A Sermon by LOUSIA J. ROBERTS at Green Street Meeting, Philadelphia, Eleventh mouth 17, 1889. From phonographic notes by Sue R. Wilkins. (Published by request of hearers.)
Biographical Sketch of Lousia J. Roberts with Extracts from Her Journal and Selections from Her Writings (Philadelphia: Alfred J. Ferris, 1895), 244-252
This is The Quaker Homiletics Online Anthology, Part 2: The 19th Century.
We find ourselves in danger outwardly, from which we see no way of escape, until there comes before us something that promises relief;--we believe that relief can come to us through its agency, and we cry for help! We all have known this, and we all have known that unless we saw some hope of being saved from the impending calamity through the help of another, that if we had not believed this possible, we should have sunk under the calamity that threatened us. This is our outward experience, and it becomes plain to every one of us that if we are in need of help we must apply to those who can help us. If we are in danger of losing our lives we must turn to those who can save us from the peril that is before us. All spiritual relations are subject to the same laws of cause and effect that govern us in the outward world, and that which is outward becomes the type of that which is inward, spiritual, and eternal.
Now we come back to the thought of salvation by Christ; and that is the point that most concerns us in relation to this spiritual life of ours. What is it to be saved,-saved spiritually? It may be to be rescued from some danger into which we have plunged, it may be to be preserved from some danger that threatens us, into which we have not yet fallen; it is either to be taken out of the trouble or to be preserved from the danger which confronts us. And it is just here, as I apprehend, that the line of divergence comes when we speak of being saved by the Lord Jesus Christ, as the expression is given. Our Christian brethren of other persuasions, sincere and earnest as ourselves, have a "scheme of salvation," based upon the earlier thought of sacrifice, upon that idea which came into the world perhaps among the first religious thoughts of the human family, that we must offer something to the Power whose force and energy were seen through the phenomena of nature, but who was invisible to the eyes of men and must be appeased,-must he made the friend of man through the offering of something he values as his greatest treasure. Thus he gave his first-born for the sins of his body; he gave the treasures of the field, the firstlings of his flocks and herds, and hoped thereby to gain the favor of the Power he feared. And so sacrifice came to be considered the way to salvation; and man was saved,-brought into the highest favor,-through what he offered of his treasures to the Divine Majesty.
As the years rolled on and the centuries passed, man began to see more clearly the basis upon which his acceptance rested, and some thought came to the foremost thinkers of the race that it was not by anything that man could offer outwardly that acceptance with God was gained, but that the fruit of his lips, the meditation of his heart, and the desires of his soul must be in harmony with that which was his highest conception of God to bring him to that peace which to be saved seems to imply. And so, down through the ages, as we come to the time of the manifestation in Judea of the blessed Son and sent of the Father there was growing in the thoughts of men a more divine idea of salvation by sacrifice, and a preparing of the minds of many of the lowly ones of Israel for the salvation that was promised in the coming of the Messiah. And he in his coming and his teaching made this clear to all who were willing to free themselves from the traditions and usages by which the souls of men had been bound for all the centuries that had passed.
And there were a few humble, sincere ones who heard him gladly, for it was then as it is now, that only the simple-hearted were willing to accept the truth as he taught it,-the sorrowing ones seeking help, seeking rest for the weariness of the body, the weariness of the soul. He said to these, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me,"-and here, precious friends comes in the grand culminating thought-"for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest for your souls."
This is what he taught concerning the part that he has in the saving of the souls of men. And shall we go from him and his testimony to those who see in him the representation and type of all the forms and ceremonies, the offerings and sacrifices, from the first effort of man to be at peace with God down to the tragedy of the Cross? Shall we turn to this act-as the only means by which we may be saved? Shall we affirm that only as we believe him to have been God sacrificed for man, dying on the Cross to expiate the sins not only of those of his own time, but of all those who have lived before him, and all who would live afterward to the latest day of humanity upon earth,-are we to hold that only as we believe this can we have any hope or any part in the great salvation?
O my friends, when my mind is turned to contemplate this perversion of the simple truth as it was in Jesus,-of how men have labored to make such a mystery of salvation that only the learned ones can follow the idea and reach to that which is real and lasting,-when I think over it all, I feel like lifting up my heart in thankfulness that though the Apostle declared that not many of the learned and mighty ones have been called into the simplicity of the Gospel as taught by Jesus, it meets the want of every earnest, seeking soul, every soul that in meekness and lowliness of heart is following Jesus in the way of his coming to that soul; following him in all that relates to his intercourse with his follow-men,-following him in his intercourse with the Father, who, he declared, was not only Father, but our Father. That relationship makes Jesus our brother, not our God to be sacrificed by another part of himself that we might escape the punishment due our transgressions. O my friends, Jesus never so taught, and the instincts of our own souls if yielded to,-the natural instincts that God has given to every one, of us,-revolt from the thought of being saved, through the sacrifice of the purest, holiest son of God that has ever walked the earth. The soul turns from the thought, and would rather bear its own iniquity, if it is true to the highest instincts that God has placed in the human heart,-would rather bear its own iniquity than owe its salvation to the cruel, cruel scourging and death of the Immaculate One. And it is a precious thought, that brings gladness to my heart, that the world is rising out of this, and coming to understand what the believing in the Lord Jesus Christ is, which saves us.
