Radio Address of Oct. 25, over W. L. A. V. (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
Salvation has often popularity, yet not inaptly, been defined as that work of God, whereby we are delivered from the greatest evil, and made partakers of the highest good. The greatest evil is our sin and death, our guilt and pollution, our damnableness before God and our incapability of doing anything that is pleasing to Him, our being children of wrath and our separation from God, And the highest good is usually called “eternal life” in the Scriptures. And “eternal life” is not merely unending existence after this present life, but it is the highest possible form of life, and of the most perfect and intimate fellowship of friendship with the ever blessed God on the plane of heavenly perfection. To be delivered from the guilt of sin and to be clothed with perfect righteousness; to be liberated from the bondage of sin and to be made unchangeably holy; to be quickened out of death and to be made heir of eternal life in God’s tabernacle,—that is salvation. And when we say that Jesus saves, we mean that He accomplishes all the work that is required to raise us out of the depths of this greatest evil into the glory of the highest good.
Now, for practical reasons we may distinguish this whole work of salvation into two parts: we may speak of the work of salvation that is performed for us, outside of us and in our behalf; and the work of salvation that is wrought upon us and within us. Of the former we spoke in our previous lecture. It is the work of redemption. Christ finished it by His perfect obedience on the cross. By it our sins are blotted out, our state before God is changed from that of guilt into perfect and everlasting righteousness. God’s justice is satisfied and we are reconciled unto Him. That atoning work of Christ is the basis of all the rest of the work of salvation. By it He obtained for us the right to be delivered from the dominion of sin and the power of death, and the right to eternal life. But we must still speak of the work of salvation performed within us and upon us. This is the work of our actual deliverance. The question that must be answered here is: how do we become actual partakers of the salvation Christ merited for us by His perfect obedience? How do we receive the forgiveness of sin and the righteousness of God in Christ? And how are we delivered from the power of sin so that we become servants of righteousness? In a word: how does the sinner that is dead in sin and misery become a living child of God, rejoicing in all the blessings of salvation Christ merited for him?
Let us approach the answer to this question by saying that we must come to Christ. Of this we read often in the Scriptures. “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” (. “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea come, and buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David” ( . “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” ( . “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” ( . “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” ( . “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst let him come unto me and drink” ( . The man that prepared the supper, and bade many, sent out his servant with the call: “Come; for all things are now ready” ( . “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” ( .
Yes, indeed, we must come to Jesus, in order to be saved, and coming to Him we must receive out of Him all that is necessary unto our salvation. For all our salvation is in Him. In the Christ of the Scriptures who is the Son of God come into the flesh, who was born of the virgin Mary, who tabernacled among us, and revealed unto us the Father; who died on the accursed tree for our transgressions, and was raised on the third day for our justification; who we glorified and exalted at the right hand of God and received the promise of the Holy Ghost; who poured out that Spirit into the Church, and in the Spirit returned unto His own,—in that Christ is all our salvation. In Him is light and life, knowledge and wisdom, righteousness and sanctification. In Him are all the blessings of grace. He is the bread of life, which we must eat, and “if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever.”. Therefore, He could say: “he that cometh to me shall never hunger.” . He is the water of life, and could truly say: “he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” . And the apostle Paul writes of this “Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” It is, therefore, of his fullness that we have all received “and grace for grace.” . Even as the light that dispels the darkness in your home when you turn the switch is not originally in the light bulb that distributes the light, but in the power that flows into your home from the central power plant, so the light that dispels the darkness of sin in your soul is in Christ. And even as your home must be properly wired and connected with that central power plant, if you are to have light in the house, so your heart must be connected with the Christ of the Scriptures, if it is to be filled with the blessings of salvation. There is death in you, but life in Him. There is unrighteousness in you, but righteousness in Him. There is darkness in your soul, but there is light in Him. Come, therefore, to Jesus to eat and to drink, and your soul shall live.
But here two important, questions arise that must be answered. The first of these is: what does it mean to “come to Jesus?” And the second, no less significant than the first, is: how does a sinner come to Christ? As to the first question, we may remark, first of all, that in some circles the words “come to Jesus” are frequently used without paying any attention to their profound spiritual meaning, and thus have been coined into a superficial slogan, devoid of any real significance. The impression is often given that to come to Jesus is something which any sinner can accomplish at will, at any time, and at a moment’s notice. But what is the implication of this act? What does a man do, when he “comes to Jesus?” Surely, we understand that there is a figure in the words. We cannot come to Jesus bodily, and if we could, such coming would be quite vain and fruitless. The Lord is raised, and He is gone into the heavens. The only Jesus we know is the Christ of the Scriptures, and the only way we can have contact with Him and come to Him is through the Scriptures. To come to Jesus surely means to come to the Scriptures. But even so, the mere coming to the Bible, so that we read it, study it, hear it preached and learn about Jesus revealed in it is not the same as coming to Jesus. Not a physical, not an intellectual coming to Jesus is meant, but a spiritual act of faith. And we must ask: what is implied in that spiritual act by which one comes to Jesus and is received by Him?
