"Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men."—Matthew 5:13. (A.R.V.)
The words of this text are part of the most famous sermon ever preached—"The Sermon on the Mount." Seated on the side of a mountain in Galilee, Jesus addressed this sermon primarily to twelve of His disciples whom He had selected to be apostles. Others, no doubt, were present, perhaps a multitude, but the contents of the sermon clearly indicate that its teachings were for those who were subjects of the spiritual kingdom Jesus came to establish, and not for the unbelieving world. It is not an evangelistic sermon. It does not present the plan of salvation. It does not tell one how to be saved. But it does describe some of the characteristics of those who are saved and lets them know what kind of behavior is expected of them with respect to God and their fellow human beings. It is futile to expect the unsaved to apply the principles of the Sermon on the Mount to their unregenerate lives. They are incapable of doing so. The moral, spiritual and ethical standards proclaimed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are quite beyond the reach and the grasp of the unbelieving world. Take for example the Golden Rule: "All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do unto you, even so do you also unto them." We often hear it said that if everybody followed this rule the kingdom of heaven would quickly be established on earth. But that is an idle remark, for it is only subjects of the kingdom of Christ who are capable of observing this rule and many of the other principles set forth in the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus began His wonderful sermon with nine pungent and revolutionary sayings, called Beatitudes, setting forth characteristics of His true followers:
Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed are they that mourn
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness
Blessed are the merciful
Blessed are the pure in heart
Blessed are the peacemakers
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.
These statements were not platitudes. They were epochal and history-making declarations. They were heavenly rather than earthly estimates of what constitutes blessedness. The unregenerate world has never held to such estimates of what constitutes happiness or blessedness.
Having set forth in the Beatitudes the characteristics of the subjects of His kingdom, Jesus immediately went on to say that such people would automatically and inevitably be "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world."
In the sermon this morning I am inviting you to think with me for a little while about Jesus' statement: "Ye are the salt of the earth." The Christian life does not have a more impressive and expressive figure to illustrate it than this little simile of salt—common salt. Everybody knows its meaning. Everybody knows what it is for. "Ye"—my people—"are the salt of the earth." That figure under which God's people are described sets forth the great task to which God's people are called. The business of salt is to preserve, to purify, to save. That is the business of God's people in the world.
Human society without God is corrupt and down-dragging. No nation in the world without God is safe. No family in the world without God is safe. No man in the world, though he be clever as Voltaire, is safe without God. Human society is corrupt and corrupting without God, and this figure of salt strikingly sets forth the great task of God's people. They are to be the salt of the world. They are to conserve and preserve and purify and thus help to save the world. They are in the world for that. That the world is corrupt and corrupting is attested in any direction that you may turn your eyes. Oh, what distance this world is from God, that we could have the Pan-European war, with those many nations led on to bloody death, as we see the spectacle today! How far human society is away from God in the nations yonder, where myriads of mothers and wives weep, as Rachel wept, because their best beloved will not come home again! How far the world is from God when that can be!
And then the clashings and rivalries that are everywhere regnant in human society this day all voice the simple truth that the world without God is doomed and corrupt and lost. Take the struggle for money, and Christian men have to set themselves like flint toward heaven here in the great race for money, or the finer things that ought to burn on the altar of a Christian heart will be forgotten and will be taken away. Take the race for gold, take the greed for property, take the awful, pitiable spectacle of the clashings everywhere, where the stronger seeks to take advantage of one weaker, and it is the revelation of what Jesus teaches us, that the world, without God is corrupt and corrupting.
Take the race for amusement and entertainment. There is no shadow more menacing across our country's life today than the shadow everywhere exhibiting its ugly form before us, that the people must be amused, that they must be entertained, that it must be this, that and the other, and something still spicier, something still more sensational, and something still more bizarre.
One's heart is burdened with anxiety as he thinks about tomorrow, and notes the widespread absence of that seriousness and sanity which are so vital to human welfare. This figure teaches us that society without God is fore-doomed and lost and that Christianity is the only hope of society. Nothing else can suffice. All the philosophers of the earth may come with their teachings but nothing can suffice to save society but God in the grace and gift of His salvation to the children of men.
Now, this text sets forth the business of God's people. They are to be the "salt of the earth." How? First of all, by personal purity. We are to save the world by personal purity. Salt preserves, salt saves, salt cleanses, salt conserves. All is well if the salt is brought into contact with the meat at the right time. All is well, if the salt of Christianity pervades and permeates and leavens society like Jesus designed.
