Religious Professor, BEWARE!
YOU MAY BELIEVE IN CHRIST, AND BE LOST.
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” Acts 16:30-31.
HERE we have a question and an answer of great interest a question implying anxiety of soul, and an answer all-sufficient to meet the case, supposing it to have been understood by him who put the question. How the original questioner understood the answer when first he heard it, there is no evidence to show, but that it was fully explained to him, and that he understood it clearly, and was well pleased with it subsequently, the short history of the questioner s and responders interview informs us.
But suppose a person to put this question to us, and we were to confine ourselves to the Apostle s answer “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” should we be justified? I think not. For
such an answer to a professing Christian would be altogether too general, and too vague. To the heathen to whom it was originally given, it must have been startling at the least, but to a person brought up from his infancy in the profession of belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, it would give no satisfactory information; yea, if unexplained, it would delude him!
The answer, of course, is all right, but without explanation it must lead you all wrong.
It is wholly absurd and monstrous to suppose that they who are in the habit of repeating the formula, “I believe in Jesus Christ our Lord,” or who believe in the fact that Jesus Christ came into the world to
save sinners, as they believe any other fact, will be saved by such belief. The Scriptures uncompared with one another may seem to favour the notion that such belief is saving but most assuredly they in many
places declare plainly that men may thus believe and yet be unsaved! Is there a profligate or a reprobate of our acquaintance who does not heartily believe what he says when he repeats The Apostles Creed,
i.e., as far as he understands it? And will this belief save him? Surely not, though Paul and Silas s own words may seem to contradict my assertion! Let us beware, then, of the damning delusion of the day,
that induces men to preach “Believe only, and you will be saved.”
“Only believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be all right!” For though this is true in a sense, if it be not truthfuly explained it will lead to the most disastrous consequences! There are many running to and fro in these days who are not to be trusted; many who are mistaking the letter of the Word for the spirit; many confounding “the form of godliness” with “the power.” From such turn away! Let me tell you, it is no easy matter to believe in the Lord Jesus unto salvation. Any man, of his own free will and power, may believe in Christ as the Saviour of sinners; may believe in Him as the Son of God, as the great and glorious center of beauty, and holiness and perfection; as the embodiment of all power and might and majesty; but to believe in Him unto salvation is beyond the power of any man. This belief must be wrought by the Holy Ghost in the soul of the saved one!
In order to understand the Scripture I have quoted at the head of this paper, we must try and put ourselves in the place of the questioner, and call to remembrance the responders views of belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. If we are like the questioner in anxiety of mind, and are one with the responders in their views of belief, then we are all right, but if otherwise we are all wrong!
The questioner was a poor, ignorant heathen jailor, who, being awakened out of sleep in the dead of night by an earthquake, and seeing the prison doors all open, fancied that his prisoners had escaped. And knowing that death for him by the law of the land was the punishment under the circumstances, he was about to anticipate it by suicide when Paul shouted out, Do thyself no harm, for we are all here.
Upon hearing this, the man called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, Sirs, what shall I do to be saved?” I remember perfectly
when I read this story long and long ago, I imagined that this man was only frightened by the earthquake, and appealed to Paul and Silas to tell him how he might escape from temporal death (I have no doubt that this is the idea that floats in the minds of many), but now I wonder why I should have been so stupid, for the man, though recoiling from the prospect of death as a punishment for his supposed dereliction of duty, evidently did not fear death, inasmuch as he was about to inflict it on himself… It was, evidently, then his soul s salvation for which he was concerned. It pleased the Lord to employ the eventful circumstances of that night to awaken him to a feeling sense of his sins, and to an inquiry after his escape from their consequences. The arrow of conviction suddenly entered his soul, and the result was the question, “Sirs, what shall I do to be saved?”
Now, I ask my readers two simple questions 1st, How can they account for this heathen man asking such a question, if he were not operated upon by the Holy Spirit? And, 2nd, Have they ever been induced to make such an inquiry? Have they ever felt as this poor man felt?
And let me tell them, if they are strangers to such a state of mind, they are yet “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), and though they repeated and believed in ten thousand orthodox formulas and creeds,
they do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to the saving of the soul!
