Village Sermons by Robert Hawker
THE KNOWLEDGE OF SALVATION BY THE REMISSION OF SINS, THE SURE PROOF OF THE GOSPEL.
In presenting the numbers, of these Village Sermons, so as to give sufficient variety, and yet never to lose sight of the main object intended; namely, as instrumental in the Lord’s hand, by the ministry of the Lord’s word, “to make wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus,” (2 Tim. 3:15): the Sermon here, presented to the cottager, for himself and family, or for himself and the villagers, around him, is a continuation of the same subject as before was brought, them in the first number. In that, it was meant to make manifest (and on Scripture ground) that they, and they only, prove themselves, to be “the servants; of the most high God, which shew unto his people the way of salvation,” (Acts 16:17). In this, sermon it is intended no less, to prove, (and from the same authority,) that the people of the, most high God do show whose they are, and to whom they belong, in having obtained “the knowledge of salvation by the remission of their sins,” (Luke 1:77). This forms, therefore, the most suitable subject to follow the former; and, under the Lord’s blessing, it is hoped that both will, minister to the Lord’s glory, in the promotion of the spiritual edification, and comforts of the Lord’s people. And what a blessed event will it be to this labor of love, if, while the servants of the most high God are enabled of the Lord “to shew the way of salvation to his people;” the people have the knowledge of salvation given them by the Lord himself, “in the remission of their sins.” This will be the same testimony as the apostle declared to the church, when he said, “Knowing brethren beloved, your election of God; for our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power; and in the Holy Ghost; and in much assurance,” (1 Thess. 1:4-5).
Prayer Before Reading.
Gracious Lord God! we humbly beg to present ourselves before thy divine majesty, who art the high and lofty One, inhabiting eternity, having revealed thyself in thy trinity of persons, to whom we are permitted to approach in and through the mediation of our most glorious Christ. About to read thine Holy Word, and to hear the observations made on thy Holy Word in the Sermon sent into our Village; will the Lord graciously condescend to bless it to our spiritual understanding, as far as it is in agreement “to the truth as it is in Jesus;” and as it shall please our God to make it profitable to our souls, in Christ Jesus? Lord! give to us the hearing ear, the seeing eye, and the understanding and believing heart; that our little assembly may have assurance of thy presence, from an unction attending thy word, and from “the savour of thy name, being as the ointment poured forth.” Blessedly suit thy mercies to the. wants of thy people now before thee; that as the word of thy grace is delivered before us; in every part of it, and to the close of it, our souls maybe so refreshed for the consolation, that like him of old, the secrets of whose heart were made manifest by the ministry of divine things, “we may each for ourselves fall humbly on our face before our God-, and report that God is inns of a truth,” (1 Cor. 14:25). The Lord hear and answer prayer, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
THE KNOWLEDGE OF SALVATION BY THE REMISSION OF SINS, THE SURE PROOF OF THE GOSPEL.
To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins. Luke 1:77
Salvation! what a mighty word! And taken in all its bearings, of what a vast and infinite extension! It is far beyond that great millstone, which John in vision saw the mighty angel take up, and cast into the sea; saying, “Thus, with, violence, shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all,” (Rev. 18:21). But what is the destruction of Babylon, which is but one foe of the church, compared to the destruction of all the enemies of our God, and of his Christ—sin, death, hell, and the grave, which our most glorious Lord, in his own Almighty person, and by his own Almighty arm, wrought out, and accomplished, so that their places in Christ’s eternal kingdom, “shall be found no more at all?” He hath “finished transgression, (as the prophet foretold of him) made an end of sin,” (Dan. 9:24): so that “the iniquity of Israel, when sought for, there shall be none; and the, sins of Judah shall not be found,” (Jer. 50:20). “He hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light by his gospel,” (2 Tim. 1:10). Nay, he hath not only abolished death, but “destroyed him that had the power of death, that is the devil,” (Heb. 2:14). And both hell and the grave he hath vanquished; “having spoiled principalities, and powers, and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it,” (Col. 2:15). So that looking to him and his finished salvation as the sole cause of all our triumphs over those tremendous foes of ours, we may, and do take up the language of the apostle, and which he found in Christ, and say with him, “O death! where is thy sting? O grave! where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law: but thanks be to God which giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Cor. 15:55-57 compared with Hosea 13:14). Oh! what a mighty word, and of what infinite extent is salvation!
