[W]hile all things in God’s word are important, all are not equally important. There are certain fundamental and vital truths which must be believed, or otherwise no man would be saved. If you want to know what you must believe, if ye would be saved, you will find the great things of God’s law between these two covers; they are all contained here.
As a sort of digest or summary of the great things of law, I remember an old friend of mine once saying, “Ah! you preach the three R’s, and God will always bless you.” I said, “What are the three R’s?” And he answered, “Ruin, redemption, and regeneration.” They contain the sum and substance of divinity. R for ruin. We were all ruined in the fall; we were lost when Adam sinned, and we were all ruined by our own transgressions; we are all ruined by our own evil hearts, and our own wicked wills; and we all shall be ruined, unless grace saves us.
Then there is a second R for redemption. We are ransomed by the blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish and without spot; we are rescued by his power; we are ransomed by his merits; we are redeemed by his strength. then there is R for regeneration. If we would be pardoned, we must also be regenerated; for no man can partake of redemption unless he is regenerate. Let him be as good as he pleases; let him serve God, as he imagines, as much as he likes; unless he is regenerate, and has a new heart, a new birth, he will still be in the first R, that is ruin.
These things contain an epitome of the gospel. I believe there is a better epitome in the five points of Calvinism;–Election according to the foreknowledge of God; the natural depravity and sinfulness of man; particular redemption by the blood of Christ; effectual calling by the power of the Spirit; and ultimate perseverance by the efforts of God’s might.
I think all those need to be believed, in order to salvation; but I should not like to write a creed like the Athanasian, beginning with “Whosoever shall be saved, before all things it is necessary that he should hold the Catholic faith, which faith is this…” When I got so far, I should stop, because I should not know what to write. I hold the Catholic faith of the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible. It is not for me to draw up creeds; but I ask you to search the Scriptures, for this is the word of life.
God says, “I have written to him the great things of my law.” Do you doubt their greatness? Do ye think they are not worth your attention? Reflect a moment, man. Where art thou standing now?
“Lo on a narrow neck of land,
‘Twixt two unbounded seas I stand;
An inch of time, a moment’s space,
May lodge me in yon heavenly place,
Or shut me up in hell.”
I recollect standing on a seashore once, upon a narrow neck of land, thoughtless that the tide might come up. The tide kept continually washing up on either side, and, wrapped in thoughts, I stood there, until at last there was the greatest difficulty in getting on shore. You and I stand each day on a narrow neck, and there is one wave coming up there; see, how near it is to your foot; and lo! another follows at every tick of the clock; “Our hearts, like muffled drums, are beating funeral marches to the tomb.”
We are always tending downwards to the grave each moment that we live. This book tells me that if I am converted, when I die, there is a heaven of joy and love to receive me; it tells me that angels’ pinions shall be stretched, and I, borne by strong cherubic wings, shall out-soar the lightning, and mount beyond the stars, up to the throne of God, to dwell forever.
“Far from a world of grief and sin,
With God eternally shut in.”
Oh! it makes the hot tear start from my eye, it makes my heart too big for this my body, and my brain whirls at the thought of:
“Jerusalem, my happy home,
Name ever dear to me.”
Oh! that sweet scene beyond the clouds; sweet fields arrayed in living green, and rivers of delight. Are not these great things? But then, poor unregenerate soul, the Bible says if thou are lost, thou art lost forever; it tells thee that if thou diest without Christ, without God, there is no hope for thee; that there is no place without a gleam of hope, where thou shalt read, in burning letters, “Ye knew your duty, but ye did it not;” it tells you, that ye shall be driven from his presence with a “depart, ye cursed.”
Are these not great things? Yes, sirs, as heaven is desirable, as hell is terrible, as time is short, as eternity is infinite, as the soul is precious, as pain is to be shunned, as heaven is to be sought, as God is eternal, and as his words are sure, these are great things, things ye ought to listen to. (source)