Our first great business is the business of preserving the world by the right kind of lives on our part and by the right kind of examples on our part. The purifying and the preserving power of Christianity has to find constant illustration in our lives. Now we are back to the vital matter that the mightiest thing in all the world to help the world is simple goodness. The mightiest thing in all the world to bless the world is simple goodness. Just as a flower sends forth its perfume, so the right kind of a life sends forth its fragrance, its healing, its changing, its correcting, its challenging, its stimulating power to make the world better. Oh, the tragedy that the gulf between Christ's church and the world is not more clearly marked! Christ's church is to be different from the world, and it is to be so different as to be a constant challenge to the world, and a constant suggestion and a constant protest against the wrong, and a constant summoning to the right.
Christians, as Christ's salt, are to save the world by personal goodness. Just as Joseph in Potiphar's house, with a temptation menacing and terrible, and with his own name and life in the balance, stood there and said: "How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" So a Christian everywhere is to live as under the eye and as held by the spell of God. Just as Paul yonder on that storm-swept sea, with two hundred and seventy-six fellow passengers, when the howling tempest, it seemed, meant the sure destruction of every passenger, stood up and said: "Be not afraid. All shall come to land. I have prayed for you and God's angel has testified to me of a certainty, that not one of all the whole shipload shall perish"—there a good man in God's hand was His salt to save the ship. Just so in many a family there is a little wife or mother who by devotion to Christ is the means of warding off a thousand perils and of turning aside a thousand poisoned arrows meant to reach that family. She, "the salt of the earth" saves them and they know it not; they dream not about it. It is ever so.
The richest possible possession for a community is the right kind of a man or a woman. The richest possible blessing for a home is the right kind of a person there, with heart set toward God, doing His will the best such person can. Tenderly, and affectionately, they said of John Chrysostom, the golden-mouthed preacher of Constantinople: "It were better for the sun to cease his shining than for John Chrysostom to cease his preaching." He was the salt of the earth—God's saving salt.
What we are is vital. What we are in ourselves, in our character, in our spirit, what we are within, that is vital. What we are within is voiced in every conceivable way. What we are within flashes through our eyes, curves itself about our lips, trembles in the tone of our voices, and what we are within pervades the atmosphere of those around us as does the fragrance of a flower. We are corrupting or we are conserving the world daily by our lives. Serious thought, is it not? Beyond words, serious thought!
Do you remember what one said of another: "What you are speaks so loud that I can not hear what you say"? The crowning glory of Washington, the first president, and the father of his country, was his personal character. Men stood before him, knowing that he was incorruptible, and that integrity clothed him like some beautiful garment. The crowning thing about Pitt, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, was his personal character. Men knew that he was invulnerable to every base appeal. One man of incorruptible character, one man untainted and unbesmirched, stands like some great mountain, calling the world to the heights where are the smiles of heaven.
We are to save the world with the right kind of lives. Do not take any short roads to make any money. Do not misrepresent things to make money. You must live with yourself, and then you must answer to God, and then you must answer for the life you live before your fellow men. We must be straight before the world. We must be correct. We must be incorruptible. We must be salt, which, touching the world with its pungency and in its saltness, shall tend to counteract corruption and bring healing and health with its every touch. How meaningful all that is! We are to help the world by our lives.
But that is not all. Salt must be applied. Salt must have contact with the meat. Salt is not to be kept at one place and meat at another place. They are to be brought together. That means that God's people are to go out into this world of ours, into all the ramifications of human society. God's people are to be the salt of the earth. That means that no isolated sections are exempt in God's plan. You must not go into a cave and shut yourself up and say: "I will do my best not to be contaminated." You must touch the world in all its phases.
Wherever men suffer and sin and die, you are to go. You are to go with the contact of the Christian appeal and the Christian message, the Christian salt, to save decaying and dying humanity. Salt must make contact to be effective. Salt should permeate the whole social order. A man is not to be a Christian only on Sunday morning as he looks into the face of the preacher and sings out of a hymn book. He must be a Christian on Monday as another seeks to take advantage of him, and he must say to himself: "He may follow that course but I can not. I am the friend of the Son of God, and I can not take such a course and misrepresent Jesus."
In our contact with the world there is to be such a spirit about us that we shall steadily proceed to reclaim and recover the world. There is to be aggression, protest, resistance, challenge, conflict, and victory in the name of Christ, in our contact with the world. Passive goodness is not enough for the followers of Christ. They must speak and act positively, aggressively and constructively if they are to be as the salt of the earth. Having enlisted under the banner of Christ, they must put on the whole armor of God and go forth to battle for truth and righteousness in all the earth.
