I WANT to call your special attention to the fact that we are saved by grace alone, not by works and
grace. A great many people think that they can be saved by works. Others think that salvation may be attained by works and grace together. They need to have their eyes opened to see that the gift of God is free and apart from works. |For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.| Many people would put it thus: |For by your works are ye saved, -- or by your tears, or your prayers, or your fastings, or your trials, or your good resolutions, or your money!| But Paul tells us plainly that it is |not of works, lest any man should boast.| If we could be saved by works, then of course Christ's mission to this world was a mistake. There was no need for Him to come.
What had Paul ever done that could merit salvation? Up to the time that Christ called him he had done everything he could against Christ and against Christianity. He was in the very act of going to Damascus to cast into prison every Christian he could find. If he had not been stopped, many of them would probably have been put to death. It was Paul, you remember, who cheered on the mob that stoned Stephen. Yet we find that when Christ met him He dealt in grace with him. No apostle says so much against salvation by works before the cross, as Paul; and none says so much about works after the cross. He put works in their right place. I have very little sympathy with any man who has been redeemed by the precious blood of the Son of God, and who has not got the spirit of work. If we are children of God we ought not to have a lazy drop of blood in our veins. If a man tells me that he has been saved, and does not desire to work for the honor of God, I doubt his salvation. Laziness belongs to the old creation, not to the new. In all my experience I never knew a lazy man to be converted -- never. I have more hope of the salvation of drunkards, and thieves, and harlots, than of a lazy man.
WHAT THE THIRTY-NINE ARTICLES SAY.
I find some people have accused me of teaching heresy, because I say salvation is all of grace. I remember once, a clergyman said I was teaching false doctrine because I said salvation was all of grace. He said that works had as much to do with our salvation as grace. At that time I had never read the Thirty-Nine Articles; if I had I should have been ready to meet him. I got the Prayer Book, and looked through the Thirty-Nine Articles; and I found, to my amazement, that they put it a good deal stronger than I had done.
Let us hear what they say --
|XI. Of the Justification of Man. We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.|
|XII. Of Good Works. Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God's judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith; insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.|
|XIII. Of Works Before Justification. Works done before the grace of Christ, and the inspiration of His Spirit, are not pleasant to God; forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the school-authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.|
That is stronger than I ever put it. These Articles say of works before justification that |they have the nature of sin.| I never called them sin! So you see this is not any new doctrine that we are preaching. When the church and the world wake up to the fact that works before salvation go for nought, then -- and not till then, I believe -- men will come flocking into the kingdom of God by hundreds. We work from the cross, not to it. WE work because we are saved, not in order to be saved. We work from salvation, not up to it. Salvation is the gift of God.
You have heard the Prayer Book: now hear paul; |Abraham believed God; and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.| Notice what the Apostle says: |To him that worketh not.| That is plain language, is it not? I may perhaps startle some of you by saying that many of you have been kept out of the kingdom of God by your good works. Nevertheless it is true. If you put works in the place of faith, they become a snare to you. It is |to him that worketh not, but believeth.|
I freely admit salvation is worth working for; it is worth a man's going round the world on his hands and knees, climbing its mountains, crossing its valleys, swimming its rivers, going through all manner of hardship in order to attain it. But we do not get it in that way. Paul went through all the trials and hardships he had to endure, because by the grace of God resting on him he was enabled to do so.
PENANCE FOR SIN.
Would you insult the Almighty by offering Him the fruits of this frail body to atone for sin? Supposing your Queen were to send me a magnificent present, and I said to the royal messenger: |I certainly should not like to accept this from Her Majesty without giving her something in return.| Suppose I should send her a penny! How would the Queen feel, if I were to insult her in that way? And what have we that we can offer to God in return for His free gift of salvation? Less than nothing. We must come and take salvation in God's way.
There is no merit in taking a gift. If a beggar comes to my house, and asks for bread to eat, and I give him a loaf of bread, there is no merit in his taking the bread. So if you experience the favor of God, you have to take it as a beggar. Some one has said: |If you come to God as a prince, you go away as a beggar: if you come as a beggar, you go away as a prince.| It is to the needy that God opens the wardrobe of heaven, and brings out the robe of righteousness.
Paul says again: |If by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.| Paul is reasoning in this way: that if I work for a gift or attempt to give money for it, it ceases to be a gift. The only way to get a gift is to take it as a gift.
