"For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost."-Math. xviii. 11.
Every kind of work supposes something to be done, some ground or condition of fact to be affected by it; education the fact of ignorance, punishment the fact of crime, charity the fact of want. The work of Christ, commonly called a work of salvation, supposes in like manner the fact of a lost condition, such as makes salvation necessary. So it is that Christ himself conceives it, "For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost." He does not say, you observe, "that which is about to be, or in danger of being, lost," but he uses the past tense, "was lost," as if it were a fact already consummated, or, at least, practically determined. This work, therefore, is to be a salvation, not as being a preventive, but as being a remedy after the fact; a supernatural provision by which seeds of life are to be ingenerated in a lapsed condition where there are none. At this point then Christianity begins, this is the grand substructural truth on which it rests, that man who is to be saved by it, is a lost being-already lost.
And yet there will be many who recoil from this assumption of Christ, and, without any willing disrespect to his person, take up a suspicion that he somehow over-states the fact of our condition. They could admit, without difficulty, that they are imperfect, that they sometimes do wrong, and that there is often great perversity in men, or it may be in themselves. It would not shock them, if it were declared that every human being wants forgiveness; but to say that we are lost beings, appears to be an extravagance. They do not see it in the tolerably comfortable state of the world, and they are not conscious of it in themselves; they think they have even a kind of instinctive conviction against it, and feel obliged to repel it as injurious and without evidence.
Probably some of you before me are in just this position of mind regarding the great point stated. You feel obliged to make issue with the Lord Jesus in respect to it-doing it, as you believe, not from any disposition to have a conflict with him, but simply because you can not assent to his words, and seem even to know that the fact he assumes can not be true. The disagreement you will admit is very unequal, but how can you assent to a position that so far violates your honest convictions.
What I propose then at the present time, not in the way of controversy, but for your sake and Christ's sake, is to go over this matter in a careful revision, offering, if I can, such a statement of it that, going out as it were from your own center and sentiment, you will meet the mind of Christ approvingly. Perhaps you will so take his meaning as to meet him with a felt tenderness in it, such as he most certainly reveals to you; concluding this friendly negotiation, so to speak, in a reverent, believing acceptance of him as your own great, necessary Saviour. To this end let us,
I. Clear away some obstructions, or points of misconception, that may put your feeling at unnecessary variance with Christ's doctrine, or give you a sense of revulsion from it that is not really occasioned by any thing in it.
Thus, when he says "was lost," using the past tense, as if the lost condition were a fact accomplished, you do not see that either you, or the world is in a state of undoing so completely reprobate. But he does not mean, when he says "was lost," that the lost condition is literally accomplished in the full significance of it, but only that it is begun, with a fixed certainty of being fully accomplished; that, as being begun, the causes that are loosed in it contain the certainty of the fact, as truly as if the fact were fully executed. Thus if you see a man topple off the brink of a precipice a thousand feet high, you say inwardly, the moment he passes his center of gravity, "he is gone;" you know it as well as when you see him dashed in pieces on the rocks below; for the causes that have gotten hold of him, contain the fact of his destruction, and he is just as truly lost before the fact accomplished as after. So if a man has taken some deadly poison and the stupor has begun to settle upon him already, you say that he is a lost man; for the death-power is in him, and you know as well that he is gone, as if he lay dead at your feet. So a soul under evil once begun, has taken the poison, and the bad causation at work is fatal; it contains the fact of a ruined immortality, in such a sense that we never adequately conceive it, save as we give it past tense, and say, "was lost."
Again, you have heard of such a thing as "total depravity," and the declaration of Christ may be somehow associated with such a conception; a conception which you instinctively repel as unjust and extravagant, and contrary plainly to what you know of the many graces and virtues that adorn our human life. But this notion of total depravity is no declaration of Christ, and he is not responsible for it. It is only a speculated dogma of man, which can be so stated as to be true, and very often is so stated as to be false. You have nothing to do with it here.
