And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
A Sermon preached on 25th December 1829
at the Great Church, Abingdon (St Helen's)
I stand before you this evening either as a servant of Christ or as a servant of the devil. I must be one or the other, for he that is not with Christ is against him (Matt. xii. 30); and, "Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel" (1 Cor. ix. 16). Paul says: "Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Gal. i. 8). Now if I preach not the Gospel which Paul preached, a curse hangs over my head. I am sure everyone present, whose heart is not as hard as stone, will tremble to think in what an awful situation we ministers are placed. Isaiah saith: "To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa. viii. 20); and we are commanded not to add to, nor to diminish ought from the Word of God (Deut. iv. 2). We, then, as the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God, must be faithful. I call upon you this evening to compare with the Word of God whatever I may say; I beseech you to do it; and I will be careful to advance nothing but what I fully believe, and can clearly prove to be according to the Word of God, and all who have been taught of God will acknowledge and confess.
Before I proceed farther I earnestly entreat all present who have faith in Christ to lift up their hearts to God, to ask his blessing upon the truths about to be declared, that many who are dead in trespasses and sins may be aroused, awakened, and converted; that the feeble-minded may be comforted; that the wavering may be established; that those that are "strong in the Lord" (Eph. vi. 10) may have their faith strengthened; and that my discourse may be so free from error that the Spirit of truth may powerfully bear testimony to it.
Our minds are lost in wonder and admiration when we consider that Jesus Christ should come to sojourn in this world, that he should be born of a Virgin, should take upon himself the form of a servant, be so despised and rejected of men as not to have a place to lay his head, and at last suffer a most ignominious death upon the cross. "Great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim. iii. 16). That he should come exactly in the same manner that he did was clearly foretold by the prophets a great many years before, and has been evidently fulfilled; as Isaiah saith, "Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isa. vii. 14); and at the time expected a Virgin having conceived by the Holy Ghost, brought forth a Son, and they called his name Jesus, "for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matt. i. 21).
Let us, in the first place, inquire who are meant by his people that he will save. And, secondly, how they are saved from their sins.
Now, before I say more on this important subject, I beg to remind you that except ye receive the kingdom of God as a little child, ye shall not enter therein (Mark x. 15). If you understand this text of Scripture, you will know that as long as you bring your carnal reason and human learning to judge of spiritual things, they will profit you nothing. Ercept the Lord give you a teachable and childlike spirit, the preaching of the cross must be foolishness to you (1 Cor. i. 18); for "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. ii. 14). And Paul saith: "Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise that they are vain" (1 Cor. iii. 18-2O).
No man can learn and know the spiritual meaning of the Bible to the saving of his soul, except he be taught of God. This "offensive" truth Christ told the Jews; but whenever he said anything which he knew would hurt the pride of their hearts, he used to say: "It is written in the law, or in the prophets;" then they were not able to answer him a word, for they professed to believe them; as he said in this instance: "It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me" (John vi. 45). We ministers adopt the same most excellent plan, for when we advance truths which excite the enmity of carnal minds, we appeal to the Bible for the truth of what we say; and as you profess to believe it, you must justify us.
We are first to inquire who are "his people" that he will save. We all by nature imagine that Christ died for everyone in the world, but he died only for those whom God chose in him before the foundation of the world. But we must know that what God teaches by his holy Spirit is true doctrine, and not what man thinks. The Word of God is our standard and our guide, and whoever speaks not according to that Word, believe him not, for there is no light in him. Now Isaiah, where he is speaking so plainly of Christ, saith: "He shall see his seed;" "he shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied; by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many;" "and he bare the sin of many" (Isa. liii. 10, 11, 12). The prophet, therefore, very clearly shows that Christ came to save a peculiar people; and Christ saith: "I am the Good Shepherd; the Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep " (John x. 11). And in the same chapter he says to some of the Jews: "But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you" (John x. 26). This very plainly shows that he did not give his life for them. Paul saith: "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love; having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will" (Eph. i. 4, 5). And again: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing" (Eph. v. 25-27). And the same Apostle said: "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began " (2 Tim. i. 9).