An old man got up in one of our meetings and said, |I have been forty-two years learning three things.| I pricked up my ears at that; I thought that if I could find out in about three minutes what a man had taken forty-two years to learn, I should like to do it. The first thing he said he had learned was that he could do nothing towards his own salvation. |Well,| said I to myself, |that is worth learning.| The second thing he had found out was that God did not require him to do anything. Well, that was worth finding out too. And the third thing was that the Lord Jesus Christ had done it all, that salvation was finished, and that all he had to do was to take it. Dear friends, let us learn this lesson; let us give up our struggling and striving, and accept salvation at once.
A FREE PARDON.
I was preaching in the Southern States a few years ago; and the minister called my attention to one of the elders in his Church. He said: When the civil war broke out, that man was in one of the far Southern States, and he enlisted into the Southern army. He was selected by the Southern General as a spy, and sent to spy out the Northern army. As you know, armies have no mercy on spies, if they can catch them. This man was caught. He was tried by court-martial, and ordered to be shot. While he was in the guard-room, previous to the time of execution, the Northern soldiers used to bring him his rations. Every time they came to his cell he would call Abraham Lincoln by every vile epithet he could think of. It seemed as though he |lay awake nights| trying to study such names. At last the soldiers got so angry that they said they would be glad when the bullet went through his heart. Some of them even said they would like to put a bullet through him; and if they were not obliged by military order to feed him, they would let him starve in the prison. They thought that was what he deserved for talking so unjustly of Lincoln.
One day while he was in the prison, waiting to be led out to execution, a Northern officer came to the cell. The prisoner, full of rage, thought his time was come to be shot. The officer opened the prison door, and handed him a free pardon from Abraham Lincoln! He told him he was at liberty; he could go to his wife and children! The man who had before been so full of bitterness, and malice, and rage, suddenly quieted down, and said, |What! has Abraham Lincoln pardoned me? For what? I never said a good word about him.| The officer said, |If you had what you deserved you would be shot. But some one interceded for you at Washington and obtained your pardon; you are now at liberty.| The minister, as he told me, said that this act of undeserved kindness quite broke the man's heart and led to his conversion. Said the minister, |You let any man speak one word against Abraham Lincoln now in the hearing of that man, and see what will happen. There is not a man in all the Republic of America, I believe, who has a kinder feeling towards our late President than he.|
Now that is grace. The man did not deserve a pardon. But this is exactly what grace is: undeserved mercy. You may have been a rebel against God up to this very hour; but if you acknowledge your rebellion, and are willing to take the mercy that God offers, you can have it freely. It is there for every soul on the face of the earth. |The grace of God that bringeth salvation to all men hath appeared.| Thank God for that! Salvation by grace is for all men. If we are lost, it will not be because God has not provided a Saviour, but because we spurn the gift of God -- because we dash the cup of salvation from us.
What says Christ? You remember that when He was on earth, they came to Him and asked what they should do to work the works of God. He had been telling them to labor not for the bread that perisheth, but for the meat that endureth unto everlasting life. Then they asked Him, |What shall we do that we may work the works of God?| What did Jesus tell them to do? Did He tell them to go and feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit the widow and the fatherless in their affliction? Perhaps you may say that, according to Scripture, is |pure and undefiled religion.| Granted; but something comes before that. That is all right and necessary in its place. But when these men wanted to know what they had to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus said: |This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.|
YOU CAN BELIEVE.
A friend lately called my attention to the fact that God has put the offer of salvation in such a way that the whole world can lay hold of it. All men can believe. A lame man might not perhaps be able to visit the sick; but he can believe. A blind man by reason of his infirmity cannot do many things; but he can believe. A deaf man can believe. A dying man can believe. God has put salvation so simply that the young and the old, the wise and the foolish, the rich and the poor, can all believe if they will.
Do you think that Christ would have come down from heaven, would have gone to Gethsemane and to Golgotha, would have suffered as He did, if man could have worked his way up to heaven? -- if he could have merited salvation by his own efforts? I think if you give five minutes' consideration to this question you will see, that if man could have saved himself Christ need not have suffered at all. Remember, too, what Christ says: |He that climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.| He has marked out the way to God. He has opened up a new and shining way, and He wants us to take His way. Certainly the attempt to work our way up to heaven is |climbing up some other way,| is it not? If ever a man did succeed in working his way into heaven we should never hear the last of it! I have got so terribly sick of these so-called |self-made men.| There are some men whom you cannot approach without hearing them blow their trumpet, saying, |I am a self-made man. I came here a poor man ten years ago; and now I am rich.| It is all I -- I -- I! They go on boasting, and telling what wonderful beings they are! There is one thing that is excluded from the kingdom of heaven; and that is -- boasting. If you and I ever get there it will be by the sovereign grace of God. There will be no credit due to ourselves.
|Saved by grace alone!
This is all my plea:
Jesus died for all mankind,
And Jesus died for me.|