Great Texts of the Bible
Salvation the Gift of God
By grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.—Ephesians 2:8.
These are pregnant words to be written by a prisoner at Rome. St. Paul was always most free in spirit when he was most fettered in body. The longer he lived in drear captivity the riper grew his spirit. This, the last of his great Epistles, is like the swan-song sung in view of inexorable death. For him eternity is filled with God. The Father folds in His bosom the blessed Son, and the Son helps to create the beatitude of the Father. There he reads the mystery, hidden from the ages, but now revealed, that all men might be one in Christ. Then he looks down on man, dead in trespasses and sins, but redeemed in Christ, according to the eternal purpose of God. Then he looks up and sees principalities and powers in heavenly places, learning through Christ the manifold wisdom of God. Then, glancing out, he sees renewed humanity, the Church of Christ, with all its graces and with all its glory. He traces all this to Divine grace working through human faith, all of God, all through man, and the more God passes into man, the more grandly man becomes the image of the living God.
The Nature of Salvation
1. It is a salvation from spiritual death.—In the Bible the word “salvation” is not a technical theological term. It means deliverance generally. Any special import in a particular passage must depend on the context. In the present instance the context clearly shows what kind of salvation St. Paul is thinking of. This is neither rescue from earthly poverty and pain—the lower old Jewish salvation, nor escape from future torment—the lower Christian salvation. It is deliverance from a present spiritual death. The soul is saved from itself.
Salvation is not only the rescue and deliverance of a man from evils conceived to lie round about him, and to threaten his being from without, it is also his healing from evils which have so wrought themselves into his very being, and infected his whole nature, that the emblem for them is a “sickness unto death,” of which this mighty Physician comes for the healing. But salvation is more than a shelter, more than an escape. It not only trammels up evil possibilities, and prevents them from falling upon men’s heads, but it introduces all good. It not only strips off the poisoned robe, it also invests with a royal garb. It is not only negatively the withdrawal from the power, and the setting above the reach, of all evil, in the widest sense of that word, physical and moral, but also the endowment with every good, in the widest sense of that word, physical and moral, which man is capable of receiving, or God has wealth to bestow.
2. It is an accomplished salvation.—Salvation is a Divine act completed, but regarded as continuous and permanent in its issues. The Revised Version slightly modifies the translation of the Authorized Version and reads, “ye have been saved” (A.V. “are saved”). The saving was a fact, finished, rounded, completed, realized once for all. In an earlier Epistle St. Paul said, “We are saved by hope.” Despair means death. But here the saving is a fact and a process. It is done and it continues until man obtains the beatitude of God. Out there swims the lifeboat. The man may be lifted into it from the devouring waves, and you say he is saved. But leaving him there in the open boat, tempest-tossed, wind-driven, you expose him to death as certain, though more slow-footed. And so the saving of man, though the work of God, is a process that goes on till the boat reaches the eternal shore, and we step on to the firm land to realize the larger freedom and the diviner end.
3. It is the gift of God.—Salvation is entirely God’s gift to us; and it must be so. For we cannot make it or get it for ourselves; we have no power of our own to make it for ourselves, nothing of our own to offer in exchange for it. If our salvation does not come to us as God’s free gift, it can never come to us at all. This is what St. Paul keeps insisting upon over and over again in his statements of the doctrine of justification; it is the foundation upon which the whole doctrine has to be reared. And so the very first step in the way of our salvation must be taken by God Himself; we can have nothing at all to do with it.
“Not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” This word has often been misunderstood, as if it referred to the faith which is mentioned just before. But that is a plain misconception of the Apostle’s meaning. It is not faith that is the gift of God; it is salvation by grace. That is plain from the next verse: “not of works, lest any man should boast.” What is it that is “not of works”? Faith? Certainly not. Nobody would ever have thought it worth while to say, “Faith is not of works,” because nobody would have said it was. The two clauses necessarily refer to the same thing; and if the latter of them must refer to salvation by grace, so must the former.1 [Note: A. Maclaren, Creed and Conduct, 37.]
