Sunday, October 26, 2008

CHRIST . . . the only WAY to GOD

Only One Way—Christ / A sermon preached by J. C. Ryle / 1816 - 1900

“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

These words are striking in themselves. But they are much more striking if you consider when and by whom they were spoken. They were spoken by a poor and unpopular Christian, in the midst of a persecuting Jewish Council and it was a wonderful confession about Christ. These words were spoken by the lips of the Apostle Peter. This is the man who, a few weeks before, abandoned Jesus and fled: this is the very man who three times denied his Lord. There is another spirit in him now. He now stands up boldly before priests and Sadducees, and tells them the truth to their face, saying: "This [Jesus] is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation is any other: for there is none other name given among men, whereby we must be saved.” [Acts 4:11-12].

In considering this serious subject there are three things I wish to do:

I. First, to show you the doctrine being declared here by the Apostle.

II. Secondly, to show you some reasons why this doctrine must be true.

III. Thirdly, to show you some consequences that naturally flow from the doctrine.

I. First let me show you THE DOCTRINE OF THE TEXT. Let us make sure that we correctly understand what the Apostle Peter means. He says of Christ, "Neither is there salvation in any other:” Now what is this? This is a very critical statement that we need to clearly understand. He means that no one can be saved from sin—from its guilt, power, and consequences—except by Jesus Christ. He means that no one can have peace with God the Father—obtain forgiveness of sin in this world, and escape the wrath of God that is coming after death—except through the atoning death and mediation of Jesus Christ. Only in Christ will we find God’s rich provision of salvation for sinners. Only in Christ will we find God’s abundant mercies coming down from Heaven to earth.

Only the blood of Christ can cleanse us; only the righteousness of Christ’s can clothe us; Only the sacrifice of Christ can give us a title to heaven. Jews and Gentiles, educated and uneducated, rich and poor—everyone, no matter what their position or standing in life must either be saved by Jesus Christ or lost forever. And the Apostle emphatically adds, “for there is none other name given among men, whereby we must be saved.” There is no other person commissioned, sealed, and appointed by God the Father to be the Savior of sinners, except Christ. The keys of life and death are only found in His hand, and all who want to be saved must go to Him.

There was only one place of safety in the day when the flood came upon the earth, and that was Noah’s ark. All other places and things—mountains, towers, trees, rafts, boats—all were completely useless. Likewise, there is only one hiding place for sinners who want to escape the storm of God’s anger—they must hide their souls in Christ. There was only one man to whom the Egyptians could go to in the time of famine, when they needed food—they could only go to Joseph: it was a waste of time to go to anyone else. Likewise, there is only One to whom hungering souls must go, if they don’t want to perish forever—they must go to Christ. There was only one word that could save the lives of the men of Ephraim in the day when the men of Gilead fought with them, and took control of the fords of the Jordan [Judges 12]—they must say the word "Shibboleth," or die. Well, in the same way, there is only one name that will save us when we stand at the gate of heaven—we must name the name of Jesus as our only hope, or be thrown into the Lake of Fire forever.

Such is the doctrine of the text. "Salvation is found in no one else but Jesus Christ: in Him is complete salvation—salvation to the uttermost, salvation for the very chief of sinners—without Jesus there is no salvation at all." This doctrine is in perfect harmony with our Lord's own words in the Book of John: "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” [John 14:6]. It is the same thing that Paul told the Corinthians: "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid which is Jesus Christ.” [1 Corinthians 3:11]. And it is the same truth that John tells us in his first Epistle: "And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath no life.” [1 John 5:11-12]. All these texts state the same undeniable truth, that there is no salvation except through the person of Jesus Christ.

Dear friends, make sure that you understand this before you pass from this world. Perhaps you think this is old news. Perhaps you feel, "These are ancient things: who doesn’t know this simple truth? Of course we believe there is no salvation except by Christ." But listen carefully to what I say: make sure that you understand this doctrine, or else in time you will stumble, and be offended at what I am about to say. Remember that you are to base your entire salvation on the person of Christ and on Christ only. You are to totally reject and dismiss all other hopes and trusts. You are not to rest partially on Christ—partially on doing all you can—partially on going to church—partially on receiving the Lord’s Supper. In the matter of your justification Christ is to be everything. This is the doctrine of the text before us this morning. Remember that heaven is standing before you, and Christ is the only door into it; hell is beneath you, and only Christ is able to deliver you from it; the devil is behind you and accusing you of sin, and Christ is the only place of safety from the devil’s wrath and accusations; the law is against you, and only Christ is able to redeem you; sin is weighing you down, and only Christ is able to take it away. This is the doctrine of the text before us this morning. Now do you see it? I hope you do. But I fear many who think so, may find, before this sermon is over, that they really don’t.

II. Let me show you, in the second place, some REASONS why the doctrine of the text, that Jesus is the only way of salvation, must be true. I could cut short this part of the subject with one simple argument: "God says so." "One plain text," said an old preacher, "is as good as a thousand reasons." But I will not do this. I intend to answer the many objections that are ready to rise in many hearts against this doctrine, by pointing out the strong foundations on which it stands.

(1) Let me then say, for one thing, the doctrine, that Jesus is the only way of salvation, must be true, because man is what man is. Now, what is man? There is one broad, sweeping answer, which takes in the whole human race: man is a sinful creature. All children of Adam born into the world, whatever their name or nation is, are corrupt, wicked, and defiled in the sight of God. Their thoughts, words, ways, and actions are all, more or less, defective and imperfect. Is there no country on the face of the earth where sin doesn’t reign? Is there no happy valley, no secluded island, where innocence can be found? Is there no tribe on earth, far away from civilization, and commerce, and money, and weapons, and luxury, and books, where morality and purity flourish? No, dear friends: there is none. Look over all the voyages and travels you can lay your hand on, from Columbus down to Captain Cook, and you will see the truth of what I am asserting. The most isolated islands of the Pacific Ocean—islands cut off from all the rest of the world, islands where every person there are all ignorant of Rome and Paris, London and Jerusalem—these islands have been found to be full of impurity, cruelty, and idolatry. The footprints of the devil have been traced to every shore. The truthfulness of the third chapter of Genesis has been established everywhere. Whatever else savages have been found ignorant of, they have never been found ignorant of sin.

But are there no men or women in the world who are free from this corruption of nature? Have there not been high and exalted souls who have every now and then lived faultless lives? Have there not been some, if it is only a few, who have done everything that God required, and thus proved that sinless perfection is a possibility? No, dear friends: there have been none. Look over all the biographies and lives of the holiest Christians; note how the brightest and best of Christ’s people have always had the deepest sense of their own failures and corruption. They groan, they mourn, they sigh, they weep over their own shortcomings: it is one of the common grounds on which they meet. Patriarchs and Apostles, Early Church Fathers and Reformers, Luther and Calvin, Knox and Bradford, Rutherford and Bishop Hall, Wesley and Whitefield, Martyn and M’Cheyne—all are in total agreement in being totally aware of their own sinfulness. The more light they have, the more humble they seem to be; the more holy they are, the more they seem to feel their own unworthiness, and to glory, not in themselves, but in Christ.

Now what does all this seem to prove? In my mind it seems to prove that human nature is so tainted and corrupt that, left to himself, no man could be saved. Man’s case appears to be a hopeless one without a mighty Savior. There must be a Mediator, an Atonement, an Advocate, to make such poor sinful creatures acceptable with God: and I find this nowhere, except in the person of Jesus Christ. Heaven for man without a mighty Redeemer, peace with God for man without a mighty Intercessor, eternal life for man without an eternal Savior—in one word, salvation without Christ—all appear to me to be utter impossibilities.

I lay these things before you, and ask you to consider them. I know it is one of the hardest things in the world to realize the sinfulness of sin. To say we are all sinners is one thing; to have an idea what sin must be in the sight of God is something else. Sin is too much a part of us to allow us to see it as it is: we don’t feel our own moral deformity. We are like those animals in creation which are vile and loathsome to our senses, but are not so to themselves, nor yet to one another: their loathsomeness is their nature, and they don’t perceive it. Our corruption is part and parcel of ourselves, and at our best we have only a feeble comprehension of its intensity. But this you can be sure of—if you could see your own lives with the eyes of the angels who never fell, you would never doubt this point for a moment. Depend on it, no one can really know what man is, and not see that the doctrine of our text must be true. There can be no salvation except though Christ.

(2) Let me say another thing. The doctrine of our text, that Jesus is the only way of salvation, must be true, because God is what God is. Now what is God? That is indeed a deep question. We know something of His attributes: He has not left Himself without witness in creation; He has mercifully revealed to us many things about Himself in His Word. We know that God is a Spirit—eternal, invisible, almighty—the Maker of all things, the Preserver of all things—holy, just, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-remembering— infinite in mercy, in wisdom, and in purity. But, what is sad, is how base and demeaning our greatest ideas are when we come to put down on paper what we believe God to be! How many words and expressions we use whose complete meaning we cannot understand! How many things our tongues say about God which our minds are utterly unable to conceive! How small a part of Him do we really see! How little of Him can we possibly know! How poor and worthless are any words of ours to convey any idea of Him who made this mighty world out of nothing, and with whom "one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day!" (II Peter 3:8) How weak and inadequate are our poor feeble intellects to conceive of Him who is perfect in all of His works—perfect in the greatest as well as perfect in the smallest, perfect in appointing the days and hours in which Jupiter, with all its satellites, will travel around the sun—perfect in forming the smallest insect that creeps over a few feet of our little globe! How little can our busy helplessness comprehend a Being who is always commanding and directing all things, in heaven and earth, by universal providence: controlling and directing the rise and fall of nations and dynasties, like Nineveh and Carthage; directing the exact length to which men like Alexander and Napoleon will extend their conquests; directing the smallest step in the life of the humblest believer among His people: all at the same time, all continuously, all perfectly—all for His own glory.

The blind man is no judge of the paintings of Rubens or Titian; the deaf man is insensible to the beauty of Handel’s music; the person who lives in Greenland can have but a faint notion of the climate of the tropics; the Australian savage can only form in his mind a remote conception of a locomotive engine, however well you may describe it: there is no place in their minds to take in these things; they have no set of thoughts which can comprehend them; they have no mental fingers to grab hold of them. And, in just the same way, the best and brightest ideas that man can form of God, compared to the reality which we will one day see, are indeed weak and faint.

