This then is the great doctrine which our Lord taught the Jews, when they asked Him what particular thing or things they must do in order to eternal life. The apostle John, who recorded the answer of Christ in this instance, repeats the doctrine again in his first Epistle: "Whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandment, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John iii, 22, 23). The whole duty of sinful man is here summed up, and concentrated, in the duty to trust in another person than himself, and in another work than his own. The apostle, like his Lord before him, employs the singular number: "This is His commandment,"—as if there were no other commandment upon record. And this corresponds with the answer which Paul and Silas gave to the despairing jailor: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,"—do this one single thing,—"and thou shalt be saved." And all of these teachings accord with that solemn declaration of our Lord: "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." In the matter of salvation, where there is faith in Christ, there is everything; and where there is not faith in Christ, there is nothing.
1. And it is with this thought that we would close this discourse, and enforce the doctrine of the text. Do whatever else you may in the matter of religion, you have done nothing until you have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, whom God hath, sent into the world to be the propitiation for sin. There are two reasons for this. In the first place, it is the appointment and declaration of God, that man, if saved at all, must be saved by faith in the Person and Work of the Mediator. "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts iv. 12). It of course rests entirely with the Most High God, to determine the mode and manner in which He will enter into negotiations with His creatures, and especially with His rebellious creatures. He must make the terms, and the creature must come to them. Even, therefore, if we could not see the reasonableness and adaptation of the method, we should be obligated to accept it. The creature, and particularly the guilty creature, cannot dictate to his Sovereign and Judge respecting the terms and conditions by which he is to be received into favor, and secure eternal life. Men overlook this fact, when they presume as they do, to sit in judgment upon the method of redemption by the blood of atonement and to quarrel with it.
In the first Punic war, Hannibal laid siege to Saguntum, a rich and strongly-fortified city on the eastern coast of Spain. It was defended with a desperate obstinacy by its inhabitants. But the discipline, the energy, and the persistence of the Carthaginian army, were too much for them; and just as the city was about to fall, Alorcus, a Spanish chieftain, and a mutual friend of both of the contending parties, undertook to mediate between them. He proposed to the Saguntines that they should surrender, allowing the Carthaginian general to make his own terms. And the argument he used was this: "Your city is captured, in any event. Further resistance will only bring down upon you the rage of an incensed soldiery, and the horrors of a sack. Therefore, surrender immediately, and take whatever Hannibal shall please to give. You cannot lose anything by the procedure, and you may gain something, even though it be little." Now, although there is no resemblance between the government of the good and merciful God and the cruel purposes and conduct of a heathen warrior, and we shrink from bringing the two into any kind of juxtaposition, still, the advice of the wise Alorcus to the Saguntines is good advice for every sinful man, in reference to his relations to Eternal Justice. We are all of us at the mercy of God. Should He make no terms at all; had He never given His Son to die for our sins, and never sent His Spirit to exert a subduing influence upon our hard hearts, but had let guilt and justice take their inexorable course with us; not a word could be uttered against the procedure by heaven, earth, or hell. No creature, anywhere can complain of justice. That is an attribute that cannot even be attacked. But the All-Holy is also the All-Merciful. He has made certain terms, and has offered certain conditions of pardon, without asking leave of His creatures and without taking them into council, and were these terms as strict as Draco, instead of being as tender and pitiful as the tears and blood of Jesus, it would become us criminals to make no criticisms even in that extreme case, but accept them precisely as they were offered by the Sovereign and the Arbiter. We exhort you, therefore, to take these terms of salvation simply as they are given, asking no questions, and being thankful that there are any terms at all between the offended majesty of Heaven and the guilty criminals of earth. Believe on Him whom God hath sent, because it is the appointment and declaration of God, that if guilty man is to be saved at all, he must be saved by faith in the Person and Work of the Mediator. The very disposition to quarrel with this method implies arrogance in dealing with the Most High. The least inclination to alter the conditions shows that the creature is attempting to criticise the Creator, and, what is yet more, that the criminal has no true perception of his crime, no sense of his exposed and helpless situation, and presumes to dictate the terms of his own pardon!
