by John Colquhoun
"And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS; for He shall save his people from their sins." MATT. 1:21.
When Joseph, who was espoused to the mother of our Lord, had, in consequence of observing that previous to their coming together, she appeared to be with child, begun to suspect her fidelity, and to entertain thoughts of dissolving the connexion which had for some time subsisted between them; we are told, in the verse immediately preceding the text, that an angel appeared to him in a dream, and thus addressed him, "Joseph, thou Son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost;" and then he added the words which were now read, "She shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins." In which words, we have, first, a prediction of our Saviour's birth, "She shall bring forth a Son;" second, an injunction given with regard to his name, "Thou shalt call his name Jesus." Jesus, in the original language of the New Testament, is of the same import with Joshua in that of the Old, and signifies a Saviour. Thou shalt call his name Saviour, "for he shall save his people from their sins." This name is very comprehensive, and includes all the other appellations which are given to Christ in Scripture, considered as Mediator. Joshua, who was Israel's captain, at their first settlement in Canaan, and Joshua who was their high-priest, at their second settlement in it, after the Babylonian captivity, were both of them illustrious types of Jesus, who is, not only the Captain of our salvation, but the great High Priest of our profession. Lastly, we have in the words a reason assigned by the angel, for giving the incarnate Redeemer this name: "Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins." By his people, here, we are to understand those who are chosen and given to him in the everlasting covenant, in order to be saved by him from sin and wrath: "He shall save his people from their sins."
In discoursing on this subject, it is proposed, through Divine assistance, I. To point out what it is in sin from which Jesus saves his people; II. To mention some of the properties of his salvation, and III. To describe the character of his people whom he saves from sin.
I. I am first, then, to point out what it is in sin from which Jesus saves his people.
And here, in the first place, he saves them from the guilt of sin.—By the guilt of sin, is meant an obligation to suffer eternal punishment on account of sin. They whom Christ undertook to save were, on account of their breach of covenant in the first Adam, and of their other innumerable transgressions of the Divine law, condemned as well as the rest of mankind, to endure such tremendous wrath, both in soul and body, as would have rendered them inexpressibly miserable. While, therefore, they continue under the law as a covenant of works, they are necessarily under this dreadful sentence; and were they to die in that state, it would be executed upon them to the uttermost, through the revolving ages of eternity. But since they were not appointed to wrath, but to obtain salvation by the Lord Jesus Christ, he comes in the day of regenerating power, and having united them to his person, admits them to actual communion with himself, in his infinitely precious atonement. No sooner is this atonement actually imputed to them, than they are legally absolved from condemnation, according to this Divine promise, "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more," Jer. 31:34.
They are then delivered from the guilt of sin, or from their obligation to endure punishment on account of sin, and have sufficient security afforded them, that though they may often incur the guilt of fatherly displeasure, they shall never enter into condemnation, or fall under the guilt of eternal wrath.
2d, Jesus saves his people from the dominion or reigning power of sin. "He that committeth sin, is the servant of sin." God had told the first Adam, as the federal head of all his natural posterity, that in the day he ate of the forbidden fruit, he should surely die. No sooner did he eat of it than he was punished with the loss of spiritual life; or, in other words, with the loss of the original righteousness of his nature, in which the spirtual life of the soul consists. Now, the corruption of the whole nature, or the dominion of sin in the soul follows as naturally, upon the want of original righteousness, as darkness follows the setting of the sun. Those, therefore, whom God hath appointed to obtain salvation, as they were involved in the guilt of Adam's first transgression as well as others, and consequently born under the condemning power of the law, which, in this sense, is the strength of sin; so they are all born destitute of original righteousness, and subject to the dominion of sin. The condemning power of the law as a covenant, so long as they continue under it, detains them as prisoners, under the reigning power of depravity. No sooner, however, does the Lord Jesus, whose office it is to say to such prisoners, Go forth! come and admit them to communion with himself, in his surety-righteousness, than they are delivered from the condemning power of the law, and consequently, from the reigning power of sin. This infinitely glorious righteousness, as it entitles them to the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit, so it removes the curse of the law, which formerly stood in the way of those influences, and obstructed their entrance into the soul. Hence are these words of the apostle Paul: "Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace," Rom. 6:14. If believers would make more use of the righteousness of the incarnate Redeemer in their approaches to God than they do, they should find that sin would not prevail against them so much as it does.
