Written by J. C. Ryle.
Edited for thought, sense and space.
THESE words are striking in themselves. But they are much more striking if you consider when and by whom they were spoken. They were spoken by a poor and friendless Christian, in the midst of a persecuting Jewish Council. It was a grand confession of Christ.
They were spoken by the lips of the Apostle Peter. This is the man who, a few weeks before, forsook Jesus and fled: this is the very man who three times over denied his Lord. There is another spirit in him now. He stands up boldly before priests and Sadducees, and tells them the truth to their face: “This is the stone that was set at naught of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
In considering this solemn subject there are three things I wish to do.
First, to show you the doctrine here laid down by the Apostle.
Secondly, to show you some reasons why this doctrine must be true.
Thirdly, to show you some consequences which naturally flow from the doctrine.
First, let me show you the doctrine of the text.
Let us make sure that we rightly understand what the Apostle Peter means. He says of Christ, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” Now what is this? On our clearly seeing this very much depends.
He means that no one can be saved from sin, its guilt, power, and consequences,—excepting by Jesus Christ.
He means that no one can have peace with God the Father,—obtain pardon in this world, and escape wrath to come in the next,—excepting through the atonement and mediation of Jesus Christ.
In Christ alone God’s rich provision of salvation for sinners is treasured up: by Christ alone God’s abundant mercies come down from Heaven to earth.
Christ’s blood alone, can cleanse us; Christ’s righteousness alone can clothe us; Christ’s merit alone can give us a title to heaven. Jews and Gentiles, learned and unlearned, kings and poor men,—all alike must either be saved by Jesus or lost for ever.
And the Apostle adds emphatically, “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” There is no other person commissioned, sealed, and appointed by God the Father to be the Saviour of sinners, excepting Christ. The keys of life and death are committed to His hand, and all who would be saved must go to Him.
There was but one place of safety in the day when the flood came upon the earth, and that was Noah’s ark. All other places and devices,—mountains, towers, trees, rafts, boats,—all were alike useless. So also there is but one hiding-place for the sinner who would escape the storm of God’s anger,—he must venture his soul on Christ.
There was but one man to whom the Egyptians could go in the time of famine, when they wanted food,—they must go to Joseph: it was a waste of time to go to any one else. So also there is but One to whom hungering souls must go, if they would not perish for ever,—they must go to Christ.
There was but one word that could save the lives of the Ephraimites in the day when the Gileadites contended with them, and took the fords of Jordan (Judges 11),—they must say “Shibboleth,” or die, just so there is but one name that will avail us when we stand at the gate of heaven,—we must name the name of Jesus as our only hope, or be cast away everlastingly.
Such is the doctrine of the text. “No salvation but by Jesus Christ: in Him plenty of salvation,—salvation to the uttermost, salvation for the very chief of sinners;—out of Him no salvation at all.”
It is in perfect harmony with our Lord’s own words in St. John: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.” (John 14:6.) It is the same thing that Paul tells the Corinthians: “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 3:1) And the same that John tells us in his first Epistle: “God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” (1 John 5:12.)
All these texts come to one and the same point,—No salvation but by Jesus Christ.
Remember that you are to venture the whole salvation of your soul on Christ, and on Christ only. You are to cast loose completely and entirely from all other hopes and trusts. You are not to rest partly on Christ,—partly on doing all you can,—partly on keeping your church,—partly on receiving the sacrament. In the matter of’ your justification Christ is to be all. This is the doctrine of the text.
Remember that heaven is before you, and Christ the only door into it; hell beneath you, and Christ alone able to deliver you from it; the devil behind you, and Christ the only refuge from his wrath and accusations; the law against you, and Christ alone able to redeem you; sin weighing you down, and Christ alone able to put it away. This is the doctrine of the text.
Let me show you, in the second place, some reasons why the doctrine of the text must be true.
I might cut short this part of the subject by one simple argument: “God says so.” “One plain text,” said an old divine, “is as good as a thousand reasons.” But I will not do this. I wish to meet the objections that are ready to rise in many hearts against this doctrine, by pointing out the strong foundations on which it stands.
Let me then say, for one thing, the doctrine of the text must be true, because man is what man is.
