THERE are many who imagine that salvation cannot be accomplished except in some undefinable and mysterious way; and the minister and the priest are mixed up with it. Hear ye, then; if you had never seen a minister in your lives, if you had never heard the voice of the bishop of the church, or an elder thereof, yet if ye did call on the name of the Lord, your salvation would be quite as sure without one as with one. We are all clergy who love the Lord Jesus Christ, and you are as much fit to preach the gospel if God has given you the ability, and called you to the work by his Spirit, as any man alive. No priestly hand, no hand of presbyterian — which means priest written large — no ordination of men, is necessary; we stand upon the rights of manhood to speak what we believe, and next to that we stand upon the call of God’s Spirit in the heart bidding us testify his truth. But neither Paul nor an angel from heaven, nor Apollos, nor Cephas, can help you in salvation. It is not of man, neither by men, and neither Pope, nor Archbishop, nor bishop, nor priest, nor minister, nor any one, hath any grace to give to others. We must each of us go ourselves to the fountainhead, pleading this promise — “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” If I were shut up in the mines of Siberia, where I could never hear the gospel, if I did call upon the name of Christ, the road is just as straight without the minister as with him, and the path to heaven is just as clear from the wilds of Africa, and from the dens of the prisonhouse and the dungeon, as it is from the sanctuary of God. Nevertheless, for edification, all Christians love the ministry, though not for salvation; though neither in priest nor preacher do they trust, yet the word of God is sweet to them, and “beautiful on the mountains are the feet of them that bring glad tidings of peace.”
Another very common error is, that a good dream is a most splendid thing in order to save people. Some of you do not know the extent to which this error prevails; I happen to know it. It is received among many persons, that if you dream that you see the Lord in the night you will be saved, and if you can see him on the cross, or if you think you see some angels, or if you dream that God says to you, “You are forgiven,” all is well; but if you do not have a very nice dream you cannot be saved. So some people think.
Now, if it be so, the sooner we all begin to eat opium the better; because there is nothing that makes people dream so much as that; and the best advice I could give would be — let every minister distribute opium very largely, and then his people would all dream themselves into heaven.
Out upon that rubbish! there is nothing in it. Dreams, the disordered fabrics of a wild imagination, the totterings often of the fair pillars of a grand conception, how can they be the means of salvation? You know Rowland Hill’s good answer; I must quote it, in default of a better. When a woman pleaded that she was saved because she dreamed, he said, “Well, my good woman, it is very nice to have good dreams when you are asleep, but I want to see how you act when you are awake; for if your conduct is not consistent in religion when you are awake, I will not give a snap of the finger for your dreams.” Ah! I do marvel that ever any person should go to such a depth of ignorance as to tell me the stories that I have heard myself about dreams. Poor dear creatures! when they were sound asleep they saw the gates of heaven opened, and a white angel came and washed their sins away, and then they saw that they were pardoned; and since then they have never had a doubt or a fear. It is time that you should begin to doubt, then; very good time that you should; for if that is all the hope you have, it is a poor one. Remember, it is “whosoever calls upon the name of God,” not whosoever dreams about him. Dreams may do good. Sometimes people have been frightened out of their senses in them; and they were better out of their senses than they were in, for they did more mischief when they were in their senses than they did when they were out; and the dreams did good in that sense. Some people, too, have been alarmed by dreams; but to trust to them is to trust to a shadow, to build your hopes on bubbles, scarcely needing a puff of wind to burst them into nothingness. Oh, remember, you want no vision, no marvelous appearance! If you have had a vision, or a dream, you need not despise it; it may have benefited you: but do not trust to it. But if you have had none, remember it is not the mere calling upon God’s name to which the promise is appended.
There are some people who think they must have some very wonderful kind of feelings, or else they cannot be saved; some most extraordinary thoughts such as they never had before, or else certainly they cannot be saved. A woman once applied to me for admission to church-membership.
So I asked her whether she had ever had a change of heart. She said, “Oh yes, sir, such a change! you know,” she said, “I felt it across the chest so singular, sir; and when I was a-praying one day I felt as if I did not know what was the matter with me, I felt so different. And when I went to the chapel, sir, one night, I came away and felt so different from what I felt before; so light.” “Yes,” I said, “light-headed, my dear soul, that is what you felt, but nothing more, I am afraid.” The good woman was sincere enough; she thought it was all right with her, because something had affected her lungs, or in some way stirred her physical frame. “No,” I hear you say,” people cannot be so stupid as this.” I assure you that there are many that have no better hope of heaven than that; for I am dealing with a very popular objection just now. “I thought,” said one, addressing me one day, “I thought, when I was in the garden, sure Christ could take my sins away just as easily as he could move the clouds. Do you know, sir, in a moment or two the cloud was all gone, and the sun was shining. Thought I to myself, the Lord is blotting out my sin.” Such a ridiculous thought as that, you say, cannot occur often. I tell you it does, very frequently indeed.
People get supposing that the veriest nonsense in all the earth is a manifestation of divine grace in their hearts.
Now, the only feeling I ever want to have is just this: I want to feel that I am a sinner, and that Christ is my Savior. You may keep your visions, and ecstasies, and raptures, and dancings, to yourselves; the only feeling that I desire to have is deep repentance and humble faith; and if, poor sinner, you have got that, you are saved. Why, some people believe that before they can be saved there must be a kind of electric-shock, some very wonderful thing that is to go all through them from head to foot. Now hear this, “The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart. If thou dost with thy heart believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and with thy mouth dost confess, thou shalt be saved.” What do ye want with all this nonsense of dreams and supernatural thoughts? All that is wanted is, that as a guilty sinner I should come and cast myself on Christ. That done, the soul is safe, and all the visions in the universe could not make it safer.
And now, I have one more error to try to rectify. Among very poor people — and I have visited some of them, and know what I say to be true — among the very poor and uneducated, there is a very current idea that somehow or other salvation is connected with learning to read and write.
You smile, perhaps, but I know it. Often has a poor woman said, “O sir, this is no good to poor, ignorant creatures like us; there is no hope for me, sir; I cannot read. Do you know, sir, I don’t know a letter? I think if I could read a bit I might be saved; but, ignorant as I am, I do not know how I can, for I have got no understanding, sir.” I have found this in the country districts, too, among people who might learn to read if they liked. And there are none but can, unless they are lazy. And yet they sit down in cold indifference about salvation, under the notion that the parson could be saved, for he reads a chapter so nicely; that the clerk could be saved, for he said “Amen” so well; that the squire could be saved, for he knew a great deal, and had a vast many books in his library; but that they could not be saved, for they did not know anything, and that therefore it was impossible.
My poor friend, you do not want to know much to go to heaven. I would advise you to know as much as ever you can; do not be backward in trying to learn. But in regard to going to heaven, the way is so plain, that “the wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein.”