Alas! many don’t understand the nature of Christianity, which is one great giving from beginning to end. Christ, God’s Son, was a gift. The salvation He has procured us is a gift. The sacrifice which got that salvation is a gift. Heaven, with all its eternal felicities, is a gift—a free, a full, a perfect gift. And yet for Christ’s cause there are men who can, and who will, do nothing! It is astonishing the forms, the methods, the excuses which people will sometimes adopt—people with wealth—to get off from giving to God a little of what God has given so lavishly to them.2 [Note: Dr. MacGregor of St. Cuthberts, in Life by Frances Balfour, 44.]
The Source of Salvation
1. The fountain of all our deliverance from sin lies in the deep heart of God, from which it wells up undrawn, unmotived, uncaused by anything except His own infinite loving-kindness. People have often presented the New Testament teaching about salvation as if it implied that God’s love was brought to man because Jesus Christ died, and turned the Divine affections. That is not New Testament teaching. Christ’s death is not the cause of God’s love, but God’s love is the cause of Christ’s death. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” When He loves, He loves freely and unmodified except by the constraint of His own Being. Just as the light, because it is light and must radiate, falls upon dung-hills and diamonds, upon black rocks and white snow, upon ice-peaks and fertile fields, so the great fountain of the Divine grace pours out upon men only by reason of its own continual tendency to communicate its own fullness and blessedness.
“Grace” is a word our fathers understood and loved better than we. It was defined as “favour.” And favours even of God are not agreeable to the proud spirit of man. But no common term can ever exhaust, or express, this great and rich idea. “Grace” expresses and denotes at once the feeling that prompts the favour and the gratitude the favour begets. It denotes both the beneficence that comes of a joy that cannot be uttered, and yet must be expressed, and the joy that cannot bear the sight of pain and misery, and guilt and death, confronting it on this wide earth.1 [Note: A. M. Fairbairn, in The Preacher’s Magazine, January 1909, p. 8.]
Do you know what it is to be impressed by a word? Lately, the word grace, especially as used in Galatians, has come to me morning, noon, and night, with a fullness of meaning it never had before. What an infinite mercy it is that salvation from beginning to end is by grace! How useless and how needless to look anywhere for merit, and how simple just to take! This has a commonplace look now it is written, and yet it has meant so much to me.2 [Note: John Brash, in Memorials and Correspondence, 9.]
There is another term that stands near “grace”—the term “love.” But the two terms are worlds apart. All grace is love, but not all love is grace. Grace loves to do good in an equal measure to all; but love can never dispense with a fit object. Grace is a thing of nature so infinite that no man who has it dare resist or disobey its command. The beautiful spirit incarnated in beautiful speech is gracious. The gracefulness which is the delight of gods and men comes from the loveliness of perfect deeds. There is a grace which corresponds to the word of the old philosopher, “The best and the last part of beauty is grace.” Grace has been called beauty in motion, beauty in action. God is gracious by the nature He bears as Deity. But man is gracious by gift. The beneficence of God creates grace in man. But a heathen man could have spoken of grace in some such terms as we have used. St. Paul, however, took the term, made it Christian, baptized it, and lifted it into a new and splendid sense. It meant to him absolute freedom in all that God gave. God is no infinite creditor, and we are no infinite debtors. Grace cannot be bought, not even by blood; for He who is gracious gave to the death the Son of His love. See, then, grace is free, sending the Son to make that glorious sacrifice whereby we are all redeemed. Because grace is free it is given without fee, merit, or reward. Only the mercy of God, only the grace of heaven, only the free unfettered love of the Father, can save men.1 [Note: A. M. Fairbairn.]