Now, what is man? There is one broad, sweeping answer, which takes in the whole human race: man is a sinful being. All children of Adam born into the world, whatever be their name or nation, are corrupt, wicked, and defiled in the sight of God. Their thoughts, words, ways, and actions are all, more or less, defective and imperfect.
Is there no country on the face of the globe where sin does not reign? Is there no happy valley, no secluded island, where innocence is to be found? Is there no tribe on earth where, far away from civilization, and commerce, and money, and gunpowder, and luxury, and books, morality and purity flourish? No, reader: there is none. Look over all the voyages and travels you can lay your hand on, from Columbus down to Cook, and you will see the truth of what I am asserting. The most solitary islands of the Pacific Ocean,—islands cut off from all the rest of’ the world, islands where people were alike ignorant of Rome and Paris, London and Jerusalem,—these islands have been found full of impurity, cruelty, and idolatry. The footprints of the devil have been traced on every shore. The veracity of the third of Genesis has everywhere been established. Whatever else savages have been found ignorant of, they have never been found ignorant of sin.
But are there no men and women in the world who are free from this corruption of nature? Have there not been high and exalted souls who have every now and then lived faultless lives? Have there not been some, if it be only a few, who have done all that God required, and thus proved that sinless perfection is a possibility? No, reader: there have been none. Look over all the biographies and lives of the holiest Christians; mark how the brightest and best of Christ’s people have always had the deepest sense of their own defectiveness and corruption. They groan, they mourn, they sigh, they weep over their own shortcomings: it is one of the common grounds on which they meet. Patriarchs and Apostles, Fathers and Reformers,—all are alike agreed in feeling their own sinfulness. The more light they have, the more humble and self-abased they seem to be; the more holy they are, the more they seem to feel their own unworthiness, and to glory, not in themselves, but in Christ.
Now what does all this seem to prove? To my eyes it seems to prove that human nature is so tainted and corrupt that, left to himself, no man could be saved. Man’s case appears to be a hopeless one without a Saviour,—and that a mighty Saviour too. There must be a Mediator, an Atonement, an Advocate, to make such poor sinful beings acceptable with God: and I find this nowhere, excepting in Jesus Christ. Heaven for man without a mighty Redeemer, peace with God for man without a mighty Intercessor, eternal life for man without an eternal Saviour,—in one word, salvation without Christ,—all alike appear to me utter impossibilities.
The doctrine of our text must be true, because God is what God is.
Now what is God? That is a deep question indeed. We know something of His attributes: He has not left Himself without witness in creation; He has mercifully revealed to us many things about Himself in His Word. We know that God is a Spirit,—eternal, invisible, almighty,—the Maker of all things, the Preserver of all things,—holy, just, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-remembering,— infinite in mercy, in wisdom, in purity.
The blind man is no judge of the paintings of Rubens or Titian; the deaf man is insensible to the beauty of Handel’s music; the Greenlander can have but a faint notion of the climate of the tropics; they have no set of thoughts which can comprehend them; they have no mental fingers to grasp them. And, just in the same way, the best and brightest ideas that man can form of God, compared to the reality which we shall one day see, are weak and faint indeed.
One thing, I think, is very clear; and that is this. The more any man considers calmly what God really is, the more he must feel the immeasurable distance between God and himself: the more he meditates, the more he must see that there is a great gulf between him and God. His conscience, I think, will tell him, if he will let it speak, that God is perfect, and he imperfect; that God is very high, and he very low; that God is glorious majesty and he a poor worm: and that if ever he is to stand before Him in judgment with comfort, he must have some mighty helper, or he will not be saved.
I know well that people may have false notions of God as well as everything else, and shut their eyes against truth; but I say boldly and confidently, No man can have really high and honourable views of what God is, and escape the conclusion that the doctrine of our text must be true. There can be no possible salvation but by Jesus Christ.
Let me say, in the third place, this doctrine must be true, because the Bible is what the Bible is.
All through the Bible, from Genesis down to Revelation, there is only one simple account of the way in which man must be saved. It is always the same: only for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ,—through faith; not for our own works and deservings. You see it dimly revealed at first: it looms through the mist of a few promises, but there it is. But one golden chain runs through the whole volume; no salvation excepting by Jesus Christ. The bruising of the serpent’s head foretold in the day of the fall; the clothing of our first parents with skins, the sacrifices of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the passover, and all the particulars of the Jewish law,—the high priest, altar, the daily offering of the lamb, the holy of holies entered only by blood, the scapegoat, the cities of refuge,—all are so many witnesses to the truth set forth in the text: all preach with one voice, salvation only by Jesus Christ.
