September 2022 | Jesus, the Door

Saved by his Precious Blood

Saved by his Precious Blood

Mr. Leslie D. Weatherhead

This article is taken from his book “A Plain Man Looks at the Cross”

How familiar are the words which form the title of this final section. Yet in spite of their familiarity–or perhaps because of it–they are little understood. To some, indeed, they are an offense. “Saved”–the word suggests those burglars of our souls who sometimes, with more zeal than tact, ask us at awkward and embarrassing moments that most intimate of all questions: “Brother, are you saved?” “Blood”–the word suggests those rather revolving hymns that express a crude evangelism which nice, respectable, educated people like ourselves resent!

Just so! But if, because we scorn old-fashioned phrases, we miss the truth behind them, then our loss is indeed grievous. Many young people today are suffering such loss. I was like them myself not so very long ago. A species of mental pride, a scorn of old phraseology, an inertia that will not trouble to ask what is meant, a subconscious desire to hide from the thrust of truth, either under the excuse of not understanding, or behind figures of speech which repel, or perhaps all these added together, combine to prevent needy people from feeling the necessity of a personal Saviour and from entering that blessed experience which he has made possible by his death and resurrection, and which our fathers called salvation.

Such a loss is grievous indeed, for the heart of the gospel is the saving power of Jesus Christ. No anemic, watered-down presentation of Christ as Hero, Influence, example, or even Friend, is a satisfactory substitute for that rich, full-blooded gospel of salvation. It is sufficient evidence of this to mark the character of the message with which the first apostles confronted a pagan world: “We preach Christ crucified”; “God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”; “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved”; “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” “Saved”–“blood”–we cannot by-pass the great words without emasculating the New Testament message. It is reported that a few hours before his death John Wesley said, “in a low but very distinct manner, ‘There is no way into the holiest but by the blood of Jesus.’”

Let us look at the words.

“Saved.” Well, the word is simple enough! Saved from what? From hell? “Surely,” says the plain man, “you are not going to ask us to revive the doctrine of hell. That is outmoded, and no one believes in it.” Well, I do for one. The question as to what its nature is, and whether it is endless, I have discussed elsewhere; but, modern or not, I cannot dismiss the idea of hell without making nonsense of the New Testament.

Hell is a state of mind. It is not a punishment inflicted so much as the inevitable effect within a moral universe of moral causes. If a man, by not considering where or how he is walking, walks over the edge of a cliff, we do not say his fall is a punishment. Why is it any more a “punishment” when one brings suffering upon oneself though not looking where one is going spiritually? If a man tries to live without food or air, we don’t talk of his death as a punishment but as a consequence. If he tries to live without God, he finds it easier to do so for the simple reason that instincts press him to attend to food and air, whereas it evidence of God’s respect for human freedom that the yet more important matter of the necessity of God is not brought to consciousness by instinctive mechanisms. God wants us to want him for his own sake, not because we are driven to him by instincts. But God is as much a necessity to the life of the soul as food is to the body, Omit food and the body dies. Omit God and the soul dies. The pangs of hunger are beneficently designed to save the body. Hell is a beneficently designed experience through which a soul in danger of dying passes so as to save it from extinction. Browning calls it

… that sad obscure sequestered state

Where God unmakes but to remake the soul

He else made first in vain; which must not be.

But hell is no more a punishment than starvation. It is not endless, or it could not achieve that for which it is designed. Incidentally, though we cannot escape using words which connote time, no word doing so can represent reality in a timeless world. Hell is a consequence. The laws of a physical universe relentlessly operate. It is the effect of law in a spiritual universe. Law runs through the whole universe and cannot be defied without consequence either in the physical or in the moral realm, though in the latter effect often follows cause only after a lapse of time–perhaps, indeed, the effect is not noticed in this life at all.

