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The Doctrine of Salvation
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “God the Father, God the Son.” The series of sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from 1952 to 1955 and was first published in 1996.
‘According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will' (Ephesians 1:4-5).
Before we continue with our study of biblical doctrines it would be good, perhaps, for us to remind ourselves of the exact point at which we have arrived. We started with the general proposition that we find it difficult to understand both the world and ourselves. We have within us a sense of God, and yet that in itself is not enough to bring us to a knowledge of Him, and we came to the conclusion that if we really are to know anything truly about God or ourselves or our world, we must of necessity come to the Bible, this book which we say is the Word of God, inspired by Him, and infallible. And therefore we submit ourselves to it, realising that there are many things that we cannot understand, but that we have come with minds made receptive by the operation of the Holy Spirit upon us.
The first thing we find as we do this is that God has been graciously pleased to reveal Himself, and we have considered that, revelation. Then we went on to think about what God has done, the creation of the heavens and earth and the various orders of beings that He has brought into existence. But we concentrated upon man, and saw that God created man and woman perfect; He made them `in our [God's] image, after our likeness' (Genesis 1:26). We tried to consider what the Bible tells us about this and there we saw man and woman in Paradise, without sin, perfect, and enjoying a life of communion with God.
Then from that, we looked at men and women as they are today; we looked at ourselves, as we know ourselves to be, and the great question is: Why are we as we are now, if Adam and Eve were like that? So that led us to a consideration of the doctrine of the fall and that is the point at which we have arrived. We saw that all men and women are as they are because of the fall. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and that led to their fall (Genesis. 3); and in working out the doctrine of original sin, as it is called, we saw that men and women, as the result of this, are in a fallen condition. They are guilty before God, their very nature is polluted and perverted, and they are quite helpless---helpless especially in the matter of returning to God and of arriving at a knowledge of God (Romans 5:12). You remember we summed it up by putting it like this: that you look at a man or woman today and you say, with that Puritan John Howe---`God once dwelt here.' Man is a ruin, a ruin of his former self. And there we looked at him, driven out of Paradise, out of the Garden of God, and eating his bread by the sweat of his brow; and we saw all that is so true of him now, and of human nature as the result of sin.
But we were glad to end on a note of hope. We found that in the third chapter of Genesis, in which we are given the account of the fall, of its immediate consequences and of some of the remote consequences also, there is, after all, a hope: before God thrust Adam and Eve out of the Garden He gave them a promise. It looked at that moment as if everything was irretrievably lost. Adam and Eve, having listened to the devil in the form of the serpent, had made themselves the slaves of the devil, under his power, unable to resist him and helpless in his hands. It looked as if man's future was altogether lost and hopeless, but, even there, God flashed into the gloom and darkness a ray of light. He addressed the serpent and pronounced a curse upon him, telling him that there would be warfare between him and `the seed of the woman'; that he would pierce, as it were, the heel of the woman's seed, but that his own head would be crushed; and there lay the one gleam of hope.
So now we proceed to consider what exactly is meant by that hope. Having faced the history of men and women from their original perfection to their degradation and pollution, in a state of sin and guilt, we asked: Is there no hope for them? And the answer is: Yes, there is. In other words, we are beginning to consider the biblical doctrine of redemption or of salvation. In many ways it can be said, of course, that this is the central theme of the whole Bible, and yet all that we have considered hitherto has been absolutely essential. It is because so many frequently fail to consider that mighty background that their conception of the doctrine of salvation is often incomplete, and even fallacious at certain points. It is only as we truly understand something of the nature and character of God and the condition of men and women in sin, that we can understand this grand doctrine of redemption. Therefore it is but right that we should have spent all that time in considering these great doctrines that lead on to it.
However, here we are now, face to face with this great central doctrine. Obviously it is very comprehensive, and we shall have to divide it up under various headings. But we will not do that now. I am anxious, rather, that we should take a general look at it. Here, again, is procedure which I advocate very strongly. It is a very wise thing, very biblical thing, to take a general view like this of the doctrine of redemption before coming to its particular aspects; and as we do so we shall find that certain things stand out very prominently and gloriously, and we must grasp them and take a firm hold on them.
