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THE THREE FACTS OF SALVATION
“Who forgiveth all thine iniquities;
Who healeth all thy diseases;
Who redeemeth thy life from destruction.”—Ps. ciii. 3, 4.
SUPPLEMENT TO “THE THREE FACTS OF SIN”
LAST Sabbath we were engaged with the three facts of Sin. To-day we come to the three facts of Salvation.
The three facts of Sin were:—
1. The Guilt of Sin—“Who forgiveth all thine iniquities.”
2. The Stain of Sin—“Who healeth all thy diseases.”
3. The Power of Sin—“Who redeemeth thy life from destruction.”
And now we come to the three facts of Salvation—the emphasis on the first words of each clause instead of the last.
1. He forgiveth. 2. He healeth. 3. He redeemeth.
Every one who comes into the world experiences less or more of the three facts of Sin; and every one is allowed to live on in the world mainly that he may also experience the three great facts of Salvation. God keeps the most of us alive from day to day with this one object. Sin has got hold of us, and He is giving us time—time for grace to get the upper hand of it, time to work out the three facts of Salvation in our lives with fear and trembling against the three facts of sin. Our being, therefore, lies between these two great sets of facts, the dark set and the bright: and life is just the battlefield on which they fight it out. If the bright side win, it is a bright life—saved. If the dark side, it is a dark life—lost.
We have seen how the three dark facts have already begun to work upon our life; and that they are not only working at our life, but sapping it, and preying upon it every hour of the day. And now we stand face to face with the question which is wrung out from our life by the very sin which is destroying it, “What must I do to be saved?”
The first fact about which we ask this question—to begin once more with the fact which most conspicuously concerns life—is the fact of the power of Sin. What must I do to be saved from the Power of Sin? What most of us feel we really want religion to do for us, though it is not the deepest experience, is to save us from something which we feel in our life—a very terrible something which is slowly dragging our life downward to destruction. This something has gained an unaccountable hold upon us; it seems to make us go wrong whether we will or no, and instead of exhausting itself with all the attempts it has made upon our life in the past, it seems to get stronger and stronger every day. Even the Christian knows that this strange wild force is just at his very door, and if he does not pray tomorrow morning, for instance, before the day is out it will have wrought some mischief in his life. If he does not pray, in the most natural way in the world, without any effort of his own, without even thinking about it, this will necessarily come to the front and make his life go wrong. Now, wherever this comes from, or whatever it is, it is a great fact, and the first practical question in religion that rises to many a mind is this, “What must I do to be saved from this inevitable, and universal, and terrible fact of Sin?”
We have probably all made certain experiments upon this fact already, and we could all give some explanation, at least, of what we are doing to be saved.
If some of us were asked, for instance, what was our favourite fact of Salvation for resisting the Power of Sin, we might say the fact that we were doing our best. Well, it is a great thing for any man to be doing his best. But two questions will test the value of this method of resisting the power of sin. In the first place, How is your best doing? In the second place, Do you think you could not do better? As to how your best is doing, you would probably admit that, in fact, if you were to be candid, has not been much to boast of after all. And as regards your not doing better you might also admit that in some ways, perhaps, you could. The fact of Salvation then is evidently a poor one, as far as results are concerned, and may be judiciously laid aside.
Then another experiment people try to break the power of sin is to get thoroughly absorbed in something else—business, or literature, or some favourite pursuit. It is in our spare hours sin comes to us, and we try to have no sin by having no spare hours. But our very preoccupation may then be one continuous sin. And besides, if a man have no spare hours, he will have spare minutes, and sin comes generally in a minute. Most sins, indeed, are done in minutes. They take hours to execute, it may be; but in a moment the plot is hatched, the will consents, and the deed is done. Preoccupation then is clearly no saviour.
Then there are others who withdraw from the world altogether, to break with sin, and life the solitary life of the recluse. But they forget that sin is not in the sinful world without, but in the sinful heart within, and that it enters the hermit’s solitary cell as persistently as the wicked world around. So solitude comes to be no saviour.
And there are still others who take refuge in religiousness—in going to church, for instance, and in religious society and books. But there is not necessarily any more power to resist sin within the four walls of a church or the pages of a religious book, than between the walls of a theatre or the covers of a novel. There may be less temptation there, not necessarily more power. For there is no strength in mere religious ceremonies to cancel the power of sin, and many a man proves this, after years and years of church, by wakening to find the power of sin in his breast unchanged, and breaking out, perhaps, in every form of vice. Neither is religiousness, therefore, any escape from the dominion of Sin.