Hell is the anguish of self-discovery as the soul contemplates the horror of sin and the separation from God which satisfaction with a sinful life has effected–an anguish made worse by an unwillingness or inability, even then, to turn to God, coupled with an utter despair of being able to change oneself. Hell and despair are almost synonymous terms. Christ’s deals with this despair and saves from hell. The penalty of sin is not, I think, fully understood in terms of physical or mental suffering, though both may be part of it and bitter indeed, (It is dangerous to generalize here, for physical and mental suffering occur without being caused by individual sin, and sin often appears to be done without the sinner’s suffering any obvious result in this life.) The worst penalty of sin is that man is separated from God, his spiritual senses dulled, his spiritual desires lessened. Such separation involves progressive deterioration of character, which, if unstayed, may indeed involve such a disintegration of personality that the latter ceases to be recognizable as such, and possibly falls back into the pool of being from which it was formed by the fact of birth. We reach here the realm of speculation as to the manner of the soul’s death, but the fact cannot be dismissed, for both our Lord and his greatest apostle use the word “dead” or “death” to describe the doom of the undredeemed soul.

If sin is at work in us, separating us from God, hindering his work, causing Christ anguish, and disintegrating our own character, then blessed, yes, blessed be the pain of self-discovery–however searing and hard to bear–which makes us see the dread end of the road we are treading and call out, though it be in the anguish of despair, “What must I do to be saved?” I know this sounds a grim doctrine. But he is no friend of mine who minimizes the result of my sins, who teaches an “all-will-come-right-in-the-end-for-all-men” doctrine. It was no light matter that sent Christ to the Cross. It was no trifle that made Christ use words like “dead” and “lost”–“This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” After all, the doctrine of hell, exaggerated to a caricature by our grandfathers, derives from the words of Jesus. It was he–who loved and was kindhearted beyond all others–who used the words “outer darkness,” “the door was shut,” “the agelong fire’; and it was the greatest of the apostles, Paul, who remained to the end conscious of the possibility that “after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected,” and who wrote, “The wages of sin is death,” and, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

If I could write more lightly about sin, I would do so, for its results terrify me. But I cannot escape from the view that sin–including the negative sins of sloth, indifference, doing nothing about the needs of men, and the kind of selfish pride which, in an isolated and cushioned life, may not seem to do any definite harm–does, if long continued in, especially if accompanied by wealth or success or both, lead to a condition for which we have to use terms as severe  as those of our Lord and of Paul and John. What right, indeed, have we to water down the stern gospel message? What presumption it is if we dare to soften the words of the Master in the name of kindliness! Was he, then, not the kindest of all the sons of men? Are we to say to men: “Sin doesn’t really matter much. Christ’s language was too severe. God will pat you on the back and say, ‘There! There! You didn’t mean it. It doesn’t matter.”? No! that won’t do. And in modern religion we must recover the stern note of the New Testament. Jesus has rightly been called gentle. He remains forever the friend of sinners, but against sin he hurled an invective more terrible than any other before or since. He hated it with implacable hatred and fought it to the death. He knew it for what it is–the greatest enemy of man, the most dangerous thing in the world.

There is an urgency about the true gospel message which I would fain recover, and which cries out to men to heed and to repent and to trust and to seek a seeking Saviour, since the road on which they travel in sin will bring them to inevitable and bitter suffering, and finally, perhaps, to nothingness and the second death.

Well, for myself, I want to be saved from that, partly from a motive of fear, for fear is a “tutor to bring us unto  Christ,” and partly through a vision of beauty. I’ve caught glimpses of reality in the life of Jesus and of the saints, in all goodness, in truth, and, for me especially, in beauty–the beauty God makes in his world and the beauty he allows man to capture in music, art, and poetry and in the love of friends–I see there what life might be, and I want it desperately. At my best I hate the ugliness and unhappiness that sin brings into my own life and into the lives of the others and that it brings into life everywhere when, without it, all might be harmony and beauty.

It isn’t that one demands happiness. In Christ we find something deeper than happiness. The word “happiness” always seems to me to belong to the surface of life. Many people are “happy” only because they have never examined themselves, never understood what life means and what God is like, never felt the heartbreak of the world and the burden of other people’s sorrows, never seen the Cross at the heart of the world’s beauty even as it is in the center of a passionflower. We are not here to be happy. We are here to develop a personality capable of communion with God and, as we do it, to pass on the secret to others. We cannot do it alone. The secret is living “in Christ.” No one can ever do another a greater service than to “bring him to Christ.”

