WHAT THINK YE OF CHRIST
Extracts from a sermon by George Whitefield on Matthew 22.42.
Bear with me a little, whilst, to inform your consciences, I ask you a few questions concerning Jesus Christ: for there is no other name given under heaven whereby we can be saved, but His.
1. What think you about the person of Christ? “Whose Son is he?”
This is the question our Lord put to the Pharisees in the words following the text; and never was it more necessary to repeat this question than in these last days. For numbers that are called after the name of Christ, and, I fear, many that pretend to preach Him, are so far advanced in the blasphemer’s chair, as openly to deny His being really, truly, and properly God. But no one that ever was partaker of His Spirit, will speak thus lightly of Him. No, if they be asked, as Peter and his brethren were, “But whom say ye that I am?” they will reply without hesitation, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the ever-living God.” For the confession of our Lord’s divinity, is the rock upon which He builds His church. Were it possible to take this away, the gates of hell would quickly prevail against it. My brethren, if Jesus Christ be not very God of very God, I would never preach the gospel of Christ again: for it would not be gospel; it would be only a system of moral ethics; Seneca, Cicero, or my of the Gentile philosophers, would be as good a Saviour as Jesus of Nazareth. It is the divinity of our Lord that gives a sanction to His death, and makes Him such a high priest as became us, one who, by the infinite merits of His suffering, could make a full, perfect, sufficient sacrifice, satisfaction, and oblation, to infinitely offended
justice. And whatsoever minister of the church of England makes use of her forms, and eats of her bread, and yet holds not this doctrine, (as I fear too many such are crept in amongst us), such a one belongs only to the synagogue of Satan. He is not a child or minister of God: no, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing; he is a child and minister of that wicked one the devil.
Many will think these hard sayings: but I think it no breach of charity to affirm, that an Arian or Socinian cannot be a Christian. The one would make us believe Jesus Christ is only a created God, which is a self-contradiction: and the other would have us look on Him only as a good man; and instead of owning His death to be an atonement for the sins of the world, would persuade us, that Christ died only to seal the truth of His doctrine with His blood. But if Jesus Christ be no more than a mere man, if He be not truly God, He was the vilest sinner that ever appeared in the world: for He accepted of divine adoration from the man who had been born blind, as we read John 9.38, “And he said, Lord, I believe; and worshipped him.” Besides, if Christ be not properly God, our faith is vain, we are yet in our sins: for no created being, though of the highest order, could possibly merit any thing at God’s hands. It was our Lord’s divinity, that alone qualified Him to take away the sins of he world; and therefore we hear John pronouncing so positively, that the Word (Jesus Christ) was not only with God, but was God. For the like reason, Paul says that He was in the form of God; that in him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. Nay, Jesus Christ assumed the title which God gave to Himself when He sent Moses to deliver His people Israel: “Before Abraham was, I AM.” And again, ‘I and my Father are one.” Which last words, though our modern infidels would evade and wrest, as they do other scriptures, to their own damnation, yet it is evident that the Jews understood our Lord when He spake thus, as making Himself equal with God; otherwise, why did they stone Him as a blasphemer? And now, why should it be thought a breach of charity, to affirm that those who deny the divinity of Jesus Christ in the strictest sense of the word, cannot be Christians? For they are greater infidels than the devils themselves, who confessed that they knew who He was, “even the Holy One of God.” They not only believe, but, which is more than the believers of this generation do, they tremble. And was it possible for arch-heretics to be released from their chains of darkness, under which unless they altered their principles before they died) they are now deserved to the judgement of the great day, I am persuaded they would inform us, how hell had convinced them of the divinity of Jesus Christ, and that they would advise their followers to abhor their principles, lest they should come into the same place, and hereby increase each other’s torments.
2. What think you of the manhood or incarnation of Jesus Christ?
For Christ was not only God, He was God and man in one person. Thus run the text and context, “When the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David. How then, (says our divine Master), does David in spirit call him Lord?” From which passage it is evident, that we do not think rightly of the person of Jesus Christ, unless we believe Him to be perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
For it is on this account that He is called Christ, or the anointed one, who through His own voluntary offer was set apart by the Father, and strengthened and qualified by the anointing or communication of the Holy Ghost, to be a mediator between Him and offending man.
The reason why the Son of God took upon Him our nature, was the fall of our first parents. I hope there is no one present so atheistical, as to think that man made himself: no, it was God that made us, and not we ourselves. And I would willingly think that no person is so blasphemous as to suppose, that if God did make us, He made us such creatures as we now find ourselves to be: for this would be giving God’s word the lie, which tells us, that, “in the image of God (not in the image which we now bear on our souls) made he man.” As God made man, so God made him perfect. He placed him in the garden of Eden, and condescended to enter into a covenant with him, promising him eternal life, upon condition of unsinning obedience; and threatening eternal death, if he broke His law, and did eat the forbidden fruit.