But we must not stop here. Salvation, by the sole incommunicable work of our most glorious Christ, hath not only done all these things, and infinitely more, in relation to the life that now is; but hath secured all the promises of the life that is to come. God manifest in our flesh, by his great salvation hath recovered to his body the church all our justly forfeited inheritance, to which the church from everlasting was chosen in Christ, and to which she is now restored in Christ; and to have and to hold in Christ to all eternity. The apostle Peter, under the inspiration of God the Holy Ghost, hath very blessedly stated this, when he saith, “The God of all grace hath called us into his eternal glory by Christ Jesus,” (1 Pet. 5:10). So that you observe, “eternal glory” is included in this great salvation: yeas it the crowning point of all. It is the great and leading cause for which Christ came down from heaven, to bring all his people after him there. What this eternal glory is, I stay not at this time to enquire; Indeed we are told, that it is so inconceivably great and blessed, that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him,” (1 Cor. 2:9 compared with Isa. 64:4). But it is the thing itself, “eternal glory,” that I am observing forms the crowning point of all in salvation.
And here I take occasion, by the way, to detain you with a short observation from what hath been already said. Perhaps there may be some present which have not been accustomed to consider salvation any higher than that of obtaining pardon for sin; and have thought that if this was but once found, all that is needful is found. But our most glorious Lord Jesus Christ hath done more for his redeemed, than cleansing them from all sin by his blood; he hath clothed them also with his righteousness: and by regeneration he hath brought them back from all the dreadful effects of the Adam-fall transgression, (into which, by man’s apostasy, they were sunk, in common with the world) and restored them to that holiness and purity in which they were “chosen in him before the foundation of the world,” (Eph. 1:4-7; Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:21; Isa. 61:10). Hence, salvation folds within its embraces, eternal life, eternal glory, grace here; holiness, happiness, and blessedness for ever hereafter: and all in our most glorious Christ, (1 Pet. 1:3-9).
But it may be asked; and is the knowledge of these things attainable in the present life? My text gives an immediate answer, by observing that the very design of preached gospel, under the divine teaching of the Holy Ghost, is for this express purpose— “to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins!” The words themselves are part of the Song of Zacharias, which he littered on being personally brought acquainted with this salvation. He had for awhile been struck dumb for his unbelief, when tidings were first made known to him, in the opening of the vision. And now restored by sovereign grace, he broke out in his hymn of praise; “Blessed (said he) be the Lord God of Israel, for he hath visited and redeemed his people; and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us, in the house of his servant David.” And after proceeding in his song of holy joy on this occasion, in the enumeration of several other most interesting particulars; among the many, this of my text stands conspicuous; “to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins.”
Every word in the text is weighty and important. It is not enough to hear of this salvation, to read of it, to have it certified, yea, believed on, in the simple assent of the understanding only; all these are highly interesting in their way, and very valuable. But they do not come up to the statement here made. It is the knowledge of it, the full and clear conviction of it, and the living in the habitual enjoyment of it, which the words express: And this is in perfect correspondence with the great events which in the latter days were to distinguish the gospel dispensation. The Holy Ghost, by the prophet Jeremiah, declared that “the covenant in those, days made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah” should bear this mark, namely, “that they should no longer teach everyman his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, know the Lord; for (said the Lord) they shall all know me from the least of them, unto the greatest of them.” And then follows, as the assurance of this great promise, whereby the Lord would be known; “for I will forgive their iniquity, (saith the Lord), and I will remember their sin no more,” (Jer. 31:31-34). And to confirm the glorious truth yet more, what God the Holy Ghost said by the prophet in the Old Testament, he graciously declared by the apostle Paul under the New; using, the same terms as in the former; and repeating the same assurance by which the divine teaching was to be known; namely, “in the remission of sins, and the Lord’s putting them out of his remembrance for ever,” (See Heb. 8:8-12; 10:14-18).
And that no possible mistake might arise, for whom such unspeakable mercies were specially intended the text defines their persons, and their characters; namely, “his people.” “To give the knowledge of salvation unto his people.” Yes, the Lord hath a people, taken into covenant with himself in Christ. “This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise!” (Isa. 43:21). And speaking on this subject, to our most glorious Head, and Surety, Christ, the Lord saith, “I the Lord have called thee in righteousness; and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people,” (Isa. 42:6). And as if the Lord delighted that those objects and subjects of his grace should live in the enjoyment of it; in another part of the same Scripture it is added; “Therefore my people shall know my name; therefore they shall know in that day, that I am He that doth speak; behold, it is I!” (Isa. 52:6).
