The subject of this chapter is the most important, perhaps, in the whole range of religious discussion and inquiry. It is more personal than any other. It relates to the highest interest of the soul. It appeals to our fears and our hopes, to our affections and aspirations, to all that we love and all that we desire. It is the question of destiny for time and eternity.
It is not alone what is to become of mankind, but what is to become of me? What am I? Whence came I, and whither do I go when the "silver cord" of this life is loosed? What is the purpose of my being on this earth? What does Christ come to me for and what does he seek to accomplish in me and for me? How is he a Savior and what does he save me from? What is redemption through his blood? Is it deliverance from the evil of our own hearts, or from some evil outside of us, from judgment and punishment, or from a moral condition and life which bring these? Is it union with God, the life of Christ in the soul, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, whenever and wherever these are realized?
These are the questions which crowd upon us at the very threshold of any inquiry into the object of Christ's mission, or the nature of Christian salvation. I can only indicate the way, and point out some of the leading features of the question, and then, leave the reader with the New Testament in his hand to follow the investigation to its results, confident that he cannot miss the truth on this all important subject.
It is singular that it has so long been taken for granted in the Christian church, that salvation is deliverance from punishment, from the penalty of the divine law, from hell in the sense of endless torment, from the consequences of sin instead of from sin itself, from the dominion and bondage of an evil heart and a wicked life, and a translation into the glorious liberty of the children of God. And it is the more so from the fact, easily verified by examination, that never, in a single instance of the multitude of texts where the words SAVIOR, SAVE, and SALVATION are used, are they connected with any such idea of definition of salvation. Nor is there more than one passage in which the usage of the terms could suggest such a mistake in regard to the true nature of redemption by Christ.
It is possible that Romans 5:9, might be taken inferentially to mean something of this sort: "Much more then, being now justified by his blood, WE SHALL BE SAVED FROM WRATH through him." The word "wrath" here may be supposed to refer to the judgment of God against sin, but even if it does, it is not the judgment or punishment of sins already committed that is meant. What the apostle intends to say is that we are saved by Christ from a sinful and wicked life and, so far, are saved from the judgments which follow, as the natural and necessary consequence of a wicked life.
Beside, the phraseology in this case is peculiar. It is not by the death of Christ, through which, according to the popular theology, the atonement is made, but by his LIFE that we are saved from this wrath. "We shall be saved from wrath through him; for if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life". That is, the death of Christ, as an exhibition of divine love, has reconciled us to God, filled our hearts with the gratitude and affection, and the beauty of his divine life wins us to himself, and so saves us from all the evils of a sinful life, and that "wrath of God which cometh upon the children of disobedience". (Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6)
Let us proceed now to the direct testimony respecting the nature of the salvation which Christ came to work out in man, and for man. In the first of the following passages, the Savior speaks for himself, and that, too, at the very commencement of his ministry on earth. He reads the words of the prophet Isaiah, in the synagogue at Nazareth, and applies them to himself. Of course, he knows what God the Father sent him into the world to do. He knows whether he came to save the world from sin or from the punishment of sin; whether his salvation is internal and spiritual, or external, from some evil coming upon the soul from without.
(Luke 4:16-22) "And Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read . . . . And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, and to preach the acceptable year of the Lord". [see note 1]
In this public announcement of the objects of his advent on earth, and the character of the salvation he was sent to work out in the soul of man, there is no allusion to deliverance from the wrath of an angry God, or the penalties of the divine law, or the legitimate claims of divine justice, or the terrors and torments of an endless hell. And his entire silence on these points, in this his inaugural address on entering upon his ministry, is the most demonstrative and conclusive proof of the falsehood of these dogmas of the churches and schools.
It is plain enough, to the most indifferent reader, that the salvation which Jesus sets forth, in his prophetic testimony, as the work on which he was sent of the Father, is spiritual salvation, the enlightenment of the mind, the purification of the heart, and the peace and comfort of a perfect faith in God. It is good tidings to the poor and friendless, the forsaken and broken hearted, good tidings of a Father's love and protection, the promise that he will cause all things to work together for their good, and, in the fulness of time, wipe away all tears from their eyes; liberty to those in captivity to sin; light and sight to those blinded by error; and healing and restoration to those that are bruised and wounded in the conflict with temptation and evil.
