HOW TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN
David James Burrell was born at Mount
Pleasant, Pennsylvania, in 1849. He
graduated from Yale College in 1867.
Since 1891 he has been pastor of the
Marble Collegiate Church, New York,
which was founded in 1628. Dr. Burrell
is unusually popular as a pulpit
preacher, and attracts many young people
to his evening services. His delivery is
clear-cut and vigorous, and often he rises
to dramatic heights of eloquence. His
gesture is marked by grace and appropriateness,
and his illustrations are
always chosen with felicity. His sermons
are stenographically reported and printed
each week in pamphlets for wide distribution.
Lewis O. Brastow, D. D.
Born in 1849
HOW TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN
And there arose no small stir about that way.
—Acts xix., 23.
The name by which the early Christians
were familiarly known was "The people
of that way." In the year 36 the Sanhedrin
issued a commission to Saul of Tarsus
authorizing him to arrest any whom he might
find "of the way, whether they were men or
women, and to bring them bound unto Jerusalem."
(Acts ix., 2.) In the year 58, twenty-two
years later, the same Saul, now an apostle
of Christ, made a defense from the steps of
the Castle of Antonia, in which he said, "I
persecuted this way unto the death, binding
and delivering into prison both men and
women" (Acts xxii., 4).
The name thus given to the followers of
Christ is significant for many reasons. The
question has been raised in some quarters as
to whether religion is dogma or life. In fact,
our religion in the last reduction is neither
dogma nor life; it is a way from sin into the
Kingdom of God. Its bed-rock is truth, its
pavement is character, its destination is eternal
It is a plain way; as indicated in the prophecy,
"A highway shall be there and a way,
and it shall be called the way of holiness; the
wayfaring man tho a fool shall not err
therein." Nevertheless, to the unsaved no
question is more bewildering than this:
"What shall I do that I may inherit eternal
life?" In the Pocono Mountains, last summer,
I found it very difficult to keep in the old
Indian trail; tho it was easy enough for my
comrade, who had been born and bred in the
vicinity. A letter lies before me, written by
a man of affairs, in which he says, "All my
life I have been an attendant at church;
I would like to be a Christian, but I confess
that I have never yet learned how to set about
It is my present purpose to make this matter
as clear as I can. Let it be said at the outset
that one thing only is needful in order to become
a follower of Christ—to wit, that one
shall believe in Him, but, before we come to
that, we must touch upon a matter of preliminary
A man must repent before he believes in
Christ (Mark i., 15). Now repentance is not
a saving grace, having value only as it leads
to something further on. The pain of a physical
malady has no curative virtue; but it is
this pain that inclines the patient to ring the
doctor's bell. So John the Baptist goes before
Christ with his cry, "Repent ye!" Since
without repentance there is no adequate sense
of need, nor disposition to accept Christ.
Let us get a clear understanding of repentance.
It suggests at the outset, an apprehension
of sin as a fact; not a figment of the
imagination, not "a belief of mortal mind";
not an infection due to environment, and
therefore involving no personal accountability;
but a distinct, flagrant violation of holy
law, by which the sinner is brought into rebellion
And sin must be apprehended, furthermore,
as a calamitous fact, that is, involving an adequate
penalty: "The soul that sinneth, it shall
die." A true penitent recognizes the justice
of the punishment which is imposed upon him;
as did the repentant thief, when he said to his
comrade, "We indeed are condemned justly."
One who spends his time in trying to explain
away hell and "the unquenchable fire" and
"the worm that dieth not," is not a penitent
And sin must be furthermore recognized as
a concrete or personal fact. It is not enough
to acknowledge the incontrovertible presence
of sin in the world around us. The important
thing is, that this sin inheres in me. So David
prayed, "Have mercy upon me, O God, according
unto thy loving kindness; for I have
sinned and done this evil in thy sight." He
had always known, in general terms, that
adultery was a fearful thing; but when it
pointed its gaunt finger at him in the watches
of the night and hissed, "Bathsheba!" it
brought him to his knees.
