"By grace are you saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast."--EPH. ii: 8.
THIS text is selected, because it contains the clear statement concerning our salvation, that it is by grace and through faith. The theme for this discourse will be the different things to which salvation is ascribed in the New Testament, or the different things by which we are said to be saved, or justified. We are said to be saved, or justified, by faith, by grace, by his blood, by his life, by the Spirit, by works, by baptism, and, in one instance, the apostle exhorted his audience, saying, "Save yourselves from this untoward generation." The leading purpose of this discourse will be to explain, illustrate, and show in what sense all these expressions are used; that they are perfectly consistent; with each other, and with all the other Scriptures, and, at the same time, each one strictly true in itself. The intelligent Christian not only believes every one of them, but, in his religious meditations and conversations, has use for every one of these expressions. The well-instructed Christian man does not select a few verses, claim them as his, and build a religious system on them, but learns how to receive the entire Scriptures as one consistent and harmonious whole. He does not give out one class of scriptures to the Calvinist, another class to the Arminian, an other to the Unitarian, and another to the Trinitarian, but receives the whole as from God, and for him.
Probably as convenient a place as any, at which to begin, will be to reconcile an expression in the words already quoted, with an expression, Jas. ii: 24. Paul says of our justification, Eph. ii: 9, "It is not of works, lest any man should boast." James says of our justification, that "by works a man is justified." How can it be true, as Paul asserts, that our justification is not of works, and yet true, as James says, that we are justified by works? The great Luther felt this difficulty so keenly that he repudiated the Epistle of James and decided i' was not canonical. He thought the language of the two apostles utterly irreconcilable. He made up his mind that Paul was right--that justification is not of works--that by the deeds of the law no flesh can be justified in the sight of God. He saw no way to harmonize James with this, and decided that the Epistle of James was not of divine authority. But this will not do, if it was from a great man. There is no serious doubt among the authorities about the genuineness of the Epistle of James. The matter, then, is not to be settled in that way.
Some have tried to solve the difficulty by supposing that Paul was speaking of one kind of faith and James of another kind. But this will not do, for two reasons. In the first place, they were neither of them talking of faith at all. In the second place, we find no such expressions as "different kinds of faith" in the Bible. The Bible knows but one faith. As Pollock has, in substance, expressed it, All faith is the same in kind, though not the same in degree. Hence, we read of "much faith," "little faith," "great faith," "weak faith," "strong faith," "faith growing," etc., yet all the same in kind, but not the same in degree or quantity. If you had one pint of clean wheat, it would as certainly be wheat as if there were a thousand bushels, the same in kind, but not the same in quantity. Precisely so, from the first impression the truth makes on the heart, or from the first confidence the truth inspires in the human heart, up to the fullest assurance of faith ever attained by the most devout saint, it is faith, nothing but faith, the same in kind, though not the same in amount or degree. The matter is not to be settled, then, by any subtleties or speculations about faith.
How, then, is the matter to be settled? The difficulty is not about faith, but about works. Two different sorts of works are alluded to by these two writers--one sort, the works of the law of Moses; and the other, the works of the Gospel. Paul speaks of the works or the deeds of the law of Moses, and declares that our justification is "not of works"--the works of the law of Moses; or not by the deeds of the law, the deeds of the law of Moses. To this James would have assented as heartily as Paul. But James is not speaking of the works, or deeds of the law of Moses at all, but of the works or deeds of the Gospel of Christ--"good works, which God has ordained that we should walk in them," as Paul expresses it, Eph. ii: 10, and says, "By works"--the good works of the Gospel--"a man is justified, and not by faith only." To this Paul would most freely have assented. It is simply true that a man is not justified by the works of the law of Moses, but the works of the Gospel; or, to express it differently, that a man is not justified by keeping or obeying the law of Moses, but he is justified by obeying the Gospel of Christ; or, he is not justified by the law, but by the Gospel--not justified by Moses, but by Jesus.