Few people who know themselves are happy. How can anyone be happy who has found himself out, and who realizes the difference between what ought to be and what is? Yet the misery of self-discovery can be followed by giving up oneself entirely into the hands of the only one who can deal with our desperate plight. And in that surrender, while there may be little happiness, there is joy. How can anyone be happy who sees Christ put to death every day by the sin of man? Yet that vision may lead to dedicated service which brings something much deeper than happiness–joy. And that, not happiness, is what he offered–“that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be fulfilled.” Many a pagan is happy, but it is the fool’s paradise of the blind. In passing, one might say that psychoanalysis always makes people unhappy for a time. What is essential is a subsequent psychosynthesis, a new orientation. That I hold to be incomplete without Christ, and to find the Christian synthesis is to be saved. Analysis shows up the personality with all its failings, and the points at which wrong turnings were taken, and, to change the figure, how a faulty character pattern developed; but in Christ and his gospel is an answer to every failing and need. As these needs are met, a new integration is arrived at and the personality made whole. But of course this integration is effected for thousands who have never heard of psychoanalysis. In most cases true conversion is all that is necessary. But no conventional sham is any use.

How, then, may we be saved? By yielding to Christ, here and now, holding nothing conscious or semicouscious back, and trusting him, who has committed himself to us, so to identify himself with us that, as he has himself promised, we shall be brought at last, holy and without spot, to fulfill God’s purpose in allowing our creation. To be saved does not mean to be brought at once to perfection. Obviously that will take time and most of eternity. It does mean that the process can begin now. We are not at the end of our journey, but we are on the road that lead to jouney’s end. It is not a matter of something done but of something begun. To the crude question, “Are you saved?” I can give a triumphant “Yet,” for I have found in him the road that will lead me home at last. I stray off the road again and again, get into the wilderness tangle on the roadside, follow the devices and desires of my own heart, and do so to my own hurt and his heartbreak. But the Good Shepherd is mine, now, and I am his, and I know his voice, and I know that what my best self craves is to be found with his flock, on his road, following his way; and, otherwise hopelessly “lost,” I get back to the road of heart’s desire which all the “saved” tread. These are the elect, and anyone may join them, for whosever will may come.”

The reminder are lost, at any rate for the present. They may be the damned –namely, those who, even after the self awakens, themselves choose the way of death. There can be no valid or convincing judgment which the awakened soul does not pass on itself. But I dare not mince matters. To see the best and know it is best and to persist in the doing of the worst-a doing which always affects other lives- inevitably, by the law of cause and effects, brings the soul to the kind of hell I have described. To spurn the saviour who holds out the only hope of blessedness, and to know what one is doing and all the issues involved, is spiritual suicide. Whether any soul ever reaches this I don’t know. If he does, it can be only through a continuous and final determination to choose evil knowing it to be evil. But no one can be saved against his own free will-no, not even by the precious blood of Christ

And what of the word “blood”? When we realize ,on the one hand, that of ourselves we are  quite incapable of making ourselves whole, of responding to God’s demand for holiness– the two words  have the same root– when we realize, on the other hand, what it cost Christ to come to our aid, is the word “blood” really out of place, however much we may have shuddered at crude language which uses it glibly? To give one‘s blood for a cause or a person represents uttermost self giving. When the word “blood” offends, we might well paraphrase by “uttermost self giving” In the same way we speak of giving our life for another;  and , as Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” We speak of a man’s life blood. The blood is the life. Paul uses the phrase “saved by his life.” The background of the New Testament understanding of meaning of the Cross was provided by the temple sacrifices where blood was offered to God on behalf of man. Christ did that very things. He still does it in the sense that he is still pouring  out his energies (=life) for us. For such activity while still in the flesh the symbol is obviously blood. The blood is the life. In his life, in his death, in his life after death, in his  endless ministry for men now, he offers uttermost self-giving that he may change our nature and make us like himself.  This is the great deliverance to which he committed  himself. In the days of his flesh he evidenced that uttermost self giving by going as far as man can go while still in the flesh, namely by pouring out his very blood. How natural, then, that “blood” should be the word which, more than any other, has come to symbolize a self-giving not only once on the Cross, but a self-giving which can cease only  when the last soul who can still make response makes it and is thereby saved–saved, that is, from the separation from God of which I have written and from  consequent despair; saved, to use the New Testament word, from hell; saved by his precious blood, or if you prefer it, by the love of which the voluntarily shed blood is both the symbol and the pledge.