And this conviction of sin must be followed
by a resolution to forsake it. The true penitent
fears his sin, hates it, loathes it, abhors
it, and determines to quit it.
But observe, all this is merely preliminary
to the one thing needful. There is no virtue
in repentance per se. The penitent is not
saved; he has only discovered his need of salvation.
He knows his malady; now how shall
he be cured of it? To pause here is death.
One in a sinking boat must not be satisfied
with stopping the leak; the boat must be baled
out. A man head over ears in debt can not recover
his credit by resolving to pay cash in
the future; he must somehow cancel his past
obligations. If a penitent were never to
commit another sin, the "handwriting of ordinances"
would still be against him. The
record of the past remains; and it will confront
him in the judgment unless it be disposed
of. The past. The mislived past!
What shall be done about it?
This brings us to the matter in hand: What
shall I do to be saved? or How shall I become
Our Lord at the beginning of His ministry
said to Nicodemus, "God so loved the world,
that he gave his only begotten Son, that
whosoever believeth on him, should not perish,
but have everlasting life." And to make the
matter perfectly clear to this learned rabbi,
He resorted to the kindergarten method, using
an object-lesson: "As Moses lifted up the
serpent in the wilderness, even so must the
Son of man be lifted up (that is, crucified),
that whosoever believeth in him should not
perish, but have eternal life." So the one
thing needful is to believe in Christ.
The same truth was repeated over and over
in the teachings of Jesus and of His disciples
as well. To the jailer of Philippi who, in sudden
conviction, was moved to cry, "What
shall I do?" the answer of Paul was, "Believe
on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt
But what is it to "believe in Christ?" It
is easy to say, "Come to Christ" and "Accept
Christ" and "Believe in Him"; but just here
occurs the bewilderment. These are oftentimes
mere shop-worn phrases to the unsaved,
however simple they may appear to those who
have entered on the Christian life.
To believe in Christ is, first, to credit the
historic record of His life. Once on a time
He lived among men, preached, wrought miracles,
suffered and died on the accurst tree.
So far all will agree; but there is clearly no
saving virtue in an intellectual acceptance of
an undisputed fact.
It means, second, to believe that Jesus was
what He claimed to be. And His claim is
perfectly clear. To the woman of Samaria
who sighed for the coming of Messiah He said,
"I that speak unto thee am he." No reader
of the Scripture could misunderstand His
meaning, since the prophecy of the Messiah
runs like a golden thread through all its pages
from the protevangel, "The seed of the woman
shall bruise the serpent's head," to the prediction
of Malachi, "The Sun of righteousness
shall arise with healing in his beams."
But, more than this, Jesus claimed that
as Messiah He was the only begotten and co-equal
Son of God. He came forth from God
and, after finishing His work, was to return to
God and reassume "the glory which he had
with the Father before the world was." It
was this oft repeated assertion which so mortally
offended the Jews as to occasion His
arrest on the charge of blasphemy. He persisted
in His claim, and was put to death for
"making himself equal to God." It must be
seen, therefore, that no man can be said to believe
in Christ who is not prepared to affirm,
without demur or qualification, that He was
what He claimed to be.
It means, third, to believe that Jesus did
what He said He came into the world to do.
And here again there can be no doubt or
peradventure. He said, "The Son of man came
not to be ministered unto, but to minister and
to give his life a ransom for many." His
death was to be the purchase price of redemption.
In the wilderness He was tempted to
turn aside from His great purpose. The adversary
led Him to a high place, and with a
wave of his hand, directed His thought to
the kingdoms of this world, saying, "All these
are mine. I know thy purpose: thou art come
to win this world by dying for it. Why pay
so great a price? I know thy fear and trembling—for
thou art flesh—in view of the nails,
the fever, and dreadful exposure, the long
agony. Why pay so great a price? I am the
prince of this world. One act of homage, and
I will abdicate. Fall down and worship me!"
