Francis Bourdillon, 1873
The Bible states that "the righteous are scarcely saved" (1 Peter 4:18).
Now how can this be? Is not such a man sure to be saved? Is not salvation promised to him? Is there any doubt about it? None whatever. "The righteous" here means—not one who is righteous in himself—for there is no such person in the world—but a true Christian, a converted man, one who is justified by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and seeks daily to live to His glory. There is no doubt about such a person's salvation. He is a branch of the true Vine, a sheep of the flock of Christ; eternal life is given him by Christ; he shall never perish, and none shall pluck him out of the good Shepherd's hand! (John 10:28).
What then does this "scarcely" mean? Take a case by way of illustration. A fire once broke out in one of the large houses in Hatton Garden, London. It was thought all the inhabitants were saved, when a man was seen hanging by his hands from one of the upper window sills. The fire escape was immediately placed, but did not reach him. The fireman then climbed up and called to him to let himself drop on the top step of the escape, but the man did not answer—he was deaf and dumb. With great difficulty the fireman managed, by standing on the top step, to reach high enough to touch his foot, and so attracted his attention. The man was saved—but "scarcely saved."
Take another case. It was a frosty day in winter; the ice seemed strong, and the pond was crowded with people. Suddenly, a sharp cracking sound was heard, and an instant after the cry arose, "A boy is under the ice!" One of the skaters had ventured too near a dangerous part; the ice had given way, and he had sunk beneath. Not a moment was lost. A line was formed to the shore, and those nearest the hole stretched themselves flat on the ice. The boy rose to the surface, the nearest hand laid hold on him, the line moved gently toward the shore, and in a few minutes the boy lay on the bank. But he was senseless. They took him to the nearest house and applied the usual means for recovery—but all, as it seemed, in vain. The eyes were closed; the limbs were stiff and cold; the breath was gone. At length, when hope was almost past, signs of life appeared; the limbs began to glow; the stiffness relaxed, and he breathed again. The boy was saved, but only just saved, "scarcely saved."
Either of these cases may serve to explain how the righteous is said to be scarcely saved. It is not that he is not quite saved, and certainly saved; but it is because of the great danger he was in, and the great difficulties he has been brought through. He was by nature a child of wrath, dead in trespasses and sins, with no power or wish to turn to God. But through grace he has been led to see his danger and to seek Christ; a change of heart has been wrought in him by the Spirit of God; he has become a new creature in Christ Jesus and has passed from death unto life.
But his difficulties are not over. Snares and temptations lie in his path; and his heart, though renewed by grace, is by no means free from sin. He finds the Christian life to be no smooth and easy course—but a race, a strife, a warfare, from first to last; and often has he to mourn over his own backslidings and shortcomings. And probably he has trials of another kind too—losses, sorrows, afflictions; for God does not leave His children unchastised. The chastisements He sends are proofs of love, rather than of anger—and sometimes seem to fall heaviest on the best Christians.
Thus it is through danger and difficulty, temptation and trial—that the Christian is saved. Many a rough place must he pass; many a battle must he fight; many a sorrow must he bear—before his course be done. He is saved, but "scarcely saved." Yet it is surely—though scarcely. Tried and harassed he may be—but not lost. Worn, tempted, and persecuted—but not cast away. God's love and faithfulness are engaged for his salvation. "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone pluck them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand. I and my Father are one" (John 10:27-30).
But now comes a solemn question: If the righteous is scarcely saved—then what will become of the unrighteous? It is the Bible that puts this question about the unrighteous. The words are these: "If the righteous one is scarcely saved—then where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (1 Peter 4:18). They are in fact the words of God, though written by the apostle Peter. They are God's words to you, reader, if you are among the ungodly and the sinners—God's solemn question to your soul. A question, but a question without an answer: the answer is left to you.
"The ungodly and the sinner." Why are there two words instead of one? On purpose, it would seem, to take in sinners of all sorts—the hardened transgressor, the man who lives in habits of sin, the bold wicked man—the weak and wavering man, the light and careless, the worldly, the empty professor—all who are living without God in the world, all who are not washed in the blood of Christ and renewed by the Spirit. It is quite plain that the apostle means here all who are not righteous; he puts the righteous on one side, and the ungodly and the sinner on the other side; and on one side or the other, he means to take in everybody. It is just the same as if he had said, "If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall all the rest appear?"
Now, ask yourself honestly whether you are among the righteous. The question is not whether you are better or worse than your neighbors; that has nothing to do with it—but are you righteous? Does what was said at the beginning apply to you? Are you converted? Do you believe with the heart? Are you seeking daily to live to God? If not, then this question about the ungodly and the sinner is for you.