These words are written in the Bible. Nor has God given these texts only. Very many others besides those which I have advanced I could bring forward; for you must know that this doctrine is not mine, but God's. Nay we, as members of the Church of England, all profess to believe it, for the XVIIth Article of our Church fully explains it: "Predestination unto life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid), he hath constantly decreed by his counsel, secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour." His people, therefore, in the text, are those whom he hath chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.
We, in the second place, come to consider how Christ will save his people from their sins.
All by nature are "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. ii. 1; 1 Tim. v. 6; 1 John v. 12; Rom. viii. 6), with hearts at enmity against God, "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jer. xvii. 9); and not one in this state will ever seek God; for, "The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Psa. xiv. 2, 3). And Christ saith to his disciples: "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you" (John xv. 16); and he told them: "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him" (John vi. 44). He also saith: "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me" (John xii. 32). Therefore, none can go to Christ but those who are chosen in him, and are drawn. There is nothing that man can do that will recommend him to God; for all that man does till he has faith is nothing but sin. Paul, who was one of the strictest Pharisees before his conversion, saith: "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 Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us" (Titus iii. 3-5). Paul told the saints at Ephesus that God had "predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will" (Eph. i. 5); and Timothy, "not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace" (2 Tim. i. 9). If you believe the Scriptures, you must believe that you can do nothing to recommend yourself to God's favour; for if you have not faith, which is the gift of God, you cannot please him; for "they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. viii. 8), and "in my flesh dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. vii. 18). "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one (Job xiv. 4). Those that are "dead in trespasses and sins" must be first quickened by the Spirit before the Lord will receive anything from them. "You hath he quickened," saith Paul, "who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. ii. 1). This very important doctrine is clearly stated in the XIIIth Article of our Church: "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." This Article expressly says that without faith we cannot please God. We know that faith is the gift of God. If we read over the works of the flesh we shall not find faith among them, for it is one of the fruits of the Spirit. Faith is a precious gift; but what way has the Lord appointed to confer it upon his chosen people? By the preaching of the Gospel; for "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. x. 17). Go ye and "preach the Gospel to every creature; he that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark xvi. 15, 16). The plan which the Lord hath appointed to gather his people is by sending ministers to preach his Gospel; and some of his chosen people may be persecutors of the true Church, as Paul was; or hardened sinners, like the thief, who even reviled Christ, whilst himself in agony.
The true ministers of the Gospel humble the pride of man, and make him as nothing; they show him the wickedness and deceitfulness of his own heart, and bring his life and conduct to a comparison with the pure and holy law of God. They inquire deeply into his hope of salvation, and see what foundation he is building upon. "The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bewed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day" (Isa. ii. 11). When men who are endeavouring to obtain salvation by their works, who are very charitable to the poor, very regular in attending church and sacrament, and seem very rich in what they think good works, and whose religion is such as the world highly approves and commends, hear the Gospel preached, they find that Christ is not the rock upon which they are building; and all their good works and all their pride are levelled to the ground at one stroke. "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor; and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing" (1 Cor. xiii. 3). Now charity is love, which is the gift of God.