In fact, this truth appears to me the grand object of the Bible, and all the different parts and portions of the book are meant to pour light upon it. I can gather from it no ideas of pardon and peace with God excepting in connection with this truth. If I could read of one soul in it who was saved without faith in a Saviour, I might perhaps not speak so confidently. But when I see that faith in Christ,—whether a coming Christ or a crucified Christ,—was the prominent feature in the religion of all who went to heaven; when I see Abel owning Christ in his better sacrifice, at one end of the Bible, and the saints in glory in John’s vision rejoicing in Christ, at the other end of the Bible; when I see a man like Cornelius, who was devout, and feared God, and gave alms and prayed, not told that he had done all, and would of course be saved, but ordered to send for Peter, and hear of Christ; when I see all these things I say, I feel bound to believe that the doctrine of the text is the doctrine of the whole Bible. No salvation, no way to heaven, excepting by Jesus Christ.
And now, in the last place, let me show you some consequences which flow naturally out of our text.
There are few parts of this subject which seem to be more important than this. The truth I have been trying to set before you bears so strongly on the condition of a great proportion of mankind that I consider it would be mere affectation on my part not to say something about it. If Christ is the only way of salvation, what are we to feel about many people in the world? This is the point I am now going to take up.
I believe that many persons would go with me so far as I have gone, and would go no further. They will allow my premises: they will have nothing to say to my conclusions. They think it uncharitable to say anything which appears to condemn others. For my part I cannot understand such charity: it seems to me the kind of charity which would see a neighbour drinking slow poison, but never interfere to stop him; which would allow emigrants to embark in a leaky, ill-found vessel, and not interfere to prevent them; which would see a blind man walking near a precipice, and think it wrong to cry out, and tell him there was danger.
I believe the greatest charity is to tell the greatest quantity of truth. I believe it is no charity to hide the legitimate consequences of such a text as we are now considering, or to shut our eyes against them. And I solemnly call on every one who really believes there is no salvation in any but Christ and none other name, given under heaven whereby we be saved,—I solemnly call on that person to listen to me, while I set before him some of the tremendous consequences which the text involves.
One mighty consequence then, which seems to be learned from this text, is the utter uselessness of any religion without Christ.
There are many to be found in Christendom at this day who have a religion of this kind. They would not like to be called Deists, but Deists they are. That there is a God, that there is what they are pleased to call Providence, that God is merciful, that there will be a state after death,—this is about the sum and substance of their creed; and as to the distinguishing tenets of Christianity, they do not seem to recognise them at all. Now I denounce such a system as a baseless fabric,—its seeming foundation man’s fancy,—its hopes an utter delusion. The god of such people is an idol of their own invention, and not the glorious God of the Scriptures,—a miserably imperfect being, even on their own showing: without holiness, without justice, without any attribute but that of vague indiscriminate mercy. Such a religion may possibly do as a toy to live with: it is far too unreal to die with. It utterly fails to meet the wants of man’s conscience: it offers no remedy; it affords no rest for the soles of our feet; it cannot comfort, for it cannot save. Reader beware of it if you love life. Beware of a religion without Christ.
Another consequence to be learned from the text is, the folly of any religion in which Christ has not the first place.
I need not remind you how many hold a system of this kind. The Socinian tells us that Christ was a mere man; that His blood had no more efficacy than that of another; that His death on the cross was not a real atonement and propitiation of man’s sins; and that, after all, doing is the way to heaven, and not believing. I solemnly declare that I believe such a system is ruinous to men’s souls. It seems to me to strike at the root of the whole plan of salvation which God has revealed in the Bible, and practically to nullify the greater part of the Scriptures. It overthrows the priesthood of the Lord Jesus, and strips Him of His office; it converts the whole system of the law of Moses touching sacrifices and ordinances, into a meaningless form; it seems to say that the sacrifice of Cain was just as good as the sacrifice of Abel; it turns a man adrift on the sea of uncertainty, by plucking from under him the finished work of’ a divine Mediator. Beware of it, reader, no less than of Deism. If you love life, beware of the least attempt to depreciate and undervalue Christ’s person, offices or work. The name whereby alone you can be saved is a name above every name, and the slightest contempt poured upon it is an insult to the King of Kings. The salvation of your soul has been laid by God the Father on Christ, and no other; and if He were not very God, He never could accomplish it: there could be no salvation at all.