But, my friend, the one thing that I think is very clear is this: The more any one considers calmly who God really is, the more they must feel the immeasurable distance between God and themselves: the more they meditate, (on Him through His Word) the more they must see that there is a great gulf between them and God. (See Isaiah 55:8-9) Their conscience, I think, will tell them, if they will let it speak, that God is perfect, and they are imperfect; that God is very high, and they are very low; that God is glorious majesty and they are nothing but a poor worm: and that if they are ever to stand before Him in judgment with any comfort, then they must have a mighty helper, or they will not be saved.

And what is all this but the very doctrine of our text? What is all this but coming around to the conclusion I am urging you to make? With such a person as God to give account to, we must have a mighty Savior. We must have an Almighty Friend and Advocate on our side—who can answer every charge that can be laid against us, and plead our cause with God on equal terms. We need this, and nothing less than this. Vague notions of mercy will never give true peace. And such a Savior, such a Friend, such an Advocate is nowhere to be found except in the person of Jesus Christ. I lay this reason before you. I well know that people may have false notions of God as well as everything else, and shut their eyes against the truth; but I say boldly and confidently, no man or woman can really have high and honorable views of who God is, and escape the conclusion that the doctrine of our text must be true. There can be no possible salvation except by Jesus Christ. (See 1 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 7:25)

(3) Let me say, in the third place, this doctrine must be true, because the Bible is what the Bible is. All through the Bible, from Genesis down to Revelation, there is only one simple account of the way in which a man or woman must be saved. It is always the same: only by our Lord Jesus Christ—through faith; never by our own works and righteousness.

You see it dimly revealed at first: it looms through the mist of a few promises, but there it is. You see it more clearly later: it is taught by the pictures and symbols of the law of Moses. You have it still more clearly as time goes by: the Prophets saw in visions many particulars about the Redeemer that was to come.

Finally, you have the complete revelation, in the sunshine of New Testament history: Christ incarnate—Christ crucified —Christ rising again, Christ preached to the world. But one golden thread runs through the whole Bible; no salvation except by Jesus Christ. The bruising of the serpent’s head predicted in the day of the fall; (Genesis 3:15) the clothing of our first parents with animal skins, (Genesis 3:21) the sacrifices of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; (Genesis 8:20; Genesis 22:1-13; Genesis 31:54) the Passover, (Read Exodus 12) and all the particulars of the Jewish law—the high priest, the altar, the daily offering of the lamb, the holy of holies entered only by blood, the scapegoat, the cities of refuge (Read the book of Leviticus)—all are many witnesses to the truth set forth in the text: all preach with one voice, salvation only by Jesus Christ.

In fact, this truth appears to me to be the great focus of the Bible, and all the different parts and portions of the book are meant to pour light on it. I can gather from it no ideas of pardon and peace with God except in connection with this truth. If I could read of one soul in it who was saved without faith in the Savior, I might perhaps not speak so confidently. But when I see that faith in Christ—whether in a coming Christ or a crucified Christ—was the prominent feature in the religion of all who went to heaven; when I see Abel owning Christ in his better sacrifice, (See Genesis 4:4; Hebrews 11:4) at one end of the Bible, and the saints in glory in John’s vision rejoicing in Christ, at the other end of the Bible; (Rev. 19:5-9) when I see a man like Cornelius, who was devout, and feared God, and gave to the poor and prayed, told, in effect that in order to be saved, he was to send for Peter, and hear of Christ; (Read Acts 10) when I see all these things I say, I feel bound to believe that the doctrine of the text is the doctrine of the whole Bible. No salvation, no way to heaven, except through Jesus Christ.

I don’t know what use you make of your Bible—whether you read it or whether you don’t—whether you read it all, or whether you only read the parts that you like; but this I tell you plainly, if you read and believe the whole Bible, you will find it hard to escape the doctrine that there is no salvation except through the person and blood of Jesus Christ. I don’t see how you can consistently reject what I have been endeavoring to prove. Christ is the way, and the only way; Christ is the truth, and the only truth; Christ is the life, and the only life.

Such are the reasons which seem to me to confirm the truth laid down in our text. What man is—what God is—what the Bible is—all appear to me to lead us on to the same great conclusion: no possible salvation without Christ. I leave them with you, and move on.

III. And now, in the third and last place, let me show you some CONSEQUENCES which flow naturally out of our text. This is a critical part of our subject. The truth I have been trying to set before you is absolutely critical for mankind and I must speak of it with urgency. If Christ is the only way of salvation, what are we to feel about the many people in the world? This is the point I am now going to take up.

I believe that many persons would go with me as far as I have gone, and would go no further. They will allow my premises, but they will have nothing to do with my conclusions. They think it unloving to say anything which appears to condemn others. For my part I cannot understand such love: it seems to me the kind of love which would see a neighbor slowly drinking poison, but never intervene to stop him; a love which would allow migrants to embark in a leaky, un-seaworthy vessel, and not intervene to prevent them; a love which would see a blind man walking near a precipice, and think it wrong to cry out, and tell him there was danger.

I believe the greatest love is to tell the greatest quantity of truth. I believe it is a lack of love to hide the legitimate consequences of such a text as we are now considering, or to close our eyes to them. And I solemnly call on every one who really believes there is no salvation in anyone but Christ and no other name, given under heaven whereby we must be saved—I solemnly call on those persons to listen to me, while I set before them some of the tremendous consequences of our text.

One mighty consequence then, which seems to be learned from this text, is the utter uselessness of any religion without Christ. There are many to be found today who have this kind of religion. They would not like to be called Deists, but they are Deists. They believe that there is a God, that there is what they are pleased to call Providence, that God is merciful, that there will be a life after death—this is about the sum and substance of their creed; and as to the distinguishing tenets of Christianity, they don’t seem to recognize them at all. Now I denounce such a system as a baseless fabric—its foundation is nothing but man’s ideas—its hopes an utter delusion.

The god of such people is an idol of their own invention, and not the glorious God of the Scriptures—their god is a miserably imperfect creature: without holiness, without justice, without any attribute but that of vague indiscriminate mercy. Such a religion is nothing but a toy to play with: it is far too unreal to die with. It utterly fails to meet the needs of man’s conscience: it offers no remedy; it affords no rest for the souls of men and women; it cannot comfort, for it cannot save. Beware of it if you love life. Beware of a religion without Christ.

Another consequence to be learned from the text is, the folly of any religion in which Christ is not given the first place. I need not remind you how many hold to a system of this kind. The Socinian tells us that Christ was a mere man; that His blood had no more efficacy or value than that of another; that His death on the cross was not a real atonement and propitiation of man’s sins; and that, after all, one must work their way to heaven, and not just have faith. I solemnly declare that I believe such a system is disastrous to the souls of men and women. It seems to me to strike at the very root of the whole plan of salvation which God has revealed in the Bible, and practically to nullify the greater part of the Scriptures. It overthrows the priesthood of the Lord Jesus, and strips Him of His office; it converts the whole system of the law of Moses touching sacrifices and ordinances, into a meaningless form; it seems to say that the sacrifice of Cain was just as good as the sacrifice of Abel; it puts a man adrift on the sea of uncertainty, by taking from him the finished work of a divine Mediator.

Beware of Deism. If you love life, beware of the least attempt to depreciate and undervalue the person of Christ, and His offices and works. The only name by which you can be saved, is the name that is above every other name, and the slightest contempt poured on it is an insult to the King of Kings. The salvation of your soul has been established by God the Father on Christ, and no other; and if Christ were not God Himself, He never could accomplish it: there could be no salvation at all.

Another consequence to be learned from our text is the great error, committed by those who add anything to Christ, as being necessary to salvation. It is an easy thing to profess belief in the Trinity, and reverence for our Lord Jesus Christ, and yet to make some addition to Christ as the ground of hope, and so to overthrow the doctrine of the text as really and completely as by denying it altogether. The Roman Catholic Church does this systematically. She adds things over and above the requirements of the Gospel, by her own invention. She speaks as if Christ’s finished work was not a sufficient foundation for a sinner's soul, and as if it were not enough to say, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." (Acts 16;31) She sends men and women to penances and absolution, to masses and extreme unction, to fasting and bodily mortification, to the Virgin and the saints—as if these things could add to the safety there is in Christ Jesus. And in doing this she greatly sins against our text. Let us beware of any Roman Catholic additions to the simple way of the Gospel. (See Col. 2:8-10; Hebrews 7:25; Colossians 1:19)

But I fear the Roman Catholic Church does not stand alone in this matter: I fear there are thousands of professing Protestants who are often erring in the same direction, although, of course, in a very different degree; they begin adding, perhaps without thinking, other names to the name of Christ, or attaching importance to them which they ought never receive. The ultra Churchman in England who thinks God’s covenanted mercies are tied to a system of church government in which bishops are the chief clerics—the ultra Evangelical, who traces every evil in the Church to its connection with the State and denominations, and can talk of nothing but the independent system—the ultra Baptist, who shuts out from the Lord’s table every one who has not received his views of baptism—the ultra Plymouth Brethren, who believes all knowledge resides within his own church, and condemns every one outside as a poor weak babe in Christ—all these, I say, however unwittingly, appear to me to have a most uncomfortable tendency to add to the doctrine of our text. All seem to me to be practically declaring that salvation is not to be found simply and solely in Christ; all seem to me to be practically adding another name to the name of Jesus whereby men and women must be saved—even the name of their own denomination and sect; all seem to me to be practically replying to the question, "What must I do to be saved?" not merely, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." but also "Come and join us."

Now I call upon every true Christian to beware of such extremism. In saying this I don’t want to be misunderstood. I like everyone to be decided in his views of church matters, and to be fully persuaded of their correctness; all I ask is that you will not put these things in the place of Christ, or place them anywhere near Him, or speak of them as if you thought them needful to salvation. However dear to us our own particular views may be, let us beware of thrusting them in between the sinner and the Savior, let us beware, in short, of adding to the doctrine of the text. In the things of God’s Word, let us remember that addition, as well as subtraction, is a great sin. (See Revelation 22:18-19)

The last consequence which seems to me to be learned from our text is, the utter absurdity of supposing that we ought to be satisfied with a man’s state of soul if he is simply sincere. This is a very common heresy indeed, and one against which we all need to be on our guard. There are thousands who say today, "We have nothing to do with the opinions of others. They may perhaps be mistaken, though it is possible they are right and we are wrong: but if they are sincere, we hope they will be saved, even as we are." And all this sounds tolerant and loving, and people like to believe their own views are also considered as such.

