“Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do, that I might have eternal life?” (Mark 19:16)
Suppose I was speaking with an immoral person who had heard of Jesus, but believed him to be an impostor. I might attempt to convert him by rational argument and by Jesus’ Gospel.
I first convince him of the existence of one infinite Creator, Governor and Father. You perceive that he would then be saved from his ignorance concerning the nature of the Supreme Being.
I next convince him that Jesus of Nazareth is the divinely commissioned Savior of the world. You perceive that he would then be saved from unbelief.
I further convince him that if he would be a true Christian, he must obey the instructions, imitate the example and soak in the spirit of the great author of our faith.
When his actions give evidence of a reformation of heart and life, we can perceive that he would be saved from his iniquities; as well as blessed with a righteous and holy character.
So, Christian salvation consists in deliverance from ignorance, and sin, and in the possession of Christian knowledge, virtue and piety. This salvation takes place whenever a person becomes a practical Christian. And Divine pardon can be obtained only by forming a Christian character.
Jesus became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him. We can obtain the divine pardon only by forming a Christian character.
Reason teaches us that our heavenly Father is our supreme Savior, the original author of our lives, and all things in existence. And for what purpose has he given us being? Solely for our own good; because He is infinite love.
If love prompted Him to create intelligent offspring, that same affection must dispose him to regard them with tenderness, and to be their eternal Benefactor.
Our heavenly Father has created and commissioned Jesus of Nazareth to be the Savior of all who would come unto him, and qualified him for the successful execution of his divine office. These truths are plainly taught in various parts of the Scriptures.
The whole process of salvation is perfectly plain and intelligible. Jesus exerts no mysterious influence over us.
So far as he induces us to become good, he is instrumental in our salvation, and no farther; for we are not saved, and we shall never be saved, unless we become holy.
This is expressly declared by our Savior himself. ”Not every one that says unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.”
Those who continue in disobedience are not partakers of his salvation.
Our heavenly Father saves us by leading his intelligent children to consideration and obedience. This is clearly taught in various passages of scripture.
Our interest, our duty, and our happiness coincide. Let no one then be so simple as to think he shall be always sure of happiness, without personal holiness.
For unless he faithfully improves all his talents, they will hereafter swell the fountain of his misery.
Unless your talents serve to wean your affections away from earthly vanities; unless they raise your thoughts to the unseen realities of eternity; unless they lead you to self-scrutiny, self-discipline and self-cultivation, they cannot promote your Christian salvation. For this instrument will save you only so far as it makes you holy, and no farther.
The great majority in civilized lands profess to believe in the Christian religion. A part only are influenced by their faith to conform to its requisitions.
The remainder act in direct opposition to their profession, because their belief is merely speculative.
The substance of the whole matter, therefore, is this. Only so far as a person obeys Jesus, only so far will he bring forth good works; and only so far as he exhibits those good works, only so far is a person justified by all its exercises.
So, speedily reform whatever you discover amiss in your heart or lives. Quickly supply whatever you find defective in your faith or practice. Confirm and strengthen whatever you possess according to truth and godliness.
And never imagine that you have arrived at perfection; but forgetting your past mistakes, pressing forward most zealously to higher and still higher degrees of Christian knowledge and holiness.
Your Father remembers that you are dust, and he does not require impossibilities of his frail children.
Place the perfect example of your divine Master ever before you.
He came not to make us happy in our iniquities. This he could not do. This God himself will not do. He must first aid us in becoming good, before we can possibly be happy.
(Abridged and adapted from an 1831 sermon by Rev. Bernard Whitman)