An Excerpt From
Studies on Saving Faith
by Arthur W. Pink
Part I – Signs of the Times
It is generally recognized that spirituality is at a low ebb in Christendom and not a few perceive that sound doctrine is rapidly on the wane, yet many of the Lord’s people take comfort from supposing that the Gospel is still being widely preached and that large numbers are being saved thereby. Alas, their optimistic supposition is ill-founded and sandy grounded. If the “message” now being delivered in Mission Halls be examined, if the “tracts” which are scattered among the unchurched masses be scrutinized, if the “open-air” speakers be carefully listened to, if the “sermons” or “addresses” of a “Soul-winning campaign” be analyzed; in short, if modern “Evangelism” be weighed in the balances of Holy Writ, it will be found wanting—lacking that which is vital to a genuine conversion, lacking what is essential if sinners are to be shown their need of a Saviour, lacking that which will produce the transfigured lives of new creatures in Christ Jesus.
It is in no captious spirit that we write, seeking to make men offenders for a word. It is not that we are looking for perfection, and complain because we cannot find it; nor that we criticize others because they are not doing things as we think they should be done. No; no, it is a matter far more serious than that. The “evangelism” of the day is not only superficial to the last degree, but it is radically defective. It is utterly lacking a foundation on which to base an appeal for sinners to come to Christ. There is not only a lamentable lack of proportion (the mercy of God being made far more prominent than His holiness, His love than His wrath), but there is a fatal omission of that which God has given for the purpose of imparting a knowledge of sin. There is not only a reprehensible introducing of “bright singing,” humorous witticisms and entertaining anecdotes, but there is a studied omission of the dark background upon which alone the Gospel can effectually shine forth.
But serious indeed as is the above indictment, it is only half of it—the negative side, that which is lacking. Worse still is that which is being retailed by the cheap-jack evangelists of the day. The positive content of their message is nothing but a throwing of dust in the eyes of the sinner. His soul is put to sleep by the Devil’s opiate, ministered in a most unsuspecting form. Those who really receive the “message” which is now being given out from most of the “orthodox” pulpits and platforms today, are being fatally deceived. It is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but unless God sovereignly intervenes by a miracle of grace, all who follow it will surely find that the ends thereof are the ways of death. Tens of thousands who confidently imagine they are bound for Heaven, will get a terrible disillusionment when they awake in Hell.
What is the Gospel? Is it a message of glad tidings from Heaven to make God-defying rebels at ease in their wickedness? Is it given for the purpose of assuring the pleasure-crazy young people that, providing they only “believe” there is nothing for them to fear in the future? One would certainly think so from the way in which the Gospel is presented—or rather perverted—by most of the “evangelists,” and the more so when we look at the lives of their “converts.” Surely those with any degree of spiritual discernment must perceive that to assure such that God loves them and His Son died for them, and that a full pardon for all their sins (past, present, and future) can be obtained by simply “accepting Christ as their personal Saviour,” is but a casting of pearls before swine.
The Gospel is not a thing apart. It is not something independent of the prior revelation of God’s Law. It is not an announcement that God has relaxed His justice or lowered the standard of His holiness. So far from that, when Scripturally expounded the Gospel presents the clearest demonstration and the climacteric proof of the inexorableness of God’s justice and of His infinite abhorrence of sin. But for Scripturally expounding the Gospel, beardless youths and business men who devote their spare time to “evangelistic effort” are quite unqualified. Alas that the pride of the flesh suffers so many incompetent ones to rush in where those much wiser fear to tread. It is this multiplying of novices that is largely responsible for the woeful situation now confronting us, and because the “churches” and “assemblies” are so largely filled with their “converts,” explains why they are so unspiritual and worldly.
No, my reader, the Gospel is very, very far from making light of sin. The Gospel shows us how unsparingly God deals with sin. It reveals to us the terrible sword of His justice smiting His beloved Son in order that atonement might be made for the transgressions of His people. So far from the Gospel setting aside the Law, it exhibits the Saviour enduring the curse of it. Calvary supplied the most solemn and awe-inspiring display of God’s hatred of sin that time or eternity will ever furnish. And do you imagine that the Gospel is magnified or God glorified by going to worldlings and telling them that they “may be saved at this moment by simply accepting Christ as their personal Saviour” while they are wedded to their idols and their hearts still in love with sin? If I do so, I tell them a lie, pervert the Gospel, insult Christ, and turn the grace of God into lasciviousness.