Now I believe such notions are entirely contradictory to the Bible, whatever else they may be. I cannot find in Scripture that any one ever got to heaven merely by sincerity, or was accepted with God if he was only earnest in maintaining his own views. The priests of Baal were sincere when they cut themselves with knives till the blood gushed out; but still that did not prevent Elijah from commanding them to be treated as wicked idolaters. (Read 1 Kings 18) Manasseh, King of Judah, was doubtless sincere when he burned his children in the fire to Moloch; (Read II Kings 21) but who doesn’t know that he brought on himself great guilt by doing so. The apostle Paul, as a Pharisee, was sincere while he persecuted the Church, but when his eyes were opened he mourned over this as a special wickedness. (See Acts 22:1-4; Acts 26:1-11; 1 Cor. 15:9-10; Philippians 3:1-11; Galatians 1:13-24)

Let us beware of allowing for a moment that sincerity is everything, and that we have no right to speak against a man’s spiritual state because of the sincere opinions he holds. On such principles, many atrocities committed in the name of religion might each and all be defended. However, they will not stand: they will not bear the test of Scripture. Once we allow such notions to be true, then you might as well throw your Bible away. Sincerity is not Christ, and therefore sincerity cannot atone for sin.

I am sure that these consequences sound very unpleasant to the minds of some. But I tell you of them advisedly and deliberately. I say calmly that a religion without Christ, a religion that takes away from Christ, a religion that adds anything to Christ, a religion that puts sincerity in the place of Christ—all are dangerous: all are to be avoided, and all are alike contrary to the doctrine of our text. You may not like this. You may think that I am unloving, narrow-minded, bigoted, and so forth: so be it. But you will not tell me my doctrine is not that of the Word of God. That doctrine is, salvation in Christ to the very uttermost—but without Christ there is no salvation at all.

I feel it a duty to bear my solemn testimony against the spirit of the day in which we live; to warn you against its infection. It is not Atheism I fear so much, in the present times, as Pantheism. It is not the system which says nothing is true, so much as the system which says everything is true; it is not the system which says there is no Savior, so much as the system which says there are many saviors and many ways to peace. It is the system which is so liberal that it dares not say anything is false; it is the system which is so loving that it will allow everything to be true; it is the system which seems ready to honor others as well as our Lord Jesus Christ and to class them all together. The system tells us not to condemn or to treat with disrespect the writings of Confucius and Zoroaster, Socrates and Mohammad, the Hindus of India and the African devil-worshippers, Arius and Pelagius, Ignatius Loyola and Socinus. It is the system which commands us to smile complacently on all creeds and systems of religion: the Bible and the Koran, the Hindu Veda and the old wives’ tales of Rabbinical writers and the rubbish of the Early Church Fathers’ traditions, and the book of Mormon by Joseph Smith—we are told to listen to them all: none are to be denounced as lies. It is the system which is so scrupulous about the feelings of others, that we are never to say that they are wrong; it is the system which is so liberal that it calls a man a bigot if he dares to say, "I know my views are right."

This is the world system, this is the tone of feeling which I fear this very day. This is the world system of today which I desire emphatically to testify against and denounce. What is it but a bowing down before a great idol specifically called liberality? What is it all but a sacrificing of truth upon the altar of a caricature of love? Beware of it, beware that the rushing stream of public opinion does not carry you away. Beware of it, if you believe the Bible. Has the Lord God spoken to us in the Bible, or has He not? Has He shown us the way of salvation plainly in that Bible, or has He not? Has He declared to us the dangerous state of all those who do not agree with the Holy Scriptures, or has He not? Focus your mind, and look these questions fairly in the face, and give them an honest answer. Tell us that there is some other inspired book beside the Bible, and then we will know what you mean; tell us that the whole Bible is not inspired, and then we will know where to meet you: but grant for a moment that the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, is God’s truth, and then I don’t know in what way you can escape the doctrine of the text. From the liberality which says everybody is right, from the love which forbids you to say anyone is wrong, from the peace which is bought at the expense of truth—may the good Lord deliver you!

I speak for myself: I find no resting-place between downright Evangelical Christianity and downright infidelity, whatever others may find. I see no half-way house between them. I can see consistency in an infidel, however much I may pity him; I can see consistency in the full maintenance of Evangelical truth: but as to a middle course between the two—I cannot see it; and I say so plainly. Let it be called intolerant and unloving. I can hear God's voice nowhere except in the Bible, and I can see no salvation for sinners in the Bible except through Jesus Christ. In Him I see abundance: without Him I see none.

And as for those who hold to religions in which Christ is not everything, whoever they may be, I have a most uncomfortable feeling about their safety. I do not for a moment say that none of them are saved, but I say that those who are saved are saved by their disagreement with their own principles, and in spite of their own system. The man who wrote the famous line, "He can’t be wrong whose life is in the right," was a great poet undoubtedly, but he was a wretched divine.

Let me conclude with a few words by way of APPLICATION. First of all, if there is no salvation except in Christ, make sure that you have an interest in that salvation yourself. Do not be content with hearing, and approving, and assenting to the truth, and going no further. Seek to have a personal interest in this salvation: lay hold by faith for your own soul; do not rest till you know and feel that you have gotten actual possession of that peace with God which Jesus offers, and that Christ is yours, and you are Christ’s. If there were two, or three, or more ways of getting to heaven, there would be no necessity for pressing this matter upon you. But if there is only one way, you will hardly wonder that I say, "Make sure that you are in it."

Secondly, if there is no salvation except in Christ, then try to do good to the souls of all who do not know Him as a Savior. There are millions and millions in this miserable condition—millions in foreign lands, millions in your own country, millions who are not trusting in Christ. You ought to feel for them if you are a true Christian; you ought to pray for them; you ought to work for them, while there is yet time. Do you really believe that Christ is the only way to heaven? Then live as if you believed it. Look around the circle of your own relatives and friends: count them up one by one, and think how many of them are not yet in Christ. Try to do good to them in some way or other: act as a man or woman should act who believes his friends to be in danger. Do not be content with their being kind and sociable, gentle and good-tempered, moral, and courteous; be unhappy about them till they come to Christ, and trust in Him: for you ought to be distressed over their condition. Leave no one alone who is without Christ—take every opportunity to reach them. I know all this may sound like enthusiasm and fanaticism. I wish there was more of it in the world: anything, I am sure, is better than a quiet indifference about the souls of others, as if everybody was on their way to heaven. Nothing, to my mind, so proves our little faith, as our lack of feelings about the spiritual condition of those around us.

Thirdly, if there is no salvation except in Christ, let us love all who love the Lord Jesus with sincerity, and exalt Him as their Savior, whoever they may be. Let us not draw back, because they do not see eye to eye with us in everything. Whether a person is an Independent, a Wesleyan or a Baptist, let us love them if they truly love Christ, and gives Christ His rightful place. We are all traveling fast towards a place where names and forms and Church government will be nothing, and Christ will be everything: let us get ready for that place now, by loving all who are in the way that leads to it. This is true love: to believe all things and hope all things, so long as we see Bible doctrines maintained and Christ exalted. Christ must be the single standard by which all opinions must be measured. Let us honor all who honor Him: but let us never forget that the same apostle Paul who wrote about love, also says, "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Marantha.”(cursed) (See 1 Cor. 16:22) If our love and tolerance are wider than that of the Bible, they are worth nothing at all: indiscriminate love is no love at all, and indiscriminate approval of all religious opinions, is only a new name for infidelity. Let us hold out our right hand to all who love the Lord Jesus, but let us beware how we go beyond this.

Lastly, if there is no salvation except by Christ, then you must not be surprised if ministers of the Gospel preach a lot about Him. We cannot tell you too much about the name which is above every name: you cannot hear of Him too often. You may hear too much about controversy in our sermons—you may hear too much of men and books, of works and duties, of forms and ceremonies, of sacraments and ordinances—but there is one subject which you never hear too much of: you can never hear too much of Christ.

When we become tired of preaching Christ, then we are false ministers: when you are wearied of hearing of Him, your souls are in an unhealthy state. When we have preached Him all our lives, the half of His excellence will remain untold. When you see Him face to face in the day of His appearing, you will find there was more in Him than your heart ever conceived. (See Acts 5:42; 1 Cor. 1:23-25; 1 Cor. 2:1-2)

Let me leave you with the words of an old writer, to which I desire humbly to subscribe. "I know no true religion but Christianity; no true Christianity but the doctrine of Christ: the doctrine of His divine person, of His divine office, of His divine righteousness, and of His divine Spirit, which all that are His must believe. I know no true ministers of Christ but such as make it their business, in their calling, to commend Jesus Christ, in His saving fullness of grace and glory, to the faith and love of men and women; no true Christian but one united to Christ by faith and love, unto the glorifying of the name of Jesus Christ, in the beauty of Gospel holiness. Ministers and Christians of this spirit have been for many years my brothers, sisters, and friends, and I hope shall ever be, wherever the hand of God shall lead me." Amen.

In Christian love,
June & Ralph Nadolny,
two sinners saved by God's grace alone (Eph. 2:8-10; Romans 5:8)
"Christ in you (us), the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27b)
"new creatures in Christ" (2 Cor. 5:17)
"We love him, because HE first loved us." 1 John 4:19

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Prove All Things by the Word of God

Prove All Things / A Sermon preached by J. C. Ryle / 1816-1900.

"Prove all things—hold fast that which is good."
1 Thessalonians 5:21

You live in days when the text before your eyes is one of the first importance. The truths it contains are especially truths for the times. Give me your attention for a few minutes, and I will try to show you what I mean.

There were three great doctrines or principles which won the battle of the Protestant Reformation:

first, the sufficiency and supremacy of Holy Scripture

secondly, the right of private judgment

thirdly, justification by faith alone, without the deeds of the law.

These three principles were the keys of the whole controversy between the Reformers and the Church of Rome. Keep firm hold of them when you argue with a Roman Catholic, and your position is unassailable; no weapon that the Church of Rome can forge against you shall prosper. (See Isaiah 54:17) Give up any one of them, and your cause is lost. Like Samson, with his hair shorn, your strength is gone. (See Judges 16:19) Like the Spartans, betrayed at Thermopylae, you are outflanked and surrounded. You cannot maintain your ground. Resistance is useless. Sooner or later you will have to lay down your arms, and surrender at discretion. Remember this.

The Roman Catholic controversy is upon you once more. You must put on the old armor, if you would not have your faith overthrown. The sufficiency of Holy Scripture, the right of private judgment, justification by faith alone—these are the three great principles to which you must always cling. Grasp them firmly, and never let them go. Reader, one of the three great principles to which I have referred appears to me to stand forth in the verse of Scripture which heads this tract—I mean the right of private judgment. I wish to say something to you about that principle.

The Holy Spirit, by the mouth of Paul, says to us, "Prove all things. Hold fast that which is good." In these words you have two great truths:

I. The right, duty, and necessity of private judgment. "Prove all things."

II. The duty and necessity of keeping firm hold upon truth. "Hold fast that which is good."

I propose to dwell a little on both these heads.