It has much to do, again with your impressions on this subject, that you are so completely wide of all sensibility to, or consciousness of, the lost condition Christ assumes. Have you considered the possibility that you may be rather proving the truth of it in that manner? "If our gospel be hid," says an apostle, "it is hid to them that are lost." If you have no sense of being in the lost condition Christ speaks of, if the salvation he proposes seems, in that view, to be an exaggeration, a fiction, it may be true and is very likely to be, that the want of proportion is in you and not in it. I say not that it is, I only suggest that it may be. If it is, then it will appear by the positive evidence hereafter to be given.
Again, your mind is an active principle, and it keeps suggesting, or putting in your way, thoughts that run, as it were, to a contrary conviction; as that God is good, and will not put a race in being, to be lost regarding all good ends of being, or that he is a great being, competent every way to keep his foster children safe. The argument is short and easy, it seems even to invent itself. But there is another counter suggestion that is quite as likely to be true, and has weight enough certainly to balance it; viz., that God wanted possibly, in the creation of men, free beings like himself, and capable of common virtues with himself-not stones, or trees, or animals-and that, being free and therefore not to be controlled by force, they must of necessity be free to evil; consequently never to be set fast in common virtues with himself, except as he goes down after them into evil and a lost condition, to restore them by a salvation. This being true, creatures may be made, that perish, or fall into lost conditions., Besides the world is full of analogies. The blossoms of the spring cover the trees and the fields, all alike beautiful and fragrant; but they shortly strew the ground as dead failures, even the greater part of them, having set no beginning of fruit. And then of the fruits that are set how many die as abortive growths, strewing the ground again. How many harvests also are blasted, yielding only straw. In the immense propagations of the sea, what myriads die in the first week of life. Thus we find nature everywhere struggling in abortive growths, fainting, as it were, in the perfecting of what her prolific intentions initiate. And all these abortions are so many tokens in the lower forms of life, of the possibility that there also may be blasted growths in the higher.
Once more the amiable virtues, high aspirations, and other shining qualities, you see in mankind, make the assumed fact of our lost condition seem harsh and extravagant-you could not believe it if you would. But considering how high and beautiful a nature the soul is, it should not surprise you that it shows many traces of dignity even after it has fallen prostrate, and lies a broken statue on the ground. Besides, Christ himself had even a more appreciative feeling, in respect to what may be called our natural character than you. When a certain young man, rich, but conscientiously upright and nobly ingenuous, came to him asking what he should do "to inherit eternal life?" though he was obliged in faithfulness to answer, "one thing thou lackest,"-requiring him to suffer a total change of life, in the sacrifice of all he had, and the assumption of his cross-his manner and look were so visibly and affectingly tender, nevertheless, as to attract the special attention of his disciples, and from them it passed into the narrative, as a distinctly noted element of description-"Then Jesus beholding him, loved him." You might not yourself have put any such terms of requirement upon him; I fear that you would not, but would you, with all you sensibilities to natural excellence, have loved him as much, or shown it by signs as beautifully impressive?
Having noted, in this manner, so many points of unnecessary revulsion from the fact of a lost condition, assumed by Christ in his work of salvation, I think I may take it for granted that you are ready-
II. To look at the evidence of the fact and accept the conclusion it brings you.
And the first thing here to be considered is, that our blessed Master, in assuming your lost condition, is not doing it harshly, or in any manner of severity. He is no dogmatist, making out his article of depravity. He is not a teacher of that light quality that permits him to be pleased with appalling severities of rhetoric, and over-drawn allegations of fact, without any due sense of their meaning. His feeling is tender, never censorious. Sometimes, by a kind of divine politeness so to speak, he puts a face on human character and relations that avoids a look of impeachment where impeachment would be true; as when he speaks of "laying down his life for his friends." He could have said "enemies" quite as truly, or even more so, but did not like to put that now upon his disciples. In the same kind way of consideration, but with a deeper feeling, he apologizes to God for his murderers, even in the article of death, and apparently comforts himself in the allowance-"Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." Is it such a being that will thresh you in random charges, the severity of which is apparent to you and not to him? You can not say it, or even be willing to think it.
