Only One Way of Salvation!
J.C. Ryle, 1896
Is there more than one road to Heaven? Is there more than one way in which the soul of man can be saved? This is the question I propose to consider in this paper, and I shall begin its consideration by quoting a text of Scripture: "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven given to men by which we must be saved!" (Acts 4:12)
These words are striking in themselves — but they are much more striking if we observe when and by whom they were spoken.
They were spoken by a poor and friendless Christian, in the midst of a persecuting Jewish Council. It was a grand confession of Christ.
They were spoken by the lips of the Apostle Peter. This is the man who, a few weeks before, forsook Jesus and fled — this is the very man who three times over denied his Lord. There is another spirit in him now! He stands up boldly before priests and Sadducees, and tells them the truth to their face, "He is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven given to men by which we must be saved!"
Now I need hardly tell a well-informed reader that this text is one of the principal foundations on which the Eighteenth Article of the Church of England is built. That article runs as follows: "They also are to be accursed who presume to say that every man shall be saved by the law or sect he professes, so long as he is diligent to frame his life according to that law and the light of nature. For Holy Scripture sets out unto us only the name of Jesus Christ whereby men must be saved."
There are few stronger assertions than this, throughout the whole Thirty-nine Articles. It is the only anathema pronounced by our Church from one end of her great Confession of faith to the other. The Council of Trent in her decrees anathematizes continually. The Church of England uses an anathema or curse once — and once only; and that she does it on good grounds. I propose to show by an examination of the Apostle Peter's words.
In considering this solemn subject, there are three things I wish to do:
I. First, I wish to explain the doctrine here laid down by the Apostle.
II. Secondly, I wish to supply some reasons why this doctrine must be true.
III. Thirdly, I wish to show some consequences which naturally flow from the doctrine.
I. First, let me explain the doctrine laid down by Peter.
Let us make sure that we rightly understand what the Apostle means. He says of Christ, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven given to men by which we must be saved!" Now, what does this mean? On our clearly seeing this very much depends. He means that no one can be saved from sin — its guilt, its power, and its consequences — except by Jesus Christ.
He means that no one can have peace with God the Father — obtain pardon in this world, and escape wrath to come in the next — except through the atonement and mediation of Jesus Christ .
In Christ alone, God's rich provision of salvation for sinners is treasured up — by Christ alone, God's abundant mercies come down from Heaven to earth.
Christ's blood alone can cleanse us.
Christ's righteousness alone can clothe us.
Christ's merit alone can give us a title to Heaven.
Jews and Gentiles, learned and unlearned, kings and poor people — all alike must either be saved by the Lord Jesus, or be lost forever.
And the Apostle adds emphatically, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven given to men by which we must be saved!" There is no other person commissioned, sealed, and appointed by God the Father to be the Savior of sinners, except Christ. The keys of life and death are committed to His hand, and all who would be saved must go to Him.
There was but one place of safety in the day when the Flood came on the earth — that place was Noah's ark. All other places and devices — mountains, towers, trees, rafts, boats — all were alike useless. In the same way, there is but one hiding-place for the sinner who would escape the storm of God's anger — he must venture his soul on Christ.
There was but one man to whom the Egyptians could go in the time of famine, when they wanted food — they must go to Joseph — it was a waste of time to go to anyone else. Just so, there is but One to whom human souls must go, if they would not perish forever — they must go to Christ.
There was but one word that could save the lives of the Ephraimites in the day when the Gileadites contended with them, and took the fords of Jordan (Judges 11) — they must say "Shibboleth" or die. Just so, there is but one name that will avail us when we stand at the gate of Heaven — we must name the name of Jesus as our only hope, or be cast away everlastingly.
Such is the doctrine of the text. "No salvation but by Jesus Christ — in him, there is plenty of salvation — salvation to the uttermost, salvation for the very chief of sinners!"
It is in perfect harmony with our Lord's own words in John's Gospel, "I am the way, the truth, and the life — no man comes unto the Father, but by Me." (John 14:6) It is the same thing that Paul tells the Corinthians, "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 3:11) And it is the same that John tells us in his first Epistle, "God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life, and he who has not the Son of God has not life." (1 John 5:12) All these texts come to one and the same point — no salvation but by Jesus Christ.