So far, the questioner and his case. Now let me direct attention to the response, and the responders’ views of belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou
shalt be saved, and thy house.” Not, mark you, that the jailor’s household would be saved in virtue of his belief, but that they would be saved as well as he, upon their believing.
But the great question now is, I. What did Paul and Silas mean by belief in the Lord Jesus Christ? That they could not have meant that a mere historical belief in the Lord, or a belief in the report that
Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, was sufficient for salvation, I think, is clear from the context alone; for we are told, after they had answered the jailor s question in the most condensed form possible, that “they spake unto him the Word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house; i.e., they expounded the Word they preached the gospel to him and to his household, which of course would involve an entire explanation of the condition of man by nature, God s plan of salvation, and of the work of Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God in that plan.
The address has not been preserved for our edification, but we may well fancy Paul asking the jailor, after he had thus expounded the Scriptures to him, Canst thou believe in such a God, and in such a
Saviour as that? Dost thou see the need thou hast for such a God? And adding, If thou believest thus, thou shalt assuredly be saved!
That the jailor did believe in such a God and such a Saviour, and in his need of such a one, we gather from the subsequent history. We read that “he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their
stripes, and was baptized, he and all his straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.” But we can obtain further light
still. We may be certain that Paul preached to this man as he preached to other Gentiles. It is most probable that this jailor was a Roman, and it is very likely that the Apostle would speak to him as he wrote to his countrymen in after years. We have only, then, to refer to the Epistle to the Romans to get clearly at Paul’s views about belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now the pith and marrow of that epistle is this viz., man’s total ruin. All power in man to do good has been sinned away. He must, therefore, be justified by Another. It is by the righteousness of God that is,
the Lord Jesus Christ that man must be saved. Works of no kind whatever have anything to do with this justification. Man is brought into union with the Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit of Christ, and when
he is in such union he knows he is free of all charges, and can never be separated from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. God acts towards His creatures in a sovereign way. The election obtains salvation in virtue of sovereign grace, and when a man can call upon the Lord [this Lord, mark you, the Lord who hath planned this salvation, the Lord who is this Righteousness, the Lord who thus acts towards His creatures] with his heart, he has good evidence of being an elect vessel of mercy prepared for glory. (See Romans from first chapter to the eleventh.) Such is the sum and substance of Paul’s divinity. And I take it for granted that this was the substance of his sermon to the Philippian jailor and his household.
Now we have got at the jailor s state of mind, and at the Apostles meaning when they replied to his question, by the most legitimate process. The jailor had been awakened by the Holy Spirit when he put
the question, and the apostles meant belief in the Gospel in its completeness and entirety when they answered it. What a different aspect does this brief history bear now to what it is generally made in
the hands of popular divines and would-be preachers! Nothing so easy as to believe, say they, as they address sinners who have never cried for salvation! A belief in the report that Jesus Christ is the
Saviour of sinners is sufficient for salvation, proclaim they!
Whereas inspired men inform us that no power short of the Holy Ghost’s can enable any one to believe; for the difficulties of the things to be believed are enormous and insurmountable by human power (I Cor. 2:14). We shall see this more clearly if we reflect upon the subject thus, viz: 1. Belief in the Lord Jesus. What is it?
2. The difficulties of belief.
3. The origin or producing cause of belief.
As I have been observing, the most erroneous ideas are widely spread in connection with this all- important subject. Men being ignorant of what is involved in belief in Jesus Christ, persuade themselves and their fellowmen that all is easy and straight-forward. They reason thus:
(a) Christ came into the world to save sinners, We are sinners; Therefore, Christ came to save us. Or, again
(b) Christ has both the power and the will to save, We are wishful to be saved; Therefore, Christ will save us.
Such is the creed of the great bulk of religious professors. A very easy and comfortable one, it must be confessed, far outdoing Roman Catholicism with its indulgences and creature power, but a creed that
most assuredly is “a lie in the right hand” of every one who holds it!