But the text doth not stop here. That little, but highly significant word, which is used in the close of this verse of Scripture, namely, by, seems to lay the whole stress of the joy of the Lord’s people in the knowledge of the Lord from this very cause; their enjoyment of salvation is by the conscious assurance “of the remission of their sins.” For how indeed, until this is known, received and realized in the soul; could it be said, as it is said of the church: “we also joy in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement?” (Rom. 5:11). How could Peter declare, as he doth declare, that what he and the church of God in his day had believed in, and were assured of were not “cunningly devised fables; “had they, with him, not been as he saith he was, “eye-witnesses of his majesty? “(2 Pet. 1:16). And how can the church of God now become heart witnesses of his majesty, but “by the knowledge of salvation in the remission of their sins?” Had a single doubt remained of the certainty, could Peter so confidently have spoken of his “looking for, and hasting unto, the coming of the day of God?: (2 Pet. 3:12). Could Paul, or could anyone like Paul, have said, that “the hope is blessed” which hath for its contemplation “the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;” unless like Paul, each, for himself can say, “for I know, whom I have believed; and I am persuaded, that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him, against that day?” (Titus 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:12).
Such then is the blessed doctrine contained in the words of the text: and which leads to a subject, at once beautiful and interesting. For the better apprehension of it I shall first desire to call your attention to the Scriptural statement of salvation itself, before that we enter upon that part of the subject which concerns our knowledge of it. A right apprehension of the one, under divine teaching, will best prepare for the due conception of the other; and both combined will form a very suitable subject for our present assembly. I shall then, if the Lord so please, proceed to the second branch intended herefrom, namely, that the comfort and encouragement of the Lord’s people, in the path of grace, ariseth out of this well grounded assurance of their personal interest in it; for according to the words of the text, the preaching of the gospel, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, is declared to be for the express purpose “to give the knowledge of salvation unto his people, by the remission of sins.” The Lord’s power accompany the Lord’s word, to make all his people that are here “wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
But before I enter upon the first branch of my discourse, I beg your attention to one or two particulars, for the better apprehension of it. And first, let it be thoroughly understood, that the knowledge spoken of in the text is wholly supernatural. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” (1 Cor. 2:14). Hence, there is no capability of knowing divine things but by divine teaching: for until we are brought by regeneration, or the new-birth, into spiritual life, there are no faculties to receive spiritual instruction. And this at once explains why it is, that carnal, unrenewed men know nothing of sin, or their want of salvation. For though nothing is plainer in the Scriptures of God, than the utterly lost, ruined, and undone state of all men by the fall; yet though men read it, none so believe it as to seek redemption from it, but those that are regenerated, and spiritually taught of God, (John 16:8-11).
But then let me make another observation, connected with the former; namely, though none but such as are spiritually born again, and taught of God, can obtain the knowledge stated in the text; yet as this vast blessing is wholly of God, so is it freely given to us of God. So the words express it: and so the Lord’s people know. It saith; “to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of sins.” This is a soul cheering consideration, to the humble and fearful, who feel the desire of salvation, but from a sense of unpreparedness, and unworthiness, are apprehensive they shall come short of it. But when we are so graciously told that it is given, surely, neither worthiness nor unworthiness, can have anything to do with the free grace of God. If any broken hearted sinner be here, under distressed circumstances, from such fears, the Lord I hope will drive them all away. His grace, and not our merit; his glory, and not our deservings, are the standards for the Lord’s manifestations of mercies to his people. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour,” (Titus 3:5-6).
And if I detain you one moment longer, before that we enter on the subject of the sermon, and add another observation, it is but with a view of farther encouragement to timid souls; namely, to remark, that as the new birth, or spiritual life, like salvation itself, is the sole free gift of God; so in every child of God, where it is given, it is alike given. The babe in Christ is made as truly a partaker of spiritual life in Christ, as prophets, or apostles. The different degrees of attainment in spiritual knowledge and enjoyment of spiritual things make no difference in spiritual life. “All (as the Holy Ghost states by Peter) that have obtained like precious faith, through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, are alike made partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust,” (2 Pet. 1:1-4). And most blessedly is it stated elsewhere, by another apostle: “For by one spirit are we all baptized into one body; whether we be Jews or Gentiles: whether we be bond or free: and have been all made to drink into one spirit,” (1 Cor. 12:13). The Lord enable his people to have these things in remembrance, while we now proceed to the farther prosecution of the subject, under the distinct branches proposed.
I am first to call your attention to the scriptural statement of salvation itself: which will form the proper introduction to our knowledge of it.
