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By legality I mean cleaving to the law; or, "going about to establish our own righteousness," by the deeds of the law, or our good works. When God made man at first, he made a covenant of works with him. If he obeyed the will of God perfectly, he was to live; but if he failed in a single instance, he was to die. He did fail, and therefore could never obtain life by his own righteousness. God was pleased to save him by grace, and not by works. In like manner the Scriptures assure us, that by grace alone are we saved through faith, and not by any works of righteousness which we have done. But till we are taught of God, we are all apt to think that we can save ourselves, wholly or partly, by our own doings. The poor jailer was of this mind, and therefore asks, " What must I do to be saved?" He thought it must be by doing something that he must obtain the pardon of his sins and eternal life; but he was soon better informed by the ministers of the gospel.
Finally, I consider this question as the language of Submission. Poor man! his heart was alarmed with fear and humbled for sin. He saw nothing but eternal destruction before him, and would give all the world to avoid it: and therefore he cries, What shall I do? As if he had said, show me my duty, and let it be ever so hard and difficult, I am ready to do it. 1 would go through fire or water, so that my precious soul may be saved. And is it so with you? Are you willing to part with your sins? Depend upon it you are not in the way to salvation, till you are willing to part with all for Christ: and if you are, how gladly will you hear of the true way to salvation, as declared by these inspired servants of our Lord! This is contained in the second part of our subject; or,
II. The gospel answer, given to the jailer's question. This short and plain answer is the only true one that can be given to the important inquiry; and it is of vast importance that a convinced soul be led in the right way. I am afraid that some men, some ministers, would not have given this answer, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. I am afraid, that, if a person, under that sense of sin which 1 have described, were to go to an ignorant teacher and say, O, sir, what must I do to be saved? he would give different advice. He would say, " I hope you have done nothing very bad. You have not killed any body. You have not robbed any body. You are no worse than your neighbours. I would have you lay aside such gloomy notions. Go into company, and be amused. Continue to do your duty, and you need not fear. But be sure you do not go among the enthusiasts; they will drive you mad." But you may learn from the text, that it is no madness to be concerned for the salvation of our souls, nor to be earnest in learning how we must be saved. The jailer never acted a more rational part, nor asked a wiser question, than in this instance. They are the madmen, who sell their souls for the shortlived pleasures of sin. You may also learn from this passage, ivho are the true ministers of Christ; they are those who preach him, and direct you to flee to him for salvation. Now all these, with one accord, in all countries, and of all parties, will unite and say, " Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ."
And here you may observe, how false that notion is which some people maintain of zealous ministers; namely, that they preach nothing but damnation; whereas the subject of what we preach is salvation. If we say any thing of damnation, it is that you may avoid it, and flee to Christ, as the deliverer from it. There is no need for the vilest sinner to despair. St. Paul said to the jailer, though he had been a very bad man, " Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." The gospel is rjood news, my friends; it publishes a free, full, everlasting salvation to the chief of sinners.
Observe, Who it is that St. Paul introduces to the notice of this distressed man. It is the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the Lord, The Maker of heaven and earth, Colos. i. 16;—"The Lord of all," Acts x. 36,—who came down from heaven. The " Son of God," who became "the Son of Man," that we, the children of men, might become the sons of God. His name is called Jesus, which signifies a Saviour; and he was so called, because "he came to save us from our sins," Matt. i. 21. Yes, this is, indeed, a " faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus came into the world to save sinners." He is also called Christ, or the Messiah, long promised to, and long expected by, the Jews; and it signifies the Anointed, which implies that he was every way qualified for the work of salvation, and appointed to it. This, then, is the glorious person to whom a sinner is directed to look for salvation. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. He exhorts him to believe. What is it to believe on him? I answer, it is to believe all that God says in the gospel concerning him, so as to look to him alone for salvation. Faith is explained by coming to Christ; it is the application of the mind to him for relief. It is called receiving Christ; the soul accepts him as held forth in the gospel, in all his saving characters and offices. It is a committing the soul to him, believing that there is salvation in him, and in no other, and humbly relying on his love and faithfulness, to preserve it unto eternal salvation.
Observe farther, the comfortable assurance that is here given to the distressed jailer. Thou shall be saved. Salvation was what he longed for. He wanted to know the way of it. He is directed to Jesus as the Saviour, and to believe on him as the means of being saved by him, and in so doing, he is assured that salvation shall be his. Blessed be God for many precious promises to this purpose in his word! Hear what Jesus Christ himself saith, John iii. 36, " He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life." And in another place, John vi. 40, " This is the will of him that sent me, that every one that seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life."
And now, my friends, let me ask you, Are you concerned about your souls? Were you ever brought, like the jailer, to ask, each for himself, with seriousness, with sincerity, with earnestness of soul, What must 1 do to be saved? Are you not a sinner? Are you not a dying sinner? Must you not soon appear before your Judge? What, then, will you plead? Are you prepared for the solemn trial? O, consider these things! Trifle no longer with your souls! Eternity is at hand: Heaven, or hell, will soon be your portion. And can you be unconcerned? Be assured that serious consideration, and deep conviction, are absolutely necessary. There can be no real religion without these. If you never felt a concern for the salvation of your soul—if you never felt a desire to know how you must be saved, you are yet a stranger to any true religion. You are a Christian only in name. You are far from God, and in a most dangerous condition. O then look up to God for the teaching of his Spirit! beg him to take away your heart of stone, and to make you truly desirous of his salvation.
If, however, you are concerned about your soul; if you are really saying—What must I do to be saved? then I ask, Which way are you looking for help? If you would gladly be delivered from the wrath to come, what course do you design to take? Are you saying, "I must repent and reform?" It is true; and so you must. But do you think that repentance, or reformation, is sufficient to save your soul? No; Jesus Christ is the only Saviour. The apostle directed sinners to believe in him. That is your first business. Pray for faith. It is the gift of God; and he will give it you, if you will ask him. And if you truly believe, repentance and reformation will surely follow, together with all good works, "by which a true faith is as certainly known as a tree is known by its fruits." How soon did the jailer prove the truth of his faith in this manner? He showed the utmost readiness to hear the gospel preached by the ministers of Christ: and he joined to works of piety, those of charity; "he took Paul and Silas, the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes;" he also took upon himself the full possession of this new and despised religion, by being baptized, and so separating himself from all his heathen neighbours. Thus let us immediately separate ourselves from the vain world, and boldly confess to whom we belong; while we show the strongest affection to the ministers and people of God.