It is difficult to argue with a person adopting either of these syllogisms, because he assumes that Christ came to save everybody. And then, of course, He came to save the person holding this creed. If we
question him upon the Holy Spirit s work in making a man know himself to be a sinner and suggest that the Holy Ghost is sovereign in His operations, as well as God the Father and God the Son, and that it may not be His will to convince every man of sin we are met with the assertion that the Holy Spirit works in every individual. And, again, if we attempt to prove that if Christ Jesus has the power and the will
to save all men, then it must follow that every man must be saved, whether he is willing or not, we are met with the assertion that Christ does not exert His power and will without consulting the will of man,
but if man is willing to be saved by Christ s power and will, he must be saved! Now, though a gracious person must be convinced of the folly and arrogance of all this Arminianism, he may not be able to refute the gainsayers so as to put them to silence, and thus the imposters often triumph. But I would help my readers to overthrow these fallacious reasonings. Let me take syllogism a first.
The Scriptures, compared with one another, most clearly reveal the fact that the sinners whom Christ came to save were those committed to His care from all eternity, a number of people called by various names, e.g., His people (Mat. 1:21), My sheep (John 10:1, 28), All that the Father giveth me (John 6:37, 39), The church (Eph. 5:25), The foreknown, the predestinated, the called, the justified, the glorified
(Rom. 8:29-30), The elect (Rom. 8:33-34), &c., &c. So that before any man can come to the conclusion that he is included amongst the sinners whom Christ came to save, he must first have some evidence that he has been given by the Father into Christ s care. A man may know that he is a sinner, and a very vile sinner too, and yet have no warrant whatever for supposing that Christ came to save him. It is by
experience this is discovered. We shall come upon it presently.
Though a man know himself to be the chiefest of sinners, if he have not true conceptions of sin, it will by no means follow that he is a sinner convinced of sin by the Holy Ghost, and without such conviction he can have no right to suppose Christ came to save him, for it is indispensable that the Holy Spirit take His part in carrying out the covenant of redemption. And then, again, it is the most unwarrantable assumption to assert that the Holy Spirit is working in every man so as
to make him meet for glory, for the Scripture distinctly declares that God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy (Rom. 9:15)… These things being true, what becomes of the syllogism, a: Christ
came into the world to save sinners, We are sinners; Therefore, Christ came to save us ? Suppose you are not of the number of sinners given to Christ to save and suppose you are sinners only convinced of sin by your own consciences, and not by the Holy Spirit what then? Will any man say, Oh, I don’t believe in this theology. Then, I answer, you don’t believe in the Bible, and you and I are not arguing from the same premises. Now let us examine syllogism b : Christ has both the power and will to save, We are wishful to be saved; Therefore, Christ will save us. I grant that Christ has the power to save; for all power in heaven and earth is given into His hands, and I am certain that if He exerts that power in any sinner’s behalf, that sinner must be saved; otherwise His power would not be all power. But suppose He has not
the will. What then? Surely no sane man will venture to say Christ has this will in every case; for then who could be lost?
Perhaps some reader may not see the resistless force of this, so I will put the argument thus:
If Christ has all power in heaven and earth,And He exerts it in my behalf, Then I must be saved.
“But suppose you resist,” says someone, “what then?” To whom I reply, Suppose I do, suppose I am as madly bent on my own destruction as any bedlamite, if Christ puts forth His power upon me i.e., if He has the will to employ it in my behalf, it must overcome my resistance, otherwise it would not be “all power.” To think or to reason differently is to make man stronger than God, the creature more
powerful than the Creator, and the reasoner a fool!
Then, again, the Arminians say in their minor premise, “We are wishful to be saved.” To which I reply, I have no doubt at all about it. Every wretched creature is wishful to be saved. The drunkard, the
sensualist, the murderer, the felon, every one is wishful to be saved, i.e., to have a happy and comfortable home in eternity, and most of those who profess Christianity will give Christ credit for possessing
all power to save, but would these be justified in drawing the conclusion, Therefore, Christ will save us? Surely not. But the grand question in this connection is, Are you wishful to be saved after God s
plan of salvation? Can you submit to the pride-mortifying doctrines of revelation? Can you be beholden to the righteousness of Another for your salvation? Can you trample that proud, pompous, impudent and
God-dishonoring self-righteousness of yours in the dust?
