An Exposition by Bishop J. C. Ryle
"God so loved the world, that he gave His
only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish—but
have everlasting life." John 3:16
There are few texts better known than that which heads this page. Its
words are probably familiar to our ears. We have very likely heard
them, or read them, or quoted them, a hundred times. But have we ever
considered what a vast amount of divinity this text contains? No wonder
that Luther called it "the Bible in miniature!" And have we ever
considered the word which forms the turning-point of the text, and the
immensely solemn question which arises out of it? The word I refer to
is "believes." The Lord Jesus says, "Whoever believes shall not
perish." Now, do we believe?
Questions about religion are seldom popular. They frighten people. They
oblige them to look within, and to think. The insolvent tradesman does
not like his books to be searched. The faithless steward does not like
his accounts to be examined. And the unconverted Christian does not
like to be asked personal questions about his soul.
But questions about religion are very useful. The Lord Jesus Christ
asked many questions during His ministry on earth. The servant of
Christ ought not to be ashamed to do likewise. Questions about things
necessary to salvation—questions which probe the conscience, and bring
people face to face with God—such questions often bring life and health
to souls. I know few questions more important than the one which arises
out of this text—do we believe?
The question before us is no easy one to answer. It will not do to
thrust it aside by the off-hand answer, "Of course I believe." True
belief is no such "matter of course" as many suppose. Myriads of
Protestants and Roman Catholics are constantly saying on Sundays, "I
believe," who know nothing whatever of believing. They cannot explain
what they mean. They neither know what, nor in whom, they believe. They
can give no account of their faith. A belief of this kind is utterly
useless. It can neither satisfy, nor sanctify, nor save.
In order to see clearly the importance of "believing," we should ponder
well the words of Christ which head this paper. It is by the unfolding
of these words, that I shall hope to show the weight of the question,
"Do you believe?"
There are four things which I wish to consider, and to impress upon the
minds of all who read this volume. These four things are as follows—
I. God's mind towards the world—He "loved" it.
II. God's gift to the world, "He gave His only begotten Son."
III. The only way to obtain the benefit of God's gift, "Whoever
believes on Him shall not perish."
IV. The marks by which true belief may be known.
I. Let us consider, in the first place, God's mind towards the
world—He "loved" it.
The extent of the Father's love towards the world, is a subject on
which there is some difference of opinion. It is a subject on which I
have long taken my side, and will never hesitate to speak my mind. I
believe that the Bible teaches us that God's love extends to all
mankind. "His tender mercies are over all His works." (Psalm 145:9.) He
did not love the Jews only—but the Gentiles also. He does not love His
own elect only. He loves all the world.
But what kind of love is this with which the Father regards all
mankind? It cannot be a love of delight, or else He would cease to be a
perfect God. He is one who "cannot look upon that which is iniquity."
(Hab. 1:13.) Oh, no! The world-wide love of which Jesus speaks, is a
love of kindness, pity, and compassion. Fallen as man is, and provoking
as man's ways are, the heart of God is full of kindness towards him.
While as a righteous Judge He hates sin, He is yet able in a certain
sense to love sinners! The length and breadth of His compassion are not
to be measured by our feeble measures. We are not to suppose that He is
such an one as ourselves. Righteous, and holy, and pure as God is, it
is yet possible for God to love all mankind. "His compassions fail
not." (Lam. 3:22.)
Let us think, for a moment, how wonderful is this extent of God's love.
Look at the state of mankind in every part of the earth, and mark the
amazing quantity of wickedness and ungodliness by which earth is
defiled. Look at the millions of heathen worshiping stocks and stones,
and living in a spiritual darkness "that may be felt"—Look at the
millions of Roman Catholics, burying the truth under man-made
traditions, and giving the honor due to Christ—to the church, the
saints, and the priest. Look at the millions of Protestants who are
content with a mere formal Christianity, and know nothing of Christian
believing or Christian living, except the name. Look at the land in
which we live at this very day, and mark the sins which abound even in
a privileged nation like our own. Think how drunkenness, and
Sabbath-breaking, and uncleanness, and lying, and swearing, and pride,
and covetousness, and infidelity, are crying aloud to God from one end
of Great Britain to the other. And then remember that God loves this
world! No wonder that we find it written that He is" merciful and
gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth." (Exod.
34:6.) He is "not willing that any should perish—but that all should
come to repentance." He "would have all men to be saved, and to come to
the knowledge of the truth." He "has no pleasure in the death of him
who dies." (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4; Ezek. 33:11.) There lives not the
man or woman on earth whom God regards with absolute hatred or complete
indifference. His mercy is like all His other attributes. It passes
knowledge. God loves the world.
There are divers and strange doctrines abroad in the present day about
the love of God. It is a precious truth which Satan labors hard to
obscure by misrepresentation and perversion. Let us grasp it firmly,
and stand on our guard.
Beware of the common idea that God the Father is an angry Being, whom
sinful man can only regard with fear, and from whom he must flee to
Christ for safety. Cast it aside as a baseless and unscriptural notion.