And lastly, some of us have resort to doctrines. We have got the leading points of certain doctrines worn into our minds, and because these have a religious name we are apt to think they have also a religious power. In reality, while dealing with the theory of Sin, we may leave the power to resist it untouched. And many a pen has been busy with a book on the doctrine of Sin while the life which employed it was going to destruction for want of salvation from its power.
There is one doctrine especially with which the word salvation is most often connected and to which many look for their deliverance from the power of indwelling Sin. And it may seem a startling statement to make, but it will emphasize a distinction which cannot be too clearly drawn, that even the Atonement itself is not the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved from the power of Sin?” The answer entirely depends on the Atonement, but it is not the Atonement. The Atonement is not the fact of salvation which saves the sinner from the power of Sin. If you believed in the Atonement to-day, if you were absolutely assured that your past sins were all forgiven, that would be no criterion that you would not be as bad as ever again to-morrow. The Atonement, therefore, is not the fact which deals with the power of sin. The Atonement deals with a point. We are coming to that. Just now we are talking of a life. We are looking out for something which will deal with something in our life—something which will redeem our life from destruction. And a man may believe the Atonement whose life is not redeemed from destruction.
You have gone out into the country on a summer morning, and as you passed some little rustic mill, you saw the miller come out to set his simple machinery agoing for the day. He turned on the sluice, but the water-wheel would not move. Then, with his strong arm, he turned it once or twice, then left it to itself to turn busily all the day. It is a sorry illustration in detail, but its principle means this, that the Atonement is the first great turn as it were which God gives in the morning of conversion to the wheel of the Christian’s life. Without it nothing more would be possible: alone it would not be enough. The water of life must flow in a living stream all through the working day and keep pouring its power into it ceaselessly till the life and the work are done.
Now, practically everything in salvation depends upon the clearness with which this great truth is recognized. Sin is a power in our life: let us fairly understand that it can only be met by another power. The fact of Sin works all through our life: the fact of Salvation which is to counteract it, must act all through life. The death of Christ, which is the Atonement, reconciles us to God, makes our religion possible, puts us in the way of the power which is to come against our Sin and deliver our life from destruction. But the Water of Life, which flows from the life of Christ, is the power itself. He redeemeth my life, by His life, from destruction. This is the power, Paul says, which redeemed his life from destruction. Christ’s life, not His death, living in his life, absorbing it, impregnating it, transforming it: “Christ,” as he confessed, “in me.” And this, therefore, is the meaning of a profound sentence in which Paul states the true answer to the question, What must I do to be saved? records this first great fact of salvation and pointedly distinguishes it from the other. “If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom. v. 10).
“We shall be saved by His life,” says Paul. Paul meant no disrespect to the Atonement when he said, “We shall be saved by His life.” He was bringing out in relief one of the great facts of Salvation. If God gives atoning power with one hand, and power to save the life from destruction with the other, there is no jealousy between. Both are from God. If you call the one justification and the other sanctification, God is the author of them both. If Paul seems to take something from the one doctrine and add it to the other, he takes nothing from God. Atonement is from God. Power to resist Sin is from God. When we say we shall be saved by the death of Christ, it is true. When Paul says, “We shall be saved by His life,” it is true. Christ is all and in all, the beginning and the end. Only when we are speaking of one fact of Sin, let us speak of the corresponding fact of grace. When the thing we want is power to redeem our life from destruction, let us apply the gift which God has given us for our life, and for guilt the gift for guilt. When an Israelite was bitten in the wilderness, he never thought of applying manna to the wound. The manna was for his life. But he did think of applying the brazen serpent. The manna would never have cured his sin; nor would the brazen serpent have kept him from starving. Suppose he had said, “Now I am healed by this serpent, I feel cured, and I need not eat this manna any more. The serpent has done it all, and I am well.” The result would have been, of course, that he would have died. The man to be sure was cured, but he has to live, and if he eats no manna his life must languish, go to destruction, die. Without taking any trouble about it, simply by the inevitable processes of nature, he would have died. The manna was God’s provision to redeem his life from destruction, after the serpent had redeemed it from death. And if he did nothing to stop the natural progress of destruction, in the natural course of things, he must die. Now there is no jealousy between these two things—the manna is from God and the serpent is from God. But they are different gifts for different things. The serpent gave life, but could not keep life; the manna kept life, but could not give life. Therefore, the Israelites were saved by the serpent, but they did not try to eat the serpent.
