The Priest Is Dispensed With!
By the greatest of all English Preachers C. H. Spurgeon IN THREE PARTS
C. H. Spurgeon
“He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself." - 1 John v. 10.
It is a part of the theory of Ritualism, that is to say, Anglicised Popery, that no man can know his sins forgiven unless he be assured thereof by a priest. They tell us that to know ourselves saved we must either have a revelation from heaven, which we may not expect, or we must wait till the day of judgment, or else some duly authorised “spiritual father” must pronounce us absolved; they cannot suppose any other method of being assured of forgiveness. That is the theory, and in practice it comes to this, that when anything troubles your conscience you must make a clean breast of it to this, so-called, learned minister,” alias parish priest, and tell him whatsoever things you have done, answering all questions he may choose to put to you, whether they be clean or whether they be unclean; and then he will give you absolution in the name of God, claiming to be - mark, I am not saying what they do not say, for I quote from one of the most popular of their manuals, entitled “Steps to the Altar,” -claiming, I say, to be “a trustee from God, and commissioned by him as his ministerial deputy, to hear, and judge, and absolve.” That is the theory, a very attractive one, too, to human nature, for man by nature is an idolater, that is to say, he desires something tangible, and visible, to revere and trust in. The old spirit which cried out in the wilderness, “Make us gods to go before us, for as for this Moses which brought us up out of the land Egypt, we know not what has become of him,” is still alive, and craves for idols, and delights to find them either in the form of priests or sacraments. As for faith in the unseen, purely spiritual worship, and simple reliance upon the promise of God, these are not according to human nature, and wherever you discover them they are the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Man's idolatry loves priestcraft, and therefore we should not be astonished if Ritualism were to become more and more popular, and subjugate the whole land. Confidence in priestly powers seems to afford the soul an easy way of coming to an anchorage. To come direct to Jesus with the whole heart needs thought, consideration, and heart work, but to confess to a priest and get his assurance of pardon is a method much less difficult, and less spiritual, and consequently more agreeable to human nature. What need of being born again from above when a little water will do it? What need of feeding upon Christ when bread and wine are the same thing? What need of the witness from above when every curate can assure you that you are pardoned? What need, I say, of the witness of the Holy Spirit, when any clerical person can pronounce you absolved?
I would in all kindness speak with those who are in bondage to this delusion, and suggest a few questions. You think it more easy to believe in a man appointed by God than to believe in Christ himself directly but may there not be a doubt or two about the man? Is it not possible that he has not been rightly ordained, or that he himself when he speaks does not mean what he says; and remember, everything depends upon his ordination and intention. Do you say, “Oh, but he is certificated by the church.” But are there not grave questions as to the church? Can apostolical succession be proved? It is the idlest of romances. The church of Rome has struggled to prove her own descent from Peter, but fails at the very beginning, and we may be double sure that the Anglican church is still more at sea. She calls the Nonconformists schismatics in reference to herself, but what is she in regard to the church of Rome? She has no apostolical succession, in the sense in which the expression is ecclesiastically used, and should be ashamed of setting up the fraudulent pretence. Her godly ministers have the same apostolical successor as all true servants of Christ have, and no more. No man has such a pedigree as to entitle him to represent the eternal God, and stand between the Father and men’s souls; the claim is as gross an imposition as that of the fortune-teller, who pretends to prophecy. Hark ye, my friends, have ye no manliness? Does it not seem to you, as it does to me, to be a monstrously degrading thing that you should prostrate yourselves before a man like yourselves, and believe that he can pronounce the pardon of your sins? This precious “Steps to the Altar” says “let the manner of your confession be in an humble posture, on your knees, as being made to God rather than man.” Mark you this, you are to go down on your knees to the man whom the State appoints to superintend the religion of your parish. What is it but Brahminism, mis-labelled Christianity? The whole drift of the scheme is to elevate a clerical caste, and lay all the rest of mankind at their feet. This is the reverse of the religion of the New Testament, which says that all believers are a royal priesthood, made by the Lord Jesus kings and priests unto God? Is not Ritualism quite sure to grow into Popery, nay, is it not full-blown Popery already? Will it not once again reduce the world to slavery under an arch-priest at Rome or Canterbury if it be allowed to have its way?