But now, attention is invited to another class of expressions, more directly in accordance with the theme in hand. Heb. xi: 7, Noah's salvation is ascribed to faith. In the same verse his salvation is ascribed to an ark. 1 Pet. iii: 20, his salvation is ascribed to water. How can it be true, as said in one place, that he was saved by faith; true, as said in another place, that he was saved by an ark; and yet true, as said in another place, that he was saved by water? Shall one man preach that he was saved by faith alone, another that he was saved by an ark alone, and yet another that he was saved by water alone? This would be absurd. Nothing can be clearer than that, if he was saved by faith alone, he was not saved by the ark at all. The moment it is established that he was saved by faith alone, it is established that the statement that he was saved by an ark is not true. It is, at the same time, established that the statement that he was saved by water is not true. Faith alone, is faith without any thing else. If he was saved by faith alone, he was saved by faith without any thing else, and, of course, without the ark or water. But this is not true. It is true that he was saved by faith, but it is equally true that he was saved by an ark. It is also true that he was saved by water, but certainly not by the ark alone, nor by the water alone. The antediluvians had water, as much water as Noah, but no faith nor ark--the water alone--and they were all lost. We should be careful about taking things alone which the Lord has joined to something else, or separating that which the Lord has joined together.
It is not only true that Noah believed God, and was saved by faith, but in his conduct we have a clear example of the strength of faith necessary to save, or when faith is strong enough to save. He believed God, and was "moved with religious fear." Do you inquire to what extent he was moved? His faith was strong enough to move him to obey God; to do what God had commanded; to prepare an ark. When faith is strong enough to move men and women to obey God; to do what he commands them to do, in order to salvation; it is strong enough to save them. When it is not strong enough to lead them to obey God, it is not strong enough to save them, but simply strong enough to make them miserable if the Lord should summon them to judgment. Noah believed God, and his belief was strong enough to create within him religious fear, and lead him to obey God, or prepare an ark, to the saving of himself and family. But he was not saved when he believed God, nor yet when he prepared an ark, so that the faith and ark alone did not save him. He believed God for the space of one hundred and twenty years, and performed the great work of preparing the ark. During this time, too, he had done a vast amount of preaching, for he was "a preacher of righteousness." See 2 Pet. ii: 5. Still, he was not saved! What did he lack to save him? He had the faith, the ark, the righteousness, and was evidently a praying man, as all holy men are, but was still not saved. There was one item still wanting to complete God's plan to save him, and that was "water," and, in that case, a drop was not "as good as an ocean."
Another beautiful thing opens up here. That is, that what man can do himself, the Lord requires him to do, and when he comes to what he can not do himself, the Lord does that for him. Noah could believe God. This the Lord required him to do. He could prepare an ark. This, too, the Lord commanded him to do. He could preach righteousness and pray. All this the Lord required him to do. But he could not provide the water for his salvation. The Lord did this for him. By means of his faith, the Lord moved him to prepare the ark, and by means of the ark and the water, the Lord saved Noah, not by faith alone, nor the ark alone, nor water alone, but by faith, the ark, and the water combined.
What a scene it must have created when the time had expired! Noah and his wife, his three sons and their wives, entered the ark and took in of every living creature as God had commanded. The Lord shut him in. This was his separation from "the world that then was." He had preached the last sermon, given the last exhortation, sent up to heaven the last prayer for that people, heaved the last sigh over them, and shed the last tears for them. He had given them up to their doom. The wrath of God had been long kindling. His goodness had long been despised and his mercy rejected. Nor did the number involved in sin prevent the execution of the guilty. Some say, if certain teaching is true, the great mass of humanity will be lost. This might have been said truthfully in the days of Noah, and in reference to his preaching. But his preaching was true, no matter how few were saved according to it. He was a preacher of righteousness, and none but those who received his preaching and lived according to it were saved. In the civil governments of the world, if the number found guilty is very great in proportion to the whole population, the authorities can not inflict the punishment. The popular feeling will revolt at it, while they will stand it to punish a few. But, in the divine government, the guilty are punished, no matter whether many or few. The arm of Jehovah is strong enough, and his justice searching enough, and the guilty shall not go unpunished.