Let us make sure that we understand this before we pass on. Men are apt to think, "This is all old news — these are ancient things — who does not know such truths as these? Of course, we believe there is no salvation but by Christ." But I ask my readers to mark well what I say. Make sure that you understand this doctrine, or else by and by you will stumble, and be offended at the statements I have yet to make in this paper. We are to venture the whole salvation of our souls on Christ, and on Christ only. We are to cast loose completely and entirely from all other hopes and trusts. We are not to rest partly on Christ — partly on doing all we can — partly on keeping our church partly on receiving the sacrament. In the matter of our justification, Christ is to be all. This is the doctrine of the text.
Heaven is before us — and Christ is the only door into it.
Hell is beneath us — and Christ alone is able to deliver us from it.
The devil is behind us — and Christ is the only refuge from God's wrath.
The law is against us — and Christ alone is able to redeem us.
Sin is weighing us down — and Christ alone is able to put it away.
This is the doctrine of the text. Now do you see it? I hope you do. But I fear many think so who may find, before laying down this paper, that they do not.
II. Let me, in the second place, supply some reason why the doctrine of the text must be true.
I might cut short this part of the subject by one simple argument: "God says so." Said an old theologian: "One plain text, is as good as a thousand reasons." But I will not do this. I wish to meet the objections that are ready to rise in many hearts against this doctrine, by pointing out the strong foundations on which it stands.
(1) Let me then say, for one thing, the doctrine of the text must be true, because MAN is what man is.
Now, what is man? There is one broad, sweeping answer, which takes in the whole human race — man is a sinful being. All children of Adam born into the world, whatever their name or nation — are corrupt, wicked, and defiled in the sight of God. Their thoughts, words, ways, and actions are all, more or less, defective and imperfect.
Is there no country on the face of the globe where sin does not reign? Is there no happy valley, no secluded island, where innocence is to be found? Is there no tribe on earth where, far away from civilization, and commerce, and money, and gunpowder, and luxury, and books — morality and purity flourish? No! there is none. Look over all the voyages and travels you can lay your hand on, from Columbus down to Cook, and from Cook to Livingstone, and you will see the truth of what I am asserting. The most solitary islands of the Pacific Ocean — islands cut off from all the rest of the world — islands where people were alike ignorant of Rome and Paris, London and Jerusalem — these islands, when first discovered, have been found full of impurity, cruelty, and idolatry. The footprints of the devil have been traced on every shore. The veracity of the sin chapter in Genesis has everywhere been established. Whatever else savages have been found ignorant of, they have never been found ignorant of sin.
But are there no men and women in the world who are free from this corruption of nature? Have there not been high-minded and exalted beings who have every now and then lived faultless lives? Have there not been some, if it be only a few, who have done all that God requires, and thus proved that sinless perfection is a possibility?
No! there have been none. Look over all the biographies and lives of the holiest Christians; mark how the holiest and best of Christ's people have always had the deepest sense of their own defectiveness and corruption. They groan, they mourn, they sigh, they weep over their own shortcomings — it is one of the common grounds on which they meet. Patriarchs and Apostles, Fathers and Reformers, Episcopalians and Presbyterians, Luther and Calvin, Knox and Bradford, Rutherford and Bishop Hall, Wesley and Whitefield, Martyn and M'Cheyne — all are alike agreed in feeling their own sinfulness. The more spiritual light they have — the more humble and self-abased they seem to be; the more holy they are — the more they seem to feel their own unworthiness.
Now, what does all this seem to prove? To my eyes, it seems to prove that human nature is so tainted and corrupt that, left to himself, no one could be saved. Man's case appears to be a hopeless one without a Savior — and that a mighty Savior too. There must be a Mediator, an Atonement, an Advocate, to make such poor sinful beings acceptable to God; and I find this nowhere, except in Jesus Christ. Heaven for man without an almighty Redeemer, peace with God for man without a divine Intercessor, eternal life for man without an eternal Savior — in one word, salvation without Christ — all alike, in the face of the plain facts about human nature, appear utter impossibilities.
I lay these things before thinking men, and I ask them to consider them. I know it is one of the hardest things in the world to realize the sinfulness of sin. To say we are all sinners is one thing — to have an idea what Sin must be in the sight of God, is quite another. Sin is too much a part of ourselves to allow us to see it as it is — we do not feel our own moral deformity. We are like those animals in creation which are vile and loathsome to our senses, but are not so to themselves, nor yet to one another — their loathsomeness is their nature, and they do not perceive it. Just in the same way our corruption is part and parcel of ourselves, and, at our best, we have but a feeble comprehension of its intensity.
