L. R. Shelton, Sr.
Our people have lived in the land of unreality and have been fed on fleshly programs and the emotions of the flesh so long until, when you begin to talk about salvation being experimental, or Christ being a living reality they do not know what you are talking about. Many have written to me saying, "Pastor, Christ is not real to my heart. What's the trouble?" Well, you had better go back and examine; chances are you are not saved. A high churchman wrote me this past week and said, "Pastor, I am beginning to realize that I do not know Christ because Christ has never been real to my heart even though I made a profession of faith as a child." Well, God is showing that man that he has never come to know Christ.
Multitudes of our church members today believe they are saved who are total strangers to the work of Divine grace in their hearts. They know nothing about the new birth; they know nothing about God working salvation in their hearts by the Holy Spirit through His Word. Now, my friend, if you do not believe that salvation is an inward work wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit, I have no message for you.
Many believe that changing your doctrinal position is salvation. For instance, here is a man who for years has been a free will preacher and then he sees the great doctrine of sovereign free grace, he sees that salvation is of the Lord and begins to preach it thinking that is salvation. Brother, that's not salvation! He is still lost — without God and without hope.
Our subject today is, "Experimental Salvation." My friend, I am talking to you today about that which is real to me. I know the Lord Jesus Christ as my living Lord and Saviour. Yes, it is one thing to have a clear mental concept of God's truth, and it is quite another thing to have a personal, real, heartfelt acquaintance with Divine truth. A man may have a clear knowledge of the Word and yet know nothing about the Word as a living reality in his own heart. It is one thing to believe what the Bible says about sin and how awful it is, and it is another matter to have a holy horror and a hatred for sin in the soul. You may pick up your Bible and read what God says about the awfulness of sin and believe every word of it, and at the same time your heart may have never been opened by the Holy Spirit to see and to know experimentally the awful horror and hatred for sin.
It is one thing to believe in the depravity of the human heart in its natural state, but it is quite another matter to know the total depravity of your own heart under the convicting power of God's Holy Spirit. You may read the first three chapters of Romans and agree with every word that the Holy Spirit pictures depraved man to be, and you may stand in the pulpit or the class room and teach the total depravity of the natural man, but I want to tell you, my friend, it is quite another matter to have the Holy Spirit throw back the skylight of your heart and to learn from first hand knowledge the total depravity of your own heart.
You come to know the heart of man by learning experimentally the total depravity of your own heart. Brother, if you don't, you will never know the heart of the other individual. When you once learn the total depravity of your own heart experimentally under the convicting power of God's Holy Spirit, you will know the heart of every other man. I have had folks say to me, "Bro. Shelton, how in the world do you know the hearts of men like you do?" I know my own heart, and I know your heart is just like mine. "Where did you learn it?" Well, I learned the condition of my own heart under Holy Spirit conviction, at the Depot of Repentance.
It is one thing to know that God requires repentance, but it is an entirely different matter to mourn and groan in our hearts over our vileness and wickedness and ungodliness, and our guilty distance from a holy God. Long before I repented, I preached on repentance. Years before I knew what it is to mourn and to weep in utter separation from a holy God, I preached on repentance, but I did not know it experimentally. No man can preach repentance experimentally until he has first been made to lie in the dust of repentance at the feet of Christ crying for mercy.
It is one thing to talk about Holy Spirit conviction, but it is quite another thing to go through the House of Holy Spirit Conviction and come down to the Depot of Mercy and the cross of Christ for salvation. It is one thing to believe that Christ is the only Saviour for sinners, and it is entirely another thing to really trust Him from the heart and to know Him personally as your all-sufficient Lord and Saviour. It is one thing to believe Him; it is another thing to know Him. Do you know Him? Paul said, "I KNOW whom I have believed." Do you know Christ? Have you ever met Him on the way of life? Have you? Have you ever been tucked away in the wounds of the blessed Lord? Is that your hiding place? Is He your Substitute? You say you have believed Him from childhood? Yes, many a man says, "I believe Jesus, I have believed Him from childhood." Let me ask you this pointed question, Do you KNOW Him? Do you KNOW HIM? Every sinner, before he is saved, believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, but in salvation you know Him as your Lord and Saviour. He is yours personally as if He belonged to no one else. He is yours as if He died for no one but you. He is so personal, it is as if you are the only individual He ever saved.
