatever is contrary to Him. This
is a fact often overlooked by eager evangelists bent on getting results. Like the salesman who talks up the good
points of his product and conceals its disadvantages, the badly informed soulwinner stresses the positive side
of things at the expense of the negative.