"He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name."--Acts 10:43
Here precious tidings direct the anxious soul to peace. Can the fainting sinner hear the glad assurance and not revive? Can he welcome it, and not rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory? Blessed be the Father of mercies, that His word contains it! Blessed are they whose hearts through the Spirit savingly embrace it. Their life is high in grateful bliss--they revel in the riches of forgiveness.
It has been fully shown that countless sins stain Adam's race. Without forgiveness endless misery is the universal doom--God's frown repels and heaven is barred--the transgressor is shut up in hopelessness--his feet tremble on the abyss of ruin. But this Gospel is a message of forgiveness, and points to the road by which it is approached. All who believe in Christ, whatever their wretched course may have been, are uplifted from the depths of guilt, and raised to salvation's heights. Trumpet-tongued is the proclamation, and everlasting is its echo--"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved"--"whoever believes in Him shall receive forgiveness of sins."
Forever this word is settled in heaven. Truth perishes--Holy Scripture loses its fairest charm--revelation is not an unerring guide--there is no sure path and no firm prop, if faith in Jesus grasps not forgiveness. This grand position is now reached. It is a sequel to the preceding topic.
The holy link which connects forgiveness and repentance has been marked. The Gospel-warning has been heard--that none sit down at the rich banquet of the pardoned, but lowly penitents, with hearts bleeding for sin, and lips humble in contrite confessions, and feet fleeing every evil way.
But now the kindred truth appears. The pardoned not only walk in the low valley of penitence; they moreover mount upward on wings of faith. The graces of repentance and faith may not be separated. Where the Spirit plants one, He surely adds the other--where one lives, the other thrives. If one be absent, the other has no place--they lead in concert to forgiveness.
Let this essential grace, then, now be viewed. It is from heaven and heavenly; it craves forgiveness and it surely gains; it seeks and truly finds; it knocks and the door yields--it extends a hand which instantly is filled, and closes to retain the prize. It bends an adoring head, which gloriously is crowned, and in the crown this bright jewel sparkles--"through His name whoever believes in Him shall receive remission of sins."
I. The NECESSITY of faith claims foremost place. As Christ alone can efficaciously accomplish salvation; so faith alone can instrumentally appropriate salvation. It is undoubted that all pardon results from the work of Christ. He alone earns it--repetition of this truth can never weary. On His cross He purchases it; by His blood He gains it; by His death He secures it. Every attribute of God beholds the mighty victim, and is infinitely satisfied. Justice surveys sinners sprinkled with this stream and testifies--'It is enough'. No claims and no demands remain--wrath allows that its fury is extinct, that every vessel is drained, and no drop left. Thus the work of Christ is the full price of pardon. Iniquity is obliterated by it, and is no more found. Sins are covered, and they disappear--forgiveness finds at the cross open door for its full exercise.
But how is interest in this efficacious work obtained? Who can claim Christ's death as their rescue, and His blood as their redemption? Who can, in clear conscience, realize beneficial portion in the finished work?
Participation in all Christ's merits is the exclusive privilege of those who are members of His body. If any are not one with Him, His work to them is as a severed branch--a thing of nothing. His sufferings are in vain where no vital union can be shown. None outside the Ark were saved. None escaped the avenger of blood, unless within the gates of refuge. Bread gives no nourishment unless received into the system. Remedies only heal when rightly used. A sinking mariner who spurns the life-boat courts a watery grave--none reach their home who stray in a wrong path; so none gain pardon but the sheltered in Christ's fold.
Now faith is the 'connecting' grace. It is the eye which sees Him, the heart which longs for Him, the mouth which feeds upon Him, the foot which runs after Him, the hand which grasps Him, the strength which holds Him, the holy boldness which cannot be restrained. It ventures to His arms, and hides itself in His wounds, and washes in His blood, and resolutely refuses to be parted from Him. Thus faith unites, connects, cements. Thus possession of the Savior is obtained. No other tendril twines around the stem. Love delights in Him and adores; hope sees the riches of the promised inheritance and rejoices; patience waits long and is not weary; zeal toils and thinks all labor light; prayer brings each need to Him, and wrestles until it gains reply; praise sounds the glories of His name, and thrives on earth that it may thrive the more in heaven. But these graces separately and collectively, do not win a saving interest in Jesus--faith alone effects this union.