The lawyer yonder who loves Christ is to go to the courthouse and stand there like a Christian and not like some renegade, forgetting the great call whereof he has been called of God. And the physician, going from house to house, bending beside this couch and that, is to remember: "Every time I see them and every time my eyes meet theirs, I will either help them or hinder them. I will be a weight or a wing." And the business man, as he goes to his task, is to remember: "This is my field, my sphere, where my forces are ever to be for the reconstructing and conserving, and with God's help for the regeneration of lost society about me, decaying and dying." We are to go into every realm—the realm of business and the realm of citizenship and literature, to this profession and that, to this calling, and wherever we go we are to be the salt of the earth, to turn the world Christward and heavenward.
Do you hear that high call? There was never another one in the world comparable to it. Christian people are to be the salt of the earth. They are to save society from utter corruption. What would the world be without Christianity? Imagine Dallas with her more than a quarter of a million inhabitants, without a church and without a preacher, without a Sunday School or prayer meeting, without a Sabbath or an open Bible, without Christian voices and lives constantly calling people from the low, down-dragging, vicious ways of evil to the high and holy paths of righteousness, purity and peace. What glee for the darksome pit below and what fearful deeds of destruction the emissaries of Satan would work, if the conditions I have just named existed. The hope of civilization is based on the witness and lives of the friends of Jesus.
But there is a fearful possibility suggested in our text, to which I would call your attention. "Ye are the salt of the earth, but if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men." The meaning is as clear as sunlight. Salt is a chemical compound which can lose its taste, become stale and worthless, and fit only to be thrown aside. So shall it be, when it reaches that state. Jesus says to His people: "You can become as salt, without savor, without pungency, without flavor, without vitality, without life. You can become like that. You can lose your spiritual potency. You can decline in spiritual power; you can become stale and insipid and unprofitable as my friend and my servant, even after I have saved you."
There is no other truth in the world quite so alarming as that. The illustrations of it are endless in the Bible and out of it. Paul had that very idea in mind when he said: "Ofttimes there comes over me a great and terrible fear, lest after I have preached to others I myself should be a castaway." He did not mean that he would fail finally of getting to heaven, when life's toil and work were done—not at all. He was as clear as sunshine about the certainty of one coming home to God who has been born again. But he meant: "I can lose poise and vitality and enthusiasm and vision and passion and become cold-blooded. I can become a castaway in the kingdom of God, a man discarded and left by the way, because my attitude and my spirit are not in consonance with God's will and plans for me."
Alas! This loss of savor is not only an alarming possibility; it is also a distressing reality, all too often. I was greatly pricked in my heart as I heard an old preacher say recently concerning another preacher: "He has spent his power. He no more speaks with the tone of authority. He no more speaks with the sound of certainty and conviction. He no more speaks as a prophet of God, compelling men to listen to what he says. His power is spent; his power is gone." David, that sweet singer, that glorious king of that mighty nation, went down. The salt lost its savor for many a day, and never again was David the same after his terrible fall, never again. The bird with the broken pinion soars never so high again.
The salt can lose it savor. Let a Christian grow careless, or let him get cold-hearted; let the fine ardors and enthusiasms for Jesus and His great religion die out of his heart, and he will go the downward way. Christianity is a passion. Christianity is a life. Christianity is a love. Christianity is vital. Christianity enlarges. If it is repressed, if it is curbed, if it is neglected, woe betide him, for his salt will lose its savor. He will go the downward way. He will come up at last without any sheaves in his arms, without any stars in his crown.
The Bible gives us the tragic picture of whole churches going on the rocks. The seven churches of Asia all went on the rocks. The salt lost its savor. They became contaminated by the world. Instead of changing the world, they went with the world, and let it change them. Instead of putting forth an influence pungent and conserving on the world, the world put its influence on them. Those seven churches of Asia, which shone like seven cities on seven high hills, during the early years of Christianity, all of them had the candlesticks removed, and they went down into oblivion. Turn to Revelation and read the story. What a story it makes! To one church He said: "Thou hast lost thy first love." Oh, the tragedy when a church loses its first love. When the warmth of Christ's love does not dominate the lives of its members! The world can never be won to Christ through a coldblooded program. A deep, heart-felt desire to win the lost must permeate the life of the church, if the devotion of a first love is to obtain in the church.
He said to another church in Revelation: "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead." You meet, you gather on Sunday, many of you come, and the preacher speaks and the choir sings and the people listen, but Jesus said to that church: "You have a name that you live, but in reality you are dead." There was not any divine candlestick in their midst at all. Their salt had lost its savor. They went with the world; they played its tricks; they laughed its laughter; they pursued its course; but the heart and pas