1. ALL the blessings which God hath bestowed
upon man, are of his mere grace, bounty, or favor; his free, undeserved
favor; favor altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least
of his mercies. It was free grace that "formed man of the dust of
the ground, and breathed into him a living soul," and stamped on that
soul the image of God, and "put all things under his feet." The same
free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all
things. For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve
the least thing at Gods hand. "All our works, thou, O God! hast
wrought in us." These, therefore, are so many more instances of free
mercy: And whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also
the gift of God.
2. Wherewithal then shall a sinful man atone for any the least
of his sins? with his own works? No. Were they ever so many, or
holy, they are not his own, but Gods. But indeed they are all
unholy and sinful themselves, so that every one of them needs a fresh
atonement. Only corrupt fruit grows on a corrupt tree. And his heart
is altogether corrupt and abominable; being, "come short of the glory
of God," the glorious righteousness at first impressed on his soul,
after the image of his great Creator. Therefore, having nothing, neither
righteousness nor works, to plead. his mouth is utterly stopped before
3. If then sinful men find favor with God, it is "grace upon grace!"
If God vouchsafe still to pour fresh blessings upon us, yea, the greatest
of all blessings, salvation; what can we say to these things, but,
"Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!" And thus it is. Herein
"God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners,
Christ died" to save us. "By grace," then, "are ye saved through
faith." Grace is the source, faith the condition, of salvation.
Now, that we fall not short of the grace of God, it concerns us carefully
to inquire, I. What faith it is through which we are saved. II. What
is the salvation which is through faith. III. How we may answer some
A Description of the Faith Through Which we are Saved.
a) What Kind of Faith it is Not
And, First, it is not barely the faith of a Heathen.
God requireth of a Heathen to believe, "that God is; that he is
a rewarder of them that diligently seek him;" and that he is to be
sought by glorifying him as God, by giving him thanks for all things,
and by a careful practice of moral virtue, of justice, mercy, and
truth, toward their fellow-creatures. A Greek or Roman, therefore,
yea, a Scythian or Indian, was without excuse if he did not believe
thus much: The being and attributes of God, a future state of reward
and punishment, and the obligatory nature of moral virtue. For this
is barely the faith of a Heathen.
Nor, Secondly, is it the faith of a devil, though this
goes much farther than that of a Heathen. For the devil believes,
not only that there is a wise and powerful God, gracious to reward,
and just to punish; but also, that Jesus is the Son of God, the Christ,
the Savior of the world. So we find him declaring, in express
terms, (Luke 4:34,) "I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God."
Nor can we doubt but that unhappy spirit believes all those words
which came out of the mouth of the Holy One; yea, and whatsoever else
was written by those holy men of old, of two of whom he was compelled
to give that glorious testimony, "These men are the servants of the
Most High God, who show unto you the way of salvation." Thus much,
then, the great enemy of God and man believes and trembles in believing,
that God was made manifest in the flesh; that he will "tread
all enemies under his feet;" and that "all Scripture was given by
inspiration of God." Thus far goeth the faith of a devil.
Thirdly. The faith through which we are saved, in that sense of the
word which will hereafter be explained, is not barely that which
the Apostles themselves had while Christ was yet upon earth;
though they so believed on him as to "leave all and follow him;"
although they had then power to work miracles to "heal all
manner of sickness, and all manner of disease;" yea, they had then
"power and authority over all devils;" and, which is beyond
all this, were sent by their Master to "preach the kingdom of God."
b) What Kind of Faith It Is
What faith is it then through which we are saved? It may be answered,
First, in general, it is a faith in Christ: Christ,
and God through Christ, are the proper objects of it. Herein, therefore,
it is sufficiently, absolutely distinguished from the faith either
of ancient or modern Heathens. And from the faith of a devil it is
fully distinguished by this, it is not barely a speculative,
rational thing, a cold, lifeless assent, a train of ideas in the head;
but also a disposition of the heart. For thus saith the Scripture,
"With the heart man believeth unto righteousness;" and, "If thou shalt
confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe with thy
heart, that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved."
And herein does it differ from that faith which the Apostles themselves
had while our Lord was on earth, that it acknowledges the necessity
and merit of his death, and the power of his resurrection. It
acknowledges his death as the only sufficient means of redeeming man
from death eternal, and his resurrection as the restoration of us
all to life and immortality; inasmuch as he "was delivered for our
sins, and rose again for our justification." Christian faith is
then, not only an assent to the whole gospel of Christ, but also a
full reliance on the blood of Christ; a trust in
the merits of his life, death, and resurrection; a recumbency
upon him as our atonement and our life, as given for us, and living
in us; and, in consequence hereof, a closing with him,
and cleaving to him, as our "wisdom, righteousness,
sanctification, and redemption," or, in one word, our salvation.