Never before or since has there been such a
temptation, so specious, so alluring. But
Jesus had covenanted to die for sinners. He
knew there was no other way of accomplishing
salvation for them. He could not be
turned aside from the work which He had volunteered
to do. Therefore He put away the
suggestion with the words, "Get thee behind
me, Satan! I can not be moved! I know the
necessity that is laid upon me. I know that
my way to the kingdom is only by the cross.
I am therefore resolved to suffer and die for
the deliverance of men."
On a later occasion, on His way to Jerusalem—that
memorable journey of which it is
written. "He set his face stedfastly" to go
toward the cross—He spoke to His disciples ofHis death. He had been with them now three
years, but had not been able fully to reveal
His mission, because they were "not strong
enough to bear it." A man with friends, yet
friendless, lonely in the possession of His
great secret, He had longed to give them His
full confidence, but dared not. Now, as they
journeyed southward through Cæsarea Philippi,
He asked them, "Who do men say that
I am?" And they answered, "Some say John
the Baptist; others, Elias; others, Jeremias, or
one of the prophets." And he saith, "But
who say ye that I am?" Then Peter—brave,
impulsive, glorious Peter—witness his good
confession: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of
the living God!" The hour had come. His
disciples were beginning to know Him. He
would give them His full confidence. So as
they journeyed on toward Jerusalem He told
them all how He had come to redeem the world
by bearing its penalty of death; "He began
to show them how he must suffer many things
of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and
be killed." At that point Peter could hold
his peace no longer, but began to rebuke him,
saying, "Be it far from thee, Lord! To suffer?
To die? Nay, to reign in Messianic
splendor!" And Jesus turning, said unto
him, "Get thee behind me, Satan!"—the very
words with which He had repelled the same
suggestion in the wilderness. As He looked on
His disciple, He saw not Peter, but Satan—perceived
how the adversary had for the
moment taken possession, as it were, of this
man's brain and conscience and lips. "Get
thee behind me, Satan! I know thee! I
recognize thy crafty suggestion; but I am not
to be turned aside from my purpose. Get thee
behind me! Thou art an offense unto me.
Thy words are not of divine wisdom, but of
human policy. Thou savorest not the things
that be of God, but those that be of men!"
From this we conclude that the vicarious
death of Jesus is the vital center of His gospel,
and that any word which contravenes it is in
the nature of a Satanic suggestion. It follows
that no man can truly believe in Christ without
assenting to the fact that the saving power
is in His death; as it is written, "The blood of
Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin," and,
"Without the shedding of blood there is no
remission." He came into the world to die
for sinners, that they by His death might
enter into life; He came to take our place before
the bar of the offended law, to be
"wounded for our transgressions and bruised
for our iniquities, that by his stripes we
might be healed"; He came to "bear our sins
in his own body on the tree"; and to believe
in Christ is to believe that He did what He
came to do.
It means, fourth—and now we come to the
very heart of the matter—to believe that
Christ means precisely what He says. He
says to the sinner, "The Son of man hath
power on earth to forgive sins." He says,
"Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise
cast out." He says, "He that believeth in
me hath everlasting life." At this point belief
means personal appropriation; acceptance,
immediate, here, now. It is to make an end
of doubt and perplexity and all questionings,
by closing in with the overtures of divine
mercy. It is to lay down one's arms and make
an unconditional surrender. It is to take the
proffered hand of the Savior in an everlasting
covenant of peace. It is to say, "My Lord,
my life, my sacrifice, my Savior and my all!"
But just here is where many hesitate and
fail. They do not "screw their courage to the
sticking point." They come up to the line,
but do not take the step that crosses it.
They put away the outstretched hand, and so
fall short of salvation.