2. Through universal grace, all walls of partition fall down, and men stand alike and equal before God. Before St. Paul’s day men appended God to a race, a priesthood, a sacrifice. They read God through what they did, and through themselves alone. But St. Paul read man through God. He read history through heaven. St. Paul brought the great and splendid conception of grace to vivify all that man signified, and all that he could achieve. Can you think what was done when, instead of coming to God with all the terror of soul that seeks to buy His grace, and to pay Him in blood, and by pain and suffering have merit before Him, men came to Him simply because of His infinite mercy? Did you ever think that what happened then was that men, instead of coming to God as an infinite power whose pity they must buy, looked at mankind through God’s own eyes? The eyes of grace brought to the interpretation of man the great and glorious dream of an Eternal and Universal Father who could not will but save. He is a grand King who is the Father of His people, and the grandest of all discoveries was made by the Apostle when he said, Not by might, not by any merit of our own, not by any works, but altogether of grace is God’s great action. When he said this, down fell the wall of partition, down came every act which divided and distinguished men. Where God is gracious, men who through His grace are saved become one mankind.
Grace is given for the merits of Christ all over the earth; there is no corner, even of Paganism, where it is not present, present in each heart of man in real sufficiency for his ultimate salvation. Not that the grace presented to each is such as at once to bring him to heaven; but it is sufficient for a beginning. It is sufficient to enable him to plead for other grace; and that second grace is such as to impetrate a third grace; and thus the soul may be led from grace to grace, and from strength to strength, till at length it is, so to say, in very sight of heaven, if the gift of perseverance does but complete the work.1 [Note: Newman, Difficulties felt by Anglicans, 70.]
The play of chances which brings up a ternion or a quaternion is nothing compared to what has been required to prevent the combination of which I am reaping the fruits from being disturbed. If my origin had been less lowly in the eyes of the world, I should not have entered or persevered upon that royal road of the intellectual life to which my early training for the priesthood attached me. The displacement of a single atom would have broken the chain of fortuitous facts which, in the remote district of Brittany, was preparing me for a privileged life; which brought me from Brittany to Paris; which, when I was in Paris, took me to the establishment of all others where the best and most solid education was to be had; which, when I left the seminary, saved me from two or three mistakes which would have been the ruin of me; which, when I was on my travels, extricated me from certain dangers that, according to the doctrine of chances, would have been fatal to me; which, to cite one special instance, brought Dr. Suquet over from America to rescue me from the jaws of death which were yawning to swallow me up. The only conclusion I would fain draw from all this is that the unconscious effort towards what is good and true in the universe has its throw of the dice through the intermediary of each one of us. There is no combination but what comes up, quaternions like any other. We may disarrange the designs of Providence in respect to ourselves; but we have next to no influence upon their accomplishment. Quid habes quod non accepisti? The dogma of grace is the truest of all the Christian dogmas.2 [Note: E. Renan, Recollections of My Youth, 326.]
The Channel of Salvation
1. Faith is the condition of salvation on man’s side. The Christian requirement of the condition of salvation is expressed in the word “faith.” “Ye have been saved by grace”—there is the source; “ye have been saved by grace, through faith”—there is the condition, the medium, the instrument, the channel. It is a thousand pities, one sometimes thinks, that the word was not translated “trust” instead of “faith,” and then we should have understood that it is not a theological virtue at all, but just the common thing that we all know so well, which is the cement of human society and the blessedness of human affection, and which only needs to be lifted, as a plant that had been running along the ground, and had its tendrils bruised and its fruit marred, might be lifted and twined round the pillar of God’s throne, in order to grow up and bear fruit that shall be found after many days unto praise, and honour and glory.
There is something on our side, by means of which we are to accept the salvation, and if that something be not exercised salvation may be brought to our doors but it will not do us any good. You may bring the biggest nugget of gold in the world to my door; there it may be outside on a wheelbarrow, and I may be inside dying of starvation; the nugget will do me no good if I do not take it in. If I do not turn it into money, and apply it to the satisfaction of my wants, I shall be as badly off as if the nugget had never been presented to me at all. The glorious gift of salvation is brought to our doors, and the question is, Have we taken it into our hearts?1 [Note: W. H. M. H. Aitken, Mission Sermons, 119.]