Man did eat; and herein acting as our representative, thereby involved both himself and us in that curse, which God, the righteous Judge, had said should be the consequence of his disobedience. But here begins that mystery of godliness. God manifested in the flesh. For (sing, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth!) the eternal Father, foreseeing how Satan would bruise the heel of man, had in his eternal counsel provided a means whereby He might bruise that accursed serpent’s head. Man is permitted to fall, and become subject to death; but Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of light, very God of very God, offers to die to make an atonement for his transgression, and to fulfil all righteousness in his stead. And because it was impossible for Him to do this as he was God, and yet since man had offended, it was necessary it should be done in the person of man; rather than we should perish, this everlasting God, this Prince of peace, this Ancient of days, in the fulness of time, had a body prepared for Him by the Holy Ghost, and became an infant. In this body He formed a complete obedience to the law of God; whereby He in our stead
fulfilled the covenant of works, and at last became subject to death;
even death upon the cross; that as God he might satisfy, as man He might obey and suffer; and being God and man in one person, might once more procure a union between God and our souls.
And now, what think you of this love of Christ? Do not you think it was wondrously great? especially when you consider, that we were Christ’s bitter enemies, and that He would have been infinitely happy in Himself, notwithstanding we had perished for ever. Whatever you may think of it, I know the blessed angels, who are not so much concerned in this mystery of godliness as we, think most highly of it. They will desire to look into, and admire it, through all eternity. Why, why, O ye sinners, will you not think of this love of Christ? Surely it must melt down the most hardened heart. Whilst I am speaking, the thought of this infinite and condescending love fires and warms my soul. I could dwell on it for ever. But it is expedient for you, that I should ask you another question concerning Jesus Christ.
3. What think you about being justified by Christ?
I believe I can answer for some of you: for many, I fear, think to be justified, or looked upon as righteous in God’s sight, without Jesus Christ. But such will find themselves dreadfully mistaken: for out of Christ, “God is a consuming fire.” Others satisfy themselves with believing that Christ was God and man, and that He came into the world to save sinners in general: whereas, their chief concern ought to be, how they may be assured that Jesus Christ came into the world to save them in particular. “The life that I now live in the Flesh, (says the apostle), is by faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Observe, for me: it is this immediate application of Jesus Christ to our own hearts, that renders His merits effectual to our eternal salvation. An unapplied Christ will do us no service at all. Others there are, who go still farther; for they think that Jesus Christ is God-man: that He is to be applied to their hearts; and that they can be justified in God’s sight, only in or through Him: but then they make Him only in part a Saviour: they are for doing what they can themselves, and then Jesus Christ is to make up the deficiencies of their righteousness.
This is the sum and substance of our modern divinity. And was it possible for me to know the thoughts of most that hear me this day, I believe they would tell me, this was the scheme they had laid, and perhaps depended on for some years, for their eternal salvation. Is it not then high time, my brethren, for you to entertain quite different thoughts concerning justification by Jesus Christ? for if you think thus, you are in the case of those unhappy Jews, who went about to establish their own righteousness, and would not submit to, and consequently missed of, that righteousness, which is of God by faith
in Christ Jesus our Lord. What think you then, if I tell you that you are to be justified freely through faith in Jesus Christ, without any regard to any work or fitness foreseen in us at all? For salvation is the free gift of God. I know no fitness in man, but a fitness to be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone for ever. Our righteousnesses, in God’s sight, are but as filthy rags. Our holiness, if we have any, is not the cause, but the effect, of our justification in God’s sight. “We love God, because he first loved us.” We must not come to God as the proud Pharisee did, bringing as it were a reckoning of our services; we must come in the temper and language of the poor publican, smiting upon our breasts, and saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner:” for Jesus Christ justifies us whilst we are ungodly. He came not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. The poor in spirit only, they who are willing to go out of themselves, and rely wholly on the righteousness of another, are so blessed as to be members of His kingdom. The righteousness, the whole righteousness of Jesus Christ, is to be imputed to us, instead of our own: “For we are not under the law, but under grace: and to as many as walk after this rule, peace be on them:” for they, and they only, are the true Israel of God. In the great work of man’s redemption, boasting is entirely excluded; which could not be, if only one of our works were to be joined with the merits of Christ.
Our salvation is all of God, from the beginning to the end: it is not of works, lest any man should boast; man has no hand in it: it is Christ who is to be made to us, of God the Father, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and eternal redemption. His active as well as His passive obedience, is to be applied to poor sinners. He has fulfilled all righteousness in our stead, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. All we have to do is, to lay hold on this righteousness by faith; and the very moment we do apprehend it by a lively faith, that very moment we may be assured that the blood of Jesus Christ has cleansed us from all sin: for the promise is to us and to our children, and to as many as the Lord our God call. If we and our whole houses believe, we shall be saved as well as the jailor and his house; for the righteousness of Jesus Christ is an everlasting, as well as a perfect righteousness. It is as effectual to all who believe in Him now, as formerly; and so it will be, till time shall be no more.
