My soul fainteth for thy salvation; but I hope in thy word. Mine eyes fail for thy word, saying, when wilt thou comfort me? For I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet I do not forget thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:81-83)
Salvation, in all its parts, branches, and hearings, is the greatest of all subjects; for it is the Alpha and the Omega of the Bible, and the Lord alone is the Author of it; as it is written, “Salvation is of God; thy blessing is upon thy people.” (Ps. 3:8) And David saith, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” (Ps. 27:1) And Jonah saith, “They that pursue lying vanities forsake their own mercies, but I will pay that that I have vowed, Salvation is of the Lord.” (Jonah 2:8,9)
To convince the sinner of his guilty, filthy, ruined, helpless, and miserable state through the Adam fall–and of his need of salvation, which is wholly of grace through the redemption there is in Christ Jesus our Lord–is the work of God the Holy Ghost. And every elect vessel of mercy will be convinced of these things by the ever-blessed Spirit, in the Lord’s own time and way. With the heart he believes himself to be a guilty sinner; for he feels the guilt and burden of sin upon his conscience an intolerable load, too heavy for him to bear. He believes himself to be a vile sinner, because he finds and feels that when he would do good, evil is present with him, and how to perform that which is good he finds not. The good therefore, that he would do, he does not, but the evil he would not, that (to his grief) he does. He consents to the law that it is good, but feels himself to be “carnal, sold under sin;” and sin, taking occasion by the commandment, works in him all manner of concupiscence; and he can feelingly say, “In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing,” (Rom. 7:18). These things occasion that wretchedness which he is the subject of day by day. He believes in his helplessness, because he finds that he can do nothing good. He would keep the law, and strives to do so, but feels his carnal mind to be enmity against God, and not subject to the law of God; nor can he, with all his strivings, bring it into subjection thereto. Foolish and vain thoughts possess his mind which in the eye of the law is sin, and for which he feels condemned, both by the law and his own conscience; and yet he has no power to bring them into subjection to the obedience of Christ. He feels his heart to be deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, even an evil heart of unbelief, that is continually departing from the Lord.
The Lord smites him: but he either resists or turns sullen under the rod. The Lord rebukes him; but he goes on in the way of his heart. The law condemns him for it. Wrath and enmity, against both God and the law, works in his heart; although he knows that “the rebellious dwell in a dry land;” (Ps. 68:6) and that “it is hard to kick against the pricks.” The wrath of God in his tabernacle; the arrows of God in his guilty conscience; the terrors of God in battle array against him, and the justice of God pursuing him–makes him tremble. “O that I had the wings of a dove!” is the language of his heart; “then would I flee away, and be at rest.” (Ps. 55:6) “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24)
A sinner, thus chastened and taught of the Lord out of his righteous and holy law, will-prize that salvation that is wholly of grace, for that alone is suited to his case. If salvation were to be obtained in any other way, or upon any other terms, there would not be the least ground for him to hope of obtaining that blessing.
The first thing I shall notice in the text, is, the Lord’s salvation.
The angel said unto Mary, relative to the child that was to be born of her, that “his name shall be called Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21) Not only save from death, which is the wages of sin, but from sin itself. And the Apostle alludes to this branch of salvation, when he says, “The grace of God that bringeth salvation, hath appeared unto all men, teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.” (Titus 2:11,12) And what the gospel teaches, both in the written and preached word, the Holy Ghost teaches in the heart of every elect sinner called by grace. He that is born of God, therefore, “sinneth not;” the saving grace of God in his heart prevents it. For, every one that is born of God hath the fear of God in his heart, and before his eyes; and this fear is said to be “a fountain of life to depart from the snares of death.” (Prov. 14:27) Therefore, “the way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from hell beneath.”