3d, Jesus saves his people, not only from the dominion, but from the defilement or pollution of sin. As sin is infinitely opposite to the spotless holiness of God's nature, it cannot but be very impure and loathsome in his sight. Hence we read, that he is of "purer eyes than to behold evil, and that he cannot look upon iniquity." As sin is in its own nature filthy, sinners in whose heart it reigns, are represented in Scripture as altogether filthy; and therefore as such, they are utterly unqualified to enjoy communion and intercourse with an infinitely holy God. Now, in order to render his people fit to enjoy fellowship with God, since without this it is impossible that they can be either holy or happy, Christ, as the glorious dispenser of grace in the new covenant, sends his Spirit, in the day of effectual calling, as a Spirit of holiness, to cleanse them from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, according to that promise, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you." He begins thus to purify his people at their regeneration; for we read that they are "saved by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." He continues to purify them from remaining depravity, by affording them fresh supplies of the sanctifying Spirit, and by enabling them to improve his death and resurrection for that purpose; until at last he presents them to his Father without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. The fountain that is opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness, is kept continually open to them, in the offers of the Gospel; and the streams of it are appointed to follow them while they travel through this valley of tears, that they may always have an opportunity of washing away their spiritual pollution, until they come to the end of their journey.
In the last place under this head, Jesus saves his people from the very being of sin.—Though the true Christian is an heir of complete salvation, yet he is never completely saved from sin while he is in this world. Though he is transformed into the Divine image, by the renewing of his mind, there is, notwithstanding, a law in his members which wars against the law of his mind, and often brings him into captivity to the law of sin, so as to make him sometimes exclaim as the holy apostle Paul did, "Oh wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" who shall deliver me from this cruel, this deceitful enemy, which often wounds my soul, disturbs my peace, retards my progress in the spiritual life, darkens my evidences for heaven, and prevents my complete happiness? How long shall I go mourning, because of the oppression of this enemy! The Christian shall have reason thus to complain of indwelling sin, while he is in this valley of tears; and the higher the degree of holiness is to which he attains, the more sensibly he will feel it, and the more bitterly will he complain of it. The triumphing of this enemy, however, is but short; its destruction is fast approaching. Yet a little while, and Jesus will call the oppressed believer, not only to put off the tabernacle of flesh and blood, but to put off the body of sin and death, so as never to be troubled with it any more for ever. Then sinning and suffering, sorrowing and sighing, shall cease at once. When spiritual death is entirely swallowed up in victory, "the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces, and the rebuke of his people will he take away."—Thus Jesus saves his people from the guilt, the dominion, the defilement, and the very being of sin: He saves them from the guilt of sin, in justification; from the dominion of sin, in conversion; from the defilement of sin, in sanctification; and from the very being of it, in glorification.
II. Under the second general head I was to consider some of the properties of Christ's salvation.
And in the 1st place, it is a great salvation. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" The salvation of the Lord Jesus is great in its contrivance; it is the result of the counsels of infinite wisdom. It is great in itself: peace is one of the blessings of it; but "great peace have they who love God's law." The mercy which is displayed in it is great: "As the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him." Joy constitutes a part of it, but it is great joy: "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord," said the ancient church. Nay, it is unspeakably great: "Believing ye rejoice," says an apostle, "with joy unspeakable."
2d, The salvation of the Lord Jesus is a spiritual salvation.—It is a deliverance from spiritual enemies; it chiefly contains spiritual blessings; and is spiritually discerned only by those whose understandings are savingly enlightened by the Holy Spirit.
3d, It is a costly salvation.—It cost no less than the holy incarnation, the righteous life, and the satisfactory death of the Father's dearly beloved Son. There are many in the visible church whose practice demonstrates that they estimate the salvation of their souls at a very low price; and yet the Lord Jesus Christ, before he could purchase salvation to his people, was obliged to stoop to the very lowest degree of humiliation, to endure the most excruciating sufferings, and to shed the most precious blood. How deeply ought we to be ashamed before God, that we value this salvation so little, when it cost our glorious Redeemer so much!
