by John Angell James, 1834
Among all the objects of human desire and pursuit, there is not one which we have so much encouragement to seek, or to hope for; there is not one, in reference to which despondency is so much out of place; there is not one, to which indubitable certainty so surely belongs, as the salvation of the soul, if it be sincerely desired, and scripturally sought for. The whole Bible is one vast encouragement to seek for eternal life; the death of Christ is another; and the existence and history of the church of God upon earth is a third. Men may despond of gaining wealth, or fame, or rank, or health; but no man out of hell need despond of gaining salvation. It is nearer to us, and more within our reach, than any other blessing we can name or think of. Our feelings in regard to earthly possessions can never rise higher than hope; but, in regard to salvation, they may take the character of certainty, provided we use the proper means.
1.It is one great source of encouragement, that whatever difficulties lie in our way--all center in ourselves.
God will not, and Satan and the world cannot, hinder our salvation. There is no obstacle which is in itself insurmountable; no enemy invincible; no objection unanswerable. If a man had any other object in view, for the attainment of which there existed no difficulty outside of himself, he would feel greatly encouraged, and be ready to congratulate himself as tolerably certain of success. Reader, the only difficulty in the way of your salvation is in yourself. True it is, there are many and great ones there, the least of which your own strength is too weak to surmount; but the Lord God Omnipotent has engaged to you his power, if you are willing to be helped; and therefore, in this view of the case, even your own weakness is no insurmountable obstacle. The only question is, "Are you sincerely willing and concerned to be saved?" Once made truly willing, what is to hinder your salvation? Dwell again and again on this simple idea, for it is full of encouragement. "The only difficulty in my way to heaven is that which exists in my own heart, and God is willing to remove that."
2.It is a great encouragement, that God's mind is so full of goodwill towards us, and that his heart is so set upon our salvation.
If we had reason to suppose that he was unfriendly towards us; that he was reluctant to save us; that his mind was upon the balance between friendship and hostility; that it needed much importunity to entreat him to be merciful, and that he granted us salvation unwillingly and grudgingly; this would indeed be discouraging, and might induce a fear that we should not succeed. But the contrary is the fact. "God is love." "He is gracious, and full of compassion." "God is rich in mercy;" and "plenteous in mercy." He even "delights in mercy." "He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." "He delights not in the death of a sinner, but would rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live." Yes, he confirms it by an oath, "As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked." Yes, it is said that the salvation of sinners is so much his delight, that he has engaged it shall be carried on—"the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hands."
Now "by the pleasure of the Lord" we are to understand the salvation of sinners. Nor is this all, for it is affirmed that "the Lord takes pleasure in those who hope in his mercy." We cannot please him better, than by asking him to save us, and by expecting salvation at his hands. Now, inquirer, take this delightful view of God's dispensation towards you; for this is the right one. He is love; he has an infinite delight in making his creatures happy. It is true his love is a holy love, and therefore the more to be depended upon. Having made provision, in the gift and mediation of Christ, for saving you in a way consistent with his truth, and holiness, and justice, and thus removed every obstacle out of the way of the flowing forth of his love towards you--he is infinitely intent on saving and blessing you. All your dark, desponding thoughts of him are unjust, and injurious to his mercy. To conceive of him as unwilling to save you, is a slander upon his love; a false and foul calumny upon his grace. If he were with difficulty persuaded to save you, why did he give his Son to die for you? The salvation of your soul, the salvation of millions of souls, the salvation of the whole world, is not so great an act of love as the gift of Jesus Christ. After this you need not wonder at anything, nor doubt anything. "He who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" You have God's mind, and heart, and purpose, and attributes, all on the side of your salvation; and is not this encouragement enough?
3. Consider the mind, character, and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He came on purpose to save sinners; he has done everything necessary for their salvation; he is able to save to the uttermost; he has invited all to him for salvation; he has promised to save them--and do you think he will now fail? Think of the glory of his person, God manifest in the flesh; think of the design of his incarnation, sufferings, and death; think of the perfection of his work in satisfying Divine justice, magnifying the law, sustaining the moral government of God in all its purity, dignity, and effectiveness; think of the love of his heart, the power of his arm, and the connection between his mediatorial renown and the salvation of sinners; think of his universal dominion over angels, devils, men, nature, providence; think of his continued and prevailing intercession at the right hand of God; think of his universal invitations, and his absolute promises. What topics these, what sources of encouragement! How much is his heart fixed upon the salvation of sinners! This was the joy that was set before him, and for which he endured the cross, despising the shame; this is the travail of his soul, and by it its ineffable longings will be satisfied. Your salvation is his business, and the accomplishment of it will be his reward. If he could be conceived to be indifferent to your salvation, will he be indifferent to his own glory? Will he belie his own name, and destroy his own work, and falsify his promises, and throw away his own reward, and impair his own renown as a Savior, by refusing to save you? Is it probable? Is it possible?