The will must act. The prodigal in the far
country will stay there forever unless his
resolution cries, "I will arise and go!" The
resolution is an appropriating act. It makes
Christ mine; it links my soul with His, as
the coupler binds the locomotive to the loaded
train. It grasps His outstretched hand; it
seals the compact and inspires the song:
'Tis done, the great transaction's done,
I am my Lord's and He is mine!
He drew me, and I followed on,
Charmed to confess the voice divine.
High heaven that hears the solemn vow,
That vow renewed shall daily hear;
Till in life's latest hour I bow
And bless in death a bond so dear!
Now this is all. The man who really believes
on Christ is saved by that alone. He
can never be lost. As Wesley sang, "Christ
and I are so joined, He can't go to heaven
and leave me behind." But salvation from
the penalty of sin is not the whole of salvation;
only the beginning of it.
The sequel to "becoming a Christian" is
following Christ. "Salvation" is a large
word, including growth in character and usefulness
and all the high attainments which are
included in a genuine Christian life. This is
what Paul means when he says, "Work out
your own salvation with fear and trembling,
for it is God that worketh in you." Work it
out! Work your salvation out to its uttermost
possibilities! Be a maximum Christian; not
content with being saved "so as by fire," but
craving "an abundant entrance" into the
kingdom. All this is accomplished in the close
and faithful following of Christ.
This "following" is the sure test and touchstone
by which a man determines whether he
has really come to Christ and believes in Him.
Our "good works" are not meritorious as having
any part in our deliverance from condemnation;
but they are the acid test of our faith;
and they also determine the quality of the
heaven that awaits us. And, in this sense,
"they shall in no wise lose their reward."
To use a rude figure; a man going to an entertainment
gets a ticket of admission, but for
his reserved seat he pays something more.
"The just shall live by faith;" but the abundance
of their life is determined by the product
of their faith. Wherefore, he loses much
who, while believing in Christ, follows Him
To follow Christ at the best, means to regard
Him as our Priest, our only Priest, whose sacrifice
is full and sufficient for us. We forsake
all other plans of salvation and trust
simply and solely to the merit of His atoning
To follow Christ means to regard Him as
our only Prophet or Teacher. All preachers,
ecclesiastical councils, historic creeds and symbols
are remanded to a subordinate place.
His word is ultimate for us.
To follow Christ means to regard Him as
our King. He reigns in us and over us. His
love constrains us. His wish is our law. His
authority is final. "Whatsoever he saith unto
you, do it."
And to follow Christ means to do all this
in the open. It may be that some who refuse
to confess Christ are ultimately saved by Him;
but the presumption is immensely against the
man who lives that way. "Stand forth into
the midst!" "Quit thyself like a man!"
In closing, we return to iterate and reiterate
the proposition that our salvation from sin
and spiritual death is by faith in Christ and
by that only. Let no side issues enter here to
confuse and bewilder us. "He that believeth
shall be saved."
That is final and conclusive. Our deliverance
is wholly of grace: we do not earn it.
"The wages of sin is death: but the gift of
God is eternal life."
Long as I live, I'll still be crying
And therefore all the glory is unto God:
"Of whom are we in Christ Jesus, who is made
unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification
and redemption; that, according as
it is written, if any man glory, let him glory
in the Lord."
Nevertheless, the benefit of the gift is conditioned
on our acceptance of it. The manna
lies about our feet "white and plenteous as
hoar frost," but it will not save us from famishing
unless we gather it up and eat it. The
water gushes from the rock, but we shall die
of thirst unless we dip it up and drink it.
Christ on the cross saves no man; it is only
when Christ is appropriated that He saves us.
We must make Him ours. We must grasp
His extended hand. Luther said, "The important
thing is the possessive pronoun, first
person singular." One of the fathers said,
"It is the grip on the Blood that saves us."
Christ stands waiting—he offers life for the
taking. Who will have it? The worst of sinners
can make it his very own by saying with
all his heart, "I will! I do!"