But we are not of them who draw back to perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.
The writer uses a somewhat uncommon word in this clause, which is not altogether adequately represented by the translation "saving." Its true force will be apparent by comparing one or two of the fear instances in which it occurs in the New Testament. For example, it is twice employed in the Epistles to the Thessalonians; in one case being rendered, "God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain" (or, more correctly, to the obtaining of) "salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ"; and in another, "called to the obtaining of glory, through Jesus Christ." It is employed twice besides, in two other places of Scripture, and in both of these it means " possession." So that, though substantially equivalent to the idea of salvation, there is a very beautiful shade of difference which is well worth noticing. The thought of the text is substantially this — those who believe win their souls; they acquire them for their possession. We talk colloquially about "people that cannot call their souls their own." That is a very true description of all men who are not lords of themselves through faith in Jesus Christ. "They who believe to the gaining of their own souls" is the meaning of the writer here.
I. First, then, IF WE LOSE OURSELVES WE WIN OURSELVES. All men admit in theory that a self-centred life is a blunder. Jesus Christ has all thoughtful men wholly with Him when He says, "He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life shall find it." There is no such way of filling a soul with blessedness and of evolving new capacities as self-oblivion for some great cause, for some great love, for some great enthusiasm. Many a woman has found herself when she held her child in her arms, and in the self-oblivion which comes from maternal affections and cares has sprung into a loftier new life. But whilst all these counterpoises to the love of self are, in their measure, great and blessed, not one of them will so break the fetters from off a prisoned soul and let it out into the large place of glad self-oblivion as the course which our text enjoins when it says: If you wish to forget yourselves, to abandon and lose yourselves, fling yourselves into Christ's arms, and by faith yield your whole being, will, trust, purposes, aims, everything — yield it all up to Him; and when you can say, "We are not our own," then first will you belong to yourselves and have won your own souls. Nothing else is comparable to the talismanic power of trust in Jesus Christ. When thus we lose ourselves in Him we find ourselves, and find Him in ourselves. I believe that a life must either spin round on its own axis, self-moved, or else it must be drawn by the mass and weight and mystical attractiveness of the great central sun, and swept clean out of its own little path to become a satellite round Him. Then only will it move in music and beauty, and flash back the lustre of an unfading light. Self or God — one or other will be the centre of every human life. It is well to be touched with lofty enthusiasms; it is well to conquer self in the eager pursuit of some great thought or large subject of study; it is well to conquer self in the sweetness of domestic love; but through all these there may run a perverting and polluting reference to myself. Affection may become but a subtle prolongation of myself, and study and thought may likewise be tainted, and even in the enthusiasm for a great cause there may mingle much of self-regard; and on the whole there is nothing that will sweep out, and keep out, the seven devils of selfishness except to yield yourselves to God, drawn by His mercies, and say, "I am not my own; I am bought with a price." Then, and only then, will you belong to yourselves.
II. Secondly, IF WE WILL TAKE CHRIST FOR OUR LORD WE SHALL BE LORDS OF OUR OWN SOULS. I have said that self-surrender is self-possession. It is equally true that self-control is self-possession; and it is as true about this application about my text as it was about the former, that Christianity only says more emphatically what all moralists say, and supplies a more efficient means of accomplishing the end which they all recognise as good. For everybody knows that the man who is a slave to his own passions, lusts, or desire — that the man who is the sport of circumstance, and yields to every temptation that comes sweeping round him, as bamboos bend before every blast — is not his own master. He "dare not call his soul his own." What do we mean by being self-possessed, except this, that we can so rule our more fluctuating and sensitive parts as that, notwithstanding appeals made to them by external circumstances, they do not necessarily yield to these. He possesses himself who, in the face of antagonism, can do what is right. Trust in Jesus Christ, and let Him be your Commander-in-Chief, and you have won your souls Let Him dominate them, and you can dominate them. If you will give your wills into His hands, He will give them back to you and make you able to subdue your passions and desires. What does some little rajah, OH the edge of our great Indian Empire, do when troubled with rebels that he cannot subdue? He goes and makes himself a feudatory of the great central Power at Calcutta, and then down comes a regiment or two and makes very short work of the rebellion that the little kinglet could do nothing with. If you go to Christ and say to Him, "Dear Lord, take my crown from my head and lay it at Thy feet. Come Thou to help me to rule this anarchic realm of my own soul," you will win yourself.
III. Thirdly, IF WE HAVE FAITH IN CHRIST WE ACQUIRE A BETTER SELF. The thing that most thoughtful men and women feel after they have gone a little way into life is not so much that they want to possess themselves, as that they want to get rid of themselves — of all the failures and shame and disappointment and futility of their lives, and that desire may be accomplished. We cannot strip ourselves of ourselves by any effort. The bitter old past keeps living on, and leaves with us seeds of weakness and memories that sometimes corrupt, and always enfeeble; memories that seem to limit the possibilities of the future in a tragic fashion. Ah, we can get rid of ourselves; and, instead of continuing the poor, sin-laden, feeble creatures that we are. The old individuality will remain, but new tastes, new aspirations, aversions, hopes, and capacities to realise them, may all be ours. You can lose yourselves, in a very deep sense, if, trusting in Jesus Christ, you open the door of the heart to the influx of that new life which is His best gift. Faith wins a better self, and we may each experience, in all its blessedness, the paradox of the apostle when he said, "I live " now, at last, in triumphant possession of this better life: "I live" now, I only existed before; "yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." And with Christ in me I first find myself.
IV. Lastly, IF BY FAITH WE WIN OUR SOULS HERE, WE SAVE THEM FROM DESTRUCTION HEREAFTER. I have said that the word of my text is substantially equivalent to the more frequent and common expression, "salvation"; though with a shade of difference, which I have been trying to bring out. And this substantial equivalence is more obvious if .you will note that the text is the second member of an antithesis, of which the first is, "we are not of them which draw back into perdition." So, then, the writer sets up, as exact opposites of one another, these two ideas, perdition or destruction, on the one hand; and the saving or winning of the soul on the other. Therefore, whilst we must give due weight to the considerations which I have already been suggesting, we shall not grasp the whole of the writer's meaning unless we admit also the thought of future. So, then, you cannot be said to have won your souls if you are only keeping them for destruction. And such destruction is clearly laid down here as the fate of those who turn away from Jesus Christ. Now it seems to me that no fair interpretation can eject from that word "perdition," or "destruction," an element of awe and terror. However you may interpret the ruin, it is ruin utter of which it speaks. Now, remember, the alternative applies to each of us. It is a case of "either — or" in regard to us all. If we have taken Christ for our Saviour, and, as I said, put the reins into His hands and given ourselves to Him by love and submission and confidence, then we own our souls, because we have given them to Him to keep, "and He is able to keep that which is committed to Him against that day." But I am bound to tell you, in the plainest words I can command, that if you have not thus surrendered yourself to Jesus Christ, His sacrifice, His intercession, His quickening Spirit, then I know not where you find one foothold of hope that upon you there will not come down the overwhelming fate that is darkly portrayed in that one solemn word.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.