And I begin with observing, that all the persons in the Godhead, by covenant engagements, took equal part in it. Our most glorious Christ, by the union of the human nature, with the divine; thereby becoming the visible Jehovah, as the Executor, and Administrator of all the purposes intended in this vast accomplishment; did indeed, by his own incommunicable work, bring salvation, (Isa. 63:5); but considered in this high administration, we include, no less, all the original and everlasting decrees, among the persons in the Godhead, formed from all eternity respecting the church. The mystical body of Christ was chosen in Christ by the Father, to be “holy, and without blame before him in love, before all worlds,” (Eph. 1:4). And in like manner, the church was anointed in Christ from everlasting, by the Holy Ghost, to the same. The time-state therefore, in the fallen, degraded, and lost condition of the church from which the salvation by Christ became necessary, did not, for in fact it could not, counteract, or do away [with] the eternal purposes of God, in his trinity of persons, as concerned the church. The original design of Jehovah could never be defeated. The church was chosen in Christ, was adopted in Christ, and accepted in Christ, before there was any world; and must be found so, when all worlds will be done away. But this lapsed state, in which the church is now degraded, gave occasion for the display of the great salvation by Christ. And the Lord Jesus Christ in his own Almighty person, and by his own Almighty deeds, hath done more in the recovery of his church, than all sin hath, or could have done, in her apostasy. A few leading particulars will be sufficient in point, by way of illustration.
By the Adam-fall transgression, the church, as well as the world at large, was become guilty before God. “Sin entered into the world and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned,” (Rom. 5:12). The salvation therefore wrought by Christ was to do away sin, and make an end of it; and to destroy death, and bring life and immortality to light by his gospel. He was not only to do away [with] sin, and make an end of it, but, in the destruction of death, he was also to “destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil, and to deliver them who, through fear of death, were all their life time subject to bondage,” (Heb. 2:14). Yea, in salvation our most glorious Christ was to do more than all these. For as the church, by her fall, had lost all righteousness, he was to restore her to a better righteousness than she had lost. And thus, this one of the glorious persons in the Godhead accomplished, by assuming into union with his divine nature that holy portion of ours, (Luke 1:35); and, in the double nature as our Surety, most completely and fully wrought salvation. He put away sin “by the sacrifice of himself,” (Heb. 9:26). He conquered death by his own death, when he suffered “the just for the unjust to bring us to God,” (1 Pet. 3:18). And he brought in everlasting righteousness for his body the church, when “by the one offering of himself once offered, he perfected for ever them that are sanctified, (Heb. 10:14); and which is “to all, and upon all them that believe,” (Rom. 3:22).
But we must not stop here. It is not enough to contemplate the completeness of the mighty work; in order to have a clear conception of it, we must consider the church’s right in it, by which all Christ did, and all Christ suffered, were to all intents and purposes virtually as much hers as if done, and sustained herself in all the persons of his people. He acted as her Head and Husband, and Surety. It was not for himself, that he bore the pains of death; for “he had done no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth,” (1 Pet. 2:22). And without an eye to his church, that he came as her glorious Representative, and Sponsor, there was not a pain Christ endured, or a reproach offered to his Almighty person, but would have been not only unjust, but blasphemous. Oh! the blessedness of the prospect, when in contemplating this Almighty Sufferer, we contemplate his whole body the church in Him!
And to add one word more, on this soul refreshing subject, when we take into the view the infinite dignity of his person, and the infinite value and merit of his work—what an all sufficiency in both to comfort the most desponding mind of anyone, and of everyone, of the Lord’s people, when reeking under the deep sense of sin! All that we have lost of nature holiness in Adam is more than compensated, in spiritual holiness, in our most glorious Christ. And as the rich, the full, the all-sufficient salvation, God “manifest in the flesh” wrought in our nature for us, is so truly his own, as to be his own only; so is it so abundant, that it were high treason to the majesty of heaven, to attempt by anything of ours to add to it, or to take from it. That precious statement of God the Holy Ghost concerning his person, and concerning his salvation, stands at the very portals of every part and portion of revelation, to crown the whole. “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power,” (Col. 2:9-10).
From this view of salvation as it is in itself, and wholly found in the glorious person, and incommunicable work of our Lord Jesus Christ, I proceed now, as was proposed, under the second branch of this discourse, to show, that the very design of the preaching of the gospel, by divine teaching, is “to give the knowledge of salvation unto his people;” and that their encouragement and comfort can only be found in this knowledge, “by the remission of their sins.”