2. We might therefore leave the matter here, and there would be a sufficient reason for exercising the act of faith in Christ. But there is a second and additional reason which we will also briefly urge upon you. Not only is it the Divine appointment, that man shall be saved, if saved at all, by the substituted work of another; but there are needs, there are crying wants, in the human conscience, that can be supplied by no other method. There is a perfect adaptation between the Redemption that is in Christ Jesus, and the guilt of sinners. As we have seen, we could reasonably urge you to Believe in Him whom God hath sent, simply because God has sent Him, and because He has told you that He will save you through no other name and in no other way, and will save you in this name and in this way. But we now urge you to the act of faith in this substituted work of Christ, because it has an atoning virtue, and can pacify a perturbed and angry conscience; can wash out the stains of guilt that are grained into it; can extract the sting of sin which ulcerates and burns there. It is the idea of expiation and satisfaction that we now single out, and press upon your notice. Sin must be expiated,—expiated either by the blood of the criminal, or by the blood of his Substitute. You must either die for your own sin, or some one who is able and willing must die for you. This is founded and fixed in the nature of God, and the nature of man, and the nature of sin. There is an eternal and necessary connection between crime and penalty. The wages of sin is death. But, all this inexorable necessity has been completely provided for, by the sacrificial work of the Son of God. In the gospel, God satisfies His own justice for the sinner, and now offers you the full benefit of the satisfaction, if you will humbly and penitently accept it. "What compassion can equal the words of God the Father addressed to the sinner condemned to eternal punishment, and having no means of redeeming himself: 'Take my Only-Begotten Son, and make Him an offering for thyself;' or the words of the Son: 'Take Me, and ransom thy soul?' For this is what both say, when they invite and draw man to faith in the gospel." In urging you, therefore, to trust in Christ's vicarious sufferings for sin, instead of going down to hell and suffering for sin in your own person; in entreating you to escape the stroke of justice upon yourself, by believing in Him who was smitten in your stead, who "was wounded for your transgressions and bruised for your iniquities;" in beseeching you to let the Eternal Son of God be your Substitute in this awful judicial transaction; we are summoning you to no arbitrary and irrational act. The peace of God which it will introduce into your conscience, and the love of God which it will shed abroad through your soul, will be the most convincing of all proofs that the act of faith in the great Atonement does no violence to the ideas and principles of the human constitution. No act that contravenes those intuitions and convictions which are part and particle of man's moral nature could possibly produce peace and joy. It would be revolutionary and anarchical. The soul could not rest an instant. And yet it is the uniform testimony of all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, that the act of simple confiding faith in His blood and righteousness is the most peaceful, the most joyful act they ever performed,—nay, that it was the first blessed experience they ever felt in this world of sin, this world of remorse, this world of fears and forebodings concerning judgment and doom.
Is the question, then, of the Jews, pressing upon your mind? Do you ask, What one particular single thing shall I do, that I may be safe for time and eternity? Hear the answer of the Son of God Himself: "This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent."
[Footnote 1: Romans iii. 27, 28; Galatians ii. 16, iii. 2.]
[Footnote 2: The religious teacher is often asked to define the act of faith, and explain the way and manner in which the soul is to exercise it. "How shall I believe?" is the question with which the anxious mind often replies to the gospel injunction to believe. Without pretending that it is a complete answer, or claiming that it is possible, in the strict meaning of the word, to explain so simple and so profound an act as faith, we think, nevertheless, that it assists the inquiring mind to say, that whoever asks in prayer for any one of the benefits of Christ's redemption, in so far exercises faith in this redemption. Whoever, for example, lifts up the supplication, "O Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world, grant me thy peace," in this prayer puts faith in the atonement, He trusts in the atonement, by pleading the atonement,—by mentioning it, in his supplication, as the reason why he may be forgiven. In like manner, he who asks for the renewing and sanctifying influences of the Holy Ghost exercises faith, in these influences. This is the mode in which he expresses his confidence in the power of God to accomplish a work in his heart that is beyond his own power. Whatever, therefore, be the particular benefit in Christ's redemption that one would trust in, and thereby make personally his own, that he may live by it and be blest by it,—be it the atoning blood, or be it the indwelling Spirit,—let him ask for that benefit. If he would trust in the thing, let him ask for the thing.
Since writing the above, we have met with a corroboration of this view, by a writer of the highest authority upon such points. "Faith is that inward sense and act, of which prayer is the expression; as is evident, because in the same manner as the freedom of grace, according to the gospel covenant, is often set forth by this, that he that believes, receives; so it also oftentimes is by this, that he that asks, or prays, or calls upon God, receives. 'Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened. And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive (Matt. vii. 7, 8; Mark xi. 24). If ye abide in me and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you' (John xv. 7). Prayer is often plainly spoken of as the expression of faith. As it very certainly is in Romans x. 11-14: 'For the Scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him; for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 'How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed.' Christian prayer is called the prayer of faith (James v. 15). 'I will that men everywhere lift up holy hands, without wrath and doubting (1 Tim. ii. 8). Draw near in full assurance of faith' (Heb. x. 22). The same expressions that are used, in Scripture, for faith, may well be used for prayer also; such as coming to God or Christ, and looking to Him. 'In whom we have boldness and access with confidence, by the faith of him' (Eph. iii. 12)." EDWARDS: Observations concerning Faith.]
[Footnote 3: Livius: Historia, Lib. xxi. 12.]
[Footnote 4: ANSELM: Cur Deus Homo? II. 20.]