I. Let me speak first, of the right, duty, and necessity of private judgment. "Prove all things." When I say the right of private judgment, I mean that every individual Christian has a right to judge for himself by the Word of God, whether that which is put before him as religious truth, is God's truth, or is not. When I say the duty of private judgment, I mean that God requires every Christian man to use the right of which I have just spoken—to compare man's words and man's writings with God's revelation, and to make sure that he is not deluded and taken in by false teaching. And when I say the necessity of private judgment, I mean this—that it is absolutely needful for every Christian who loves his soul and would not be deceived, to exercise that right, and discharge that duty to which I have referred; seeing that experience shows that the neglect of private judgment has always been the cause of immense evils in the Church of Christ!

Now the Apostle Paul urges all these three points upon your notice when he uses those remarkable words, "Prove all things." I ask your particular attention to that expression. In every point of view it is most weighty and instructive. Here, you will remember, the Apostle Paul is writing to the Thessalonians, to a Church which he himself had founded. Here is an inspired Apostle writing to young inexperienced Christians, writing to the whole professing Church in a certain city, containing laity as well as clergy, writing too with especial reference to matters of doctrine and preaching, as we know by the verse preceding the text: "Despise not prophesyings." And yet mark what he says: "Prove all things." He does not say, "Whatever apostles, whatever evangelists, pastors and teachers, whatever your leaders, whatever your ministers tell you is truth--that you are to believe." No! he says, "Prove all things." He does not say, "Whatever the universal Church pronounces true--that you are to hold." No! he says, "Prove all things."

The principle laid down is this, "Prove all things by the Word of God. All ministers, all teaching, all preaching, all doctrines, all sermons, all writings, all opinions, all practices—prove all by the Word of God. Measure all by the measure of the Bible. Compare all with the standard of the Bible. Weigh all in the balances of the Bible. Examine all by the light of the Bible. Test all in the crucible of the Bible. That which can abide the fire of the Bible--you are to receive, hold, believe and obey. That which cannot abide the fire of the Bible--you are to reject, refuse, repudiate, and cast away."

Reader, this is private judgment. This is the right you are to exercise if you love your soul. You are not to believe things in religion merely because they are said by Popes or Cardinals—by Bishops or Priests—by Presbyters or Deacons—by Churches, Councils, or Synods—by Fathers, Puritans, or Reformers. You are not to argue, "Such and such things must be true--because these men say so." You are not to do so. You are to prove all things by the Word of God.

I know such doctrine sounds shocking in some men's ears. But I write it down advisedly, and believe it cannot be disproved. I want to encourage no man in ignorant presumption or ignorant contempt. I praise not the man who seldom reads his Bible, and yet sets himself up to pick holes in his minister's sermons. I praise not the man who knows nothing but a few texts in the New Testament, and yet undertakes to settle questions in divinity which have puzzled God's wisest children. But still I hold with Bilson, that "all hearers have both liberty to discern, and a charge to beware of seducers; and woe to them that do it not." (See 1 Tim. 4:1) And I say with Davenant, "We are not to believe all who undertake to teach in the Church, but must take care and weigh with serious examination, whether their doctrine is sound or not."

Reader, men may dislike the doctrine of private judgment, but there is no doubt that it is continually taught in the Word of God. This is the principle laid down in the eighth chapter of Isaiah, 20th verse. These words were written, remember, at a time when God was more immediately King over His Church, and had more direct communication with it than He has now. They were written at a time when there were men upon earth who had direct revelations from God. Yet what does Isaiah say? "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light (or truth) in them." If this be not private judgment what is?

This again is the principle laid down by our Lord Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. Remember what He says: "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits." (Matt. 7:15-16a) How is it possible that men shall know these false prophets, except they exercise their private judgment as to what their fruits are?

This is the practice you find commended in the Bereans, in the Acts of the Apostles. They did not take the Apostle Paul's word for granted, when he came to preach to them. You are told, that they searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so," and "therefore," it is said, "many of them believed." (See Acts 17:11, 12) What was this again but private judgment?

"The people of God are called to test the truth, to judge between true and false, between light and darkness. God has made them the promise of His Spirit, and has left unto them His Word. The Christians of Berea, when they heard the preaching of Paul, searched the Scriptures daily, to ascertain whether those things which Paul taught were true. So must you. Give heed to instruction--and yet do not receive any teachings without proof and trial that they are the wholesome doctrine of the Word of God." Jewell.

This is the spirit of the advice given in 1 Cor. 10:15, "I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say."
Colossians 2:8, "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."

1 John 4:1a, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God:"

2 John 10, "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:"
If these passages do not recommend the use of private judgment, I do not know what words mean. To my mind they seem to say to every individual Christian, "Prove all things."

Reader, whatever men may say against private judgment, you may be sure that it cannot be neglected without immense danger to your soul. You may not like it, but you never know what you may come to, if you refuse to use it! No man can say into what depths of false doctrine you may be drawn—if you will not do what God requires of you, and "Prove all things."

Suppose that, in fear of private judgment, you resolve to believe whatever the Church believes. Where is your security against error? The Church is not infallible. There was a time when almost the whole of Christendom embraced the Arian heresy, and did not acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ to be equal with the Father in all things. There was a time, before the Reformation, when the darkness over the face of Europe was a darkness which might be felt. The General Councils of the Church are not infallible. When the whole Church is gathered together in a General Council, what says our Twenty-first Article? “They may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation, have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they he taken out of Holy Scripture."

The particular branches of the Church are not infallible. Anyone of them may err. Many of them have fallen foully, or have been swept away. Where is the Church of Ephesus at this day? Where the Church of Sardis at the present time? Where the Church of Hippo in Africa? Where the Church of Carthage? They are all gone! Not a vestige of any of them is left! Will you then be content to err merely because the Church errs? Will your erring in company with the Church, remove your responsibility for your own soul? Oh, reader, it were surely a thousand times better for a man to stand alone and be saved—than to err in company with the Church, and be lost! It were better to prove all things, and go to heaven—than to say, "I dare not think for myself," and go to hell.

But suppose that, to cut matters short, you resolve to believe whatever your minister believes. Once more I ask, Where is your safety? Where is your security? Ministers are not infallible, any more than Churches. All of them have not the Spirit of God. (See Rom. 8:9b) The very best of them are only men. Call us Bishops, Priests, Deacons, or whatever names you please—we are all earthen vessels. I speak not merely of Popes, who have promulgated awful superstitions and led abominable lives. I would rather point to the very best of Protestants and say, "Beware of looking upon them as infallible—beware of thinking of any man (whoever that man may be)—that he cannot err!"

Luther held to consubstantiation—that was a mighty error. Zwingle, the Swiss Reformer, went on to battle, and died in the fight—that was a mighty error. Calvin, the Geneva Reformer, advised the burning of Servetus—that was a mighty error. Cranmer and Ridley urged the putting of Hooper into prison because of some trifling dispute about vestments—that was a mighty error. Whitgift persecuted the Puritans—that was a mighty error. Wesley and Toplady in the last century, quarreled fiercely about doctrine—that was a mighty error. All these things are warnings—if you will only take them. All say, "Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?” (Isaiah 2:11) All show us that if a man's religion hangs on ministers, whoever they may be, and not on the Word of God—it hangs on a broken reed!

Never make ministers into Popes. Follow us so far as we follow Christ, but not a hair's breadth further. Believe whatever we can show you out of the Bible, but do not believe a single word more. Neglect the duty of private judgment, and you may find, to your cost, the truth of what Whitby says: The best of overseers do sometimes make oversights. You may live to experience the truth of what the Lord said to the Pharisees: “And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” (Matthew 15:14)

Reader, be very sure no man is safe against error, unless he acts on Paul's injunction—unless he "proves all things" by the Word of God. Reader, I have said that it is impossible to overrate the evils that may arise from neglecting to exercise your private judgment. I will go further, and say that it is impossible to overrate the blessings which private judgment has conferred both on the world and on the Church. I ask you to remember that the greatest discoveries in science and in philosophy, have arisen from the use of private judgment. To this we owe the discovery of Galileo, that the earth went round the sun, and not the sun round the earth. To this we owe Columbus' discovery of the new continent of America. To this we owe Harvey's discovery of the circulation of the blood. To this we owe Jenner's discovery of vaccination. To this we owe the printing press, the steam engine, the power-loom, the electric telegraph, railways, and gas. For all these discoveries we are indebted to men who dared to think for themselves. They were not content with the beaten path of those who had gone before. They were not satisfied with taking for granted that what their fathers believed must be true. They made experiments for themselves. They brought old established theories to the proof; and found that they were worthless. They proclaimed new systems, and invited men to examine them, and test their truth. They bore storms of obloquy and ridicule unmoved. They heard the clamor of prejudiced lovers of old traditions without flinching. And they prospered and succeeded in what they did. We see it now. And we who live in the nineteenth century are reaping the fruit of their use of private judgment.

And, reader, as it has been in science—so also it has been in the history of the Christian religion. The martyrs who stood alone in their day, and shed that blood which has been the seed of Christ's Gospel throughout the world—the Reformers, who, one after another, rose up in their might to enter the lists with the Church of Rome—all did what they did, suffered what they suffered, proclaimed what they proclaimed, simply because they exercised their private judgment about what was Christ's truth.

Private judgment made the Waldenses, the Albigenses, and the Lollards, count not their lives dear to them, (See Rev. 12:11) rather than believe the doctrines of the Church of Rome. Private judgment made Wyckliffe search the Bible in our land, denounce the Romish Friars, and all their impostures, translate the Scriptures into the vulgar tongue, and become "the morning star" of the Reformation. Private judgment made Luther examine Tetzel's abominable system of indulgences by the light of the Word. Private judgment led him on, step by step, from one thing to another, guided by the same light, until at length the gulf between him and Rome was a gulf that could not be passed, and the Pope's power in Germany was completely broken. Private judgment made our own English Reformers examine for themselves, and inquire for themselves, as to the true nature of that corrupt system under which they had been born and brought up. Private judgment made them cast off the abominations of Popery, and circulate the Bible among the laity. Private judgment made them brake the fetters of tradition, and dare to think for themselves. They refused to take for granted, Rome's pretensions and assertions. They examined them all by the Bible, and because they would not abide the examination, they broke with Rome altogether. All the blessing of Protestantism in England, all that we are enjoying at this very day, we owe to the right exercise of private judgment.

