WHAT a different tale do most preachers tell to this! What a different creed do most professors hold! The story of nearly every one we meet is--that the Son of Man came to try if he could seek out, and try if he could save that which was lost! Yes, this is positively the substance of the theology of the day. From the Pope of Rome down to the lowliest dissenter, this is the belief of nearly all Christendom. Men differ as to forms, and ceremonies, church government, and church furniture, pewrents and offertories, candles and crosses, images and pictures, sects, schisms, and succession; but here they are all one--the Son of Man came to try an experiment upon fallen humanity, and make an effort (which might or might not succeed) to seek out and to save the lost! Divested of all obscure phraseology, of all subtle distinctions and metaphysical niceties, I am bold to affirm such is the creed of nearly all the churches.
Well, I say it is a hopeless creed; yea, it is a monstrous creed, for it throws dishonor upon Christ, and it contradicts the Scriptures. The great mistake we all are liable to make is forsaking the Scriptures, the great fountain of truth, and "pinning our faith on man's sleeve." Few of us can bear to be told that it matters not what popes say, or what priests say, or what ministers say, or what councils say, or "father's say--away with them all, in the name of God and of truth, if they will not stand the test of the Scriptures.
"Ah, but then," some one objects, "the Scriptures may be made to bear so many meanings, you know, that we may be as wide of the mark as ever by appealing and clinging only to them." I grant all this; but who are they to whom the Scriptures are an infallible guide in soul matters? I answer, them who are regenerated by the Holy Spirit, them who can pray for the Spirit's light, them who can receive their teaching as little children, and to none else!
To all others the Scriptures are a sealed book. If men could understand the Scriptures (as the Essayists and Reviewers tell us) just as they can understand the *Vedas and the Zondavesta, The sacred books of the Hindoos and the Zendavesta,* by adhering to fixed philological rules, there would be no need for the Holy Spirit.
But the Scriptures tell us of the necessity for His teaching, that it is He who guides into all truth; (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:10-14) and that if any man have not this Spirit he is none of Christ's. (Rom. 8:9)
"But how are we to know," ask some, "that you have this Spirit to teach you." That you cannot know, I answer, except you yourselves are under His teaching. The Apostle John exhorts--"Beloved, believe not every spirit (teacher) but try the spirits whether they are of God." (1 John 4:1) Now, it is evident that in order to follow out such an injunction there must be capacity, or it is supposed there is capacity, for, if not, where was the power to "try?" And in what could that capacity consist but in the teaching of that self-same Spirit?
"Then, you make it appear," say some, "that if a man be under the teaching of the Holy Spirit his own teaching must be infallible, and so it follows, that if we believe you to be taught by the Holy Spirit we must bow to your judgment in these matters. Is not this to make yourself a pope?"
I answer, if I am taught by the Holy Spirit, it is at your peril that you contemn my teaching. Yet I do not assert that I am infallible, except upon such points as the Spirit of God instructs me. It is for you to see after that; but I am no pope, though I would have you to be followers of me, as I am a follower of Christ, and no farther. In short, it comes to this, that no man can understand the Scriptures but by the Holy Spirit, and that if any man's teaching will not stand the test of Scripture interpreted by such a Teacher, be he pope, or bishop, or deacon, or layman, it is no more to be regarded than the vainest delusion of Bedlam!
But let me lead my readers to a contemplation of my text:
I. Lost! Lost! That term implies much; the most desperate and hopeless circumstances! He that is lost is in an awful, and terrible, and horrible position; and yet he may not be conscious of it, just as a man may be so drunk as not to know he is drunk. But he who feels he is lost, experiences an agony indescribable to those who have never been in danger. Now, it is a fact that we are all lost, but all do not feel that they are lost. The very sheep of Christ, themselves, do not feel they are lost till they are quickened. When this takes place they know their desperate condition, an see there is nothing for it but Almighty rescue.