When the appointed hour had come, the engines of destruction were opened upon the world, and the mighty judgments of the Holy, the Just, and the True were let loose. Fearful and terrible clouds made their appearance, spreading over the entire canopy above. The lightnings played across the heavens and horrific thunders rolled. The fountains of the great deep were broken up. The windows of heaven were opened wide. The massive waters surged. The guilty world stood condemned before God, and the executioner had come. There no escape. Down they were hurled forever, and their destruction recorded for an admonition to the nations to come. By faith, the ark, and the water--the same water made a means of destruction to the wicked--the precious treasure, the few, the small church, were safely carried over to the new world. Take warning, if you boast that you belong to the "big church," by what became of it in the time of Noah. Let men be warned; the Lord will judge the world in righteousness.
It is not, however, desirable to hear man preach about Adam, Noah, Abraham; the Antediluvians, the Egyptians, and Jews, and have nothing for the people of our time. To that, then, which relates more directly to the men of our day, attention must be directed. What has the Lord said for us, for our salvation? This is what more immediately concerns us. Paul has a general statement to this effect, Rom. v: 1, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." This is a general statement, and relates alike to the justification of every person reconciled to God under the Gospel dispensation. If there were not another word about it in the New Testament, a man might stand on this and maintain that every man justified by Christ at all, is justified by faith. That, what is aimed at here, may be more clearly understood, it may be stated that it is not necessary that faith should be mentioned in every instance; but where we find a mention of justification, or salvation, whether faith is mentioned or not, it is by faith in every instance. Not that a person is justified or saved without faith. It is present in the justification of every one whether mentioned or not. For instance, we read of the justification of three thousand on Pentecost, but in the whole account it is not said that they were justified by faith. Yet, every one of them were justified by faith. The same is true of the five thousand mentioned in the third chapter of Acts, those mentioned in the eighth, ninth, tenth, sixteenth, and every other chapter where we read of persons being justified. They were all justified by faith, and so were all who have been justified at all. Not one has been or can be justified without faith. This is true, also, of justification by grace. The one utterance, that we are saved by grace, is general. It is no special utterance for a special case, but it is general and for all cases. No matter whether grace is is mentioned in every case or still, in every case, justification or salvation is by grace. No man is saved without grace. It is present in the justification of every man, whether mentioned in every case or not.
The same is true of the blood of Christ. We are said to be "justified by his blood." Rom. v: 9. This, like the examples just given, is a general expression, and relates to the justification of every man justified by Christ at all. It is no special case, for a special person or persons, but a general expression relating to all cases of justification by Christ. No matter if it is true that we are not told, Acts ii: 37 and 38, that the three thousand were justified by his blood; no matter if this is not mentioned in connection with the justification in another case in the New Testament; the one general statement, that we are justified by his blood, shows that the blood of Christ, as the efficacious cause, is present in the justification of every person. Not a soul is justified without it. It is never omitted. The same is true of the life of Christ and the Spirit. We are justified by the Spirit and by his life.
So far, not a man of any church demurs. Is the inquiry made, Why be thus particular? The answer is that there is a hard place a little ahead, and the object is to get over it. The same principle indorsed in what has just been said, will assist us in that hard place. Peter says, 1 Pet. iii: 21, "Baptism doth also now save us." This is a general statement, not of a special few, but of all saved or justified. They are saved by baptism. It is present in the justification of every person. It is never omitted. Some objections must now be considered.
Too much is made of baptism. That is not the trouble. You may say it is the least commandment if you know it to be so, and no argument will be instituted against you. But then the question comes up, Is it a commandment of God at all? All parties exclaim, "Certainly it is." What is to be done with a commandment of God? There is but one thing that can righteously be done with a commandment of God. That one thing is to obey it. No matter whether a great commandment or a small one, it is right and infallibly safe to obey it. This no one denies or can deny. Though the people do not put it on a par, in value, with the grace of God or the blood of Christ, yet all the commandments of God are important in their place, and should be obeyed. To fill out the system the Lord has been pleased to ordain to save men, it is as indispensable to insert the items appearing to man to be of the least value, as those appearing to be of the greatest value.