Surely if we do not honor private judgment, we are thankless and ungrateful indeed! Reader, I warn you not to be moved by the common argument, that the right of private judgment is liable to be abused—that private judgment has done great harm, and should be avoided as a dangerous thing. Never was there a more miserable argument! Never was there one which when thrashed proves so full of chaff! Private judgment has been abused! I would like the objector to tell me what good gift of God has not been abused! What high principle can be named that has not been employed for the very worst of purposes? Strength may become tyranny when it is employed by the stronger to coerce the weaker, yet strength is a blessing when properly employed. Liberty may become licentiousness when every man does that which is right in his own eyes, without regarding the rights and feelings of others; yet liberty, rightly used, is a mighty blessing. Because many things may be used improperly, are we, therefore, to give them up altogether? Because opium is used improperly by some, is it not to be used as a medicine on any occasion at all? Because money may be used improperly, is all money to be cast into the sea? You cannot have good in this world without evil. You cannot have private judgment without some abusing it, and turning it to bad account.

But private judgment, people say, has done more harm than good! What harm has private judgment done, I would like to know, in matters of religion, compared to the harm that has been done by the neglect of it? Grant, for a moment, that among Protestants who allow private judgment, there are divisions. Grant that in the Church of Rome, where private judgment is forbidden, there are no divisions. I might easily show that Romish unity is far more seeming than real. Bishop Hall, in his book called The Peace of Rome, numbers up no less than three hundred differences of opinion maintained in the Romish Church. I might easily show that the divisions of Protestants are exceedingly exaggerated, and that most of them are upon points of minor importance. I might show that, with all the varieties of Protestantism, as men call them, there is still a vast amount of fundamental unity and substantial agreement among Protestants. No man can read the "Harmony of Protestant Confessions" without seeing that.

But grant for a moment that private judgment has led to divisions, and brought about varieties. I say that these divisions and varieties are but a drop of water, when compared with the torrent of abominations that have arisen from the Church of Rome's practice of disallowing private judgment altogether! Place the evils in two scales—the evils that have arisen from private judgment, and those that have arisen from no man being allowed to think for himself. Weigh the evils one against another, and I have no doubt as to which will be the greatest. Give me Protestant divisions, certainly, rather than Popish unity, with the fruit that it brings forth! Give me Protestant variations, rather than Romish ignorance, Romish superstition, Romish darkness, and Romish idolatry!

Let the two systems be tried by their fruits—the system that says, "Prove all things," and the system that says, "Dare to have no opinion of your own," let them be tried by their fruits in the hearts, in the intellects, in the lives, in all the ways of men—and I have no doubt as to the result!

Reader, I warn you above all things not to be moved by the specious argument, that it is humility to disallow private judgment, that it is humility to have no opinion of your own, that it is the part of a true Christian not to think for himself! I tell you that such humility is a false humility, a humility which does not deserve that blessed name. Call it rather laziness! Call it rather idleness. Call it rather sloth. It makes a man strip himself of all his responsibility, and throw the whole burden of his soul into the hands of the minister and the Church! It gives a man a mere vicarious religion, a religion by which he places his conscience and all his spiritual concerns under the care of others. He need not trouble himself! He need no longer think for himself! He has embarked in a safe ship, and placed his soul under a safe pilot—and will get to heaven!

Oh, beware of supposing that this deserves the name of humility. It is refusing to exercise the gift that God has given you. It is refusing to employ the sword of the Spirit which God has forged for the use of your hand. Blessed be God, our forefathers did not act upon such principles! Had they done so, we should never have had the Reformation. Had they done so, we might have been bowing down to the image of the virgin Mary at this moment, or praying to the spirits of departed saints, or having a service performed in Latin. From such humility, may the good Lord ever deliver you!

Reader, as long as you live—resolve that you will read for yourself; think for yourself, judge of the Bible for yourself; in the great matters of your soul. Have an opinion of your own. Never be ashamed of saying, "I think that this is right—because I find it in the Bible," and "I think that this is wrong—because I do not find it in the Bible." "Prove all things," and prove them by the Word of God. As long as you live, beware of the blindfold system, which many commend in the present day—the system of following a leader, and having no opinion of their own—the system which practically says, "Only keep your Church, only receive the sacraments, only believe what the ordained ministers who are set over you tell you—and then all shall be well."

I warn you, that this will not do. I warn you that if you are content with this kind of religion, you are periling your immortal soul. Let the Bible, and not any Church upon earth, or any minister upon earth, be your rule of faith.

"Prove all things" by the Word of God. And, above all, as long as you live, look forward to the great day of judgment. Think of the solemn account which every one of us shall have to give in that day before the judgment seat of Christ. We shall not be judged by Churches. We shall not be judged by whole congregations. We shall be judged individually, each by himself! (See II Cor. 5:10) What shall it profit you in that day to say, "Lord, Lord, I believed everything the Church told me. I received and believed everything ordained ministers set before me. I thought that whatever the Church and the ministers said, must be right"? What shall it profit us to say this, if we have held some deadly error? Surely, the voice of Him who sits upon the throne will reply, "You had the Scriptures. You had a book plain and easy—to him that will read it and search it in a childlike spirit. Why did you not use the Word of God when it was given to you? You had a reasonable mind given you to understand that Bible. Why did you not 'Prove all things,' and thus keep clear of error?" Oh, reader, if you refuse to exercise your private judgment, think of that awful day—and beware!

II. And now let me speak of the duty and necessity of keeping firm hold upon truth. The words of the Apostle on this subject are pithy and forcible. "Hold fast," he says, "that which is good." It is as if he said to us, "When you have found the truth for yourself; and when you are satisfied that it is Christ's truth—that truth which the Scriptures set forth—then get a firm hold upon it, grasp it, keep it in your heart, never let it go!" He speaks as one who knew what the hearts of all Christians are. He knew that our grasp of the Gospel, at our best, is very cold—that our love soon waxes feeble—that our faith soon wavers—that our zeal soon flags—that familiarity with Christ's truth often brings with it a species of contempt—that, like Israel, we are apt to be discouraged by the length of our journey—and, like Peter, ready to sleep one moment and fight the next —but, like Peter, not ready to watch and pray. (See Mark 14:37-38; John 18:10)

All this Paul remembered, and, like a faithful watchman, he cries, by the Holy Spirit, "Hold fast that which is good!" He speaks as if he foresaw by the Spirit that the good tidings of the Gospel (See Luke 10:11) would soon be corrupted, spoiled, and plucked away from the Church at Thessalonica. He speaks as one who foresaw that Satan and all his agents would labor hard to cast down Christ's truth. (See 1 Peter 5:8) He writes as though he would forewarn men of this danger, and he cries, "Hold fast that which is good." Reader, the advice is always needed as long as the world stands.

There is a tendency to decay in the very best of human institutions. The best visible Church of Christ is not free from this liability to degenerate. It is made up of fallible men. There is always in it a tendency to decay. We see the leaven of evil creeping into many a Church, even in the Apostle's time. There were evils in the Corinthian Church, evils in the Ephesian Church, evils in the Galatian Church. All these things are meant to be our warnings and beacons in these latter times! All show the great necessity laid upon the Church to remember the Apostle's words: "Hold fast that which is good!"

Many a Church of Christ since then has fallen away for the lack of remembering this principle. Their ministers and members forgot that Satan is always laboring to bring in false doctrine. They forgot that he can transform himself into an angel of light—that he can make darkness appear as light, and light appear as darkness; truth appear as falsehood, and falsehood appear as truth. (See II Cor. 11:13-15) If he cannot destroy Christianity, he ever tries to corrupt it. If he cannot prevent the form of godliness, he endeavors to rob Churches of the power. No Church is ever safe which forgets these things, and does not bear in mind the Apostle's injunction: "Hold fast that which is good!"

Reader, if ever there was a time in the world when Churches were put upon their trial, whether they would hold fast the truth or not—that time is the present time, and those Churches are the Protestant Churches of our own land. Popery, that old enemy of our nation, is coming in upon us in this day like a flood. We are assaulted by open enemies without, and betrayed continually by false friends within. The numbers of Roman Catholic churches, and chapels, and schools, and convents and monasteries, are continually increasing around us. Month after month brings tidings of some new defection from the ranks of the Church of England, to the ranks of the Church of Rome. Already the clergy of the Church of Rome are using great swelling words about things to come, and boasting that, sooner or later, England shall once more be brought back to the orbit from whence she fell, and take her place in the Catholic system! Already the Pope is parceling our country into his bishoprics, and speaks like one who thinks that by-and-by he shall divide the spoil. Already he seems to foresee a time when England shall be as Rome, when London shall be as the Vatican itself. Surely, now or never, we ought all of us to awake, and "Hold fast that which is good."

We supposed, some of us, in our blindness, that the power of the Church of Rome was ended. We dreamed, some of us, in our folly, that the Reformation had ended the Popish controversy, and that if Romanism did survive, Romanism was altogether changed. If we did think so, we have lived to learn that we made a most grievous mistake! Rome never changes! It is her boast that she is always the same. The snake is not killed! He was wounded at the time of the Reformation, but was not destroyed. The Romish Antichrist is not dead. He was cast down for a little season, like the fabled giant buried under Etna, but his deadly wound is healed, the grave is opening once more, and Romish Antichrist is coming forth! The unclean spirit of Popery is not laid in his own place. Rather he seems to say, "My house in England is now swept and garnished for me; let me return to the place from whence I came forth." (See Matthew 12:13-15)

And, reader, the question is now, whether we are going to abide quietly, sit still, and fold our hands, and do nothing to resist the assault. Are we really men of understanding of the times? Do we know the day of our visitation? Surely, this is a crisis in the history of our Churches and of our land. It is a time which will soon prove whether we know the value of our privileges, or whether, like Amalek, "the first of the nations," our "latter end shall be that we perish forever." It is a time which will soon prove whether we intend to allow our candlestick to be quietly removed—or repent, and do our first works, lest any man should take our crown. (See Revelation 2:5)

If we love the open Bible—if we love the preaching of the Gospel—if we love the freedom of reading that Bible, and the opportunity of hearing that Gospel, with no man forbidding us—if we love civil liberty—if we love religious liberty—if these are precious to our souls, we must all make up our minds to hold fast, lest by and by we lose all.

Reader, if we mean to hold fast, every parish, every congregation, every Christian man, and every Christian woman, must do their part in contending for the truth. Each should work, and each should pray, and each should labor as if the preservation of the pure Gospel depended upon himself or herself, and upon no one else at all. The rich must not leave the matter to the poor, nor the poor to the rich. We must all work. Every living soul has a sphere of influence. Let him see to it that he fills it. Every living soul can throw some weight into the scale of the Gospel. Let him see to it that he casts it in. Let everyone know his own individual responsibility in this matter; and all, by God's help, will be well.