But this we may be sure of — if we could see our own lives with the eyes of the angels who never fell — we would never doubt this point for a moment. In a word, no one can really know what man is — and not see that the doctrine of our text must be true. We are shut up to the Apostle Peter's conclusion. There can be no salvation except by Christ.
(2) Let me say another thing. The doctrine of our text must be true, because GOD is what God is.
Now what is God? That is a deep question indeed. We know something of His attributes — He has not left Himself without witness in creation; He has mercifully revealed to us many things about Himself in His Word. We know that God is a Spirit — eternal, invisible, almighty — the Maker of all things, the Preserver of all things — holy, just, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-remembering — infinite in mercy, in wisdom, in purity.
But, alas, after all, how low and groveling are our highest ideas when we come to put down on paper what we believe God to be! How many words and expressions we use whose full meaning we cannot fathom! How many things our tongues say of Him which our minds are utterly unable to conceive. How small a part of Him do we see! How little of Him can we possibly know! How base and paltry are any words of our's to convey any idea of Him who made this mighty world out of nothing, and with whom one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day! How weak and inadequate are our poor feeble intellects to form any conception of Him who is perfect in all His works — perfect in the greatest as well as perfect in the smallest — perfect in appointing the days and hours and minutes and seconds in which Jupiter, with all its satellites, shall travel round the sun — perfect in forming the smallest insect that creeps over a few feet of our little globe!
How little can we comprehend a Being who is ever ordering all things in Heaven and earth, by universal providence — ordering the rise and fall of nations and dynasties, like Nineveh and Carthage; ordering the exact length to which men like Alexander and Tamerlane and Napoleon shall extend their conquests; ordering the least step in the life of the humblest believer among His people — all at the same time, all unceasingly, all perfectly — all for His own glory.
The blind man is no judge of the paintings of Rubens or Titian; the deaf man is insensible to the beauty of Handel's music; the Greenlander can have but a faint notion of the climate of the tropics; the South Sea islander can form but a remote conception of a locomotive engine, however well you may describe it. There is no faculty in their minds which can take in these things — they have no set of thoughts which can comprehend them, and have no mental fingers to grasp them. And just in the same way, the best and brightest ideas that man can form of God, compared to the reality which we shall one day see — are weak and faint indeed.
But one thing, I think, is very clear — and it is this: the more anyone considers calmly what God really is — the more he must feel the immeasurable distance between God and himself; the more he meditates — the more he must see that there is a great gulf between him and God. His conscience, I think, will tell him, if he will let it speak . . .
that God is perfect — and he imperfect;
that God is very high — and he very low;
that God is glorious majesty — and he a poor worm; and
that if ever he is to stand before Him in judgment with comfort — he must have some mighty Helper, or he will not be saved.
And what is all this but the very doctrine of the text with which I began this paper? What is all this but coming round to the conclusion I am urging on my readers? With such a one as God to give account to — we must have a mighty Savior. To give us peace with such a glorious being as God — we must have an Almighty Mediator, a Friend and Advocate on our side — an Advocate who can answer every charge that can be laid against us, and plead our cause with God on equal terms. We need this, and nothing less than this. Vague notions of mercy will never give true peace. And such a Savior, such a Friend, such an Advocate is nowhere to be found except in the Person of Jesus Christ.
I lay this reason also before thinking men. I know well that people may have false notions of God as well as everything else, and shut their eyes to the truth. But I say boldly and confidently: No one can have really high and honorable views of what God is, and escape the conclusion that the doctrine of our text must be true. We are shut up to the truth of Peter's declaration. There can be no possible salvation but by Jesus Christ!
(3) Let me say in the third place, this doctrine must be true because the BIBLE is what the Bible is.If we do not believe the doctrine, we must give up the Bible as the only rule of faith.
All through the Bible, from Genesis down to Revelation, there is only one simple account of the way in which man must be saved. It is always the same — only for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, through faith; not by our own works and deserts.
We see it dimly revealed at first — it looms through the mist of a few promises — but there it is.
We have it more plainly afterwards — it is taught by the pictures and emblems of the law of Moses, the schoolmaster dispensation.
We have it still more clearly by and by — the Prophets saw in vision, many particulars about the Redeemer yet to come.
We have it fully at last in the full sunshine of New Testament history: Christ incarnate — Christ crucified — Christ rising again — Christ preached to the world.
