By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus Part 6
By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus Part 6
A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri — Part 5 (Chapters 14-17)
Facing the Truth
Sometime during the mid-1850s, shortly after the Latter-day Saints had fled the influence of the "gentile" world and the roots of Mormon culture had begun to take a firm hold in the isolated valleys of the Rocky Mountains, an LDS Apostle named Orson Pratt confidently laid a dramatic challenge before the world:
... convince us of our errors of doctrine, if we have any, by reason, by logical arguments, or by the Word of God, and we will be ever grateful for the information, and you ever will have the pleasing reflection that you have been instruments in the hands of God of redeeming your fellow beings from the darkness which you may see enveloping their minds.1
Orson Pratt was no doubt confident that a successful case against the claims of Mormonism would never be presented because one simply did not exist. Over a century-and-a-half of close scrutiny, though, has proven the opposite to be the case. It is this fact which probably best explains why the contemporary LDS Church has shifted from the bold, confrontational stance of Pratt's day, to one of cautioning members to "rely on faith and not on historical fact" (see article on p. 170). The message coming from LDS spokesmen today appears to be more and more one of accommodation: If facts fail to justify faith (what one wishes to believe), then faith should overrule facts. This sort of thinking is evasive, and must be set aside if any real reckoning with the facts is to take place. But going back to Pratt, the challenge he made is a valid one, and the tendency of contemporary LDS figures to rationalize away problems instead of confronting them only underlines the fact that serious problems do exist. If error or falsehood within a religious system exists, it should be exposed, and using reason and the Word of God to do so makes a great deal of sense. Exposing error is the right thing to do, as only good can be the ultimate result of people learning the truth. We are not only justified, then, in examining the evidences challenging the truth of the Book of Abraham which God has graciously allowed to come forth, we are firmly obligated to do so. And it is quite possible that the case against the Book of Abraham is the strongest evidence ever provided to test the truthfulness of Joseph Smith's claims.
What are the facts of the matter, and how should they be applied?
Back in the year 1835, when Michael Chandler's small collection of Egyptian antiquities first found its way into the hands of Joseph Smith, very little was known or understood about such things by anyone. There was no known way to read, date, or accurately identify Egyptian artifacts and writings with any degree of reliability, and for all anyone knew, there never would be. Whatever representations Joseph Smith wanted to make concerning his ability to translate ancient Egyptian writing could be done quite safely, since there seemed to be little prospect of disproving such claims.
The Mormon people of that era were taught to trust and believe what their prophet told them, and seeing no reason at the time not to, did so. They believed he could translate ancient papyri, and (for the most part) willingly embraced the new doctrines he taught.
By the time scholars had reached the point where they could read Egyptian and Joseph Smith's claims could finally be tested, several important things had happened:
Joseph Smith had been killed, abruptly ending the production of the Book of Abraham in mid-story. It was never taken up by any of his successors, in spite of the LDS position that they hold whatever power and authority (keys) are supposedly necessary to do so.2 Smith's death also brought an end to the series of specific claims, pronouncements, and identifications he had been in the habit of making about the Book of Abraham papyri, and other matters. People would now be able only to recall what had been said by him in the past about them.
The "Mormon Exodus" had occurred, placing the Mormon people in a condition of geographic isolation from the influence and controversies of most of the rest of the world. With immediate proximity gone, few non-Mormons knew or cared what Mormons regarded as scripture, and few Mormons cared about the opinions of non-Mormons.
The LDS Church lost control of the papyri. They were retained by Smith's widow, Emma, who refused to follow Brigham Young westward. Eventually they were dispersed, being either sold or given away to various parties, and were lost.
Other events overshadowed the importance of any Egyptian controversy, both to the Mormons and to the "gentiles." The western migration and gold rushes, the War Between the States, followed by the Reconstruction, the "Utah War" and Johnston's army, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Indian wars, territorial colonization -- all drew attention away from whatever the scholars might have had to say. The Mormon people became culturally entrenched in their own Rocky Mountain Kingdom. Polygamy had become an accepted lifestyle for many,3 and those who practiced it could not expect to find toleration for their families outside of Mormon society. In most instances virtually all of community life -- be it social, economic, or legislative -- was centered around the hierarchy of the Mormon priesthood authority.
All of these factors combined had the effect of causing the Mormon people (who had long since been conditioned to regard any criticism with suspicion) to become even less likely to be affected by any charges against Joseph Smith or the Book of Abraham. "Proof" of Joseph Smith's fraud offered by Egyptologists fell on deaf ears, for the most part.