To apply this to the case in hand. The Atonement of Christ is the brazen serpent. Christ’s life is the manna—the bread of life. Our sins are not forgiven by bread, nor are our lives supported by death. Our life is not redeemed from destruction by the Atonement, nor kept from day to day from the power of Sin by the Atonement. Our life is not redeemed from destruction by the death of Christ, nor kept from day to day by the death of Christ. But we are saved, as Paul says, by His life. We cannot live upon death. Mors janua vitae—death is the gate of life. And after we have entered the gateway by the death of Christ, we shall be saved by His life.
It is one thing, therefore, to be saved by the death of Christ, and another to be saved by His life; and while both expressions are correct, to talk of being saved by the death of Christ is not so scriptural as to talk of being saved by the life of Christ; and Paul, with his invariable conciseness on important points, has brought out the facts of salvation with profound insight in the pregnant antithesis already quoted, “When we were enemies we were reconciled by the death of Christ, now we shall be saved by His life.”
The first fact of Salvation, therefore, which is to be brought to bear upon the first great fact of Sin, is not our own efforts, our own religiousness, our own doctrine, the Atonement, or the death of Christ, but the power of the life of Christ. He redeemeth my life from destruction. How? By His life. This is the fact of Salvation. It takes life to redeem life—power to resist power. Sin is a ceaseless, undying power in our life. A ceaseless, undying power must come against it. And there is only one such power in the universe—only one, which has a chance against Sin: the power of the living Christ. God knew the power of Sin in a human soul when He made so great provision. He knew how great it was; He calculated it. Then He sent the living Christ against it. It is the careful and awful estimate of the power of Sin. God saw that nothing else would do. It would not do to start our religion, and then leave us to ourselves. It would not do with hearts like ours, yearning to sin, to leave us with religiousness or moral philosophy or doctrine. Christ must come Himself, and live with us. He must come and make His abode with us. So that when we live it shall be not we that live, but Christ living in us, and the life which we are now living in the flesh must be lived by the power of the Son of God.
What, then, must I do to be saved? Receive the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. Slave of a thousand sins, receive the Lord Jesus Christ into thy life, and thy life, thy far-spent life, shall yet be redeemed from destruction. Receive the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou who hast lived in the far famine land shalt return and live once more by thy Father’s side. Thou seekest not a welcome to thy Father’s house—of thy welcome thou hast never been afraid. But thou seekest a livelihood; thou seekest power. Thou seekest power to be pure, to be true, to be free from the power of Sin. “What must I do to be saved from that? What power will free me from that?” The power of the living Christ. “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.” “Power to become the sons of God”—the great fact of salvation. Receive the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.
Christ, therefore, is the Power of God unto salvation—the counter-fact to the Power of Sin unto destruction. Christ is the Way—He is also the Truth and the Life. This power, this life, is within our reach each moment of our life; as near, as free, as abundant as the air we breathe. A breath of prayer in the morning, and the morning life is sure. A breath of prayer in the evening, and the evening blessing comes. So our life is redeemed from destruction. Breath by breath our life comes into us. Inch by inch it is redeemed. So much prayer to-day—so many inches redeemed to-day. So much water of life to-day —so many turns of the great wheel of life to-day. Therefore, if we want to be saved—whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely. If you want to be saved, breathe the breath of life. And if you cannot breathe, let the groans which cannot be uttered go up to God, and the power will come. To all of us alike, if we but ask we shall receive. For God makes surpassing allowances, and He will do unto the least of us exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.
Secondly, and more briefly, the second fact of Sin is the Stain of Sin, the second fact of Salvation, “He healeth all thy diseases.” The stain of Sin is a very much more complicated thing even than the power of Sin; and that for this reason—that most of it lies outside our own life. If it only lay in dark blotches upon our own life, we might set to work to rub it out. But it has crossed over into other lives all through the years that have gone, and left its awful mark —our mark, on every soul we touched since the most distant past.