It is one thing to believe that Christ is the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and it is another thing to know Him and love Him personally above all others. Just to know and believe the Word about Christ, that He's the fulness of the Godhead, is one thing, but to love Him and to walk with Him personally as your only Lover is quite another thing. Now, do you know Him as your only Lover?
It is one thing to believe that God is the great and Holy One, but it is another thing to really reverence Him and fear Him and to look up into His face, and call Him, "Father." Yes, it is one thing to believe that God is omnipotent, aIl-powerful and the only true God (I have had multitudes say to me, "Yes, I believe God!"), but it is quite another thing to be given the Spirit of adoption whereby you can look up into the face of God as a little child and call Him, "Abba, Father." You cannot look up into the face of God and call Him, "Abba, my Father," without having been adopted into the family by the Lord God of Heaven and been given the Spirit of adoption.
Is God your Father? Do you have that assurance and confidence in your heart, based upon His Word, that He is your Father? Do you know, one of the first expressions that comes from the lips of a newborn babe in Christ is, "Thank you, Father." I know just as soon as the Lord saved me one of my first utterances was, "My Father, my Father." Do you know that one of the first words a little child utters is, "Daddy"? And that is the first word that a born-again believer utters when he has been brought into the family of God by the new birth, "Abba, Father." My friend, there is just a new reIationship there that those who are not born again do not know. That's right; you've got to experience it.
Yes, it is one thing to believe that salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9), and it is quite another thing to become an actual partaker of salvation by and through His marvelous grace. As someone wrote me one day, "Brother Shelton, you have to become experimentally lost before you can be experimentally saved." You may be lost and not know it, but you cannot be saved and not know it! Now you just hold that. You drive a peg down and hold it.
Man must be made a new creature in Christ or he can never go to Heaven. It is a known fact that no son of Adam has ever measured up to his responsibility. Man under every circumstance h as been and is a miserable failure. Then, as Rom. 8:8 says, "So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God," and as Rom. 5:6 says, "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." All men in their natural state have no strength to believe; they are ungodly and cannot and will not believe. "Without me ye can do nothing"said the Lord (John 15:5). Therefore, man is helpless to make himself a new creature or to produce a righteousness that God will accept. It only comes through the new birth.
I know it is true that the Gospel issues both a call and a command to all who hear it: the call to repentance — the call to come to Christ; a command to repent — a command to believe. But, on the other hand, I also know that everyone disregards that call and will not obey the command, according to Luke 14:18, "And they all with one consent began to make excuse." That is every man in his natural state. Man by nature hates God, hates the Gospel, hates God's Word, and commits the greatest sin in that he despises and rejects the Saviour, the Lord Jesus, who is suited to his needs. In other words, in his heart he says, "I will not have this man to rule over me." Now that is you, my sinner friend.
Let me say here frankly (get it, now — hold your seats), — you preachers who are listening to me, you Bible teachers, you Sunday School teachers — let me say frankly, that your concept of the natural man and his condition determines your concept of salvation. When you see man in his totally depraved state, and see him (according to Isa. 53:3) despising and rejecting the Christ, then you will readily conceive, if that man is ever saved, it will have to be by the grace of God — if that man ever goes to Heaven, he will have to be made a new creature in Christ Jesus. Any man who goes astray on the doctrine of total depravity goes astray on all other doctrines of God's Word. Now, that will hold! That will hold until the last drop! Now you can't get around that.
On the other hand, if you do not believe in the total depravity of the natural man, if you believe that man has the power within himself to believe and that salvation is only believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, then you will begin to make excuses for him in what you think is his Christian life. You will begin to teach backsliding. Also you will begin to urge him to surrender, or pray for the Holy Ghost, or a deeper walk with God, that he may live the Christian life. Salvation to that individual is not experimental. That individual lives in the world of doubts, fears, struggles, backslidings, and the vast majority of them live the same old life they have always lived except that now it is under religious covering.