But now, it is said, too much is made of baptism! How much do our religious neighbors make of it? So much that they can not, according to their standard authorities, receive one soul without it. This statement is made in reference to what they hold to be baptism, without any regard to the action. Or, what is meant is, that not a church of any note will receive a member without what it calls baptism. This remark is not made of every irresponsible preacher, who will do any thing, and for whom no church is responsible, but responsible men, acting in accordance with their standard authorities, or acting legitimately. Not a church, then, thus acting will receive a member without what it esteems to be baptism. No matter how honest the person is, how strong his faith, how much he has repented, how much he prays, nor how great a change he has experienced, he can not get into a church, into full membership, without what it esteems baptism. Essential or not, fundamental or not, whether the Lord receives him or not, without what the church calls baptism he can not legitimately enter. There stands what they call baptism at the entrance, and no man can enter without it.
How essential has the Lord made baptism? Precisely as essential as these churches have made it. He will not receive a person into his church without what he calls baptism. His church is his kingdom, and who a man is, what he is, or where he is, may not be known, but without baptism he is not in the church, body, or kingdom of Christ. Precisely so; who a man is, what he is, or where he is, if he has not been baptized he is not in the Baptist church. The same is true of all other churches, except that some of them call sprinkling or pouring baptism. Who a man is, what he is, or where he is, is not here explained, and may not be known, but he is legitimately in no Protestant church if he has not received what is called baptism.
Do they say that persons may be pardoned and the Lord receive them without baptism? Then they differ from the Lord, and require something more than the Lord does, before they will receive them. But who is received of the Lord? Every justified or pardoned person. His terms of justification, or remission of sins, are precisely the same as his terms of admission into his body or kingdom. He receives into his kingdom every justified person and no other. In Christ all are new creatures. Out of Christ there are no new creatures. These modern churches, according to their own showing, are more uncharitable (using this word in their sense--not the true) than the Lord, for they try to prove that the Lord will receive unbaptized persons, while they will not. In other words, they reject persons because they have not received what they call baptism, but maintain that the Lord receives them. What reason they have for not receiving persons, when they say the Lord receives them, it would be difficult to conceive.
Is it objected that there is too much preaching on baptism? The Lord says, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God." "But born of water is not an allusion to baptism," says a man. Then all the ancient fathers were mistaken, for they all understood it to be an allusion to baptism. Then the entire church of Rome has always misapplied it, for that church has always expounded it to be an allusion to baptism. The Greek church has so expounded it. Luther, Calvin, and Wesley so understood and applied it. It is quoted and applied to baptism in the Methodist Discipline and the Presbyterian Confession of Faith. It is so applied in all the standard authorities of all the principal churches in the world. There is no authority of any note that denies it. No matter who a man is, what he is, or where he is, "Except he is born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God;" and "born of water" is an allusion to baptism. No matter how much greater the value of the part relating to the Spirit than the part relating to the water, there stand "the water and the Spirit," in the same sentence, from the lips of Jesus, and the unequivocal utterance, that "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God." It is not except a man be born of the Spirit he can not enter, nor except he be born of the water he can not enter, but "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God." No matter how much more important the work of the Spirit, how much greater or more valuable, still there we find water, in the same sentence, connected by the conjunction "and" with it, and except a man be born of "water and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God."