No doubt some readers are ready to object to our “harsh” and “sarcastic” statements above by asking, When the question was put “What must I do to be saved?” did not an inspired apostle expressly say “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved?” Can we err, then, if we tell sinners the same thing today? Have we not Divine warrant for so doing? True, those words are found in Holy Writ, and because they are, many superficial and untrained people conclude they are justified in repeating them to all and sundry. But let it be pointed out that Acts 16:31 was not addressed to a promiscuous multitude, but to a particular individual, which at once intimates that it is not a message to be indiscriminately sounded forth, but rather a special word, to those whose characters correspond to the one to whom it was first spoken.
Verses of Scripture must not be wrenched from their setting, but weighed, interpreted, and applied in accord with their context; and that calls for prayerful consideration, careful meditation, and prolonged study; and it is failure at this point which accounts for these shoddy and worthless “messages” of this rush-ahead age. Look at the context of Acts 16:3 1, and what do we find? What was the occasion, and to whom was it that the apostle and his companions said “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ?” A sevenfold answer is there furnished, which supplies a striking and complete delineation of the character of those to whom we are warranted in giving this truly evangelistic word. As we briefly name these seven details, let the reader carefully ponder them.
First, the man to whom those words were spoken had just witnessed the miracle-working power of God. “And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed” (Acts 16:26). Second, in consequence thereof the man was deeply stirred, even to the point of self-despair: “He drew his sword and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled” (v. 27). Third, he felt the need of illumination: “Then he called for a light” (v. 29). Fourth, his self-complacency was utterly shattered, for he “came trembling” (v. 29). Fifth, he took his proper place (before God)—in the dust, for he “fell down before Paul and Silas” (v. 29). Sixth, he showed respect and consideration for God’s servants, for he “brought them out” (v. 30). Seventh, then, with a deep concern for his soul, he asked, “What must I do to be saved?”
Here, then, is something definite for our guidance—if we are willing to be guided. It was no giddy, careless, unconcerned person, who was exhorted to “simply” believe; but instead, one who gave clear evidence that a mighty work of God had already been wrought within him. He was an awakened soul (v. 27). In his case there was no need to press upon him his lost condition, for obviously he felt it; nor were the apostles required to urge upon him the duty of repentance, for his entire demeanor betokened his contrition. But to apply the words spoken to him unto those who are totally blind to their depraved state and completely dead toward God, would be more foolish than placing a bottle of smelling-salts to the nose of one who had just been dragged unconscious out of the water. Let the critic of this article read carefully through the Acts and see if he can find a single instance of the apostles addressing a promiscuous audience or a company of idolatrous heathen and “simply” telling them to believe in Christ.
Just as the world was not ready for the New Testament before it received the Old; just as the Jews were nor prepared for the ministry of Christ until John the Baptist had gone before Him with his claimant call to repentance, so the unsaved are in no condition today for the Gospel till the Law be applied to their hearts, for “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). It is a waste of time to sow seed on ground which has never been ploughed or spaded! To present the vicarious sacrifice of Christ to those whose dominant passion is to take their fill of sin, is to give that which is holy unto the dogs. What the unconverted need to hear about is the character of Him with whom they have to do, His claims upon them, His righteous demands, and the infinite enormity of disregarding Him and going their own way.
The nature of Christ’s salvation is woefully misrepresented by the present-day “evangelist.” He announces a Saviour from Hell, rather than a Saviour from sin. And that is why so many are fatally deceived, for there are multitudes who wish to escape the Lake of fire who have no desire to be delivered from their carnality and worldliness. The very first thing said of Him in the N.T. is, “thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people (not “from the wrath to come”, but) from their sins”(Matt. 1:21). Christ is a Saviour for those realizing something of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, who feel the awful burden of it on their conscience, who loathe themselves for it, who long to be freed from its terrible dominion; and a Saviour for no others. Were He to “save from Hell” those who were still in love with sin, He would be the Minister of sin, condoning their wickedness and siding with them against God. What an unspeakably horrible and blasphemous thing with which to charge the Holy One!