4. Dwell upon the infinite and all-sufficient resources of the Holy Spirit.
This Divine Agent is as omnipotent to sanctify, as the power of God was in the beginning to create the heavens and the earth. If you were cast upon your own resources, you might well exclaim, "Who is sufficient for these things?" and abandon the hope of salvation for fixed and remediless despair. But the economy of redemption provides no less for the effectual application of its benefits by the work of the Holy Spirit, than it does for the procurement of them by the mediation of Christ; and the claims of the Godhead were not more completely foreseen and provided for by the latter, than all the weakness, poverty, and wickednesses of the human heart, were foreseen and provided for also by the former. There is a glorious completeness in the scheme of redemption; even the suspicious eye of unbelief, and the searching look of a troubled and anxious conscience, can find no defect in it. The blindness of your judgment; the hardness and deceitfulness of your heart; the perversity of your will; the deadness of your conscience; the wildness of your imagination; the disorder of your passions; your backwardness to good; your proneness to evil; your irresoluteness; your timidity; your fickleness; all, all have been foreseen and provided for, in the inexhaustible riches of grace in the blessed Spirit of God. On those riches you are encouraged to rely and to draw, without measure and without end. You are not required to act, to speak, to will, to feel, to think, except in dependence on that Divine Agent. You are commanded to look to him for every variety of operation, and for every degree of influence, and for every timely putting forth of his power and wisdom, that the exigency of your circumstances may require. Read especially the following passages of Scripture, and ask if there be not encouragement enough in them? Luke 11:9-13; Rom. 8:10-17; James 1:5, 6; Gal. 5:22, 23; John 16:7-11; 2 Cor. 12:9, 10.
5. Dwell upon the general complexion of the word of God, as so largely made up of commands to seek salvation; invitations to accept of it; promises to insure it; and descriptions, setting forth its blessings in their vastness, variety, suitableness, and certainty. If the whole Bible were to be summed up in one short comprehensive sentence, it would be this—"This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." Or, reducing it still more, it would all be contained in that one word, of immense, infinite, and eternal import, Salvation. Everything in the Bible tends to this as its center—here all the lines of history and prophecy, of the Old Testament and the New, of the law and the gospel meet. Salvation glimmers amidst the clouds and shadows of the Levitical economy, and shines forth in all its glory from the facts of the Christian dispensation. It was the subject that dropped in sweet but mystic accents from the lips of Mercy on the despairing minds of our first parents; it was the subject which was hinted in the softer tones of the ceremonial law, when the thunders of the decalogue had ceased to terrify the affrighted Israelites at Sinai; it was the subject to which the prophet struck his harp, it was fore shadowed in the Psalms of David, and the enraptured ecstasies of Isaiah; it was the subject which angels sang on the night of Christ's nativity; it was the subject which evangelists recorded in their histories, and apostles described in their epistles; and which even the solemn visions of the Apocalypse seem designed to magnify and illustrate, by representing it as the point of harmony between heaven and earth, and the link that connects the events of time with the glories of eternity. The Bible, then, inquirer, presents salvation to your attention, and employs all its fullness to attract, all its authority to command, and all its graciousness to invite you, to its pursuit; and even uses its threatenings and its thunders for the merciful purpose of driving you for refuge to the hope set before you in the gospel. Is not this encouragement?
6. The unchangeableness of God's nature and covenant, is a source of boundless hope.
He has invited, he has commanded, he has promised; and he is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent; but he is the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, nor shadow of a change. Immutable in his nature, he is equally so in his purpose and in his promise. Whom he loves, he loves to the end. Could you examine the secret lists of his friends, you would find neither blots nor erasures there.
"We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose. For whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Whom he predestined, those he also called. Whom he called, those he also justified. Whom he justified, those he also glorified. What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who didn't spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how would he not also with him freely give us all things? Who could bring a charge against God's chosen ones? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes rather, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Could oppression, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written, "For your sake we are killed all day long. We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter." No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:28-39)
Sublime language! Triumphant boast! Inspired and inspiring exultation! Heaven heard it, and approved; hell heard it, and trembled; and let saints on earth hear it, and rejoice. Inquirer, be comforted; where a good work is begun in the heart, it shall be carried on until the day of Jesus Christ. The Spirit, who builds for himself a temple in the soul of man, will not leave it unfinished, nor allow it to sink to ruins after he has finished it. Though enemies without may oppose and ridicule, and though enemies within may stir up occasional insurrection and interruption, the work shall go on, until the top-stone shall be brought forth amidst the shouts of "Grace, grace!" The purpose of God must stand, in spite of all the force or fraud, the power and malice of earth and hell combined. Is not this encouragement?