Perhaps you do not like either of these words. You do not pretend to be righteous—yet you are not so bad, you think, as those who are called ungodly or sinners.
Then, reader, I ask you, if neither righteous nor ungodly—what are you? Put your finger on that word in the Bible which describes you. You cannot. There is nothing in the Bible between righteous and unrighteous, godly and ungodly, reconciled and unreconciled. And if you are not righteous in God's sight, then before Him—whatever you may be in your own eyes or in the eyes of the world—before Him, you are ungodly or sinful. I beseech you—weigh this well.
And now we come to the question itself, "Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?" But this question must not be taken by itself; it hangs upon what has gone before about the righteous: "If the righteous one is scarcely saved—then where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?"
The full meaning is this. Seeing that even the righteous man is scarcely saved, that his dangers and difficulties are great; that he finds it necessary to "put on the whole armor of God" (Ephesians 6:11), to "press toward the mark" (Philippians 3:14), to "strive to enter through the narrow gate" (Luke 13:24), and that, though saved to the uttermost by Jesus Christ—yet it is as one is rescued from the water or the flames—seeing all this, what will become of the wicked?
Shall the righteous be scarcely saved—and you so easily? Shall he reach Heaven by so rough a road—and you by one so smooth? Shall he go in by the straight gate and the narrow way—and shall you choose the broad gate and the wide road, and yet find it leads you at last to the same happy place? Shall he take up his cross and follow Christ—and shall you follow nothing but your own will, and yet win Christ in the end? Never repenting, never turning, never believing—and yet saved? Finding without seeking; not running the race, and yet winning the prize; wearing a crown, though never having taken up the cross?
Impossible! Reason says so—conscience says so, and, as plainly as words can speak, God Himself has said so. Have you never read of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:30), of the sheep and the goats, of the right hand and the left (Matthew 25:33)?
I spoke just now of a broad road and a narrow road, a straight gate and a wide gate; do you remember what the Bible says about them, and about the places to which they lead? Here are the words—our Lord's own words: "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:13-14).
The righteous and the wicked are traveling different roads—and will come to different ends. It is true, they are mixed now, as plants growing in one field are mixed; but it will not always be so. A great separation day is coming, when every plant which God has not planted shall be rooted up (Matthew 25:13); and all refuges of lies shall be swept away (Isaiah 28:17), and the true sheep of Christ from every quarter shall be gathered together into one fold, into which no mere pretender shall ever come.
To that great day, this question itself seems to point, "Where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" Appear when? Why, on that very day when the Lord Jesus shall appear in His glory, and the saints who slept shall appear with Him, and His waiting people on earth shall appear with joy to meet Him. Then, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Appear they must, somewhere. They cannot hide themselves. "Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye shall see Him, even those who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him" (Revelation 1:7).
Oh, sinner! Careless and stout-hearted now—where will you appear, and how will you feel then? In vain will you call upon the mountains and rocks to fall on you, and hide you "from the face of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb!" (Revelation 6:16). You must come forth—you cannot escape from that all-seeing eye—you must meet the Judge. Where will you appear?
I leave the question to your conscience. "If the righteous one is scarcely saved—then where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?" Look on to that great day—so sure to come and coming so swiftly! Look on to it as if already come—imagine yourself even now before the throne; imagine that, just as you are, you are suddenly called to stand there. Where do you appear? What do you feel? Which side are you placed on? What words do you hear? How does it fare with your soul?
Can you think of this—and yet continue in sin and still put off coming to Christ? Come with us. "We are setting out for the place of which the Lord said, 'I will give it to you.' Come with us, and we will treat you well; for the Lord has promised good things to Israel" (Numbers 10:29).
His word cannot fail. Not one true believer shall be lost. "He is also able to save to the uttermost, those who come to God through Him" (Hebrews 7:25)—and He will save them with an everlasting salvation.
"Come with us." Turn from sin and the world. Leave the broad road and begin to walk in the narrow way. It is a safe way, though narrow—the only safe way; and happy, though rough. And it is not always rough; it has many green spots, many pleasant places; and even when rough, One is with us in it, to help and cheer us by His presence.
Oh, set out on this road without delay! Too much time has been lost already—lose no more. No longer run the risk of appearing among the ungodly and the sinners at His coming—flee to Christ at once; be instant and urgent at the mercy seat; pray for the Holy Spirit, for light, pardon, grace, and strength; and ask that, for Christ's sake, you may even now be reckoned among the righteous, and be saved in the day of the Lord!