But what is it to be lost? Hear an old and eminent servant of God describe what it is to be lost: "It is to have strayed away from that place we were set in by God. In Adam we were all originally in the true fold, but in Adam, subsequently, we all strayed from God. To be lost is not only to have strayed away from the true fold, but to have lost all knowledge of God, and all liking for God. To be lost is to have lost the image of God in which we were originally created, and to have contracted the image of Satan. To be lost is not only to have lost the image, and the knowledge of the true God, but to have lost all knowledge of ourselves!"
O what a deplorable condition is poor, wretched man in by nature! His understanding darkened. His will perverse. His affections alienated from God. His thoughts evil, altogether evil, and only evil, and always evil! And not only is he thus, but he knows it not. He knows not the way back, and, if he did, he has no desire to return! Miserable and awful condition! And yet the multitude of religionists, not to speak of avowed infidels, know nothing about it! I once asked a high professor did he know what it was to be lost? "Certainly," was the answer. "To be lost is to refuse food in the midst of plenty!"
The poor man was a free-willer, and finding himself in a difficulty was obliged to make this desperate effort to get out of it; but every honest man sees at once that this is not a correct answer to my question? If I had asked, What is it voluntarily to starve? the answer would have been all right, but to be lost implies utter helplessness and ruin. Let me illustrate this for you. Some time ago two young men ventured out too far upon the sands in Morecambe Bay, when suddenly they found the tide rapidly rising and enclosing them. Neither could swim. What could they do? Nothing but shout and scream, "Lost!" "Lost!" No assistance was at hand, and there were those two helpless young men seen and heard from the shore in the terrible struggle of death, the wail of "lost!" "lost!" becoming fainter and fainter, till all was over!
Take another case. A miserable man is seen on the crowning parapet of a house in flames. The fire creeps closer and closer upon him, and now he is encircled by the burning element. What can he do? Nothing but cry and shout, "Lost!" "Lost!" And now the roof falls in, and the hapless man disappears! Here are fair illustrations of the helpless condition of the "lost." If there had been a boat at hand in the one case, or a fire-escape in the other, the men might have been rescued; but, as far as they were personally concerned, they were totally helpless, totally unable to do anything to save themselves.
This is precisely the condition of man by nature; he is completely helpless in the matter of his salvation. "Ah, but," says some one, "he can cry and shout for help, and then the boat, or the fire-escape, which is Christ, will be sent to his aid, and he will be rescued." To this I reply, if he does cry and shout, not as a hypocrite, but as one who is convinced of his lost condition, doubtless, Christ will come and save him; but man by nature cannot even cry or shout for help, for he is not conscious of his deplorable position, but is like a drunken man, or a lunatic, who, in the midst of peril and fire, may be found playing with the very elements of destruction, laughing and joking on the very brink of eternity!
O that I could hear men say, "Sir, we are lost: what must we do?" For then I should know what to say to them. I should know that the Holy Spirit had been working in them, and then my little services would be of use, namely, to exhort to belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, who "came to seek and to save them that are lost;" but until that cry is put into a man's heart, neither he nor I can do anything to good account. This is the secret; the secret alas! hidden from most, both preachers and hearers. The Holy Spirit has to do a great work in the lost, as well as Christ has done a great work for the lost. And here the doctrines of free-grace necessarily develop themselves in bold relief. For it must follow, as we shall see presently, that if Christ came to seek and to save all the lost, all the human family will be found and saved; it is clear that the lost whom Christ came to seek and to save are the lost family of God, or they who, by the Holy Ghost, are made sensible of their miserable condition by nature.