And here, without going over again what hath been before remarked, and indeed is too plain a principle of the gospel, to require a moment’s suspension for belief; it will be sufficient to say, that the very first step to the knowledge of salvation must be made, when by regeneration, or the new birth, the sinner is rendered capable, by a spiritual life, of apprehension both of his own sinfulness, and Christ’s all suitableness, and all-sufficiency. Until I am spiritually alive, I can have no spiritual desire, or action. And when the Lord hath given me these, the Lord giveth me with them also a sense of sin, and the desire of salvation. And when once a consciousness of my utterly helpless, and hopeless state, as, I am in myself, is fully revealed in my soul, then there will be an unceasing looking after Christ which nothing can satisfy, until Christ is “formed in the heart the hope of glory!” In your enquiry, therefore, for “the knowledge of salvation” make a diligent search in yourself, and your own heart, for the evidences of the new life. This blessed gift, which in every one to whom it is given, forms the beginning of a new period in a man’s history, is discoverable as a cause, (as every other cause, more, or less, is) by the effects. Every faculty of the new born soul is alive to action. The eye to see spiritually; the ear to hear spiritually: and the mind, and conscience, will be engaged in the spiritual exercise of grace, as testified by acts of “repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ!” Will you suffer me to recommend these heart-searching enquiries to your closest investigation? Hezekiah was well taught in this school. And when he had learnt, of God “to go softly all his years, in the bitterness of his soul,” as he tells us he did, he added: “O Lord! by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit!”, (See Isa. 38 throughout).
Let me call upon you to another observation. The knowledge of salvation cannot be said to, be fully attained, until that there be a revelation made in the heart, personally, and satisfactorily; that we ourselves are interested in it. In order for a clear enjoyment it is not enough simply to know these things, but “by the remission of our sins” to live upon them. When the apostle Paul would tell the church the blessedness of his own personal estate, in this particular end of his spiritual conversion towards God, he stated it thus: “When it pleased God (said Paul) who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood,” (Gal. 1:15-16). Here observe the lines of different degrees of mercy: first, the separation from the womb of his mother in nature; secondly, the call of grace, or the new birth and its consequences; thirdly, the revelation of Christ in Paul; not simply to him, but in him; lastly the effect; all conference with the flesh done away; a sweeping destruction to all self-confidence. And such is the uniform result of all the Lord’s people with whom the Lord deals, as by Paul, to reveal Christ in them.
There will be increasing views in ourselves of our own worthlessness; and increasing apprehension of the Lord’s all-sufficiency.
One word more. “The knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins” in every truly regenerated and converted heart will be, under the divine unction, one assured, fixed, and certain principle. The believing soul will live upon it as men of the world live upon their property. You never find them admitting it questionable, whether it be their own or not. And the Lord’s people are supposed to do the same. “We have redemption (said the apostle) through his blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace,” (Eph. 1:7). We have it, and we live upon it. And to this agrees the words of the promise, “Thou will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee,” (Isa. 26:3).
And now let me humbly take up the words of our most glorious Christ, and ask, “Have you understood all these things?” See then that the conviction of the infinitely precious and important points, as they concern your own personal happiness, be the result of them. And do not fail to connect in your remembrance of such soul-refreshing truths, that this knowledge of salvation, by the remission of sins, is solely the Lord’s gift and not your deserts. And the very preaching of the gospel is to give the knowledge of it unto the Lord’s people. And as, it is neither obtained by man’s merit, nor man’s attainment, so in every instance where it is given, the remission of sins is alike given. Very blessedly to this amount speaks God the Holy Ghost by John. “I write unto you little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. I write unto you fathers because you have known Him that is from the beginning. I write unto you young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one,” (1 John 2:12-13) And now what shall I add, except to close all in a prayer to God for his blesssing!
Gracious Lord I as the blessed Scripture we have been contemplating assures us that the ministry of thy Holy Word is to “give the knowledge of salvation unto thy people by the remission of their sins; vouchsafe such a divine unction may be upon thy Divine Word at this time, as shall accomplish thy sovereign will to our souls’ joy, and to thy glory. Let our little assembly be enabled, by thy grace, to have a spiritual and scriptural knowledge of this saving truth on our souls. And then shall we sing with the Spirit, and sing with the understanding also, the new song of salvation, which the redeemed of the Lord in all the churches of the Lord’s people, sing to God and to the Lamb: “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood; and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory, and dominion forever and ever, Amen!”