If we would hold fast that which is good, we must never tolerate any doctrine which is not the pure doctrine of Christ's Gospel. There is a hatred which is downright charity—that is the hatred of erroneous doctrine. There is an intolerance which is downright praiseworthy—that is the intolerance of false teaching. Who would ever think of tolerating a little poison given to him day by day? If men come among you who do not preach "all the counsel of God," (See Acts 20:27), who do not preach of Christ, and sin, and holiness, of ruin, and redemption, and regeneration; and do not preach of these things in a Scriptural way, you ought to cease to hear them. You ought to act upon the injunction given by the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament: "Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.” (Proverbs 19:27) You ought to carry out the spirit shown by the Apostle Paul, in Gal. 1:8: "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed!"

If we can bear to hear Christ's truth mangled or adulterated—and can see no harm in listening to that which is "another Gospel"—and can sit at ease while "sham Christianity" is poured into our ears—and can go home comfortably afterwards, and not burn with holy indignation—if this is the case, there is little chance of our ever doing much to resist Rome! If we are content to hear Jesus Christ not put in His rightful place—we are not men and women who are likely to do Christ much service, or fight a good fight on His side. He who is not zealous against error—is not likely to he zealous for truth. If we would hold fast the truth—we must be ready to unite with all who hold the truth, and love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. We must he ready to lay aside all minor questions as things of subordinate importance. All minor points of difference, however important they may be in their place and in their proportion—all ought to be regarded as subordinate questions. I ask no man to give up his private opinions about them. I wish no man to do violence to his conscience. All I say is, that these questions are wood, hay, and stubble, when the very foundations of the faith are in danger! The Philistines are upon us! Can we make common cause against them, or can we not? This is the one point for our consideration.

Surely it is not right to say that we expect to spend eternity with men in heaven, and yet cannot work for a few years with them in this world. The presence of a common foe ought to sink minor differences. We must hold together. Depend upon it, all Christians must hold together, if they mean to "hold fast that which is good." Some men may say, "This is very troublesome." Some may say, "Why not sit still and be quiet?" Some may say, "Oh, that horrid controversy! What need is there for all this trouble? Why should we care so much about these points of difference?" I ask, what good thing was ever gotten or ever kept, without trouble? Gold does not lie open in the fields, but deep in the earth. Pearls do not grow on trees, but deep down in Indian seas. Difficulties are never overcome without struggles. Mountains are seldom climbed without fatigue. Oceans are not crossed without tossings on the waves. Peace is seldom obtained without war. And Christ's truth is seldom maintained, without pains, without struggles, and without trouble. (See John 16:33)

Let the man who talks of "trouble" tell me where we would be at this day—if our forefathers had not taken some trouble? Where would be the Gospel of England—if martyrs had not given their bodies to be burned? Who shall estimate our debt to Cranmer, Latimer, Hooper, Ridley and Taylor, and their brethren? They held fast that which is good. They would not give up one jot of truth. They counted not their lives dear, for the Gospel's sake. They labored, and they travailed—and we have entered into their labors. Shame upon us if we will not take a little trouble to keep with us—what they so nobly won!

Trouble or no trouble—pains or no pains—controversy, or no controversy—one thing is very sure: that nothing but Christ's Gospel will ever do good to our own souls. Nothing else will maintain our Churches. Nothing else will ever bring down God's blessing upon our land. If, therefore, we love our own souls, or if we love our country's prosperity, or if we love to keep our Churches standing, we must remember the Apostles words, and "hold fast," hold firmly the Gospel, and refuse to let it go!

And now, reader, I have set before you two things. One is the right, the duty, and necessity of private judgment. The other is the duty and necessity of keeping firm hold upon truth. It only remains for me to APPLY these things to your own individual conscience by a few concluding words.

For one thing, if it is your duty to "prove all things," let me beseech and exhort you to arm yourself with a thorough knowledge of the Word of God. Read your Bible regularly. Become familiar with your Bible. Prove all religious truth when it is brought before you—by the Bible. A little knowledge of the Bible will not suffice. Depend upon it, a man must know his Bible well if he is to prove religious teachings by it; and he must read it regularly if he would know it well. There is no royal road to a knowledge of the Bible. There must be reading daily, regular reading of the Book—or the Book will not be known. As one said quaintly, but most truly, "Justification may be by faith, but a knowledge of the Bible comes only by works." The devil can quote Scripture. He could go to our Lord and quote Scripture when he wished to tempt Him. A man must be able to perceive error, from his knowledge of Scripture, when he hears error taught—lest he be deceived. Neglect your Bible, and nothing that I know of can prevent your becoming a Roman Catholic, an Arminian, a Socinian, a Jew, or a Turk—if a plausible advocate of any of these false systems shall happen to meet you.

For another thing, if it be right to "prove all things," take care to test every Roman Catholic doctrine, by whoever put forward, by the written Word of God. Believe nothing, however speciously advanced—believe nothing, with whatever weight of authority brought forward—believe nothing, though supported by all the Fathers— believe nothing, except it can be proved to you out of Scripture! That alone is infallible. That alone is light. That alone is God's measure of truth and falsehood. "Let God be true—and every man a liar." (Romans 3:4)

The New Zealanders' answer to the Romish priests who went among them, is an answer never to be forgotten. They heard these priests urge upon them the worship of the Virgin Mary. They heard them recommend them to pray to saints. They heard them advocate the use of images. They heard them speak of the authority of the Church of Rome, the supremacy of the Pope, the antiquity of the Romish church. They knew the Bible, and they heard all this calmly, and gave one simple but memorable answer: "It cannot be true—because it is not in the Book!" All the learning in the world could never have supplied a better answer than that! Latimer, or Knox, or Owen, could never have made a more crushing reply. Let this be our rule when we are attacked by Romanists; let us hold fast the sword of the Spirit, and say in reply to all their arguments, "It cannot be true—because it is not in the Book!"

Last of all, if it be right to "hold fast that which is good," let us make sure that we have each laid hold personally, upon Christ's truth for ourselves. Reader, it will not save you to know all controversies, and to be able to detect everything which is false. Head knowledge will never bring you to heaven! It will not save us to be able to argue and reason with Roman Catholics, or to detect the errors of Popes' Bulls, or Pastoral Letters. Let us see that we each lay hold upon Jesus Christ for ourselves, by our own personal faith. Let us see to it that we each flee for refuge, and lay hold upon the hope set before us in His glorious Gospel. (See Hebrews 6:18-20) Let us do this, and all shall be well with us, whatever else may go ill. Let us do this, and then all things are ours. The Church may fall. The State may go to ruin. The foundations of all establishments may be shaken. The enemies of truth may for a season prevail. But as for us—all shall be well. We shall have in this world, peace—and in the world which is to come, life everlasting; (See John 14:27; John 5:24) for we shall have Christ, and having Him, we have all. (See John 10:42) This is real good, lasting good—good in sickness, good in health, good in life, good in death, good in time, and good in eternity! All other things are but uncertain. They all wear out. They fade. They droop. They wither. They decay. The longer we have them the more worthless we find them, and the more we realize, that everything here below is "vanity and vexation of spirit." (See Eccl. 1:14)

But as for hope in Christ, that is always good. The longer we use it—the better it seems. The more we wear it in our hearts—the brighter it will look. It is good when we first have it. It is better far when we grow older. It is better still in the day of trial, and the hour of death. And best of all, depend upon it—it will prove good in the day of judgment. Reader, if you have not yet laid hold on this hope in Christ, seek it at once. Call on the Lord Jesus to give it to you. Give Him no rest until you know and feel that you are His. If you have laid hold on this hope, hold it fast. Prize it highly, for it will stand by you when everything else fails!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Name Written in Heaven, the Truest Ground of Joy

An excerpt from a sermon preached by Matthew Mead, a Puritan minister who lived from 1629 to October 6, 1699.

"Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven!" Luke 10:20

The greatest ground of joy imaginable is to have "a name written in heaven!" A saving interest in the glories of the eternal world, is a truer and nobler cause of rejoicing, than anything which this present world can afford.

I need produce no other proof of the truth of this doctrine, than the authority of the text itself; it stands clear in the light of its own evidence. The Lord Christ himself has said it—and therefore we ought to believe it is so.

But why is it so?

Reason 1.

"A name written in heaven" is a rich result of electing love! Love is the most comforting attribute in God—the best name the creature knows him by: "God is love," 1 John 4:16. There are three things to be considered in it.

1. Love acts with a priority to all other attributes. Wisdom contrives the good and felicity of the creature. Power and providence maturate and bring the contrivements of wisdom to pass. But love has the first hand in the work. It was love which first summoned the great counsel held by all the three persons of the Trinity, when neither men nor angels existed.

It was love that first pitched upon the Son, and laid him as the foundation of the whole structure of man's salvation and blessedness. Love sent Christ into the world—love put him to death—love made him an offering for sin! All the attributes of God act in the strength of love; and all the providences of God follow the motions of love.

2. Electing love is the proper source of all our other mercies. So the apostle makes it, Ephesians 1, "Who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings;" how so? "According as he hath chosen us in him" (Christ). And what those spiritual blessings are, he tells you. "He hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace." "Wherein He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence." "Having made known to us the mystery of his will." "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance"—that is, a name written in heaven! All which the apostle resolves again into electing love, verse 11, "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will."

3. Love is the only attribute which God has acted to the utmost. We have never seen the utmost of his power—what God can do. But we have seen the utmost of his love—he has found a ransom for lost souls! Job 33.24-28, "He has laid help upon one who is mighty;" Psalm 89.19, "He has tabernacled divinity in flesh." 1 Tim. 3.16, "He has made his soul an offering for sin, laid upon him the iniquity of us all." Isaiah 53.11, "He has made us the righteousness of God in him;" 2 Cor. 5.21, "He has accepted us in the beloved." Eph. 1.6, "He has made us to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Eph. 2.6, "He has written our names in heaven." How can divine love put forth greater efforts of itself than these?

The love of God, is infinite love. It gives the soul interest in an infinite good, entitles it to an infinite blessedness, and so fills the soul with an infinite satisfaction. And is not a saving interest in God's electing love, the highest cause of rejoicing? The scripture compares love to wine—but the love of God is better than wine; Song of Solomon 4.10. It gives "a name in heaven," which causes an eternal rejoicing.

Reason 2. "A name written in heaven" is a special mercy, which is given only to the Christian. David prays, Psalm 106.4,5, "Remember me, O Lord, with the favor that thou bearest unto thy people." God records the names of his people in the book of life, and there David would be recorded too; and why? "That I may see the good of thy chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, that I may glory with thine inheritance."