Furthermore, it must be evident to you, as it has been to all most unrestrained critics and deniers, that his moral sentiments and standards are high and sharp beyond comparison-higher and sharper certainly than yours. He has also a most piercing insight of all that is deepest in character and its wants; as, by force of his most singular purity alone, he must of necessity have; what then will you sooner think of, when he calls you a lost man, than that, possibly, he knows you more adequately than you know yourself? Having then some better right than you to know, what does he in fact say?
I might go to the other scriptures, citing declarations from them; and especially from the writings of Paul, who discusses this very point many times over, showing by the most cogently close and formal arguments, the fallen state of disability and subjection to evil, out of which Christ has undertaken to raise you; but I prefer to keep the question still and altogether between you and him, and therefore I shall not cite any words but his. Notice then his parables of the lost sheep, and the lost piece of money, not omitting to observe that he is here sharpening no point of allegation against men, but only setting forth the joy that will accrue to the angels of God, and all good beings, when they are restored. Is it in this attitude of feeling that he is launching hard or unjust judgments upon them? He also speaks of a state of "condemnation," declaring in a manifestly gentle feeling, that he has not come to condemn but to save the world, yet still obliged to add-"he that believeth not is condemned already." What is this state condemned of God but a lost condition under another figure? He uses also the figure of death, spiritual death, in the same manner, saying-"I am the life." "My Son was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found." "Is passed from death unto life." "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Death is the condition of disorder and spiritual dissolution, which is a lost condition. Life is salvation, because it is the condition of harmony restored; where part answers again to part, function to function, in a complete living order. The lost condition he also calls a state of "darkness" and "blindness," and to it he comes as "the light" and "the way." Who is more profoundly lost than he that walks groping for the wall? He conceives the lost condition as a state of moral disability, in which men "have eyes" which "can not see," and "ears which can not hear," and are able no longer to convert, or heal themselves. It even requires a divine power in us, he conceives, if we are to make any real approach to good-"No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him." Not to multiply citations further, take the one practical exhibition of his discourse on regeneration. The doctrine is that man, as he conceives him, is in such a condition that nothing short of a divine movement upon him, can bring him back, into that character and felicity for which he was made. "Verily, verily I say unto you, except a man be born again"-"born of the Spirit,"-"he can not see the kingdom of God."
These now are Christ's convictions, most tenderly, faithfully, and variously expressed, concerning man, or the lost condition of man-your lost condition. He does not come to some very bad men, saying these things, but he speaks comprehensively to the race, and grounds his work of salvation fixedly upon the lost condition affirmed.
You will not hear them disrespectfully. Still it will not be strange if your feeling is unsatisfied. "If it be so with me," you will ask, "why may it not somehow be made to appear?" Let me take you then a step further, into another field, where I think it will appear.
As the matter lies between you and Christ, and he has spoken already, I will take you now to yourself. Think it not strange, if your heart answers, after all, to the heart of Jesus, and re-affirms exactly what he has testified.
You live in a world where there is certainly some wrong-you have seen it, suffered from it, and consciously done it. But all wrong, it will be agreed, is something done against the perfect and right will of God, and a shock must of necessity follow it. Suppose a machinist to produce a machine, some one wheel of which will somehow run directly the other way from what was intended-does run the other way for some space, longer or shorter, every few hours. It will go into confusion of course and become a total wreck. So a soul going against the will of God, in acts of wrong, breaks God's order in it. Taken as a functional structure, all the parts of which are to play harmoniously into each other, disorder and ruin begins just when wrong begins, and all its goings on afterward accelerate and aggravate the disorder. As the junctures and functions are no more in heaven's order, it is practically undone. Then, as the body is the soul's organ, the damage is propagated as disease in that. And then, as society is made up of souls and bodies, that also becomes an element of discord, infested with lies, grudges, enmities, jealousies, breaches of trust and of contract, deeds of injustice and robbery; history itself a volume, the main chapters of which report the conflicts of war, the oppressions of slavery, the wrongs of woman, the hard fortunes of industry, the corruptions of courts and governments, the intrigues of diplomacy, the persecutions of the good.