Contend earnestly for all the attributes of God, for His holiness and
His justice, as well as for His love. But never allow for one moment
that there is any lack of love towards sinners in any Person in the
Blessed Trinity. Oh, no! Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and
such is the Holy Spirit. The Father loves, and the Son loves, and the
Holy Spirit loves. When Christ came on earth, the kindness and love of
God toward man appeared. (Titus 3:4.) The cross is the effect of the
Father's love, and not the cause. Redemption is the result of the
compassion of all three Persons in the Trinity. To place the Father and
the Son in opposition one to another, is weak and crude theology.
Christ died, not because God the Father hated—but because He loved the
Beware, again, of the common doctrine that God's love is limited and
confined to His own elect, and that all the rest of mankind are passed
by, neglected, and let alone. This also is a notion that will not bear
examination by the light of Scripture. The father of a prodigal son can
surely love and pity him, even when he is walking after his own lusts,
and refusing to return home. The Maker of all things may surely love
the work of His own hands with a love of compassion, even when
rebellious against Him. Let us resist to the death the unscriptural
doctrine of universal salvation. It is not true that all mankind will
be finally saved. But let us not fly into the extreme of denying God's
universal compassion. It is true that God "loves the world." Let us
maintain jealously the privileges of God's elect. It is true that they
are loved with a special love, and will be loved to all eternity. But
let us not exclude any man or woman from the pale of God's kindness and
compassion. We have no right to pare down the meaning of words when
Jesus says, "God loved the world." The heart of God is far wider than
that of man. There is a sense in which the Father loves all mankind.
I hold firmly the doctrine of election. I delight in the blessed truth
that God has loved His own elect with an everlasting love, before the
foundation of the world. But all this is beside the question before us.
That question is, "How does God regard all mankind?" I reply
unhesitatingly, that God loves them. God loves all the world with a
'love of compassion'.
If any reader of these pages never yet took up the service of Christ in
real earnest, and has the least desire to begin now, take comfort in
the truth before you. Take comfort in the thought that God the Father
is a God of infinite love and compassion. Do not hang back and
hesitate, under the idea that God is an angry Being, who is unwilling
to receive sinners, and slow to pardon. Remember this day that love is
the Father's darling attribute. In Him there is perfect justice,
perfect purity, perfect wisdom, perfect knowledge, infinite power. But,
above all, never forget there is in the Father a perfect love and
compassion. Draw near to Him with boldness, because Jesus has made a
way for you. But draw near to Him also with boldness, because it is
written that "He loved the world."
If you have taken up the service of God already, never be ashamed of
imitating Him whom you serve. Be full of love and kindness to all
people, and full of special love to those who believe. Let there be
nothing narrow, limited, contracted, stingy, or sectarian in your love.
Do not only love your family and your friends—love all mankind. Love
your neighbors and your fellow-countrymen. Love strangers and
foreigners. Love heathen and Muhammadans. Love the worst of people with
a love of pity. Love all the world. Lay aside all envy and malice—all
selfishness and unkindness. To keep up such a spirit is to be no better
than an infidel. "Let all your things be done with love." "Love your
enemies, bless those who curse, you; do good to those who hate you,"
and be not weary of doing them good to your life's end. (1 Cor. 16:14;
Matt. 5:44.) The world may sneer at such conduct, and call it mean and
low-spirited. But this is the mind of Christ. This is the way to be
like God. God loved the world.
II. The next thing I want to consider is God's gift to the world.
"He gave His only begotten Son."
The manner in which the truth before us is stated by our Lord Jesus
Christ, demands special attention. It would be well for many who talk
big swelling words about "the love of God" in the present day, if they
would mark the way in which the Lord Jesus sets it before us.
The love of God towards the world is not a vague, abstract idea of
mercy, which we are obliged to take on trust, without any proof that it
is true. It is a love which has been manifested by a mighty gift. It is
a love which has been put before us in a plain, unmistakable, tangible
form. God the Father was not content to sit in heaven, idly pitying and
loving His fallen creatures on earth. He has given the mightiest
evidence of His love towards us by a gift of unspeakable value. He has
"not spared His own Son—but delivered Him up for us all." (Rom. 8:32.)
He has so loved us that He has given us His only begotten Son, the Lord
Jesus Christ! A higher proof of the Father's love could not have been
Again, it is not written that God so loved the world that He resolved
to save it—but that He so loved it that He gave Christ. His love is not
displayed at the expense of His holiness and justice. It flows down
from heaven to earth through one particular channel. It is set before
people in one special way. It is only through Christ, by Christ, on
account of Christ, and in inseparable connection with the work of
Christ. Let us glory in God's love by all means. Let us proclaim to all
the world that God is love. But let us carefully remember that we know
little or nothing of God's love which can give us comfort, excepting in
Jesus Christ. It is not written that God so loved the world that He
will take all the world to heaven—but that He so loved it, that He has
given His only begotten Son. He who ventures on God's love without
reference to Christ, is building on a foundation of sand.
Who can estimate the value of God's gift, when He gave to the world his
only begotten Son? It is something unspeakable and incomprehensible. It
passes man's understanding. There are two things which man has no
arithmetic to reckon, and no line to measure. One of these things is
the extent of that man's loss who loses his own soul. The other is the
extent of God's gift when He gave Christ to sinners. He gave no created
thing for our redemption, though all the treasures of earth, and all
the stars of heaven, were at His disposal. He gave no created being to
be our Redeemer, though angels, principalities and powers in heavenly
places, were ready to do His will. Oh, no! He gave us One who was
nothing less than His own fellow, very God of very God, His only
begotten Son. He who thinks lightly of man's need and man's sin, would
do well to consider man's Savior. Sin must indeed be exceeding sinful,
when the Father must needs give His only Son to be the sinner's Friend!