Faith is as distinctive of man as grace is distinctive of God, for this reason—while grace describes God’s attitude to man, faith describes man’s attitude to God. While grace speaks of the relation of the ideal to man, faith speaks of the relation of man to the ideal. Hence all faith speaks of man in relation to God. Where His grace works our good, our faith responds to His grace. The one is the answer to the other—the response of earth to the voice that speaks from heaven.2 [Note: A. M. Fairbairn.]
We got, I forget how, to the subject of the Divine permission of Evil, which Wordsworth said he had always felt the hardest problem of man’s being. When four years old, he had quaked on his bed in sharp conflict of spirit on this subject. “Nothing,” he said, “but Faith can keep you quiet and at peace with such awful problems pressing on you—Faith that what you know not now, you will know in God’s good time. It is curious, in that verse of St. Paul’s about Faith, Hope, and Charity or Love, that Charity should be placed the highest of the three; it must be because it is so universal and limitless in its operations: but Faith is the highest individual experience, because it conquers the pride of the understanding—man’s greatest foe.1 [Note: H. N. Pym, Caroline Fox, Her Journals and Letters, i. 305.]
2. Why is faith selected as the channel of salvation?
(1) Faith has been selected as the channel of grace because there is a natural adaptation in faith to be used as the receiver. Suppose that I am about to give a poor man an alms; I put it into his hand—why? Well, it would hardly be fitting to put it into his ear, or to lay it upon his foot; the hand seems made on purpose to receive. So faith in the mental frame is created on purpose to be a receiver; it is the hand of the man, and there is a fitness in bestowing grace by its means. Faith which receives Christ is as simple an act as when your child receives an apple from you, because you hold it out, and promise to give him the apple if he comes for it. The belief and the receiving relate only to an apple; but they make up precisely the same act as the faith which deals with eternal salvation; and what the child’s hand is to the apple, that your faith is to the perfect salvation of Christ. The child’s hand does not make the apple, or alter the apple, it only takes it; and faith is chosen by God to be the receiver of salvation, because it does not pretend to make salvation or to help in it, but it receives it.
(2) It gives all the glory to God.—The hand which receives charity does not say, “I am to be thanked for accepting the gift”; that would be absurd. When the hand conveys bread to the mouth, it does not say to the body, “Thank me, for I feed you.” It is a very simple thing that the hand does, though a very necessary thing; and it never arrogates glory to itself for what it does. So God has selected faith to receive the unspeakable gift of His grace, because it cannot take to itself any credit, but must adore the gracious God who is the giver of all good.
(3) It unites man to God.—When man confides in God, there is a point of union between them, and that union guarantees blessing. Faith saves us because it makes us cling to God, and so brings us into connexion with Him. Years ago, above certain great falls, a boat was upset, and two men were being carried down the current, when persons on the shore managed to float a rope out to them, which rope was seized by them both. One of them held fast to it, and was safely drawn to the bank; but the other, seeing a great log come floating by, unwisely let go the rope, and clung to the log, for it was the bigger thing of the two, and apparently better to cling to. Alas! the log, with the man on it, went right over the vast abyss, because there was no union between the log and the shore. The size of the log was no benefit to him who grasped it; it needed a connexion with the shore to produce safety. So, when a man trusts to his works, or to sacraments, or to anything of that sort, he will not be saved, because there is no junction between him and Christ; but faith, though it may seem to be like a slender cord, is in the hand of the great God on the shore side; infinite power pulls in the connecting line, and thus draws the man from destruction.
(4) Faith touches the springs of action.—If I walk across a room, it is because I believe my legs will carry me. A man eats because he believes in the necessity of food. Columbus discovered America because he believed that there was another continent beyond the ocean. Many another grand deed has also been born of faith, for faith works wonders. Commoner things are done on the same principle; faith in its natural form is an all-prevailing force. God gives salvation to our faith, because He has thus touched the secret spring of all our emotions and actions. He has, so to speak, taken possession of the battery, and now He can send the sacred current to every part of our nature. When we believe in Christ, and the heart has come into the possession of God, then are we saved from sin, and are moved towards repentance, holiness, zeal, prayer, consecration, and every other gracious thing.