Let me give you a number of headings. First: redemption is entirely of God. What we have in the Bible is the record of God's activity in the redemption of man. Now that, of course, is something that you find at once, away back there in the third chapter of Genesis. The moment man had fallen and had found himself in this pitiable condition, and when he seemed to be absolutely without hope, the hope was given by God. It was God who spoke. And it was God who gave an outline of what He was proposing to do.
Now this can never be emphasised too strongly. The Bible, after all, is an account of what God has done about the redemption of man. It is not an account of man seeking for God. That has been, perhaps, the greatest of the heresies that have characterised so much of the Church and her teaching during the past hundred years. The so-called `higher critics' were never tired of telling us, influenced as they were by the theory of evolution which they applied to the Scriptures, that the Old Testament was nothing but a record of man searching for God. But it is the exact opposite. It is the record of God's activity, what He has done, and what He is going to do.
We can put that very clearly like this. We saw that when God had made man in His own image and likeness, and had placed Him in the Garden, He made a covenant with him, which has generally been called, very rightly, the `covenant of works'. God said to Adam, in effect: `If you keep my commandment, if you do what I tell you and refrain from eating of that particular tree, if you refrain from doing what I have prohibited, you will go on growing and increasing in your perfection.' And so God made certain promises. Man's future was then contingent upon his own action; it was a covenant of works.
But then, you remember, man failed to keep the covenant; he rebelled against God. And the result was that he landed himself in that condition which we describe as one of total inability. So clearly God could no longer make a covenant of works with man. Man when he was perfect had failed to keep that covenant, so God obviously did not make another. In the light of what we have already seen, it was impossible. But, we thank God, it was not left at that and the biblical doctrine of redemption is an account of what God has done about man.
Or, to put it another way, it is not a question of what man can do to placate God. The Bible does not tell us that. There are some people who seem to think that the message of the Bible is one which tells us what we have to do in order to please this God whom we have offended. That again is quite wrong. The Bible tells us about what God has done in order to reconcile us to Himself. I want to put that very strongly. Not only is God not unwilling to receive us, it is He who goes out of His way to seek us. So if we want to grasp the biblical doctrine of redemption we must once and for ever get rid of that notion which has been instilled into the human mind and heart by the devil, who is God's adversary and our adversary, and who tries to make us believe that God is against us. But the Bible's message is that `God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son . . .' (John 3:16).
Indeed, let me go even further and put it in this extreme form: the Bible does not even tell us that the Lord Jesus Christ needs to placate God for us or has done that for us. You still find people who hold that view. They say that there is God in His justice and in His absolute righteousness, and then they depict the Lord Jesus Christ as pleading with God on our behalf, and beseeching Him to forgive us. You will find it in certain hymns and choruses. But it is quite false to the Biblical teaching, which can be summed up in what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:19: `God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.' The biblical case is not that Christ, as it were, has to appeal to God to change His mind. It was God who sent Christ; it was God Himself who took the initiative. So we can never emphasise too frequently or too strongly this first proposition, which is that redemption and salvation are entirely of God, and that the Bible is nothing but a record of what God has done, is doing, and will do about us men and women and our salvation.
The second principle is this: salvation is all of grace. It was all done in spite of man's rebellion, in spite of man's arrogance, in spite of his folly and sin. You go back to that account in Genesis 3 and that is what you will find. Adam and Eve foolishly disobeyed and rebelled, and there they were, frightened and alarmed when they heard the voice of God, and they hid themselves; their instinct was to get away from God. But it was God who called after them, who called them to come back.
Now that is the whole case of the Bible: this gracious action on the part of God, who does not turn His back upon us and upon the world because of sin and disobedience and the fall, but who, in spite of the fact that we are so undeserving of His love and His mercy and His compassion, looks upon us with a pitying eye, and speaks to us in terms of grace and of love. You remember that when we were considering the character of God we emphasised this character of grace. Grace means `undeserved favour', and that is the essence of the biblical message. The hymn writer says,
Great God of wonders! all Thy ways
Are matchless, godlike, and divine.