The true ministers of Christ bring men to the law; now this condemns them, and shows them to be under the curse: He that offendeth in one point is guilty of all (James ii. 10). As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them (Gal. iii. 10). If, then, a man offend against the law of God in one point, either in word, thought, or deed, he is under the curse. Now it is certain that no man can keep the law of God without offence, "for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain" (Gal. ii. 21). "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster, to bring us unto Christ" (Gal. iii. 24). Thus the law of God writes death in the consciences of those who are "ordained to eternal life" (Acts xiii. 48). They see their sins standing in array before them; they endeavour, through ignorance, to amend their lives; they labour in vain; their hearts are broken by God; for the preparations of the heart are from the Lord (Prov. xvi. 1). They can find no rest nor consolation, and are almost in despair. Harassed and tormented by Satan, they know not what to do, and cry out, with the gaoler at Philippi, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts xvi. 30.) If they have been Pharisees, their eyes are open to see the pride and hypocrisy of their religion, and they confess that all their righteousnesses are as filthy rags (Isa. lxiv. 6). If they have been notorious sinners, they think that the Lord never came to seek such vile wretches as they are. Thus troubled and distressed, they hear the Gospel, which is "glad tidings of good things" (Rom. x. 15) to those who feel themselves lost sinners. They hear Christ set forth in all his fulness and in all his glory; they hear that the more vile they are in their own sight, the more precious will Christ be to them; they hear that if they go to Christ naked, he will clothe them; if they go unto him hungry, he will feed them; and if they go unto him thirsty, he will give them of the living waters, so that they shall not thirst again. They are unwilling to go to Christ, because they have nothing to offer him; they hear with joy that the Lord will accept nothing from men but the sacrifices of broken and contrite hearts. Thus the Lord generally calls his people. He takes from them everything in which they trusted for salvation, and then they are obliged to fly to the refuge set before them in the Gospel; they believe in Christ, and he is made unto them "wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor. i. 30). This is very humbling doctrine to the pride of man, that Christ is to be everything and man to be nothing, yea, worse than nothing, for he will never do anything but sin. Whether we be converted or not, our flesh will never do anything good. "In my flesh dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. vii. 18). They who are chosen in Christ have his Spirit to dwell in them. This Spirit of Christ dwelling in a man makes him a "new creature," so that old things pass away, and all things become new (2 Cor. v. 17). Now, observe, we can do nothing to obtain this Spirit, for all we do, or ever shall do, in the flesh, is sin, as the Xth Article of our Church clearly states: "The condition of man, after the fall of Adam, is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself by his own natural strength and good works to faith, and calling upon God." We are cautioned by Solomon not to give "the sacrifice of fools, for they consider not that they do evil" (Eccles. v.1). We cannot turn to God of ourselves; we cannot repent of ourselves, for Christ is exalted a Prince and a Saviour to give repentance (Acts v. 31; 2 Tim. ii. 25); and thus the Scriptures, as well as the Xth and XIIIth Articles of our Church, plainly show us all to be under the curse, without the slightest power of delivering ourselves. We ministers of the Gospel must not deceive you; all who have not the Spirit of Christ are in this state, whether they know it or not, whether they believe it or not. "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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. ii. 8-10); and Paul saith: "There is a remnant according to the election of grace" (Rom. xi. 5). God hath loved his people with an everlasting love, and therefore with lovingkindness will he draw them (Jer. xxxi. 3). As long as a man believes that he can do anything of himself to prepare his heart to receive grace or merit salvation, I cannot give him any present scriptural hope of being saved. If the heart be not prepared of God to receive it "without money and without price" (Isa. lv. 1), he will never have it. Whilst man thinks any good dwells in his human nature, no good ever will dwell in it; for till a man is taught of God to see himself a lost and undone sinner, his body will never be the temple of the Spirit of Christ; and if he have not Christ's Spirit, he is none of his. All must be humbled to receive salvation as a free gift, or they will never have it: "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein " (Mark x. 15). It is God that maketh us to differ; and having Christ's Spirit given to us, with the mind we serve the law of God, though with the flesh the law of sin (Rom. vii. 25). And Paul saith: "By the grace of God I am what I am." "I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (1 Cor. xv. 10). It is my belief, and Scripture warrants me in saying so, that no man will ever go to heaven who is not taught of God to rest so entirely on Christ for salvation as to say: "By the grace of God, I am what I am." This is humbling to the pride of man, but salvation is of grace, and grace alone.