Nor is this, as some have supposed, two births--one of water and one of the Spirit--but one birth, of water and of the Spirit, begotten by the Spirit and born of water, as the child is begotten by the father and born of the mother, or, laying aside the figure, made a believer by the Spirit, through the Gospel, and baptized. Except a man shall be begotten through the Gospel, or made a believer by the Gospel, and immersed, he can not enter into the kingdom of God. We are said to be begotten by the "word of truth," by the apostles, by the Spirit, and by God. It requires but a small amount of intelligence to see that this is all the same thing. It is of God, through Christ, the apostles, the Holy Spirit that spoke through the apostles, and through the word spoken. The literal of it is, that God makes believers through Christ, through the apostles, through the Spirit, and through the word preached and heard. The man thus made a believer is, figuratively, said to be begotten of God, and when baptized he is, figuratively, said to be "born of water." The literal meaning of the passage is, Except a man believes and is immersed, he can not enter into the kingdom of God. It requires belief, repentance, and immersion into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, to constitute the new birth, or what is meant by being born again.
"But you preach too much on baptism," says an objector. True, there is much preaching on it, but there is an apology for preaching so much on it. When faith is mentioned, preachers of all denominations approve of it. All approve when repentance is preached. All help with prayer, and so of many other things; but mention baptism, and down go their hands; they step back and begin to tell that it is not essential--that many have gone to heaven without it, etc. Of course, those determined that every item in the Lord's process shall be inserted where the Lord ordained it, will have to preach much more on baptism than if all the preachers would do their part. But there is a way in which those weary of hearing so much on baptism can change the programme. Let them turn and preach that faith is not essential; that repentance or prayer is not essential; and tell how many they have known, good and pious, that nave gone to heaven without faith, or repentance, of prayer, and they will soon hear less on baptism and more on these other items.
The determination now is to maintain the Gospel, the whole Gospel, and nothing but the Gospel--every item, from the least to the greatest, from the first to the last. That which men ignore, neglect, or oppose, will be most assiduously defended. There are to be no encroachments on the kingdom of God. Every item is to be inserted where the Lord has ordained it. The grace must have its place. The faith must be faithfully inserted, maintained, and defended where the Lord inserted it. The blood of Christ must be most sacredly guarded and maintained in its divinely ordained place, and so of every other item. If any man desires to know precisely the extent of the dangerous doctrine advocated in this discourse, it would be as well to let him know it here as in another part of it. It is, then, that not an item in the Gospel may be ignored, omitted. or opposed; that God will strike the preacher's name out of the book of life, and his part out of the holy city, who dares to strike out an item of the Gospel, small or great, no matter whether grace, faith, the blood of Christ, the life of Christ, the Spirit, works, or baptism. These are important matters with which we are dealing, and not to be trifled with.
To the man who desires to understand, it is a matter of profound interest to note the chain in the divine procedure in his way of saving man. Where, then, did it have its commencement? In God's infinite goodness. His infinite goodness, so to speak, moved him to put forth his last effort to save man; his infinite grace or favor brought the Savior to the world; his blessed mission among men followed; then followed the mission of the apostles; then came the mission of the Holy Spirit to inspire the apostles; then followed the preaching of the Gospel by the Holy Spirit through the apostles; this was followed by the hearing of the Gospel and its being believed; this belief-of the Gospel changes the heart and leads to repentance; this is followed by the confession of the Lord Jesus; then comes the immersion into his death; this brings the man to the blood of Jesus, that cleanses from or washes away sin; then follows the impartation of the Spirit, to strengthen and comfort the saint; then follow all the blessings of the church. Now, let any man look back over this list and tell us which item may be stricken out. It will not do to strike out the infinite goodness, for then not another item would have followed, and there would have been no salvation for man. We may not come one step further and strike out the grace of God, or the favor that brought the Savior to the world, for then no mission of Christ, of the apostles, and of the Holy Spirit would have followed, and the whole system would have been defeated. So, if you come one link further down the chain, and strike out the mission of Christ, all below it would be cut off. We would have no apostles, no Holy Spirit sent, no Gospel preached, no faith, and no salvation. So, it will not do to strike out the apostolic mission, or the mission of the Holy Spirit, as then we would have no Gospel and no faith. Nor will it do to strike out faith, repentance, confession, baptism, or the blood of Christ, as all below the item stricken out would be lost.