There is nothing comparable to the grace of God, to the way in which He looks upon us and upon the world, in spite of what we have done, and gives us these promises. We have no claim upon the love of God. We have forfeited it. Salvation is all of grace.
The third point that the Bible makes very clear about this doctrine of redemption is that it was all planned before the foundation of the world. Now this is most important. Read what Paul says about it in the first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians. Redemption is not an afterthought. It was not something that God thought of after man fell and because man fell. To say that is to contradict the Scripture. The Bible all along keeps on referring to this as something that was conceived before the world was made. Before man was ever created, this plan of redemption was clearly in the mind of God.
Here again we are confronted by a great mystery. There is a sense in which it is impossible for us to grasp it. We are so bound by time, we are so accustomed to seeing everything in a kind of time sequence! We think chronologically and it is quite inevitable that we should do so. But God is outside time. God sees the end from the beginning and all things are always in His presence. It is a staggering thought, and yet here it is, very plainly taught everywhere in the Scriptures: `According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world ...' (Ephesians 1:4). Now you will find that certain people give the impression that God is continually having to modify His plan and His purposes because of things that are done by man, but this is something you can never substantiate from the Scripture. Before anything was made, the plan, the idea of redemption, was already present in the mind of God.
The fourth thing we go on to is something that we should consider with adoration, praise and worship, and it is this: the three Persons of the blessed Trinity took part in this plan and purpose of redemption. There can be no question at all but that the Scriptures teach that before the foundation of the world a council with respect to man took place between the three Persons of the Trinity---the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And there in that eternal council they seem very clearly to have divided up the work of redemption, so that we can describe the Father as the originator, the Son as the executor and the Holy Spirit as the One who applies what the Son has achieved.
But it is also very clear that in particular an agreement, even a covenant, was made between God the eternal Father and God the eternal Son. It is quite clear, according to Scripture, that the Son has been made the `heir of all things' (Hebrew 1:2), which means that everything in this world was given to Him, that it was, as it were, made over to Him. And everything that happens in this world and on this earth belongs, therefore, to His domain. In His high priestly prayer in John 17, our Lord reminds His Father, `As thou hast given him [Christ] power over all flesh . . .' (v. 2). That is the same idea. God the Father hands the world as it is to the Son, and He gives Him power over all. The eighth psalm not only refers to man, it refers in a very special way to the Son of God Himself:
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
But beyond that, we see clearly in the Scriptures that for the purpose of redemption God the Father has made the Son the head and the representative of a new humanity. Take, for instance, what we are told in Romans 5, where we are given the contrast---‘As in Adam ... so in Christ.' The apostle works this out and his teaching is that Adam, as we have seen, was the head and the representative of mankind, but now, for the purposes of redemption, God has appointed a new head and a new representative, and that is His own Son. He could not appoint a man, obviously, because all men had fallen in Adam, and God cannot appoint fallen man as a representative. If man in a state of perfection had failed, how much more so must man in Adam, and in a state of imperfection, fail.
So now you see why the incarnation was an absolute necessity. There was no one on earth with whom God could make His covenant, there was no one whom he could pick out and make a head and representative. So He took His own Son, whom He was going to send into the world in the likeness of sinful flesh, and appointed Him as the head and the representative of this new humanity. You find that in Romans 5 and, equally definitely, in 1 Corinthians 15:22: `For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.' It is the same contrast between Adam and our Lord. And, of course, you find the same teaching in Psalm 2: 'Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee' (v. 7), with the other things that follow from that.
The next step in this compact, or covenant, between the Father and the Son was that God the Father gave God the Son this people whom He would raise at the last day. Read, for instance, John 6, and you will find that our Lord constantly refers to that and He says He must not lose anything that God has given Him. It is very clear, again, in John 17, in that high priestly prayer. Our Lord constantly repeats that He is doing all this for the sake of those whom the Father has given Him. ‘Father, the hour is come,' he says, 'glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him' (John 17:1-2). And He goes on repeating the phrase: `I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world' (v. 6). And then He reminds His Father, `While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled' (v. 12). So that is another part of the compact.