Have we ever considered to what the Father gave His only begotten Son?
Was it to be received with gratitude and thankfulness by a lost and
bankrupt world? Was it to reign in royal majesty on a restored earth,
and put down every enemy under His feet? Was it to enter the world as a
king, and to give laws to a willing and obedient people? No! The Father
gave His Son to be "despised and rejected of men," to be born of a poor
woman, and live a life of poverty—to be hated, persecuted, slandered,
and blasphemed—to be counted a malefactor, condemned as a transgressor,
and die the death of a felon. Never was there such love as this! Never
such condescension! The man among ourselves who cannot stoop much and
suffer much in order to do good, knows nothing of the mind of Christ.
For what end and purpose did the Father give His only begotten Son? Was
it only to supply an example of self-denial and self-sacrifice? No! It
was for a far higher end and purpose than this. He gave Him to be a
sacrifice for man's sin, and an atonement for man's transgression. He
gave Him to be crucified for our offences, and to die for the ungodly.
He gave Him to bear our iniquities, and to suffer for our sins, the
just for the unjust. He gave Him to be made a curse for us, that we
might be redeemed from the curse of the law. He gave Him to be sin for
us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in
Him. He gave Him to be an atoning for our sins, and not for ours
only—but for the sins of the whole world. He gave Him to be a ransom
for all, and to make satisfaction for our heavy debt to God by His own
precious blood. (1 Pet. 3:18; Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 2:2; 1
Tim. 2:6; 1 Pet. 1:18, 19.) He gave Him to be the Almighty Friend of
all sinners of mankind—to be their Surety and Substitute—to do for them
what they never could have done for themselves—suffer what they could
never have suffered—and pay what they could never have paid. All that
Jesus did and suffered on earth was according to the determinate
counsel and fore-knowledge of God. The chief end for which He lived and
died was to provide eternal redemption for mankind.
Beware of ever losing sight of the great purpose for which Christ was
given by God the Father. Let not the false teaching of modern divinity,
however plausible it may sound, tempt you to forsake the old paths.
Hold fast the faith once delivered to the saints—that the special
object for which Christ was given was to die for sinners, and to make
atonement for them by His sacrifice on the cross. Once give up this
great doctrine, and there is little worth contending for in
Christianity. If Christ did not really "bear our sins on the tree" as
our Substitute, there is an end of all solid peace. (1 Pet, 2:24.)
Beware, again, of holding narrow and confined views of the extent of
Christ's redemption. Regard Him as given by God the Father to be the
common Savior for all the world. See in Him the fountain for all sin
and uncleanness, to which every sinner may come boldly, drink and live.
See in Him the brazen serpent set up in the midst of the camp, to which
every sin-bitten soul may look and be healed. See in Him a medicine of
matchless value, sufficient for the needs of all the world, and offered
freely to all mankind. The way to heaven is narrow enough already, by
reason of man's pride, hardness, sloth, listlessness, and unbelief. But
take heed that you do not make that way more narrow than it really is.
I confess, boldly, that I hold the doctrine of 'particular redemption',
in a certain sense, as strongly as anyone. I believe that none are
effectually redeemed but God's elect. They, and they alone, are set
free from the guilt, and power, and consequences of sin. But I hold no
less strongly, that Christ's work of atonement is sufficient for all
mankind. There is a sense in which He has tasted death for every man,
and has taken upon Him the sin of the world. (Heb. 2:9; John 1:29.) I
dare not pare down, and file away, what appear to me the plain
statements of Scripture. I dare not shut a door which God seems, to my
eyes, to have left open. I dare not tell any man on earth that Christ
has done nothing for him, and that he has no warrant to apply boldly to
Christ for salvation. I must abide by the statements of the Bible.
Christ is God's gift to the whole world.
Let us observe what a giving religion true Christianity is. Gift, love,
and free grace are the grand characteristics of the pure gospel. The
Father loves the world and gives His only begotten Son. The Son loves
us and gives Himself for us. The Father and the Son together give the
Holy Spirit to all who ask. All Three Persons in the Blessed Trinity
give "grace upon grace" to those who believe. Never let us be ashamed
of being giving Christians if we profess to have any hope in Christ.
Let us give freely, liberally, and self-denyingly, according as we have
power and opportunity. Let not our love consist in nothing more than
vague expressions of kindness and compassion. Let us make proof of it
by actions. Let us help forward the cause of Christ on earth, by money,
influence, pains, and prayer. If God so loved us as to give His Son for
our souls, we should count it a privilege and not a burden, to give
what we can to do good to people.
If God has given His Son to die for us, let us beware of doubting His
kindness and love in any painful providence of our daily life. Let us
never allow ourselves to think hard thoughts of God. Let us never
suppose that He can give us anything that is not really for our good.
