"For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved."Romans 10:5-9.
You see by this mourning that our church has been bereaved. I have lost a friend tender and true to me, and my heart is too full for utterance. [William Higgs, Esq., for many years a beloved deacon of the church, fell on asleep January 3, 1883, in his fifty-ninth year]. I scarcely knew what to preach from this morning; but at last I settled in my mind that I would raise a memorial to my departed friend by preaching a sermon which should be connected with himself. Therefore I cast about me, and I considered what subject he would wish me to preach from if he were sitting behind me this morning as he was last Lord's-day. I had no difficulty in answering that question. His life and death pointed in one direction. He was a man of rare common sense, straightforward and downright in his aims, and most pithy in his speech, with such a mixture of mother-wit that he might have been taken for John Ploughman's brother, as indeed he was. He cared nothing for oratory, which I have heard him call "a flash in the pan"; he delighted in the plain, solid gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that he would have said to me,Give them Christ crucified, and salvation by grace through faith, as plainly as ever you can; for when he was sore sick and in the very agony of death, he repeated as his dying creed
This is a clear statement. There is no mystery or obscurity about it. You need not go to the universities and earn a degree of D.D. in order to understand this declaration: it is as plain as words can make it. If you wish to be saved by the law you must do its commands and you shall live. The law is written in the ten commandments; you know them; and if you desire to live by them you must keep them. It will not suffice for you to learn those commands by heart, or to write them up in your churches, or to read them over and say, "Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law": all that may be well enough, but it is not to the point. If you are to be saved by the commandments you must do them: that is clear. Moses does not allow any person to dream that under the law he can be saved in any other way than by perfect obedience thereto. "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified." Whatever it is that God has commanded, you must do; whatever he forbids, you must avoid; for by such obedience alone can you live.
Mark you, Moses does not tone down the law to suit our fallen state, or talk of our doing our best and God's being satisfied with our imperfect obedience. No, he says only, "He that doeth those things shall live by them." He demands perfect and entire obedience, if life is to come of it. He does not say that if you have broken the law you may still live by some other means. No, if the law is once broken it is all over with you as to salvation thereby: one single fault takes away the possibility of your ever being justified by the law. "He that doeth those things," that is, always, without exception, with all his heart and soul and strength"he shall live by them"; but nobody else. Be he Jew or be he Gentile, his only righteousness by law must come through the doing of the law. Moses says nothing about wearing phylacteries, or washing hands, or offering incense, or performing ceremonies in order to righteousness. No; clear, straight, cutting like a sharp razor, he puts before us the single sentence, "He that doeth those things shall live by them."
Judge ye whether any one of us has fulfilled the whole law. To my mind this word of Moses is conclusive that none of us can possibly live by the works of the law. We cannot keep the law now, for we have already broken it: the vase is fractured, and to talk of keeping it entire is nonsense. But even if it were not already broken, should we get through to-morrow with its temptations, bearing such a heart as we have within us, without breaking that perfect and spotless law? I am sure we should not. You that hope to be saved by your works are indulging a forlorn hope; what never you may do or be in the future, the past has already ruined you. The way to heaven up the steep sides of Sinai is inaccessible to trembling feet like ours. If you were to be saved by the law you should have begun without sin, continued without sin, and then it would be needful to end without sin. There would not be a moment of your life in which you could be at peace, for there would always be the fear that in some unguarded instant you would transgress, and lose all. But why talk I so? It is no longer in our power to dream of a perfect, life-long obedience. We went astray from the womb, speaking lies; we were rebellious to our parents in our childhood, and wayward in our youth; in our early manhood we were carried about with this passion and with that, and since then all kinds of evils have led us astray. We are as full of evil as an egg is full of meat, and our heart is like a cage of unclean birds. I can say no less. The hope of salvation by works is black despair; yet we have a set of men on the face of the earth who are always wanting us to preach up this hopeless hope, and urging us to lay this heavy burden upon the shoulders of dying men. They would have us proclaim salvation by the works of the law. This, they say, would at least make men moral and keep them sober: whereas even in this they err against the light; for it has been proved by history that such preaching makes men worse and worse. The idea of salvation by works sits like an awful incubus upon the breast of humanity, and presses out of the soul all hope, thus robbing man of strength to attempt true holiness. When a man has lost all hope he throws the reins upon his neck and runs into all manner of iniquity, judging that he may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.
Clear, then, as possible it must be to every man among us who will think, that if the only way of salvation by the works of the law is by the keeping of the law in its entirety, then that road is closed against us, and the sooner we have done with it the better; for then we shall turn our thoughts in the right direction, and travel on the way which the Lord in great mercy has prepared for us. This is what Moses saith: hear it and be humbled.