The next day I again went to Farringford. I found Tennyson walking up and down the ballroom. I walked up and down with him for three-quarters of an hour. After talking of various matters, he came back to the subject of immortality. “It is hard,” he said, “to believe in God, but it is harder not to believe in Him. I don’t believe in His goodness from what I see in nature. In nature I see the mechanism. I believe in His goodness from what I find in my own breast.” … Then he said, “I wonder what the earliest Christians thought of it all.” I said that I thought that they were content with seeing in Christ a revelation of God and an assurance of God’s love; later came the controversies and the need for definition. He said that, of course, we must have doctrine. I assented, remarking that the form must be more or less human. “After all,” he said, “after all, the greatest thing is faith.” Having said this, he paused, and then recited, giving earnest emphasis to the long rolling lines which sang of a faith victorious, a faith which can wait till the opening doors of Heaven disclose what faith waits for:—
Doubt no longer that the Highest is the wisest and the best,
Let not all that saddens Nature blight thy hope or break thy rest,
Quail not at the fiery mountain, at the shipwreck, or the rolling
Thunder, or the rending earthquake, or the famine, or the pest
Neither mourn if human creeds be lower than the heart’s desire!
Thro’ the gates that bar the distance comes a gleam of what is higher.
Wait till Death has flung them open, when the man will make the Maker
Dark no more with human hatreds in the glare of deathless fire!1 [Note: Bishop W. Boyd Carpenter, Some Pages of My Life, 269.]
3. The entire system of salvation revealed in the Gospel is based upon this foundation doctrine, that the faith which saves the soul is a faith which looks immediately to, and which terminates definitively in, the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ as the almighty and atoning Redeemer. Now, it is of exceeding importance to have a clear and distinct understanding of this cardinal doctrine, that, in order to salvation, there must be a personal faith in a Personal Saviour. Wrong views here are ruinous. Any mistake as to the object of faith is fatal error. Yet there may be and there is a belief of the truth of Scripture which is not faith in the New Testament and saving sense of the term. There may be a belief of all that God has revealed in His Word, and even an intellectual apprehension of the remedial scheme as set forth in the Gospel, altogether apart from that faith which is connected with the elements of spiritual life and the earnest of salvation. And the explanation of this is to be found in the nature of the case. The object of saving faith is not the truth about Christ, but the Person of Christ; it is not the testimony, but the Testifier. Of course there must of necessity be the believing of the truth about Christ, the crediting of the testimony given in the Word concerning Him. But what is the relation which the truth and the testimony bear to Christ? Why, the truth is but the light under which He is revealed; the testimony is only the platform on which He is exhibited. And what is the relation which faith bears to the truth and the testimony about Christ? Why, faith eyes Christ as He is seen by the light of the truth; it occupies itself with Him as He is set forth in the testimony. But faith is not satisfied with the mere speculative knowledge and the certified evidence of Christ’s Saviourhood. Faith breaks through all his Scripture surroundings and presses forward to Christ Himself, and finds its proper focus and fruition in the Person of the revealed and realized Saviour.
As Dr. Liddon so moved among his fellow-men, so thought of them and approached them, he seemed as one who was often thinking of the gaze of Christ lighting on him, the Hand of Christ pointing to some act of service, the Voice of Christ prompting some witness to the Faith. There was a memorable tone that came into his words when in preaching or in argument or in conversation he spoke of that which he condemned as slighting or disloyal to Christ. It was, quite simply, like the way in which a man fires up when any one has, even unawares, spoken rudely or contemptuously of his friend; and there are parts of his writings in which, for those at least who knew him, that same tone still sounds. It was but one sign of a real habit of thinking constantly of his Master; of a very attentive listening for His command; of an earnest, anxious desire to go straight forward in His cause, to live and die as His.1 [Note: J. O. Johnston, Life and Letters of H. P. Liddon, 403.]
Salvation the Gift of God
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