Other passages are to the same point, that the redemption of Christ is from sin.
(Acts 3:25) "God having raised up his Son Jesus, SENT HIM TO BLESS YOU, IN TURNING AWAY EVERY ONE OF YOUR FROM HIS INIQUITIES". This is testimony direct to the question. The inspired apostle informs us that Jesus was sent expressly to save us from INIQUITY, not from the punishment of iniquity. The salvation is moral, is within the soul, is present to us here the moment we believe in Jesus, and receive his spirit. The sin has no more dominion over us as our master, but we follow after holiness. We are washed and made clean through the blood of Christ.
(Matt. 1:21) "Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS". Here the heavenly messenger, direct from the presence of God, declares that the very name of the wonderful child shall be descriptive of his work. He is to be called Jesus, the Savior, because he is to save his people from their SINS. Of course, his people are sinners, or they would need no salvation. Only sinners can be saved. Only the sick can be healed. The salvation of the sinner, is the healing of the soul, the removal of the palsy of sin, and its restoration to righteous health and strength. What palsy is to the body, sin is to the soul. What healing is to the body, redemption is to the soul.
(Titus 2:11-14) "For the grace of God, which bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God, and our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might REDEEM US FROM ALL INIQUITY, AND PURIFY unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works". [see note 2]
Nothing can be more explicit and conclusive than the entire phrasing of this passage. It not only affirms that Christ gave himself to redeem us from iniquity, to save us from sin; but the whole connection is built upon the fact, that salvation is from ungodliness, and worldly lusts, and evil works.
The DOCTRINE is, that Christ comes to redeem us from sin, and the PRECEPT consequent upon this doctrine is, that we should, therefore, deny all ungodliness, and wicked works, and live soberly and righteously, in this present world. This is the practical teaching of "the grace of God, which bringeth salvation to all men"; and, as every one sees, from the nature of the salvation, the practice, or the morality enjoined, is the logical sequence or necessity of the doctrine. The injunction to "live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world", brings us naturally to the next testimony.
(Gal. 1:3-5) "Grace be unto you, and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from THIS PRESENT EVIL WORLD, according to the will of God and our Father: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen".
Is not this a strange and inexplicable passage, if Christ came to save us from the torments of a FUTURE evil world? If the popular theory be correct, if this IS what the Savior delivers us from, is it not passing wonderful that the Holy Spirit should dictate to Paul to write "THIS PRESENT evil world", instead of "THAT FUTURE evil world"?
Is it not plain, then, from this witness of the inspired apostle, that the salvation which Christ comes to accomplish for The human race, is deliverance from the actual sin and moral corruption of the life that now is, and not from threatened punishments in the life to come? Is it not proof indisputable that Christian salvation is inward and spiritual, and not outward and material; from disobedience itself, and not from the penalties of disobedience? It would seem impossible to imagine testimony more positive in language, or more direct to the point in review.
(John 1:29) "John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away THE SIN of the world". Here, again, the witness is the same, "the taketh away the SIN", not the punitive consequence of sin, not the penalties of that law of which sin is the transgression. And John the apostle is in perfect agreement on this point with John the Baptist, for he testifies that "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us FROM ALL SIN". (1 John 1:7) And the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews has the same testimony: "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who, through the eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot to God, purge the conscience FROM DEAD WORKS to serve the living God". (Heb. 9:14) From sin and dead works, the blood of Christ redeems us, purges the conscience, and restores us to the service of the living God.
There is a remarkable passage, on this point, in Paul's Epistle to Titus, Chapter 3: "For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Lord".
Here salvation is directly identified with a thorough reform of character, a deliverance from evil feelings and habits, from hateful lusts and passions, a conversion from an ungodly and wicked life, to a life of holiness and obedience to God. And, observe, that this salvation is not future, but past. It had already been realized -- "he SAVED us". And then he urges Titus so to preach to them that they may continue in a godly life, or continue in this salvation: "that they which have believed in God, might be careful to maintain good works" -- faith and practice, one and inseparable. Observe, also, that this conversion and salvation was wrought out by the manifestation through Christ of "THE KINDNESS AND THE LOVE OF GOD our Savior", not by his wrath or judgments, not by the terrors of the law, or the fear of a fabled hell. The apostle offers no thanks for an escape from these, nor does he so much as allude to them, but speaks with grateful heart of being saved from their former vicious, sensual, and sinful life.
