By Christopher Love
"For God hath not appointed us unto wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thessalonians 5:9
I shall now speak something to you by way of consolation and comfort, lest there be any poor, humble dejected soul among you who fears he is rejected of God, and not in the number of those appointed to salvation.
Let me tell you this to your comfort, that when I lay down the fruits and effects of your election to you, it is not to be understood that these should be in you as soon as you are born, for Paul, though he was elect, yet was a man of a very wicked life and conversation for some thirty years. And therefore do not say you are cast off and rejected by God because you are so wicked, for a man may live a long time in sin and yet be elected by God for all that. In Titus 3:3-4 the apostle says, "We ourselves were also sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another; afterwards the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared towards us." Here he intimates that an elect man may be a long time a slave to his lusts and live in sin, when yet it is the purpose of God to bring him to glory.
When I press these things as signs of your election, I do not press having them actually, but habitually; for children may have grace habitually in them, which is sufficient, though they do not have an actual conviction from the Word. There must either be habitual grace or actual grace in everyone who goes to heaven.
Though you do not find and feel these effects and fruits of election sensibly in you, yet if they are there in reality it is enough to bring you to glory. I do not press the having of these things gradually, but sincerely; an elect person may lack many a degree of grace, but if he has them in sincerity, though in the least measure, it is a sufficient evidence of his election.
We come to the last part of the text: "but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." In these words, beloved, are laid down the glorious titles that are given to the Son of God: He is a Lord, a Jesus, and a Christ; and He is our Lord Jesus Christ.
Before I come to raise a doctrine from the words, it will be needful to do these four things: (1) Explain the titles to you; (2) Note something to you from the position of the words; (3) Note something to you from the composition of the words; and (4) Note something to you from the application or appropriation of the titles.
1. For the explication: "by our Lord Jesus Christ." The first title is "Lord," and this is a name of dominion and sovereignty, and implies a power and strength in Christ to carry on the work of our salvation. If Christ were a Jesus and not a Lord, He could not save us.
He is the "Lord Jesus." As "Lord" is a title of dominion, so "Jesus" is a title of mercy and bounty, and signifies a Savior. He is not only a Lord, and so has power to do us good, but He is also a Jesus, and so He has a will to do us good. The dialect of the Old Testament is the "Lord our God," but never "the Lord Jesus" till in the New Testament.
He is the "Lord Jesus Christ," that is, He is God's anointed. He was set apart and appointed by God to carry on the great work of man's salvation. "Christ" is a name of office and function.
2. I observe further from the position of these titles that "Lord" is put before "Jesus." This lets us know that we can never look upon Christ as a Jesus, a Savior, if we do not take Him and own Him as our Lord to rule over us and reign in us. Christ will never do the work of a Savior and Redeemer towards you unless you have your wills ruled and governed by Him, and yield obedience and subjection to Him.
This also informs us that Christ could never be a person able to accomplish the work of our salvation if He were not a Lord; and therefore His divine nature is put in the first place to assure us that He is able to carry on the work of our salvation.
3. I note further from the composition of these words that it is not said "by our Lord Christ Jesus," but "by our Lord Jesus Christ." The divine and human nature of Christ are united in one Person, the Lord and Jesus together. To these two titles in one there is an unquestionable power and efficacy to carry on the salvation of the sons of men. Many men may have a will and desire to relieve those who lack power and ability to do it, and others may have ability and yet lack a will to do it. Power without will would be but an unkind ableness; and will without power would be but an unable kindness. If Christ had not been Lord, He could not have saved us; if He had not been Jesus, He would not have saved us.
But now Jesus has both power and will to do us good. He neither lacks power, because He is a Lord, nor does He lack a will, because He is a Jesus. And therefore well may the apostle join these two together: "We obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ."
4. From the appropriation of these titles, he does not say by "a Lord Jesus Christ," or by "the Lord Jesus Christ," but "by our Lord Jesus Christ." You will never obtain salvation by Christ if you do not have a peculiar interest in Him. Beloved, it will avail you nothing that there is a Christ and a Jesus and a Lord unless you can claim this appropriating term, to say that He is yours. We obtain salvation not by a Lord, not by the Lord Jesus Christ, but by our Lord Jesus Christ. And thus I have spent a little time in hinting to you what is observable from the explication, position, composition, and appropriation of these words.
DOCTRINE: The Lord Jesus Christ is the Person appointed by God the Father by whom all the elect of God shall obtain salvation. We are not appointed unto wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.
In handling this point, I shall first premise three cautions, and then answer and resolve some questions.
CAUTION 1. Though Christ is the Person by whom we must obtain salvation, yet all the world shall not be saved by Him. There are but few persons in the world who shall obtain salvation by Christ.
CAUTION 2. That there are no more saved by Jesus Christ, who is the Person appointed by God for men to obtain salvation by, is not Christ's fault, but ours; for there is virtue and efficacy enough in Christ to save as many worlds as there are men in the world. The fault lies in us. "Ye will not come to Me that ye might have life" (John 5:40).