It is not the grace alone, faith alone, blood alone, Spirit alone, life alone, works alone, or baptism alone that saves on justifies, nor does any one of these save or justify in the same sense as any other one. In other words. no two of these perform the same part in our salvation or justification. The part that the grace of God performs in our justification is that it brings our Lord, the Gospel, and the entire new institution to man. Without this part, then, there would be no justification for any man. Faith performs an entirely different part, without which we could not be saved. It brings the authority of God to bear on our minds, reveals to us our condemnation on account of sins, changes our hearts, and leads us to repentance and confession. Baptism performs no such part as this at all, produces no change in the heart or life, but changes the relation, initiates the man, previously changed in heart and life into a new state or relation, into the body of Christ. It transfers the man into the new state or relation. In this new state he comes to the blood of Christ, which performs another part of the work, without which he would be lost. It takes away his sin, cleanses or washes him from the guilt of sin. The Holy Spirit, his advocate in the Church, announces him justified, or advocates him a justified person, or one not guilty. After he is a Christian, he is justified, in the sense of approval, by good works "which God has ordained that we should walk in them." In short, the favor of God brings the justification to man, the faith changes his heart and life, thus preparing him for it, and baptism transfers him into the new relation, the blood of Christ cleanses him from sin, and the Holy Spirit advocates him as a justified man. God, then, justifies him through his grace, which brings salvation to all men, through the faith which prepares man in heart and life for salvation, and through immersion, which transfers him into the new relation, and through the blood of Christ, which cleanses him from all past sins. God puts forth his power through his goodness, his grace, the Savior, the apostles, the inspiring Spirit in the apostles, the word, the faith of the sinner, his repentance, confession, immersion, the blood of Christ, the impartation of the Spirit, the prayers, the communion--in one word, the entire agencies, means, and instrumentalities which the Lord has ordained--and saves the sinner. The salvation, coming through these agencies, means, and instrumentalities is divine, from God; and the sinner, when saved, owes as much gratitude to God as if he had been saved by an immediate exertion of omnipotent power.
When the favor of God that brought salvation to man is the theme of the preacher, and he is speaking of the part that the favor of God performs in saving man, he says he is saved by the favor of God, but with the understanding that faith, the blood of Christ, etc., are in their places; but when he is speaking of faith, and the part it performs in saving the sinner, he says he is saved by faith, with the understanding that every item is in its place. When the blood of Christ is the theme, and he is looking to the part performed by the blood, he says we are saved by his blood, with the understanding that each of the other items is in its place. In precisely the same way, when baptism is the theme of the preacher, and he is looking at the part it performs, as the initiatory rite into the new institution, he says baptism saves us; but if he desires to state the matter more fully, he says, through his grace, the faith, baptism, and the blood of Christ, God saves us. But when he makes yet a fuller statement, he says, by his goodness, which moved him to send the Savior; by his favor, which brought the Lord from heaven to man, with salvation; by his Son, our Savior; by the apostles; by the Spirit of inspiration that spoke in them, by the word spoken; by the belief of the truth, the repentance, confession, immersion, his blood, his Spirit, his life, the Church, and all the means ordained, God saves us; and we will give all the blessing, the glory and honor, to him, forever and ever.