II. A Description of the Salvation which comes
through this Faith
salvation it is, which is through this faith, is the second thing
to be considered.
And, First, whatsoever else it imply, it is a present salvation.
It is something attainable, yea, actually attained, on earth,
by those who are partakers of this faith. For thus saith the Apostle
to the believers at Ephesus, and in them to the believers of all ages,
not, Ye shall be, (though that also is true,) but, "Ye are saved
It is a Salvation from Sin
Ye are saved (to comprise all in one word) from sin. This is the salvation
which is through faith. This is that great salvation foretold by the
angel, before God brought his First begotten into the world: "Thou
shalt call his name JESUS. For he shall save his people from their
sins." And neither here, nor in other parts of holy writ, is there
any limitation or restriction. All his people, or, as it is elsewhere
expressed, "all that believe in him," he will save from all their
sins; from original and actual, past and present sin, "of the flesh
and of the spirit." Through faith that is in him, they are saved
both from the guilt and from the power of it.
First. From the guilt of all past sin: For, whereas
all the world is guilty before God, insomuch that should he "be extreme
to mark what is done amiss, there is none that could abide it;" and
whereas, "by the law is" only "the knowledge of sin," but no deliverance
from it, so that, "by fulfilling the deeds of the law, no flesh can
be justified in his sight;" now "the righteousness of God, which is
by faith of Jesus Christ, is manifested unto all that believe." Now
"they are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption
that is in Jesus Christ." "Him God hath set forth to be a propitiation
through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for (or
by) the remission of the sins that are past." Now hath Christ taken
away "the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." He hath
"blotted out the handwriting that was against us, taking it out of
the way, nailing it to his cross." "There is, therefore, no condemnation
now, to them which" believe "in Christ Jesus."
And being saved from guilt, they are saved from fear.
Not indeed from a filial fear of offending; but from all servile
fear; from that fear which hath torment; from fear of punishment;
from fear of the wrath of God, whom they now no longer regard
as a severe Master, but as an indulgent Father. "They have not
received again the spirit of bondage, but the Spirit of adoption,
whereby they cry, Abba, Father: The Spirit itself also bearing
witness with their spirits, that they are the children of God."
They are also saved from the fear, though not from the possibility,
of falling away from the grace of God, and coming short of the great
and precious promises. Thus have they "peace with God through our
Lord Jesus Christ. They rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And
the love of God is shed abroad in their hearts, through the Holy Ghost
which is given unto them." And hereby they are persuaded, (though
perhaps not at all times, nor with the same fullness of persuasion,)
that neither death, nor life, nor things presents nor things to
come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able
to separate them from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our
Again, through this faith they are saved from the power of sin,
as well as from the guilt of it. So the Apostle declares,
"Ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him
is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him, sinneth not." (1 John
3:5, etc.) Again, "little children, let no man deceive you. He that
committeth sin is of the devil. Whosoever believeth, is born of God.
And whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, for his seed
remaineth in him: And he cannot sin, because he is born of God"
Once more, "We know, that whosoever is born of God sinneth not:
But he that is begotten of God, keepeth himself, and that wicked one
toucheth him not." (1 John 5:18.)
He that is, by faith, born of God, sinneth not (1.)
By any habitual sin; for all habitual sin is sin reigning:
But sin cannot reign in any that believeth. Nor (2.) By any
willful sin; for his will, while he abideth, in the faith
is utterly set against all sin, and abhorreth it as deadly poison.
Nor (3.) By any sinful desire; for he continually desireth
the holy and perfect will of God; and any tendency to an unholy desire,
he, by the grace of God, stifleth in the birth. Nor (4.) Doth he sin
by infirmities, whether in act, word, or thought; for
his infirmities have no concurrence of his will; and without this
they are not properly sins. Thus, "he that is born of God doth
not commit sin:" And though he cannot say, he hath not sinned, yet
now "he sinneth not."
This then is the salvation which is through faith, even in the present
world: A salvation from sin, and the consequences of sin, both
often expressed in the word justification; which, taken in the largest
sense, implies a deliverance from guilt and punishment, by
the atonement of Christ actually applied to the soul of the sinner
now believing on him, and a deliverance from the power of sin,
through Christ formed in his heart. So that he who is thus
justified, or saved by faith, is indeed born again. He is born
again of the Spirit unto a new life, which "is hid with Christ in
God." And as a new-born babe he gladly receives the "sincere milk
of the word, and grows thereby;" going on in the might of the Lord
his God, from faith to faith, from grace to grace, until, at length,
he come unto "a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the
fullness of Christ."
