Sermon Forest Fold Baptist Chapel
P M. Rowell December 30,1990
‘Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.
for if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and
disobedience received a just recompense of reward;
How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;
God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?” Hebrews 2.1-4.
We shall be thinking especially of the first phrase in verse 3, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?”
There are four things to which I want to direct your attention:
1.The greatness of this great salvation. .
2.How sadly we may neglect it. .
3.The sinfulness of that neglect. .
4.The consequences of that neglect.
It may sound negative as I just give you the headings, but I hope that in the course of what I say, I may be able, by God’s grace, to be positive as well as negative. How shall we escape? There is a negative note about this. “If we neglect so great salvation,” but there is an implied positive teaching also, because the purpose of the Apostle in saying this is both to alarm and to warn us and then to turn us in the right direction. The positive side to the text is this, that we do not neglect so great salvation, and that we do in fact escape the sad consequences that follow from a neglect of that salvation.
1. The greatness of this great salvation.
It must indeed be a great salvation because it meant that His own dear Son must come from heaven; it meant that the Lord Jesus Christ must come into this world; it meant that He must suffer, bleed, and die upon the Cross of Calvary; it meant that this salvation would cost Him His life.
If you find that the greatness of this salvation seems to be fading from your mind, thoughts, and prayers, then I would urge you again to think over what it cost; the cost of this great salvation. Think over he way in which the Holy One of God, the Lord Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father was willing to lay down His life. Think again of the cost to Him in His own personal suffering, His own personal pain and grief, as well as the physical agony of crucifixion. Think over again the way in which “He sweat as it were great drops of blood ailing to the ground” as He wrestled with His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. Think over again the cry of dereliction, as we call it, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken Me?”
If you had lost a son, as we have lost a son, there are some things that you would never, never forget. I am sure that is true. For those of you who have lost loved ones, there are some things you will never ever forget. You will never live in perpetual neglect of those you have loved so deeply; not that you can do anything now except remember, but you do remember. You remember what they were, what they did, what they said, what they were like. There is a special place in your memory, and you would feel ashamed if those you had so deeply loved were forgotten. Why are we not more ashamed that we so often forget the cost of so great salvation?
Well, I can do little more than give you a few headings on this first point.
It is great because it is the outworking of the divine purpose. It was always God’s purpose to save, and the greatness of that salvation is to be seen in this, that it was the eternal purpose of God. It is not something which God did in reaction to man’s sin. It is not something, as it were, forced upon God by man’s situation. It is something that is ever in the heart and purpose of God from all eternity; to save His people from their sins. It is great then, because it is a divine plan and a divine purpose.
It is great because it is wrought out, it is worked out, in all its details by the Lord Jesus Christ. It is great because there is no-one who has ever lived, or who ever will live, so great as He; no-one so pure, so holy. He is the perfectly holy, pure and righteous One, and it is He and He alone who can, and who has worked out that great salvation.
Thirdly, it is a great salvation because it is a salvation from the dire consequences of sin, and that is something again, that I fear we do not think about often enough, and we do not feel sufficiently deeply about. We do tend to think about some of the consequences in this life. If we knew in our hearts that we were guilty of some particular sin, and we felt very ashamed about it, we should face some of the consequences in this life fearing that we might be found out. But I am not talking about those consequences; I am talking about the consequences beyond this life, the ultimate consequences.
I really do feel afraid that, in these days, many people have lost, altogether lost, the Biblical sense and the Biblical teaching regarding the dire consequences of sinning. It is not just a temporary failure; it is not just a passing difficulty in our lives; it is not just something that is quickly forgotten; it is not something we can put right by some kind of future promise to be good. It is something which has a consequence regarding our standing before God. It is the way God sees us which is the important thing. The dire consequence of sinning is the eternal condemnation of a Holy God. God, because He is God, and God because He is the Holy One must, and will condemn to eternal punishment those who are sinners, unless there is so great salvation, and unless we know, and experience, and possess for ourselves this great salvation. There is no alternative.
It is a great salvation because it is a deliverance from what the Bible describes as an eternal death. That is not annihilation; not an eternal nothingness. It is an eternal death, and by death, the Bible understands an eternal separation from God, from goodness, from life, from holiness, from purity, from joy, from comfort, from peace. The dire consequence of our sin is that kind of separation from God for all eternity.