II. Now I ask you to listen to WHAT THE GOSPEL SAITH. "The righteousness which is of faith," or believing, "speaketh on this wise, Say not in thy heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring, Christ down from above:) or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved."
Now observe, first, that the gospel claims to be like the law in its clearness. Moses claimed for the law which God had given to the people through him that it was clear, and within the range of their knowledge and understanding. I will read his exact words to you. Turn to Deuteronomy 30:11. "For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may bear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it." Now Paul here very adroitly takes these words out of the mouth of Moses, alters them somewhat, and as good as says, "It was the boast of the law that it was clear, known, and accessible to the people; but much more is this the glory of the gospel." Did not I show you just now that when Moses spoke he did not mystify the matter, but put it plainly, "The man that doeth those things shall live by them." So also the gospel by no means involves itself in obscurity, but says, Believe and live, quite as distinctly as Moses said, "Do and live." Here you have it, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." Moses' utterance was single and by itself. He did not say, "Do and thou shalt live, and yet there is another way." No; under the law it was nothing but "Do and live; leave undone and die." So the gospel does not propose a second way, and suggest "a larger hope," but it declares with solemn decision, "He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." It is just as clear as ever the law was, and quite as sharply distinct. Herein is no mystery: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. Wrapping everything up into one, the gospel says, "Trust thou in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thy sins shall be forgiven thee, and thou shalt be saved." This believing, or trusting, is the whole of the matter, and neither heaven above nor the abyss beneath will ever reveal another salvation.
I want to call your special attention to the fact that Paul borrows the words of Moses; for his intent was the ending of all fears. No man among us doubts that if he had performed the law of God the Lord would give him life; but it is equally certain that if we have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ we have eternal lire. No trembling sinner doubts but that by the breaking of the law we are condemned: be you equally sure of it, that by not believing you are condemned. As no keeper of the law would have been lost on any ground whatever, so no believer in Christ shall be lost on any ground whatever; as no breaker of the law could escape punishment, so no unbeliever in Christ can he saved. The gospel states its message as clearly as the law. As positively as the law utters its promise and threat, so positively and unalterably doth the gospel deliver its decree. The believer in Jesus shall be saved because he is a believer; and Christ's veracity is staked thereon:"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life."
Oh, but this is a very blessed thing to have to say to you. I do not come to-day with a gospel veiled in mystery and shrouded in doubt; I do not bring a message which you cannot understand or receive; neither do I come with "ifs" and "buts" and "peradventures," but with this, "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." "Whosoever believeth in him hath everlasting life." This is as certain and clear as the utterance of that dreadful roll of thunder which has just now left on your minds the thought, "He that doeth these things shall live by them."
Let us go a little further. What saith the gospel? Why, next, it forbids the questions of despair. "The righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? or, Who shall descend into the deep?" When a man is at length awakened to a sense of sin he cries, "I long to be saved! All that I have and all that I am I would give to escape from the righteous wrath of God. Sirs, what must I do to be saved? Surely it would need that I mount to heaven to own my sin, or dive to hell to bear its punishment. I want a righteousness which would need as much labor to produce as a climb to heaven would need; and I require an expiation for sin as great as though a man were plunged into the abyss itself, and there were made to suffer the divine anger. How is it possible that I can be saved? "This wail of despair takes many forms: one man puts it thus: "What doings can I perform by which I can be saved?
Whatever man in all the world, throughout all the ages, shall come and trust himself on Christ shall never be ashamed of having done so. You, dear friend, down the aisle there, it you trust in Christ you shall never be ashamed of your hope. You, up there in the gallery, however guilty you may have been, or however moral you may have been, it matters not, if your one hope is in what Christ has done, you shall never turn round on your dying bed, and cry, "I made a mistake in trusting Christ." You know what Cardinal Bellarmine said: he was a great antagonist of Luther, and thought that we might trust in our works; but, looking it all over, he admitted that inasmuch as no man could be quite sure that he had done enough good works, it was perhaps best on the whole and safest to trust altogether to the blood and merits of Jesus Christ. I have always felt obliged to the Cardinal for that admission; because the best is good enough for me, and since trusting in Jesus is the safest, I intend to stick to it even to the end. There is really no other hope, for if you get a little bit of your own works put into the building, of your hope, you have just so much rotten timber in the fabric, and that rot will plague the whole house, and turn it into dust at the last. No man that rested in Christ, and Christ alone, ever was ashamed of his hope; and none ever shall be. There is sure ground here. The Rock of Ages never fails.