Let us remember the words of Paul, "He who spared not His own Son, but
delivered Him up for us all—how shall He not with Him also freely give
us all things." (Rom. 8:32.) Let us see in every sorrow and trouble of
our earthly pilgrimage, the hand of Him who gave Christ to die for our
sins. That hand can never smite us except in love. He who gave us His
only begotten Son, will never withhold anything from us that is really
for our good. Let us lean back on this thought and be content. Let us
say to ourselves in the darkest hour of trial, "This also is ordered by
Him who gave Christ to die for my sins. It cannot be wrong. It is done
in love. It must be well."
III. The third thing I propose to consider, is the way in which
man obtains the benefit of God's love and Christ's salvation. It is
written that "whoever believes shall not perish."
The point before us is of the deepest importance. To bring it out
clearly before your eyes is one great object of the paper you are now
reading. God has loved the world. God has given His Son "to be the
Savior of the world." (1 John 4:14.) And yet we learn from Scripture
that many people in the world never reach heaven! Here at any rate is
limitation. Here the gate is strait and the way narrow. Only a small
remnant out of mankind obtain eternal benefit from Christ. Who then,
and what are they?
Christ and His benefits are only available to those who believe. To
believe, in the language of the New Testament, is simply to trust.
Trusting and believing are the same thing. This is a doctrine
repeatedly laid down in Scripture, in plain and unmistakable language.
Those who will not trust or believe in Him have no part in Him. Without
believing there is no salvation. It is vain to suppose that any will be
saved, merely because Christ was incarnate—or because Christ is in
heaven—or because they belong to Christ's Church—or because they are
baptized—or because they have received the Lord's supper. All this is
entirely useless to any man except he believes. Without faith, or
trust, on his part, all these things together will not save his soul.
We must have personal faith in Christ, personal dealings with Christ,
personal transactions with Christ—or we are lost for evermore.
It is utterly false and unscriptural to say that Christ is in every
man. Christ no doubt is for everyone—but Christ is not in everyone. He
dwells only in those hearts which have faith; and all, unhappily, have
not faith. He who believes not in the Son of God is yet in his sins,
"the wrath of God abides on him." "He who believes not," says our Lord
Jesus Christ in words of fearful distinctness, "he who believes not
shall be damned." (Mark 16:16; John 3:36.)
But Christ and all His benefits are the property of anyone of mankind
who believes. Everyone who believes on the Son of God, and trusts his
soul to Him, is at once pardoned, forgiven, justified, counted
righteous, reckoned innocent, and freed from all liability to
condemnation. His sins, however many, are at once cleansed away by
Christ's precious blood. His soul, however guilty, is at once clothed
with Christ's perfect righteousness. It matters not what he may have
been in time past. His sins may have been of the worst kind. His former
character may be of the blackest description. But does He believe on
the Son of God? This is the one question. If he does believe, he is
justified from all things in the sight of God. It matters not, that he
can bring to Christ nothing to recommend him—no good works, no
long-proved amendments, no unmistakable repentance and change of life.
But does he this day believe in Jesus Christ? This is the grand
question. If he does he is at once accepted. He is accounted righteous
for Christ's sake.
But what is this saving faith, which is of such matchless importance.
What is the nature of this faith which gives a man such amazing
privileges? This is an important question. I ask attention to the
answer. Here is a rock on which many make shipwreck. There is nothing
really mysterious and hard to understand about saving belief. But the
whole difficulty arises from man's pride and self-righteousness. It is
the very simplicity of justifying faith at which thousands stumble.
They cannot understand it because they will not stoop.
Saving faith in Christ is no mere intellectual assent, or belief of the
head. This is no more than the faith of devils. We may believe that
there was a divine Person called Jesus Christ, who lived and died and
rose again, eighteen hundred years ago, and yet never believe so as to
be saved. Doubtless there must be some knowledge before we can believe.
There is no true religion in ignorance. But knowledge alone is not
Saving faith in Christ, again, is not mere feeling something about
Christ. This is often no more than temporary excitement, which, like
the early dew, soon passes away. We may be pricked in conscience, and
feel drawings toward the Gospel, like Herod and Felix. We may even
tremble and weep, and show much affection for the truth and those who
profess it. And yet all this time our hearts and wills may remain
utterly unchanged, and secretly chained down to the world. Doubtless
there is no saving faith where there is no feeling. But feeling alone
is not faith.
True belief in Christ is the unreserved trust of a heart convinced of
sin, in Christ, as an all-sufficient Savior. It is the combined act of
the whole man's head, conscience, heart, and will. It is often so weak
and feeble at first, that he who has it cannot be persuaded that he has
it. And yet, like life in the new-born infant, his belief may be real,
genuine, saving, and true. The moment that the conscience is convinced
of sin, and the head sees Christ to be the only One who can save, and
the heart and will lay hold on the hand that Christ holds out—that
moment there is saving faith. In that moment a man believes.
True belief in Christ is so immensely important that the Holy Spirit
has graciously used many figures in the Bible in describing it. The
Lord God knows the slowness of man to comprehend spiritual things. He
has therefore multiplied forms of expression, in order to set faith
fully before us. The man who cannot understand "believing" in one form
of words, will perhaps understand it in another.
(1) Believing is the soul's COMING to Christ. The Lord
Jesus says, "He who comes to Me shall never hunger." "Come unto Me, all
who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (John 6:35;
Matt. 11:28.) Christ is that Almighty Friend, Advocate, and Physician,
to whom all sinners, needing help, are commanded to apply. The believer
comes to Him by faith, and is relieved.
