SALVATION THROUGH JESUS THE MESSIAH
In Chapter X we saw man in his fallen, corrupt, unsaved state. In Chapter XI, we traced in a brief manner the promise of the world's Redeemer. In Chapter XII the subject of the atonement was the topic for consideration. There we saw how the holiness of God demanded atonement for sin and how His love provided it. We shall, in the present chapter, discuss the all-important theme of salvation which, as we shall learn, is offered to all men through Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel and the Saviour of the world.
In order that we might have a comprehensive view of this most important subject, let me briefly call attention to man's present condition and proceed from that point of view.
I. THE LOST CONDITION OF ALL MEN
As we saw in Chapter IX in which we studied the subject "Satan, the Kingdom of Darkness, and Sin," man was in perfect fellowship and communion with his Maker until the day on which he disobeyed the Lord and partook of the forbidden fruit. On that day he died as God had warned him: "The day that thou eatest thereof dying thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:17, literal translation). That threat involved physical, spiritual, and eventually eternal death, unless one accepts the means of salvation provided for man through the Lord Jesus Christ. The forces of physical death began to prey upon man's body the day on which he disobeyed God. On that very day he was driven from the Almighty's presence and died spiritually. Man has been alienated from the Almighty from that day until this. A vivid picture of the human heart is set forth in Psalm 14:2,3:
Jehovah looked down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there were any that did understand,
That did seek after God.
They are all gone aside; they are together become filthy;
There is none that doeth good, no, not one.
Jeremiah took an X ray of man's heart, which is found in the following words: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9). In Romans 1:18-3:20 the Apostle Paul showed that all men--both Jews and Gentiles--are in a lost condition. They are without God and without hope in the world. The apostle summed up his argument in quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures:
9. What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise; for we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin; 10 as it is written,
There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none that understandeth,
There is none that seeketh after God;
They have all turned aside, they are together become unprofitable;
There is none that doeth good, no, not so much as one;
Their throat is an open sepulcher;
With their tongues they have used deceit:
The poison of asps is under their lips:
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
Destruction and misery are in their ways;
And the way of peace have they not known:
There is no fear of God before their eyes (Rom. 3:9-18).
Can salvation be procured by observing the law which Moses delivered to Israel at Sinai? That question is answered in the next two verses:
19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it speaketh to them that are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God: 20 because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for through the law cometh the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:19,20).
From these statements we see that no flesh can be justified before God by the works of the law. Of course if any man could keep the law perfectly, he could be justified by it; but on account of the weakness of the flesh no man can keep it. The Apostle James declared, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all" (James 2:10). There is not a man, woman, or child living today who can in honesty and sincerity of heart say that he has absolutely kept every commandment of the law. The most godly in Israel constantly confessed their wrongs and sins; but there are sins of which men are guilty and yet of which they are unaware. The Psalmist David therefore prayed, "Clear thou me from hidden faults" (Ps. 19:12).
A view of the human heart is presented in Ephesians 4:17-19:
17 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the vanity of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart; 19 who being past feeling gave themselves up to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
Figuratively speaking, this is a picture of the normal, unregenerated heart of the unbeliever. It is without distortion; it is a clear photograph of the natural heart. In Ephesians 2:1-3, however, Paul presents another picture of the heart--that of Jew as well as Gentile. A third clear photograph of the unregenerated heart is seen in the following verse: "For we also once were foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another" (Titus 3:3). These passages could be multiplied indefinitely, but the ones quoted are sufficient to show that every one who has reached the age of accountability is in a lost, undone condition and needs salvation.
II. GOD'S DESIRE TO SAVE ALL MEN
As evidence that God wishes the salvation of all men, I wish to call attention to I Timothy 2:3-7
3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4 who would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself a ransom for all; the testimony to be borne in its own times; 7 whereunto I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I speak the truth, I lie not), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
Note the statement: "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth." Let us lay aside our theological glasses and accept this utterance at its face value. This is the proper rendering of the original text. The Greek word in verse 4 rendered "would have" is translated by the late Dr. A. T. Robertson in his Word Studies in the New Testament as "willeth." On this word he makes the following comment: "God's wish and will in so far as He can influence men."
Since God wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, He has made ample provision for the salvation of everyone; for we are told, "For there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all …" We must accept this language at its face value.