Should the reader exclaim, I was not conscious of the heinousness of sin nor bowed down with a sense of my guilt when Christ saved me. Then we unhesitatingly reply, Either you have never been saved at all, or you were not saved as early as you supposed. True, as the Christian grows in grace he has a clearer realization of what sin is—rebellion against God—and a deeper hatred and sorrow for it; but to think that one may be saved by Christ whose conscience has never been smitten by the Spirit and whose heart has not been made contrite before God, is to imagine something which has no existence whatever in the realm of fact. “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” (Matt. 9:12): the only ones who really seek relief from the great Physician are they that are sick of sin—who long to be delivered from its God-dishonoring works and its soul-defiling pollutions.
Inasmuch, then, as Christ’s salvation is a salvation from sin—from the love of it, from its dominion, from its guilt and penalty—then it necessarily follows that the first great task and the chief work of the evangelist is to preach upon SIN: to define what sin (as distinct from crime) really is, to show wherein its infinite enormity consists; to trace out its manifold workings in the heart; to indicate that nothing less than eternal punishment is its desert. Ah, and preaching upon sin—not merely uttering a few platitudes concerning it, but devoting sermon after sermon to explaining what sin is in the sight of God—will not make him popular nor draw the crowds, will it? No, it will not, and knowing this, those who love the praise of men more than the approbation of God, and who value their salary above immortal souls, trim their sails accordingly. “But such preaching will drive people away!” We answer, better drive people away by faithful preaching than drive the Holy Spirit away by unfaithfully pandering to the flesh.
The terms of Christ’s salvation are erroneously stated by the present-day evangelist. With very rare exceptions he tells his hearers that salvation is by grace and is received as a free gift; that Christ has done everything for the sinner, and nothing remains but for him to “believe”—to trust in the infinite merits of His blood. And so widely does this conception now prevail in “orthodox” circles, so frequently has it been dinned in their ears, so deeply has it taken root in their minds, that for one to now challenge it and denounce it is being so inadequate and one-sided as to be deceptive and erroneous, is for him to instantly court the stigma of being a heretic, and to be charged with dishonoring the finished work of Christ by inculcating salvation by works. Yet notwithstanding, the writer is quite prepared to run that risk.
Salvation is by grace, by grace alone, for a fallen creature cannot possibly do anything to merit God’s approval or earn His favour. Nevertheless, Divine grace is not exercised at the expense of holiness, for it never compromises with sin. It is also true that salvation is a free gift, but an empty hand must receive it, and not a hand which still tightly grasps the world! But it is not true that “Christ has done every thing for the sinner.” He did not fill His belly with the husks which the swine eat and find them unable to satisfy. He has not turned his back on the far country, arisen, gone to the Father, and acknowledged his sins—those are acts which the sinner himself must perform. True, he will not be saved for the performance of them, yet it is equally true that he cannot be saved without the performing of them—any more than the prodigal could receive the Father’s kiss and ring while he still remained at a guilty distance from Him!
Something more than “believing” is necessary to salvation. A heart that is steeled in rebellion against God cannot savingly believe: it must first be broken. It is written “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Repentance is just as essential as faith, yea, the latter cannot be without the former: “Repented not afterward, that ye might believe” (Matt. 21:32). The order is clearly enough laid down by Christ: “Repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).Repentance is sorrowing for sin. Repentance is a heart-repudiation of sin. Repentance is a heart determination to forsake sin. And where there is true repentance grace is free to act, for the requirements of holiness are conserved when sin is renounced. Thus, it is the duty of the evangelist to cry “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord (from whom he departed in Adam), and he will have mercy upon him” (Isa. 55:7). His task is to call on his hearers to lay down the weapons of their warfare against God, and then to sue for mercy through Christ.
The way of salvation is falsely defined. In most instances the modern “evangelist” assures his congregation that all any sinner has to do in order to escape Hell and make sure of Heaven is to “receive Christ as his personal Saviour.” But such teaching is utterly misleading. No one can receive Christ as his Saviour while he rejects Him as Lord. It is true the preacher adds that, the one who accepts Christ should also surrender to Him as Lord, but he at once spoils it by asserting that though the convert fails to do so nevertheless Heaven is sure to him. That is one of the Devil’s lies. Only those who are spiritually blind would declare that Christ will save any who despise His authority and refuse His yoke: why, my reader, that would not be grace but a disgrace—charging Christ with placing a premium on lawlessness.