4th, The salvation of the Lord Jesus is a free salvation.—It was purchased by Christ at a very high price; but it is given to sinners freely, without money and without price. Hence are these expressions in Scripture: "We have received the Spirit which is of God, that we may know the things that are freely given to us of God." "Whosoever will, let him come, and take the water of life freely." Nothing can be freer than a gift. A gift is usually so free, that in so far as you begin to offer anything for it, however insignificant, you destroy the very nature of it. But the blessings of salvation are expressly called gifts in Scripture: "Thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also." There is nothing that the proud sinner is more unwilling to do than to accept of salvation as an absolutely free gift: since, however, God has resolved to bestow salvation on sinners as a gift, and delights to do it freely, every sinner who is appointed to obtain it, shall, sooner or later, be made willing, cheerfully to receive it, as God's free gift to him in particular.
5th, The salvation of Christ is an undivided salvation. It is undivided in the purpose of God: Whom he predestinated, them he purposed to call; whom he calleth, them he determined to justify; and whom he justifies, them he will glorify. It is undivided in the promises of God. He promises in one place, to "put his fear in the hearts of his people;" and in another place, that to those to whom his promise begins to be fulfilled, or, to "those who fear his name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings." When one promise begins to be fulfilled, it is a certain sign, not only that the same promise shall be completely fulfilled, but that all the other promises shall be fulfilled also in due time.
6th, It is a common salvation.—"Beloved," says the apostle Jude, "when I gave all diligence to write to you of the common salvation," &c. Jude 3. This salvation is not only suited to the case of every sinner, and bestowed on some of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and languages, but wherever the light of the gospel shines, it is offered to all in common, so as to render it lawful and warrantable for any sinner of mankind to whom the gospel is preached, to receive the same. Accordingly, when Christ himself was preaching the gospel to a mingled multitude at Capernaum, he addressed them thus: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven." He does not here mean, that this true bread was given them in actual possession, else they should all have been brought into a state of salvation; but that it was granted or offered to them, in such a manner as to afford to every individual of them a right of access to it, or a right to receive it.
7th, The salvation of the Lord Jesus is a glorious salvation.—It is glorious in its design: it is to the praise of the glory of infinitely free grace. It is glorious in its own nature. When persons are made partakers of it, they are glorious within: while they behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord Jesus shining forth in it, they are changed into the same image from glory to glory. As nothing is so mean and shameful as sin, so nothing about a rational creature is so glorious as holiness. When one is exalted in Christ's salvation, the glory of this present world shrinks almost into nothing in his view; and he is disposed from his very soul to pity that man, be his wordly magnificence ever so splendid, who appears to have his portion only in this life.
In the 8th and last place, It is an everlasting salvation. "Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation." With respect to eternity past, this salvation took its rise from everlasting love. "I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee." With regard to eternity to come, though it was purchased, and is applied to sinners in time, it shall never have an end, but continue to be enjoyed by the saints, without the smallest interruption, through all eternity: Christ gives to his sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of his hand.
According to the third general head, I was to describe the character of Christ's people, whom he thus saves from their sins.
Here it might be shown, that, previous to their regeneration and actual union with him, they are sinners, as well as others, in their heart, and in their life, and they are the servants of sin; that after their regeneration, they are truly convinced of sin; that they obtain saving discoveries of the suitableness, ability, and willingness of Jesus, as a Saviour; that they cordially approve of salvation by Him; that they accept of Him as their Saviour in particular, on the ground of God's free and unlimited offer of him in his word of grace; that they trust cordially in him as their Saviour for all their salvation; that they live upon his grace, and act for his glory;—but, passing the illustration of these particulars, I shall conclude the discourse with some application.
From what has been said on the subject, we may be able to assign a reason why the Lord Jesus is so precious to them who believe: He saves them from their sins, and from all the dreadful effects of sin. Were it not for Jesus and his great salvation, instead of being at liberty to walk with God in newness of life, they should have been held under the dominion of sin, and fettered with the bands of spiritual death. Instead of having access to a reconciled God, and liberty to lift up their souls to him at the throne of grace, they should have been lifting up their despairing eyes in that place of torment where God hath forgotten to be gracious, and where his mercy is clean gone for ever. Were it not for this compassionate Saviour, there would have been no such thing as true holiness, no such blessing as communion with God since the fall, among any of the children of men.