As the criticism continued, becoming more developed, refined and widely known as time passed, the Mormon defense turned into an attack upon the competency and motives of their critics. No mere "outside opinions" could be considered valid by the Mormon people as long as no examination of their Prophet's original papyri (now missing and presumed lost forever) had ever been made. Without such a standard of comparison, it was argued, it was unfair for the critics to judge Joseph Smith wrong merely on the basis of the printed facsimiles. Meanwhile, Mormons staunchly maintained the divine nature and accuracy of Joseph Smith's work. If anything, the average Mormon was probably disappointed that the papyri were not available, being confident that the critics' charges would be refuted by the evidence. Indeed, this was the attitude which prevailed right up to the time the papyri were re-discovered.
However, prior to that rediscovery, LDS apologists enjoyed essentially the same position Joseph Smith had taken advantage of as he translated the papyri into the Book of Abraham, knowing the Egyptian language was not readable. By insisting upon comparisons that could not be made and demanding proof they believed did not exist, Mormon apologists could make almost any claim, advance any position, or deny any argument. As with Joseph Smith, there seemed little likelihood anything would happen to prove them wrong.
Then, quite unexpectedly, a major portion of Joseph Smith's original papyri collection reappeared. Suddenly, every condition that Latter-day Saints had been insisting on over the years was met. Every claim could be tested, every position examined, every argument answered.
As certain facts were established, a number of beliefs once thought safe from ever being proven false were shown to be wrong. Consider the following:
Belief: " ... one of the rolls [of papyrus] contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt ... " ( July, 1835, History of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 236)
Belief: "The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus ... " (Introduction to the Book of Abraham)
Fact: Based on comparisons of the Metropolitan papyri to every available resource, including descriptions contemporary with Joseph Smith of the so-called Abraham and Joseph scrolls, as well as to a number of original translation manuscripts and other notes of the time, the papyrus scroll Joseph Smith represented as containing "the writings of Abraham" was shown to be merely a common pagan funeral papyrus of late date known as the Book of Breathings. The scroll thought to contain "the writings of Joseph of Egypt" was also identified as a typical late copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which had been prepared for a woman named Ta-shert-Min. Neither scroll ever had anything to do with the biblical patriarchs Abraham or Joseph, except in the mind of Joseph Smith. Belief: "... Joseph the Seer has presented to us (the Twelve) some of the Book of Abraham which was written by his own hand but hid from the knowledge of man for the last four thousand years but has now come to light ... " (diary of Wilford Woodruff, Feb. 19, 1842)
Belief: ''It is evident that the writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, of which our printed Book of Abraham is a copy, must of necessity be older than the original text of Genesis. I say this in passing because some of our brethren have exhibited surprise when told that the text of the Book of Abraham is older than that of Genesis'' (Dr. Sidney B. Sperry (of BYU) in his book, Ancient Records Testify in Papyrus and Stone, p. 83).
Fact: The Book of Breathings scroll that Joseph Smith represented as being the Book of Abraham was prepared between about 50 BC and AD 50 in Thebes for a man named Hor, who was a priest, or purifier, to the Egyptian god Amon at Karnak. It was written in hieratic script, a cursive adaptation of hieroglyphic writing that first appeared around 600 BC -- at least a dozen centuries too late to have been used by Abraham. Moreover, the Book of Breathings itself had not even been composed until about the third or fourth-century before Christ.
Also proven wrong were Joseph Smith's claims to be able to translate Egyptian:
Belief: " ... spent the day in translating the Egyptian records ... " (Diary of Joseph Smith, Nov. 19, 1835)
Belief: " ... spent the day in translating, and made rapid progress ... " (Ibid, Nov. 20, 1835)
Belief: " ... in the afternoon we translated some of the Egyptian records ... "(Ibid, Nov. 24, 1835)
Belief: "The remainder of this month, I was continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arranging a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients" (Joseph Smith, July, 1835, History of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 238).
Belief: " ... [Joseph Smith's] most notable achievement was the development at Kirtland of a grammar for the Egyptian hieroglyphic form of writing. This was used by him, as well as divine aid, in translating ancient writings of the patriarch Abraham (William E. Berrett in his book, The Restored Church, 1956 ed., p. 133).