As further proof that God wills the salvation of everyone, I wish to call attention to II Peter 3:9: "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." On the Greek word rendered "wishing" in this passage, Dr. Robertson makes this comment: "Some will perish (vs. 7), but that is not God's desire." That God desires the salvation of everyone is quite evident from this passage.
In keeping with this statement, is the well-known passage in Ezekiel 18:32: "For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord Jehovah: wherefore turn yourselves, and live." Since this is the Lord Jehovah who is speaking, and since His words are to be taken at their face value, we must conclude that it is not the will of God that any should perish. He tells us in so many words that He does not have pleasure "in the death of him that dieth." This statement being true, the Lord pleads with men to turn to Him and live. If they could not turn to Him and live, this language is a mockery. But we cannot believe that God would mock anyone. Since He states that He does not have any pleasure in the death of the one who dies, and since He pleads with men to turn and live, there is but one conclusion to which we can consistently come; namely, that it is God's desire that all men be saved.
This thought underlies the great passage in John, chapter 3, which I wish to quote:
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; 15 that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him. 18 He that believeth on him is not judged; he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. 20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his works should be reproved. 21 But he that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, that they have been wrought in God (John 3:14-21).
The Apostle John draws a parallel between the case of the Israelites when they were being bitten by the serpents and that of the world, which is perishing. God graciously and lovingly provided a means for curing the bites of the serpents; namely, a brazen serpent which was put upon a pole, and to which those who believed, having been bitten, might look and live. In the same manner, He, through love, provided a remedy for sin--the sacrificial atoning blood of the Son of God, who, being lifted up in crucifixion and eventually to the right hand of the throne of God, is God's antidote for the deadly virus of sin. According to verse 16, God loved the world to the extent that He gave His only Begotten Son in order that whosoever believes on Him might not perish but have everlasting life. In explanation the apostle tells us further (vs. 17) that God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that it should be saved through Him. God was not under any obligation whatsoever to save man. He could have left him to his own fate and still have been perfectly justified in every particular. But He was not willing that man should perish; hence He sent His Son into the world, "that the world should be saved through him." This fact shows that God does not will the death of anyone, but that He truly desires the salvation of every soul. Everyone who believes the Scriptures to be the Word of God must accept this proposition.
To summarize the situation, let me say that God has done everything in His power for man's redemption. He has exhausted all means at His disposal, under the regime of a moral government, to save man from eternal ruin--even coming Himself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, to die in man's stead. There is nothing more that God can do except to force the will of man, who is a free moral agent. This thing God will never do. The Almighty therefore is not responsible for the condemnation of anyone. There is no alternative left to man but to accept God's gracious provision for his salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ (Messiah), or be lost eternally.
III. THE ATONEMENT--ITS UNIVERSALITY AND ITS LIMITATIONS
In the preceding chapter we studied the subject of the atonement. In this examination we saw that God's holiness demanded atonement, satisfaction, and that His love provided it. Thus the demands of His holiness have been met. He is now, through His messengers, His ambassadors, beseeching men to be reconciled to Himself. He is, according to II Corinthians, chapter 5, taking the initiative in inviting the world to be reconciled to Himself upon the basis of the complete satisfaction of the atonement that was made for all men by the Lord Jesus Christ in His sacrificial death, resurrection, ascension, and mediatorial work at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Since through the preaching of the gospel God is thus pleading with men to be reconciled to Himself, we wish to look at the matter of the atonement: first from the standpoint of its universality, and secondly from the view of its limitations. A. The Universality Of The Atonement
That the atonement is universal is clear from a number of scriptures. For instance, in Hebrews 2:9 we read: "But we behold him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God he should taste of death for every man." Here we are told that Christ tasted death for every man. Without question, when He died on the cross, He died in the place of every man. There is nothing in this statement that would indicate a meaning other than that of the plain literal sense. From this passage therefore we believe that the atonement was universal. In speaking to Timothy regarding the Lord Jesus, Paul said that "we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe" (I Tim. 4:10). In one sense our God is the Saviour of all men--without an exception; but in some special sense, He is the Saviour of those only who believe. This passage, however, will come up later for consideration. To Titus the same apostle declared that "the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men" (Titus 2:11). Since there is nothing in this statement that would indicate the relative use of this language, we must accept it at its face value and concede that the grace of God has brought salvation within the reach of all men. The Apostle John struck the same note in I John 2:2. Here in speaking of Christ, he declared that the Saviour "is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world." The note of universal application of the atonement is unquestionably sounded here. The same message is set forth in I John 4:14: "And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father hath sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world." Here again is a passage which speaks of the universality of the atonement of our Lord. There can be no question concerning Christ's having tasted death for the elect who are mentioned constantly in the Epistles. He also died for the non-elect as we see in II Peter, chapter 2. In this chapter the apostle was speaking of false prophets and false teachers who will arise denying even the Master "that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction." In some way our Lord, when He died, bought even these false teachers. There can be no doubt about this proposition. Passages could be multiplied that show the universality of the atonement but these will suffice. B. The Limitation of the Atonement