Answers To Common Objections To This Salvation
First usual objection to this is,
That "to preach salvation, or justification, by faith only, is to
preach against holiness and good works." To which a short answer might
be given: "It would be so, if we spake, as some do, of a faith which
was separate from these: But we speak of a faith which is not so,
but productive of all good works, and all holiness."
But it may be of use to consider it more at large; especially since
it is no new objection, but as old as St. Pauls time. For even
then it was asked, "Do we not make void the law through faith?"
We answer, First, all who preach not faith, do manifestly make
void the law; either directly and grossly, by limitations and
comments that eat out all the spirit of the text; or, indirectly,
by not pointing out the only means whereby it is possible to perform
it. Whereas, Secondly, "we establish the law," both by showing
its full extent and spiritual meaning; and by calling all to that
living way, whereby "the righteousness of the law may be fulfilled
in them." These, while they trust, is the blood of Christ
alone, use all the ordinances which he hath appointed, do all the
"good works which he had before prepared that they should walk therein,"
and enjoy and manifest all holy and heavenly tempers, even the same
mind that was in Christ Jesus.
"But does not preaching this faith lead men into pride?"
We answer, Accidentally it may: Therefore ought every believer
to be earnestly cautioned, in the words of the great Apostle,
"Because of unbelief" the first branches "were broken off; and thou
standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear. If God spared not
the natural branches, take heed lest he spare not thee. Behold, therefore,
the goodness and severity of God! On them which fell severity; but
towards thee goodness, if thou continue in his goodness; otherwise
thou also shalt be cut off." And while he continues therein, he will
remember those words of St. Paul, foreseeing and answering this very
objection, (Romans 3:27,) "Where is boasting then? It is excluded.
By what law? of works? Nay: But by the law of faith." If a man
were justified by his works, he would have whereof to glory. But there
is no glorying for him "that worketh not, but believeth on him that
justifieth the ungodly." (Romans 4:5.) To the same effect are the
words both preceding and following the text. (Ephesians 2:4, etc.:)
"God, who is rich in mercy, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened
us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved,) that he might show
the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through
Christ Jesus. For, by grace are ye saved through faith; and that
not of yourselves." Of yourselves cometh neither your faith nor
your salvation. "It is the gift of God;" the free, undeserved gift;
the faith through which ye are saved, as well as the salvation, which
he of his own good pleasure, his mere favor, annexes thereto. That
ye believe, is one instance of his grace; that, believing, ye are
saved, another. "Not of works, lest any man should boast." For
all our works, all our righteousness, which were before our believing,
merited nothing of God but condemnation: So far were they from
deserving faith, which therefore, whenever given, is not of works.
Neither is salvation of the works we do when we believe: For it
is then God that worketh in us: And, therefore, that he giveth
us a reward for what he himself worketh, only commendeth the riches
of his mercy, but leaveth us nothing whereof to glory.
"However, may not the speaking thus of the mercy of God, as
saving or justifying freely by faith only, encourage men in sin?"
Indeed it may and will: Many will "continue in sin that grace
may abound:" But their blood is upon their own head. The goodness
of God ought to lead them to repentance; and so it will those who
are sincere of heart. When they know there is yet forgiveness
with him, they will cry aloud that he would blot out their sins also,
through faith which is in Jesus. And if they earnestly cry, and faint
not; if they seek him in all the means he hath appointed; if they
refuse to be comforted till he come; "he will come, and will not tarry."
And he can do much work in a short time. Many are the examples, in
the Acts of the Apostles, of Gods working this faith in mens
hearts, even like lightning falling from heaven. So in the same hour
that Paul and Silas began to preach, the jailor repented, believed,
and was baptized; as were three thousand, by St. Peter, on the day
of Pentecost, who all repented and believed at his first preaching.
And, blessed be God, there are now many living proofs that he is still
"mighty to save."
Yet to the same truth, placed in another view, a quite contrary objection
is made: "If a man cannot be saved by all that he can do, this
will drive men to despair." True, to despair of being saved
by their own works, their own merits, or righteousness. And so it
ought; for none can trust in the merits of Christ, till he
has utterly renounced his own. He that "goeth about to establish
his own righteousness," cannot receive the righteousness of God. The
righteousness which is of faith cannot be given him while he trusteth
in that which is of the law.
"But this," it is said, "is an uncomfortable doctrine."