Belief: "A study of the document [Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar] suggests that it was formulated by an ancient writer, probably Abraham, to assist a translator in deciphering the language in which the record was written. If this conclusion is correct, Joseph Smith literally translated an alphabet to the Book of Abraham" (Hyrum L. Andrus in his book Doctrinal Commentary on the Pearl of Great Price, 1967, 1970, p. 25).
Fact: Not a single word, thought, or concept from Joseph Smith's Book of Abraham, including his explanations of his three facsimiles, is in any way related to the subject matter of the common Egyptian funeral texts from which they were supposedly translated. Furthermore, modern examination of the "Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar" papers that had once so greatly enhanced the Mormon Prophet's claim to be a true translator has exposed them as a collection of gibberish, having no connection to genuine ancient Egyptian.
One by one, virtually every Mormon belief about the Book of Abraham once considered essential to its support and regarded as faith promoting, has been shattered by the facts.
Not one trace of reliable evidence has appeared that would support the LDS view of the Book of Abraham as an authentic scripture, while an enormous amount of evidence is available to show that it is a man-made production of the nineteenth century, created by Joseph Smith to support his claim among his people to be a "prophet, seer, and revelator."
The evidence against the Book of Abraham is so overwhelming, as earlier chapters of this book have enumerated and demonstrated in detail, that many consider it a God-given means to demonstrate the fraudulent nature of Joseph Smith's claim to be a prophet of God.
The Book of Abraham cannot possibly be what it is represented to be; and if it is not authentic, neither are the doctrines it teaches, nor the system to which it belongs.
Moving Beyond Rationalizations
I bear you my testimony," a Mormon will say, "that the LDS Church is true; I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet, and that the Church is led by a prophet today. I know that the Book of Mormon is true, that it is the word of God, and that the Book of Abraham is likewise God's word ... " and on it goes. Virtually every Latter-day Saint has "borne his testimony" at one time or another to family or friends, before the members of his ward, or for the benefit of someone he would like to see join the LDS Church. Mormons are encouraged to do so at every opportunity. In fact, one church service each month is regularly set aside for members to publicly share their testimonies with each other,1 and at a very early age children are taught the basic pattern, such as using the positive term "I know" rather than what is regarded as the weaker expression "I believe."
However, is such a testimony a valid truth test? Is it a biblical truth test?
There is no reason to doubt that the majority of these testimonies are honest and sincere. But this in itself is no indication they are reliable. That portion of a testimony that pertains to things uniquely Mormon usually follows from the Latter-day Saint's exposure to an impressive presentation on a subject such as Joseph Smith's First Vision, the Book of Mormon, or the Book of Abraham. Once persuaded, Mormons learn to regard the conviction they feel as "the testimony of the Holy Ghost" that what they have accepted is true -- and this is considered an absolute, unshakable proof.2
The real power of a Mormon testimony, then, can actually be a potential trap that a person falls into by failing to realize that we can literally talk ourselves into anything if we want to believe it badly enough.
It is a painful fact of life, though, that sincerity is not a guarantee against being wrong. Faith must have some basis in fact. For a testimony about anything to be valid, there must be something to support it, to serve as a witness for it. Conversely, there must be nothing that legitimately discredits it.
While spiritual insight or faith is one valid measure in spiritual matters, true spiritual insight never directly contradicts valid intellectual insight or facts in the physical world. Faith may go beyond reason, but does not go against it. It never blatantly contradicts the facts which we perceive with our God-given common sense. Faith and fact point in a single direction. When they do not, something is seriously wrong. This is why, in spiritual matters, we are admonished to "believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God" (I John 4:1) and to "prove all things; hold fast to that which is good" (I Thessalonians 5:21). God does not usually create faith by first offering evidence, but at some point He does provide the evidence necessary to support true faith. A Mormon believes his testimony about the Book of Abraham is supported by factual proofs, but a careful investigation shows that no such proofs exist, while there is overwhelming evidence against it. In the absence of valid evidence for the object of his faith, the Latter-day Saint is left with only subjective feelings, which are inconclusive. In order to be objective, one must be willing to examine the evidence both for and against religious claims.
Unfortunately, a Mormon testimony cannot be successfully maintained in this way, and many Mormons will refuse to attempt it. As a result, even the most well-meaning, hopeful LDS testimony is invalid because it fails to wholly address truth.
This is not to say that every part of a Mormon testimony is invalid, however.