Every reasonable, intelligent person who believes the Bible will accept, upon the basis of the scriptures quoted in the preceding section, the position that the atonement was and is universal--that in some way Christ died for every man, that He brought salvation to all and made it possible that all might be saved. Along with this teaching are other statements in the scriptures which show that in another sense the atonement was limited. For instance, in Matthew 20:26-28 we read: "Not so shall it be among you: but whosoever would be first among you shall be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." We see here that Christ gave His life "a ransom for many." That our Lord was speaking of the atonement is evident. No expositor questions this position. Here we see that the atonement is not universal but for "the many." The reason for such limitation, the passage does not tell us. Everyone who is willing to accept the Scriptures at their face value must believe that in some restricted way the atonement is not for all but for "the many." When our Lord instituted the supper, He spoke these words: "And he took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for the many unto remission of sins" (Matt. 26:27,28). Concerning the "blood of the covenant," He said that it "is poured out for the many unto remission of sins." Here again we see that the atonement is for "the many." This passage also does not intimate why it is simply for "the many" and not for all men. In Hebrews 9:27,28 we have this language: "And inasmuch as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this cometh judgment; so Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time, apart from sin, to them that wait for him unto salvation." Once again we see that the atonement was for "many." According to this passage Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many--not all. Nothing in the context throws any light upon the question relative to the limitation of the atonement.
The New Testament teaching concerning the efficacy of the atonement and its being for the many, instead of being for all, should not be a surprise to those who are familiar with Isaiah, chapter 53. In verse 12 we have the following language: "Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors: yet he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." In this great prophetic utterance Isaiah declared that the Messiah, when he would come, would bear: "the sin of many."
Just as we believe and accept all statements that inform us concerning the universality of the atonement, in the same spirit of faith we must receive the proposition that Christ died--gave His life a ransom--for "the many," even though we may not be able to understand these seemingly contradictory lines of thought. May I hasten to say that there is actually no contradiction. The discrepancy is due to our lack of knowledge and not to any fault of the record. We may possibly receive more light upon this subject as we advance in our investigation.
IV. THE GOSPEL CALL GIVEN TO ALL IN SINCERITY
After our Lord's sacrificial, vicarious death, burial, and resurrection, he appeared to the disciples in Galilee and gave them the commission which is recorded in Matthew 28:19,20: "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." As we have learned from John 3:16, God loved the world to the extent that He sent His son into it to die in order that whosoever believes on Him might not perish but have everlasting life; for God did not send His son into the world to condemn it, but that it might be saved through Him. After our Lord had made the atonement, he commissioned His disciples to go and proclaim this glad announcement to the world. They were to make no distinction as to race or color, but were to give all a chance--to make disciples "of all the nations." They were to baptize the believers into the name of the Holy trinity. At another of our Lord's post-resurrection appearances to His disciples, He gave them the same world-wide commission as recorded by Luke: "And he said unto them, these are my words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must needs be fulfilled, which are written in the law of Moses, and the prophets, and the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their mind, that they might understand the scriptures; and he said unto them, Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Ye are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send forth the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city, until ye be clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:44-49).
According to this passage repentance and remission of sins were to be preached in the name of the Lord Jesus unto "all the nations." This expression indicates that it was to be to all people of all nations. The apostles were to give all an opportunity to hear the message of redemption. About this position there can be no controversy.
Our Lord declared, according to John 5:24, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life." According to this verse, one who hears the word of the Lord Jesus and believes Him who sent Him has everlasting life and shall not come into judgment. Everyone who believes Christ must acknowledge that He was sincere in making this statement. The invitation is to whosoever will. To the very group to whom Jesus spoke those words, He later declared, "Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me; and ye will not come to me, that ye may have life" (John 5:39,40). That it is God's plan to save those who believe is set forth in I Corinthians 1:21: "For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe."