Hence as Christ is indispensable to procure forgiveness, so faith is necessary to gain oneness with Him; therefore every true minister cries, "Through His name whoever believes in Him shall receive remission of sins." Hence solemn warnings raise a checking hand--"He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believes not shall be damned." (Mark 16:16.) The Baptist uttered words of unchanging truth--"He that believes on the Son has everlasting life; and he that believes not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36.) It is added by the faithful and true witness, "If you do not believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins." (John 8:24.)
II. FAITH'S ACTINGS next demand attention. It is a stirring principle--it kindles a burning flame, and gives sure proof of life; it is vigorous, and it works with vigor; it is energetic, and it puts forth energies. The seed from which it springs, the sap which invigorates, are alike divine. Therefore it grows, expands, exhibits blossoms, and bears fruit.
It sees the vanity and emptiness and worthlessness of human works to merit salvation. It knows that self brings ruin, but cannot repair the ruin; it is conscious that man can add sin to sin, and pile up mountains of transgression, but is utterly weak to remove one atom of sin. It allows that eternal condemnation is deserved, and that the guilty can construct no extricating plea. Therefore it flees from self as from a plague-spot--it rejects it as a crumbling reed; it seeks not remedy from what is poison. Thus in thorough self-aversion it speeds directly to the sure refuge.
It has enlightened JUDGMENT. It forms right conclusions--it adjusts all helps and means with wise discrimination; it seeks a fabric which has firm walls and bulwarks; it knows that many graces sweetly adorn a pardoned soul, but that not one holds saving merit--it feels that repentance will mourn, and wail, and weep, but that no flowing tears obliterate one speck of sin. It looks to Christ, and Christ alone, to wash and cleanse from sin.
It knows that LOVE will brightly burn and rapturously adore, and constrain the willing feet to run with joy the heavenward path; but it invests not love with power to gain forgiveness. It looks to Christ, and Christ alone, as the one efficacious source. It delights in HOPE, as a cheerful comrade mounting with glad wing to the heaven of heavens, and viewing with open eye the riches of the glorious home, and listening with anticipating ear to the ceaseless hallelujahs, and foreseeing the ages of eternal bliss; but it rejects it as the price of the expanded blessedness. It looks to Christ, and Christ alone, as earning the many mansions and the weight of glory.
It has keen relish for the WORD. In those rich pastures it finds sweet food--from those deep wells it draws refreshing draughts; in that clear mirror it beholds enchanting sights; in that divine school it learns transporting lessons; but it regards it only as a passive instrument used by the Spirit to convict and teach. While then it incessantly traverses the precious pages, it never trusts to them as the source of life. It looks to Christ, and Christ alone, of whom the sacred volume is the witness, and whose saving truths it wondrously reveals.
It listens especially to GOSPEL-INVITATIONS. They are many, precious, tender, full of constraining love. It receives them as calls to flee the world and all the transitory things of sense. But while it thus prizes this treasure, it gives it no wrong place. It heeds the voice, and hastens to Christ as the one home to which they point.
Similarly it luxuriates in the wide field of the PROMISES. It expatiates in their illimitable range--it blesses God for their varied richness and immeasurable extent. It sees that they give pledges of all blessedness, and proclaim the Triune Jehovah as the believer's enriching portion. It thus receives the title-deeds of heaven, and rejoices in the pledge of the coming glory.
But while it receives such rapture from the promises, while it trusts them as "Yes and Amen in Christ," it seeks not pardon in this assemblage of delights--it knows that they contain no efficacious help. Christ and Christ only can deliver--from Him alone it draws prevailing pleas.