Nothing is so great a cause of rejoicing and glorying as this. What if God gives you life, riches, relations, honors? There is no special mercy in all this. Can you prove your title to the love of God by any or all of these? A man may have life—and yet be dead to God, and dead in sin! A man may be rich, and yet wretched! We may have children—and yet be ourselves children of wrath for all that! God does not love us in giving us sons, unless he gives us his own Son! A man may have honor—and yet not be honored by God. Herod was honored by the people—and yet "eaten up with worms!" Acts 12.21,23.

Special mercies cause special rejoicing. Common mercies can cause but common joy. A name in heaven is a special mercy—this is not the lot of all; the names of the greatest part of the world are written in the dust! Jer. 17.13, "O Lord, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters." The expression has much in it; it travels with a curse.

"A name in heaven" imports the greatest happiness; so a name written in the dust implies the greatest misery.

A name written in the dust implies a short duration, a name of no continuance.

The dust is a place of putrefaction and corruption; what is buried in the earth soon turns to rottenness; so that a name written in the dust implies rottenness, according to Solomon, "The name of the wicked shall rot." Proverbs 10.7b.

The dust is a place of oblivion. What is written in heaven is recorded forever—but what is written in the dust is soon forgotten; so says Bildad of the wicked. "His remembrance shall perish from the earth, and he shall have no name in the street. He shall be driven from light into darkness, and chased out of the world. He shall neither have son or nephew among his people, nor any remaining in his dwellings. They that come after him shall be astonied at his day, as they that went before were affrighted. Surely such are the dwellings of the wicked, and this is the place of him that knoweth not God." Job 18:17-21.

The earth is designed for burning; it is decreed to be fuel for the conflagration of the great day, when "the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire," 2 Thess. 1.7,8. So says the apostle, 2 Pet. 3.10, "The day of the Lord will come, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burned up!" Whatever is of affinity to earth must feel the flames of that dreadful day! Not only the dust of the earth—but the treasures of the earth—the pleasures of the earth, the names written in the dust, earthly affections, earthly delights, earthly designs, earthly hearts—all together must make fuel for that fire! For "the earth, and all the works that are therein, shall be burned up!"

You see what a curse, that a name written in the dust is; and yet the names of the greatest part of men and women in the world are written there. To have a name written in heaven, is the portion but of few; it is a special privilege, by which the Lord distinguishes his people from the rest of the world; and therefore to have a name in heaven is cause of rejoicing indeed.

Reason 3.

A name written in heaven, manifests that person to be in the highest relation to God. You are his children, his sons and daughters, the adopted of the Lord! What can be greater ground of unimaginable joy?

What is it which clothes your child with honor and fame—but the nobleness of his descent? and how does your honor and greatness come to descend upon him—but by being of the same blood? It is the nearness of the relation, which entitles him to all. So all that is in God, all his excellencies, all his attributes, his wisdom, his power, his love, his justice, his providence—all are yours, and work for your benefit and advantage, by virtue of your relationship to him.

There is a two-fold relation to God, a relation of servants and of sons. But the difference between them is very great, especially in five things.

1st, The relation of servants is a common relation. All creatures in the world are God's servants—as he is the great master and householder of heaven and earth. God has servants of all sorts, good and bad; he has "good and faithful servants," Matt. 25.23, and he has "wicked and slothful servants," verse 26. He has some that honor him, and some that rebel against him. God has many servants that take wages of him—but do the devil's work.

All creatures stand in this relation to God, the very devils themselves are subject to his command; "Every knee bows to him, both of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth," Phil. 2.10.

But the relation of sons is a special relation, which appertains only to a few. God has many servants—but he has but few sons; he has many in subjection—but few sons. All are his subjects—but all are not his sons.

2ndly, The relation of servants is a mercenary relation; the duty of that relation is drawn forth by the rewards of it; servants work for hire, it is wages they chiefly look for. God has many such servants, that are merely mercenaries in all their duties. They know God is a good master, pays well, and keeps a good table; his commands are equal, and his rewards are bountiful, therefore they own him. As many followed the Lord Christ when he was upon earth, not because of his mercies—but because of his morsels; not because they would be saved—but because "they ate of the loaves and were filled," John 6.26. It was not for the sake of his person—but his provision; not out of love to the truth, so much as the wages.

The Lord Christ has many such servants now, that call themselves the Servants of Christ, and Ministers of Christ—but they are but mercenaries to him. It is the salary they look at, more than the service; dignities more than duty; the preferments of the church, more than the concernments of it. They have the flesh-hook of the law in their hand, 1 Sam. 2.13,14, often to serve themselves—but the book of the law is in their hand but seldom, whereby they should "save themselves and them that hear them," 1 Tim. 4.16. These follow Christ, indeed—but it is for the loaves. No wages—no work! Like those in Mal. 3.14, who cry out, "What profit is it to serve God?"

But now the relation of sons is more sincere. Sons obey and serve in love—not for the reward. They labor—because they love. Not but that the children of God may look at the rewards promised. Moses was sincere in all his performances, and yet "he had a respect unto the recompense of the reward," Heb. 11.26. Christ was a son in the highest relation, the son of God's choicest regard, Matt. 17.5, and yet it is said of him, in his "enduring the cross, and despising the shame," that he "had an eye to the joy which was set before him," Heb. 12.2. A dutiful child may look at his inheritance; yet he would pay the obedience of a son, though he were to receive no father's blessing.

3rdly, The relation of sons, is a communicative relation. The relation of a servant is not so. A master does not impart all his mind, nor disclose his secrets—to his servant. He lays upon him his commands—but does not trust him with his secrets. So says our Lord Christ, John 15.15, "Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth." But a father will disclose and communicate his heart to his child—he will tell all his mind, and will, and counsels, to his son.

4thly, The relations of servants gives no claim; it does not entitle them to the estate of their Lord. The law allows them a present maintenance—but no share in the inheritance.

But the relation of a son is entitling—it gives a claim. By virtue of his sonship, he has a title to what is his father's—his father's riches, his father's honors, etc. If you are the "children of God," you are born heirs, and your inheritance is the greatest in this world or in the next; for God himself is your portion! All he is, and all he has—is "the lot of your inheritance!"

5thly, The relation of servants is not lasting; it is arbitrary, founded on will and pleasure of the master. You take one servant, and put away another, at your pleasure. But the relation of a son is abiding, it lasts forever, to the end of being. So says our Lord Christ, John 8.35, "And the servant abideth not in the house for ever; but the son abideth ever." If you are the children of God, you are taken into a lasting relation which shall never end! God is your father forever, and you are his children forever—it is an everlasting relationship!

How should we rejoice in this near relation to the great God! To be a child of God is the highest title in the world. David was made but son-in-law to a king, not born a son; and this sonship was but to an earthly king, who dies like other men, Psalm 82.7, and yet the thoughts of it wrought to astonishment in him: "Seemeth it to you a light thing to be a king's son in law . . . . . ?" 1 Sam. 18.23. What is it then to be taken into an eternal sonship to an everlasting father, before whom the kings of the earth are as grasshoppers; who "bringeth the princes to nothing: he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity." Isaiah 40.22,23.

Reason 4. "A name written in heaven" gives an assured hope of heaven. We are by this forever set free from all fear of miscarrying. If you have a title—never question the possession. If the right is yours, you shall surely inherit. When you look over a bundle of deeds, and see the name of such a particular person run through them all, and expressly mentioned in the deeds, and all things run in his name—you conclude that estate his, it belongs to him, and will come to him, for all the law is on his side.

It is so in the case in hand; if you have "a name written in heaven," the estate is yours, the conveyance is made to you. The covenant is the main deed, which is sealed in the blood of Christ, and therein the inheritance is made over and conveyed to you!

There is an inseparable connection between election and glorification. Though there are many links in the golden chain which reaches from election to glorification—yet not one of them can be broken! "Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." Romans 8.30.

It is observable in what tense the Spirit of God puts it; not in the future, as a thing to be done—but in a tense that notes it to be already done—to show the certainty of it. If our "names are written in heaven," we shall as surely share in the glories of it, as if already in possession; nay, we are already in possession:

1. Partly in Christ, who is already entered upon his inheritance in our behalf; Heb. 6.20, "Where the forerunner has entered for us." Hence that of the apostle, "And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:" Eph. 2.6.

2. Partly by the promise: we have the deeds, though we do not enjoy the estate; we keep the title, though we do not possess the inheritance.

3. Partly in the "first fruits of glory," Romans 8.23, which we receive by the Spirit of God, and the graces of the Spirit in our hearts. Entrance upon the least part of an estate, gives a right to the possession, as well as entrance upon the whole. Grace in the heart is a pledge of the holy land, the land of promise, whereby God does actually instate us in the glorious inheritance.


The first use shall be for examination. Is "a name written in heaven," the truest cause of rejoicing? Then let us see what cause of rejoicing we may have in ourselves, upon this account. The apostle's counsel is plainly to this purpose, Gal. 6.4, "But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another."

You have heard that there can be no true cause of joy in the heart—but "a name written in heaven!"

Is "a name written in heaven" the chief ground of your joy?

Question. But you will reply, "Who can say his name is written in heaven? Who has thus far known the mind of the Lord? To whom has he at any time opened the sealed book of his secret decrees? Was ever any man admitted into the regions above, to search the eternal records of the divine purpose?"

Answer. Surely not. But yet let me, in answer to this, lay down two conclusions.

First, The knowledge of this, that our names are written in heaven, is attainable. Why else are we commanded to "make our calling and election sure?" Would the Lord Christ have called upon us to rejoice, because "our names are written in heaven," if it were a thing that could not be known? Surely therefore it is no such secret as lies out of the reach of faith's attainment.

Indeed, to wicked, unbelieving, and impenitent sinners—the knowledge of this is impossible. How can a man who forsakes God, know that his name is written in heaven, when God says, "Those who forsake him, their names shall be written in the dust?" But believers may attain to the knowledge of this.

Secondly, As the knowledge of it is attainable, so it is evident from scripture examples, that many have attained to it. God has sometimes unsealed the book of his decrees, and held it open to the believing eye; so that the soul has been enabled to read its interest in divine love, by the spiritual optics of faith; for "faith is the evidence of things not seen," Heb. 11.1. The soul is as yet enrapt up in gross matter, imprisoned in flesh, and confined to an abode in a tabernacle of clay; and therefore distanced from God, and utterly incapable of any farther converse and communion with him, than what is attainable by the mediation of faith.