One golden chain runs through the whole volume — no salvation except by Jesus Christ! The bruising of the serpent's head foretold in the day of the Fall; the clothing of our first parents with skins; the sacrifices of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the Passover, and all the particulars of the Jewish law — the high priest, the altar, the daily offering of the lamb, the holy of holies entered only with blood, the scapegoat, the cities of refuge — all are so many witnesses to the truth set forth in the text. All preach with one voice — Salvation only by Jesus Christ!
In fact, this truth appears to be the grand object of the Bible, and all the different parts and portions of the book are meant to pour light upon it. I can gather from it no ideas of pardon and peace with God, excepting in connection with this truth. If I could read of one soul in it who was saved without faith in the Savior, I might perhaps not speak so confidently. But when I see that faith in Christ — whether a coming Christ or a crucified Christ — was the prominent feature in the religion of all who went to Heaven — when I see Abel owning Christ in his "better sacrifice" at one end of the Bible, and the saints in glory in John's vision rejoicing in Christ at the other end of the Bible — when I see a man like Cornelius, who was devout, and feared God, and gave alms and prayed, not told that he had done all, and would of course be saved, but ordered to send for Peter, and hear of Christ — when I see all these things, I say, I feel bound to believe that the doctrine of the text is the doctrine of the whole Bible. The Word of God, fairly examined and interpreted, shuts me up to the truth laid down by Peter. No salvation, no way to Heaven, except by Jesus Christ!
Such are the reasons which seem to me to confirm the truth which forms the subject of this paper. What man is — what God is — what the Bible is — all appear to me to lead on to the same grand conclusion — no possible salvation without Christ. I leave them here, and pass on.
III. And now, in the third and last place, let me show some CONSEQUENCES which flow naturally out of the doctrine declared by Peter.
There are few parts of the subject which seem to me more important than this. The truth I have been trying to set before my readers bears so strongly on the condition of a great proportion of mankind, that I consider it would be mere affectation on my part not to say something about it. If Christ is the only way of salvation — then what are we to feel about many people in the world? This is the point I am now going to take up.
I believe that many people would go with me so far as I have gone, and would go no further. They will allow my premises — they will have nothing to say to my conclusions. They think it uncharitable to say anything which appears to condemn others. For my part I cannot understand such charity. It seems to me the kind of charity which would see a neighbor drinking slow poison, but never interfere to stop him — which would allow emigrants to embark in a leaky, ill-found vessel, and not interfere to prevent them — which would see a blind man walking near a precipice, and think it wrong to cry out, and tell him there was danger.
The greatest charily is to tell the greatest quantity of truth. It is no charity to hide the legitimate consequences of such a saying of Peter as we are now considering, or to shut our eyes against them. And I solemnly call on everyone who really believes there is no salvation in any but Christ — and no other name given under Heaven whereby we must be saved — I solemnly call on that person to give me his attention, while I set before him some of the tremendous consequences which the doctrine we are considering involves.
(a) One mighty consequence then which seems to be learned from the text which forms the keynote of this paper, is the utter uselessness of any religion without Christ.There are many to be found in Christendom at this day who have a religion of this kind. They would not like to be called Deists — but Deists they are. That there is a God, that there is what they are pleased to call Providence, that God is merciful, that there will be a state after death — this is about the sum and substance of their creed. As to the distinguishing tenets of Christianity, they do not seem to recognize them at all. Now I denounce such a system as a baseless fabric — its seeming foundation man's imagination — its hopes an utter delusion. The God of such people is an idol of their own invention, and not the glorious God of the Scriptures — a miserably imperfect being — without holiness, without justice, without any attribute but that of vague, indiscriminate mercy. Such a religion may possibly do as a toy to live with — it is far too unreal to die with. It utterly fails to meet the needs of man's conscience; it offers no remedy; it affords no rest for the soles of our feet; it cannot comfort, for it cannot save. Let us beware of it if we love life. Let us beware of a religion without Christ.
(b) Another consequence to be learned from the text, is the folly of any religion in which Christ has not the first place.
I need not remind my readers how many hold a system of this kind. The Socinian tells us that Christ was a mere man; that His blood had no more power than that of another; that His death on the cross was not a real atonement and atoning sacrifice of man's sins; and that, after all, doing is the way to Heaven, and not believing.