One common remark applies to all the nine expressions which I have just
gone through. They all give us the simplest idea of faith, or believing
and trusting, that man can desire. Not one of them implies the notion
of anything mysterious, great, or meritorious in the act of belief. All
represent it as something within reach of the weakest and feeblest
sinner, and within the comprehension of the most ignorant and
unlearned. Grant for a moment that a man says he cannot understand what
faith in Christ is. Let him look at the nine expressions under which
faith is described in Scripture, and tell me, if he can, that he cannot
understand them. Surely he must allow that coming to Christ, looking to
Christ, committing our souls to Christ, laying hold on Christ, are
simple ideas. Then let him remember that coming, looking, and
committing our souls to Christ, are, in other words, believing.
(2) Believing is the soul's RECEIVING Christ. Paul says, "You have
received Christ Jesus the Lord." (Col. 2:6.) Christ offers to come into
man's heart with pardon, mercy, and grace, and to dwell there as its
Peace-maker and King. He says, "I stand at the door and knock." (Rev.
3:20.) The believer hears His voice, opens the door, and admits Christ,
as his Master, Priest, and King.
(3) Believing is the soul's BUILDING on Christ. Paul says, you are
"built up in Him." "You are built upon the foundation of the apostles
and prophets." (Eph. 2:20; Col. 2:7.) Christ is that sure corner-stone,
that strong foundation, which alone can bear the weight of a sinful
soul. The believer places his hopes for eternity on Him, and is safe.
The earth may be shaken and dissolved; but he is built upon a rock, and
will never be confounded.
(4) Believing is the soul's PUTTING ON Christ. Paul says, "As many of
you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ." (Galat.
3:27.) Christ is that pure white robe which God has provided for all
sinners who would enter heaven. The believer puts on this robe by
faith, and is at once perfect and free from any spot in God's sight.
(5) Believing is the soul's LAYING HOLD ON Christ. Paul says, "We have
fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us." (Heb. 6:18.)
Christ is that true city of refuge, to which the man fleeing from the
avenger of blood runs, and in which he is safe. Christ is that altar
which provided a sanctuary to him who laid hold on its horns. Christ is
that almighty hand of mercy, which God holds out from heaven to lost
and drowning sinners. The believer lays hold on this hand by faith, and
is delivered from the pit of hell.
(6) Believing is the soul's EATING Christ. The Lord Jesus says, "My
flesh is food indeed. He who eats of this bread shall live forever."
(John 6:55, 58.) Christ is that divine food which God has provided for
starving sinners. He is that divine bread which is at the same time
life, nourishment, and medicine. The believer feeds on this 'bread of
life' by faith. His hunger is relieved. His soul is delivered from
(7) Believing is the soul's DRINKING Christ. The Lord Jesus says, "My
blood is drink indeed." (John 6:55.) Christ is that fountain of living
water which God has opened for the use of all thirsty and sin-defiled
sinners, proclaiming, "Whoever will, let him take the water of life
freely." (Rev. 22:17.) The believer drinks of this living water, and
his thirst is quenched.
(8) Believing is the soul's COMMITTAL OF ITSELF to Christ. Paul says,
"He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that
day." (2 Tim. 1:12.) Christ is the appointed keeper and guardian of
souls. It is His office to preserve from sin, death, hell, and the
devil, anything committed to his charge. The believer places his soul
in the hands of the Almighty treasure keeper, and is insured against
loss to all eternity. He trusts himself to Him and is safe.
(9) Last—but not least, believing is the soul's LOOK to Christ. Paul
describes the saints as "looking to Jesus." (Heb. 12:2.) The invitation
of the Gospel is, "Look unto Me, and be saved." (Isai. 45:22.) Christ
is that brazen serpent which God has set up in the world, for the
healing of all sin-bitten souls who desire to be cured. The believer
looks to Him by faith, and has life, health, and spiritual strength.
And now, if any reader of these pages desires to have peace of
conscience in his religion, I entreat him to grasp firmly the great
doctrine which I have tried to set before him, and never let it go.
Hold fast the grand truth that saving faith is nothing but simple trust
in Christ, that faith alone justifies, and that the one thing needful
in order to obtain a saving interest in Christ, is to believe. No doubt
repentance, holiness, and charity are excellent things. They will
always accompany true faith. But in the matter of justification, they
have nothing to do. In that matter, the one thing needful is to
believe. No doubt belief is not the only grace to be found in the heart
of a true Christian. But only faith gives him a saving interest in
Christ. Prize that doctrine as the peculiar treasure of Christianity.
Once let it go, or add anything to it, and there is an end of inward
Prize the doctrine for its suitableness to the needs of fallen man. It
places salvation within reach of the lowest and vilest sinner, if he
has but heart and will to receive it. It asks him not for works,
righteousness, merit, goodness, worthiness. It requires nothing of him.
It strips him of all excuses. It deprives him of all pretext for
despair. His sins may have been as scarlet. But will he believe? Then
there is hope.
Prize the doctrine for its glorious simplicity. It brings eternal life
near to the poor, and ignorant, and unlearned. It does not ask a man
for a long confession of doctrinal orthodoxy. It does not require a
store of head-knowledge, and an acquaintance with articles and creeds.