And what saith the Scriptures? “There is one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” Why should we set up other mediators, and go to them for absolution when our Lord Jesus receives all who come to him? See you in the New Testament any trace of such assumptions on the part of God’s ministers? Does the gospel say, “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved, if absolved by a priest”? That interpolation is foreign to the gospel. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” is the gospel according to the Scriptures: “confess to the priest and thou shalt be forgiven” is the gospel of the Vatican. Everywhere the Scripture calls man to come into personal contact with his reconciled God in Christ Jesus. The first resolution of the awakened sinner is, “I will arise and go unto my Father.” It is not, “I will arise and go unto the authorised minister who stands between me and my Father;” it is not, “I will resort to sacraments and ceremonies;” but “I will go to my Father.” In fact the whole object of the gospel is to bring us near to God in Christ Jesus, and to put down every interposing medium. He who rent the veil of the temple has ended this priestly business.
This morning my business is to show that there is no need of a certificate from any man as to our being forgiven, for “he that believeth hath the witness within himself.” He does not need a new revelation; he does not need to wait till the day of judgment: he is forgiven, and he knows it, and knows it infallibly too, by a witness which is within himself. Of that I shall speak, and may the Spirit of God help us to get at the real truth; yea, I would to God that all who hear me this day would believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, and have the witness of his salvation in themselves.
Let me, first of all, say a word or two about the way in which we are saved, the modus operandi ofsalvation, as we find it described in the Scriptures. Here it is in a nutshell. We have all broken God’s law, and we are justly condemned on account of it. God in infinite mercy desiring to save the sons of men has given his Son Jesus to stand in the room, place, and stead of as many as believe in him. Jesus became the substitute of his people, and suffered in their stead, and for them the debt ofpunishment due to God was paid by Jesus Christ upon the cross ofCalvary. All who believe in him are thereby cleared before the bar of divine justice. Now, the Lord having given his Son has revealed this great fact in his Word. Here it is in this inspired book – the full statement ofit – tothis effect, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and that whosoever believeth in the Lord Jesus Christ hath everlasting life. This is God’s testimony. We, who are here present, or at least the bulk of us, know that it is God’s testimony, and all we have to do in order to realise the result of Christ’s passion is simply to believe the testimony of God concerning it, and rest upon it. The argument runs thus: Christ saveth those who trust him; I trust him, and therefore I am saved. Jesus Christ suffered for the sins of his people; his people are known by their believing in him; I believe in him, and therefore he died for my sins, and my sins are blotted out. This is the summary of the transaction. God’s testimony concerning his Son is at first believed, simply because God says so, and for no other reason; and then there grows up in the soul other evidence not necessary to faith, but very strengthening to it, ‑ evidence which springs up in the soul as the result of faith, and is the witness referred to in our text – “He that believeth hath the witness in himself.” There is no need for the intervention of any second or third party here; the man has trusted and tried the gospel for himself, and proved it to be true: what service can that gentleman in a long coat render to him? What more evidence can he bring with his Prayer‑book or without it? The matter is as clear as the sun, what need of his tallow‑candles?
We shall try to answer three questions to‑day by the aid of our text – How come we to be believers? Secondly, How know we that believers are saved? And thirdly, How know we that we are believers?
HOW ARE WE TO BE BELIEVERS?
I. HOW COME WE TO BE BELIEVERS? Beloved friends, you know how faith arises in the heart from the human point of view. We hear the gospel, we accept it as the message of God, and we trust ourselves to it. So far it is our own work; and be it remembered that in every case faith is and must be the act of man. The Holy Spirit never believes for anybody, each man must personally believe. We cannot be saved by the faith of another, even though that other were divine; each one of us must himself believe. But, having said that, let us remember that the Godward history of our believing is quite another thing, for true faith is always the gift of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings us to perform the act of faith by which we are saved; and the process is after this manner, though varying in different individuals:- First, we are brought attentively to listen to the old, old story of the cross. We have heard it a great many times, perhaps, but now we hear with an opened ear, anxiously desiring to know the inner sense. While we are so listening, the word commends itself to us: it awes us by its majesty of holiness, it attracts us by its beauty of love, and we perceive that it is the Word of God. Thus faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. Attentive hearers, earnestly listening, very seldom remain unbelievers long. The superficial hearer, who is satisfied to sit through a sermon but does not care to understand it, misses the blessing. The diligent reader of the Bible, reading it with prayer, is very unlikely to remain unsaved; before long the Spirit of God, who works through the word, applies some portion or other of Holy Scripture to the soul with power, and the man is brought to faith. We believe, then, not because a clerical person, or a crowd of clericals, assure us that the Bible is inspired, but because the Spirit of God, working with the word, commends it to our consciences and to our understandings, and therefore we believe. You will generally find that unbelievers do not read the Bible, and do not hear the gospel, and how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? If they will not consider the gospel candidly, how can they expect to believe it ?