I solemnly declare that I believe such a system is ruinous to men's souls! It seems to me to strike at the root of the whole plan of salvation which God has revealed in the Bible, and practically to nullify the greater part of the Scriptures. It overthrows the priesthood of the Lord Jesus, and strips Him of His office. It converts the whole system of the law of Moses, touching sacrifices and ordinances, into a meaningless form. It seems to say that the sacrifice of Cain was just as good as the sacrifice of Abel. It turns man adrift on a sea of uncertainty, by plucking from under him the finished work of a divine Mediator.
Let us beware of it, no less than of Deism, if we love life. Let us beware of the least attempt to depreciate and undervalue Christ's person, offices, or work. The name by which alone we can be saved, is a name above every name, and the slightest contempt poured upon it is an insult to the King of kings. The salvation of our souls has been laid by God the Father on Christ, and no other. If He were not very God of very God, He never could accomplish it, and there could be no salvation at all.
(c) Another consequence to be learned from our text, is the great error committed by those who add anything to Christ as necessary for salvation.
It is an easy thing to profess belief in the Trinity, and reverence for our Lord Jesus Christ — and yet to make some addition to Christ as the ground of hope, and so to overthrow the doctrine of the text as really and completely as by denying it altogether.
The Church of Rome does this systematically. She adds things to Christianity over and above the requirements of the gospel, of her own invention. She speaks as if Christ's finished work was not a sufficient foundation for a sinner's soul, and as if it were not enough to say, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." She sends men to priests and confessors, to penances and absolutions, to masses and extreme unctions, to fasting and bodily mortifications, to the Virgin Mary and the saints — as if these things could add to the safety there is in Christ Jesus. And, in doing this, she sins against the doctrine of God's Word with a high hand. Let us beware of any Romish hankering after additions to the simple way of the gospel, from whatever quarter it may come.
But I fear the Church of Rome does not stand alone in this matter. I fear there are thousands of professing Protestants who are often erring in the same direction, although, of course, in a very different degree. They get into a way of adding, perhaps insensibly, other things to the name of Christ, or attaching an importance to them which they never ought to receive.
The ultra-Churchman in England, who thinks God's covenanted mercies are tied to episcopacy — the ultra-Presbyterian in Scotland, who cannot reconcile prelacy with an intelligent knowledge of the gospel — the ultra-Freechurch man by his side, who seems to think lay patronage and vital Christianity almost incompatible — the ultra-Dissenter, who traces every evil in the Church to its connection with the State, and can talk of nothing but the voluntary system — the ultra-Baptist, who shuts out from the Lord's table every one who has not received his particular view of adult baptism — the ultra-Plymouth Brother, who believes all knowledge to reside with his own body, and condemns everyone outside as a poor weak babe — all these, I say, however unwittingly, exhibit a most uncomfortable tendency to add to the doctrine of our text.
All seem to me to be practically declaring that salvation is not to be found simply and solely in Christ. All seem to me to be practically adding another name to the name of Jesus, in which men must be saved — even the name of their own party and sect. All seem to me to be practically replying to the question, "What shall I do to be saved?" not merely, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" — but also "Come and join us."
Now I call upon every true Christian to beware of such ultra-ism, in whatever form he may be inclined to it. In saying this, I would not be misunderstood. I like everyone to be decided in his views of ecclesiastical matters, and to be fully persuaded as to their correctness. All I ask is that men will not put these things in the place of Christ, or place them anywhere near Him, or speak of them as if they thought them needful to salvation. However dear to us our own peculiar views may be, let us beware of thrusting them in between the sinner and the Savior. In the tidings of God's Word, let it be it remembered that addition, as well as subtraction, is a great sin.
(d) The last consequence which seems to me to be learned from our text, is the utter absurdity of supposing that we ought to be satisfied with a man's state of soul if he is only in earnest and sincere.
This is a very common heresy indeed, and one against which we all need to be on our guard. There are thousands who say in the present day, "We have nothing to do with the opinions of others. They may perhaps be mistaken, though it is possible they are right and we wrong — but, if they are sincere and earnest, we hope they will be saved, even as we." And all this sounds liberal and charitable, and people like to imagine their own views are so! To such an extreme length has this erroneous idea run, that many are content to describe a Christian as "someone in earnest", and seem to think this vague definition is quite sufficient.
Now, I believe such notions are entirely contradictory to the Bible, whatever else they may be. I cannot find in Scripture that anyone ever got to Heaven merely by sincerity, or was accepted by God if he was only earnest in maintaining his own views.