Having criticized on e stanza of Cowper’s hymn, let me with the fullest gratitude quote another:

All I have to do, sinful and, without Christ, hopeless , is surrender to that  love and co-operate with one already at work, who is committed, unless I finally slam the door in his face, to the task of my salvation. By that love, of which poured-out blood was the visible symbol in the days of his flesh, he saves us in the sense that he will never, unless we so choose, leave us in that horror of great darkness and loneliness where God is unperceived and where the unrescued  soul must perish.

So, after all, we are not far from the view of our grandfathers, who sang much about “the blood.” We too, nineteen hundred years after the historic crucifixion on Calvary, are saved by the outpoured love of which blood is the symbol. We have made a circuitous journey in order to try to look at the Cross through the eyes of the plain man of today. But we all find our unity, both of need and of satisfaction, at its foot.

I have no quarrel with the grand old Methodism in which I was brought up. I can sing, without any silly supposed superiority, nearly all the Methodist revival hymns; and in my heart I rejoice above everything else in the world– and I am using words carefully– that I have been led to trust not in myself, or any alleged merit of mine, but in him who loved me and gave himself up for me. In him alone is hope either for the individual or for the world .But all we do need is there, freely offered and to be taken –in faith.

I may go back on Christ. I now myself and my past record well enough to say that probably I shall. But as I write these words I know that he is my only hope of becoming what in my best moments I want to be. In all the confusion and uncertainty and bewilderment of today, certainty lies there.

In all the choices of direction which lie before the human soul in its journey through this world, where he beckons there a steady light shines and a voice says, “I am the way”. Glittering prizes dazzle the eyes of men and women from time to time, and we all are tempted at some point or another to try to grasp them. But heart’s peace is the only one worth possessing. Thousands who now hold in their hands the  price they struggled so long to get their hands on find that peace of mind, simple joys, and the capacity to be made happy by simple things like a sunset, a day in the country watching birds, or the love of a child, or a piece of unselfish service to another, have eluded them.

Oh, that Cross of Christ, how grim and stark it looks! We would fain look the other way. We want life not death; we want to enjoy ourselves, not to suffer. We want the fair things of life–health and hilarity and a place in the sun and power over others and comfort and security and that “serene that men call age”. Why must this Cross of pain and self- sacrifice and utter self-giving dominate the whole landscape as soon as we look in the direction of religion? So, unheeding, uncaring, selfish and self- absorbed we go on our way. “Beware what you set your heart on, for it shall surely be yours”, said Emerson. “ ‘Take what you want’, said God, ‘take it and pay for it,’ ” so runs a Spanish Proverb. Then when we’ve taken the wrong road, followed the wrong light, won the poisonous prize we coveted and gathered the possessions we thought would make as glad, life crashes in on us in one of a thousand ways.

Yes, life will work only one way, and that is Christ’s way. There’s a precipice at the end of every other road. Broken, bruised, disillusioned, despairing, we know then that of ourselves and by ourselves and in ourselves there is no hope of finding anything but the hell of a great despair. “Outside God there is only death”. I wish I could persuade the reader of that before he finds it out for himself. 

If I could, he would kneel with me now at the foot of that Cross that expressed Christ’s uttermost once and for all, and is the pledge of the same quality of love offered for us all forever. And we should put down all our good deeds that we hoped might count as merit, and all our bad deeds that we feared would make him hate us–our indifference to the needs of others, our lack of understanding and sympathy, all the grosser things like cowardice and lust and hypocrisy, and all the cunning forms which pride and selfishness take, concealing our motives from our scrutiny–and we should ask the great God to forgive us for Jesus Christ’s sake; and, prostrate at the feet of the master who died and rose again, and who still offers as his succor, we should ask him dwell in us, to guide us, to empower us, to make us anew, to do indeed a Saviour’s  work. And “In Christ” there is not one of us who could not be made more than he dreams, and find in Christ such joy and peace as would leave him with nothing else to ask. All this Jesus Christ can and will do, for he is indeed the Saviour of the World.

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