I will now address myself to those of this congregation who are ignorant of Christ as the true way of salvation, who have never been taught of God the truths of the Gospel, whose hearts are at enmity against God, and who hate the true doctrines of the Gospel. God grant that the warnings I am about to give you may be instrumental in converting some present who "are ordained to eternal life." I am thoroughly convinced that you, in your present state, hate to hear the Gospel. Your minds rise in rebellion against God's sovereignty, and you disbelieve his Word of truth. You cannot understand it for it is foolishness to you (1 Cor. ii. 14); and whilst you remain in your present state, you will fight against Christ and his true Church; and if the Lord should not convert you, you will hate him and his Gospel to the day of your death. Now I well know that you would rather hear any other doctrine than the true Gospel. The "truth as it is in Jesus" must offend you. You love to have ministers to feed your pride and flatter your vanity, by preaching to you reformation instead of regeneration; free will instead of free grace; the righteousness of man instead of the imputed righteousness of Christ. You do not like to hear the law preached faithfully, for that condemns you; you do not like to hear the Gospel preached faithfully, for that offends you; but you like to have the law and the Gospel mixed, which spoils both, and only makes men rest contentedly in a fatal security. You cannot be saved by your own righteousness, for "then Christ is dead in vain." So you must be saved by either Christ's righteousness, or your own righteousness and Christ's mixed. Consider whether your pride is great enough to make you think that your own righteousnesses, which are "as filthy rags" (Isa. lxiv. 6), will be required to adorn the wedding garment prepared by Christ himself. You may be ready to say to me that Christ told the young man who asked him, "What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life? " - " If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matt. xix. 16, 17). Here Christ brought him to the law, that he might be condemned. And so I say to you: "If you will enter into life, keep the commandments," and then you will have fulfilled the law as well as Christ; but remember, if you offend in one point you are guilty of all, and are under the curse. Therefore, bring yourselves to this test, and, like the young man, you will be convinced that you cannot gain heaven in that way; for the law condemns every man; and Christ saith: "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John xiv. 6). Do you believe in Christ? Are you sure that you do? Perhaps you think that you believe, because you have never doubted. "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself" (1 John v. 10). What witness have you? "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him" (Psa. xxv. 14). What secret of the Lord do you know? Christ saith: "I know my sheep, and am known of mine" (John x. 14). Do you know Christ? Paul saith: "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. iii. 12). What persecution have you suffered? "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren" (1 John iii. 14). You cannot say that you have passed from death unto life, because you do not believe that man is dead in sins. Do you love the brethren? Do you love Jesus Christ? Are you willing to endure much persecution for him? Would you die for him? Do you love the blessed truths of the Gospel? Do you find the doctrine of predestination and election in Christ to be "full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort," as the XVIIth Article saith it is? Do you like to hear of election and free grace, or do you like to hear ministers lower God by making him man's equal, so that man may make conditions with him in this manner - that man is to do all the good he can, by attending church and the sacrament, giving alms, being just in his dealings, and leading a good moral life; and that God, on his part, must grant heaven on such terms? This is the vain religion of millions (a mere mercenary bargain for heaven), who serve God from a slavish fear of hell, as a hard task-master. This is what man calls a reasonable religion, and what thousands of strict professors will advocate.
I tell you plainly again, to the praise and glory of God, that he chose in Christ, before the world began those whom he intended to deliver from curse and damnation. God so loved them that Christ died for them; but not one will come to Christ of his own free will, and yet all shall come; for Christ saith: "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John vi. 37). They were ordained to do good works; the Lord calls them and sanctifies them, and prepares them for the mansions already prepared for them in heaven; and not one will be lost.
This doctrine is not mine, but God's; if you will read Romans viii. and ix., Ephesians i. - iii., and John x. and xvii., you will acknowledge the truths are there, if you cannot believe and love them; and compare the Xth, XIth, XIIth, XIIIth and XVIIth Articles of our Church with them and the doctrines which I have delivered this evening, and you will be obliged to say that you, as Churchmen, profess to believe them. Satan will help you to explain them away, if it were possible. But if ye will not hear Paul, hear Solomon: "The Lord hath made all things for himself, yea, even the wicked for the day of evil" (Prov. xvi. 4). Some, who know these truths to be there, but cannot love them, may be ready to say that ministers ought to guard them. God has not told me to do so, and if he did not think proper to guard his own pure Word, he does not want vain man to guard it for him. Satan loves to have it guarded, for he well knows that Gospel-guarders never did and never will disturb his kingdom. We know that Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for keeping back part of the price. What, then, may we ministers expect if we keep back part of his blessed Gospel? Many present will say, that the true doctrines of the Gospel are foolish, unreasonable, and absurd; therefore you, whosoever you may be, bear a strong testimony to the truth of them; for "the preaching of the cross is to them that perish, foolishness." When Paul and Silas preached the Gospel to the Thessalonians, they cried out: "These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also" (Acts xvii. 6) But the Bereans "searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed" (Acts xvii. 11, 12). Alas! you think yourselves "rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing;" and know not that you are "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Rev. iii. 17).
