By James H. Brookes
MAN'S NEED OF SALVATION
"Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved."—Romans x. 1.
In the great work of delivering lost men from the ruin in which they are involved, the Holy Ghost produces the conviction that they need to be saved. Without this conviction " they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear; which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely."1 However alarming their state as "strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world,"2 and however appalling their peril as exposed to the righteous infliction of "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil,"3 they neither understand their condition nor perceive their danger until made to feel that they are sinners.
There are multitudes of our race of whom it can be truthfully said that "they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things;"4 and yet they go their downward way profoundly indifferent to their guilt and their doom. They eat and drink, they awake and sleep, they give their thoughts and time entirely to the pursuits of the world, and run their round of business or of pleasure, without one correct conception of the Being who made them, and without one spark of spiritual life.
Their ignorance of their real character and their insensibility to their eternal interests furnish conclusive evidence both of their sinfulness and of their deplorable unconsciousness of sin. Hence the first practical step towards their recovery is taken when the Divine Spirit, whose office it is to "reprove [or rather, to convince] the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment,"5 leads them to see that they are undone, and need an almighty Arm to rescue them from impending destruction.
The agency He employs in teaching them this essential and fundamental truth is the revealed word of God, or the Sacred Scriptures, whether communicated in the pulpit or through the press; whether made known in public instruction or in private study; whether carried to the heart by a popular address or by a personal appeal. "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made,"6 and in the new creation " the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."7 " Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."8
If, therefore, we would inquire whether man, as such, and as born into the world, is in urgent need of salvation, we must surely consult the testimony of the "word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever."9 Remember, it is the word of God, and He is too wise to err, too holy to tell a lie, too just to bring false accusations against His creatures, and too kind to heap upon them undeserved reproaches. Let those who claim that they are entitled to His favor on the ground of their own merits make good their claim, and most gladly will He recognize it and bestow upon them the full reward of their virtue. He is not an unfeeling tyrrant rejoicing in the exercise of an unrestrained power to crush and kill; nor is He an unmerciful Judge, eagerly inclining to inflict upon the terrified delinquent the extremist rigors of the law without regard to the palliating circumstances under which the offence was committed. Not only His name, but His very nature, is " Love;"10 and it is certain that His testimony concerning man, and His sentence in view of that testimony, are in perfect harmony with His boundless benevolence and His inexhaustible patience.
But every one must at once see the utter absurdity of accepting as true the revelation which He has made of His attributes in the Bible, and of rejecting as false the revelation which He has made in the same Bible of ourselves. Either all is true or all is false, or, at best, there is no criterion to distinguish the true from the false, except the odd fancies and foolish whims of the reader. If one is at liberty to set aside as incredible what the Scriptures affirm of man's characteristics, another is at equal liberty to treat with contempt what they declare of God's perfections; and thus are we hurled back into the darkness of nature, or left to grope our way to the unknown future by the feeble glimmerings of reason.
It must be obvious, after a moment's reflection, that consistency, logic, and sound sense require us to place the teachings of the Bible on a common footing with respect to their authority, authenticity, and genuineness. Especially is our faith demanded in a doctrine which pervades the whole book from first to last, and which is interwoven in all the narratives, in all the Psalms, in all the prophecies, in all the parables, in all the sermons, and in all the epistles, that are contained in the inspired records. If, then, it can be shown that a uniform testimony is borne from Genesis to Eevelation touching man's pressing need of salvation, we are compelled to conclude that by nature we are fallen, lost, and ruined; or, as the only alternative, we are forced to deny that God has spoken the truth in His blessed Word.
My argument here is not designed for the sceptic who can never be convinced of his fatal error by human wisdom, but for the reader whose ear has been opened to hear the "still small voice "11 breathing through the Book of books, and whose head is reverently bowed in the presence of its recognized divinity. Taking it for granted that those for whom these pages are intended are, through infinite grace, past the dreary region of infidelity, and that they are now turning to the " living oracles "12 with the docility of the child Samuel, who said, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth,"13 I desire to sum up briefly the solemn testimony which God gives of man's condition apart from redeeming love, and, therefore, of man's unspeakable need of salvation.
We assuredly learn from the language which I have placed at the beginning of this chapter that the Jews as a people, although they were highly favored above all the nations of the earth, were not delivered from the curse and dominion of sin; for the apostle writes, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved." This earnest expression of concern for his countrymen would of course be meaningless or self-contradictory if they were not under the condemnation of God's broken law; and hence the inspired writer, " moved by the Holy Ghost,"14 asserts that they were still unsaved. The unavoidable inference which we thus gather from his words will be confirmed, and the argument to prove man's need of salvation will be strengthened, if we glance at other statements relative to the condition of the Jewish nation. In the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, for example, the same inspired writer exclaims with the greatest emotion, " I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen."15
The great heaviness and continual sorrow of heart expressed in this touching assurance, and the astounding declaration that he could wish that himself were accursed from Christ for his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh, are wholly unaccountable on the supposition that they were already saved. No, they were lost! and the apostle, taught by the Spirit, knew they were lost, in the very face of their exalted privileges and their high religious character in the estimation of men. To them pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises, and the fathers, and national connection with the Messiah; but still they needed to be saved. Many of them could say, as did Paul describing his own state previous to his new birth by faith in Jesus, " Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless"16 but still they needed to be saved. Many of them, like the Pharisee of whom our Saviour speaks, could stand in the temple and pray by themselves, and say, " God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess;"17 but still they needed to be saved. Many of them made broad their phylacteries, and enlarged the borders of their garments, and offered long prayers, and scrupulously observed the Sabbath, and compassed sea and land to gain one proselyte, and added to the burdensome requirements of the ceremonial law by self-imposed regulations, and in the ardor of their devotion outstripped the demands of divine ordinances by keeping pace with the numerous traditions of the elders; but still they needed to be saved.
