by John Angell James, 1834
DEEP SOLICITUDE ABOUT SALVATION,
Reader, you have lately been awakened, by the mercy of God, to ask, with some degree of concern, that momentous question, "What shall I do to be saved?" No wonder you are concerned; the wonder is, that you were not concerned about this matter before, that you are not more deeply solicitous now, and that all who possess the word of God do not sympathize with you in this concern. Everything justifies solicitude, and condemns indifference as to this matter. Unconcern about the soul, indifference to salvation, is a most irrational as well as a most guilty state of mind. The wildest enthusiasm about these matters is less surprising and unreasonable than absolute carelessness, as will appear from the following considerations.
1. Reader!You are an immortal creature, a being born for eternity, a creature that will never go out of existence. Millions of ages, as numerous as the sands upon the shore, and the drops of the ocean, and the leaves of all the forests on the globe, will not shorten the duration of your existence. Eternity, vast eternity, incomprehensible eternity, is before you! Every day brings you nearer to everlasting torments or felicity. You may die any moment--and you are as near to heaven or hell as you are to death. No wonder you are asking, "What shall I do to be saved?"
2. But the reasonableness of this concern appears, if you add to this consideration, thatyou are a sinner. You have broken God's law; you have rebelled against his authority; you have acted as an enemy to him, and made him your enemy. If you had committed only one single act of transgression, your situation would be alarming. One sin would have subjected you to the sentence of his law, and exposed you to his displeasure; but you have committed sins more in number, and greater in magnitude, than you know, or can conceive of. Your whole life has been one continued sin—you have, so far as God is considered, done nothing but sin. Your transgressions have sent up to heaven a cry for vengeance. You are actually under the curse of the Almighty!
3.Consider what the loss of the soul includes. The loss of the soul is the loss of everything dear to man as an immortal creature—it is the loss of heaven, with all its honors, felicities, and glories; it is the loss of God's favor, which is the life of all rational creatures; it is the loss of everything that can contribute to our happiness; and it is the loss of hope, the last refuge of the wretched. The loss of the soul includes in it all that is contained in that dreadful, word, Hell. Hell is the eternal endurance of the wrath of God; it is the coming down of the curse of the Almighty upon the human spirit; or rather, it is the falling of the human spirit into that curse, as into a lake that burns with fire and brimstone. How true, as well as solemn, are the words of Christ, "What shall it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul; or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" All the tears that ever have been or ever will be shed on the face of the earth, all the groans that ever have been or ever will be uttered, all the anguish that ever has been or ever will be endured by all the inhabitants of the world, through all the ages of time, do not make up an equal amount of misery to that which is included in the loss of one human soul. Justly therefore do you say, who are exposed to this misery, "What shall I do to be saved?"
4. This solicitude is reasonable if you consider thatthe eternal loss of the soul is not a rare, but a very common occurrence. It is so tremendous a catastrophe, that if it happened only once in a year, or once in a century, so as to render it barely possible that it should happen to you, it would be reckless carelessness not to feel some solicitude about the matter—how much more, then, when, alas! it is an every-day calamity! So far from its being a rare thing for men to go to hell, it is a much rarer thing for them to go to heaven. Our Lord tells us, that the road to destruction is thronged, while the way to life is traveled by few. Hell opens its mouth wide and swallows up multitudes in perdition! How alarming is the idea, and how probable the fact, that you may be among this number! Some who read these pages will very likely spend their eternity in hell. It is therefore your wisdom, as well as your duty, to cherish the concern which says, "What shall I do to be saved?"
5.Salvation is possible, for if it were not, it would be useless to be concerned about it. It would be cruel to encourage a concern which could never be relieved by the possession of the object which excites it. But your case is not hopeless; you may be saved; you are invited to be saved. Christ has died for your salvation, and God waits to save you; all the opportunities, advantages, helps, and encouragements to salvation are round you; the blessing is within your reach; it is brought near to you; and it will be your own fault if you do not possess it. Your solicitude is not therefore directed to an unattainable object.
6.Salvation has been obtained by multitudes, and why may it not be obtained by you? Millions in heaven are already saved; myriads more are on the road to salvation. God is still as willing, and Christ is still as able, to save you as he was them—why, then, should not you be saved?
