Dr. Ironside Meets With Two Mormon Missionaries
(Originally published in 1932)
What Is the Gospel?
by Dr. H. A. Ironside
A Mormon gentleman introduced himself as a "minister of the gospel, doing missionary work among the mountain towns" of California, and stated that he would be pleased to put before me some of "the principles of the gospel." Intimating that I myself was also seeking to give forth God's good news to poor sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), he was told that if such was indeed his object, I would be glad to converse with him; so asked him to be seated.
The Mormon Gospel Stated
"And now, sir," he was asked, "would you kindly favor us" (a number were present) "with a short statement of what the gospel really is?"
"Certainly," he replied. "The gospel consists of four first principles. The first is repentance; the second, faith; the third, baptism for the remission of sins by one duly qualified; while the forth is the laying on of the hands of a man having authority, for the reception of the Holy Ghost."
"Well, and supposing one has gone through all this, is he then saved?"
"Oh, of course, no one can know that, in this life. If one goes onto the end, he will be exalted in the kingdom." Thereupon he proceeded to open a little Testament, with which, however, he was but slightly familiar, and pointed us to proof texts showing conclusively that the Lord and the apostles preached repentance and faith, as also that Peter spoke of "baptism for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38; let the reader carefully note the verse and its context), and that in at least two instances (Acts 8:14-17; 19:1-6) apostles laid their hands on people in order to their receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. An effort was also made to find a verse to prove that no one can know he is saved now; but in the face of Ephesians 2:4-8; 1 Peter. 1:9; 1 Corinthians. 1:8; 2 Corinthians 2:15; and 2 Timothy 1:9, this was an utter absurdity, though he pointed to Matthew 24:13, "He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved;" in defense of his position.
As to this, one need only say that endurance certainly is a proof of reality. One who said he was saved, yet did not endure, would thereby prove the emptiness of his profession.
"I quite agree with you," I said, "as to the fact that Scripture speaks of the four points you mention; but, possibly, you did not understand my query. I asked you for a statement of the gospel. If these so-called 'four principles' be indeed the gospel, then you have a gospel without Christ; in other words, a gospel with the Gospel omitted. And if you are correct, then surely the apostle Paul, at least, labored under a most serious delusion, for he gives us a clear statement of his Gospel, and actually says nothing of either one or other of the various points upon which you have dwelt. No doubt you will recollect the passage?" (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
He did not, however. He was not aware of any such direct statement on the subject. In fact, it was soon evident that, with the exception of a few verses on his favorite themes, his Bible was practically a sealed book. He turned, however, at my direction, to the fifteenth chapter of 1st Corinthians, to which I would invite the reader's careful attention.
Paul's Statement of the Real Gospel
Commencing at the first verse of this precious and wondrous portion of Scripture, we read: "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, with also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (see Isaiah 53:5-6) "and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures."
"Now," I said, turning to the Mormon, "we have here a statement of the Gospel -- the Gospel which Paul preached; and it is dangerous to preach any other, as we find from Galatians 1:8-9 that the person who does so, even though it be an angel from heaven, is under a curse, or devoted to judgment. I understand that you teach that your gospel was revealed to Joseph Smith by an angel. If true, that would prove nothing, if it be found, upon examination, to be other than that proclaimed by the apostle to the Gentiles. His gospel had been received by the Corinthians; in it they stood; by it they were saved, if real believers. It was not, you will notice, a careful obedience to certain ordinances or a walking according to certain rules, such as you mentioned a few minutes ago, that would insure their salvation, however blessed such might be, if properly understood; but it was keeping in memory this gospel.
Two Gospels Contrasted
"I noticed, then, to begin with, that the Biblical Gospel is concerning a Person, and quite a different person the person you brought before us. Paul's Gospel message is 'concerning the Son of God,' as Romans 1:3 tells us. Your gospel did not have a word about Jesus in all its four points. The subject of Paul's gospel has not a word about anyone or anything except Christ. Perhaps we might say it also could be divided into four points, though more properly three; but even divided into four (to go as far with you as we can), what marked differences do we find! Your four points are all concerning the poor sinner, and might be put this way:
1. The sinner repents;
2. The sinner has faith;
3. The sinner is baptized;
4. The sinner has hands laid on him.
"Now, in contrast to this, see how the true Gospel can be put:
1. Christ died;
2. Christ was buried;
3. Christ has been raised again;
4. Christ is the object for the hearts of His own.
"Surely the two gospels have nothing in common. You teach, I believe, that Christ died for Adam's transgression, not for ours; but you maintain that while Adamic sin is met by the Cross, our sins as individuals must be washed away by baptism. Paul's gospel tells us that He died for our sins; and if that be so, and 'the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth us from all sin,' where does baptism in your sense apply? If all my sins are met by His precious blood, if they were borne 'in His own body on the tree' (1 Peter 2:24), how many are left to be cleansed by baptism? Assuredly none. But, alas, this is but one instance in which the false gospel of Mormonism is opposed to the precious Gospel of grace of God as revealed in the Bible.