CAUTION 3. Though Jesus Christ is the Person appointed by God to carry on the work of man's salvation, yet this in no way encourages a man to neglect and be careless in working out his own salvation; for though Christ must save you meritoriously, yet you must be diligent in working out your own salvation by way of applying the merits and righteousness of Christ to yourself (Philippians 2:12). The common rule of Augustine is true: though God made man without his help, yet He will not save him without his help. By way of duty, man must use those means God has prescribed in His Word in order to work out his own salvation.
We come now to the handling of those two questions which I promised to resolved:
QUESTION 1. What kind of salvation is it that we obtain by Christ?
ANSWER. It is a perfect salvation; it is a salvation singly obtained; and it is an everlasting salvation. There are these three excellent properties in Christ who is the Savior of the elect: He saves them perfectly; He saves them singly; and He saves them everlastingly.
Christ is said to save the elect perfectly. Hebrews 7:25: "He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him." But, though Christ saves to the uttermost, yet we must come unto Him first. Christ saves perfectly in that He saves your body and your soul. He saves you from sin and the punishment of it. Christ has gotten a perfect conquest over all our enemies. He is not a Savior who does His work by halves, but He saves perfectly.
Christ saves His elect singly. He has no co-partner in carrying on the work of their salvation. Acts 4:12: "Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved." There is no other person, nor way, nor means in the world to save men by but by Jesus Christ. He trod the winepress of His Father's wrath alone, and of all the people there was none with Him. He performed the work singly, and therefore the church of Rome does very ill to join good works and intercession of saints as partners with Christ in the work of redemption; for Christ did the work alone. And therefore the Psalmist tells us, "No man can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him (for the redemption of their soul is precious)" (Psalm 49:7-8).
Christ saves everlastingly. He does not save as men are saved here below. Here a man may be delivered out of one danger and yet fall into another. He may be saved from one mischief and yet be destroyed by another. But Christ saves us everlastingly. Hebrews 5:9: "He is become the author of eternal salvation to all that obey Him."
QUESTION 2. How may Christ be said to obtain salvation for the elect?
ANSWER. The philosophers have counted Christians as fools for expecting salvation by another man's sufferings, and hoping for life by another man's death. They looked upon the doctrine of Christ's sufferings as a very ridiculous thing. Now, beloved, I shall show you in four particulars what it is that Christ has done to which the Scripture ascribes the obtaining of our salvation: 1. The Scripture ascribes our salvation to the sufferings and passion of Christ; 2. to the resurrection of Christ; 3. to the ascension of Christ; and 4. to the intercession of Christ.
1. The salvation of men in Scripture is ascribed to the sufferings and bitter passions of Christ, to this it is ascribed meritoriously. This was the price Christ paid, and hence it is that you meet with such phrases as these so often that we are saved by His blood and through faith in His blood, in Romans 5:9 and Hebrews 10:19. So also, "being made perfect through sufferings, He became the author of eternal salvation to all that obey Him" (Hebrews 5:8-9). So that here you may see the great grace and infinite love of Jesus Christ in suffering for us, that, rather than we should lose our souls, He would lose His own life. Oh, behold and admire the inestimable love of the Son of God! Your sins are the price of blood, and all your pardons are written in characters of blood. By Christ's death we live, and by His stripes we are healed. If Christ had not died, we must; but He came into the world in the form of a servant and willingly laid down His life eternally. Our salvation is ascribed to the passions and sufferings of Christ as the meritorious cause of it.
2. It is ascribed to the resurrection of Christ, whereby He manifested to the world that He was a perfect Savior. This is ascribed to them manifestly, for had Christ died and not risen again, every one would have thought it very improbable and unlikely that He that could not raise Himself from the dead, but should yet save others from death. Therefore the apostle says, "Blessed be God . . . who has begotten us again to a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us" (1 Peter 1:3-4). Now only by His resurrection do we have a lively hope, seeing that Christ has conquered death, the grave, and all the powers of darkness, and therefore He is a perfect Savior of all elect of God. So we are saved by baptism, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21). This is that manifestation to the world that Jesus Christ was an absolute Savior, and a conqueror over death and the grave. It is said that Christ was declared to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). "For 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" (Romans 5:10).
3. The Scriptures likewise ascribe our salvation to the ascension of Christ, so that it is ascribed preparatorily after He was forty days among His disciples, He was taken up, or ascended into heaven. But before He went, He told His disciples, "Behold, I go before, but it is to carry on your salvation for you. 'I go away, but I go to prepare a place for you. If it were not so, I would have told you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also' " (John 14:2-3). Christ has gone before into heaven to prepare a place for us. He must not only prepare our hearts for heaven, but He must also prepare heaven for us. We enter into the holy of holies by Jesus Christ.