Does the man, with all his ignorance, come to Christ as a sinner, and
commit himself entirely to Him for salvation? Will he believe? If he
will, there is hope.
Above all, prize the doctrine for the glorious breadth and fullness of
its terms. It does not say "the elect" who believe, or "the rich" who
believe, or "the moral" people who believe, or "the Churchman" who
believes, or "the Dissenter" who believes—these, and these only shall
be saved. Oh, no! it uses a word of far wider signification—It says,
"Whoever believes, shall not perish." Whoever, whatever his past life,
conduct, or character; whatever his name, rank, person, or country;
whatever his denomination, and whatever place of worship he may have
attended, "whoever believes in Christ shall not perish."
This is the Gospel. I marvel not that Paul wrote those words, "If we or
an angel from heaven preach any other Gospel unto you than that which
we have preached, let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8.)
IV. The fourth and last thing which I propose to consider is a point of
great practical importance. I wish to show you the MARKS by which true
belief in Christ may be discerned and known.
The faith or believing of which I have spoken, is a grace of such
importance, that we may naturally expect to hear of many counterfeits
of it. There is a dead faith—as well as a living one it. There is a
faith of devils—as well as a faith of God's elect it. There is a faith
which is vain and useless—as well as a faith that justifies and saves.
How shall a man know whether he has true faith? How shall he find out
whether he "believes to the saving of his soul"? The thing may be found
out. The Ethiopian may be known by his skin, and the leopard by his
spots. True faith may always be known by certain marks. These marks are
laid down unmistakably in Scripture. Let me endeavor to set down these
marks in order.
(1) He who truly believes in Christ has inward peace and
hope. It is written, "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God,
through our Lord Jesus Christ." "We who have believed enter into rest."
(Rom. 5:1; Heb. 4:3.) The believer's sins are pardoned, and his
iniquities taken away. His conscience is no longer burdened with the
load of unpardoned transgressions. He is reconciled to God, and is one
of His friends. He can look forward to death, judgment, and eternity
without fear. The sting of death is taken away. When the great judgment
of the last day is held, and the books are opened, there will be
nothing laid to his charge. When eternity begins, he is provided for.
He has a hope laid up in heaven, and a city which cannot be moved. He
may not be fully sensible of all these privileges. His sense and view
of them may vary greatly at different times, and be often obscured by
doubts and fears. Like a child who is yet under age, though heir to a
great fortune, he may not be fully aware of the value of his
possessions. But with all his doubts and fears, he has a real, solid,
true hope, which will bear examination, and at his best moments he will
be able to say, "I feel a hope which makes me not ashamed." (Rom. 5:5.)
I place these seven marks of believing before everyone who reads this
paper, and I ask him to consider them well. I do not say, that all
believers have them equally. I do not say, that no one will be saved
who cannot discover all these marks in himself. I concede, freely, that
many believers are so weak in faith, that they go doubting all their
days, and make others doubt about them too. I simply say that these are
the marks to which a man should first direct his attention, if he would
know whether he truly believes. Where the seven marks, of which I have
just been speaking, are utterly lacking, I dare not tell a man that he
is a true believer. He may be called a Christian, and attend on
Christian ordinances. He may have been baptized with Christian baptism,
and be a member of a Christian church. But if he knows nothing of peace
with God, conversion of heart, newness of life, and victory over the
world, I dare not pronounce him a believer. He is yet dead in
trespasses and sins. Except he awakes to newness of life, he will
(2) He who truly believes in Christ has a new heart. It is written, "If
any man is in Christ, he is a new creature—old things are passed
away—behold all things are become new." "To as many as received Christ,
He gave power to become sons of God; who were born not of blood, nor of
the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man—but of God." "Whoever
believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." (2 Cor. 5:17; John
1:12, 13; 1 John 5:1.) A believer has no longer the same nature with
which he was born. He is changed, renewed, and transformed after the
image of his Lord and Savior. He who minds first the things of the
flesh, has no saving faith. True faith and spiritual regeneration are
inseparable companions. An unconverted person is not a believer!
(3) He who truly believes in Christ is a holy person in heart and life.
It is written that God "purifies the heart by faith;" and, "Whoever has
this hope in him, purifies himself." (Acts. 15:9; 1 John 3:3.) A
believer loves what God loves, and hates what God hates. His heart's
desire is to walk in the way of God's commandments, and to abstain from
all manner of evil. His wish is to follow after the things which are
just, and pure, and honest, and lovely, and of good report, and to
cleanse himself from all filthiness of flesh and spirit. He falls far
short of his aim in many things. He finds his daily life a constant
fight with indwelling corruption. But he fights on, and resolutely
refuses to serve sin. Where there is no holiness, we may be sure there
is no saving faith. An unholy man is not a believer!
(4) He who truly believes on Christ works godly works. It is written,
that "faith works by love." (Gal. 5:6.) True belief will never make a
man idle, or allow him to sit still, contented with his own religion.
It will stir him to do acts of love, kindness, and charity, according
as he sees opportunity. It will constrain him to walk in the steps of
his Master, who "went about doing good." (Acts 10:38.) In one way or
another, it will make him work. The works that he does may attract no
notice from the world. They may seem trifling and insignificant to many
people. But they are not forgotten by Him who notices a cup of cold
water given for His sake. Where there is no working love, there is no
faith. A lazy, selfish professing Christian, has no right to regard
himself as a believer!