Four elements may be distinguished in the act of coming to Jesus. These four elements I may denote by the terms: contrition, recognition, aspiration, and reception or acceptance. Let me say a few words about each of these four elements. Contrition is the first step on the way to Jesus. The sinner, who is of himself dead in sin, acknowledges that he is devoid of all good, of righteousness, truth, holiness knowledge, wisdom, life; and that he is filled with darkness, corruption, the lie and rebellion against God; he is sorry after God, not because of the consequences of his sin, but because of the horror that he has sinned and does sin against God; and he humbles himself in true penitence. The second step is recognition. Over against his own emptiness of all good and fullness of corruption, the sinner beholds the Lord Jesus Christ in all the fullness of His grace. He recognizes Him as the bread and the water of life, as the one in whom is righteousness, wisdom, knowledge, sanctification, life, and complete redemption. Closely connected with the last step on the way to Jesus is the third, that of aspiration or longing. Having discovered and confessed his own emptiness and Christ’s fullness, the sinner desires Christ. He hungers and thirst after righteousness, forgiveness of sin, deliverance from the dominion of corruption, light and life. And realizing that they are all in Christ, and in Him alone, He longs for Christ Himself. He would feign possess Him, lay hold on Him, embrace Him, and call Him his Savior and Lord. But there is still the fourth element in the coming to Jesus, that of reception or acceptance. It is not enough to remain standing afar, looking at Jesus, and longing after Him. There are, indeed, many that approach thus far, but hesitate to take the last step, and to appropriate the Christ for themselves. They do not really come to Jesus. They always hesitate. They never rejoice in their salvation. And this may not be. We must come to Jesus. And to come to Him, finally and completely, we must once more look at Him as He is revealed to us in the Scriptures. We must hear Him call those that hunger and thirst after righteousness, the poor in spirit, the mourning, the weary and heavy laden; and we must believe His Word, promising them complete satisfaction, the riches of the kingdom of heaven, comfort and rest; and finally, recognizing that we are those whom He calls, and that, therefore, those promises are for us, we must take confidence and lay hold upon the Christ of the Scriptures, so that we may gladly confess with the Heidelberg Catechism, that it is our only comfort in life and in death that we belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ, with body and soul, for time and eternity! We have come to Jesus!
But how does anyone thus come to the Christ of the Scriptures? It is at this point that we must be quite specific, in order to maintain the truth that Jesus actually saves. Perhaps, we may state without fear of contradiction that the sinner can come to Jesus only by grace. He can do nothing of himself. He is saved by grace. Yet, it was proved more than once that even this statement is not sufficient to avoid the possibility of misunderstanding and error. The question must rather be put, whether in coming to Jesus the sinner is first or Christ. Is it thus, perhaps, that the very will and power to come to Jesus is all the fruit of grace, but that it depends upon the will of the sinner whether or not he receives this grace to come to Christ? Is it true, that Jesus is willing to save the sinner, but that the question whether he actually will be saved is contingent upon the will of the sinner to be saved? Must we present the matter of salvation as if Christ is ready to receive the sinner, earnestly begs him to come to Him, offers him all the necessary grace to come and drink of the water of life freely, but that Jesus can do no more, and is unable to save him if the sinner refuses to receive His grace? Is it correct to present the matter of salvation as if Jesus stands at the door of the heart and knocks, but is dependent upon the will of the sinner to open the door, because the key of that door is on the inside? Does Jesus throw out the lifeline to struggling seamen, that must needs perish if they refuse to take hold of the line?