Now I will speak a few words to you, my brethren, who know Jesus. You can bear testimony to the truth of what I have said. "We love him, because he first loved us" (1 John iv. 19). The doctrines which the natural man hates, you love to hear; they are the comfort and delight of your souls; and when you hear self-righteous doctrines, you are grieved, and pity the preacher and his hearers. You can say with the Reformers: "That we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine" (XIth Article); for you well know that in your flesh nothing but sin dwells; you say with David to God: "All things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee" (1 Chron. xxix. 14). And if the Lord required even a single good thought of you, of yourselves, you certainly would be damned. You know that you were blind, and the Lord hath opened your eyes to see your lost state by nature, that you might be brought to Christ, and be found in him, not having your own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith (Phil. iii. 9). You acknowledge that if the Lord had not chosen you, you would never have chosen him, and you would still have been fighting with the world and the devil against Christ. You once hated to hear of election, as natural men must do. You know when Christ preached it, it always gave offence. In Luke, when he preached election, they endeavoured to cast him down headlong from the brow of a hill. When he preached it again, many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him" (John vi. 65, 66). When he clearly stated it again, the Jews said: "He hath a devil, and is mad" (John x. 20). Paul, who boldly declared the truth as it is in Jesus, caused his hearers to say of him: "Away with such a fellow from the earth; it is not fit that he should live" (Acts xxii. 22); and, "This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law" (Acts xviii. 13). They considered him a fool, and counted him "as the filth of the earth, and the off-scouring of all things" (1 Cor. iv. 10, 13). And if ministers preached as faithfully now as Paul did, would natural men like to hear them? Nature is not changed, the Gospel is not changed, and Christ is not changed. Therefore, when the Gospel is faithfully preached now, all who are not taught of God to receive it, of whatever sect or denomination they may be, will speak against and condemn it, if it be the same which Paul preached. As God said to Jeremiah: "Mine heritage is unto me as a speckled bird, and the birds round about are against her" (Jer. xii. 9). Yes, everyone is against the true Church of Christ who are not of it, as Christ saith: "Ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake" (Matt. x. 22); and they said to Paul, as "concerning this sect, we know that everywhere it is spoken against" (Acts xxviii. 22). Shall we grieve, my brethren, at this? No. Christ saith, "Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven" (Matt. v.12). The Scriptures abound with words of consolation to the persecuted; for a Christian without persecution is as great a contradiction as a fire without heat. The stronger your faith is, the more you will be hated. You, my brethren, who have the Spirit of God bearing witness with your spirit that you are the children of God (Rom. viii. 16), may you never be ashamed of Christ dwelling in you; for if you have not his Spirit, you are none of his; and if you have his Spirit, your salvation is as certain as if you were in heaven. But the fruits of your faith will as evidently appear and be known as a tree is known by its fruit. If your faith does not influence your lives, and work by love, it is dead, and will profit you nothing. You are only Judases and hypocrites. "Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John ii. 3, 4). You serve God as sons, not as a task-master, like slaves. Love makes you rich in good works in Christ. Love constrains you to be holy; your joy and happiness must be great; your sins are pardoned; your righteousness and sanctification are in Christ; the work has been done for you, and Christ hath told you so when he said, with his expiring breath, "It is finished!" (John xix. 30). Though you must be vile and worthless in the world's esteem, you are precious in God's sight, and "he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye" (Zech. ii. 8). No one can injure you without God's permission and all things shall work together for your good (Rom. viii. 28). May the world bring no other charge against you than they did against Daniel, which was his religion. If you will reign with Christ, you must first suffer with him. You must bear the cross before you can wear the crown; but this life will soon pass away, and then you shall receive those blessed mansions which were prepared for you before the foundation of the world, and enjoy unutterable pleasures at God's right hand for evermore.