It is “so great salvation” because it has such glorious consequences. Those who are saved by God’s grace and brought into the experience of this salvation possess what Jesus described as eternal life. He said. “I give unto them (my sheep) eternal life; and they shall never perish” (John 10.28). You see the positive and the negative side of His words. There are those who perish, but He says, ‘My sheep shall never perish.” The dire consequences on the one hand, and the great and glorious blessing on the other hand.
The events in the Persian Gulf area seem a long way away. I wonder how you would feel if you had just received your call-up papers. To my mind, it is almost like going back to my childhood. I just about remember that happening to my father’s friends. How would you feel? How would you feel if you knew you were facing weapons of modern mass destruction? How would you feel if you knew you were facing the possibility of being involved in that kind of tremendous devastation? You might think in your own heart, “I might not escape; I might not come home; I might not live.” But then, you say, “It is a long way away, half way round the world almost. We are sorry about those who have gone, but we are all right.” Is that our attitude? If that is our attitude, we are neglecting serious questions. I believe events like this are allowed to happen in he world between nations, and it is like a voice from God. It is God saying, “Now think carefully, think seriously, life is not for ever. Life is not just a happy dream. There are serious things to be thinking over, serious things to consider.” “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?”
2. How do we neglect so great salvation?
I will tell you how some have neglected it. They have heard a sermon like this, and they have gone out of the doors of the building in which they have heard it, and they have never thought another thing about it. It has gone from their mind just like a morning cloud. That is how some people neglect these things. Isaiah said of the Lord Jesus, “He is despised and rejected of men” (Isaiah 53.3). That is how many neglect this salvation. They hear of Jesus, they hear of His work on the cross; they know the theory in their mind of sin and salvation. I have not told you anything new tonight, have I? You know all these things. You have heard them from my lips and from the lips of many others many times before. It is a very sad thing if our hearts are so hard, and our attitude is so hardened, that we just go straight away and forget all that we have heard, and back to our old way of life, back to our old way of sinning, back to our old hardness of heart. We have hard hearts and that is why so many neglect so great salvation.
So few people see this as the priority; the priority. Now, there are many important things which the Bible speaks about. Caring for others, concern for others, relieving the needs of others; these are very important things in the Bible. But if a man gains the whole world and loses his own soul, what will it profit him? What good will it do? You may spend your life working yourself to the bone to help others, to relieve need, to relieve distress, and then lose your own soul in the end. That is why I say we may neglect so great salvation because this consideration is not a priority with us. I fear that that is generally true in England today. These things are not a priority, even among those who are claiming to be followers of Jesus Christ. But they are a priority as far as the Bible is concerned. They are a priority as far as the person and work of Jesus Christ is concerned.
Think of the number of times you read about why Jesus came into his world. Was it to make it an easier place to live in? Do you think the world has been an easier place to live in since Jesus came and died on the cross of Calvary? It was not easy for Him, was it? All the way through His life it was not easy. It was not easy for His disciples was it? Most of them died a martyr’s death. He did not come to make this world an easier place to live in. He came to save His people from their sins. We neglect so great salvation if we do not see it in the light in which heaven views the coming of the Lord Jesus; if we do not see it in the light in which God the Father views the coming of His own dear Son. “Thou art my Son,” He says, “this day have I begotten thee? … I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?” (Heb. 1.5). This is the One who is come. We neglect so great salvation if these things are not a priority, the priority in our lives.
Now, if these things are the priority in our lives, those other things will flow from this priority, so I am not denying that there is a Biblical doctrine of concern and compassion and so on. What I am trying to emphasize is that this concern and this way of life flows from this great priority. Until matters are right between your soul and God, nothing else will be right in your life. That is not just rhetorical emphasis; absolutely nothing else will be right in your life until that is right.
These words were spoken to people who had made a confession of the name of Jesus Christ, they were Christians; at least that is what they said they were. Paul is writing to them as those who profess to be Christians. He is saying to them, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?”
How do Christians neglect so great salvation? Well, I think there are two very obvious ways. Carelessness and prayerlessness seem to me to sum up the way so many neglect so great salvation. Carelessness and prayerlessness. I hope what I say today might stir your hearts so that the next year will be a year of greater spiritual carefulness, and greater spiritual prayerfulness. How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?