It is in His office of Lord that Christ maintains God’s honour, subserves His government, enforces His Law; and if the reader will turn to those passages—Luke 1:46, 47; Acts 5:31 (prince and Saviour); 2 Peter 1:11; 2:20; 3:18—where the two titles occur, he will find that it is always “Lord and Saviour,” and not “Saviour and Lord.” Therefore, those who have not bowed to Christ’s sceptre and enthroned Him in their hearts and lives, and yet imagine that they are trusting in Him as their Saviour, are deceived, and unless God disillusions them they will go down to the everlasting burnings with a lie in their right hand (Isa. 44:20). Christ is “the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him” (Heb. 5:9), but the attitude of those who submit not to His Lordship is “we will not have this Man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). Pause then, my reader, and honestly face the question: are you subject to His will, are you sincerely endeavoring to keep His commandments?
Alas, alas, God’s “way of salvation” is almost entirely unknown today, the nature of Christ’s salvation is almost universally misunderstood, and the terms of His salvation misrepresented on every hand. The “Gospel” which is now being proclaimed is, in nine cases out of every ten, but a perversion of the Truth, and tens of thousands, assured they are bound for Heaven, are now hastening to Hell, as fast as time can take them. Things are far, far worse in Christendom than even the “pessimist” and the “alarmist” suppose. We are not a prophet, nor shall we indulge in any speculation of what Biblical prophecy forecasts—wiser men than the writer have often made fools of themselves by so doing. We are frank to say that we know not what God is about to do. Religious conditions were much worse, even in England, one hundred and fifty years ago. But this we greatly fear: unless God is pleased to grant a real revival, it will not be long ere “the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people” (Isa. 60:2), for “Evangelism” constitutes, in our judgment, the most solemn of all the “signs of the times.”
What must the people of God do in view of the existing situation? Ephesians 5:11 supplies the Divine answer: “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them,” and everything opposed to the light of the Word is “darkness.” It is the bounded duty of every Christian to have no dealings with the “evangelistic” monstrosity of the day: to withhold all moral and financial support of the same, to attend none of their meetings, to circulate none of their tracts. Those preachers who tell sinners they may be saved without forsaking their idols, without repenting, without surrendering to the Lordship of Christ are as erroneous and dangerous as others who insist that salvation is by works and that Heaven must be earned by our own efforts.
Part II – Saving Faith
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be damned (Mark 16:16). These are the words of Christ, the risen Christ, and are the last that He uttered ere He left this earth. None more important were ever spoken to the sons of men. They call for our most diligent attention. They are of the greatest possible consequence, for in them are set forth the terms of eternal happiness or misery; life and death, and the conditions of both. Faith is the principal saving grace, and unbelief the chief damning sin. The law, which threatens death for every sin, has already passed sentence of condemnation upon all, because all have sinned. This sentence is so peremptory that it admits of but one exception—all shall be executed if they believe not.
The condition of life as made known by Christ in Mark 16:16 is double: the principal one, faith; the accessory one, baptism; accessory, we term it, because it is not absolutely necessary to life, as faith is. Proof of this is found in the fact of the omission in the second half of the verse: it is not “he that is not baptized shall be damned,” but “he that believeth not.” Faith is so indispensable that, though one be baptized, yet believeth not, he shall be damned. As we have said above, the sinner is already condemned: the sword of Divine justice is drawn even now and waits only to strike the fatal blow. Nothing can divert it but saving faith in Christ. My reader, continuance in unbelief makes Hell as certain as though you were already in it. While you remain in unbelief, you are “having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).
Now if believing be so necessary, and unbelief so dangerous and fatal, it deeply concerns us to know what it is to believe. It behooves each one of us to make the most diligent and thorough inquiry as to the nature of saving faith. The more so, because all faith does not save; yea, all faith in Christ does not save. Multitudes are deceived upon this vital matter. Thousands of those who sincerely believe that they have received Christ as their personal Saviour and are resting on His finished work, are building upon a foundation of sand. Vast numbers who have not a doubt but that God has accepted them in the Beloved, and are eternally secure in Christ, will only be awakened from their pleasant dreamings when the cold hand of death lays hold of them; and then it will be too late. Unspeakably solemn is this. Reader, will that be your fate? Others just as sure they were saved as you are, are now in Hell.
