Saving faith is more particularly described by its rise and operations; and distinguished from the faith of trembling devils, immoral Antinomians, penitents sold under sin, and modish professors who believe without frame and feeling.
If we assent to a religious truth merely because we cannot resist its evidence;-if we hate it, wanting to shake it off, wishing it were a lie, and fretting because we cannot make it so; we have the faith of devils: for "devils believe and tremble;" the force of the awful truths which they cannot deny giving them a foretaste of infernal torments. Of this sort, it seems, was the faith of Felix, when St. Paul reasoned before him of "justice, temperance, and judgment to come." This alarming doctrine, supported by the suffrage of conscience, and impressed by "the Spirit of truth," made the noble heathen "tremble;" but soon recovering himself, he fought against the truth that had laid hold on him unawares, and he kept it at arm's length, till he could shake it off as the apostle did the viper that fastened on his hand; or at least till he could run away from it, by plunging as desperately into a sea of sensual delights, as the devils in the swine did into the sea of Galilee.
The faith of immoral professors is not much better than the faith of Felix and Satan. They believe some glorious truths, but not with the heart to righteousness. Two or three comparisons may help us to understand this "mystery of iniquity." When a person visits you, you may either receive him with cold civility, as a stranger; or embrace him with warm affection as a bosom friend. From secret motives you may show a peculiar regard to a man whom you secretly despise or detest. He has a good voice, you love music, and he ministers to your amusement. Perhaps you want him to cloak the sin of his Bathsheba; perhaps you are a party man; he is a proper tool for you; and therefore you make much of him. But while your regard for him springs merely from such external circumstances, can it ever be personal and sincere? Equally ungenerous however is the regard that Gallio and Fulsome have for the truth. Gallio holds fast the doctrine of general redemption, because he fondly supposes that he has only to avoid robbery and murder to go to heaven: Fulsome extols "everlasting love," but it is because he thinks that it gives him the liberty of loving the world, without the least danger of losing God's eternal favour.
He embraces "justification by faith alone;" but it is because he confounds the works of faith and the works of the law, and vainly hopes to be finally justified without either. He shouts, "Free grace for ever!" because it insures, as he thinks, his eternal salvation, whatever length he may go in sin. He is a partial anatomist; he dissects the body of truth, throws away the vitals, and only preserves those parts which seem to countenance his immoral scheme. I question if an Indian warrior is more fond of the scalp of an Englishman, than Gallio is of the doctrine of "God's mercy," separated from God's holiness and justice; or Fulsome of the doctrine of "Christ's merits," torn away from the evangelical worthiness of sincere obedience.
Nay, a judicious Gnostic may admire and espouse a well connected system of religious truth, just as a virtuoso admires and purchases a good collection of shells. The virtuoso contends for the beauty and rarity of his marine toys with as much passionateness as if they were parts of himself: but they only lie upon cotton in his drawers, far enough from his breast. And the Gnostic disputes for the truths he has taken a fancy to with as much warmth as if they were incorporated with himself; but he contrives that they shall pass like flying clouds over his understanding, without descending in fruitful showers upon his heart.
Truth is the wholesome food of souls. Hence it is said, "The just shall live by his faith," by his receiving Christ in the word of truth, and by mystically feeding upon him, according to these deep words: "Except you eat my flesh, and drink my blood, ye have no life in you:" or, as St. John expresses it, "the truth is not in you." Now, as food must be inwardly taken, and properly digested, before it can nourish us; so must truth. If men, therefore, who "buy the truth" in theory, and "sell it" in practice, who "profess it in words, and deny it in works," have not power to take up their cross and to follow Christ; we ought no more on that account to conclude that the truth is inefficacious to our salvation, than to suppose that good food is improper for our nourishment, because men that spend their time in preparing it for others, in drawing up bills of fare, in placing dishes to the best advantage, and in inviting others to eat heartily, while they live upon trash themselves, have not strength to go through a hard day's work.