The average preacher will begin to make excuses for such an individual's doubts and fears and backsliding, and everything about him. He'll say, "Oh, he's just a babe in Christ." Friend, if that's so, then there are lots of our church members who have been babes for 50 years, and we're running nothing but a nursery. Brother, they are dwarfs, aren't they! Such preachers do not put the major emphasis on blood redemption, salvation by grace in Christ Jesus, but on something else, whatever it may be, Now, you think seriously about that! Brother, over 95% of our church members including preachers know nothing about Christ experimentally. Now you let that soak in.
Let me tell you, friend — every sinner is a rebel and deserves to go to an eternal Hell. No individual is fit to be saved; no individual deserves to be saved. Every one of us deserves to go to Hell, and ought to go to Hell, but it is here that God manifests His sovereign and wondrous, free grace in that He bestows it upon such a rebel, such a Hell-deserving sinner as you and me, whom He has chosen in Christ. It is here that we learn that salvation is of the Lord. It is the most gracious thing I have ever witnessed in my life to see the Eternal Spirit of a Triune God hover over a rebel — a totally depraved, Hell-deserving sinner — and begin to break that sinner down by showing him the awfulness of his ruined condition and ultimately bring that sinner to lie in dust and ashes at the feet of a sovereign God crying for mercy in Christ. Then to see God deliver that sinner from the power of Satan and translate him into the Kingdom of the Son of God, and to hear that sinner say, "Thank you, Father, for saving a wretch like me" — brother, that's grace! That's wondrous grace! That's sovereign, free grace! That's gracious grace! That's amazing grace, and you can sing,
Once there was in our prayer meeting a seventy year old man who for months had been under conviction for salvation. I saw that old man broken by the power of the Holy Spirit and brought to lie at the feet of Christ in the dust of repentance, mourning and crying over his sins and begging for mercy. Yes, for months I saw him slip into prayer meetings and ask the folks to pray for him, saying, "I'm going to Hell; I'm lost unless God has mercy upon my poor old wretched soul."
Then it was grace to see that man in the prayer meeting clothed in his right mind, as a little child thanking the Father for saving him for the Lord Jesus' sake, praising the Lord Jesus for dying for him, a poor old Hell-deserving sinner. To that man the Lord was real. Christ was real, and he knew the Lord Jesus Christ. I sat by him the day before he departed to be with his Lord, and he said, "Pastor, tell me once again how God saved you, lest I've run in vain." And I sat there with my arm around him and told him how God saved me. Then I said, "Brother, now tell me how God saved you." And he did. He laid down and the next morning he woke up in Heaven. Praise God for His marvelous saving grace.
Now, let's look more closely at God's bestowal of salvation upon sinners. Salvation is far more than just believing the statement that salvation is found in the Lord Jesus Christ. So many come to the front in our churches today, and when the preacher asks them, "Are you trusting Jesus?" say, "Yes, I'm trusting Him." My friend, that is not salvation! Salvation is much more than a call, or an invitation to sinners to receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Salvation is more than just believing the Word that Christ died for sinners, and reasoning that since I am a sinner, Christ died for me.
Salvation is even more than an awakened sinner coming to rest upon the promises of God, because salvation is not resting upon the Word, nor just believing the Word. You can believe the Word and go to Hell! You can rest upon a promise and wake up in Hell. Salvation is even more than resting upon the finished work of Christ upon the cross. Now I'm cutting close here. Salvation is far more than a decision for Christ, or taking your stand for Christ.
Salvation is far more than believing that Jesus is the Son of God. How many poor blinded sinners have been misdirected by preachers and evangelists who did not know the way themselves! How many of you people have been left with a decision for Christ and then when the evangelist was gone, you woke up to find that you had no more than you did before you made the decision? Then you have tried to live a Christian life under that decision, struggling, fearing, sinning, and then finally giving up and going back to the world.