1. Its Counterfeits
There are those who have a faith which is so like that which is saving as they themselves may take it to be the very same, and others too may deem it sufficient, yea, even others who have the spirit of discernment. Simon Magus is a case in point. Of him it is written, “Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip” (Acts 8:13). Such a faith had he, and so expressed it, that Philip took him to he a genuine Christian, and admitted him to those privileges which are peculiar to them. Yet, a little later, the apostle Peter said to him, “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God . . . I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:21, 23).
A man may believe all the truth contained in Scripture so far as he is acquainted with it, and he may be familiar with far more than are many genuine Christians. He may have studied the Bible for a longer time, and so his faith may grasp much which they have not yet reached. As his knowledge may be more extensive, so his faith may be more comprehensive. In this kind of faith he may go as far as the apostle Paul did, when he said, “But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets” (Acts 24:14). But this is no proof that his faith is saving. An example to the contrary is seen in Agrippa: “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest”(Acts 26:27).
Call the above a mere historical faith if you will, yet Scripture also teaches that people may possess a faith which is one of the Holy Spirit, and yet which is a non-saving one. This faith which we now allude to has two ingredients which neither education nor self-effort can produce: spiritual light and a Divine power moving the mind to assent. Now a man may have both illumination and inclination from heaven, and yet not be regenerated. We have a solemn proof of this in Hebrews 6:4-6. There we read of a company of apostates, concerning whom it is said, “It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance.” Yet, of these we are told that they were “enlightened,” and had “tasted of the heavenly gift,” which means, they not only perceived it. but were inclined toward and embraced it; and both, because they were “partakers of the Holy Spirit.”
People may have a Divine faith, not only in its originating power, but also in its foundation. The ground of their faith may be the Divine testimony, upon which they rest with unshaken confidence. They may give credit to what they believe not only because it appears reasonable or even certain, but because they are fully persuaded it is the Word of Him who cannot lie. To believe the Scriptures on the ground of their being God’s Word, is a Divine faith. Such a faith had the nation of Israel after their wondrous exodus from Egypt and deliverance from the Red Sea. Of them it is recorded “The people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and his servant Moses” (Ex. 14:31), yet of the great majority of them it is said, “Whose carcasses fell in the wilderness . . . and to whom sware he that they should not enter into His rest” (Heb. 3:17,18).
It is indeed searching and solemn to make a close study of Scripture on this point, and discover how much is said of unsaved people in a way of having faith in the Lord. In Jeremiah 13:11 we find God saying, “For as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave unto Me the whole house of Israel, and the whole house of Judah, saith the Lord,” and to “cleave” unto God is the same as to “trust” Him: see 2 Kings 18:5,6. Yet of that very same generation God said, “This evil people, which refuse to hear My words, which walk in the imagination of their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing” (Jer. 13:10).
The term “stay” is another word denoting firm trust. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them; but shall stay upon the Lord” (Isa. 10:20); “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee” (Isa. 26:3). And yet we find a class of whom it is recorded, “They call themselves of the holy city, and stay themselves upon the God of Israel” (Isa. 48:2). Who would doubt that this was a saving faith! Ah, let us not be too hasty in jumping to conclusions: of this same people God said, “Thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass” (Isa. 48:4).
Again, the term “lean” is used to denote not only trust, but dependency on the Lord. Of the Spouse it is said, “who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved?” (Song of Sol. 8:5). Can it be possible that such an expression as this is applied to those who are unsaved? Yes, it is, and by none other than God Himself: “Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel, that abhor judgment, and pervert all equity . . . The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the Lord, and say, “Is not the Lord among us? none evil can come upon us” (Micah 3:9,11). So thousands of carnal and worldly people are leaning upon Christ to uphold them, so that they cannot fall into Hell, and are confident that no “evil” can befall them. Yet is their confidence a horrible presumption.
To rest upon a Divine promise with implicit confidence, and that in the face of great discouragement and danger, is surely something which we would not expect to find predicated of a people who were unsaved. Ah, truth is stranger than fiction. This very thing is depicted in God’s unerring Word. When Sennacherib and his great army besieged the cities of Judah, Hezekiah said, “Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: with him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God” (2 Chron. 32:7,8); and we are told that “the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah.” Hezekiah had spoken the words of God, and for the people to rest upon them was to rest on God Himself. Yet, less than fifteen years after, this same people did “worse than the heathen” (2 Chron. 33:9). Thus, resting upon a promise of God, is not, of itself, any proof of regeneration.