A young man once lay upon his deathbed. He was a Christian, but for many days a black cloud had gathered upon his brow. Just before his last breath, he beckoned to the friends around his bed. “Take my influence,” he said, “and bury it with me.” He stood on the very threshold of glory. But the stain of sin was burning hot upon his past. Bury his influence with him! No, his influence will remain. His life has gone to be with God, who gave it; but his influence—he has left no influence for Christ. His future will be for ever with the Lord. The unburied past remains behind, perhaps, for ever to be against him. The black cloud which hangs over many a dying brow means the stain of an influence lost for Christ—means with many a man who dies a Christian, that though his guilt has been removed and his life redeemed from destruction, the infection of his past lurks in the world still, and his diseases fester in open sore among all the companions of his life.
What must I do to be saved from the stain of Sin? Gather up your influence, and see how much has been for Christ. Then undo all that has been against Him. It will never be healed till then. This is the darkest stain upon your life. The stain of Sin concerns your own soul, but that is a smaller matter. That can be undone—in part. There are open sores enough in our past life to make even heaven terrible. But God is healing them. He is blotting them from His own memory and from ours. If the stains that were there had lingered, life would have been a long sigh of agony. But salvation has come to your soul. God is helping you to use the means for repairing a broken life. He restoreth thy soul, He healeth all thy diseases. But thy brother’s soul, and thy brother’s diseases? The worst of thy stains have spread far and wide without thyself; and God will only heal them, perhaps, by giving you grace to deal with them. You must retrace your steps over that unburied past, and undo what you have done. You must go to the other lives which are stained with your blood-red stains and rub them out. Perhaps you did not lead them into their sin; but you did not lead them out of it. You did not show them you were a Christian. You left a worse memory with them than your real one. You pretended you were just like them—that your sources of happiness were just the same. You did not tell them you had a power which kept your life from Sin. You did not take them to the closet you had at home, and let them see you on your knees, nor tell them of your Bible which was open twice a day. And all these negatives were stains and sins. It is a great injustice to do to any one we know—the worst turn we could do a friend, to keep the best secret back, and let him go as calmly to hell as we are going to heaven.
If we cannot bury our influence, thank God if here and there we can undo it still. The other servant in the kitchen, the clerk on the next stool, the lady who once lived in the next house, we must go to them, by the grace of God, and take the stain away. And let the thought that much that we have done can never be undone, that many whose lives have suffered from our sins have gone away into eternity with the stains still unremoved that when we all stand round the throne together, even from the right hand of the judgment seat of Christ, we may behold on the left among the lost the stains of our own sin, still livid on some soul—let this quicken our steps as we go to obliterate the influence of our past, and turn our fear into a safeguard as we try to keep our future life for Christ.
The second fact of salvation, therefore, is to be effected by God in part and by ourselves in part. By God as regards ourselves; by God and ourselves as regards others. He is to heal our diseases, and we are to spread the balm He gives us wherever we have spread our Sin.
Lastly, the third great fact of Sin is Guilt—the third fact of Salvation is Forgiveness. “He forgiveth all thine iniquities.” The first question we asked came out of our life; the second mostly from our memory; but the third rises up out of conscience.
Our first cry, as we looked at our future, was, “Where can I get power?” Now we are looking at our past, and the question is, “Where can I get pardon?” The questions which conscience sends up to us are always the deepest questions. And the man who has never sent up the question; “Where can I get pardon?” has never been into his conscience to find out the deepest want he has. It is not enough for him to look lifeward; he must also look Godward. And it is not enough to discover the stain of his past, and cry out, “I have sinned.” But he must see the guilt of his life and cry, “I have sinned against God.” The fact of salvation which God has provided to meet the fact of guilt, although it is the most stupendous fact of all, only comes home to man when he feels a criminal and stands, like a guilty sinner, for pardon at God’s bar.
It is enough for him then to invoke God’s strength against the power of Sin. Just as the fact which meets the guilt of Sin, as we have seen, can never meet the power of Sin, so the fact which meets the power of Sin can never meet the fact of guilt: manna was what was required for a man’s life; but it was no use against his guilt. It is nothing that he makes a good resolution not to do wrong any more, that he asks Christ to come and live with him and break the power of Sin, and redeem his life from destruction. God has something to say to him before that. Something must happen to him before that. He must come and give an account of himself before that. The good resolution is all very laudable for the days to come, but what about the past? God wants to know about the past. It maybe convenient for us to forget the past, but God cannot forget it. We have done wrong, and wrong-doing must be punished. Wrong-doing must be punished—must; this is involved in one of the facts of Sin. Therefore the punishment of wrong-doing must be involved in one of the facts of salvation. It is not in the first two. It must be somewhere in this.