Salvation is God in reality saving His people. "Thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins." Salvation is God's work of grace in the heart of a sinner who is totally destitute of merit, totally destitute of any righteousness or natural goodness, totally deprayed, so much so that he cannot and will not take one step to the obtaining of salvation. When the Lord God of Heaven comes to a sinner to save him, He finds that sinner in rebellion against Him. He finds that sinner with no desire to be saved. He finds that sinner obstinate, saying, "Let me alone; I don't want Thee to rule over me."
When God comes to a sinner to save him, He finds that sinner opposed to everything in the world that God wants to do for him. Salvation is God brooding over that sinner, destitute of the love of God and with a heart of hatred for God, and breaking that sinner down by His love, by His grace and His mercy, until that sinner is made willing to let God save him, deliver him, justify him. The Holy Spirit does that by planting a new nature in the sinner's heart.
Salvation is not only that Christ died to put away our sins, but saIvation is the Holy Spirit working in the heart of the depraved sinner and applying the blessings of Christ's atoning death to that sinner. Salvation is wholly of the Lord, whether you believe it or not. Here is where our new theology comes in today. Now, hold your seats. It is preached and taught all over this country that Christ is the only Saviour for the sinner — and this is correct; there is nothing wrong with that statement. But here is where modern day preaching goes wrong. Listen! They teach and preach that Christ becomes the sinner's Saviour only by the sinner's consent. This is contrary to God's Word. In other words, they preach the free will of man.
Get this statement — no sinner would ever get saved if he could help it. That is the reason you have so much worldliness and sin in your churches today. That is the reason the average church member does not know whether he is saved or lost, and that is the reason the average individual has his doubts and his fears about his salvation: he does not have salvation. Salvation does not come that way. Christ is our salvation.
Now, let's go a little further. Some of our more orthodox and Scripturally sound preachers will go so far as to teach that conviction of sin is the Holy Spirit's work — which is right; and they also teach that the Holy Spirit shows us our lost condition and our need of Christ — which is right. But here is where they go astray — they say and teach that the decisive factor in salvation is man's own will. They will tell you: Now you have been under conviction, and you see yourself as a lost sinner — you see yourself deserving to go to Hell; therefore, accept Christ, make a decision for Christ, take your stand for Christ. Then when the sinner does, they tell him he is saved!
Let's look again at Jonah 2:9, listen: — "Salvation is of the LORD." This means nothing more and nothing less than the fact that nothing of the sinner has anything to do with his salvation. In the salvation of a sinner God accepts nothing the sinner has and nothing the sinner does. In the salvation of a lost soul, it is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit; the sinner is made a new creature in Christ, and every sinner who ever gets saved knows it! God accepts only that which He does. Now, before you disagree with me, my friend, you had better study your Bible, and you had better face the question of whether or not you are saved.
Many have said, "Bro. Shelton has a great awakening ministry, but he does not know how to bring a sinner to Christ." Well, neither do you! Brother, that is the work of the Holy Spirit and I'm going to leave it there. If you don't believe it and you want to see evidence of it then come here. I'll show you dozens of sinners, both men and women, whom God picked up out of the cesspools of hell, out of high religious circles, and who were brought by the Holy Spirit to an experimental knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is real to their hearts, because they know Him as their Lord and their Saviour.
Yes, it is true that the sinner from the heart believes in Christ before salvation becomes personal to him. That's true — that's the Word of God — but that believing is wrought in the sinner's heart by the Holy Spirit. We find in Acts 18:27 they "believed through grace." Eph. 2:8 says, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." There is a believing on Christ by the natural man, but this is not believing unto salvation. The sinner may be deeply stirred, and there may be much feeling connected with it, and he may think he has believed. He may rest for a while thinking that he is saved, but, brother, the faith of the natural man is not the faith that saves.
One thing the Holy Spirit does in the salvation of every sinner is to convict the sinner of his sin of unbelief. He is brought to the place where all faith by the flesh, and all repentance by the flesh, is swept away, and he is left to face his hopelessly ruined condition. He sees himself lost, deserving to go to Hell. He knows Christ died for sinners, according to the Word of God, but he can't believe it, because he has no faith to believe! He finds himself utterly at sea in a boat with no rudder, being driven by storms of doubts and fears. He knows he deserves to go to Hell, but he has no faith to put him in port of the Haven of Rest.