Another consequence to be learned from our text is the great error, committed by those who add anything to Christ, as necessary to salvation.
It is an easy thing to profess belief in the Trinity, and reverence for our Lord Jesus Christ, and yet to make some addition to Christ as the ground of hope, and so to overthrow the doctrine of the text as really and completely as by denying it altogether.
The Church of Rome does this systematically. She adds things over and above the requirements of the Gospel, of her own invention. She speaks as if Christ’s finished work was not a sufficient foundation for a sinner’s soul, and as if at were not enough to say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shaft be saved.” She sends men to penances and absolution, to masses and extreme unction, to fasting arid bodily mortification, to the Virgin and the saints,—as if these things could add to the safety there is in Christ Jesus. And in doing this she sins against our text with a high hand. Let us beware of any Romish hankering after additions to the simple way of the Gospel, from whatever quarter it may come.
The last consequence which seems to me to be learned from our text is, the utter absurdity of supposing that we ought to be satisfied with a man’s state of soul if he is only sincere.
This is a very common heresy indeed, and one against which we all need to be on our guard. There are thousands who say in the present day, “We have nothing to do with the opinions of others. They may perhaps be mistaken, though it is possible they are right and we wrong: but if they are sincere, we hope they will be saved, even as we.” And all this sounds liberal and charitable, and people like to fancy their own views are so.
Now I believe such notions are entirely contradictory to the Bible, whatever else they may be. I cannot find in Scripture that any one ever got to heaven merely by sincerity, or was accepted with God if he was only earnest in maintaining his own views. The priests of Baal were sincere when they cut themselves with knives and lancets till the blood gushed out; but still that did not prevent Elijah from commanding them to be treated as wicked idolaters. Let us beware of allowing for a moment that sincerity is everything, and that we have no right to speak ill of a man’s spiritual state because of the opinions he holds, if he is only earnest in holding them. It will not stand: it will not bear the test of Scripture. Once allow such notions to be true, and you may as well throw your Bible aside altogether. Sincerity is not Christ, and therefore sincerity cannot put away sin.
I dare be sure these consequences sound very unpleasant to the minds of some who may read them. But I tell you of them advisedly and deliberately. I say calmly that a religion without Christ, a religion that takes away from Christ, a religion that adds anything to Christ, a religion that puts sincerity in the place of Christ,—all are dangerous: all are to be avoided, and all are alike contrary to the doctrine of our text.
You may not like this: I am sorry for it. You think me uncharitable, illiberal, narrow-minded, bigoted, and so forth: be it so. That doctrine is, salvation in Christ to the very uttermost,—but out of Christ no salvation at all.
I feel it a duty to bear my solemn testimony against the spirit of the day you live in; to warn you against its infection.
What is it but a bowing down before a great idol specially called liberality?
What is it all but a sacrificing of truth upon the altar of a caricature of charity? Beware of it, beware that the rushing stream of public opinion does not carry you away. Beware of it, if you believe the Bible: beware of it, if you are a consistent member of the Church of England. Has the Lord God spoken to us in the Bible, or has He not? Has He shown us the way of salvation plainly in that Bible, or has He not? Has He declared to us the dangerous state of all out of that way, or has He not? Gird up the loins of your mind, and look these questions fairly in the face, and give them an honest answer. Tell us that there is some other inspired book beside the Bible, and then we shall know what you mean; tell us that the whole Bible is not inspired, and then we shall know where to meet you: but grant for a moment that the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, is God’s truth., and then I know not in what way you can escape the doctrine of the text. From the liberality which says everybody is right, from the charity which forbids you to say anybody is wrong, from the peace which is bought at the expense of truth,—may the good Lord deliver you!
I speak for myself: I find no resting-place between downright Evangelical Christianity and downright infidelity, whatever others may find.