Read the pathetic lamentation of our Lord when He beheld the city of David and wept over it: not the tears of silent sympathy, as at the grave of Lazarus, but with all the tokens of consummate and convulsive grief, saying, "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes."18 Read the last message which He delivered in the presence of the people when He cried, " O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you. Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord."19 Surely it requires no other evidence to prove that the Israelites as a body were unsaved at the time the apostle wrote; but if they needed to be saved, what must be said of the rest of mankind? If they were lost, notwithstanding their favorable circumstances, their peculiar advantages, their distinguishing mercies, their strict morality, their religious fervor, their illustrious ancestry, and their wonderful history,—radiant with the glory of Jehovah's presence,—how is it possible that " sinners of the Gentiles"20 have no need of a gracious and mighty hand to pluck them as brands from the burning? Should any one reply to all this that the Jews were condemned for their rejection of Christ, I admit the justice of the answer, but immediately turn and bring the charge of the same stupendous sin against every unbeliever who may read this book.
Yes, my friend, you are involved in the same condemnation, as I shall now proceed to show, and thus bring forward my second argument to convince you of your need of salvation. All who profess to accept any portion of the Scriptures as inspired agree that the words of Jesus must be regarded as authoritative and final upon every doctrine which He teaches. Let us see, then, what He repeatedly affirms touching the necessity of faith and the soul-destroying crime of unbelief. In His memorable interview with Nicodemus, after setting forth the amazing love of God in the gift of this dear Son, He adds," He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."21
Again we hear His solemn testimony, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation [or judgment]; but is passed from death unto life."22 "Then said they unto him. What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them. This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent."23 "Verily, verily, I say unto you. He that believeth on me hath everlasting life."24 "If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins."25 "Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep . . . . But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you."26 "Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again. He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them."27 When the Spirit is come He will convince the world " of sin, because they believe not on me."28
These passages are taken almost at random from a single Gospel, and it is unnecessary to say that there is nothing in all the word of God to contradict them. Elsewhere it is written that the Saviour, whose infinite love for the sinner led Him to the cross, declared among the last words He uttered on earth, "He that believeth not shall be damned;"29 and the Holy Spirit says, by the apostle John, "He that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son."30 Such, then, is the vital importance of belief in Christ, that salvation in all its unutterable meaning, in all its boundless extent, in all its everlasting joys, depends upon its exercise; and such is the horrible sin of unbelief that if persisted in to the close of life, it will certainly drown the soul in perdition.
How imperative, then, is the duty of the unbeliever to flee for refuge to the cross of Christ! That such a refuge should have been provided in the immeasurable grace and unsearchable wisdom of God affords overwhelming demonstration of the fact that the entire human race was in extremest need: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."31 The preciousness of the gift proves the vastness of the want it was designed to meet, and the costliness of the sacrifice reveals the depth of the woe it was intended to reach. Oh, if man did not need salvation, Jesus had not died; for it is inconceivable that the Father could have sent Him forth from His bosom, and emptied Him of His divine and eternal glory, and humbled Him to be made of a woman, made under the law, and laid upon Him the crushing burden of our iniquities, and looked upon His prostrate form in Gethsemane, and witnessed the blows that bruised His face, and heard His disconsolate cry on Calvary, unless a stern necessity had demanded this profound condescension and mysterious suffering.
The Russian mother, who threw one and another, and then another, of her children to the howling wolves pursuing her sleigh, showed the desperate straits to which she was driven to save her life; and the Russian serf, who stayed the hungry pack with his own body that his master might escape their devouring jaws, proved how fearful was the emergency that required such an act of dauntless courage and moral heroism. " Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends;"32 and when Christ laid down His life, not for His friends, but for His enemies. He gave the most convincing proof of which the human mind can conceive both of the greatness of His love and the greatness of their need.
Unbelief, therefore, is a rejection of love in its highest possible manifestation, and hence it is represented as the root of all other sin and the crowning iniquity. It not only sets at defiance the insulted justice of God, but, far more, it treats with disdain or receives with unmoved indifference His overtures of mercy. It derides His authority, it despises His law, it ridicules His warnings, it rejects His invitations, it slights His compassion, it calls Him a liar when He says, " He that believeth not shall be damned," and it joins the ribald crowd in reviling His dying Son, or at least it turns with heartless unconcern from that wail of forsaken woe that shook the mighty pillars of the globe.
Think you that a sin like this, which remains unsubdued and unaffected even at the cross, can be a slight offence, or that man does not need salvation while it holds dominion over him? H every other sin were forgiven, or if no other sin had been committed, this alone would drive the unbeliever away forever from the presence of God, and rear an insurmountable barrier between his soul and true happiness.
1) Ps. lviii. 4, 5.
2) Eph. ii. 12.
3) Rom. ii. 8, 9.
4) Phil. iii. 18, 19.
5) John xvi. 8.
6) Ps. xxxiii. 6.
7) Heb. iv. 12.
8) Rom. x. 17.
9) 1 Peter i. 23.
10) 1 John iv. 8.
11) 1 Kings xix. 12.
12) Acts vii. 38.
13) 1 Sam. iii. 9.
14) 2 Peter i. 21.
15) Rom. ix. 1-5.
16) Phil. iii. 5, 6.
17) Luke xviii. 11, 12.
18) Luke xix. 42.
19) Matt, xiii. 37-39.
20) Gal. ii.l5.
21) John iii. 18.
22) John v. 24.
23) John vi. 28, 29.
24) John vi. 47.
25) John viii. 24.
26) John x. 7, 26.
27) John xii. 39, 40.
28) John xvi. 9.
29) Mark xvi. 16.
30) 1 John v. 10.
31) John iii. 16.
32) John xv. 13.