To rely upon God, on the ground of His “covenant” was far more than resting upon a Divine promise; yet unregenerate men may do even this. A case in point is found in Abijah king of Judah. It is indeed striking to read and weigh what he said in 2 Chronicles 13 when Jeroboam and his hosts came up against him. First, he reminded all Israel that the Lord God had given the kingdom to David and his sons forever “by a covenant of salt” (v. 5). Next, he denounced the sins of his adversary (vv. 6-9). Then he affirmed the Lord to be “our God” and that He was “with him and his people” (vv. 10-12). But Jeroboam heeded not, but forced the battle upon them. “Abijah and his people slew them with a great slaughter” (v. 17), “because they relied upon the Lord God of their fathers” (v. 18). Yet of this same Abijah it is said. “he walked in all the sins of his father,” etc. (1 Kings 15:3). Unregenerate men may rely upon God, depend upon Christ, rest on His promise, and plead his covenant.
“The people of Nineveh (who were heathen) believed God” (Jonah 3:5). This is striking, for the God of Heaven was a stranger to them, and His prophet a man whom they knew not—why then should they trust his message? Moreover, it was not a promise, but a threatening, which they believed. How much easier then is it for a people now living under the Gospel to apply to themselves a promise, than the heathen a terrible threat! “In applying a threatening we are like to meet with more opposition, both from within and from without. From within, for a threatening is like a bitter pill, the bitterness of death is in it; no wonder if that hardly goes down. From without too, for Satan will be ready to raise opposition: he is afraid to have men startled, lest the sense of their misery denounced in the threatening should rouse them up to seek how they may make an escape. He is more sure of them while they are secure, and will labour to keep them off the threatening, lest it should awaken them from dreams of peace and happiness, while they are sleeping in his very jaws.
“But now, in applying a promise, an unregenerate man ordinarily meets with no opposition. Not from within, for the promise is all sweetness; the promise of pardon and life is the very marrow, the quintessence of the Gospel. No wonder if they be ready to swallow it down greedily. And Satan will be so far from opposing, that he will rather encourage and assist one who has no interest in the promise, to apply it; for this he knows will be the way to fix and settle them in their natural condition. A promise misapplied will be a seal upon the sepulchre, making them sure in the grave of sin, wherein they lay dead and rotting. Therefore if unregenerate men may apply a threatening, which is in these respects more difficult, as appears they may by the case of the Ninevites, why may they not be apt to apply (appropriate) a Gospel promise when they are not like to meet with difficulty and opposition?” (David Clarkson, 1680, for some time co-pastor with J. Owen; to whom we are indebted for much of the above.)
Another most solemn example of those having faith, but not a saving one, is seen in the stony-ground hearers, of whom Christ said, “which for a while believe”(Luke 8:13). Concerning this class the Lord declared that they hear the Word and “with joy receiveth it” (Matt. 13:20). How many such have we met and known: happy souls with radiant faces, exuberant spirits, full of zeal that others too may enter into the bliss which they have found. How difficult it is to distinguish such from genuine Christians—the good-ground hearers. The difference is not apparent; no, it lies beneath the surface—they have “not root in themselves” (Matt. 13:21): deep digging has to be done to discover this fact! Have you searched yourself narrowly, my reader, to ascertain whether or no “the root of the matter” (Job 19:28) be in you?
But let us refer now to another case which seems still more incredible. There are those who are willing to take Christ as their Saviour, yet who are most reluctant to submit to Him as their Lord, to be at His command, to be governed by His laws. Yet there are some unregenerate persons who acknowledge Christ as their Lord. Here is the Scripture proof of our assertion: “Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?’ and then will I profess unto them, ‘I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity’” (Matt. 7:22-23). There is a large class (“many”) who profess subjection to Christ as Lord, and who do many mighty works in His name: thus a people who can even show you their faith by their works, and yet it is not a saving one!
It is impossible to say how far a non-saving faith may go, and how very closely it may resemble that faith which is saving. Saving faith has Christ for its object; so has a non-saving faith (John 2:23, 24). Saving faith is wrought by the Holy Spirit; so is a non-saving faith (Heb. 6:4). Saving faith is produced by the Word of God; so also is a non-saving faith (Matt. 13:20, 21). Saving faith will make a man prepare for the coming of the Lord, so also will a non-saving: of both the foolish and wise virgins it is written, “then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps” (Matt. 25:7). Saving faith is accompanied with joy: so also is a non-saving faith (Matt. 13:20).