Now faith enters within the veil, removes the soul out of the valleys of sense, and sets it upon the highest ground of gospel consolation, that it may stand at the fairest vantage ground, to get a prospect into the glory of the eternal world. Faith draws infallible conclusions of the goodness of its state, from the immutable decrees of electing love. What else made Job say, "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me." Job 19.25-27.

And what made Paul glory in the Lord Christ, crying out, "Who loved me, and gave himself for me!" Gal. 2.20. What made the church say, with so much confidence, "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine!" Song of Solomon 6.3.

Question. But the great question is, "How shall a man be able to know, that his name is written in heaven?"

Answer. There are certain discoveries of this in a man's self; which if we attend to, we may have a sure proof and witness of.

1. Effectual calling is a sure proof that your name is written in heaven! If the call of God has taken hold of our hearts—then our names are written in heaven! There is an inseparable connection between election and calling; and therefore, when the apostle bids us "give all diligence to make our calling and election sure." II Pet. 1:10 Though election is before calling (the one being an act of God in eternity; the other an act of God in time), yet the apostle puts the making our calling sure in the first place; because a man can never be sure he is elected—until he is first effectually called.

Now then, if you would know whether your names are written in heaven; satisfy yourselves in this, that the call of God has taken effectual hold of your hearts. Has it brought your souls off from everything below Christ, wholly to follow Christ? It is said, when Christ called Peter and Andrew, they presently "left their nets and followed him," Matt. 4.18,19,20. Every man has his nets—something that his soul is entangled in, until the call of God takes hold of him. Can you now, with Peter, when God calls—lay aside your nets to follow him?

For it is not every call which will witness the truth of our election: there is an external call of the word—which is ineffectual. It prevails not upon the sinner's heart, he turns a deaf ear upon it. This call leaves sinners as it finds them—in their sins and lusts! Matt. 20.16.

But then there is an internal and effectual call—when Word and Spirit go together, and work together, to bring the soul off from sin, and lust, and self, and world—to Jesus Christ, to live upon him as its portion, and conform to him as its pattern. Now if you are thus called, then is your name written in heaven—and therefore you may go and rejoice indeed—for if any in the world has cause, you have.

2. If the law of God is written in your heart—then your name is written in heaven! It is one of the great promises of the new covenant, that "God will write his law in our hearts," Heb. 8.10.

Question. Now you will say, "What is this law of God?"

Answer. It is the law of love, the law of holiness—a law that takes in all the duties that God requires of us, a law of universal obedience. Psalm 40.8, "I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart." It is a law that comprehends the whole rule of the new creature. The law within is a counterpart of the law without; so that, whatever the word of God commands, the soul is enabled to perform, when this law is written in the heart.

Question. When is God said to write his law in the heart?

Answer. When he does powerfully impress a divine principle of grace, by his Holy Spirit, in the heart. Believers are said to be "the epistle of Christ, written not with ink—but with the Spirit of the living God," 2 Cor. 3.3. An epistle is nothing else but a paper, with the mind of a man written in it, and sent to another. Believers are "the epistle of the living God;" there his mind, and will, and law is written, not in tables of stone—but in the fleshly tables of the heart.

So that if the law of God is written in your heart—then may you know that your name is written in heaven!

Converting grace in the heart, is the best of God's eternal election; without which the eternal decree concerning us can never be read with clearness, nor understood with comfort. The decree travails and brings forth, in a work of grace in the heart. The mind of God, concerning our eternal condition, is best known by a sound conversion; for there he speaks plainly. That fountain of love which ran underground before, now bubbles up and breaks forth. In election, God spoke within himself; but in conversion, God speaks to the soul. In election, God wrote our names in heaven secretly; but in conversion, we see them written there openly.

A work of grace in the heart carries in it a four-fold witness:

1. That we are the objects of God's election.

2. That sin is pardoned through Christ's atoning sacrifice.

3. That God is reconciled by Christ's intercession.

4. That we are secure as to eternal salvation.

The least of these is worth a whole world!
Who would not be willing to know himself, as the chosen of God? Who would not be glad to see sin pardoned? Who would not rejoice in a friendship with God—whose wrath burns to the lowest hell? Who would not triumph, in an assurance of being saved forever? Now if grace is wrought in your heart, this is your privilege—and you may rejoice in hope of glory. No better witness of our names written in heaven—than the image of God engraved in the heart!

The ungodly do not need descend in the deep, to search in hell—to see if their names be written, by the wrath and vengeance of God, in eternal misery. No! they may find it nearer home; there is a hell within them! There is the stench and filth of hell, in their vile affections! The smoke and flames of hell, are in their burning and raging lusts! The darkness of hell, is in their blind minds! And sometimes the torments of hell, are in their guilty and self-revenging consciences—that "worm which dieth not!" Mark 9.44. Just so—many believers find a heaven in their own souls, a heaven of light, of love, of holiness, of joy and praise! "The kingdom of God (heaven) is within you." Luke 17:21

3. If true faith is wrought in your heart—then is your name written in heaven. 1 John 5.10, "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself:" Faith is a sure fruit of electing love: "As many as were ordained to eternal life, believed!" Acts 13.48. God does not elect us because we believe—but we believe because we are elected. (Election upon foreseen faith is an Arminian dream!) Faith is one of the first fruits which eternal love brings forth in the heart. Final unbelief is a sad witness of a reprobate state: so says our Lord Christ, "But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep." John 10.26.

Would you know then whether your name is written in heaven? then see if saving faith is wrought in your heart. Have you ever truly closed with the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you heartily embrace him, as he is set forth in the gospel? Can you venture your soul, your salvation, your eternal all—upon the single foundation of the Redeemer's righteousness? Have you ever had actual application of the blood and righteousness of Christ to your own consciences, to take off that guilt of sin whereby your souls stand bound over to wrath and damnation? This faith is of the operation of God; and wherever this faith is found in the heart—the name of that man, that woman, is found in heaven! Therefore well may the apostle say, "In whom believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory!" 1 Pet. 1.8.

4. If the father's name is written on your foreheads—then are your names written in heaven! In Rev. 14:1, it is said of those who stood with the Lamb upon Mount Zion—that "the Father's name was written in their foreheads."

The name of God is written in the forehead—when we openly confess the truths of God, and are not ashamed of religion; nor ashamed to own God, and his ways, and ordinances, and people—in the midst of a profane, scoffing, and adulterous generation. Now says our Lord Christ, "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, (that is—the name of Christ written on the forehead) "him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven;" Matt. 10:32 . . . that is—he shall have a name written in heaven!

Do you repine at difficulties, shrink at sufferings, blush at being counted pious? Are you ashamed of Christ, his ways, his name, his people? Why if so, his name is not on your forehead.

Or can you lift up your heads, and show your faces, in the cause of Christ? "God is not ashamed to be called our God," Heb. 11.16. And will you be ashamed to be called his children, his saints, his witnesses? Moses was not ashamed, when he "Esteemed the reproach of Christ, greater riches than the treasures in Egypt;" Heb. 11.26. He had the father's name on his forehead.

5. If your great work is to have treasure in heaven—then your names are written in heaven! This is the counsel of the blessed Jesus, Matt. 6.20, "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven!" Luke 12.33,34: "provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

The treasures of most men are perishing, earthly treasures, cankered and moth-eaten treasures, treasures of vanity. Where is your treasure? Is it in this world—or in the eternal world? Is it in present vanities—or in future glory? Is it in present contentments—or in an everlasting inheritance? Is it in food and feasting—or is it in the light of God's countenance? Is it in profits, pleasures, and honors—or is it in grace and glory? Do you build, and plant, and sow in the eternal world, that hereafter you may reap an eternal harvest of blessedness? If so, then are your names written in heaven!

6. If your conversations are in heaven—then are your names written in heaven! Phil. 3.20, "Our conversation is in heaven."

Many profess hope of heaven—but their conversations are upon the earth: like that foolish actor, that while his eyes were fixed upon the earth, cried, "O heavens!" they savor only earthly things—earthly profits, earthly comforts, earthly vanities.

Let a man's profession be ever so heavenly, his prayers and duties ever so heavenly—yet if they are over-topped by an earthly conversation, that man's religion is vain! The scripture says expressly, "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him!" 1 John 2.15.

Never talk of a name in heaven—so long as your hearts are buried in the earth! Where your hearts are—there your names are! If your hearts are earthly, your names are in the earth, "Carnal, worldly, sensual, enemy to God"—that is your name, and the scripture gives you no other! James 4.4: "whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God."

Now what is your life? How do you live? Do you live by sense—or do you live by faith? Do you live upon the creatures—or upon the promises?

It is said of the virtuous woman, Proverbs 31.14, that "she bringeth her food from afar." So does the true believer; he uses the blessings of the creature—but he lives upon the blessings of the covenant.

"From afar." That is, far out of the sight and view of the natural eye—for it is bread the world knows nothing of. The natural man is blind and cannot see afar off. "God has set the world in their hearts." Eccles. 3.11. They are strangers to this heavenly joy.

"From afar." "for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth," Luke 12.15. His "life is hid with Christ in God," Col. 3.3; and from thence are the comforts of his life. "He fetches his food from afar"—it is God in Christ, and the glories of the eternal world, which are the bread of his soul.

Do you fetch your food from far, or nearer home? Are you fed by sense—or does faith feed you with clusters fetched from the holy land? Do you serve flesh, lust, and sins, and times, which is the basest thraldom? Or do you serve Christ, whose service is perfect freedom? Romans 6.16, "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey;" His you are—whom you serve. The apostle Paul will tell you whom he serves, "God, whom I serve with my spirit." Romans 1.9.

"Forgetting the things behind, I press towards the mark," Phil. 3.13,14. Outward privileges, carnal contentments, perishing hopes—these were once the things before him; but now he has turned about, and set his face the other way, and left them all behind him. "I press toward the mark." He is now ascending upon the wings of faith and love—above this dung and darkness—to the regions of light and glory!

If your conversation is in heaven, it is thus with you in one degree or other. Heavenly concernments are your work, and heavenly comforts are your support. It is not profits, pleasures, or honors, which can comfort and gladden you; but it is fruit from the tree of life, in the midst of the paradise of God, which nourishes you.

If thus your conversation be in heaven—then is your name written in heaven!

Entire text of the sermon can be accessed here:

In Christian love,

June & Ralph Nadolny,
two sinners saved by God's grace alone (Eph. 2:8-10; Romans 5:8)
"Christ in you (us), the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27b)
"new creatures in Christ" (2 Cor. 5:17)
"We love him, because HE first loved us." 1 John 4:19