These Bible witnesses might be indefinitely multiplied, but what has thus far been adduced, is sufficient to justify us in saying, that if Christ did come to save us from the just and deserved punishments of sin, if he did come to ransom us from the torments of a future world, the men of God who are teachers, the Savior himself, the Holy Spirit of Inspiration, have not only failed to say this, but they have substituted something else entirely different in the place of it! This the Christian cannot believe, and therefore he must no longer associate with the beautiful words "salvation", "redemption", "reconciliation", the false idea of deliverance from pains and penalties, but deliverance from the evil heart of unbelief which brings these. He need strive no more to escape a future hell, but let him labor to escape from the present captivity of sin, from the bondage of his lusts and passions, "to the glorious liberty of the children of God". This is heaven, or at least the beginning of it, and it is as real now as in the future, as possible on this side of the grave as on the other.[see note 3]
The following from an ORTHODOX journal is prophetic of progress: "The general idea of salvation, is, that it consists in going to a certain place, called heaven. With this PLACE is connected the idea of being perfectly happy. This, however, is a very loose way of thinking on so momentous a subject. -- It is not the place that makes the inhabitants what they are, but it is they that make the place what it is. Heaven is what it is because of the CHARACTER of those who dwell there. Any world -- any place would be a heaven, if filled with perfectly holy beings. Whether a man is saved or not depends on what he IS, not on where he GOES. The sinner desires salvation, or complete happiness. He will get it, not by a change of place, not by going out of the body, not by getting into the company of the good, but by getting rid of his MORAL MALADY -- by becoming holy".]
There are numerous figures of speech in the Scriptures, which will help us to understand the kind of redemption which Jesus brings to the soul of man. A brief review of a few of these will add to the preceding argument, and shed light upon this important inquiry.
1. WE ARE REFINED AND PURIFIED AS SILVER. (Mal. 3:1-3) "For he is like a refiner's fire, . . . he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness".
This figure shows that Christ saves us from something from which we are to be purified, something that makes a part of us now, and from which we are to be separated by a refining process like that which separates the pure silver from the dross. Now, this language is not, in any sense applicable to punishment, to the penalty of the divine law, the wrath of God, or any of their equivalents. We cannot be purified FROM judgments, though we may be purified BY them, spiritually refined and separated from our sins in the fiery furnace of suffering.
To say Christ is like a refiner of silver, because he saves us from the torments of hell, or bears the wrath of God in or stead, is to make a comparison where there is no likeness, no resemblance between him who purifies the soul from sin, and one who purifies the silver from dross. And in this sense Jesus is a Refiner and Purifier, separating the spiritual from the sensual, bringing out the heavenly from its mixture with the earthly dross, and preparing it to receive anew the image and superscription of God.
The thought, or truth, of this figure is found in many other texts. Peter, speaking of the Gentiles, says: "God put no difference between us and them PURIFYING their hearts by faith". (Acts 15) Again, he says, in his first Epistle: "Seeing ye have PURIFIED your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit". (1 Peter 1:22) Here the heart, the soul, are purified, which, of course, is an inward personal salvation, and not redemption from threatened judgments. John says: "He that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself even as he is pure". (1 John 3) How is Christ pure? In any sense that would represent him as save from punishment? Of course not, but in the sense of entire freedom from sin, "a lamb without spot or blemish".
2. WE ARE CLEANSED AND WASHED. This passage, already cited from Malachi, declares also that the Savior is "like fuller's soap", i.e. that his truth and grace act on the soul, as soap acts on a soiled garment, only in one sense, of course, that of cleansing, the one acting by spiritual, and the other by chemical laws. The idea embodied in this figure pervades the New Testament. After naming certain kinds of evil persons who cannot, as such, or while in that condition, enter the kingdom of God, or be received as followers of Christ, the apostle says: "And such were SOME OF YOU; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified", &c. (1 Cor. 9-11) "Unto him that loved us, and WASHED us from our sins in his own blood". (Rev. 1:5) "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to CLEANSE us from all unrighteousness". (1 John 1:9) And the passage already quoted from the same chapter, "The blood of Jesus Christ CLEANSETH us from all sin".