4. And, last, it is ascribed to the intercession of Christ, and that applicatively. This the apostle expresses, "Wherefore also He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25). "Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather that He is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us" (Romans 8:34). Christ not only suffered a great deal for us, but He arose from the dead and ascended into heaven. And there He intercedes for us at His Father's right hand, and all to carry on the work of our salvation. We have the benefit of His passions, His resurrection, His ascension, and His intercession in order to obtain our salvation.
I shall now make some practical application, and so conclude.
OBJECTION. I think I hear a licentious, libertine reason thus with himself: "Is it so that I must expect salvation by Christ, and He has done and suffered so much to obtain it? Why, then, I hope that in Christ I am a happy man, and in a very good condition."
ANSWER. This that I say may be true, and yet you never be in the better condition, for Christ is not appointed by God to carry on your salvation unless there are these sound things wrought in the heart. They must be there before you can receive any benefit or comfort from Him:
He who would receive benefit by Christ must look upon Him, and receive Him as his Lord as well as for his Jesus. He must not only take Him as a Jesus, to obtain mercy and salvation by Him, but likewise to look upon Him as his Lord, and to perform obedience and yield all subjection to Him. "God has exalted Christ to be "a Prince and a Savior" by whom men should receive remission of sins (Acts 5:31). You must not only look to be saved by His blood, but also be ruled by His command. This is to us what Alexander said of his two friends: "Haphestious loves me since I am Alexander, but Craterus loves me since I am King Alexander." One regarded his person, the other only the benefits he received from him. So some see Christ as He is a Lord, and an executer of justice and judgment. But others love Him because of the benefit and advantage they receive by Him, because He delivers them from wrath to come, else they would never seek after Messiah.
If Jesus Christ is the person ordained by God to carry on the work of your salvation, then know that sooner or later the gospel shall come upon your heart with an irresistible power. "To every one believeth it is the power of God" (Romans 1:16). So "The preaching of the cross is to them that are saved the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18).
If Christ is your Savior, He will not only free you from the damnation of sin, but also from the dominion of the power of sin. Christ will not only be a Savior to free you from hell, but also from sin. And therefore is Christ called a Savior, because He saves His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), from the dominion and reigning power of sin. And therefore, beloved, you who claim to have a Savior and a Jesus to pardon all your sins, and yet cannot say that God has mortified and subdued any sin in you, you are very much deceived, for Jesus Christ saves from sin as well as from hell.
Know that if Christ is the Savior, He will work your heart to an evangelical obedience to His will. "Christ is become the author of eternal salvation" (Hebrews 5:9), but to whom? Why, "to all that obey Him." And therefore, you that continue in rebellion and stubbornness of heart, running on in your ways of sinfulness, and will not bring your necks under Christ's yoke, you deceive yourselves and lay a presumptuous claim to Christ, and to salvation and happiness by Him.
If this is so that Christ is the person by whom all the elect shall obtain salvation, why, then, do not ascribe your salvation to anything but Jesus Christ alone--neither to saints or angels or men, not to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, not to anything within you or without you, but only to Jesus Christ, who saves to the uttermost all who come unto God by Him.
Be convinced of your own insufficiency and inability to save yourself. Every man is born with merits in his heart and naturally thinks himself sufficient to be his own savior. One man depends upon his duties and services, another upon his graces. But you should labor to be cast out of all conceits of your own strength, righteousness, and sufficiency, and wholly depend upon Christ, who is the person appointed by God to carry on the work of your salvation.
Think nothing too much to do, too great to suffer, or too dear to part with for that Christ who thought nothing too much to do, or too grievous to suffer, that He might accomplish the work of your salvation. If Christ left heaven for you, do not you think it much to lose earth for Him. If He came out of His Father's bosom for you, then be not unwilling to leave father, mother, friends, or anything for Him. If He underwent sufferings, reproaches, afflictions, persecutions, yea, death itself for you, why should you repine at, or be impatient under, any trouble or misery you meet with here in the world for His sake. We should consider with ourselves that if Christ is the person appointed by God to carry on our salvation, and He could not do it but by suffering (and undergoing the punishment due to our sins), His resurrection, ascension and intercession, we should count nothing too much to do or suffer for Him.
Let this teach you to magnify and bless the name of Christ, to prize Him, love Him, and cleave to Him all our days. Will you not prize and love Him who has done so much for you?
I remember reading a story of an elephant who fell down and was unable to help himself or get up again by reason of the inflexibleness of his legs. A forester coming by helped him up, wherewith the elephant by the very instinct of nature was so affected that he followed this man, would do anything for him, and never left him till his dying day. Now if there is such love expressed by brute beasts to those who have done them any good, should not we much more love and prize Christ, who has done so much for us? For we were fallen and could not recover or help ourselves, and Christ has lifted us up, and redeemed us with His own blood when we were lost and undone. Oh, how should this provoke us to cleave unto Christ, to love Him, obey Him, and yield subjection to Him all our days!