Further, the Holy spirit is also pleased to make us conscious of our sinfulness,our danger, and our inability, and this is a great way towards faith in Christ; for the great difficulty in believing in Jesus is that men believe in themselves: but when they discover that their lives which they thought commendable are censurable, and when they find out that their native strength is feebleness itself, they are then prepared to believe in God's salvation. When a man can no longer rely upon himself, he cries to the strong for strength. Thus the Spirit of God leads us to faith by driving us out of self‑confidence.
Moreover, while attentively hearing, we perceive the suitability of the gospel to our case.We feel ourselves sinful, and rejoice that our great substitute bore our sin, and suffered on its account, and we say, “That substitution is full of hope to me; salvation by an atonement is precisely what I desire; here can my conscience rest.” We learn that Jesus came by water, to cleanse our nature as well as to take away our guilt, and we say, “That also meets my need.” Studying the great doctrine of the cross, it strikes us as being full of the wisdom and love of God, and as suitable for our case as bread is suitable for hunger, or water for thirst; and our moral instincts, by an inner witness which we cannot further describe, leap to the conclusion that this must be true, and therefore we believe it. You see, first, we give an attentive hearing to the gospel, then we receive by the Spirit of God a consciousness of our need of it, and then we discover the suitability of it to meet our need; and by that process we are led onward to genuine faith in Christ.
There is but one more step, and that is, we accept Jesus as set forth in the gospel, and place all our trust in him. He is set forth as the Saviour of mankind, bringing life and peace to all who trust him. We hear a voice that saith, “Whosoever will, let him come and take the water of life freely.” We see the Saviour himself standing with out-stretched arms, and crying, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink”; and being assured of the freeness as before we were of the suitability of the atonement, we accept it: and thus we exercise the faith of God's elect. We have gone through a process which has divorced us from every other confidence, and brought us to rest on that which God hath set forth to be a propitiation, even the finished work, the blood and righteousness of Christ.
When the soul accepts the Lord Jesus as Saviour, she believes in him as God: for she saith, “How can he have offered so glorious an atonement had he not been divine? How could God set him forth to make propitiation for the sons of men had he not been equal to the task, a task requiring an infinite nature?” We worship the Son of God; in him we rest, and on him we lean, and we find in him all that we need. This is why we believe, then, and the process is a simple and logical one. The mysterious Spirit works us to faith, but the states of mind through which he brings us follow each other in a beautifully simple manner. Now, in all this I see no room for the priest at all. For the preacher there is a niche, for “how can they hear without a preacher?” But the priest with his authority is an interpolation; like the fifth wheel of a steam‑engine, he is of no possible service, and a good deal in the way. He deserves to be called “a superfluity of naughtiness.” God's word convinces my reason, and God's Spirit wins my heart to faith in Jesus, what under heaven do I need more as a reason for faith? That gentleman with the gown on has no more to do with the business than if he did not exist, and his intervention to tell me by authority that the gospel is true, and that I am absolved, is as ridiculous as the conduct of that little African potentate who, as soon as he has eaten the few morsels of carrion which adorn his majestic table, bids a herald proclaim east, west, north, and south, that all other kings in the world are now permitted by his gracious majesty to have their dinners. Probably they have never heard of the permission, and have suffered no evil from being ignorant of it. Who is this black fellow that he should take so much upon him? Having been brought to rest in Jesus as my Saviour by a perfectly reasonable process, by a chain of argument in which not one link is deficient, I care nothing whatever for any official confirmation from the gentleman in the gown, who has no argument, but bids me believe because he has been ordained. I need no confirmation of what God speaks. Twice two will be four whether the parish priest says so or not, and God’s testimoney is true quite independently of all the gowns and surplices in and out of the robe‑maker's shop. If her Majesty should give me the title‑deeds of an estate, signing the transfer with her own hand and seal, I should smile at the lackey who should kindly offer to add his authority to her Majesty's act and deed. Where the word of a king is there is power, and this is preeminently true where the word of the King of Kings is concerned. I have believed in Jesus Christ as he is set forth on the authority of God himself, and who are you, Sir Priest, to come between me and God? You tell the penitent, “You are to look upon the priest, as he is trustee from God, and commissioned by him as his ministerial deputy, to hear and judge and absolve you." Away with such blasphemous falsehood; we want no deputies, for we have Christ himself. You and your authority may go packing.