Perhaps some readers are ready to say, all of this is very unsettling, and if really heeded, most distressing. May God in His mercy grant that this article may have just these very effects on many who read it. O if you value your soul, dismiss it not lightly. If there be such a thing (and there is)as a faith in Christ which does not save, then how easy it is to be deceived about my faith! It is not without reason that the Holy Spirit has so plainly cautioned us at this very point. “A deceived heart hath turned him aside” (Isa. 44:20). “The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee” (Obad. 3). “Take heed that ye be not deceived” (Luke 21:8). “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself” (Gal. 6:3). At no point does Satan use his cunning and power more tenaciously, and more successfully, than in getting people to believe that they have a saving faith when they have not.
The Devil deceives more souls by this one thing than by all his other devices put together. Take this present article as an illustration. How many a Satan-blinded soul will read it and then say, It does not apply to me; I know that my faith is a saving one! It is in this way that the Devil turns aside the sharp point of God’s convicting Word, and secures his captives in their unbelief. He works in them a sense of false security, by persuading them that they are safe within the ark, and induces them to ignore the threatenings of the Word and appropriate only its comforting promises. He dissuades them from heeding that most salutary exhortation, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves” (2 Cor. 13:5). O my reader, heed that word now.
In closing this first article we will endeavour to point out some of the particulars in which this non-saving faith is defective, and wherein it comes short of a faith which does save. First, with many it is because they are willing for Christ to save them from Hell, but are not willing for Him to save them from self. They want to be delivered from the wrath to come, but they wish to retain their self-will and self-pleasing. But He will not be dictated unto: you must be saved on His terms, or not at all. When Christ saves, He saves from sin—from its power and pollution, and therefore from its guilt. And the very essence of sin is the determination to have my own way (Isa. 53:6). Where Christ saves, He subdues the spirit of self-will, and implants a genuine, a powerful, a lasting desire and determination to please Him.
Again; many are never saved because they wish to divide Christ; they want to take Him as a Saviour, but are unwilling to subject themselves unto Him as their Lord. Or, if they are prepared to own Him as Lord, it is not as an absolute Lord. But this cannot be: Christ will be either Lord of all, or He will not be Lord at all. But the vast majority of professing Christians would have Christ’s sovereignty limited at certain points; it must not entrench too far upon the liberty which some worldly lust or carnal interest demands. His peace they covet, but His “yoke” is unwelcome. Of all such Christ will yet say “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me” (Luke 19:27).
Again; there are multitudes which are quite ready for Christ to justify them, but not to sanctify. Some kind of, some degree of sanctification, they will tolerate, but to be sanctified wholly, their “whole spirit and soul and body” (1 Thess. 5:23), they have no relish for. For their hearts to be sanctified, for pride and covetousness to be subdued, would be too much like the plucking out of a right eye. For the constant mortification of all their members, they have no taste. For Christ to come to them as a Refiner, to burn up their lusts, consume their dross, to utterly dissolve their old frame of nature, to melt their souls, so as to make them run in a new mould, they like not. To utterly deny self, and take up their cross daily, is a task from which they shrink with abhorrence.
Again; many are willing for Christ to officiate as their Priest, but not for Him to legislate as their King. Ask them, in a general way, if they are ready to do whatsoever Christ requires of them, and they will answer in the affirmative, emphatically and with confidence. But come to particulars: apply to each one of them those specific commandments and precepts of the Lord which they are ignoring, and they will at once cry out “Legalism!” or, “We cannot be perfect in everything.” Name nine duties and perhaps they are performing them, but mention a tenth and it at once makes them angry, for you have come too close home to their case. Herod heard John gladly and did “many things” (Mark 6:20), but when he referred to Herodias, he touched him to the quick. Many are willing to give up their theatre-going, and card-parties, who refuse to go forth unto Christ outside the camp. Others are willing to go outside the camp, yet refuse to deny their fleshly and worldly lusts. Reader, if there is a reserve in your obedience, you are on the way to Hell. Our next article will take up the Nature of saving faith…”