Again, faith uses with high expectation all means of grace. It often seeks audience at heaven's throne--it doubts not that answers will come, and strength be obtained and mercy granted; its very breath is PRAYER. It obeys the precepts--"Pray always;" "Continue in prayer;" "Pray without ceasing." It finds, also, constant calls to PRAISE. Thus it encircles the high throne with adorations--in the house of its pilgrimage it begins the undying chorus of thanksgiving. It devoutly joins also, in public rites--it goes gladly with the holy flock to the appointed house of prayer; it is a foretaste of heaven to unite with worshiping crowds in confessing sin, and supplicating aid, and uplifting the melody of grateful joy.
It thus delights in public service; but above all it finds hallowed food in the sacramental feast. There, in consecrated elements, in the broken bread and outpoured wine it realizes Christ's saving sacrifice. In these signs and seals it gazes on Him hanging on the accursed tree, laying down His life, shedding His blood, purchasing pardon. But while it thus revels in the means of grace, it fully knows that they are the shell and not the substance, the pathway and not the end. Its eye intently rests on Christ, and Christ alone, as procuring, meriting, deserving, obtaining, buying, winning the forgiveness of sins. Thus the actings of faith always tend to Christ--it turns to Him as the needle to the pole; it never pauses until this rest is reached. Are any elate with hope that this inestimable treasure is their own? Deep self-examination must precede assurance--faith is impersonated by many counterfeits.
Let men beware of mere intellectual notions, which dwell in the head, but pass not beyond this vestibule. How many readily bow before the revelations of Scripture--they confess that they are sinners; they see clear evidence that the cross has been erected, and that Jesus died thereon, and that its province is to bring salvation. But here they pause--they only give historic credence to indubitable facts; with no advance beyond this, there is no real possession of Christ's benefits. The devils know all this. The heart, the affections, the spirit are not here enlivened; there is no close personal reception. Such intellectual belief mounts not to the faith which grasps forgiveness.
Let emotions be suspected which for a while flutter and soon expire. In times of sickness and distress, under the lively teaching of the earnest preacher, when awakening providences speak loudly, many melt and weep, and extol the preciousness of Christ, and express admiring delight. Such is the company of the stony-ground hearers--the soil is scanty; no root sinks deep; no fibers cling to Christ. There is no indissoluble cement--trials, temptations, scoffs, ridicule, and reproach assail--this seeming faith then vanishes as smoke before the breeze. Such feeling is not the faith which secures sin's pardon. Such temporary movements stir only to subside.
Some advance further. They know their need; they see Christ's worth; they take some steps towards Him; but they cast not themselves wholly on Him. They embrace Him with divided love--they only take in part His sacrificial offering. They are ready to rejoice in all His dying work; but they cannot unbar every bolt of the heart, and admit Him to REIGN absolutely, universally, unreservedly. They cannot bring every thought into thorough captivity to His obedience. Some darling sin must still be fondled; some holy precept must be slighted. But saving faith is an honest grace--it follows Christ fully; surrendering every feeling and desire to His will, consecrating every faculty of mind and body to His service. No partial reception secures forgiveness.
There is, also, an indolent, inert faith, which springs not to life-long labor. Faith knows its obligation, and strives by works of love to testify its gratitude. The constant cry is, "Lord what will You have me to do?" In paths of ardent zeal it presses towards the prize of its high calling. Energetic faith alone is bound up in the bundle of forgiveness.
There is, also, a profession which never grows. True faith at first may be a tiny plant; it may rear but a slender head--but if it be of heavenly seed, dews from above will nourish it, and ripening rays will make it fruitful. The heirs of this inestimable gift should live blessing God that He has so enriched them. They should incessantly ponder the grand truth, "Through His name whoever believes in Him shall receive remission of sins." They should love and work as children of God through faith. And that they may ripen in this joy, they should wax stronger in the prayer, "Lord, increase our faith."