The great passage on reconciliation through the preaching of the gospel is given in II Corinthians 5:17-21:
17 Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new. 18 But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses, and having committed unto us the word of reconciliation. 20 We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God 21 Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
The holiness of God has been satisfied by the atonement which Jesus Christ made in behalf of the world. On the basis of its having been made, God gave to the Apostles, declared Paul, the ministry of reconciliation. What is the import of this message? It is this "That God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses, and having committed unto us the word of reconciliation." Armed with such authority, the Apostle Paul claimed that he and his colaborers were ambassadors in behalf of Christ, pleading with men and women to accept the reconciliation which God had provided for them through the death of Christ. Men must now accept the reconciliation. God has done all that He consistently can do. His holiness has been satisfied with the atonement which His love has provided. Paul therefore pleaded with men to accept this atonement.
The Book of Revelation closes with an invitation to those who are thirsty to come and drink of the water of life: "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And he that heareth, let him say, Come. And he that is athirst, let him come: he that will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev. 22:17). The Scriptures abound with passages which show that the gospel call to the entire world is a sincere one, and that it is the will of God that all should come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved.
V. THE ELECT
The word elect signifies the chosen ones. In the Old Testament, Israel was the elect nation. For instance, Moses said to her, "For thou art a holy people unto Jehovah thy God: Jehovah thy God hath chosen thee to be a people for his own possession, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth" (Deut. 7:6). In Deuteronomy 10:15 we read: "Only Jehovah had a delight in thy fathers to love, and he chose their seed after them, even you above all peoples, as at this day." Again, in I Chronicles, chapter 16, we have language like this:
O ye seed of Israel his servant,
Ye children of Jacob, his chosen ones (vs. 13).
In speaking of the return of the Jews to Palestine, Isaiah said that God would provide rivers in the desert "to give drink to my people, my chosen" (Isa. 43:20). Again, the same prophet spoke of God's using Cyrus the Persian in causing them to return from the Babylonian captivity: "For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel my chosen, I have called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me" (Isa. 45:4). In the Olivet Discourse our Lord spoke of His shortening the days of the Tribulation for the elect's sake. The chosen, in the Old Testament, refers to Israel. It is quite likely that the elect mentioned in the Olivet Discourse are the same chosen people. God selected Israel as a nation through which He would send forth His message to the world.
When they, as a nation, rejected their Messiah nineteen hundred years ago, they took the siding, figuratively speaking, having left the main line of God's plan and purpose. At the present time God is calling out from among both Jews and Gentiles those who will accept Him and who are brought together into the spiritual body that is known as the church of God. This group of people is, especially in the Epistles, called the elect. Peter spoke to Christians and called them "an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession" (I Pet. 2:9). It is clear from this verse that he was thinking of the body of believers in terms of Israel, who, prior to her rejection of the Messiah, was the people of God. When, however, Israel as a nation in the Tribulation turns to the Lord and accepts Him, she will come back on the main line of God's plan and will again be the elect race through whom God will send forth His spiritual blessings to the entire world. That of course will be during the Tribulation Period and in the Millennial Age.
Our Lord Jesus spoke of God's elect in Luke 18:7: "And shall not God avenge his elect, that cry to him day and night, and yet he is longsuffering over them?" The Apostle Paul spoke to the Thessalonians regarding their election: "… our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance; even as ye know what manner of men we showed ourselves toward you for your sake" (I Thess. 1:5). It is clear from this passage that the preaching of the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit was a potent factor in the election of the Thessalonian brethren. Since there is but one gospel, it is quite evident that it is used, or enters as a factor in the election of all people who are saved. The apostle struck this same note in his second letter to the Thessalonians; "But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, for that God chose you from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you through our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (II Thess. 2:13,14). We see that God chose those brethren "from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth" which was made possible through the preaching of the gospel. The import of this passage is in perfect alignment with that of the quotation from the first letter to this group to which we have just paid attention.
But our election, which is through the preaching of the gospel, does not begin with its being preached to us. On the contrary, it goes back into the council chambers of God before creation as is quite evident from the following passage: "And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose. For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the first born among many brethren: and whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified" (Rom. 8:26-30).
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