Search the scriptures, as the Bereans did, and see whether these things are not so. Search Paul’s epistles to the Romans and Galatians, and there you will find this doctrine so plainly taught you, that, unless you have eyes and see not, he that runs may read. Search the eleventh article of the church of England: “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merits of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works or deservings.”
This doctrine and our free justification by faith in Christ Jesus, however censured and evil spoken of by our present masters in Israel, was highly esteemed by our wise forefathers; for in the subsequent words of the forementioned article, it is called a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort: and so it is to all that are weary and heavy laden, and are truly willing to find rest in Jesus Christ.
This is gospel, this is glad tidings of great joy to all that feel themselves poor, lost, undone, damned sinners. Ho, every one that thirsteth, come unto the waters of life, and drink freely; come and buy, without money and without price. Behold a fountain opened in your Saviour’s side, for sin and for all uncleanness. “Look unto him whom you have pierced:” look unto Him by faith, and verily you shall be saved, though you came here only to ridicule and blaspheme, and never thought of God or of Christ before.
Not that you must think God will save you because, or on account of, your faith; for then faith is a work, and you would be justified for your works: but when I tell you, we are to be justified by faith, I mean that faith is the instrument whereby; the sinner applies or brings home the redemption of Jesus Christ to his heart. And to whomsoever God gives such a faith, (for it is the free gift of God), he may lift up his head with boldness, he need not fear; he is a spiritual son of our spiritual David; he is passed from death to life, he shall never come into condemnation. This is the gospel which we preach. If any man or angel preach any other gospel than this, of our being freely justified through faith in Christ Jesus, we have the authority of the greatest apostle, to pronounce him accursed.
And now, my brethren, what think you of this foolishness of preaching? To you that have tasted the good word of life, who have been enlightened to see the riches of God’s free grace in Christ Jesus, I am persuaded it is precious, and has distilled like the dew into your souls. And Oh that all were like-minded! But I am afraid, numbers are ready to go away contradicting and blaspheming. Tell me, are there not many of you saying within yourselves, “This is a licentious doctrine; this preacher is opening a door for encouragement in sin.” But this does not surprise me at all, it is a stale, antiquated objection, as old as the doctrine of justification itself; and (which, by the way, is not much to the credit of those who urge it now) it was made by an infidel. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, after he had, in the first five chapters, demonstrably proved the doctrine of justification by faith alone; in the sixth, brings in an unbeliever, saying, “Shall we continue in sin then, that grace may abound?” But as he rejected such an interference with a “God forbid!” so do I: for the faith which we preach, is not a dead speculative faith, an assenting to things credible, as credible, as it is
commonly defined: it is not a faith of the head only, but a faith of the heart. It is a living principle wrought in the soul, by the Spirit of the ever-living God, convincing the sinner of his lost, undone condition by nature; enabling him to apply, and lay hold on, the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, freely offered him in the gospel, and continually exciting him, out of a principle of love and gratitude, to shew forth that faith, by abounding in every good word and work. This is the sum and substance of the doctrine that has been delivered. And if this be a licentious doctrine, judge ye. No, my brethren, this is not destroying, but teaching you how to do good works, from a proper principle. For, to use the words of our church in another of her Articles, “Works done before the grace of Christ, and the inspiration of the Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ; rather, for that they are not done as God has willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.” So that they who bid you do, and then live, are just as wise as those who would persuade you to build a beautiful magnificent house, without laying a foundation.
It is true, the doctrine of our free justification by faith in Christ Jesus, like other gospel truths, may and will be abused by men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith: but they who receive the truth of God in the love of it, will always be shewing their faith by their works. For this reason, Paul, after he had told the Ephesians, “By grace they were saved through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast,” immediately adds, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” And in his epistle to Titus, having given him directions subjoins, chap. 3 ver. 8. “I will that you affirm constantly, that they who have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works.” Agreeably to this we are told in our twelfth Article, “That albeit good works, which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring necessarily out of a true and lively faith, insomuch that a lively faith may be as evidently known by them, as a tree discerned by the fruit.”