Reader, do you feel that you are lost, helpless, undone? Bless God for the discovery! For, as assuredly as you feel thus, you are saved with an everlasting salvation, being of the Israel of God, of the spiritual seed of Abraham. (Isa. 45:17)
II. We now come to define the terms "seek" and "save," and to reflect a little upon the wondrous Being who "came to seek and to save them that are lost." One of the first things, under God, that convinced me of the certainty of the salvation of all whom Christ came to seek and to save, was a contemplation of the power and dignity of Christ. I said to myself, the Scriptures give a clear and explicit account of Christ Jesus. They describe Him as "mighty to save," (Isa. 63:1) as "the mighty God," (Isa. 9:6) as "the glory of the LORD," (Isa. 40:5) as "a hiding place from the wind, a covert from the tempest, a great rock in a weary land," (Isa. 32:2) as "the Bearer of iniquities," (Isa. 53) as "the LORD our righteousness," (Jer. 23:6) as Him who was "to finish transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness," (Dan. 9:24) as "the Saviour of His people," (Matt. 1:21) as "the righteousness of God," (Rom. 3:21,22) as "the Justifier of the beloved of God," (Rom. 5:1, compared with Rom. 1:7) as "the power of God, and the wisdom of God," (1 Cor. 1:245) as "the wisdom, the righteousness, sanctification, and redemption" of the saints, (1 Cor. 1:30) as "the Saviour of the chiefest of sinners," (1 Tim. 1:15) as "the Bearer of sins, and the substitute of those He suffered for," (1 Pet. 2:21-24) as "the Alpha and Omega" of creation and salvation, (Rev. 1:8-11) as Him "who hath redeemed us to God by His blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation." (Rev. 5:9) In short, the Scriptures give such an account of Christ, of His might, His majesty, His omniscience, and omnipotence, that, under God's blessing, I was brought to the conclusion, long ago, that whosoever was interested in His wondrous work is certain to be saved, though he were the greatest sinner upon earth! I have never been moved from this conviction. I have preached it for years, and continue to preach it, to the comfort of many souls, not only in my own district, but I may say in all parts of the kingdom. I hold, too, that any other view of Christ and His work is shocking, dishonoring, and absurd; for any other view makes the Creator subservient to the creature! Well, now, let us think a little. This wonderful, this Mighty-God Christ "came to seek and to save that which was lost." Being omniscient, He must know where to look for the lost one, and being omnipotent, he cannot fail to save him when found. Any other theory is so utterly absurd that the acute infidel may well ridicule the mingle-mangle, contradictory, and stultifying preaching of the Arminians, whether calling themselves Papists, or Churchmen, or Methodists, or Noncomformists of any sort, who profess to believe in the GODHEAD of the Lord Jesus Christ!
O poor, sensibly-lost sinner! I have good news for you; "glad tidings of great joy" indeed; a certain sound to ring in your ears! My orders from above are, not to mock you, or perplex you with the declaration that Christ Jesus will help you to save yourself, if you will help yourself; but to proclaim to you that He has wrought out a complete salvation for you. (Col. 2:10) My commission is to tell you, not that Christ came to see if any of the lost would seek Him, but that He came to seek them; not that Christ came to try to save you, or to offer to save you, but to save you to the uttermost, by a dead lift, and an Almighty power which defies all opposition. (Heb. 7:25)
The language of the text is evidently adopted from shepherds, whose business it is to carefully tend their flocks, and in case of any one of them straying, to go after it, to seek and to save it. Even in our own country we have often heard of the shepherd losing a sheep, and going after it over hill and dale seeking it, and finding it, and bringing it home rejoicing. But we have often, too, heard of the shepherd being completely baffled in his search, and not only losing his sheep, but losing himself either in fog or snow. But though the similitude holds good in the main, though Christ may indeed be likened to a shepherd tending his flock, and going after the lost sheep, surely no sane man will dare tell us that Christ may be baffled in His search, or that, having found the missing one, Christ's efforts to save it may be ineffectual! For Christ is omniscient and omnipotent. (John 21:17; Matt. 28:18) *"Ah, but," says some one, "though Christ can find the lost one, He may not be able to save it, for the sheep may resist, and struggle, and eventually wriggle itself out of the hands of Christ." *(Comment is the substance of John Wesley's comment upon John 10:28,29)