Precious Friends, if this does not seem clear to you now, rest under it. I found ten years well spent in struggling through the question of what salvation by Jesus Christ meant, and it seemed to me that when the answer came and the truth was revealed that emancipated me from the errors of tradition and theology as I then saw them, that twenty years-thirty years-would have been as naught to the joy and peace that came with believing in the Lord Jesus Christ in the way of his coming to save men; and so may you find it if any of you have up to this time felt that you must rest your salvation upon what was done for you by another. The true atonement is that coming to be at one with God, through living the life of the blessed and holy Son, who could say: "I do always the things that please my Father in heaven."
Precious young Friends, I am glad so many of you are here. I want you to start right in the world on this great question of "What must I do to be saved?" and starting right is not by accepting from this one what he says, or what another says, but to inquire for yourselves; you are not, any of you, too young to make this a matter of investigation, each for himself or herself, and as you investigate, divest yourselves of every other desire but to know what you must do to be saved, to be preserved in the innocency of that life which your Heavenly Father breathed into you to be preserved from yielding to temptations, to those appetites and desires which in their proper exercise are all given us for the development of the highest and holiest purposes in life, but perverted become the chains that drag down to the very pit of destruction. Learn, precious ones, how that preservation shall be accomplished, and accept the Lord Jesus Christ in the way of his coming to each one of you. Here comes in that great thought of the present age, the thought of individual accountability, started in the Christian Church by George Fox, who, when a question arose in regard to some article of adornment, made answer, "Wear it as long as thou canst,"(1) or words of like import, recognizing the perfect right of private judgment in all those things that relate to our peace with God; and this is one of the foremost questions in the church to-day. Even those denominations that have been bound with creeds as with bands of iron are finding that this question must be met. We have never been bound in this way, but we are bound by tradition and usage. Happily for you who are now coming to the front and taking your places in the work of the Church, these bands of tradition and usage are weakening-are coming to be but as wisps of straw when compared with the higher obligations we owe to each other and to God, who has given us the right of deciding for ourselves all questions that pertain to our relations with him.
This great truth of believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, believing in the Christ-Power as we would express it,-"the Power that makes for righteousness," as one of our modern writers has said,-that Power which in the fullness was in Jesus, and enabled him always to do the things that pleased his Heavenly Father,-that is the saving power. Precious young Friends, if you have not set out with that as the leading thought of your lives, consider it well. Consider that this is the most momentous question of your lives; that upon your decision as to what you can do to be saved, will rest all the future of your lives here; and that the life hereafter will be influenced by your decision now.
I would that I might be made the instrument this day to awaken some of you to this thought, if you have never been awakened to it before. I would that our Father might so inspire me with this great truth that the influence will reach to every heart,-to those who have just been awakened to the thought, and to those of you who, having traveled thus far through life, understand better the meaning of what we must do to be saved. Oh that all may be encouraged to be faithful to the revealings of the divine Law in our own souls, that we may carry about with us that peace of God which under every circumstance of our human lives will bless, strengthen, and encourage us to go on as He leads us, as He directs us.
What is life as we come to the silent shadow of its declining sun, to that man or that woman who
in looking back finds that it has been spent so that it yields only thorns to his or her soul? What
has such a person to look forward to in the future? Those who believe in a place of material
punishment show in ghastly pictures the soul writhing in torment. Believe me, precious friends,
there is no picture that man can make of that outward torment which can compare with the
torment of the soul that, looking back after a pilgrimage of three or four score years, finds it has
gathered nothing but apples of Sodom, beautiful to the outward eye, but filled with dust and ashes
inside. Dear friends, let none of us feel that we have no need to be saved, that we need not ask for
divine preservation; let none of us feel that we have gotten so near the sanctuary of the inner
court that we need have no fear of stumbling. All along our pathway we need guidance, we need
help; and our Father in heaven has promised, through the testimony of those who have lived
faithful and true lives, that He will be with us, that He will even go with us through the deep
waters of affliction, that He will guide us through all the perils of this transitory existence, and as
we lean upon Him and trust in Him, He will bring us safely across the Jordan of death into the
beatitudes of eternity.
May this be the portion of every soul here present, is the earnest prayer of my heart.
1.A fictitious story, first reported in the 19th century by Samuel M. Janney.