What else does the Scripture say? It says that no man is forbidden to believe; "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." There never was a sinner yet to whom God said, "You must not trust my Son": on the contrary, it is written, "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." What about the doctrine of election? I need not speak about it this morning: I believe it, and rejoice in it: but it is not at all contrary to this precious truth. Read this verse, "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." Whoever will in the whole world believe in Christ may do so; he is neither too old or too young, or too rich, or too poor, or too wicked, or too moral; if he will but trust Christ he shall be saved, and he is fully allowed and permitted, yea, commanded to believe and live.
Once, again, though your faith should only be strong enough to lead you to pray, yet it shall save you, for "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Suppose your faith cannot work miracles; never mind about miracles. Suppose you cannot walk on the sea, like Peter: never mind; you are not called to do it. Can your faith pray? Can it cry? Then call upon the Lord, and you shall be saved. Poor dear heart, if you can but trust Christ, even though the feeblest possible manifestation of it should be the only thing visible, namely, your calling upon God in prayer, it must and shall save you.
IV. Now, I hope I have put it plainly. I have tried my best; and so I close by bidding you hear WHAT EXPERIENCE SAITH.
What does experience say about believing in Christ! Experience says, and we are some of us here to say it, that it is the grandest way of living in the world. I assure you that I daily find the value of living by faith. In hours of dire distress and great heaviness of spirit, of which I know enough, I prove the power of faith in Jesus. Ah, my Lord, what should I do then if I could not as "a poor sinner, and nothing at all" find Christ to be my "all in all." Fair-weather sailors, who go out in their little painted perfection boats, are people who have had small temptation and little soul-trouble. They are generally gentlemen in good health, with regular incomes and sweet tempers, and so they soon reach their imaginary sinlessnessvain creatures that they are; but you never get any of that among the poor, suffering, tried people of God. In stormy weather our beauty and glory soon turn pale; when the devil meets us face to face, he cracks up our tinsel perfection with a blow. He laughs at all our comeliness, he knows that it is a hollow cheat, a vile sham. In the moments when the soul is in the lowest depths, faith is the only way to live. That mode of living which will do for the depths is safe for the heights.
How blessed it is when a child of God has actually fallen into sin,God keep us so that we never may,but if guilt is on the soul, what is a poor creature to do? He can do nothing unless he has learned this precious truth, that he is nothing at all, and Jesus Christ is his all in all. Then he knows that Jesus will blot out his transgressions, and create in him a clean heart, and restore him to himself again, though now, like David, his sin is ever before him.
Yes, and I find a self-denying, Christ-exalting faith to be good in times of jubilation and success. The only way to keep right and humble is to be nothing, and let Jesus be all in all. If God has blessed your ministry or other holy work, the devil whispers, "You are a pretty fellow; you have done wonders"; and up you will go if you are not steadied by the firm conviction that you may not glory, since you are nothing at all in yourself, and your sole help is in Jesus your Lord. When God gives you growth in grace and fruitfulness in good works it will be your safety to be as little as ever you were, and to trust in nothing but the work of the Lord. This blessed faith keeps men down when they are apt to go up, and up when otherwise they would be apt to go down. It is a holy balancing pole: we can walk the narrowest line with this in our hands, and fear no fall. Ourselves nothing, Christ everythingthat is it. Keep to it.
Now as to the test of death. Does this sort of faith enable men to face death with courage? I have had almost thirty years among you, and God has been very gracious to us, so that we have lost very few comparatively by death; but now many are going home, and, according to the course of nature, many of our honored brethren and sisters will soon follow. As to those who have been called home, how have they died? I have the deep satisfaction of saying that when our dear brethren and sisters fall asleep they reflect honor upon the gospel which we have preached. Ask those who have seen them die. These dear ones at this hour look back upon me and say, "Go on: preach the same gospel to others; for we found it blessed truth to die upon." Look at our dear, departed brother, Mr. Higgs, the last who has crossed the stream. His sons and daughters will tell you that his death was sad to them, but not to him. He suffered agonizing pain, but his peace was as deep as the sea. He had no uncertainty; he was as sure of his safety as it it had been a matter of calculation by the rules of arithmetic. He knew whom he had believed, and knew what the Lord had done for him, and he could not see a weak point in it all. He spent the whole night in trying to cheer and comfort others: he had no trembling thought about himself. He did not say, "Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O my friends, for the hand of the Lord hath touched me." No; he knew that Christ was the resurrection and the life, and he was ready to depart. He wished his beloved ones to go to their beds; and since they would stop with him, he desired them to sing." "What shall we sing?" "Sing" said he,
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