Then you have another reference to it in Hebrews 2:13 where the Son says, `Behold I and the children which God hath given me.' So clearly there was an arrangement concerning the people who had been given to Him. He is the head of this people, this new humanity, the redeemed.
But further, we see that God not only gave Him the people, He also gave Him a certain work to do with respect to them. Again in John 17 we read, `I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do' (v. 4). So the Father, in eternity, gave the Son a certain work to do and then, having given it, He sent Him to do it. `God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son' (John 3:16). `God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law' (Galatians 4:4), and there are many other similar statements. And, indeed, in a most marvellous way we are actually told that the Father even prepared a body for Him. There is a reference to that in Psalm 40, and you will find it quoted in Hebrews 10:5: `. . . a body hast thou prepared me.' So that is the essential teaching; it was the Father who sent forth the Son.
The next, the fifth general heading, I would suggest is that this plan and scheme of redemption is a definite plan. There is nothing incidental or contingent about it. It is a perfect plan, and it was all perfect before the very foundation of the world. God had mapped it out in eternity, and then had put into operation in this world of time. You cannot read the Bible without noticing in a very particular way the time element. Everything that has happened up till this moment has happened according to God's plan and programme.
There are some most astonishing examples of this, and it is most fascinating and encouraging to consider some of these instances and to work them out in detail. For instance, God actually told Abraham of the four hundred years which his descendants would spend in the captivity of Egypt (Genesis 15:13-16). Then the time of the flood was known to God. When He first gave His commandment to Noah to start building that ark, when the world began to scoff and say: Where is the promise of this judgment that you are speaking about?; God knew, and, at the prescribed moment, it happened (Genesis 6-7). And the same is true of the time when He chose a man called Abraham and founded a nation in him (Genesis 12:1). We will be considering this again in detail but all these things happened at precisely the time which God had appointed for them. And so as you go along with all the history of the Judges and the Kings and the Prophets, you find that it is all according to this perfect plan and it is all perfectly timed.
And this brings us especially, of course, to that great statement which we have already quoted in part: `But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law ...' People have often asked, `If God gave that promise away back there in Eden, why did He wait so long before He sent His Son?' It is an idle question to ask. But God has His great purpose in it all. It is very easy to suggest many reasons why God did not send His Son until the exact moment when He did send Him. It seems to me to be more and more clear that He did this in order that He might first show men and women their utter helplessness. The law had to be given in order that they might see that they could not keep it. An opportunity had to be given to Greek philosophy to do everything that it could do; an opportunity had to be given to Roman law and Roman ideas of justice and of government. Everything that men and women could think of for redeeming themselves and their world had already been tried and had failed before God sent His Son.
God knew that from the beginning. If we are told that `he that believeth shall not make haste' (Isaiah 28:16), how infinitely more true is that of God, who sees the end from the beginning. So I emphasise that it is a perfect and definite plan, complete and entire. The apostle Paul in Romans 11 does not hesitate to speak about a time when the ‘fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved’ (vv. 25-6). Now God had known all this from the foundation of the world. The plan was entire and He gave these revelations of it to His servants so that they could write about it and we can read about it. God knows the number of the fulness of the Gentiles; He knows the number of Israel; He knows the number of this new humanity that is in Christ Jesus. The plan of redemption is an entire plan: a perfect, definite plan, down to the smallest detail.
The next thing I want to emphasise about it, the sixth principle, is the absolute certainty of the consummation of this plan of redemption. This is one of the most glorious and encouraging things that we can ever consider together. I thank God that that is made very clear even in Genesis 3. When God pronounced His curse there upon the serpent and announced the warfare between the seed of the woman and the serpent, He made it plain that this enemy who had brought man, who was perfect, down to the dust and to shame and degradation, was going to be utterly defeated and destroyed.
And the Bible keeps on reminding us of this. In its last book it gives us a picture of the consummation of it all, when even the devil himself shall be cast into the lake burning with fire and shall be destroyed to all eternity. Whatever the appearances may be, however much they may suggest the contrary at different times and in different epochs, God's plan is certain. Nothing can frustrate it, nothing can prevent it from being worked out to the smallest detail. That is, of course, the major theme of the Bible. We are given an account of the end as well as the beginning. The whole thing is there; we can rest assured that no power of man nor of earth nor of hell can ever prevent what God purposed in this eternal council before the foundation of the world.