But I refer you to society thus only in a way of transition, and return immediately to the main question as it stands in the revelations of your own personal consciousness. It has always seemed to me that whoever will accurately note his own inward working, for but one half hour, must even be appalled by the discoveries he will make. You distinguish first of all a certain shyness, or feeling of recoil from God-why should you withdraw instinctively thus from a being wholly good and pure? It was just this feeling that Adam had, after the sin, when he withdrew and hid himself in the garden. Guilt is at the bottom of this shyness. And what is a more certainly lost feeling than the feeling of guilt? Who can stop it, or smooth it away, by any thing done upon himself? It testifies to a fact-can you ever annihilate that fact? No more can you stop the guilt which is only a fit remembrance of it.
You discover also a certain look of disproportion, that is painfully significant. Your ambition is too high for your possibilities and your place. Your passions are too strong for your prudence. Your prudence too close for your affections. Your irritabilities too fiery at times for both. Your resentments are too impetuous for your occasions. Your appetites too large for your possibilities of safe indulgence. Your will over-rules your conscience. Your inclinations master the dictates of your reason. And what is more sadly humiliating than any thing else, your great aspirations have some weight upon them which they can not lift, falling back baffled and spent, with no power left but to notify you of their constant failure. Your great ideals too, revealing, as it were, the summits of a magnificent nature, and lifting their flags of inspiration there, are yet draggled somehow and drugged by low impulses, that make you a mockery to yourself in your attainments. A kind of inversion appears in every thing-sure indication of disorder.
There is disagreement also, as well as disproportion. Your practical judgments of things disagree with your real wants, magnifying toys of sense, to leave you aching for God and the unseen good of the mind. Your eyes discover good in shows and outward preferments, your convictions place it in truth and character. Your generous and high sentiments look down with scorn upon the sordid and cowardly impulses of your selfishness, to be, in turn, alas! how often, mastered in the conflict with them. Your feeling of independence knuckles to conventionalities, and what begun as a war, is ended as a truce, in which you agree, as a kind of independent abject, to hold every thing in scorn that is not under the fashion. Your eternal convictions quarrel with your passions, and your will quarrels feebly with both, misgiving under one, succumbing to the other. The whole internal man is a troubled element. You hardly know, many times, what to think, on the plainest subjects of duty and religion, and are most facile to what you least approve. You ask where you are? and think you do not know; what to believe? and say you can not find; what to do? and do what you would not; what to avoid? and do it. Your mind is full of distraction-in endless mazes lost.
Take another and simpler view of your disorder, do just what so few men ever did, sit down for an hour, and watch the run of your thoughts. Nothing flows in regular causation, no law of suggestion can be more than faintly traced. As a man who is lost in a deep forest, turns confusedly one way and the other, unable to set his mind in a train of deliberative order, so it is with you. Your thoughts huddle on, crossing all lines, breaking through all trains, refusing all terms of order, uncontrolled, uncontrollable; even as droves in the jostle of panic before a prairie fire. The law of right proceeding appears to be somehow broken, the suggestions are, how often, base, impure, and low, and withal defy any look of system. What jumps of transition! how incongruous, unaccountable, and wild! Could the internal picture be mapped to the eye, what eye could trace it! It is as if the soul were an instrument played by demons. How unlike to the sweet flow of order and health in the mind of an angel. The metaphysicians do indeed make up their solutions, showing how every thing goes on by a law of suggestion or association in a strictly normal process. Their farthing candle gives a very little faint light, wholly insufficient, however, as regards the main question. The single word disease tells more than all their speculations. Watching these wild ways of thought, we distinguish a ferment of death, and not the flow of life. The look is abnormal; as if the soul were in a kind of dissolution. No man, duly observing thus himself will easily doubt that he is somehow lost. The appalling doubt, whether he can ever be saved will be more natural. What a work indeed to save him, restore him, that is, to the state of inward health, raise him up into the orderly movement of angelic life, and make the currents flow melodious and clear.