The devil spoke like himself, that is, without either truth or shame,
when he dared to suggest to men that it is such. It is the only
comfortable one, it is "very full of comfort," to all self destroyed,
self-condemned sinners. That "whosoever believeth on him shall
not be ashamed. That the same Lord over all is rich unto all that
call upon him:" Here is comfort, high as heaven, stronger than
death! What! Mercy for all? for Zaccheus, a public robber?
for Mary Magdalene, a common harlot? Methinks I hear one say, "Then
I, even I, may hope for mercy!" And so thou mayest, thou afflicted
one, whom none hath comforted! God will not cast out thy prayer. Nay,
perhaps, he may say the next hour, "Be of good cheer, thy sins
are forgiven thee;" so forgiven, that they shall reign over thee no
more; yea, and that "the Holy Spirit shall bear witness with
thy spirit that thou art a child of God." O glad tidings! Tidings
of great joy, which are sent unto all people! "Ho, every one that
thirsteth, come ye to the waters: Come ye, and buy, without money
and without price." Whatsoever your sins be, "though red, like crimson,"
though more than the hairs of your head. "return ye unto the Lord,
and he will have mercy upon you; and to our God, for he will abundantly
When no more objections occur, then we are simply told, that "salvation
by faith only ought not to be preached as the first doctrine, or,
at least, not to be preached to all." But what saith the Holy Ghost?
"Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, even Jesus
Christ? So then, that "whosoever believeth on him shall be saved,"
is, and must be, the foundation of all our preaching; that is,
must be preached first. "Well, but not to all." To whom, then, are
we not to preach it? Whom shall we except? the poor? Nay; they have
a peculiar right to have the gospel preached unto them. The unlearned?
No. God hath revealed these things unto unlearned and ignorant men
from the beginning. The young? By no means. "Suffer these," in anywise,
to come unto Christ, "and forbid them not." The sinners? Least of
all. "He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Why then, if any, we are to except the rich, the learned, the reputable,
the moral men. And, it is true, they too often except themselves from
hearing; yet we must speak the words of out Lord. For thus the tenor
of our commission runs, "Go and preach the gospel to every creature."
If any man wrest it, or any part of it, to his destruction, he must
bear his own burden. But still, "as the Lord liveth, whatsoever the
Lord saith unto us, that we will speak."
At this time, more especially, will we speak, that "by grace are ye
saved through faith:" Because, never was the maintaining this doctrine
more seasonable than it is at this day. Nothing but this can effectually
prevent the increase of the Romish delusion among us. It is endless
to attack, one by one, all the errors of that Church. But salvation
by faith strikes at the root, and all fall at once where this is established.
It was this doctrine, which our Church justly calls the strong rock
and foundation of the Christian religion, that first drove Popery
out of these kingdoms; and it is this alone can keep it out. Nothing
but this can give a check to that immorality which hath "overspread
the land as a flood." Can you empty the great deep, drop by drop?
Then you may reform us by dissuasives from particular vices. But
let the "righteousness which is of God by faith" be brought in, and
so shall its proud waves be stayed. Nothing but this can stop the
mouths of those who "glory in their shame, and openly deny the Lord
that bought them." They can talk as sublimely of the laws as he
that hath it written, by God in his heart. To hear them speak on this
head might incline one to think they were not far from the kingdom
of God: But take them out of the law into the gospel; begin with the
righteousness of faith; with Christ, "the end of the law to every
one that believeth;" and those who but now appeared almost, if not
altogether Christians, stand confessed the sons of perdition; as far
from life and salvation (God be merciful unto them!) as the depth
of hell from the height of heaven.
For this reason the adversary so rages whenever "salvation by
faith" is declared to the work: For this reason did he stir
up earth and hell, to destroy those who first preached it. And for
the same reason, knowing that faith alone could over turn the
foundations of his kingdom, did he call forth all his forces,
and employ all his arts of lies and calumny, to affright Martin Luther
from reviving it. Nor can we wonder thereat; for, as that man of God
observes, "How would it enrage a proud strong man armed, to be stopped
and set at nought by a little child coming against him with a reed
in his hand!" especially, when he knew that little child would surely
overthrow him and tread him under foot. Even so, Lord Jesus! Thus
hath thy strength been ever "made perfect in weakness!" Go forth,
then, thou little child that believest in him, and his "right hand
shall teach thee terrible things!" Though thou be as helpless and
weak as an infant of days, the strong man shall not be able to stand
before thee. Thou shalt prevail over him, and subdue him, and overthrow
him, and trample him under thy feet. Thou shalt march on, under the
great Captain of thy salvation, "conquering and to conquer," until
all thine enemies are destroyed, and "death is swallowed up in victory."
"thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord
Jesus Christ;" to whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be
blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor and power
and might, forever and ever. Amen.
Works of John Wesley, Sermon 1, "Salvation By Faith"