The metaphor running through these texts, is perfectly descriptive of the nature and process of salvation. You cannot wash a person from the penalty of the law. You cannot cleanse him from punishment. There is no fitness to the comparison. The figure fails altogether. But it is full of meaning and beauty when employed to describe gospel salvation, which is being "washed from our sins", and "cleansed from all unrighteousness", through the grace and truth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. WE ARE HEALED AS OF A DISEASE. This figure has been partially considered in the preceding section, but we call attention to it again, that the principle involved may be carefully considered in its negative and positive relations. Christ himself authorizes the language, when he justifies himself for keeping company "with the publicans and sinners", by saying, "They that be whole need not a PHYSICIAN, but they that are sick". (Matt. 9:12) The Psalmist has the same metaphor: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases". (Psalms 103:2-3)
According to the parallelism of Hebrew verse, the forgiving iniquities and healing diseases in this passage, are the same thing. The forgiveness, or removal of iniquity or sin from the soul, which is salvation, is set forth by the figure of healing, or removing of disease from the body. But the physician who cures the sick man, does not do it by taking his sickness, or bearing the pain of it, but by driving out the disease. So Jesus does not save us by bearing for us the punishment of sin, but by driving out the sin from the heart. A man cannot be cured or healed of endless torment -- there is no point or meaning to such a figure -- but he CAN be cured of his moral disease. He CAN be healed of the leprosy of sin, by the grace of Jesus, by the Spirit of God.
4. CHRIST IS OUR TEACHER; AND WE ARE SAVED BY THE TRUTH. "We know that thou art a teacher come from God". (John 3) "We know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth". (Matt. 22) This metaphor also illustrates the spiritual and personal nature of salvation, and shows in part what it is from -- ignorance, error, and unbelief. When a man becomes my teacher, he does not stand as my substitute. He does not take upon himself and suffer all the evils of my ignorance, but he instructs me, he enlightens me by imparting knowledge, or helping me to obtain it. Salvation, therefore, if this metaphor has any propriety or significance in it, bears the same relation to the spirit which knowledge bears to the intellect.
And this element of salvation, and this method or process, are recognized in many important passages. "I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men,. . . . for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God, who will have all men to be saved, and to come into the KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH". (1 Tim. 2) Here "to be saved", and "to come to the knowledge of the truth", are equivalent terms, meaning the same thing. Hence the Savior says: "This IS life eternal, that they might KNOW thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent". (John 17) The knowledge of God and his Son is eternal life, salvation, deliverance from ignorance and unbelief, through the enlightening influence of the Gospel and the Spirit of Truth.
5. WE ARE FOUND, AS THE LOST. "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost". (Luke 19) The parable of the lost sheep, in chapter 15 is familiar to all. The good shepherd seeks it among the mountains and in the wilderness, till he finds it and, then, laying it on his shoulder, he brings it in safety, and with rejoicing, to the fold.
In what sense can the punishment of sin be represented under the figure of bing lost, or deliverance from this under the figure of being found? It is an easy and appropriate metaphor, which describes him who wanders from the paths of truth and righteousness, as lost in the wilderness of sin, and, when he is restored to them again, as found. When the prodigal returned from the far country of his folly and wickedness, the rejoicing father exclaimed, "My son, that was lost, is found".
But note again, how the figure tells AGAINST the popular doctrine of salvation, and FOR the Scriptural doctrine. The shepherd who went in search of the lost sheep, did not suffer the pains and terrors which were the consequence of being lost. The poor sheep endured for itself all the evils of going astray, through all the long days and nights of its wandering. Nobody could save it from these. It had already suffered them. They could not be borne by another. They could not be separated from its lost condition, any more than the shadow can be separated from the substance, or the pain from a broken limb, or blindness from loss of sight.
These figures and metaphors might be largely in creased, but the examples given are sufficient to show how the great truth that salvation is from sin and wickedness, from blindness of mind, and unbelief, and moral corruption, pervades the entire body of the Scripture, its doctrines and precepts, the character of its thought, and the structure of its language. I have given more space to this subject, and enforced the point at the risk of repetition, because I regard it as the pivot on which the whole Christian system turns.
