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Thursday, August 24, 2017
Date Posted:

Proclaiming Our Protestant Faith! Part 2 -- Think Of The Manner In Which This Salvation Becomes Ours

Final Part Of The Opening Sermon At The Protestant And Calvinistic Congress At Edinburgh
Prof. Alexander Ross B.D.

“By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”  That is to say, as I understand it, the faith as well as the salvation is the gift of God. And thus, as we Calvinists affirm, salvation in every stage of it, beginning middle and end, is of the Lord. To understand Paul as merely saying again what he has said already, namely, that the salvation is a gift of God, is to think of him as indulging in what seems to be a rather flat tautology. The faith that unites us to Christ has no merit in it; that faith itself is a gift of God. “The Holy Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.” As the Westminster Confession of Faith says: “Those whom God effectually calleth He also freely justifieth; . . . not for anything wrought in them or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing or any other evangelical obedience, to them as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves; it is the gift of God.”


We are saved by grace, dia pisteõs, not dia pistin, as though our faith were in any sense whatever the procuring cause of our salvation.  We are saved through faith instrumentally. 

Faith has no merit in it, for it gives nothing to the God of salvation.  It is only a taking. Calvin says that “faith brings a man empty to God that he may be filled with the blessings of

Christ.”  Thomas Goodwin says: “All other graces are working graces, but the hands of faith are merely receiving hands.”  Faith makes us aware of Christ, and unites us to Christ, who saves.  “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.”  Or, better still perhaps, simply unto Thee I cling.  “Thou must save, and Thou alone.”


We have seen already that this salvation enriches us with priceless spiritual blessings.  Let us consider three further points in connection with it. 

The salvation of which our text speaks is an accomplished salvation, a lasting salvation.  Note the remarkable emphatic Greek tense which Paul here uses: este sesõsmenoi.          I once read of a Salvationist who found himself travelling one day in a railway carriage with a bishop of the Church of England.  This  Salvationist was an ardent soul, who did not believe in hiding his light under a bushel, so, greatly daring, he suddenly addressed to the bishop the question: “Are ye saved ?”   He replied:  “Do you mean sezõmenos, or sõtheis or sesõsmenos?”  That was, perhaps, rather hard on the Salvationist, yet that sudden little lesson in Greek tenses may have reminded him of      what, no doubt, he knew well enough already, that the New Testament makes use of a variety of tenses when dealing with the great theme of salvation.


Sometimes Paul uses the present participle when he writes of “the saved,” as, e.g. in 1 Corinthians i. 18; xv. 2; and 2 Corinthians ii. 15. Salvation, from one point of view, is a  process which advances from more to more, in the sanctification of the child of God.  But here Paul looks at salvation from         another angle: here he emphasises the fact that the salvation of the believer is an accomplished fact.   The salvation of the Lord is not something that we possess to‑day and may lose to‑morrow.          “Once in Christ, in Christ for ever, thus the eternal Covenant stands.”  Paul does not lose sight, indeed, of the fact that these Ephesians had their battle to fight (Eph. vi. 10‑13).          But, though the battle is fierce, and though it will last so long as they draw this fleeting breath, the issue of it is  certain. “You are saved men,” he says to them, “saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation.” 

And he adds this thought, that the one sure and certain proof that we really possess this salvation is a holy life.  Those who are saved are regenerated persons, “created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”  Those who used to walk “according to the course of this world” now walk in these good works, they walk “in love” (Eph. v. 2).  Those who used to be “the children of wrath” are now “beloved children” (Eph. v. 1), and they wear the family likeness which proclaims them to be, Calvin himself said with emphasis. But we must add that, in point of fact, the Church and theology needed Calvin to restore the doctrine of God’s sovereignty to the fundamental place which it holds in the Bible.  How easily the acids of this world corrode the Truth until, since it is no longer the Truth, it ceases to have power over the minds of men!  And these acids have been insidiously at work in recent generations, with the result that the very existence of God is being questioned or denied over large tracts of the world. With the decline of Calvinism has come the decline of the central principle of Calvinism which is also the central principle of the Bible.  The sense of God is deplorably feeble in the world to‑day, with the disastrous consequences which are all too apparent in the life          of men and nations. No wonder many earnest thinkers are calling the Church back to that vital truth in Calvinism which we have allowed to grow dim and which must shine out again if God is to put right what man has put wrong.


It is the fundamental fact of our existence that it is in God that “we live and move and have our being.”   It is precisely in an age like ours, so busy here and there, that this ground of the Truth loses its proper contact with the minds of men.  But, while men may ignore it, it does not ignore men.  Our very existence depends from moment to moment upon the Will of God. The one thing which puts man above the animals is that he, when empowered by the Holy Spirit, can acknowledge      the secret of his existence and live in the light of it. Where men do not acknowledge it, in the way which God Himself has made so plain, they prove themselves to be alienated from the life of God, straining against Him Who keeps His Omnipotent  Hand upon them at every moment.  This is the essence of human sin, straining against God, and whether it is done deliberately or thoughtlessly it is fatal to the life of man.  To acknowledge the Sovereignty of God and to order one's life by that acknowledgment is man's chief end, and the missing of his chief end is man’s last and sorest loss.


The acknowledgment of the absolute Sovereignty of God is the only foundation upon which a moral life can be securely built. If a man has the notion that the sanctions of morality are only in himself, or in his social group, or in the human race, he will, at the pinch, reject these sanctions. Even at the best, they are only relative. The sanction must be absolute if it is to provide an immovable basis for morality, and such a sanction can have but one Source, the God of righteousness and the stars.  God is He “with whom” we and all men “have to do.” The absence of the sense of God as Creator, Sustainer and Judge of men, if that absence were sufficiently the new‑born sons and daughters of Him who is the “Holy Father.”  That is the best evidence that they were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph. i. 4)


Once again, in the final clause of our text, Paul seems to lay emphasis on this thought, that when a man has been loved with everlasting love, and has been led by grace that love to know, the humbling and exalting experience makes him realise that, however commonplace his life may sometimes seem to be, and however drab its circumstances may often appear, he is fulfilling the eternal purpose of God, and about his dreariest moments there lies “the light that never was on sea or land.”  To quote the great words of Browning:

“Ere suns and moons could wax and wane,
Ere stars were thundergirt, or piled
The heavens, God thought on me His child;
Ordained a life for me, arrayed

Its circumstances every one
To the minutest, ay, God said
This head this hand should rest upon
Thus, ere He fashioned star or sun”

Facing life in that spirit, we shall be “more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

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