But to this I answer, this is to contradict the text. The text says--"The Son of Man is come to seek and to SAVE that which was lost." It does not say--The Son of Man is come to seek and try and to save that which was lost, but to SAVE it. Besides, the holders of this absurd and God-dishonoring view, do not know that the Holy Spirit operates upon the will of every lost sheep when the time arrives for its being found, puts a cry into its mouth, and makes it willing to be saved after God's own plan. (Ps. 110:3) Do away with the Holy Spirit's work in salvation; do away with the doctrine of the holy and undivided Trinity in the rescue of lost souls, and then you may find a warrant for your wretched, carnal, hopeless, heart-saddening scheme of half-man and half-God salvation. But once let us believe that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, and that each in His peculiar office undertakes to watch over, to seek out, and to save a lost sheep, and then we denounce the horrid heresy of tentative (or striving-and-breaking-down-in-the-attempt) salvation. Yes, we denounce the heresy with the fearlessness of heroes, and the devotion of martyrs! The Scriptures fairly handled, and right-reason dispassionately listened to, unite in declaring that they whom Christ came to seek and to save must be saved with an everlasting salvation! Our affections, too, are all enlisted on the side of certainty in the matter. I know that I, for one, can say that I hold the God I worship and adore in such high honor, admiration, reverence, and veneration that I cannot believe He ever intended to do anything He didn't do, or that He ever purposed to save a soul He didn't save! No; our God is David's God: He is in the heavens and hath done whatever it hath pleased him. (Ps. 115:3) Our God is Isaiah's God: He will work, and who shall let it? He is a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall: His counsel shall stand, and He will do all His pleasure. (Isa. 35:4; Isa. 43:13; Isa. 46:10) Our God is Paul's God, there is no condemnation in Him, and no separation from Him; (Rom. 8:1,35,39) He will complete that which He hath begun. (Phil. 1:6) Our God is Peter's God: He keeps us by His power through faith unto salvation. (1 Pet. 1:5) Away, then, with all other gods, they are but the work of men's hands, or the fabrication of men's imagination!
Sinner! believe me, if you belong to the lost sheep of Christ's fold, you must be saved, and though you may now be unconscious of your lost estate, you must be found and quickened, for it is written, "The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost."
Some one perhaps asks, "Why, or how is this?"
I answer, because Christ loves His people; because He covenanted with the Father to rescue and to save them; because He purchased them out of the hands of justice with the price of His own blood; because they were ordained to eternal life; and because God's will cannot be frustrated. (John 13:1; Isa. 8:18; 1 Cor. 6:20; Acts 13:48; John 6:39; 2 Pet. 3:9; Jer. 31:3; Isa. 46:10) O blessed be God for the intelligence! Rejoice, O found one! for you are saved with an everlasting salvation! You are not only found, but you are united to Christ by an indissoluble union, and it is through Him that God looks upon you. This is a soul-cheering fact, for when we see ourselves in the light of an all-holy law we are afraid. The poet has well described the case--
"And, O since I can hardly bear what in myself I see,
How black and vile must I appear, most holy God, to Thee!
But since my Saviour stands between, in garments dy'd in blood,
'Tis he instead of me is seen when I approach to God."
III. We must now consider some objections to these precious truths, and answer them. With all the perversity of brain or will the Arminians oppose this doctrine of certainty of salvation. You can't enrage those people more than by taking out of their own hands all power to save their souls. In this they are like poor, feeble, incapacitated, but proud and obstinate, children, whose minds are bent upon doing what their parents know will be their destruction. Strange--strange perversity! Marvelous infatuation! But so it is! They cannot see as we see, but will insist upon it that they can do something, which if done will secure their salvation, and which if not done will ensure their damnation! They cannot sing as we sing--
"How vain the hopes which sinners build
On duties they have done!
It shows the heart with pride is fill'd,
And makes their folly known.