"But I go on to the second point. Christ not only died, but 'was buried'; yet it was written of Him, 'Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell, neither wilt Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption' (Acts 2:27; Psalm 16:10). His burial declares the reality of His death, and surely speaks of His being forever through with the place He took on earth. It is the end of all the relationships in which He previously stood, and tells us He is dead to the law -- having paid my penalty -- and to sin -- not his own, but mine -- which He bore, and I am 'buried with Him by baptism unto death' (Romans 6:4); so that I am not left where Mormonism would leave me, as a poor, struggling soul on earth, striving to continue to the end in order to be saved, but I am accounted as one who, with Him, has been buried to it all: thus I am brought to the third point:
"Christ was raised from the dead, and I am raised with Him (Ephesians 2:6). His place is now mine as to acceptance with God. 'He was delivered for our offenses and raised again for our justification' (Romans 4:25); His resurrection being God's open declaration that the believer is cleared from all charge of sin, because our Substitute, Christ, is raised from the dead.
"And now the One who is alive forevermore (Revelation 1:18) is presented as an object for the hearts of His own. 'He was seen'; and the same apostle exclaims, in another place, 'We see Jesus!' (Hebrews 2:9). Poor sinners are first led to see the utter impossibility of improving or rendering themselves more fit for God's presence. The eye of faith is then directed to the One who died, in whom believing, they are justified from all things (Acts 13:38-39). Now they have also an object for the heart, even Christ in glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). How different this is from what you have presented! Here, we have Jesus first, Jesus last, and Jesus all the way; while you are cast entirely on yourself."
Mormon Doctrine of Authority
"But now, another question. You spoke of men with authority to baptize and lay on hands. Where do you get that in Scripture?"
For an answer, he turned to Hebrews 5:4, and read, "And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron."
"What 'honor' is here referred to?" I asked.
"The honor of the priesthood giving authority to baptize and confer the Holy Ghost."
"No," I answered, "the first verse (of Hebrews 5) contradicts this. It is not a question of the 'priesthood' at all. As all believers now are priests (1 Peter 2:5), there is not special priestly class in Christianity, as is clearly shown by referring to the Lord Jesus Christ, called of God, as noted in Hebrews 5:6. Nor is there a word (in Hebrews 5:1) about baptism or imposition of hands; but it is a question of 'offering gifts and sacrifices for sins' (cf., Hebrews 2:17), and then of succoring His people in this world of trial. To apply such a Scripture to human ministry is simply 'handling the Word of God deceitfully' (2 Corinthians 4:2), and deserves the severest censure."
Such was, in substance, what I sought to put before the misguided young man; but, alas, so deceitful is the human heart, that man would rather be occupied with his repentance, his faith, or his anything, than with God's Christ; and I found this preacher of "a different gospel, which is not another" (Galatians 1:6-7, 2 Corinthians 11:3-4), to be of the same class as thousands of others. The Scriptures brought before him had but little weight compared with "present-day revelation," despite the word of Paul in Romans 15:19 that he was made a minister "to fully preach the Word of God;" so he went on his way, trusting to his fleshy religion and ignoring the "Gospel of God."
Before dismissing the subject, I might remind the reader that neither faith or repentance is ever presented in Scripture as the ground of salvation. The Cross alone is that. Brought to it by the Spirit of God, the sinner will indeed repent. In its Biblical sense, repentance is self-judgment; the owning that one is lost and guilty, righteously deserving the wrath of a Holy God. Faith is trusting in Christ, whose finished work puts away sins forever. It is not simply crediting the statement that God exists, or that the historical Jesus was the Son of God. "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thy 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 confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:9-10).
Christ, and Christ alone, is your only way of salvation. Discarding all else, turn, then, to Him alone. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31).
First published by Utah Gospel Mission in 1932. Revision: Copyright 1991 Kurt Van Gorden.
This edition was published by permission of the Utah Gospel Mission, P.O. Box 780, Victorville, CA 92393