(5) He who truly believes on Christ overcomes the world. It is written,
that "whatever is born of God overcomes the world, and this is the
victory that overcomes the world, even our faith." (1 John 5:4.) A true
believer is not ruled by the world's standard of right or wrong, of
truth or error. He is independent of the world's opinion. He cares
little for the world's praise. He is not moved by the world's blame. He
does not seek for the world's pleasures. He is not ambitious of the
world's rewards. He looks at things unseen. He sees an invisible
Savior, a coming judgment, a crown of glory which never fades away. The
sight of these objects makes him think comparatively little of this
world. Where the world reigns in the heart, there is no saving faith. A
man that is habitually conformed to the world, has no right to regard
himself as a believer!
(6) He who truly believes on Christ, has an inward testimony of his
belief. It is written, that "he who believes on the Son of God, has the
witness in himself." (1 John 5:10.) The mark before us requires very
delicate handling. The witness of the Spirit is unquestionably a very
difficult subject. But I cannot shrink from declaring my own firm
persuasion that a true believer always has inward feelings peculiar to
himself—feelings which are inseparably connected with his faith, and
flow from it—feelings of which unbelievers know nothing at all. He "has
the Spirit of adoption," by which he regards God as a reconciled
Father, and looks up to Him without fear. (Rom. 8:15.) He has the
testimony of his conscience, sprinkled with Christ's blood, that weak
as he is, he rests on Christ. He has hopes, joys, fears, sorrows,
consolations, expectations, of which he knew nothing before he
believed. He has 'soul evidences' which the world cannot understand—but
which are better to him than all the books of evidence in existence.
Feelings are, no doubt, very deceitful. But where there are no inward
religious feelings there is no faith. A man who knows nothing of an
inward, spiritual, experimental religion—is not a true believer!
(7) Last—but not least, he who truly believes on Christ, has a special
regard in all his religion to the person of Christ Himself. It is
written, "Unto you who believe, Christ is precious." (1 Pet. 2:7.) That
text deserves especial notice. It does not say "Christianity" is
precious, or the "Gospel" is precious, or "salvation" is precious—but
Christ Himself. A true believer's religion does not consist in mere
intellectual assent to a certain set of propositions and doctrines. It
is not a mere cold belief of a certain set of truths and facts
concerning Christ. It consists in union, communion, and fellowship with
an actual living Person, even Jesus the Son of God. It is a life of
faith in Jesus, confidence in Jesus, leaning on Jesus, drawing out of
the fullness of Jesus, speaking to Jesus, working for Jesus, loving
Jesus, and waiting for Jesus to come again. Paul said, "The life that I
live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God." "To me to
live is Christ." (Galat. 2:20; Phil. 1:21.) Such life may sound like
enthusiasm to many. But where there is true faith, Christ will always
be known and realized, as an actual living personal Friend. He who
knows nothing of Christ as his own Priest, Physician, and Redeemer,
knows nothing of saving faith!
Show me a man who has about him the seven marks which I have described,
and I feel a strong confidence about the state of his soul. He may be
poor and needy in this world—but he is rich in the sight of God. He may
be despised and sneered at by man—but he is honorable in the sight of
the King of kings. He is traveling towards heaven. He has a mansion
ready for him in the Father's house. He is cared for by Christ, while
on earth. He will be owned by Christ before assembled worlds, in the
life which is to come.
(1) And now, in drawing this paper to a conclusion, I return to
the QUESTION with which I began. I press that question on the
conscience of everyone whose eyes are on this page. I ask you, in my
Master's name, whether you yet know anything of the subject of it? I
ask you to look my inquiry in the face. I ask you, Do you truly believe?
Do you truly believe? I think it impossible to over-rate the immense
importance of the question before you. Life or death, heaven or hell,
blessing or cursing, all hinge and turn upon it. He who believes on
Christ is not condemned. He who believes not shall be damned. If you
truly believe, you are pardoned, justified, accepted in God's sight,
and have a title to everlasting life. If you do not believe, you are
perishing daily. Your sins are all upon your head, sinking you down to
perdition. Every hour you are so much nearer to hell.
Do you truly believe? It matters nothing what others are doing. The
question concerns yourself. The folly of other people is no excuse for
yours. The loss of heaven will not be less bitter, because you lose it
in company. Look at home. Think of your own soul.
Do you truly believe? It is no answer to say, that "you sometimes hope
Christ died for you." The Scriptures never tell us to spend our time in
doubts and hesitation on that point. We never read of a single case of
one who stood still on that ground. Salvation is never made to turn on
the question, whether Christ died for a certain man or not. The turning
point which is always set before us is believing.
Do you truly believe? This is the point to which all must come at last,
if they would be saved. It will signify little, when we hang on the
brink of the grave, what we have professed, and to what denomination we
have belonged. All this will sink into nothing, in comparison with the
question of this paper. All will be useless, if we have not believed.
Do you truly believe? This is the common mark of all saved souls.