This subject also presents us with a touch-stone for self-examination. Would we desire to know whether we be in a state of salvation or not? We have heard that Christ's salvation is undivided; that where he saves a sinner from the guilt, he also delivers him from the dominion and pollution of sin. Now, when we profess to trust in Christ for salvation, whether do we cordially trust in him for the whole of his salvation, or not? There are many who say that they trust in Jesus for salvation, and hope that all shall be well with them at last, whose habitual practice shows that they never trusted cordially in him for every part of his salvation; and, indeed, no unregenerate man can do so. There is no unconverted sinner but has some darling lust or other with which he cannot endure to part. Now, such an one may very properly be said to fear that Christ may some time or other come, and deprive him of that beloved idol; but can with no propriety be said to trust that he will do so; for this would imply a prevailing desire that it should be done; but to have a prevailing desire to retain any sin, and a prevailing desire at the same time to part with that sin, is impossible.
No man, therefore, can trust in the Lord Jesus for deliverance from every branch of indwelling sin, or, in other words, for every part of his salvation, but one who is already regenerated, and enabled by the Holy Spirit to long for deliverance from every part of the body of sin. Now, can we say in the presence of that God who knows our thoughts afar off, that in so far as we are acquainted with our own hearts, we are enabled in some measure to trust in Christ for every part of his salvation, for deliverance from the love and practice of every sin; so as to desire above all things to be sanctified wholly in spirit, soul, and body? If we can, it is a favourable sign.—When the Lord, according to his promise, sprinkles clean water on sinners, and makes them clean, or when he saves them from the pollution of sin, he informs us, that they will then loathe themselves in their own sight for their iniquities and abominations. There is some abomination or other for which the hypocrite will by no means loathe himself; some darling sin in which he would consider it a singular favour if God would allow him to continue in it with impunity. Whereas the true Christian, instead of accounting it a favour to spare any particular lust, is, on the contrary, persuaded that God does not favour him but in so far as he enables him to mortify it. "By this I know," says the holy Psalmist, "that thou favourest me, because mine enemy doth not triumph over me." Are these, then, our sentiments with respect to sin? Did we ever obtain such discoveries of the defilement of sin as to make us loathe ourselves in our own sight, not merely for this or that particular transgression, but for all our abominations, and desire above all things that God would create in us a clean heart, and renew in us a right spirit? If such be our habitual sentiments, it is an evidence that our deliverance from the dominion and pollution of sin is already begun.
From the subject already discoursed of, we may see what strong obligations you who are the heirs of Christ's salvation lie under to the love and practice of holiness. If the Lord Jesus hath done and suffered so much to save you from your sin, and to save you for this very reason that you might be holy; are not you thereby indispensably bound, in the strength of that grace which is treasured up in him, and exhibited to you in the free promise, to press toward higher degrees of holiness, in your heart and life? Hath he sent his Holy Spirit to destroy the dominion of sin in your souls? This lays you under the firmest obligation no more to serve sin; but to yield yourselves to God "as those who are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto holiness." Being thus delivered out of the hands of your spiritual enemies, you are bound to serve God in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of your life.
In conclusion: With respect to you who yet appear to be in your unregenerate state, be persuaded that while you continue strangers to Jesus Christ, and destitute of a personal interest in his salvation, you are in a lost and undone condition, sealed up under the curse of the broken law, and bound over to the insupportable wrath of an incensed and omnipotent God. Believe, not only that you are sinners, and deserve eternal condemnation; but that you are actually condemned already; and that there is no name given under heaven among men, by which you can be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ. O be concerned to obtain salvation! it is the one thing needful. If you lose your precious souls, it will be a greater loss to you than though you should lose ten thousand worlds. If God were just now to send an angel from heaven to intimate that some sinner among us was most certainly to perish in hell through all eternity, would not every one, struck with awful solemnity and dread, be ready to ask, "Lord, is it I?" How much greater reason have we to be alarmed, when we are expressly told by Him who not only will not, but cannot lie, that few shall be saved; that many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able? "Seek ye the Lord, therefore, while he is to be found, and call ye upon him while he is near." The Lord Jesus Christ is constituted the great ordinance of Heaven for the salvation of lost sinners of mankind; and as sustaining this gracious character, God the Father, with the infinite approbation of the Holy Spirit, makes a free grant or offer of him as a Saviour to you, and to every lost sinner who reads or hears the gospel. "I have given thee, saith Jehovah, for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; that thou mightest be my salvation unto the end of the earth." "God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life." Come, then, men and brethren, and accept of him as the Father's unspeakable gift to you. Pray frequently and fervently for the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; and for the spirit of faith, to enable you to receive the Divine testimony concerning Him, and to trust cordially in Him for the whole of his salvation; for holiness as well as happiness, for grace as well as glory. Thus shall you receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of your salvation. "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and the chief of sinners."