God forbid! First of all, let us consider that, if such were the case, no sinner could be saved, for the simple reason that no man can of himself come to Jesus, or even will to come unto Him. Salvation is deliverance from the guilt and the dominion of sin, and the sinner is willingly in the power of sin. He is not drowning and struggling to be saved, but he is spiritually dead, and he will not be saved. He loves sin and hates righteousness. He loves darkness rather than light. He may probably be willing to escape the punishment of sin; he may be afraid of hell, and he may be desirous of going to a heaven of his own imagination. But he will not be saved from sin, and he will never receive, still less ask for grace to be converted. If nothing is done to him, he will surely reject Christ. And if the reception of grace on his part depends on the choice of his will, he will resist to the very end. To be sure, whosoever will may come and take of the water of life freely, but the will to come is already the fruit of grace: to the natural man the very water of life is nauseating. Secondly, and in close connection with the preceding, it must be evident, that if the matter of salvation depended at all upon the choice of the unregenerated sinner, the statement “Jesus Saves” cannot be true. He may be willing to save, but actually He is powerless to deliver the sinner, because of the perversion of the will of man. But the angel said to Joseph that His name should be called Jesus, not because He is willing to save His people from their sin, but most positively because He shall save them! Jesus saves! That means, not only that He merited salvation for us by the death of the cross, but also that He actually delivers from sin and gives us eternal life, not because the sinner first wills, but in spite of his unwillingness and resistance. And thirdly, the doctrine that the reception of grace to come to Jesus is dependent on and subsequent to the will and choice of the natural man is contrary to the plain teaching of Holy Writ. For the Bible teaches that “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (. Scripture declares that we are saved by grace, through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God ( . God, the God of our salvation in Christ and not the sinner is first, for “God, who is rich in mercy for the great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ: by grace are ye saved” ( . To the murmuring Jews in Capernaum the Lord says: “No man can come unto me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” And again: “Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father” ( . And, on the other hand, it is equally certain that “all that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” ( .
The answer to the question, therefore, which we raised above is: not the sinner, but Jesus is first. Always our act of coming to Him is the fruit of His saving work of drawing us. He enters our hearts, not because we open the door unto Him, but because He has received from the Father both the right and the power to enthrone Himself in the hearts of all His own. He calls by His Word and Spirit, and we hear; He regenerates us, and we live; He opens our eyes, and we see; He brings us to repentance, and we repent; He gives us a new spiritual appetite, and we hunger and thirst after righteousness; He gives us the will to come to Him, and we come. Always He is first, and because He is first, it is certainly true that He shall save His people from their sins. Jesus surely saves!
In this truth there is real joy and a sure consolation for all that do come to Him. What comfort and assurance would there be in the knowledge that you once came to Jesus, if in last analysis your coming to Him was your own work, contingent upon the choice of your own will? May not that same will of yours that accepted Him yesterday decide today to reject Him? Or what assurance can you have that He will receive you, if your coming to Him was nothing but the decision of your own will? Now, however, it is quite different. For your coming to Him was the fruit of His first coming to you. Your acceptance of Jesus means that He accepted you. And so, in your coming to Him you have the assurance that He accepted you. Even your first prayer, though it were nothing but the prayer of the publican, was first wrought in your heart by the marvelous power of His grace, and in the prayer you have the assurance that He will hear you! For Jesus surely saves!
Yes, indeed, come to Jesus all ye that labor and are heavy laden, for He will surely give you rest. Come unto Him for He will in no wise cast you out. Come to Him as the bread of life, and He will surely nourish you unto life eternal. Come to Him as the sole fountain of the water of life, and He will slake your thirst forever. It never happened, and it never shall happen that anyone came to Jesus, and was not received. The Lord Himself assures us, that him that cometh to Him He will in no wise cast out (. This means, positively, that if you truly come unto Him for the forgiveness of sin, He will say to you: Your sins are forgiven you; that if you approach Him for righteousness, He will clothe you with His own everlasting righteousness; that if you come to Him for the knowledge of God, He will surely illuminate your understanding, darkened through sin by nature, by His Spirit and Word; that if you seek from Him liberation from the dominion of sin, He will cut the shackles of corruption that keep you bound, and set you free. Come unto Him, and He will impart Himself to you. Jesus never fails. He surely saves.
The reason for this certainty is evident. The Lord says: “All that the Father giveth unto me shall come to me.” There lies the secret of this certain acceptance. Christ came to do the Father’s will, and it is the Father’s will that all He gives to Jesus, to the very last one, shall be saved. For they are not a mere multitude whose number is arbitrary, but they constitute one whole, the glorious Church, the one body of Christ through which the one glory of the one God in the one Christ must shine forth in all its manifold perfection of beauty. When that body is all gathered and perfected, each saint will occupy his own place in the whole, and serve his own purpose, reflecting in his own way the glory of God in Christ, and singing his own part in the grand harmony of the mighty choir that will forever cause the new creation to rebound with the praises of the Most High. Of that glorious choir not one voice may be lost, for it would mar the beauty and harmony of the whole. Hence, it is absolutely sure that all that the Father giveth unto Jesus shall come unto Him. And for the same reason it is equally sure that Christ will never cast cut those that come unto Him, but that He will save them even unto the end. Jesus never fails!