Now the punishment of Sin is death. “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Therefore death is the punishment which must be in one of the facts of salvation. It was not in the other two. It must be somewhere in this. It will not meet the case if the sinner professes his penitence and promises humbly never to do the like again. It will not meet the case if he comes on his knees to apologise to God, and ask Him simply to forget that he has sinned, or beg Him to have pity on the misfortunes of his past. God did not say, “In the day thou eatest thereof I will pity thy misfortunes. In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely apologise, or thou shalt surely repent.” But “in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” So death, and nothing less than death, must be in the fact of salvation from the guilt of sin, if such salvation is to be.
This fact, this most solemn necessity understood and felt, the rest is plain. We all know who deserved to die. We all know Who did die. We know we were not wounded for our transgressions, we were not bruised for our iniquities. But we know Who was. The Lord hath not dealt with us according to our iniquities; but we know with Whom He has. We know Who bare our sins in His own body on the tree—One who had no sins of His own. We know Who was lifted up like the serpent in the wilderness—He who died, the just for the unjust. If we know this, we know the great fact of Salvation, for it is here.
It only remains to answer one question more. How is a poor sinner to make this great fact his? And the answer is, by trusting Christ. He has nothing else wherewith to make it his. The Atonement is a fact. Forgiveness is a fact. Let him believe it. He does not understand it. He is not asked to understand it. The proper way to accept a fact is to believe it; and Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. It is well to understand it, and you may try to understand it, if you can, but till then you must believe it. For it is a fact, and your understanding it will not make it less or more a fact. The death of Christ will always be a fact. Forgiveness of sins will always be a fact. You accept the facts of sin: accept the facts of grace. The Atonement, you say, confuses you. You do not understand its bearings; the more you think and hear and read, the more mysterious it becomes. And well it may, well it may!
A student went to a professor of theology not long ago, and asked him how long it took him to understand the Atonement. He answered, all his life. Thinking perhaps there might be some mistake, the young man went to another professor, who taught the very doctrine in his class. “How long did it take you, sir,” he asked, “to understand the Atonement?” The professor thought a moment, and looked him in the face. “Eternity,” he said, “Eternity; and I shall not understand it then.”
We have been dealing to-day with facts; we need not be distressed if we do not understand them. God’s love—how could we? God’s forgiveness—how could we? “He forgiveth all mine iniquities.” It is a fact. What proof could commend itself if God’s fact will not do? Verify the fact as you may, find out as much about it as you may; only accept it—accept it first. You are keeping your life waiting while you are finding out about it. You are keeping your salvation waiting. And it is better to spend a year in ignorance than live a day unpardoned. You are staining other lives while you are waiting: your influence is against Christ while you are waiting, and it is better to spend your life in ignorance than let your influence be against Christ. Most things in religion are matters of simple faith. But when we come to the Atonement, somehow we all become rationalists. We want to see through it and understand it—as if it were finite like ourselves, as if it could ever be compassed by our narrow minds—as if God did not know that we never could fathom it when He said, “Believe it,” instead of “Understand it.” We are not rationalists when we come to the love of God, or to faith, or to prayer. We do not ask for a theory of love before we begin to love, or a theory of prayer before we begin to pray. We just begin. Well, just begin to believe in forgiveness. When they brought the sick man once to Jesus, He just said, “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee,” and the man just believed it. He did not ask, “But why should you forgive me, and how do you mean forgive me? and I don’t see any connection between your forgiveness and my sin.” No; he took the fact. “Immediately he rose up, and departed to his own house, glorifying God.” The fact is, if we would come to Christ just now, we should never ask any questions. Our minds would be full of Him. We should be in the region of eternal facts, and we should just believe them. At least, we should believe Him; and He is the Saviour, the sum of all the facts of Salvation—the one Saviour from all the facts of Sin. If you will not receive Salvation as a fact, receive the Lord Jesus Christ as a gift—we ask no questions about a gift. Receive the Lord Jesus Christ as a gift, and thou shalt be saved from the power and the stain and the guilt of Sin, for His is the power and the glory. Amen.
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