It is there the sinner begins to cry, "Lord, save me or I perish!" It is there the sinner sees that the Word won't save him. It's there the sinner sees all his religious duties as just so much kindling wood to burn him in Hell. It is there he sees the Holy Spirit must bring him to Christ. It's there he sees that nothing but the blood will suffice. It's there he sees that nothing but the strong arm of a Sovereign Eternal Christ can and will lift him from the hell of despair and give him salvation and deliverance.
I want to tell you, my friend, when the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal, Triune God, reaches forth and takes the poor, sinking sinner unto Himself, he never forgets it. I mean, friend, HE NEVER FORGETS IT! He knows that salvation is of the Lord, and he knows whom he has believed, and he knows it was Christ who rescued him. That sinner is not resting on his faith. He is not resting on the Word of God. He is not resting on his church or his baptism. He is not resting on some doctrine. He is not resting on some emotion of the flesh. He is resting on the Eternal Son of God who died for him, Brother, that's my salvation! Is He yours?
That sinner never gets away from such salvation in Christ. He will remember it if he lives ten million years. It is the blood of the Lamb.It is Christ, brother, that's salvation! That's the salvation I have. Is Christ your salvation, friend? Brother, every sinner comes to the place where everything in the world is swept out from under him, I did! All the sinner's faith is gone, all his strength is gone, everything in the world is gone and he is sinking down without hope into the lake of despair. He's gone, and there is nothing to save him. It is there he cries, "Lord, save me or I perish. Lord, be merciful to me a sinner." It isn't his faith that saves him — he has none. It's the strong arm of the Lord Jesus Christ that reaches out and lays hold of him as He did Peter that day when he was sinking into the sea, and lifts him up and saves him with an everlasting salvation.
That is God saving His people from their sins. Do you have that salvation, brother? It is wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit; it is deliverance by blood and by power. That is salvation. Now, brother, you can have all this other little flim-flamsy stuff. I've tried it for years until one day, in my utter despair and lost, ruined, Hell-deserving condition, God reached down with His strong arm of salvation and rescued me. It was my Lord who saved me, and I'm resting on Him. Are you? Yes, it is the blood of the Lamb of God which saves a sinner, and it is the Word of God which assures him that he is saved.
My friend, you may even enjoy listening to a sound Gospel preacher, and rejoice in the truth that he preaches, but this is no evidence that you are saved. You are rejoicing in his light, and not in The Light. In John 5:35 Christ, speaking of John the Baptist, said, "He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light." But, oh, my friends, I would that everyone who is listening to me could look up and rejoice in THE LIGHT, Christ. Those who love the truth, who feed upon it, and hate error, show that God has begun a work of grace in their hearts. Old Jeremiah said (Jer. 15:16),
Do you love the Word of God? Are you feeding upon it? Does it rejoice your heart, although it exposes your wicked heart? Every one that loveth the truth cometh to the light that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God (John 3:20). Does your heart long after Christ? To you is it Christ or Hell? Has it become a must in your heart, and do you feel, "I must get to Christ"? Are you beginning to desert all other lovers? Is your heart hungering and thirsting after Him? Is your one cry, "Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!" (Job 23:3)? Is your one inquiry, "Tell me where I can find Him, whom my soul loveth" (S. of S. 3:2,3)? My friend, if it is, you are getting near the Kingdom. That is the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart to bring you to Christ.
Remember one thing, God works all of His work in the heart by Divine grace. As Phil. l:6 says, "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." In salvation Christ is made real; He becomes experimentally your Lord, your Redeemer, and your Saviour. It is Christ: minus nothing, plus nothing. Christ then becomes your Life, your Redemption, your Righteousness, your Peace, your Sanctification, your Bread, your Water, the Foundation of your hope, the Song of your deliverance, your Rest, your Rock in a weary land, and you are complete in Him. Do you know Him?
– L. R. Shelton, Sr.