7. Consider the sympathies and prayers of fellow Christians.
Discouraged as you may have been by the indifference and lukewarmness of some, let it comfort you to know that all are not thus. There are myriads of holy ministers of Christ, and millions of pious men and women from age to age, pouring out their fervent supplications to God, for those who are inquiring the way to Zion with their faces pointed there. Have you not heard your case borne with tenderness, and minuteness, and earnestness, upon the hearts of your friends and by your ministers? Have you not thus found the feelings of the assembly poured in a full tide of sympathy into your heart? Yes, and not only do the "Spirit and the bride say, Come," in this public manner—not only does the voice of united prayer commend you to God; but, in thousands of closets of praying men, you are commended to God, and Divine grace is implored on your souls. In those sad and solemn moments, when you are disheartened and ready to faint, when, instead of prayer, you can send forth nothing but groanings which cannot be uttered, then think, with pleasure and with hope, upon the many intercessors who are praying for you, and "thank God, and take courage."
8. Take encouragement from the consideration of the ministry of angels; for "are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation?" What offices they perform we know not, perhaps because it is not safe for us to know; why they are employed we know not; or what is the extent of our obligation we know not—but the bare fact that such instruments are employed about you, such attendants are engaged upon your interests, such spectators are witnessing you, such friends are sympathizing with you, is a sweetly pleasing and encouraging idea. They have already rejoiced over your conversion, if indeed you are converted; and have had you consigned to their care, to minister to your welfare. You may be despised by men, but you are regarded by angels; you may be neglected by men, but you are attended by angels; you may be dismissed by men, but you are associated with angels; you may be opposed and persecuted by men, but angels are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister unto your salvation. Is not this encouragement?
9. Consider how many who were once tried, disheartened, weak, as you are now, have been carried in safety through all their difficulties, and are now before the throne of God in glory everlasting.
The apostle John seems to have set open the doors of the heavenly temple, that the sights within might beam upon our eyes, and the sounds resound on our ears. "After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes, peoples, and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. They cried with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation be to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" And who are they that send forth such strains? Who are they, and from where did they come? "These are those who came out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes, and made them white in the Lamb's blood. Therefore they are before the throne of God, they serve him day and night in his temple. He who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They will never be hungry, neither thirsty any more; neither will the sun beat on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shepherds them, and leads them to springs of waters of life. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." They were once upon earth; once men of like passions with yourself; once beginning their religious course as you now are;
"Once they were mourning here below,
There is not a burden that oppresses your heart, but oppressed theirs; there is not a fear that agitates your mind, but agitated theirs; there is not a temptation that assails you, but assailed them; there is not an obstacle that terrifies you, but terrified them; they were once as ignorant, as weak, as sinful, as timid, as discouraged, as you are now; there is not a sorrow, a perplexity, or a danger with which you are painfully familiar, but they passed through before you. But there they are in heaven, more than conquerors over all these things, through him who loved them. He who saved them has engaged to save you; nor is his ear heavy, nor his arm shortened. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."
10. Let the magnitude of the blessing you are seeking, and the prospect of its consummation in eternal glory, encourage you.
You are seeking salvation, a word which none but the mind of God can comprehend, for it includes, as I have already said, what is infinite and eternal. It will bless you for both worlds, this and the next. In the present life, it will bestow upon you the pardon of all your sins; the justification of your person; the renewal and sanctification of your nature; adoption into the family of God; the Spirit of adoption. It will be the guardian of your reputation; the protector of your property; an auxiliary to your health; a spring of comfort in the dreariest situation; a light in the darkest scene of distress; a companion in the deepest solitude; a counselor in every perplexity; a help in weakness; a check in temptation; it will associate you with the redeemed and holy people of God; conduct you in honor through the changing scenes of life; attend you to the verge of eternity; soften your dying pillow; assuage the agony of separation; and cheer you amidst the agonies of death, with the hopes of immortality.
And all this is but the prelude, the pledge, and the foretaste of what awaits you beyond the grave! What that is, should be told only in the words of the Spirit of God; for "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man--the things which God has prepared for those who love him." "Father," said our Lord, "I will that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory." "So shall we ever be with the Lord." "He who believes on the Son has everlasting life." "To them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life." "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; for the things which are not seen are eternal." "Who has begotten us to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time." "It does not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."
"After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes, peoples, and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. They cried with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation be to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" All the angels were standing around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before his throne, and worshiped God, saying, "Amen! Blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might, be to our God forever and ever! Amen." One of the elders answered, saying to me, "These who are arrayed in white robes, who are they, and from where did they come?" I told him, "My lord, you know." He said to me, "These are those who came out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes, and made them white in the Lamb's blood. Therefore they are before the throne of God, they serve him day and night in his temple. He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They will never be hungry, neither thirsty any more; neither will the sun beat on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shepherds them, and leads them to springs of waters of life. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." (Revelation 7:9-17)
Anxious inquirer after salvation, take courage, look upward to heaven, and onward to eternal glory, and see what you are seeking, and what you are encouraged to expect!