I see no half-way house between them, or houses that are roofless and cannot shelter my weary soul. I can see consistency in an infidel, however much I may pity him; I can see consistency in the full maintenance of Evangelical truth: but as to a middle course between the two,—I cannot see it; and I say so plainly. Let it be called illiberal and uncharitable. I can hear God’s voice nowhere except in the Bible, and I can see no salvation for sinners in the Bible excepting through Jesus Christ. In Him I see abundance: out of Him I see none. And as for those who hold religions in which Christ is not all, whoever they may be, I have a most uncomfortable feeling about their safety. I do not for a moment say that none of them are saved, but I say that those who are saved are saved by their disagreement with their own principles, and in spite of their own system. The man who wrote the famous line, “He can’t be wrong whose life is in the right,” was a great poet undoubtedly, but he was a wretched divine.
Let me conclude with a few words by way of application.
First of all, if there is no salvation excepting in Christ, make sure that you have an interest in that salvation yourself. Do not be content with hearing, and approving, and assenting to the truth, and going no further. Seek to have a personal interest in this salvation: lay hold by faith for your own soul; rest not till you know and feel that you have got actual possession of that peace with God which Jesus offers, and that Christ is yours, and you are Christ’s. If there were two, or three, or more ways of getting to heaven, there would be no necessity for pressing this matter upon you. But if there is only one way, you will hardly wonder that I say, “Make sure that you are in it.”
Secondly, if there is no salvation excepting in Christ, try to do good to the souls of all who do not know Him as a Saviour. There are millions in this miserable condition,—millions in foreign lands, millions in your own country, millions who are not trusting in Christ. You ought to feel for them if you are a true Christian; you ought to pray for them; you ought to work for them, while there is yet time. Do you really believe that Christ is the only way to heaven? Then live as if you believed it.
Look round the circle of your own relatives and friends: count them up one by one, and think how many of them are not yet in Christ. Try to do good to them in some way or other: act as a man should act who believes his friends to be in danger. Do not be content with their being kind and amiable, gentle and good-tempered, moral, and courteous; be miserable about them till they come to Christ, and trust in Him: for miserable you ought to be. Let nobody alone who is out of Christ, if only you have opportunities of reaching him.
Thirdly, if there is no salvation excepting in Christ, let us love all who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity, and exalt Him as their Saviour, whoever they may be. Let us not draw back and look shy on others, because they do not see eye to eye with ourselves in everything.
This is the true charity: to believe all things and hope all things, so long as we see Bible doctrines maintained and Christ exalted. Christ must be the single standard by which all opinions must be measured. Let us honour all who honour Him: but let us never forget that the same apostle Paul who wrote about charity, says also, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema.” If our charity and liberality are wider than that of the Bible, they are worth nothing at all: indiscriminate love is no love at all, and indiscriminate approbation of all religious opinions, is only a new name for infidelity. Let us hold out the right hand to all who love the Lord Jesus, but let us beware how we go beyond this.
Lastly, if there is no salvation excepting by Christ, you must not be surprised if ministers of the Gospel preach much about Him. We cannot tell you too much about the name which is above every name: you cannot hear of Him too often. You may hear too much about controversy in our sermons,—you may hear too much of men and books, of works and duties, of forms and ceremonies, of sacraments and ordinances,—but there is one subject which you never hear too much of: you can never hear too much of Christ.
When we are wearied of preaching Him, we are false ministers: when you are wearied of hearing of Him, your souls are in an unhealthy state.
When we have preached Him all our lives, the half of His excellence will remain untold. When you see Him face to face in the day of His appearing, you will find there was more in Him than your heart ever conceived.
Let me leave you with the words of an old writer, to which I desire humbly to subscribe.
“I know no true religion but Christianity; no true Christianity but the doctrine of Christ: the doctrine of His divine person, of His divine office, of His divine righteousness, and of His divine Spirit, which all that are His receive. I know no true ministers of Christ but such as make it their business, in their calling, to commend Jesus Christ, in His saving fulness of grace and glory, to the faith and love of men; no true Christian but one united to Christ by faith and love, unto the glorifying of the name of Jesus Christ, in the beauty of Gospel holiness. Ministers and Christians of this spirit have been for many years my brethren and companions, and I hope shall ever be, whithersoever the hand of God shall lead me.”