Episcopalians or Presbyterians, Baptists or Independents, Methodists or
Plymouth Brethren, Churchmen or Dissenters—all meet on this common
ground, if they are true believers. On other matters, they are often
hopelessly disagreed. But in living by faith on Jesus Christ, they are
Do you truly believe? What reason can you give for unbelief, that will
bear examination? Life is short and uncertain. Death is sure. Judgment
is inevitable. Sin is exceeding sinful. Hell is a dreadful reality.
Christ alone can save you. There is no other name given under heaven,
whereby you can be saved. If not saved, the blame will be on your own
head. You will not believe! You will not come to Christ, that He may
give you life! Take warning this day. You must either believe on
Christ, or perish everlastingly. Rest not until you can give a
satisfactory answer to the question before you. Never be satisfied,
until you can say, By the grace of God I do believe.
(2) I pass on from questions to COUNSEL. I offer it to all who
are convinced of sin, and dissatisfied with their own spiritual
condition. I entreat you to come to Christ by faith without delay. I
invite you this day to believe on Christ to the saving of your soul.
I will not let you put me off by the common objection, "We cannot
believe—we must wait until God gives us faith." I grant most fully that
saving faith, like true repentance, is the gift of God. I grant that we
have no natural power of our own to believe on Christ, receive Christ,
come to Christ, lay hold on Christ, and commit our souls to Christ. But
I see faith and repentance laid down clearly in Scripture as duties
which God requires at every man's hands. He "commands all people to
repent." This is His commandment, that we should believe." (Acts 17:30;
1 John 3:23.) And I see it laid down with no less clearness, that
unbelief and impenitence are sins for which man will be held
accountable, and that he who does not repent and believe destroys his
own soul. (Mark 16:16; Luke 13:3.)
Will anyone tell me that it is right for a man to sit still in sin?
Will anyone say that a sinner on the road to hell ought to wait idly
for some power to take him up and put him in the way to heaven? Will
anyone say that it is right for a man to continue quietly serving the
devil, in open rebellion against God, and that he is to make no effort,
no struggle, no attempt to turn towards Christ?
Let others say these things, if they will. I cannot say them. I can
find no warrant for them in Scripture. I will not waste time in trying
to explain what cannot be explained, and unravel what cannot be
unraveled. I will not attempt to show metaphysically in what way an
unconverted man can look to Christ, or repent, or believe. But this I
know, that it is my plain duty to bid every unbeliever to repent and
believe. And this I know, that the man who will not accept the
invitation, will find at last that he has ruined his own soul!
Trust Christ, look to Christ, cry to the Lord Jesus Christ, if you
never yet believed, about your soul. If you have not the right feelings
yet, ask Him to give you right feelings. If you dare not think that you
have true faith yet, ask Him to give you faith. But in any case do not
sit still. Do not idle away your soul into hell in ignorant
unscriptural sloth. Do not live on in senseless inactivity—waiting for
you know not what—expecting what you cannot explain—increasing your
guilt every day—offending God by continuing in lazy unbelief—and hourly
digging a grave for your own soul. Arise and call upon Christ! Awake
and cry to Jesus about your soul! Whatever difficulties there may be
about believing, one thing at least is abundantly clear—no man ever
perished and went to hell from the foot of the cross. If you can do
nothing else, lie down at the foot of the cross.
(3) I finish all by a word of EXHORTATION to all believers into
whose hands this paper may fall. I address them as fellow-pilgrims and
companions in tribulation. I exhort them, if they love life, and have
found any peace in believing, to pray daily for an increase of faith.
Let your prayer be continually, "Lord, increase my faith."
True faith admits of many degrees. The weakest faith is enough to join
the soul to Christ, and to secure salvation. A trembling hand may
receive a healing medicine. The feeblest infant may be heir to the
richest possessions. The least faith gives a sinner a title to heaven,
as surely as the strongest faith—if it is true faith.
But 'little faith' can never give so much sensible comfort as strong
faith. According to the degree of our faith will be the degree of our
peace, our hope, our strength for duty, and our patience in trial.
Surely we should pray continually, "Increase our faith."
Would you have more faith? Do you find believing so pleasant that you
would like to believe more? Then take heed that you are diligent in the
use of every means of grace—diligent in your private communion with
God—diligent in your daily watchfulness over time, temper, and
tongue—diligent in your private Bible-reading—diligent in your own
private prayers. It is vain to expect spiritual prosperity, when we are
careless about these things. Let those who will, call it over-precise
and legal to be particular about them. I only reply, that there never
was an eminent saint who neglected them.
Would you have more faith? Then seek to become more acquainted with
Jesus Christ. Study your blessed Savior more and more, and strive to
know more of the length and breadth and height of His love. Study Him
in all His offices—as the Priest, the Physician, the Redeemer, the
Advocate, the Friend, the Teacher, the Shepherd of His believing
people. Study Him as one who not only died for you—but is also living
for you at the right hand of God—as one who not only shed His blood for
you—but daily intercedes for you at the right hand of God—as one who is
soon coming again for you, and will stand once more on this earth. The
miner who is fully persuaded that the rope which draws him up from the
pit will not break, is drawn up without anxiety and alarm. The believer
who is thoroughly acquainted with the fullness of Jesus Christ—is the
believer who travels from grace to glory with the greatest comfort and
peace. Then let your daily prayers always contain these words, "Lord,
increase my faith."