If the punishment of sin inheres in the very substance of sin itself, then no one can suffer it for us, and the sacrificial scheme, as we have shown under the head of "Atonement", falls to the ground. The thing it proposes is simply impossible, and the only way for us to escape the punishment, is to abandon the sin. If we would be delivered from the murderer's doom, we must avoid the murderer's crime. If the drunkard would escape from the hell in which he lives, he must repent, and thoroughly reform. If any would be saved from the torments of envy, jealously, hatred, malice, these foul spirits must be expelled from the heart. If we would not confront the terrors and tortures of a guilty conscience, we must keep it pure and without offence. If we would be delivered from all anxiety and doubts, from that "fear which hath torment", we must believe in Christ, we must know God, and trust in him, and then shall we enter into rest, and find peace passing knowledge. This is the practical bearing of the subject; its direct influence on life and action. And thus the true doctrine of Salvation links itself in natural and logical sequence with the true doctrine of Atonement.
Then, again, if salvation is from sin, it is not from endless punishment -- and this monstrous accusation against God, is proved to be wickedly false, and his character stands forth in all the attractions of a Father's love, of infinite and everlasting goodness. This understood, and the hardness of the sinner's heart is subdued. The Prodigal no longer stays away from home through fear of his Father's anger, or lest he will educe him to the condition of a servant and slave, instead of receiving him as a son. He will not wait until it comes to famine and starvation, but penitent for the past, and painfully instructed for the future, he will, lone er this, arise and go to his Father. And thus, again, we see how the true Scriptural teaching of Salvation stands related to the doctrine of Rewards and Punishments, of the law and its penalty.
There is no religious question of more practical importance, than this respecting the nature of salvation -- what it is, what it does for us, how we are to obtain it, where we are to enjoy it. And if it can be fully apprehended and settled in the mind of the inquirer, it speedily clears the ground of many pernicious and dangerous errors, and leads not only to a complete re-adjustment of Christian doctrines, but also to a complete change of character, of the motives to obedience, of the aims and purposes of life. Election and reprobation, salvation and damnation, heaven and hell, rewards and punishments, will all be shaped into harmony with this central truth.
The true Scriptural, Evangelical doctrine, then, on this momentous subject, is this, viz: that salvation is moral and spiritual; that it is not exemption from the just retribution of wrong, but redemption from the wrong itself; not from one thing, but from many things -- from error and false doctrines, from unbelief, from sin and all unrighteousness, from hatred, and malice, and envy, from the bondage of passion and hurtful lusts, from the outward criminal act, and from the inward criminal desire -- conversion FROM these TO faith and obedience, to holiness of life and heart, to sincere reverence and affection toward God and the Savior, to charity and love for all mankind. In a word, it is a regenerate and sanctified spirit which makes the whole being consecrate to God, and the whole life beautiful as that of the angels. And, when it comes to this with us, we are, to that extent, in heaven, whether in the present life or in the future, whether in this world or in any other. [see note 4]
But it may be said, that ALL MEN are not saved, in this life, in the sense of salvation here set forth; that thousands die in ignorance, unbelief, and sin. This is true and it is not affirmed by our argument, that all men, or any, are PERFECTLY saved in this world. No one, in this life, attains to that spiritual freedom and angelic perfection, represented by the "image of the heavenly", of which Paul speaks, or, in other words, no one reaches the full stature of the heavenly state while in the body. Therefore, no soul, however advanced, realizes the full measure of salvation, till through the resurrection it is made equal unto the angels of God.
And this is Ancient Universalism. Origen (A.D. 230), says: "The WORD, which is the Wisdom of God, shall bring together all intelligent creatures, and convert them into his own perfection, through the instrumentality of their free will and their exertions. For though, among the disorders of the body, there are, indeed, some which the medical art cannot heal, yet we deny, that of all the vices of the soul, there is any which the supreme WORD cannot cure; for the WORD is more powerful than all the diseases of the soul, and he applies his remedies to each one according to the pleasure of God. And the consummation of all things, will be the extinction of sin, and the reformation of every soul, so that all shall serve him with one consent. This may not, indeed, take place with mankind, in the present life, but be accomplished after they shall have been liberated from the body. [see note 5]
But the discussion of this point carries us over into the subject of the next chapter to which we pass now for the completion of the argument.