Like all honest and sincere people, Latter-day Saints have firsthand knowledge of the value of such things as loyalty, integrity, patience, thrift, modesty, a desire to know God, and of course love. All of these things make up a major share of what Mormons believe in and try to stand for. However, high standards alone can only provide a system of partial truth at best. A willingness to accept facts as they exist, and to learn to use them to test the views one holds rather than falling back on subjective experience or rationalizations, is the first step towards discovering genuine truth.
Does It Really Matter?
In the long run, does all this really matter? This is a very important question. To the person who doubts the existence of God or feels that God is not all that concerned with truth, probably not. The question of the authenticity of the Book of Abraham and the exclusive claims of the Mormon Church is, after all, primarily a religious one, and to those who have no real doctrine they hold dear, the issue must not seem all that important. One pleasant life-style may seem every bit as worthy as another, and if it is well-organized and impressive, so much the better.
However, the ultimate promise of a religious system lies not in its life-style -- its buildings, programs, or fraternity -- but in its ability to reconcile us to God. Mormonism's ability to meet this need stands or falls with the claim that its scriptures (including the Book of Abraham) are true revelations from God. If this claim is false, the system -- no matter how admirable -- is invalid and misleading. Its promises are empty; it cannot ''deliver on them.''
Again, this point may not matter to those who do not believe that there is a God, and that He has a plan for our lives. But it should matter very much to those who are genuinely trying to learn and obey God's will.
This book has dealt at some length in previous chapters with such subjects as accommodation, rationalization, and vested interests, and discussed ways in which each may have its own influence upon the Latter-day Saint who has been exposed to controversy. At this point, however, it might be helpful for the reader to gain an idea of the extent to which some people can be affected by such things.
On pages 182-187 there are photostatic reproductions of four letters, spanning an eight-year period, written by a man named Thomas Stuart Ferguson. Mr. Ferguson, now deceased, is often recalled by older Latter-day Saints as a stalwart defender of the faith who, among other things, established the New World Archaeological Foundation at Brigham Young University. Ferguson, once a general officer of BYU's Society for Early Historic Archaeology, wrote the popular LDS book One Fold and One Shepherd, and was co-author with Apostle Milton R. Hunter of the book Ancient America and the Book of Mormon. For many years Ferguson had attempted to uncover and present proofs for Mormon claims through the field of archaeology, and had even received substantial grants from the LDS Church to further these efforts. Then, in 1968 he was caught up in the Book of Abraham controversy.
Though excerpts from some of these letters have appeared from time to time in various printed works during the past several years, this is the first time these letters have been published in their entirety.1
One safety net which many Mormons fall back on when confronted with damaging evidence against their belief-system -- such as that which the Book of Abraham case presents -- is to reason along these lines: "if there were really anything wrong, so-and-so (any of a number of well-known scholars and intellectuals in the Church) who understands much more about the subject than I ever will,would have discovered it and left the Church. But he has not."
The letters of Thomas Stuart Ferguson illustrate the fallacy of such reasoning, for his study led him to reject Joseph Smith's claim to divine revelation, though Ferguson kept these conclusions private. His conclusions were shared with only a few during his lifetime, and when Ferguson died, it was as a member in full fellowship of the LDS Church, respected by many who thought he shared their religious beliefs.
It would be a serious mistake to assume that all, or even most intelligent Mormons must inevitably fall into Ferguson's category, for a great many are undeniably sincere in their beliefs. Still, Ferguson himself placed the number of those who "enjoy the good things and keep their mouths shut" in the "thousands."2
To be quite candid, it seems to have become almost fashionable for many to redefine their principles in a similar way, all in the high-sounding name of "charity" or "tolerance." Those who hold to this rather condescending attitude of "keeping up appearances for the sake of others" seem to feel they are doing their peers a great favor; protecting them, as it were, from "the chasm of death and extinction" which they perceive as being "the real truth."
Unfortunately, their actions run the risk of producing far more harm than the good they had originally intended. It is unrealistic to expect people to remain ignorant indefinitely. When an individual fails to respond openly and honestly to such a problem it only passes the problem -- and the pain of dealing with it -- to someone else, multiplying ignorance and hurt in the process. It is one thing for an insincere person to decide he enjoys being "comfortable," but quite another when he does so at the expense of others who are sincere, allowing them to one day discover they, too, have been deceived.
So much potential pain to loved ones and future generations could be avoided! How? By placing truth ahead of convenience, by being honest with ourselves and with others.