If not, though never so wishful for salvation, you cannot be saved, for God and Christ will not halve Their glory with another, neither can any flesh be suffered to boast in Their Presence (I Cor. 1:29)! Ah, be
assured there is something more than Christ s power and man s will-to-be-saved, in order to effect salvation! If Christ’s will be not that way inclined, no man under heaven can be saved!
But to come back to the original question, “What is belief in the Lord Jesus Christ?”
I answer, belief in Jesus Christ is simply belief in the gospel, belief in that truth which God has made known in His Word concerning Jesus Christ. The question all turns upon “Who Jesus is” or “What He is.”
If we are wrong here, we are wrong everywhere. But if we clearly understand this question, and can submit to the creature-humbling truths which God has made known in His Word concerning Christ and His work, then we may begin to hope that we believe to the salvation of our souls. But, even then, we may not be saved! For it is wholly impossible that the most thorough belief in the report of all that
Jesus is, and that God has revealed concerning Him can save, for then there would be no need of the Spirit’s regenerating power. But Christ has declared that Except a man be born of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:3).
I will, however, attempt to explain to you how you may know whether your belief is merely a belief into the report, or a belief unto salvation. It is discovered thus, and only thus, namely:
By the divine life in the soul.
And wherever this is, there is humility, a complete prostration of spirit before an all-wise, holy and Sovereign God.
A submission to His decrees, and a willingness to be saved after God s way!
“No more, my God, I boast no more
Of all the duties I have done;
I quit the hopes I held before,
And trust the merits of Thy Son,”
is the language of the heart quickened by the Holy Ghost. There is not only humility, but love for the truth as it is in Jesus. That truth is a man s meat and drink. He would not part with it for a thousand
worlds! It is the theme upon which he meditates day and night. He can say with the Psalmist, “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day!” (Psalm 119:97).
The soul with divine life is ever and anon thus breaking forth, “Thou lovely source of true delight,
Whom I unseen adore,
Unveil Thy beauties to my sight,
That I may love Thee more!”
Yes, the reception of the truth in the love of it is as sure a sign of spiritual life, as its opposite is of spiritual death (II Thess. 2:10). Again, there is warmth wherever there is divine life and light. A
cold, speculative, stoical Christian is an anomaly, an absurdity, an impossibility. There is much false zeal and false fire, I know, amongst certain professors who do not love the truth; but as there are always imitations and counterfeits wherever there is valuable and genuine reality, so the fact must not be suffered to weaken this proof of spiritual life. Mark you, reader, this warmth is not always
perceptible. Many a time is there weeping for lack of warmth, a sighing out of humiliating experience:
“O that my soul, as heretofore,
Could with delight and love explore
Those sacred sweets in Jesus name
That once my raptured soul overcame!”
But, woe be to that professor who has never felt his affections enlisted in the cause of truth! Lastly, there is holiness wherever the divine life is. Perhaps I should rather say there is a following after holiness (Heb. 12:14), by reason of a sin-hating principle in the soul of the true believer; for God s called ones, well knowing their own innate depravity, are jealous of the employment of a term that would
seem to imply inherent holiness. But every awakened child of God is able to say (though he may cavil at the word “holiness”) that there is a spirit within him that hates sin, and weans him from the world, the
flesh and the devil. Indeed, a Christians holiness at best is but a negative holiness, yet there is a nearer approach to positive holiness by those who posses it, than by the most eminent Pharisee on earth.
Here, then, are the evidences of that belief in the Lord Jesus that saves. Summed up, they are: 1.Humility; 2.Love; 3. Warmth; and 4. Holiness. Wherever these are, all other graces are. But wherever they are not, no grace is; and though there may be belief in the report of all that Jesus did and suffered, there is no particle of belief unto salvation.
II. I now come to touch upon the difficulties of belief. Many see no difficulties in belief; but they are those who do not understand what is to be believed. But I am bold to say that no man with common sense or common honesty, when he comes to hear of what God has revealed, will say, All this is plain enough, all this is easy enough!