The priests of Baal were earnest and sincere when they cut themselves with knives and lancets until the blood gushed out — but that did not prevent Elijah from commanding them to be treated as wicked idolaters. Manasseh, King of Judah, was doubtless earnest and sincere when he burned his children in the fire to Moloch — but who does not know that he brought on himself great guilt by so doing? The Apostle Paul, when a Pharisee, was earnest and sincere while he made havoc of the Church — but when his eyes were opened, he mourned over this as a special wickedness.
Let us beware of allowing for a moment that sincerity is everything, and that we have no right to speak badly of a man's spiritual state because of the opinions he holds, if he is only earnest in holding them. On such principles, the Druid sacrifices, the car of the Juggernaut, the Indian suttees, the systematic murders of the Thugs, the fires of Smithfield — might each and everyone be defended. It will not stand — it will not bear the test of Scripture. Once allow such notions to be true — and we may as well throw away our Bibles altogether! Sincerity is not Christ, and, therefore, sincerity cannot put away sin!
I dare to be sure these consequences sound very unpleasant to the minds of some who may read them. But I say, calmly and advisedly, that . . .
a religion without Christ,
a religion that takes away from Christ,
a religion that adds anything to Christ,
a religion that puts sincerity in the place of Christ
— all are dangerous; all are to be avoided, because all are alike contrary to the teaching of Scripture.
Some readers may not like this. I am sorry for that. They think me uncharitable, illiberal, narrow-minded, bigoted, and so forth. Be it so. But they will not tell me my doctrine is not that of the Word of God, and of the Church of England whose minister I am. That doctrine is salvation in Christ to the very uttermost — but out of Christ no salvation at all.
I feel it a duty to bear my solemn testimony against the spirit of the day we live in, to warn men against its infection. It is not Atheism I fear so much, at the present time, as Pantheism. It is not the system which says nothing is true — so much as the system which says everything is true. It is not the system which says there is no Savior — so much as the system which says there are many saviors, and many ways to peace with God! It is the system which is so liberal — that it dares not say anything is false. It is the system which is so charitable — that it allows everything to be true. It is the system which seems ready to honor others as well as our Lord Jesus Christ, to class them all together, and to think well of all. Confucius and Zoroaster, Socrates and Mahomet, the Indian Brahmins and the African devil-worshipers, Arius and Pelagius, Ignatius Loyola and Socinius — all must be treated respectfully, none are to be condemned.
It is the system which bids us smile complacently on all creeds and systems of religion. The Bible and the Koran, the Hindu Vedas and the Persian Zendavesta, the old wives' fables of Rabbinical writers, and the rubbish of Patristic traditions, the Racovian Catechism and the Thirty-nine Articles, the revelations of Emanuel Swedenborg, and the book of Mormon of Joseph Smith — all, all are to be listened to — none are to be denounced as lies.
It is the system which is so scrupulous about the feelings of others, that we are never to say they are wrong. It is the system which is so liberal that it calls a man a bigot if he dares to say, "I know my views are right." This is the system, this is the tone of feeling, which I fear in this day; and this is the system I desire emphatically to testify against and denounce.
What is it all but a bowing down before a great idol, falsely called liberality? What is it all but a sacrificing of truth upon the altar of a caricature of charity? What is it all but the worship of a shadow, a phantom, and an unreality? What can be more absurd than to profess ourselves content with "earnestness" when we do not know what we are earnest about? Let us take heed lest we are carried away by the delusion.
Has the Lord God spoken to us in the Bible — or has He not? Has He shown us the way of salvation plainly and distinctly in that Bible — or has He not? Has He declared to us the dangerous state of all out of the narrow way — or has He not? Let us gird up the loins of our minds and look at these questions fairly in the face, and give them an honest answer. Tell us that there is some other inspired book beside the Bible — and then we shall know what you mean. Tell us that the whole Bible is not inspired — and then we shall know where to meet you. But grant for a moment that the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible is God's truth — and then I don't know in what way we can escape the doctrine of the text. From the liberality which says everybody is right, from the charity which says nobody is wrong, from the peace which is bought at the expense of truth — may the good Lord deliver us!
