The Sum and Substance of the Gospel


The following was taken from a book titled “The Holy Spirit” by James Buchanan who referenced John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.”  Published by permission of “The Banner Of Truth Trust.”

Be it remembered, our guilt was the real cause of the Saviour’s sufferings, our sins were the nails which suspended him to the accursed tree.  He who knew no sin was made sin for us; he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; and as without the shedding of blood there could be no remission, so by the blood of Jesus the sins which caused his death are freely forgiven:  for now, in consequence of that stupendous atonement, God can be the just God and yet the Saviour; the sin has been expiated, and the sinner may be saved.  This is the Gospel message; and it was the will of Him who died on the cross “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

The sum and substance of the Gospel is repentance and remission of sins, remission of sins through the name of Jesus; and the perfect freeness of it is beautifully illustrated by the narrative of what occurred on the day of Pentecost, viewed in connection with our Lord’s command, that this doctrine should be preached among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  Beginning at Jerusalem!, the city of his murderers, the same city whose streets had but recently resounded with the cry, ‘Crucify him! crucify him!’, the city that had called forth his tears when he wept over it, and said, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but ye would not!’ –‘Oh that thou hadst known, even thou in this thy day, the things which belong to thy peace!  but now they are hid from thine eyes,’ the city, which, besides being washed with his tears, was now stained by his blood; that same city, guilty, devoted as it was yet to receive the first announcement of the remission of sins, and the Lord’s command fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, when Peter freely proclaimed repentance and the reemission of sins even to the very men whom he charged as the murderers of his Lord.  To them, without exception and without reserve, he proclaimed a full and free salvation; and in this one fact we have a conclusive proof of the perfect freeness of the Gospel, for where is the man now under the Christian ministry worse case is worse than that of the thousands who then received the joyful sound?  Viewing it in this light John Bunyan, the able author of the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ makes a felicitous and powerful application of this part of the Gospel narrative, to remove all the doubts and scruples of those who think themselves to guilty to be saved, or who do not sufficiently understand the perfect freeness of this salvation.  He supposes one of those whom Peter addressed, exclaiming, but I was one of those who plotted to take away his life:  is there hope for me?  Another, But I was one of those who bare false witness against him:  is there grace for me?  A third, But I was one of those that cried out, ‘Crucify him! crucify him!’ can there be hope for me?  A fourth, But I was one of those that did spit in his face, when he stood before his accusers, and I mocked him when in anguish he hung bleeding on the tree:  is there hope for me?  A fifth, But I was one who gave him vinegar to drink:  is there hope for Me?  And when, in reply, Peter proclaims. ’Repent, and be baptized EVERY ONE OF YOU for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost; for the promise is unto you, and to your children,’—Bunyan thus applies it to the conscience of every sinner:  ‘Wherefore, sinner, be ruled by me in this matter; feign not thyself another man, if thou hast been a vile sinner.  Go in thine own colours to Jesus Christ.  Put thyself amongst the most vile, and let him alone put thee among the children.  Thou art, as it were, called by name, to come for mercy.  Thou man of Jerusalem, hearken to the call,–say, Stand aside, devil!  Christ calls me.  Stand away, unbelief!  Christ calls me.  Stand away, all my discouraging apprehensions! for my Saviour calls me to receive mercy.’  ‘Christ, as he sits on the throne of grace, pointeth over the heads of thousands directly to such a man, and says, Come,–wherefore, since he says Come, let the angels make a lane, and all men make room, that the Jerusalem sinner may come to Christ for mercy!’

But while the free remission of sins through the blood of Christ was the salvation which Peter proclaimed, it was a salvation which stood connected with an entire change of mind and heart; and hence the offer of a free forgiveness is combined with as exhortation to “Repent, and be baptized.’  Repentance means properly a change of mind, and implies faith in the truth which they had formerly rejected, but which they were now called to receive; sorrow for their sin in crucifying the Lord of glory; and a cheerful surrender of themselves to his authority, now that they were convinced of his exaltation.  It might seem to be an unreasonable thing in Peter to call upon them to repent, when this implied so great a change of mind and heart, a change so far surpassing the power of unaided nature.  Was it not written that ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God,’ that ‘The natural man receiveth not the things of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,’ and ‘That no man can call Jesus Lord, but by the Holy Ghost?’  And what was there in his words that could overcome that enmity, or this blindness, or impart power to repent and believe?  Peter was not deterred by any consideration of this kind:  he preached boldly, ‘Repent, and be baptized,’ and afterwards, ‘Repent, and be converted,’ simply because he knew that his word, weak in itself, might be made mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.  For while such was the substance of Peter’s sermon, which was the instrumental means of the great work of conversion on the day Pentecost, it must never be forgotten that the truth thus declared was rendered effectual by the accompanying grace of the Holy Spirit.  I speak not at present of the gift of tongues, or of any of the miraculous manifestations of the Spirit’s power, but of his inward grace, exerted on the minds, the consciences, and the hearts of the hearers, whereby ‘their eyes were opened, and they were turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.’  It is true that Peter was an inspired apostle; it is also true that the Gospel which he preached was in every respect suited as an instrument for effecting the conversion of souls; nay, it is equally true that his words were accompanied with such a manifest interposition of divine power as was plainly miraculous; but all this would not have accomplished the work, had the inward enlightening and regenerating grace of the Spirit been withheld.  It is the solemn testimony of another apostle, himself an inspired man, and endowed with the gift of tongues and the power of working miracles, that ‘Paul may plant, and Apollos water, but God giveth the increase.  Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, as the Lord gave to every man?’  If any believe, it was because ‘it was given to them on the behalf of Christ to believe on his name,’ for ‘faith is the gift of God;’ and if any repent, it was because their hearts were softened and changed by Him who is ‘exalted as a Prince and Saviour, to give repentance and the remission of sins.”


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