"Tried by the law, we all must stand
Guilty before the Lord;
Our mouths are stopp'd by His command
From ev'ry boasting word.
"The righteous law perfection claims,
And purity within;
It shows our guilt, and then condemns
And leaves us in our sin.
"Then let us vainly strive no more
To hide our guilt and shame;
Jesus our sin and sorrow bore,
And life is in His name."
But let us listen to one or two Armianian objections against complete and finished salvation by Jesus Christ.
"It is written," say they, "he that endureth to the end shall be saved," (Matt. 10:22) and hence it appears that our salvation depends, if not wholly, in part upon our faithfulness in clinging to our duty, so that it cannot be that Christ has saved any one, 'out and out,' by His work."
To which I answer, this is reasoning as "a natural man," or as one to whom the Scriptures are a sealed book. No adherence to duty whatever can ever save or help to save a soul; and until this is believed--thoroughly believed--there cannot be a shadow of hope of salvation! Any salvation that depends upon anything we do, or do not do, is to all intents and purposes a salvation by works; but the Scriptures are dogmatic upon the point that salvation is wholly of grace. (Rom. 11:6; Eph. 2:8,9; 2 Tim. 1:9) This fact of itself is all-sufficient for a refutation of the objection. But, again, if we call to mind the circumstances of the case that brought forth those words from Christ, I think it will be found that the objectors of this sort know about endurance of hatred and persecution for Christ's sake? Nothing! If they did they would see that the words were not meant to convey a threat of damnation to Christ's people in case of non-endurance of hatred and persecution--for this is impossible (John 10:28,29; Rom. 8:38,39)--but a source of consolation to those who endured. The Apostle's words to the Thessalonians throw much light upon this passage:--
"We ourselves glory in you in the churches of God, for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels." (2 Thess. 1:4-7)
In short, endurance of suffering is not conditional, but evidential, and this makes all the difference in the world. I would put the whole matter thus;--
They that are in union with Christ must suffer for His sake. (Matt. 10:22; John 15:20)
This union is indissoluble. (Isa. 54:10; Rom. 8:35-39; 2 Tim. 2:11; John 14:19; 1 Cor. 15:22)
Therefore they must endure to the end.
Let us hear another objection.
"Salvation," it is said, "means merely the being placed in a salvable state."
To which I answer, this is trifling or shuffling. If we take up an English Dictionary and look out for the word "salvation," we shall find it to mean preservation from death, preservation from destruction or great calamity. And if we refer to a Greek Lexicon, we shall find that the Greek verb, to save, means exactly the same thing, to preserve from being lost. There is no warrant whatever, then, for rendering the word save, or salvation, "the being placed in a salvable state." Salvation means what it appears to mean--preservation from eternal destruction. If salvation meant merely the being placed in a salvable state, there would be no difference between believers and unbelievers, for all to whom the Gospel is preached are in a salvable state; but the Apostles never speak of unbelievers as saved.
To make all this plainer, I would ask my readers seriously to meditate upon this simple question--What was Christ's design in coming into the world?
Well, it could not have been to save everybody; for if such had been the design it has signally failed, and this is awful blasphemy to suppose. Whatever God designs He must accomplish. Nothing can impede, or hinder, or counteract the design of all all-wise, all-seeing, and all-powerful Being. We should think very meanly of the architect, or the engineer, or the general whose design signally failed. We should certainly say, either these men were miserably supported by their subordinates, or they were miserable bunglers. There is no other verdict can be given by any twelve wise men upon the earth, except the Lord Himself specially frustrated the designs. This is plain to the very meanest understanding. What, then, think you of God's design failing? Some one, perhaps, answers--"But as bungling subordinates may cause the wisest designers to fail, so may an all-wise Designer fail through the bungling of His subordinates, ministers, or servants." But to this I answer, such a thing can never be; for God has taken care to provide against all possible contingencies. Hear Himself!