The question of meeting challenges to our faith really does matter, because truth matters. The Bible gives us the promise that "the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32) -- and that includes being free from delusion.
There is another kind of freedom we can experience also, and that is the subject of the next and final chapter.
The Alternative: Biblical Christianity
Charles Larson with Floyd McElveen
I was once asked by a young Mormon whether I personally felt that Mormonism was "Christian." "I know that all individuals can be considered separate cases," he told me, "and that only God can truly judge what is in a person's heart -- but I want to know if you consider my church to be 'Christian' on your terms, the same way you think of your church as being 'Christian.' "
What the young man apparently did not know was that I had once been a believing and dedicated Latter-day Saint myself. After considering for a moment, I told him that I felt the proportion of orthodox Christians who considered Mormonism to be Christian was probably about the same as that of Latter-day Saints who considered orthodox Christianity acceptable in God's sight.
There was a pause before he responded, and I suspected he was recalling, as I was, the memorized words of the popular account of Joseph Smith's First Vision --
" ... My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right . . . I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong) ... I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personages who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that all those professors were corrupt" ... (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith -- History 1:18,19)
"That was a very good answer," he finally responded, obviously surprised. So was I. I take no credit for the answer -- I believe God gave it to me to use at that particular moment.
The fact remains that Latter-day Saints would like very much to be recognized as part of the Christian community and called by the label "Christian." This, despite the fact that they consider orthodox Christians (members of ''the sects," as they call them) to be in an apostate condition; incomplete at best, corrupt at worst. The LDS Church holds that the "Apostasy" of Christendom was the whole reason for the "Restoration" which the teachings of Mormonism are supposed to represent. Every believing Latter-day Saint bases his or her acceptance of the Mormon Church on this premise. Of course the Mormon charge that orthodox Christianity is apostate assumes that Mormonism is itself true. But as this book has demonstrated, the evidence overwhelmingly proves otherwise. However, the Latter-day Saint who discovers that his organization is not what he thought it was is not left with only the alternative of a ''chasm of death and extinction,'' as Ferguson suggested. Biblical Christianity still remains, waiting to be examined and tested on its own terms.
However, some people are confused by the different Christian denominations. ''Why are there so many churches,'' they ask? ''And which is the true Church?'' For want of a better analogy, this is like shopping for a vase in which to put some flowers, and, on seeing many different styles of vases, exclaiming, ''But which is the right vase?''
The fact is that vases can differ a good deal in size and shape, and still share the essential requirements necessary to hold flowers. And so it is with the various denominations within orthodox Christianity. Though they differ a good deal in outward appearance (secondary doctrinal matters, worship style, etc.), they share the essentials of biblical Christianity. None of these denominations is the one true Church. Instead, all true believers in these various churches are a part of what the New Testament calls the ''Body of Christ'' (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 5:25-32), the Church Universal.
Local Christian congregations are temporal vehicles for worship, fellowship, and the edification of believers. It is natural that a Christian will want to become a part of a local assembly of believers where he find can encouragement and edification, and Scripture commands us to seek such fellowship (Hebrews 10:25). However, the Bible makes it clear that a person's salvation is based on his relationship with Jesus Christ, not membership in a Christian congregation.
Following is a thumbnail outline of the essential doctrines of historic, biblical Christianity shared by all orthodox Christians regardless of denominational labels:
The Bible is God's unique, final, and infallible revelation. It is this solid foundation of the inspired writings of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20), on which the Christian Church was established, Christ himself being the cornerstone.
There is only God (Isaiah 44:6,8) and He has eternally existed as God (Psalm 90:2). He is the Creator of all things, but is Himself is self-existent and uncreated.
One biblical passage in which Jesus himself brings together the teaching of the Old and New Testaments on this point in Mark 12:28-34, where Christ is being questioned by Jewish religious leaders. One of them asks him, "Which is the greatest commandment of all?" The Lord Jesus responds by quoting the great Old Testament confession of faith found in Deuteronomy 6:4,5 -- "The first of all the commandments is, Hear O Israel, The Lord your God is one Lord." The scribe's response shows both that he fully endorsed Jesus' answer, and that the Jews understood the Old Testament passage Jesus had quoted to teach that there is only one God: "And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God, and there is none other but he." Jesus, in turn, gives his approval to the scribe's statement of faith: "And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God." (Other important Scriptures that emphasize that there is only one God include Isaiah 43:10,11; 44:6,8; 45:21,22; 46:9.)