This style of speaking is common everywhere, and none but weak men would ever think of isolating any one of these items from all the others, and arguing that we are saved by it alone. Such an argument would be not only weak, but as silly as the man who would argue, that because a man is said to have cut down a tree with an ax, that he did it without a handle in the ax; or because a man is said to have plowed the ground with a span of horses, that he did it without a plow; or because a man is said to have traveled a day with a staff; that he traveled without shoes. The circumstance that man is saved by grace does not prove that it is without faith, without the blood of Christ, without baptism, or without any thing else which the Lord requires. In the text, we are said to be saved "by grace through faith," and not by grace without faith, nor by faith without grace, nor "by grace through faith," without the blood of Christ, nor withoutbaptism; but, as already shown, the grace, in its own place, did its part, the faith, in its own place, did its part, the blood of Christ, in its own place, did its part, and the baptism, in its own place, did its part. Without the grace or favor of God, the Gospel, with its salvation, would never have been brought to man. Without faith, the heart of the sinner would not be changed; he would not be led to repentance, to confess or yield to be a servant of the Lord. Without the baptism, or the immersion, he would not be initiated or baptized into Christ, into one body; and without the blood of Christ he would not be cleansed from sins, or pardoned. The grace brings salvation, the faith prepares the man in heart and life to receive it, the immersion initiates him into Christ, the body, the Church, the blood of Christ cleanses him from the guilt sin, and thus he is saved, not by grace alone, faith alone, baptism or the blood of Christ alone, but by grace, through faith, baptism, and the blood of Jesus. God saves him, and the gratitude he owes to God is as great as if he had saved him without an agency, means, or instrumentality. The saved man, if he is intelligent, does not give the glory to the grace, the faith, the immersion, or the blood, but to God, who gave the grace, the faith, the immersion, and the blood, and saved him by his grace, through faith, baptism, and the blood of Christ.
If illustration can make the subject plainer, try one more illustration: A man falls into the river, and is likely to drown. Two men see him struggling in the water, jump into a skiff, and hasten to him, and, before he sinks, push out an oar, and call to him to seize the oar and save himself. He grasps the oar; they pull him into the skiff, bring him to the shore, and save him from drowning. The question now is immediately asked, How was that man saved from drowning? In one instance, it is said two men saved him. In another conversation. it is said he was saved by a skiff. In another circle, it is said he was saved by an oar. On another occasion, it is said he saved himself. How is all this? Are these contradictions? Certainly not. How, then, is it? It was not said, in any instance, that he was saved by the two men alone, the skiff alone, the oar alone, or his own act alone. How, then, was it? The man who said two men saved him was looking at the agency of the two men and the part they performed, without which he would not have been saved, and truly said the two men saved him. The man who said he was saved by a skiff, was looking at the part performed by that agent, without which he would not have been saved, and very justly said he was saved by the skiff. The person who said he was saved by an oar, was looking at the part performed by that agent, without which he would not have been saved, and properly said the oar saved him. The one who said he saved himself, was looking at his important act, taking hold of the oar, without which he would not have been saved. But, to put the whole together, instead of two men alone saving him, the skiff alone, an oar alone, his act alone, the two men, with a skiff, an oar, and the man's own act in taking hold of the oar, saved him from drowning. So it is not grace alone, nor faith alone, nor baptism alone, nor the blood of Christ alone, that saves the sinner; but God, by grace, through faith, immersion, and the blood of Jesus, saves the sinner.
There is no question about what God can do--whether he can save the sinner without grace, without faith, without baptism, or without the blood of Christ. Men of faith, intelligence, and reverence for the Lord, do not discuss any such questions. They are questions for skeptics. The question is not about what God can do, but about what he does, and that, too, not in an extraordinary case, an exceptional or an unusual case--not what he does with infants, idiots, or persons who never hear and never can hear the Gospel, but where the Gospel is preached; in the legitimate administration of the Gospel; how he does save the sinner. This is the question. Every one is saved by grace. Not a man, in the legitimate administration of the Gospel, is saved without the grace of God; but every one saved at all is saved by it, but not by it alone. So, in the legitimate administration of the Gospel, every one saved at all, is saved by faith, but not by faith alone; by immersion, but not by immersion alone; by the blood of the covenant, but not by the blood alone.