For my own part, I frankly confess that I find no meeting place between downright distinct Evangelical Christianity — and downright infidelity, whatever others may think. I can see consistency in an infidel, however much I may pity him. I can see consistency in the full maintenance of Evangelical truth. But as to a middle course between the two — I cannot see it; and I say so plainly. Let it be called illiberal and uncharitable. I can hear God's voice nowhere except in the Bible, and I can see no salvation for sinners in the Bible except through Jesus Christ. In Him, I see abundance — out of Him I see none. And as for those who hold religions in which Christ is not all, whoever they may be — I have a most uncomfortable feeling about their safety. I do not for a moment say that none of them will be saved — but I say that those who are saved will be saved by their disagreement with their own principles, and in spite of their own system. The man who wrote the famous line, "He can't be wrong whose life is in the right" — was a great poet undoubtedly, but he was a wretched theologian!
Let me conclude this paper with a few words by way of APPLICATION.
(1) First of all, if there is no salvation except in Christ, let us make sure that we have an interest in that salvation ourselves.Let us not be content with hearing, and approving, and assenting to the truth, and going no further. Let us seek to have a personal interest in this salvation. Let us not rest until we know and feel that we have got actual possession of that peace with God which Jesus offers, and that Christ is ours, and we are Christ's. If there were two, or three, or more ways of getting to Heaven — there would be no necessity for pressing this matter. But if there is only one way, who can wonder that I say, "Make sure that you are in it."
(2) Secondly, if there is no salvation except in Christ, let us try to do good to the souls of all who do not know Him as a Savior.There are millions in this miserable condition — millions in foreign lands, millions in our own country, millions who are not trusting in Christ. We ought to feel for them if we are true Christians; we ought to pray for them; we ought to work for them, while there is yet time. Do we really believe that Christ is the only way to Heaven? Then let us live as if we believed it.
Let us look round the circle of our own relatives and friends, count them up one by one, and think how many of them are not yet in Christ. Let us try to do good to them in some way or other, and act as a man should act who believes his friends to be in danger. Let us not be content with their being kind and amiable, gentle and good-tempered, moral and courteous. Let us rather be miserable about them until they come to Christ, and trust in Him.
I know all this may sound like enthusiasm and fanaticism. I wish there was more of it in the world. Anything, I am sure, is better than a quiet indifference about the souls of others, as if everybody was in the way to Heaven.
Nothing, to my mind, so proves our little faith, as our little feeling about the spiritual condition of those around us.
(3) Thirdly, if there is no salvation except in Christ, let us love all who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity, and exalt Him as their Savior, whoever they may be.Let us not draw back and look shy on others, because they do not see eye to eye with ourselves in everything. Whether a man be a Free-church man or an Independent, a Wesleyan or a Baptist — let us love him if he loves Christ, and gives Christ His rightful place. We are all fast traveling toward a place where names and forms and Church government will be nothing — and Christ will be all. Let us get ready for that place early, by loving all who are in the narrow way which leads to it.
This is the true charity, to believe all things and hope all things — so long as we see Bible doctrines maintained and Christ exalted. Christ must be the single standard by which all opinions must be measured. Let us honor all who honor Him — but let us never forget that the same apostle Paul who wrote about charity, says also, "If any man loves not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema!" If our charity and liberality are wider than that of the Bible — then they are worth nothing at all. Indiscriminate love — is no love at all. Indiscriminate approval of all religious opinions — is only a new name for infidelity. Let us hold out the right hand to all who love the Lord Jesus, but let us beware how we go beyond this.
(4) Lastly, if there is no salvation except by Christ, we must not be surprised if ministers of the Gospel preach much about Him.They cannot tell us too much about the name which is above every name. We cannot hear of Him too often. We may hear too much about controversy in sermons — but we may hear too much of works and duties, of forms, of ceremonies, of sacraments and ordinances — but there is one subject which we never hear too much of — we can never hear too much of Christ.
When ministers are wearied of preaching Him — they are false ministers. When people are wearied of hearing of Him — their souls are in an unhealthy state. When ministers have preached Him all their lives — the half of His excellence will remain untold. When hearers see Him face to face in the day of His appearing — they will find there was more in Him than their hearts ever conceived.
Let me conclude this paper with the words of an old writer, to which I desire humbly to subscribe.
"I know no true religion but Christianity; no true Christianity but the doctrine of Christ — the doctrine of His divine person, of His divine office, of His divine righteousness, and of His divine Spirit, which all that are His receive.
"I know no true ministers of Christ but such as make it their business, in their calling, to commend Jesus Christ in His saving fullness of grace and glory, to the faith and love of men.
"I know no true Christian but one united to Christ by faith and love, unto the glorifying of the name of Jesus Christ, in the beauty of Gospel holiness." (Robert Traill).