Then the next heading, the seventh principle---and again it is something that is emphasised in Ephesians 1---is that this purpose of God in redemption applies not only to man but to all things. It applies to the world itself, and, as we have just seen, it includes what God has purposed even with regard to His enemies. Paul says, `Having made known unto us the mystery of his will'---it was there in His purpose but it was a hidden mystery and we would not have known it if He had not been pleased graciously to make it known to us---`according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself'---it is all of grace, it is all His love. Why? ---`That in the dispensation of the fulness of times' - there it is again---`he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him' (Ephesians 1:9-10).
Now that is the plan. I am afraid that many of us are often tempted to think of salvation only in terms of ourselves or only in terms of a number of individuals. We must never do that. This great purpose of God includes the heavens and the earth. All things, everywhere, come within His purpose, even to the extent of determining beforehand the final state and destiny of Satan and evil and all that belongs to his territory. There will be a final destruction, and there will be `new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness' (2 Peter 3:13), which will be the grand result of the work of redemption of the Son of God.
And that brings me to my eighth point, which is that this great plan of redemption always centres in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul tells us that God's purpose is to `gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth'---and he repeats himself---‘even in him' (Ephesians 1:10). I shall have occasion again to go on emphasising and repeating that. I put it here as a principle, because I am afraid that certain people very definitely teach that some form of redemption is possible apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. You will find in certain `Notes on the Scriptures', a teaching which says that a time is coming when the dispensation of grace will have finished and a new dispensation of law will come in, and people will be saved by keeping the law and will not be saved if they do not keep it.
Now I do not hesitate to assert that that is a completely erroneous conception, and a contradiction of the Bible. There is no mention of any salvation anywhere in the Bible except in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. There is only one gospel; there is only one way of salvation. The saints of the Old Testament are saved in Christ as much as you and I are, and all who will ever live must be saved in Christ or not at all. It is in Him that God is going to reconcile everything, and there is no other way of reconciliation. We cannot emphasise that too often or too strongly.
To put it another way, we call this book the Bible, and we divide it into two portions, the Old Testament and the New Testament. What does this mean? It means that the Old Testament and the New are both concerned about the same person, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. The Old Testament is the preparation, the promise, the prophecy of His coming. There, back in Genesis 3, you have it; the whole thing is put so plainly. Who is the seed of the woman that is going to crush and bruise the serpent's head? It is none other than the Son of God, and He did it upon the cross on Calvary's hill. The Old Testament from beginning to end points to Him.
Then what is the New Testament but the glorious fulfilment of every type and shadow? He is the substance of all the shadows. He is the great antitype of all the types. He is the fulfilment of everything that God had indicated He was going to be. So there is the Bible---Old Testament, New Testament---but it is all in Christ. The plan, the purpose, the way of redemption are always in Him.
And that brings me to my last heading, which is that this purpose of God in redemption has been revealed to mankind in various covenants. Now I do not enter into that now; I hope to go on to consider this question of the covenants in our next study. But God, in His great condescension, in His infinite grace and kindness, has not only determined upon this plan of redemption, He has done something else which in a way is still more extraordinary and marvellous: He has made agreements with men. The almighty and eternal God, the sovereign Lord, turns to men and women who have sinned and rebelled against Him and begins to tell them what He is going to do. And, as we shall see, when He did that with Abraham, He not only told him what He was going to do, He confirmed it with an oath in order that man might have a certain and sure hope (Hebrew 6:17-20).
So then, we have taken a kind of synoptic view of the biblical doctrine of redemption. We have looked at it in general. We have surveyed the whole landscape, as it were. We have looked at it from beginning to end, and have seen that God in His kindness and love and mercy and compassion, and in His infinite grace, looked upon men and women when they deserved nothing but hell and destruction, and gave them the promise of their wonderful redemption that would finally be consummated in His own eternal Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Therefore to Him, and to Him alone, must of necessity be all the praise and all the honour and all the glory! (212-223)
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