All men are born in a fallen condition, separated from God in His holiness by the awful moral gulf of sin. God created man in a state of innocence and fellowship with Himself, but this fellowship was broken by the sinful disobedience of Adam and Eve. Their disobedience unleashed the power of sin and death in the world. All men are thus born with a sinful nature, and will be judged for the sins they commit (Ezekiel 18:20), unless they receive God's offer of grace through Jesus Christ. Romans 3:23,24 says that, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God; Being freely justified by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." God's Word describes us as "dead in our trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1,5). We can do nothing through our own works or merit to remedy our separation from God --dead men are powerless to help themselves.
Holiness and love are equal attributes of God's character. God's holiness demands that He judge all sin. However, His love has moved Him to make a gracious provision to save lost mankind. God's attributes of holiness and love are reflected, respectively, in the Old Testament moral law (ten commandments) and ceremonial law (system of animal sacrifices). The moral law was given to make man aware of his inability to meet the perfect demands of God's holiness (Romans 5:20; 7:7; Galatians 3:19), and the ceremonial law was given to point to God's gracious provision of atonement and reconciliation that was ultimately accomplished in Jesus Christ, "the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29; see also, Hebrews 9:11-14; 10:1-14).
Jesus Christ is God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not separate Gods, but are Persons within the one Tri-une Godhead. As we have seen, Jesus re-affirmed the Old Testament teaching that there is only one God. At the same time, the New Testament clarifies what is hinted at in the Old Testament (Genesis 1:26; 11:7), that there are three Persons within the one Godhead (Matthew 28:19,20; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 Peter 1:2). Therefore, we must reasonably understand that God is Tri-une.
While never ceasing to be God, at the appointed time the Son voluntarily laid aside the glory He shared with the Father and became flesh for our salvation (John 17:4, 5; Galatians 4:4,5; Philippians 2:6-11). His incarnation was accomplished through being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin. On the cross He took the personal sins of all men -- past, present and future -- in His own body and bore the judgement of God in our place (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus' atonement was first and foremost a solution for our sin problem. His shed blood propitiated (satisfied) the demands of God's holiness (1 John 2:2) and is the only basis by which God can grant us forgiveness and eternal salvation.
God who is "rich in mercy" and "not willing that any should perish," came to reveal His love by identifying with us. Wonder of wonders, Jesus, the Creator of this universe and of all that is, fulfilled centuries of prophecy by word and picture. Millions of lambs were slain on Jewish altars pointing to Him, the Lamb of God. His blood shed on the cross as He bore your sins and mine in incredible pain and abandonment by God and man, forever paid the sin debt, and sin is all that ever has or could separate us from God. This is nothing left to be done, added or paid, for our complete and eternal salvation! To infer such is to cheapen the sacrifice of Jesus as if it were not all-sufficient (Galatians 2:21), and to minimize His great love.
He did not die just so we would be resurrected from the dead. All men are resurrected, some to eternal damnation in the Lake of Fire (John 5:29; Revelation 20:14-15). The brutal, bloody death of the Son of God on the cross is graphic testimony to the fact that we are already lost, a condemned race (John 3:18), in danger night and day of plunging into a lost eternity in Hell. To be in Hell is to be without hope, without God, in a place of torment, the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14-15). The Savior knows this, He wept for us, as He did over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44). He pleads with us to be saved 'now' (2 Corinthians 6:2), as He knows the awfulness of Hell, the urgent need to be saved from our sinful 'going our own way,' acting as our own god.
The Savior also longs to dwell in us, to have sweet fellowship with us. For this we were created. He wants us to bring glory to Him and to bring others into His kingdom. He longs to shower His love upon us, but He cannot fellowship with us in our self-righteousness and sin. He wants us to have a new quality of life here, with peace, and certainty and joy in Him, and then to share the glory of Heaven with Him forever. He wants us to understand that we do not become new creatures by our own efforts, however 'good' and religious, and then invite Him into our lives. We are washed from our sins, and made children of God with a new nature, when enters He our life and we become "new creatures in Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:17). He wants us to be absolutely sure that we will go to Heaven, and not to Hell (1 John 5:9-13). No more sorrow, death, tears, parting, heartbreak, wickedness, war, sin, but instead, incomparable beauty, basking in His great love and sharing Heaven with Him and all the saved in His family forever. This is what He died for, shed his blood in agony for, rose again and conquered death for, to save people like you and me, now and forever. Oh, how He loves us! The cross proves that. He wants to give you new life in Him right now. That is what He wants. What do you want?