A pretender may sketch out a plan of salvation that is easy enough to believe in. He may depict a God and a Christ that nobody can object to, but when the truth as it is in Jesus comes out, when the whole
counsel of God is brought to light, surely a wise and honest man must involuntarily exclaim “How can these things be?” Oh, when the wise, and the scribe, and the disputer of this world (I Cor. 1:20) come to
hear of God’s plan of salvation, when they are told it is all of God’s will whether they are saved or not, when they learn that all worksand efforts, watchings and mortifications, the best intentions and the
most self-denying human righteousness all go for nothing in the salvation of a soul when they are told who Jesus is and what He is, that it is His righteousness imputed to the sinner that saves will they
say, There is nothing to wonder at in this! Surely not! But, on thecontrary, they will mock and sneer and laugh, wondering at our credulity for believing such foolishness! (But see I Corinthians 1:13-25.)
Tell me, my dear reader, what makes so many High-churchmen and Methodists? What makes so many Roman Catholics and Socinians? What makes so many formalists and Pharisees? In short, what makes so many Arminians? Nothing but the difficulty of belief! It is this that is at the foundation of the countless sects and creeds in the visible church. Men cannot credit God’s revelation. Few ever credit the
report, fewer still believe unto salvation!
Deny it as some may, the difficulties of belief are enormous and totally insurmountable by human power! The Scriptures in many places positively assert this to be the case, but Christ and Paul have most
distinctly stated that no man can believe without supernatural power (John 6:44; I Cor. 2:14). But what need is there for proving this when we have living demonstrations of its truth every day of our lives in
the free-willers, the haters of sovereign grace, the lovers of mummeries, the devotees of superstition, the heady and the highminded, the boasters and the traitors by whom we are surrounded (II Tim. 3:2,
5)? If truth were easy of belief, depend upon it, we should have none of these.
I now come to point to the origin or producing cause of belief in the truth. This is soon done. It is from on high. It is by gift. It is by the Holy Ghost that it is produced. Paul, Peter, James and John are
all clear and distinct upon this subject. Listen to their several testimonies: 1. “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost,” declares Paul (I Cor. 12:3). We all know that there are many who say that Jesus is the Lord, who never have had any Holy Ghost; so that this assertion needs to be thought upon to get at its true meaning. It is this no man can declare his belief in Jesus as the Sovereign Lord, but by the power of the Holy Ghost. Men may say easily enough, or profess a belief in the report that states Jesus to be the Lord without this supernatural aid; but no man can confess openly and unhesitatingly, with humility, with love, with warmth, and with holiness, that Jesus is the Sovereign Lord of all, but by the Holy Ghost. In short, true belief in the Lordship of Jesus (and that comprehends wonders) is produced only by the Holy Ghost.
2. “To them that have OBTAINED like precious faith with us,” writes Peter (II Peter 1:1). The word rendered obtained here means, in the original, got or given by lot; so that the Apostle meant to convey that they who had like precious faith with him and his compeers, had it given to them by the Sovereign will of God. It was their lot to receive it, because it is the lot of everyone ordained to eternal life to believe (Acts 13:48).
3. “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth,” says James (James 1:18). Here is the Sovereign power of God openly avowed, as exercised in the quickening of a sinner, and a death-blow dealt to all
free-willers. The power to live spiritually is from God; and, of course, the power to believe in the Lord Jesus, which is a consequence of such life, is from Him too.
4. “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,” testifies John (I John 5:1). “Born,” as he declares in another place (John 1:13), “born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Is not all this as clear as light?
Belief in Jesus as the Christ is the consequence of being “born of God.” Yes, faith or belief is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). Herein lies the secret of any man’s belief. So that free-willers and thoseparties who persuade themselves that belief in the report is all that is necessary for salvation, are in the most miserable and awful delusion, for such belief would need no God or God-birth at all!
It is belief with the heart (Romans 10:9-10) in the entire revelation of God concerning Jesus Christ belief in Him as the righteousness of God belief in the Sovereign Lordship of Christ, with humility, with
love, with warmth, and with holiness. Whosoever can thus say or confess Jesus Christ before men, is enabled to do so by the Holy Ghost, and is born of God, and whosoever cannot thus confess Christ is
deluding his own soul!
From a sermon preached and published by the beloved Rector of Openshaw, Manchester, William Parks (1810-1867)