Glance now a moment, at the disabilities that have somehow come upon you, in what the Saviour calls your lost condition. You never encountered any trouble, it may be, on this point, never thought of being under any such disability as he speaks of. Have you not your will, your strong will left? Yes, but the difficulty is to execute, or carry through what you will to be done. When you resolve to govern yourself, thus or thus, or to be this or that, according to some ideal conceived, does your soul mind you? do you become forthwith such as you undertook to be? Are there no currents of habit encountered, no floods of contrary impulse, no volcanic fires of irritation, that prove quite too strong for you? Suppose you determine with all seriousness, now, or at some future time, to begin a religious life. Is it begun? You find base motives creeping into your mind, which you disrespect and determine to shut them away. Do you succeed? You grow sick of the world in one form or another, and rise up to cast it out. Does it go? You conceive a true notion of spiritual dignity and beauty of character, and set yourself to the attainment. Do you reach it? Try a thing more brave and certainly not less necessary; take stiff hold of your thoughts, set your will down upon them and still their tumult, and tame their wild way, into the sweet order of health and rational proceeding. Can you do it? Could any thing be more preposterous even than to try? And yet there is no true perfection of soul that does not include even this; including also, in the same way, all that belongs to internal order, proportion, agreement, and a full consent of all functions and powers. Have you courage to undertake such perfection? This now is the very profound disability in which Christ finds you yourself. Perhaps you never saw it before, but be looks upon you tenderly in it, and counts you to be lost-is any thing more certainly, manifestly true? This brings me to speak-
III. Of the salvation-what it is, and by what means or methods it is wrought. Too short a space is left me, you will see, to allow any thing but a very condensed statement. Excluding then all that may be held, or contended for, as regards the matter of expiation for sin, or the final satisfaction of God's justice, in the death of Christ-which can, at the most, be no proper salvation from the inward disorder and disability we have discovered-we come directly to the question, how the death is quickened, bow the lost condition of the old man is, or is to be, renewed by Christ, in his work considered as a salvation?
Manifestly this can be done only by some means, or operation, that respects the soul's free nature, working in, upon, or through consent in us, and so new ordering the soul.
Not then, by some divine act in the force principle of omnipotence, some new creating stroke from behind, that restores our disorder; the change thus accomplished is a mending by repair, and not a recovery; omnipotence, not Christ, is the Saviour.
As little is it by some help given to your development, or self-culture, or even self-reformation. When Lord Chesterfield gives disquisitions on the elegant properties of good manners and polite conduct, he speaks to men as having a power to fashion themselves by his rules. Christ is no professor of goodness in that way. He calls you never to go about being better. He does not so much as call upon you to stifle your deep hunger, by satisfying your own wants. He does not even put you climbing after the glorious ideals you have, and the still more glorious he gives you from his own life and person; as if you could get inspiration from these to raise yourself. The Chesterfieldian method, and the merely moral of Socrates, are not his. These were instructors, not Saviours, speaking both to men, not to lost men-what you want, and what Christ undertakes to be, is a Saviour for lost men. No scheme of Christianity, so called, includes a gospel, which does not include this. Any Christ, who does not come to save lost men, is antichrist, or at best no Christ at all; for who can be the Lord's true Christ, not coming, as life to death, peace within to discord within, order to disorder, liberty to bondage.
We must look, in fact, for some such being as can be a World's Regenerator; making good the fact that God has not created us for a lost condition, but for salvation. Doubtless it may be true that God could not bring us on as free, by any straight line progress of development, into the character he meant for us, and the relation to Himself, that was to be our joy and his. As the ancient poets tell us of this or that hero of their's, who went down to hell, fought away the three-headed dog at the gate, and passed the Stygian river, and when the grim reconnoisance was over, forced his way back, even by the judgment bar of Radamanthus, out into the light; so there was to be, we may believe, an epic descent of souls into the hell-state of disorder and judicial condemnation, and a bursting up again, out of their penal imprisonment, into life and free dominion. But if the soul-history could not be a simply quiet educing of good, if it must be inherently terrible, plunging down through gulfs of disaster and loss, in the mad experiment of wrong, even as it is itself inherently free; then a Saviour is required who can sound the bottom of such gulfs, and bring up the lost ones, into that good and glory eternal for which they were made. This is Christ the Lord, coming, as in everlasting counsel, to execute a salvation prepared before the foundation of the world.