Does any one inquire about infants, idiots, and those who never hear the Gospel, and never can? They come not within the scope of this discourse. This discourse is for Gospel subjects, and not for such as can not be Gospel subjects. The Lord has not set us to puzzling our brain about infants and idiots, who can not understand the Gospel or believe. They are not Gospel subjects. The Lord will take care of them without the Gospel or Church. We can do nothing religiously for them. There is but one thing that can be done for the heathen, and that is not to try to frame a plan of salvation for them without the Gospel, but do all in our power to send the Gospel to every kindred, and tribe, and tongue, and people. Send the Gospel forth to all the nations of the earth, as it is, indeed, the wisdom of God and the power of God. All we can do to save men, must be done by the Gospel, and not without it. We can not save men without the Gospel. What the Lord intends to do for infants, idiots, and pagans, without the Gospel, he will do without any regard to our opinions, views, or theories touching that matter and without our aid. We have no hand in that matter. Our whole duty is in the Gospel plan--in a legitimate administration of the Gospel. He has not called on us to help him save unconscious infants or idiots, who can not believe the Gospel or obey it. He will take care of these whether we have correct views of it or not; whether we know how he will do it or not. Officious priests are very forward to help where the Lord never invited them, and even theorize how the Lord will do things, where they can do nothing. The preacher of Jesus can do nothing toward saving a person where there can be no faith. Where there can be no faith, it is in the hand of God, the righteous judge of all the earth, who will do right. Even where there is faith, and can be no obedience, the preacher can do nothing--all is in the hands of the Lord.
In every case where a soul is lost, there must be a point somewhere beyond which there is no turning. By some means, the popular view has settled down in the conclusion that death is that point. Hence, have been singing, and others are yet--
"While the lamp holds out to burn, The vilest sinner may returns."
But no man can prove that this is true. That no sinner beyond death can return, is doubtless true. But that at any time this side of death the sinner can turn to God and be saved, no man can prove. God can be vindicated--be shown to be as holy, just, and good, and refuse to receive the man who has sinned against him, rejected all his mercy, and despised all his grace, till he can not obey the Gospel, as if he would refuse to receive him when he desired to turn just after death. When a man refuses to obey the Gospel till he can not, refuses to come to the Lord till he can not come according to the Gospel, it is disloyal in the preacher of the Gospel to promise him salvation without obeying the Gospel, and preach at the funeral that the man who lived and died without obeying the Lord Jesus is saved. What if a man did express a desire to be saved just before he died? Did not the rich man in Hades express a desire to be saved just after he died? Neither obeyed God while he could. When his time was out he could not. When he could not come according to the Gospel, the door of the kingdom, body or Church, was shut, no matter whether before death or at death. If a man will not come to the Savior while he has health and strength to obey the Gospel; to come to God according to his law; if he will not become a Christian, or a disciple of Christ, while he can, shall any man of God stand up and tell him that the Lord will receive him when he can not become a Christian, according to the law of God? This is a case in which the enemy tries preachers of the Gospel. Many times, by appeals to their sympathies, he overcomes their judgments and induces them to forsake the Gospel.
It is not the business of preachers, in visiting the sick or preaching about the dead, to decide who will go to heaven, or who has gone there. The business of preachers is to teach men and women, in life and while they can, how to become Christians or disciples of Christ, and how to live to the glory of God; but not to save people who have sinned away all their strength and time with which they could have obeyed the Gospel and served God, but have never done it. In other words, they can do nothing toward saving any human being who can not obey the Gospel. It is doing an injury to man, to teach that persons can come to the Lord as long as there is breath in them. No man can prove this. While persons can come according to the Scriptures, obey the Gospel, be born of water and of the Spirit, they can become Christians and be saved. When the Lord puts his hand on them, cuts them down, so that they can not obey the Gospel, the time is past, the harvest is ended. Trifle not, then, with the eternal matters of the soul, but "save yourselves from this untoward generation." Rest not in the delusion that you will call for mercy when dying, and be saved. If you love not God now, and will not serve him; if you love not the Gospel, and will not obey it; love not the people of God, and will not walk with them; you need not expect all this alienation to be done away in a moment, when you come to a dying hour. If you prefer the wicked for your associates now, select them and walk with them; if you turn your back on God now, his cause, and people, he will turn his back on you then. Turn, then, accept the great salvation, and live.