I picked up a book this week by Murdoch Campbell, a Scottish minister. It is a book of short experiences of Christians in the Highlands, especially at the time of spiritual revival and blessing in that area. The thing which impressed me was the intense seriousness in which they viewed spiritual things. Were they forgiven? Were they really the children of God? Had they really been saved by God’s grace? Was their Christianity a genuine work of the Spirit of God? Questions like that really pressed home upon their consciences and they could not get an easy answer, and they were determined to have an answer from God. They needed something that was secure, definite, real in their lives. I wonder sometimes whether we are just that bit too casual, whether it is just that little bit too easy. I know it is not with some, and I do not want to distress anybody unnecessarily, and I know something of the anguish that people can go through with these questions.
I was impressed again recently by remembering how the first part of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progess ends. Children’s stories usually end like this, “And they lived happily ever after.” Now, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress does not end like that. Let me read to you just a little from the end of that first part, the experience of Christian. He had met with Hopeful and they had talked with a man whose name was Ignorance. Now, Ignorance had many religious notions; he was not totally ignorant. He knew about the Bible; he knew about sin and salvation, and he knew about heaven and hell and so on, and he comes right up to the very gate of the Celestial City. This is what Bunyan says. “Now, while I was gazing upon all these things, I turned my head to look back, and saw Ignorance come up to the River side; but he soon got over, and that without half the difficulty which the other two men met with. For it happened that there was then in that place a man whose name was Vain-Hope, a ferry man, that with his boat helped him over: so he, as the other I saw, did ascend the Hill to come up to the Gate, only he came alone; neither did any meet him with the least encouragement. When he was come up to the gate, he looked at the writing that was above, and then began to knock, supposing that entrance should have been quickly administered to him: But he was asked by the men who looked over he top of the gate, Whence come you? And what would you have? He answered, I have ate and drank in the presence of the King, and he has taught in our streets. Then they asked him for his certificate, that they might go in and show it to the King; so he fumbled in his bosom for one, and found none. Then said they, Have you none? But the man answered never a word. So they told the King, but he would not come down to see him, but commanded the two Shining Ones that conducted Christian and Hopeful to the City, to go out and take Ignorance and bind him hand and foot, and have him away. Then they took him up, and carried him through the air to the door that I saw in the side of the hill, and put him in there. Then I saw that there was a way to hell even from the gates of heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction. So I awoke, and behold it was a dream.”
Now friends, that is how it ends. Happily ever after, is it? Oh no, it is not happily ever after. If you live in the neglect of so great salvation, you will be like Ignorance; you will come up to the gate of he Celestial City and you will have no certificate. There will be no way in, and there is a gate, even a door to Hell from that place. How shall we escape? Now friends, that is the danger, not only of ignorance, but of what we call presumption, making this rash assumption that everything is all right when it is not. How shall we escape? If you are living in the neglect of so great salvation, do not be saying to yourself that it will be all right at the end because it will not be. Friends, I must be honest with you; it will not be all right at the end. It cannot be all right at the end, because the very voice of God has said, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?”
3. The sin of this neglect.
This neglect is most offensive to the Father in heaven, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Have you ever had this experience? There is something that interests you personally, very deeply; you are very concerned about it. Your thoughts are often revolving around it, and you speak to one of your friends and you say something about this particular matter that is of a great concern to you, and they just yawn. How would you feel? Would you not feel offended? Would you not feel grieved? Would you not be saying to yourself, Why are they not interested? What is the matter with them? This is so important; it is so important that I just cannot understand why they behave like they do; that would be our natural human reaction, would it not? Now, if that is a natural, human reaction, what is going to be the divine reaction to people who just treat the very thing that is at the centre of the Father’s purpose with neglect? If we treat His own dear Son, the One who is the very centre of His affection with neglect, how shall we escape? Oh, it is most offensive to God the Father because we are despising His Son.
Secondly, it is most offensive to God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, because we are despising Him, His words, and His Gospel. How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, because in doing so, we shall be neglecting so great a Saviour. The Saviour and His salvation go together. How shall we escape? If the great Saviour is offended by our neglect, how could we possibly escape?