He works by no fiat of absolute will, as when God said "let there be light." He respects your moral nature, doing it no violence. He moves on your consent, by moving on your convictions, wants, sensibilities, and sympathies. He is the love of God, the beauty of God, the mercy of God-God's whole character, brought nigh through a proper and true Son of Man, a nature fellow to your own, thus to renovate and raise your own. Meeting you at the point of your fall and disorder, as being himself incarnated into the corporate evil of your state, he brings you God's great feeling to work on yours. He is deeply enough entered into your case, to let the retributive causes loosened by your sin roll over him in his innocence, doing honor thus to God's judicial order, that you may see it sufficiently hallowed without your punishment. And that he may get the greater and more constraining power over you, he reveals to you by his suffering death, the suffering state of God's perfection-stung by the wrongs, and moved in holy grief for the sad and shameful lot of his fallen children. His suffering is in fact the tragic hour of divine goodness; for what to our slow feeling, is even eternal goodness, till we see it tragically moved? Nay, it was even necessary, if transgressors were to have their dull heart opened to this goodness, that they should see it persecuted and gibbeted by themselves. Thus, and therefore, he dies, raising by his death at our hands, those terrible convictions that will rend our bosom open to his love-dies for love's sake into love in us. So he will become the power of God unto salvation, gathering you in, as it were, with all your disorders, into the infolding, new-creating sympathy of his own character in good; so that being thus infolded in him, all your disproportion, discord, disability, and all wild tumult of the mind will be new crystalized in his divine order. Thus ends the ferment of death, succeeded by the harmony and health of new born life. In this view it was that Christ said, "I am the life." And the same thing was differently put, when he said "and I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me." He would draw by his death, moving on consent and choice, so to gather in all our disorder, into the molds of his own perfect life.
And this is salvation, the entering of the soul into God's divine order; for nothing is in order that is not in God, having God flow through it by his perfect will, even as he sways to unsinning obedience the tides of the sea, and the rounds of the stars. As we are lost men when lost to God, so we find ourselves when we find God. And then, how consciously do the soul's broken members coalesce and meet in Christ's order, when Christ liveth in them. In this new relationship, the spirit of love and of a sound mind, all strength, free beauty, solid vigor, get their spring-we are no more lost. All that is in God or Christ his Son, flows in upon us-wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption. We are new men created in righteousness after God. Even so, "in righteousness;" for we are new-charactered in God, closeted so to speak in God's perfections-in that mariner justified, as if we had never sinned, justified by faith. We have put on righteousness, and in it we are clothed; even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all them that believe.
This is the salvation that our God is working in his Son, but as the great apostle here intimates, it is, and is to be, by faith; for the result can never be issued save as we, on our part believe. The very plan, or mode of his working supposes a necessity of faith in us. For as God comes nigh us in his son, he can be a salvation, only as we come nigh responsively to Him, yielding our feeling to the cogent working of his. And this we do in faith. Faith is the act by which one being confides in another, trusting up himself to that other, in what he is and undertakes. And there is nothing that puts a man so close to another's feeling, principle, and character, as this act of trust. When you put such faith in a man, his opinions, ways, and even accents of voice have a wonderfully assimilative power in you. It is as if your life were overspread by his, included in his. To be nigh a great good mind, accepted in trust and friendship, is, in this manner, one of the greatest possible advantages, and especially so for a young person. In this fact you have the reason of that faith in Christ which is made the condition of salvation. For it is even your chance of salvation, as a lost man, that a being has come into the world, so great in character and feeling, that turning to be with him, he shall be in you. And therefore, it is that his apostle says-"Christ the power of God to every one that believeth;" and he himself-"he that believeth shall be saved." He can be no sufficient power, work no principle of life, save as he is welcomed to the heart by faith. In the same way, he calls you to "come," for coming is faith. And when he says, "come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden, learn of me and ye shall find rest to your souls," he does not speak, as many think, to such as are only afflicted, world-sick, tired, pining in weak self-sympathy, but to them who are weary of their own evils, tossed and rent by their own disorders, thrown out of rest by the tumult of their thoughts and bosom troubles, starving in their own deep wants, crushed by their felt disabilities to good-in a word, lost men. Thus he speaks to you. And you come when you truly believe in him. Then you rest, rest in God's harmony, rest in peace-knowing in the blissful revelation of fact, how much it means that the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost.