Lewis Sperry Chafer on the Terms of Salvation
A message for ministers and soul-winners
At the risk of being labeled a “legalistic Pharisee” or just “too picky,” this commentator has stressed in most every systematic and topical study of the Bible that salvation can only be given to an individual on the basis of faith alone in Christ alone. By this concise phrase it is meant that a person obtains eternal life by voluntarily (willful) placing his genuine faith (trust or confidence) in only Jesus Christ and His substitutionary sacrifice on the cross, which is the “act of repentance,” a turning from every other confidence (good works, self-effort, a religious system or anyone or anything else).
This commentator has argued and continues to believe that it at best clouds the issue and at worst misrepresents the “terms of salvation” by attaching anything else to the salvation message, such as stressing repentance (a sorrow for or a turning from personal sin), public profession of faith or the “sinner’s prayer” as an “additional step” in the salvation “formula;” or, to express man’s part in the salvation process in any terms other than that are defined in God’s Word.
The precise instant when a person is saved (granted eternal life with God in heaven) is when in that nanosecond of time he genuinely decides (act of will) to trust only in Jesus Christ and what Christ has done on the cross and in nothing or no one else. In this conclusion, this commentator is joined by such notable ministers as Robert B. Thieme, Jr., Hal Lindsey and others.
Yet, knowing that there will be a host of fundamental and God-fearing ministers who will find fault with this position and will relegate such a statement regarding the “terms of salvation” to the uniformed or uneducated, this commentator will reproduce the rather extensive comments on the “terms of salvation” from one of the most renowned theologians of the past century, who is considered by many fundamental and evangelical ministers as the consummate theologian of today—Lewis Sperry Chafer, D.D., Litt.D., Th.D., late Founder, President and Professor of Systematic Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary.
Dr. Chafer’s comments on the subject, “The Terms of Salvation,” are taken from Volume 3 of his voluminous Systematic Theology, Chapter 20, pages 371 through 393. It is a rather long treatment of the subject, and therefore broken-up in smaller paragraphs for easier reading, but one which no minister of God’s Word or soul-winner can afford to disregard. It will take the reader a good bit of time to read the treatment, but nothing will be so rewarding regarding this issue as this theological exposition.
Note: Any comments by this commentator made within brackets “[ ]” are for clarification for the reader. Also, Dr. Chafer’s treatise is in 11-point type in order to distinguish it from this opening statement.
THE TERMS OF SALVATION
By Lewis Sperry Chafer
OUTSIDE THE DOCTRINES related to the Person and work of Christ, there is no truth more far-reaching in its implications and no fact more to be defended than that salvation in all its limitless magnitude is secured, so far as human responsibility is concerned, by believing on Christ as Savior. To this one requirement no other obligation may be added without violence to the Scriptures and total disruption of the essential doctrine of salvation by grace alone.
Only ignorance or reprehensible inattention to the structure of a right Soteriology [Doctrine of Salvation] will attempt to intrude some form of human works with its supposed merit into that which, if done at all, must by the very nature of the case, be wrought by God alone and on the principle of Sovereign grace.
But few, indeed, seem ever to comprehend the doctrine of sovereign grace, and it is charitable, at least, to revert to this fact as the explanation of the all-but-universal disposition to confuse the vital issues involved. It is the purpose of this section to demonstrate that the eternal glories which are wrought in sovereign grace are conditioned, on the human side, by faith alone.
The practical bearing of this truth must of necessity make drastic claims upon the preacher and become a qualifying influence in the soul-winning methods which are employed. The student would do well to bring his message and his methods into complete agreement with the workings of diving grace, rather than to attempt to conform this unalterable truth to human ideals.
Salvation which is by faith begins with those mighty transformations which together constitute a Christian what he is; it guarantees the safekeeping of the Christian, and brings him home to heaven conformed to the image of Christ. The preacher or soul-winner who is able to trace through these limitless realities and to preserve them from being made to depend to any degree upon human responsibility other than saving faith in Christ, merits the high title of “a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6).
A moment’s attention to the transforming divine undertakings which enter into salvation of the lost will bring one to the realization of the truth that every feature involved presents a task which is superhuman, and, therefore, if to be accomplished at all, must be wrought by God alone. Such a discovery will prepare the mind for the reception of the truth and that the only relation man can sustain to this great undertaking is to depend utterly upon God to do it. That is the simplicity of faith.
However, since moral issues are involved which have been divinely solved by Christ in His death, He has become the only qualified Savior, and saving faith is thus directed toward Him. “Whosoever believeth in Him” shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” But even when the supernatural character of salvation is recognized, it is possible to encumber the human responsibility with various complications, thus to render the whole grace undertaking ineffectual to a large degree.
These assertions lead naturally to a detailed consideration of the more common features of human responsibility which are too often erroneously added to the one requirement of faith or belief.
I. REPENT AND BELIEVE
Since repentance—conceived of as a separate act—is almost universally added to believing as a requirement on the human side for salvation, a consideration of the Biblical meaning of repentance is essential. This consideration may be traced as follows: (1) the meaning of the word, (2) the relation of repentance to believing, (3) the relation of repentance to covenant people, (4) the absence of the demand for repentance from salvation Scriptures, and (5) the significance of repentance in specific passages.
1. THE MEANING OF THE WORD.
The word metanoia [a Greek transliteration; Dr. Chafer uses the actual Greek lettering for all Greek words in his commentary] is in every instance translated repentance. The word means a change of mind. The common practice of reading into this word the thought of sorrow and heart-anguish is responsible for much confusion in the field of Soteriology. There is no reason why sorrow should not accompany repentance or lead to repentance, but the sorrow, whatever it may be, is not repentance. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, it is said that “godly sorrow worketh repentance,” that is, it leads on to repentance; but the sorrow is not to be mistaken for the change of mind which it may serve to produce. The son cited by Christ as reported in Matthew 21:28-29 who first said “I will not go,” and afterward repented and went, is a true example of the precise meaning of the word. The New Testament call to repentance is not an urge to self-condemnation, but is a call to a change of mind which promotes a change in the course being pursued. This definition of this word as it is used in the New Testament is fundamental. Little or no progress can be made in a right induction of the Word of God on this theme, unless the true and accurate meaning of the word is discovered and defended throughout.
2. THE RELATION OF REPENTANCE TO BELIEVING.
Too often, when it is asserted—as it is here—that repentance is not to be added to belief as a separate requirement for salvation, it is assumed that by so much the claim has been set up that repentance is not necessary to salvation. Therefore, it is as dogmatically stated as language can declare, that repentance is essential to salvation and that none could be saved apart from repentance, but it is included in believing and could not be separated from it. The discussion is restricted at this point to the problem which the salvation of unregenerate persons develops; and it is safe to say that few errors have caused so much hindrance to the salvation of the lost than the practice of demanding of them an anguish of soul before faith in Christ can be exercised.
Since such emotions cannot be produced at will, the way of salvation has thus been made impossible for all who do not experience the required anguish. This error results in another serious misdirection of the unsaved, namely, one in which they are encouraged to look inward at themselves and not away to Christ as Savior. Salvation is made to be conditioned on feelings and not on faith. Likewise, people are led by this error to measure the validity of their salvation by the intensity of anguish which preceded or accompanied it. It is in this manner that sorrow of heart becomes a most subtle form of meritorious work and to that extent a contradiction of grace.
Underlying all this supposition that tears and anguish are necessary is the most serious notion that God is not propitious [God’s willingness and eagerness for His holy nature to be satisfied], but that He must be softened to pity by penitent grief. The Bible declares that God is propitious because of Christ’s death for the very sin which causes human sorrow. There is no occasion to melt or temper the heart of God. His attitude toward sin and the sinner is a matter of revelation. To imply, as preachers have done so generally, that God must be mollified and lenified [to make more lenient] by human agony is a desperate form of unbelief. The unsaved have a gospel of good news to believe, which certainly is not the mere notion that God must be coaxed into a saving attitude of mind; it is that Christ has died and grace is extended from One who is propitious to the point of infinity. The human heart is prone to imagine that there is some form of atonement for sin through being sorry for it. Whatever may be the place of sorrow for sin in the restoration of a Christian who has transgressed, it cannot be determined with too much emphasis that for the unsaved—Jew or Gentile—there is no occasion to propitiate [satisfy] God or to provide any form of satisfaction by misery or distress of soul.
With glaring inconsistency, those who have preached that the unsaved must experience mental suffering before they can be saved, have completely failed to inform their hearers about how such grief of mind cannot be produced at will and since many natures are void of depression of spirit, to demand that a self-produced affliction of mind shall precede salvation by faith becomes a form of fatalism and is responsible for having driven uncounted multitudes to despair. However, it is true that, from the Arminian point of view, no greater heresy could be advanced than this contention that the supposed merit of human suffering because of personal sins should be excluded from the terms on which a soul may be saved.
As before stated, repentance, which is a change of mind, is included in believing. No individual can turn to Christ from some other confidence without a change of mind, and that, it should be noted, is all the repentance a spiritually dead individual can ever affect. That change of mind is the work of the Spirit (Eph. 2:8). It will be considered, too, by those who are amenable to the Word of God, that the essential preparation of heart which the Holy Spirit accomplishes in the unsaved to prepare them for an intelligent and voluntary acceptance of Christ as Savior—as defined in John 16:8-11—is not a sorrow for sin. The unsaved who come under this divine influence are illuminated—given a clear understanding—concerning but one sin, namely, that “they believe not on me.”
To believe on Christ is one act, regardless of the manifold results which it secures. It is not turning from something to something; but rather turning to something from something. If this terminology seems a mere play on words, it will be discovered, by more careful investigation, that this is a vital distinction. To turn from evil may easily be a complete act in itself, since the action can be terminated at that point. To turn to Christ is a solitary act, also, and the joining of these two separate acts corresponds to the notion that two acts—repentance and faith—are required for salvation.
On the other hand, turning to Christ from all other confidences is one act, and in that one act repentance, which is a change of mind, is included. The Apostle stresses this distinction in accurate terms when he says to the Thessalonians, “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9). This text provides no comfort for those who contend that people must first, in real contrition, turn from idols—which might terminate at that point—and afterwards, as a second and separate act, turn to God. The text recognizes but one act—“You turned to God from idols”—and that is an act of faith alone.
Those who stress repentance as a second requirement along with believing, inadvertently disclose that, in their conception, the problem of personal sin is all that enters into salvation. The sin nature must also be dealt with; yet that is not a legitimate subject of repentance. Salvation contemplates many vast issues and the adjustment of the issue of personal sin, though included, is but a small portion of the whole. Acts 26:18, sometimes drafted in proof of the idea that the unsaved must do various things in order to be saved, rather enumerates various things which are wrought for him in the saving power of God.
3. THE RELATION OF REPENTANCE TO COVENANT PEOPLE.
The term covenant people is broad in its application. It includes Israel, who are under Jehovah’s unalterable covenants and yet are to be objects of another, new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34), and the Church, composed of all believers of the present age, who are also now the objects of that new covenant made in Christ’s blood (Matt. 26:28; 1 Cor. 11:25). A covenant implies relationship because it secures a right relation to God in matters belonging within the bounds of the covenant. A covenant that is unconditional, as the above-named covenants are, is not affected by any human elements, nor is it changeable even by God Himself. However, the fact of a covenant and the experience of its blessings are two different things. It is possible to be under the provisions of an unconditional covenant and to fail for the time being to enjoy its blessings because of sin. When sin has cast a limitation upon the enjoyment of a covenant and the covenant, being unchangeable, still abides, the issue becomes, not the remaking of the covenant, but the one issue of the sin which mars the relationship.
It therefore follows that, for the covenant people there is a need of a divine dealing with the specific sin and a separate and unrelated repentance respecting it. This repentance is expressed by confession to God. Having confessed his sin, David did not pray for his salvation to be restored; he rather prayed for the restoration of “the joy” of his salvation (Ps. 51:12). In like manner, it is joy and fellowship which confession restores for the believer (1 John 1:3-9).
When Christ came offering Himself to Israel as their Messiah and announcing their kingdom as at hand, He, with John and the apostles, called on that people to repent in preparation for the proffered kingdom. There was no appeal concerning salvation or the formation of covenants; it was restoration of the people by a change of mind which would lead them to forsake their sins (Matt. 10:6 ff.). The application of these appeals made to covenant Jews concerning their adjustments within their covenants to individual unregenerate Gentiles, who are “strangers from the covenants” (Eph. 2:12), is a serious error indeed. In like manner, a Christian may repent as a separate act (2 Cor. 7:8-10).
The conclusion of the matter is that, while covenant people are appointed to national or personal adjustment to God by repentance as a separate act, there is no basis either in reason or revelation for the demand to be made that an unregenerate person in this age must add a covenant person’s repentance to faith in order to be saved.
4. THE ABSENCE OF THE DEMAND FOR REPENTANCE FROM SALVATION SCRIPTURES.
Upwards of 115 New Testament passages condition salvation on believing, and fully 35 passages condition salvation on faith, which latter word in this use of it is an exact synonym of the former. These portions of Scripture, totaling about 150 in all, include practically all that the New Testament declares on the matter of the human responsibility in salvation; yet each one of these texts omits any reference to repentance as a separate act. This fact, easily verified, cannot but bear enormous weight with any candid mind.
In like manner, the Gospel by John, which is written to present Christ as the object of faith unto eternal life, does not once employ the word repentance. Similarly, the Epistle to the Romans, which is the complete analysis of all that enters into the whole plan of salvation by grace, does not use the word repentance in connection with the saving of a soul, except in 2:4 where repentance is equivalent to salvation itself.
When the Apostle Paul and his companion, Silas, made reply to the jailer concerning what he should do to be saved, they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). This reply, it is evident, fails to recognize the necessity of repentance in addition to believing. From this overwhelming mass of irrefutable evidence, it is clear that the New Testament does not impose repentance upon the unsaved as a condition of salvation.
The Gospel of John with its direct words from the lips of Christ, the Epistle to the Romans with its exhaustive treatment of the theme in question, the Apostle Paul, and the whole array of 150 New Testament passages which are the total of the divine instruction, are incomplete and misleading if repentance must be accorded a place separate from, and independent of, believing. No thoughtful person would attempt to defend such a notion against such odds, and those who have thus undertaken doubtless have done so without weighing the evidence or considering the untenable position which they assume.
5. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF REPENTANCE IN SPECIFIC PASSAGES.
When entering upon this phase of this study, it is first necessary to eliminate all portions of the New Testament which introduce the word repentance in its relation to covenant people. There are, likewise, passages which employ the word repentance as a synonym of believing (cf. Acts 17:30; Rom. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:25; 2 Pet. 3:9). Also, there are passages which refer to a change of mind (Acts 8:22; 11;18; Heb. 6:1, 6; 12:17; Rev. 9:20, etc.). Yet, again, consideration must be accorded three passages related to Israel which are often misapplied (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31). There are references to John’s baptism, which was unto repentance, that are outside the Synoptics [Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John] (Acts 13:24; 19:4).
Four passages deserve more extended consideration, namely:
Luke 24:47. “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” It will be seen that repentance is not in itself equivalent to believing or faith, though, being included in believing, is used here as a synonym of the word believe. Likewise, it is to be recognized that “remission of sins” is not all that is proffered in salvation, though the phrase may serve that purpose in this instance. Above all, the passage does not require human obligations with respect to salvation. Repentance, which here represents believing, leads to remission of sin.
Acts 11:18. “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, ‘Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.’” Again repentance, which is included in believing, serves as a synonym for the word belief. The Gentiles, as always, attain to spiritual life by faith, the all-important and essential change of mind. It is also true that the passage does not prescribe two things which are necessary to salvation (cf. vs. 17).
Acts 20:21. “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” First, though unrelated to the course of this argument, it is important to note that the Apostle here places Jews on the same level with Gentiles, and both are objects of divine grace. The Jew with his incomparable background or the Gentile with his heathen ignorance, each, must undergo a change of mind respecting God. Until they are aware of God’s gracious purpose, there can be no reception of the idea of saving faith. It is quite possible to recognize God’s purpose, as many do, and not receive Christ as Savior. In other words, repentance toward God could not itself constitute, in this case, the equivalent of “faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” though it may prepare for that faith. The introduction of the two Persons of the Godhead is significant, and that Christ is the sole object of faith is also most vital. Those who would insist that there are here two human obligations unto salvation are reminded again of the 150 portions in which such a twofold requirement is omitted.
Acts 26:20. “But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” Again, both Jews and Gentiles are addressed as on the same footing before God. Two obligations are named here, in order that spiritual results may be secured—those to “repent and turn to God.” The passage would sustain the Arminian view if repentance were, as they assert, a sorrow for sin; but if the word is given its correct meaning, namely, a change of mind, there is no difficulty. The call is for a change of mind which turns to God. This passage, also, has its equivalent in 1 Thessalonians 1:9, “You turned to God from idols.”
In the foregoing, an attempt has been made to demonstrate that the Biblical doctrine of repentance offers no objection to the truth that salvation is by grace through faith apart from every suggestion of human works or merit. It is asserted that repentance, which is a change of mind, enters of necessity into the very act of believing on Christ, since one cannot turn to Christ from other objects of confidence without that change of mind. Upwards of 150 texts—including all of the greatest gospel invitations—limit the human responsibility in salvation to believing or to faith. To this simple requirement nothing could be added if the glories of grace are to be preserved.
II. BELIEVE AND CONFESS CHRIST
The ambition to secure apparent results and the sincere desire to make decisions for Christ to be definite have prompted preachers in their general appeals to insist upon a public confession of Christ on the part of those who would be saved. To all practical purposes and in the majority of instances these confessions are, in the minds of the unsaved, coupled with saving faith and seem, as presented, to be of equal importance with that faith. This demand upon the unsaved is justified, if justified at all, upon two texts of Scripture which should have consideration:
1. SCRIPTURE BEARING ON CONFESSION OF CHRIST.
Matthew 10:32. “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.” This verse, which occurs in the midst of Christ’s kingdom teachings and as a part of His instructions to His disciples whom He is sending forth with a restricted message to Israel (cf. vss. 5-7) and which was to be accompanied by stupendous miracles (cf. vs. 8) such as were never committed to preachers in the present age, applies, primarily, to these disciples themselves in respect to their faithful delivery of this kingdom proclamation, and could be extended in its appeal only to the Israelites to whom they were sent. The carelessness which assumes that this Scripture presents a condition of salvation for a Jew or a Gentile in the present age is deplorable indeed.
Romans 10:9-10. “That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” This message, falling as it does within the specific teachings which belong primarily to the way of salvation by grace, is worthy of more consideration. The force of the positive statement in verse 9, “If you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved,” is explained in verse 10: “For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
In the latter verse the true meaning and use of the word “confess” is suggested. Of this word in this same passage the late Dr. Arthur T. Pierson wrote: “That word means to speak out of a like nature to one another. I believe and receive the love of God. In receiving His love I receive His life, in receiving His life I received His nature, and His nature in me naturally expresses itself according to His will. That is confession. Alexander Maclaren has said: ‘Men do not light a candle and put it under a bushel, because the candle would either go out or burn the bushel.’ You must have vent for life, light, and love, or how can they abide? And a confession of Christ Jesus as Lord is the answer of the new life of God received. In receiving love, you are born of God, and, being born of God, you cry, ‘Abba Father,’ which is but the Aramaic word for ‘Papa’—syllables which can be pronounced before there are any teeth, because they are made with gums and lips—the first word of a new-born soul, born of God, knowing God, and out of a like nature with God speaking in the language of a child.”
The two activities named in these verses are each expanded with respect to their meaning in the immediate context which follows. Of believing it is said: “For the scripture says, ‘Whosoever believes on Him shall not be ashamed, for there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek’” (vss. 11-12). Salvation is promised to both Jew and Greek (though in his case a Gentile) on the one condition that they believe. Such indeed, shall not be ashamed. Of confession it is said: “For the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him, for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (vss. 12-13). It cannot be unobserved that the confession of verse 9 and 10 is declared to be a calling on the name of the Lord. In other words, this confession is that unavoidable acknowledgment to God on the part of the one who is exercising saving faith, that he accepts Christ as his Savior. As Abraham amended the promise of God—not a mere unresponsive believing (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3), so the trusting soul responds to the promise which God proffers of salvation through Christ.
2. TWO CONCLUSIVE REASONS.
There are two convincing reasons why the Scripture under consideration does not present two human responsibilities in relation to salvation by grace.
Confession of Christ is a Christian’s privilege and duty and may be undertaken at the moment one is saved, but it is not a condition of salvation by grace, else works of merit intrude where only the work of God reigns.
III. BELIEVE AND BE BAPTIZED
[This portion of Dr. Chafer’s treatment will be omitted, since no true fundamentalist Christian accepts water baptism as a condition of salvation]
IV. BELIEVE AND SURRENDER TO GOD
On account of its subtlety due to its pious character, no confusing intrusion into the doctrine that salvation is conditioned alone upon believing is more effective than the added demand that the unsaved must dedicate themselves to do God’s will in their daily life, as well as to believe upon Christ. The desirability of a dedication to God on the part of every believer is obvious, and is so stressed in the Sacred Text that many sincere people who are inattentive to doctrine are easily led to suppose that this same dedication, which is voluntary in the case of the believer, is imperative in the case of the unsaved. This aspect of this general theme may be approached under three considerations of it: (1) the incapacity of the unsaved, (2) what is involved, and (3) the preacher’s responsibility.
1. THE INCAPACITY OF THE UNSAVED.
The Arminian notion that through the reception of a so-called common grace anyone is competent to accept Christ as Savior if he will, is a mild assumption compared with the idea that the unregenerate person, with no common or uncommon grace proffered, is able to dedicate his life to God. Much has been written on previous pages regarding the overwhelming testimony of the Bible to the utter inability and spiritual death of the unsaved. They are shut up to the one message that Christ is their Savior; and they cannot accept Him, the Word of God declares, unless illuminated to that end by the Holy Spirit. Saving faith is not a possession of all men but is imparted specifically to those who do believe (Eph. 2:8).
As all this is true, it follows that to impose a need to surrender the life to God as an added condition of salvation is most unreasonable. God’s call to the unsaved is never said to be unto the Lordship of Christ; it is unto His saving grace. With the reception of the divine nature through the regenerating work of the Spirit, a new understanding and a new capacity to respond to the authority of Christ are gained. Those attending upon these issues in practical ways are aware that a self-dedication taxes the limit of ability even of the most devout believer. The error of imposing Christ’s Lordship upon the unsaved is disastrous even though they are not able intelligently to resent it or to remind the preacher of the fact that he, in calling upon them to dedicate their lives, is demanding of them what they have no ability to produce.
A destructive heresy is abroad under the name The Oxford Movement, which specializes in this blasting error, except that the promoters of the Movement omit altogether the idea of believing on Christ for salvation and promote exclusively the obligation to surrender to God. They substitute consecration for conversion, faithfulness for faith, and beauty of daily life for believing unto eternal life. As is easily seen, the plan of this movement is to ignore the need of Christ’s death as the ground of regeneration and forgiveness, and to promote the wretched heresy that it matters nothing what one believes respecting the Saviorhood of Christ if only the daily life is dedicated to God’s service. A pseudo self-dedication to God is a rare bit of religion with which the unsaved may conjure. The tragedy is that out of such a delusion those who embrace it are likely never to be delivered by a true faith in Christ as Savior. No more complete example could be found today of “the blind leading the blind” than what this Movement presents.
2. WHAT IS INVOLVED.
The most subtle, self-satisfying form of works of merit is, after all, found to be an engaging feature in this practice of applying to unbelievers the Lordship of Christ. What more could God expect than that the creatures of His hand should by supposed surrender be attempting to be obedient to Him? In such idealism the darkened mind of the unsaved, no doubt, sees dimly some possible advantage in submitting their lives to the guidance of a Supreme Being—of whom they really know nothing. Such notions are only human adjustments to God and resemble in no way the terms of divine adjustment, which first condemns man and rejects all his supposed merit, and then offers a perfect and eternal salvation to the helpless sinner on no other terms than that he believes on Christ as his Savior.
If the real issue in self-dedication to God is stated in its legitimate though extreme form, the possibility of martyrdom is first in evidence. One who is faithful unto God is enjoined to be faithful unto death (Rev. 2:10). Such, indeed, is a glorious challenge to the devout believer and millions have accepted the challenge and suffered a martyr’s death; but would any zealous advocate of the idea that the Lordship of Christ must be applied to the unsaved as condition of salvation, dare to propose to the unsaved that they must not only believe on Christ but be willing to die a martyr’s death? The very proposal of such a question serves only to demonstrate the unwisdom and disregard for revealed truth which this error exhibits.
The unregenerate person, because of his condition in spiritual death, has no ability to desire the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14), or to anticipate what his outlook on life will be after he is saved. It is therefore an error of the first magnitude to divert that feeble ability of the unsaved to exercise a God-given faith for salvation into the unknown and complex spheres of self-dedication, which dedication is the Christian’s greatest problem.
3. THE PREACHER’S RESPONSIBILITY.
It is the preacher’s responsibility, not only to preserve his message to the unsaved from being distorted by issues other than that of simple faith in Christ, but, when speaking to Christians in the presence of the unsaved regarding the issues of Christian character, conduct, and service, to declare plainly that the truth presented has no application to those who are unsaved. Such a reminder, oft repeated, will not only preserve the unregenerate individuals who are present from the deadly supposition that God is seeking to improve their manner of life rather than to accomplish the salvation of their souls, but will also create in their minds the so important impression that they are, in the sight of God, hopelessly condemned apart from Christ as Savior.
God alone can deal with a situation wherein a large percentage of the members of the church are unsaved, and yet are habitually addressed as though they were saved and on no other basis than that they belong to the church. It is surprising, indeed, that any unsaved person ever gains any right impression respecting his actual relation to God, when he is allowed to believe that he is included in all the appeals which are made to Christians regarding their daily life.
If the importance of attention to this wide difference between the saved and the unsaved is not appreciated and respected by the preacher, the fault is nearly unpardonable since the results may easily hinder the salvation of many souls. Next to sound doctrine itself, no more important obligation rests on the preacher than that of preaching the Lordship of Christ to Christians exclusively, and the Saviorhood of Christ to those who are unsaved.
A suggestion born of this theme is that in all gospel preaching every reference to the life to be lived beyond regeneration should be avoided as far as possible. To attend to this is not a deception nor a withholding of the truth from those to whom it applies. It is the simple adjustment to the limitation and actual condition of those to whom the gospel is addressed. To such among the unsaved who, because of the weakness and inability which they observe in themselves, are fearful lest they would not “hold out” as Christians, it is desirable to remind them that, in the new relation to Christ which will exist after they receive Him, new abilities will be possessed by which they can live to the glory of God.
Such proffered assurance is far removed from the practice of introducing obligations which are exclusively Christian in character and as something to which they must consent in order to be saved. Multitudes of unsaved people have been diverted from the one question of their acceptance of Christ as Savior to other questions regarding amusements and unchristian ways of living. As an unsaved person had no motive or spiritual light by which to face such problems, that person can only be bewildered by these issues. His problem is not one of giving up what in his unsaved state seems normal to him; it is a problem of receiving the Savior with all His salvation.
V. BELIEVE AND CONFESS SIN OR MAKE RESTITUTION
But a moment need be devoted to this error which prevails among certain groups of zealous people. The Scripture employed by advocates of this error is that which applies only to Christians. The passage reads: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This declaration, as has been seen, is addressed to believers who have sinned and presents the ground on which such may be restored to fellowship with God. The notion that restitution must be made before one can be saved is based on the God-dishonoring theory that salvation is only for good people, and that the sinner must divest himself of that which is evil before he can be saved. In other words, God is not propitious respecting sin; He is propitious toward those only who have prepared themselves for His presence and fellowship. Over against this, the truth is ignored that the unregenerate person cannot improve his fallen condition and, if he could, he would be bringing merit to God where merit is wholly excluded to the end that grace may abound and be magnified through all eternity.
The preacher must ever be on his guard to discourage the tendency of the natural man to move along lines of reformation rather than regeneration. Those who are serious regarding their lost estate are best helped by that body of truth which declares that God, through Christ, must save and will saved from all sin; that He must and will deal with the very nature which sins; and that He must and will rescue men from their estate under sin.
There are various ways by which the natural man proposes to be saved and yet retain his dignity and supposed worthiness, and one of these is the contention that sin must be confessed and restitution made as a human requirement in salvation. It is God who justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5); it is while men are “enemies, sinners, and without strength” that Christ died for them in His death. There is a duty belonging only to Christians—to set things right after they are saved—and there should be no neglect of that responsibility. It therefore remains true that those who are saved are saved on the one condition of believing upon Christ.
VI. BELIEVE AND IMPLORE GOD TO SAVE
None of the errors being considered seems more reasonable than this, and none strikes as more deadly blow at the foundation of divine grace. The error includes the claim that the sinner must “seek the Lord,” or that he must plead with God to be merciful. These two conceptions, though nearly identical, should be considered separately.
1. “SEEK YE THE LORD.”
This phrase, quoted from Isaiah 55:6, represents Jehovah’s invitation to His covenant people, Israel, who have wandered from their place of rightful blessings under His covenants, to return to Him. It was appointed to that people to “seek the Lord while He may be found” and to “call upon Him while He is near;” but the gospel of the grace of God in the present age declares to Jew and Gentile alike that “there is none that seeks after God” (Rom. 3:11), and that “the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). This declaration that in this age there are none who seek the Lord, accords with the testimony of the New Testament relative to the incapacity of those who are lost to turn to God. Apart from the new birth, the unsaved “cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3), their minds are blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:3-4), and they can exercise faith toward God only as they are enabled to do so by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:8). In the light of these revelations, there is little ground for the hope that the unsaved will “seek the Lord,” and, what is far more essential to the right understanding of the way of salvation by grace, the unsaved are not asked to seek the Lord. If this is true, the unsaved should never be placed in the position of those who must discover God or prevail upon Him to be gracious.
2. BELIEVE AND PRAY.
The question which arises at this point is one of whether God is propitious [God’s willingness and eagerness for His holy nature to be satisfied]. If he is propitious, there remains no occasion for the unsaved to try to find Him, to wait until He is on “the giving hand,” or to implore Him to save. He is propitious to an infinite degree and the problem confronting the mind of man is one of adjustment to that revelation. The transforming effect of the truth that God is propitious penetrates every phase of Soteriology. His flood tide of blessing—all that is impelled by infinite love—awaits, not the imploring, prevailing appeal that might move one to be gracious, but rather it awaits the simple willingness on the part of men to receive what He has already provided and is free to bestow in and through His Son, the Savior.
Attention has been called in an earlier discussion to the fact that salvation begins in the heart of God and is precisely what his infinite love demands and ordains. Its whole scope and extent is the reflection of that immeasurable love. It embraces all that infinity can produce. The sinner’s plight is serious indeed and the benefits he receives in saving grace cannot be estimated; but all this together is secondary compared with the satisfaction which God’s great love demands. As before stated, but two obstacles could hinder the satisfaction of divine love—the sin of the creature He loves and the will of that creature. As the Creator of all things, even these obstacles take their place in the divine decree which ordained all things that exist. Nevertheless, He has, as the only One who could do it, met by the sacrifice of His Son the obstacle which sin imposed, and He, too, secures the glad cooperation of the human will. The effect of the death of His Son is to render God righteously free to act for those whom He loves, and that freedom for love to act is propitiation. Therefore, it must be again asserted that God is propitious. It is infinite love that now invites the sinner to eternal glories, and it is infinite love that awaits the sinner’s response to that invitation.
With this marvelous revelation in view, there is no place left for the idea that the sinner must “seek the Lord,” or that the sinner must plead with God to be merciful and kind. No burden rests on the unsaved to persuade God to be good; the challenge of the gospel is for the unsaved to believe that God is good. Since these great truths are revealed only in the Word of God, the unsaved are enjoined to believe God’s Word, and the Scriptures hold a large share in the divine undertaking of bringing men to salvation (John 3:5). It is common, however, for some who, with great passion of soul, attempt to preach the gospel, so to fail in the apprehension of the divine propitiation that they imply that salvation is secured by entreating God, and by so much the value of Christ’s mediation in behalf of the sinner is nullified.
The example of the prayer of the publican is usually cited as the best of reasons for urging the unsaved to plead with God for His mercy and salvation. What, it is asked, could be more appropriate than that the unsaved should pray as did the publican, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13)? The appeal on the part of the publican is assumed to be the norm for all sinners, though, in reality, it contradicts the very truth of the gospel of divine grace. The incident must be examined carefully. It is essential to note that the publican—a Jew of the Old Testament order and praying in the temple according to the requirements of a Jew in the temple—did not use the world merciful—which word is properly associated with the idea of kindness, bigheartedness, leniency, and generosity. According to the original text, which in the Authorized Version is too freely translated, the publican said, “God be propitiated to me the sinner.” The word hilaskomai [Greek], which means “to make propitiation,” appears in the text.
There is a wide difference between the word merciful with all its implications and the word propitiation. By the use of the word merciful the impression is conveyed that the publican pleaded with God to be magnanimous. By the use of the word propitiation—if comprehended at all—the impression is conveyed that the publican asked God to cover his sins in such a way as to dispose of them, yet, at the same time, to do this in a way that would protect His own holiness from complicity with his sins. If the publican did as Jews were accustomed to do in his day when they went into the temple to pray, he left a sacrifice at the alter. It is probable that he could see the smoke of that sacrifice ascending as he prayed. What he prayed was strictly proper for a Jew of his time to pray under those circumstances. However, his prayer would be most unfitting on this side of the cross.
God cannot be merciful to sin in the sense that He treats it lightly, whether it be in one age or another. But with reference to the word propitiation and its implications, that word was justified in the age before Christ died and when sin was covered by sacrifices which the sinner provided. It was suitable for the publican, having provided his own sacrifice, to ask that his sacrifice be accepted and himself absolved. However, on this side of the cross when Christ has died and secured propitiation [satisfaction] and it is established perfectly forever, nothing could be more an outraging of that priceless truth upon which the gospel rests than to implore God to be propitious [satisfied].
Such prayers may be enjoined through ignorance, but the wrong is immeasurable. When this prayer is made, even for God to be propitious, there is a direct assumption expressed that God is not propitious, and to that extent the petitioner is asking God to do something more effective than the thing He has done in giving His Son as a sacrifice for sin. A moment’s consideration would disclose the immeasurable wrong that is committed when God is asked to be propitious, when, at the infinite cost of the death of His Son, He is propitious. The truth that God is propitious constitutes the very heart of the gospel of divine grace, and the one who does not recognize this and sees no impropriety in the use of the publican’s prayer today has yet to comprehend what is the first principle in the plan of salvation through Christ.
Men are not saved by asking God to be good, or merciful, or propitious; they are saved when they believe God has been good and merciful enough to provide a propitiating Savior. The sinner is saved, not because he prevails on God to withhold from him the blow of judgment that is due him for his sin, but because he believes that that blow has fallen on his Substitute. If it is thought that all this is but a mere theological distinction and that after all God is love and the sinner will be treated in love, consideration should be given to the fact that it was for the very purpose of providing a righteous ground for salvation of sinners that the Son of God became incarnate, that He died, and that He arose from the dead. To imply that all this—and there is no salvation apart from it—is only a theological speculation, is to reject the whole plan of salvation through a Savior and to assume to stand before God, who is Consuming Fire, without shelter, shield or surety.
In consummating this section on the human terms which condition the salvation of a soul, it may be restated:
Such a dependence is not only reasonable, but is all and only that which God requires on the human side for the eternal salvation of a soul. That human trust acknowledges that, according to revelation, God can deal righteously with sinners on the ground of the death of His Son for them. The sinner thus trusts in the Saviorhood of Christ.
Such belief is apart form works (Rom. 4:5), it is a committal of one’s self to Christ (2 Tim. 1:12), and it is a definite turning—an act of the will—to God from every other consideration (1 Thess. 1:9).
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”
A CLOSING WORD FROM THIS COMMENTATOR
This commentator understands that many persons throughout the centuries have been saved even when the gospel message has not been clearly expressed, BUT then only when they fully realized that Jesus “paid it all” on the cross and made the determination within their will that they indeed trusted only in Him for their personal salvation. This event may have happened prior to, during or after their “public confession” of Jesus Christ.
This commentator only hopes that the minister or soul-winner who has read this article understands that it is only by faith one may be saved. Should any minister or soul-winner wish to use such expressions as (1) Ask Jesus to come into your heart, (2) Make Jesus your Lord, or (3) some similar expression as these, none of which are found in God’s Word; then PLEASE take the time to explain to the recipient of the gospel message that the only way to ask Jesus into the heart and make Him Lord is by a willful act of faith in His Person and work, which is to make a genuine decision to trust only in Him and His sacrifice on Calvary for one’s personal salvation.