(a) "My Word," says God, "shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." (Isa. 55:11)
(b) Besides, Christ has prayed for all His preachers, and their believing hearers. (John 17:20)
(c) And the Holy Ghost has undertaken to teach all God's people all essential truth. (John 6:45)
So that the objection is totally without force. I may well ask in triumph, then, how can God's design be frustrated? And fearlessly assert--It was never Christ's design, in coming into the world, to save everybody. "Well, perhaps not," observes some one, "but it was His design to give everybody a chance to be saved." To whom I reply, there is no such thing as chance with God. Chance! Chance! Why, this is a word expunged long ago from even the vocabulary of educated infidels! Chance implies all want of plan and prearrangement; but this can never be in the government of God, which is as minute as it is comprehensive, which has preordained the movements of suns, and stars, and comets, as well as the falling of a sparrow, or of a leaf to the ground!
No, there is no such thing as chance. A thing may appear to us as happening by chance, but that thing had its place in the government of God from all eternity, and its mission to fulfill.
What, then, was Christ's design in coming into the world? I answer--Not to convert the world--not to civilize the world--not to elevate the masses, but to give peace to the hearts and eternal salvation to the souls of a poor and afflicted, yet privileged people, whom He covenanted with God the Father, and God the Holy Ghost, to seek and to save from all eternity. Christ came to suffer for and to "save His people," and none besides; and be assured that not one of those His came to save shall ever perish, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it! (Compare Acts 15:14, with Rev. 5:9)
And now it only remains for me to help my readers to answer the question of questions--Are we of those whom Christ came to seek and to save?
There are thousands this moment whom Christ came to seek and to save who cannot answer the question, for they are not yet sought; but this much is as clear as light:--
1. If we don't believe we are lost by nature, then, assuredly, we are lost.
2. If we think we can turn to God at any time, then, assuredly, we are lost.
3. If we are content with a form of godliness, and care not for the power of it, then, assuredly, we are lost.
Still, let us remember that we may be amongst the sheep of Christ, and, if so, we must be found before we die.
But if we are amongst the found ones, we shall be able to discover these marks:--
1. We know Christ's voice, and we cannot do with the voice of strangers, we understand pure doctrine, and we love pure practice, and cannot do with blind guides.
2. We love Christ, and regard Him as the chiefest amongst ten thousand, and daily mourn that we cannot love Him more. we love "the Christ of God," the Christ of the text, thus.
3. We love Christ's found sheep, and delight to feed with them in His pastures, and loathe the husks that satisfy the unconsciously lost.
4. We give all the honor and glory to God, even the Lord Jesus Christ, for our finding, knowing full well that it was He Himself that did it, and that if we had been left to the dictates of our free-will we should have perished everlastingly.
O depend upon it the thorough free-willer is lost, though he know it not. The Pharisee is lost, though he know it not. The sinless perfectionist is lost, though he know it not. The formalist is lost, though he know it not; and if Christ seek them not, and the Holy Spirit put not the cry into their hearts--"Lord! save, we perish," they must sink down into endless misery.
It has been well said, "Our not feeling sin is no proof that we have it not. The non-sensation of sin is from spiritual death, as the quick sensation of it is from spiritual life."
But whosoever is conscious of his hell-desert on account of sin, and has "full assurance of faith" in the Lord Jesus, thoroughly believes that Christ alone, in virtue of His active and passive obedience, can save him, is already saved with an everlasting salvation.
"Salvation! how precious the sound
To sinners who see themselves lost!
To Jesus their praises redound,
In Jesus they triumph and boast.
Salvation is finish'd and done,
Salvation is sov'reign and free,
Salvation by God's equal Son,
Our joy and rejoicing shall be!
"Salvation is only of God,
To Him all praises are due!
Ye saints, spread his honours abroad,
Who finish'd salvation for you.
Soon shall we behold Him above,
For ever to sound His dear name,
To sing the sweet song of His love--
Salvation to God and the Lamb!"