Observe, my dear brethren, the words of the Article, “Good works are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification.” How then can they precede, or be any way the cause of it? Our persons must be justified, before our performances can be accepted. God had respect to Abel before he had respect to his offering: and therefore the righteousness of Jesus Christ must be freely imputed to, and apprehended by us through faith, before we can offer an acceptable sacrifice to God: for out of Christ, as I hinted before, God is a consuming fire; and whatsoever is not of faith in Christ, is
Take the substance of what has been said on this head, in the few following words. Every man that is saved is justified three ways:
First, Meritoriously, by the death of Jesus Christ: “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” Secondly, instrumentally, by faith: faith is the means or instrument whereby the merits of Jesus Christ are applied to the sinner’s heart: “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Thirdly, We are justified Declaratively, namely, by good works: good works declare and prove to the world, that our faith is a true saving faith. “Was not Abraham justified by works?” And again, “Shew me thy faith by thy works.”
4. What think you of Jesus Christ being formed within you?
Whom Christ justifies, them He also sanctifies. Although He and, yet He does not leave us unholy. A true Christian may not so properly be said to live, as Jesus Christ to live in him: for they only that are led by the Spirit of Christ, are the true sons of God.
As I observed before, so I tell you again, the faith which we preach is not a dead, but a lively active faith wrought in the soul, working a thorough change by the power of the Holy Ghost in the whole man: and unless Christ be thus in you, notwithstanding you nay be orthodox as to the foregoing principles, notwithstanding you may have good desires, and attend constantly on the means of grace; yet, in Paul’s opinion, you are out of a state of salvation. ‘Know ye not (says that apostle to the Corinthians, a church famous or its gifts above any other church under heaven), that Christ is in you (by His Spirit) unless ye be reprobates?”
For Christ came not only to save us from the guilt, but from the power of sin; till He has done this, however he may be a Saviour to others, we can have no assurance or well-grounded hope, that He has saved us; for it is by receiving His blessed Spirit into our hearts, and feeling Him witnessing with our spirits, that we are the sons of God, that we can be certified of our being sealed to the day of .redemption.
This is a great mystery; but I speak of Christ and the new-birth. Marvel not at my asking you, what you think about Christ being formed within you? for either God must change His nature, or we ours. For as in Adam we all have spiritually died, so all that are effectually saved by Christ, must in Christ be spiritually made alive.
His only end in dying and rising again, and interceding for us now in heaven, is to redeem us from the misery of our fallen nature, and, by the operation of His blessed Spirit, to make us meet to be partakers of the heavenly inheritance with the saints in light. None but those that thus are changed by His grace here, shall appear with Him in glory hereafter.
Examine yourselves therefore, my brethren, whether you are in
the faith; prove yourselves, and think it not sufficient to say in your creed, I believe in Jesus Christ; many say so, who do not believe, who are reprobates, and yet in a state of death. You take God’s name in vain when you call Him Father, and your prayers are turned into sin, unless you believe in Christ, so as to have your life hid with Him in God, and to receive life and nourishment from Him, as branches do from the vine.
O my brethren, my heart is enlarged towards you. I trust I feel something of that hidden but powerful presence of Christ, whilst I am preaching to you. Indeed it is sweet, it is exceedingly comfortable. All the harm I wish you, who without cause are my enemies, is, that you felt the like. Believe me, though it would be hell to my soul to return to a natural state again, yet I would willingly change states with you for a little while, that you might know what it is to have Christ dwelling in your hearts by faith. Do not turn your backs; do not let the devil hurry you away; be not afraid of convictions; do not think worse of the doctrine, because preached outside the church walls. Our Lord, in the days of His flesh, preached on a mount, in a ship, and a field; and I am persuaded many have felt His gracious presence here. Indeed, we speak what we know. Do not reject the kingdom of God against yourselves: be so wise as to receive our witness.
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God is, that you may be saved. For this cause I follow my Master without the camp. I care not how much of His sacred reproach I bear, so that some of you be converted from the error of your ways. I rejoice, yea, and I will rejoice. Ye men, ye devils, do your worst: the Lord, who sent, will support me. And when Christ, who is our life, and whom I have now been preaching, shall appear, I also, together with His despised little ones, shall appear with Him in glory. And then, what will you think of Christ? I know what you will think of Him. You will then think Him to be the fairest among ten thousand: you will then think and feel Him to be a just and sin-avenging Judge. Be ye then persuaded from the presence of the Lord. Behold, I come to you as the angels did to Lot. Flee, flee, for your lives; haste, linger no longer in your spiritual Sodom, for otherwise you will be eternally destroyed. Numbers, no doubt, there are amongst you, that may regard me no more than Lot’s sons-in-law regarded him. I am persuaded I seem to some of you as one that mocketh: but I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not; as sure as fire and brimstone was rained from the Lord out of heaven, to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, so surely, at the great day, shall the vials of God’s wrath be poured on you, if you do not think seriously of, and act agreeably to, the gospel of the Lord’s Christ. Behold, I have told you before; and I pray God, all you that forget Him may seriously think of what has been said, before He pluck you away, and there be none to deliver you.