4. The consequences of this neglect.
How do we see the consequences of this neglect? Well, at first, you do not, you do not see anything; nobody sees anything. It just goes on secretly. When it is the neglect of those who profess to be Christian people, those who have a place in a Christian Church; those who are recognized as members of the Church, very often that neglect goes on unrecognized for a long time. It may be that it is not even recognized by the person concerned initially. Have you not been bought up suddenly with a start, and you have had to say to yourself, “Where have I got to, where have I got to? Whatever has been happening in my life, that I should have got into this state?” You are brought up with a sudden alarm. “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?”
You feel an increasing spiritual weakness. What do I mean by an increasing spiritual weakness? Your prayers are weak. Your feelings are weak. Your reactions to God’s Word are weak. Your reactions to the ministry are weak. There is a gradual weakening. I could not help thinking this morning of that little illustration I gave you of the children’s balloon. You know, when a balloon is blown up, it is tight, it is shiny, there is something attractive about it. Let the air gradually seep out of that balloon, and it becomes a limp, objectionable sort of thing, a useless thing; not even to give pleasure to children. I think my spiritual life sometimes is like that; it is like a limp, miserable thing that is useless. How shall we escape? We cannot escape the consequences of our neglect here in this life. As Christian believers, or at least, as professing to be Christian believers, we cannot escape the consequences in this life. We shall find there is increasing spiritual weakness, and with it, there is increasing spiritual uselessness.
We are less useful if we neglect so great salvation. The Apostle Paul said, “The love of Christ constraineth us” (2Cor 5.14). Now, if your spiritual life is weak, and you are living in neglect of so great salvation, your love is going to be weak, and it will not be constraining you, and so you are less and less really spiritually useful.
For a while, you might not realize this, but also something else is happening; you are knowing less and less of real spiritual comfort and joy. The comfort of the Holy Ghost is the comfort of God’s people. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter and He brings that sense of comfort and encouragement and strength into the heart of the true believer; but if we live in neglect of so great salvation, then we shall lose our comfort and our joy.
Something else always happens eventually; we become less consistent in our Christian life. If we live in neglect of this great salvation, what inevitably happens is that we become more hardened towards sins. Maybe one sin for one person, and another for another, but there is something, or some group of things in your life which at one time you would have rejected completely, but they have crept back into your life. How shall we escape? We shall never escape the consequences of this neglect of so great salvation. This is one of the sad and very dangerous consequences, that we become less consistent, less consistently holy and sin-hating. How shall we escape? One of the awful things that can happen along that pathway is that you sink into some scandalous sin, and you bring shame and reproach upon your own name and your reputation and your family and your church. Oh friends, I am not talking about theories tonight. I am talking about real spiritual danger. How shall we escape? David did not. I trace that back to spiritual neglect. I do not need to go into detail, you can read it for yourself. How shall we escape?
You might turn to the First Epistle to Timothy chapter 1. I will read verse 18 with verse 19. “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience;” now there is a man described, “Holding faith and good conscience.” He is not neglecting so great salvation; he is holding the faith. He is holding to Christ, and to Christ alone. He has a good conscience. He has not sunk into some scandalous sin. He has not entertained these inconsistencies in his life. He is holding faith and a good conscience. Then the Apostle says, “which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck.” Consider these words, “We ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” (Heb. 2.1). The meaning there could be that we drift past the harbour. What happens then? We make shipwreck. Paul goes on in chapter 1 in 1 Timothy: in the last verse he says, “Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.” Now, they were not just people out of the world; they were not people that he went and picked out of the gutter. They were church members. They were people who had made a confession of the name of Christ. Something had happened in their lives; they had made shipwreck. They had let the faith slip. They had let this concern about a good conscience slip; they had made shipwreck. Even the Apostle Paul, having preached to others, says in 1 Corinthians 9.27, he is deeply concerned that he should not be a castaway, that he should not come under divine condemnation. Oh, how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?
Let me close with one last warning. Friends, if our souls are lost, all is lost, and the neglect of so great salvation leads on to the loss of the soul. “For what is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matt 16.26). Are you in the process of losing your own soul? You are, if you are living in the neglect of so great salvation. You have no one else to blame. You will not be able to point a finger at anyone else. If you are living in the neglect of so great salvation, in the end, you will lose everything, as you lose your own soul. You will make no accusations about anyone else. When the Judgement day comes, there will be no arguing with the Judge.
“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” God forbid that we should neglect so great salvation. Amen.
*The second of two sermons. The first appeared in Gospel Tidings Vol. 13 No. 2, page 65.