The Meaning of Salvation

By Charles Ewing Brown


Clement of Alexandria found difficulty in writing upon the truths of Christianity in the second century. "This discourse respecting God," he writes, "is most difficult to handle. For since the first principle of everything is difficult to find out, the absolutely first and oldest principle, which is the cause of all other things being and having been, is difficult to exhibit." [1] Elsewhere he apologizes to the Christians of his time for trying to explain the mysteries of the Christian religion. Nevertheless, he thinks his readers will profit by taking some pains to seek out the deeper things of God: "As, then, he who is fond of hunting captures the game after seeking, tracking, scenting, hunting it down with dogs; so truth, when sought and got with toil, appears a delicious thing." [2]

How to make the great truths of the Christian religion both simple and attractive is a task which has burdened the mind and well-nigh broken the heart of generations of Christian teachers. Many Christians have formed an ironclad, dogmatic idea that the gospel and all Christian teaching is so simple that all earnest attempts to give it fresh and deeper interpretation in the light of our own time is nothing but a display of worldly wisdom and a vain effort to confuse that which is already crystal clear.

This is a fallacy. The difference between the casual reading of the Bible and the serious study of its doctrinal truths might be illustrated by the difference between the earth and geology. Apparently the earth is a very simple thing. The trees and the wheat fields hold no mysteries for the birds, and the earth of nature may be known very thoroughly with but very little understanding of its meaning. The Indians knew the physical earth perhaps more completely and in greater detail than any scientific geologist has ever known it, yet the Indian did not understand the earth; and as a consequence he walked over vast treasures of oil, coal, diamonds, and gold without ever surmising their hidden existence. Now, without knowing the surface of the earth as minutely as the Indian did, the geologist is able to find much of its hidden treasure because he has studied the earth scientifically, or theoretically, if you will, and he has progressed in understanding it so that he knows how to find its treasures.

The same thing is true of the Bible. Millions of simple-hearted Christians have read the Bible for ages and to none of them has it done any harm -- in fact, as the earth yielded life -- giving food to the Indians, so the Bible read earnestly by the humblest minds yields subsistence for the soul. Nevertheless, I earnestly believe that a systematic, prolonged, and discerning study of the Bible will yield a constantly deepening understanding of its great truths so that its immense treasures will be gathered bountifully by the earnest seeker after truth.

In presenting this study of the meaning of salvation I have sought to make a popular presentation, free from unnecessary technicalities of the schools. Nevertheless, I have thought it necessary to re-examine many of the fundamental doctrines of the faith and present them afresh in the language of our own day. Therefore, since it would be somewhat of a waste of time merely to rehash popular religious ideas, I have felt it necessary to put old truths in such a new setting as will enable the reader to enjoy them from a fresh viewpoint. In doing this I beg the reader to remember that I have pursued these studies with pious regard for the traditions of the Christian church. I have made no effort to originate some novelty in Christian teaching. The whole object in presenting this work has been to deepen the understanding of old truths.

I believe that no one can write intelligently upon this subject without taking the age-long thought of the church into account. People who imagine that they do, simply deceive themselves; for to interpret theology or philosophy without looking through the lens of history is as impossible as it is to look out upon the natural world around us without looking through the lens of one's eye. The great Christian scholars of our own age have, as it were, furnished us a telescope of historic inquiry which has enabled us to get closer to the real teaching and practice of the men who wrote the New Testament. And we should gladly avail ourselves of their labors.

Doubtless there is no interpretation of the gospel possible in this age without wearing one of several pairs of spectacles. One of these pairs is that of Augustine as modified by Calvin and Luther. Another is that of Arius as modified by Socinus. Some wear the spectacles of Darwin and Herbert Spencer. Others wear those of James Arminius as modified by John Wesley. I believe that John Wesley has, generally speaking, interpreted the gospel in such a way as may be construed agreeably with all the facts of modern science concerning the present world and the findings of historical research regarding the ancient church. An especial virtue of Wesley's doctrine is the fact that it has proved to be extremely congenial to revival efforts. It is the only modern Christian doctrine harmonious both with science and with the great evangelical revivals. A person can believe this teaching without insulting his intelligence and he can preach this doctrine with such passion and power as, under the blessings of God, to promote the utmost in revival power and personal spiritual development. This is a very potent reason for believing that in the matter of the doctrine of salvation John Wesley recovered the pure truth of the New Testament church in general, though not in detail.

I have not attempted an exhaustive treatise on the subjects considered, although I have at times given numerous citations from the Scriptures. Those who desire to make thorough systematic studies of these subjects are directed to the classical authorities, such as Wesley's Sermons, Fletcher's Checks to Antinomianism, Watson's Institutes, and the theological works of W. B. Pope, H. Orton Wiley, and J. Agar Beet.

Frankly, I have made no effort to prove these things to those who dogmatically deny them. Spiritual truth is seldom gained by fighting, although it might be lost by that method. Writing casually from memory, I cannot recall many instances where men have had their religious views changed by systematic debate. Origen was perhaps most successful in that work.

The writer is like a householder living at a crossroads: if a stranger asks the way the householder gives his best advice. If, then, the stranger begins to argue the householder will be nonplused; he will not know how to argue with a man who insists that the road runs in a direction contrary to that which the householder knows that it runs.

The theme of this book is the exposition of the Christian and scriptural doctrine of salvation as deliverance from the guilt of sin and the necessity of daily sinning.

In the present volume the writer seeks to prove that man is a contradiction in himself, that he has capacities for misery above all other creatures, and that he constantly torments himself and his kind. This misery arises because he is a misfit in nature. He is out of adjustment with nature because he is out of harmony with God, which is the meaning of sin. The basis of restoring that harmony is the atonement of Christ, and this atonement is brought to all men in some sense by the grace of God as a free gift. If this gift is accepted the soul is saved from the guilt of sin and endued with the principle of life. This life of the Spirit is strong enough to enable the believer to live above sin. The salvation of the body from all the consequences of sin is set forth. The possibility of apostasy is then discussed. Lastly, the young convert is told how to maintain fellowship with God. This all leads up to entire sanctification, to be explained in a forthcoming volume: The Meaning of Sanctification.

If this book will serve for a few years as a signboard, pointing the way to the Eternal Jerusalem, that will be reward enough.

Yours in Christian service,
Charles Ewing Brown,
Editor in Chief
Gospel Trumpet Company


1 Clement, The Stromata, Book V, chap. 12

2 Ibid., Book I, chap. 2