7. And thenwhat a blessing is salvation! A blessing that includes all the riches of grace, and all the greater riches of glory; deliverance from sin, death, and hell; the possession of pardon, peace, holiness, and heaven; a blessing immense, infinite, everlasting; which occupied the mind of Deity from eternity, was procured by the Son of God upon the cross, and will fill eternity with its happiness. Oh, how little, insignificant, and contemptible is the highest object of human ambition, to say nothing of the lower matters of men's desires, compared with salvation! Riches, rank, fame, and honors, are but as the small dust of the balance, when compared with the "salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." Who that pretends to the least regard to his own happiness would not say, "What shall I do to be saved?"
8.The circumstances in which you are placed for obtaining this blessing are partly favorable--and partly unfavorable. The love of God is infinite; the merit of Christ is infinite; the power of the Holy Spirit is infinite—Jehovah is willing and waiting to save you; Christ invites; all things are ready, and the grace of God offered for your conversion. On the other hand, you have a corrupt heart, and are placed in a world where everything seems to combine to draw off your attention from salvation, and to cause you to neglect it. Satan is busy to blind your mind; the world, to fill your imagination and heart with other objects, so that even the "righteous are scarcely saved." You cannot leave the world, and go into monasteries and convents, but must seek salvation amidst the engrossing cares of this busy and troublesome world; where concern about the body is so liable to put away concern about the soul, and things seen and temporal are likely to withdraw the attention from things that are unseen and eternal. Oh, how difficult it is to pay just enough regard to present things, and yet not too much! How difficult to attend properly to the affairs both of earth and heaven; to be busy for two worlds at once! These circumstances may well excite your solicitude.
Concern, then, deep concern about salvation, is the most reasonable thing in the world; and I feel almost ready to ask, Can that man have a soul, or know that he has one, who is careless about its eternal happiness? Is he a man or a brute? Is he in the exercise of his reason, or is he a maniac? Ever walking on the edge of the precipice that hangs over the bottomless pit--and not concerned about salvation! Oh, fatal, awful, destructive indifference! Nourish, then, your solicitude. You must be concerned, you ought to be so, you cannot be saved without it; for no man ever was, or ever will be.
The salvation of a lost soul is such a stupendous deliverance, such an infinitely momentous concern, that it is impossible, in the very nature of things, it should be bestowed on anyone who is not in earnest to obtain it. This is the very end of your existence, the purpose for which God created you. Apart from this, you are an enigma in creation; a mystery in nature. Why has God given you faculties which seem to point to eternity, and desires which go forward to it--if he has not destined you for it? Eternal salvation is the great end of life—get what you will, if you lose your soul, you have lost the purpose of existence. Could you obtain all the wealth of the globe; could you rise to the possession of universal empire; could you, by the most splendid discoveries in science, or the most useful inventions in art, or the most magnificent achievements in literature, fill the earth with the fame of your exploits, and send down your name with honor to the last ages of time, still, if you lost the salvation of your soul, you would have lived in vain! Whatever you may gain, life will be a lost adventure, if you do not gain salvation. The condition of the poorest creature who ever obtained eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, although he had but a mere glimmering of intellect, just enough of understanding to apprehend the nature of repentance, although he lived out his days amidst the most squalid poverty and repulsive scenes, although he was unknown even among the poor, and although, when he died, he was buried in a pauper's grave, on which no tear is shed--is infinitely to be preferred to that of the most successful merchant, the greatest conqueror, the profoundest philosopher, or the sublimest poet, that ever existed--if he lived and died without salvation. The lowest place in heaven is infinitely to be preferred to the highest place on earth!
Go on, then, to urge the question, "What shall I do to be saved?" Let no one turn off your attention from this matter. As long as you covet this, your eye, and heart, and hope are fixed on the sublimest object in the universe; and when meddlesome but ignorant friends would persuade you that you are too concerned, point them to the bottomless pit, and ask them if anyone can be too anxious to escape its torments? Point them to heaven, and ask them if anyone can be too anxious to obtain its glories? Point them to eternity, and ask them if anyone can be too anxious to secure immortal life? Point them to the cross of Christ, and ask them if anyone can be too anxious to secure the object for which he died?