David saith, “This poor man cried unto the Lord; and the Lord heard him and saved him from all his fears.” Ah, my friends, many are the fears of the children of God. That a change has taken place, you are constrained to believe and acknowledge; for, whereas you were once blind, behold now you see. But you have many fears that this is not the work of God, but a spark of your own kindling. The sensible seeking sinner has many fears that the Lord whom he seeks will never appear to the salvation of his soul; and it is to such poor doubting, fearing, trembling children, that the Lord, by the mouth of the Prophet, speaks saying, “Strengthen ye the weak hands; confirm the feeble knees.” (Isa. 35:3) They have “hands,” but they are at present too weak to lay hold either of the Lord, or his precious word of promise. They have “knees,” but they are too weak for them to stand fast in the Lord and in the power of his might. The Lord not only tells the Prophet to “Strengthen the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees,” but to “say to them that are of a fearful heart, Fear not; for behold your God (mark that! poor trembling, doubting sinner, your God!) He will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense, He will come and save you.” (Isa. 35:4)
There are fears, also, of being led astray by the errors of the wicked. There are fears also of falling by the power of the enemy; of being left to serve sin in the lust thereof; and of turning back to the beggarly elements of the world. Fears that you are cast out and cut off as a fruitless branch; that the Lord’s mercy is clean gone forever; that He hath in anger shut up his tender bowels of compassion; and that there is no hope nor help for you from the Lord.
These are some of the many fears of the children of God. But when the Lord speaks to the poor sinner’s heart, saying, “Fear not, for I am with thee (mark that! “I am with thee!” in the present tense;) be not dismayed, for I am thy God; I will help thee; I will strengthen thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness”–when the Lord speaks thus, the soul exclaims, It is enough, Lord; I will trust, and not be afraid; for “the Lord is my strength and song; He also is become my salvation.” (Ps. 118:14) “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my heart; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1) This is salvation from fears, which David’s soul fainted for.
Another branch of salvation is, deliverance from the sentence of death in a broken law, which sentence is recorded in the conscience of every one that is taught of the Father out of his righteous and holy law. When this is the case, we know from painful experience what it is to be shut up under the law and under its curse; and all our strivings, wrestlings, and strugglings to come forth in liberty are ineffectual; for we are shut up, and cannot come forth, till the Lord saith, “Loose him and let him go.” (John 11:44) Under this yoke, the cry of the soul day and night is, “Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name.” (Ps. 142:7) But when with the heart, by the power of the Holy Ghost, we receive the sentence of justification to eternal life in our own consciences. This is experimentally passing from death unto life, never more to come into condemnation. The Saviour’s words are now fulfilled, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32) And, If the Son make you free, then are you free indeed.” (John 8:36) The soul is comforted with the substance of these words, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven thee.” (Matt. 9:2) And now his mourning is turned into joy; his sackcloth is taken off, and his soul girded with gladness; the day is come when he can and will say, “O God, I will praise thee; for thou wast angry with me, but thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortest me.” (Isa. 12:1) And for this branch of salvation the soul often faints.
In the next place, Christ is said to be God’s “salvation.” “I will keep him,” saith the Lord; and give him for a covenant to the people, that he may be my salvation unto the ends of the earth.” (Isa. 49:6,8) He is the salvation the Lord hath placed in Zion; He is the only hope of salvation in times of trouble; for “there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved (but by the name of Jesus Christ.”) (Acts 4:12) And it is a blessed consideration, that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners, yea, the very chief of sinners. He came to seek and save them that were lost and is able to save them to the uttermost that come to God by him. (Heb. 7:25) “For the Lord thy God in the midst of thee, is mighty; He will save;” yea, he will fulfill the desires of all them that fear him; he also will hear their cry, and will save them. “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” (Heb. 5:8,9) Yea, the Lord preserveth the poor and needy, and saveth the soul of the destitute. This is good news, and glad tidings for the fore-mentioned characters; but they must have a proof and experience of these things in their own souls before they can rejoice in them; and certain I am, that every soul that hath tasted in any small measure that the Lord is gracious, cannot rest satisfied until the Lord lifts upon him the light of his countenance. And if the soul has enjoyed the Lord’s sweet endearing presence, and the Lord withdraws from that soul, he will thirst for the Lord as a thirsty land. David knew much of this experience; hence you hear him say, “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee;” (Ps. 63:1) “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” (Ps. 42:1) And again; My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God.” (Ps. 42:2) Here is no want of confidence; but David is not satisfied with knowing his interest in Christ as the God of salvation; he wants the person and presence of his God and Saviour.