Dear reader, by a simple prayer of faith you can make the decision today to receive God's free offer of salvation. Recognizing your own helplessness and the precious provision of Jesus on the cross, you only need to confess your sin and ask God to forgive you and save you through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The Word of God declares,
"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth is confession made unto salvation" (Romans 10:9,10).
The promise of God's Word is clear and certain, "But as many as received him (Jesus Christ), to them gave he power to become sons (children) of God, even to them that believe on his name" (John 1:12). If you agree with what God has said in His Word, that you are separated from Him by your sin, and you understand the good news that Jesus Christ died in your place so that you can be forgiven, why not bow your head right now and ask God to save you?
The following prayer may help you express your decision to place you faith completely in Jesus Christ and ask him to save you:
''Dear Lord , I acknowledge before you today that I am a sinner and fall short of your holy demands. I understand that I need to be reconciled to you, and that I cannot make myself acceptable to you through good works. I believe that you love me and sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross in my place so that through Him I can be forgiven and accepted by you. Here and now I ask you to forgive me and save through Jesus Christ. I pray this in Jesus' name, amen.''
If you have prayed to receive Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, consider the words of John 6:47 carefully: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life." Believing, receiving, calling upon, and 'opening the door' (Revelation 3:20), are expressions used more or less interchangeably in the Bible. They mean that the kind of heart (not head) belief which saves is the kind that makes a definite decision at a point in time to accept, receive, believe in, call on, Christ.
''He that believeth on the Son, hath (already has) everlasting life.'' So, what do you have right now, if you truly believed in Jesus Christ when you called on Him? What kind of life? Where are you sins? Who has them? Could anyone or anything ever take this 'everlasting' life from you? Where would you go if you were to die right now?
If you now realize that Jesus Christ has come into your life, saved you, and given you everlasting life, if you now know, based on the Word of God, that if you were to die you would go to Heaven to be with the Lord Jesus Christ, please bow your head and thank Him for saving your soul. Then tell others you have been saved by simply trusting Jesus Christ, and begin immediately a life of obedience to Him. This will demonstrate the reality of your salvation.
If you are still in doubt, you may not really be believing Him, and He only saves by faith. Or, you may not understand. Or, you may be clinging to some sin, or some false teaching that you are unwilling to turn over to Jesus.
Most likely, however, you are waiting for some 'feeling' to confirm your salvation. We are not saved by feelings, but by faith in Jesus, and in what God's Word says about saving us when we trust Him. Feelings come and go, but resting in God's Word is what gives permanent assurance of our salvation. To call on Jesus to save us, and then to wonder if He did, means we are doubting His integrity. In essence, this makes God a liar -- 1 John 5:10. It also casts doubt on His love. Would He love you enough to die for you in sheer torture and blood, and the turn you down when you call on Him to save you?
Feelings are important -- God gave us emotions, but never is our salvation to be based on feelings. They are too untrustworthy, deceitful at times, and fluctuate too much. Our salvation is based on the Word of God. The Spirit of God acts on the Word of God as we trust Jesus, to bring about the new birth in our hearts (1 Peter 1:23; Romans 10:17).
If an honest man promises us $1000 simply for the asking, and we do ask him for the $1000, he must give the money to us, regardless of how we feel or don't feel, or any other considerations. God is more honest than any man. If you asked Jesus to save you, you can know, based on His promise, that you have Jesus and His salvation.
Finally, knowing you are saved, because God said so, will time and again bring great joy and peace into your heart! You can memorize John 6:47 and Romans 10:13, and use them as a soft pillow for a tired head for the rest of your life, knowing, that if you were to die, you would go to heaven to be with Jesus Christ forever. Keep the order straight: Fact, faith, and feelings. Sometimes, God withdraws all feelings, so we can develop and walk by faith. Then the joy in Him eventually is increased.
Rejoice in Him and His salvation, and live obediently for Him the rest of your life. Read the Bible, pray, serve Him in church, and love Him with all your heart.
If you would like further counsel on this matter, or if you have questions about anything discussed in the book, you are cordially invited to contact the publisher:
Institute for Religious Research
600 West Street
Cedar Springs, MI 49319
Suggested further reading: John R. Stott, Basic Christianity, C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity , J. I. Packer, Knowing God.