The Question and Reply
James Smith, 1855
"What must I do to be saved?
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ — and you shall be saved!" Acts 16:30, 31
"What must I do to be saved?" This is one of the most important questions which can possibly be proposed. It is answered most clearly and satisfactorily in the gospel. But many never propose it. Others are long before they understand the answer given to it. Has my reader, ever proposed this question? Has he ever felt as the poor jailor felt? Is there no concern in the bosom to be saved from the wrath to come? What a melancholy state must an immortal being be in — who is daily hastening to another world, who is in imminent danger of everlasting destruction — and yet unconcerned! Who may be saved — but never gives himself any trouble about it! Who must eternally perish, if he is not delivered from guilt and condemnation, before death arrests him! And yet there are thousands in this state. At this moment, in this highly favored country, there are thousands who live and die without any serious concern about their soul's salvation! But whatever others do let us —
Attend to the question: "What must I do to be saved?" This implies that there is a sense of sin. That conviction has been produced. That the soul feels itself to be guilty, and consequently in danger of God's wrath and everlasting woe. Most people are occasionally visited with conviction of sin. Many stifle their convictions, or drown them in folly and worldly pleasure. A few encourage them. Then they deepen and become rooted. They produce concern. The soul is roused from its sinful slumber. It looks about and discovers its danger. It is alarmed, for . . .
the whole life has been sinful,
the nature is depraved,
God is holy,
eternity is near,
Hell is dreadful,
the commandment is exceeding broad,
and in deep anxiety the question is proposed, "What must I do to be saved?"
Salvation is now all-important. But ignorance is felt. How can the sinner escape? How can sin be pardoned? How can the sinner become holy? How can the soul who greatly deserves Hell, be admitted to Heaven? These are stirring questions, and they stir up the depths of the soul. Desire for deliverance appears. It deepens. It grows stronger and stronger. It becomes the ruling desire.
Fears spring up — numerous and painful fears:
The soul fears that its sins are too great.
That it has delayed too long.
That there is a singularity about its case.
That it is in vain to try.
That God will not have mercy upon such a one.
That Christ could not have died for such a vile creature.
That the promise is not for such.
That the way of life is forever closed against such a one.
These fears are very distressing. They agitate and perplex the spirit. But in the midst of them, the anxious sinner cries out, "What shall I do to be saved?" But there is generally a little hope at the bottom. There may be despondency — but there is not despair. A gleam of light occasionally shines into the mind. The bare probability that salvation may be obtained, keeps the soul from sitting down in sullen gloom; and though the conflict may be severe, and the exercise sharp, the design is to bring the man to submit to God's method of saving sinners. To this, no one will submit — until taught of God. But where conviction has been felt, and anxiety experienced, where fear and hope have been for some time working in the mind — submission is produced and the sinner asks, "What shall I do to be saved?" He is willing to be saved in God's way. To him salvation is brought near, and the necessary information is given. Let us now,
Consider the Apostle's answer: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ — and you shall be saved." The eye is at once taken off SELF. It is directed to JESUS. The man wants salvation, and he is directed to a Savior. To one who is Lord of All. Who has all authority in Heaven and in earth. To whom all things are easy. To whom it is lawful to save the vilest transgressors. Who can pardon the greatest sins. Justify the foulest sinners. Save with an everlasting salvation, all who believe in his name.
He is directed to one whose name is Jesus, and who had that name given him, because his office, his work, and his delight is to save sinners. Who has saved millions. Who is now saving millions. To one who is the Christ — the anointed One. Who was anointed by the Father with the Holy Spirit and with power, and thus officially set apart and qualified to save. He is directed to believe on him. To believe that there is a Savior. That Jesus Christ is that Savior. That he can save to the uttermost. That he can save him. And to trust in him — rely on him — exercise confidence in him — commit the soul unto him to be saved for evermore.
Reader, if you really wish to be saved. If you ask the question, "What shall I do to be saved" seriously. If you are truly in earnest. If you are willing to be saved in God's way. We will set that way before you as simply as we can.
The first thing is, you must feel your need of salvation. That you are a lost sinner. That without a Savior you are eternally undone. That you cannot possibly save yourself.
The second thing is, you must see that the way of salvation by Jesus Christ is just suited to you. Suited to you, because it . . .
saves from sin,
saves freely by grace,
saves in harmony with the perfections of God and the requirements of his law,
and saves for evermore!
The third thing is, you must discover that the Lord Jesus is all that you need:
that his blood can cleanse you from your sins,
that his righteousness can justify your person,
that his Spirit can renew your nature,
that his gospel can give you peace, and
that his power can keep you in this dangerous world.
That you need all that Christ is:
you need him as a Prophet, to teach you;
you need him as a Priest, to atone for you;
you need him as a King, to rule over you;
you need him as a Mediator, to stand between a holy God and your sinful person;
in a word, you need him to be a complete Savior to you! To save you entirely, and to have all the glory of doing so.
The fourth thing is, you must realize that you need the renewing of the Holy Spirit. That your nature must be renewed. That you must become a new creature, and that no one can make you what you require to be, but the Holy Spirit. This will lead you to pray earnestly and frequently, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me!"
The fifth thing is, an entire renunciation of SELF, and everything else as a ground of confidence — but the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Self must be renounced. Every false refuge must be forsaken. On Jesus alone, you must rely for acceptance with God, placing no more dependance on your prayers, or tears, or sufferings for acceptance with God — than you do upon your most heinous sins!
Finally, you must receive Christ as he is presented to you in the gospel.
The testimony respecting him must be embraced,
the invitation to approach him must be accepted,
the promise of salvation by him must be trusted.
This is the way — walk in it.
If you feel you need salvation;
if you see that God's way is suited to your case;
if you discover that Christ is all you that you need;
that you need the whole of Christ;
if you realize your need of the renewing of the Holy Spirit;
if you are ready to renounce all confidence in anything, and everything but Jesus
— then to you Christ is presented as God's unspeakable gift!
You are welcome to him. So welcome that you cannot be more so. Look to him, and to him alone;
trust in him, and in him alone;
place confidence in him, and in him alone;
commit your soul to him, and to him alone
— and eternal life is yours! You shall be saved. There is no doubt on this point. There is not the least ground for fear. If Jesus can save you, he will — and he is able to save them to the uttermost, all who come unto God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them.
Reader, may this be your experience, and may you have to say —
With melting heart and weeping eyes.
My guilty soul for mercy cries;
What shall I do, or where flee,
To escape the vengeance due to me?
Until now, I saw no danger near;
I lived at ease, nor feared to die:
Enrapt up in self-deceit and pride,
"I shall have peace at last," I cried.
But when O Lord! your light divine.
Had shone on this dark soul of mine.
Then I beheld with trembling awe,
The terrors of your holy law!
How fearful now my guilt appears,
In childhood, youth, and growing years,
Before your pure discerning eye,
How vile and full of sin am I!
Should vengeance still my soul pursue
Death and destruction are my due;
Yet mercy can my guilt forgive
And bid a dying sinner live!
Does not your sacred word proclaim
Salvation free in Jesus' name?
To him I look, and humbly cry,
O save a wretch condemned to die!