Again: from such scriptures as these: "I will heal their backslidings: heal my soul, for I have sinned against thee: God shall send forth his mercy and his truth: he sent his word and healed them," &c, it is evident that evangelical truth is, next to Christ, the medicine as well as the food of souls. Now, as it is absurd to suppose that speculating upon a medicine, instead of taking it, can conduce to the recovery of our bodily health, so it is unreasonable to fancy that bare speculations upon the doctrines of the Gospel can be productive of saving health; cordial believing having no less necessary a reference to truth, than real drinking to a potion. Hence appears the necessity of clearly distinguishing between saving faith and Antinomian fancy; between the faith by which a man affectionately believes with an humble heart unto righteousness; and its counterfeit, by which a man idly believes with a conceited mind to practical Antinomianism, whether he be a follower of Mr. Wesley or of Mr. Romaine.
The soaring faith of an immoral Antinomian is far inferior to the abortive faith of an imperfect penitent, and even to doubting. When truth and error present themselves to our minds together, (as they always do in every trial of faith,) so long as we remain in suspense between them, we continue in the uneasy state, between faith and unbelief, which we call "doubting." But when truth appears more beautiful than error to the eye of our understanding, without appearing good enough prevalently to engage our affections; we are in the uncomfortable state of the carnal penitent whom St. Paul describes in his own person, Rom vii. We approve the revealed will of God, and "delight in his law after the inward man." If the celestial rose were not beset with thorns, we would instantly gather it, If we had no bodily appetites to resist, no ignominious cross to take up, no false wisdom to part with, we would heartily believe and "work the work of God." But we cannot yet give up our bosom sin; carnal reason and the flesh prevail still against the spirit, though not without a struggle; unbelief and abortive faith (if I may use the expression) wrestling in our distracted breasts, as Esau and Jacob did in Rebecca's womb; and making us complain, "The good that I would do," if it cost me nothing, "I do not: but the evil I would not, that I do," because it gratifies my fallen nature. Thus with his mind, his rational powers, the carnal penitent "serves the law of God" by good, though ineffectual resolutions; but with his flesh, his carnal appetites, he "serves the law of sin" by bad, though lamented performances.
Here I beg leave to account for the famous confession of the princess, who cries out in Ovid,* Video meliora, proboque,-deleriora sequor, which may be thus paraphrased: "I stand between the rough, steep, ascending path of virtue, [bonum honestum,] and the plain, flowery, downward road of vice, [bonum jucundum.] Conscience says that the one is far more commendable; passion declares that the other is far more pleasing. I madly give the casting vote to hurrying passion; it decides that the pleasure of a present, certain gratification, be it ever so sinful, overbalances the fear of a future, uncertain punishment, be it ever so terrible: and notwithstanding the remonstrances of my conscience, I submit to the hazardous decision of my appetite; secretly hoping that God does not regard my crimes, or that a day of retribution is a chimera."
[* I see what is right and approve it, but do what is wrong. ]
To return: faith does not struggle into birth without her coeval child and constant partner, hope. When faith fails, despair groans, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?" But when faith revives, hope lifts up her head, and cries, "I thank God [there is deliverance] through Jesus Christ our Lord." Thus we go on falling and rising, dying and reviving, till we are quite tired of the sins which hinder us from welcoming the saving truth with a more cordial embrace; and when we do this, our faith is unfeigned; the Lord sets to it the broad seal of his power; it proves victorious; we enter into Gospel liberty, and instead of the old note, "Who shall deliver me we sing, under the Christian dispensation, "Christ hath delivered us from the curse of the law" of sin, as well as from the curse of the law of innocence and of the ceremonial law. "There is no condemnation to them that [believe and] walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
The manner in which this deliverance is generally wrought, may be more particularly described thus:-Free grace, "at sundry times and in divers places speaks to our consciences, recommending "the word nigh,-the commandment" that is "everlasting life," the truth that contains the regenerating power of God. If it be "the day of provocation," we unnecessarily begin "to make excuse." We cannot come to the marriage feast. We are either too good, too bad, or too busy to entertain the truth; and we say as civilly as Felix, "Go thy way for this time, [when I shall be more fit, or] when I shall have a more convenient season, I will call for thee." Perhaps we perversely "harden our heart, contradicting, blaspheming," and saying as the Pharisees, "We will not have this [truth] to reign over us. Away with it!" But if it be the day of conversion, if our free willing soul "know the time of our visitation," humbly bowing at the word of the Lord, and saying, as the Virgin Mary, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to thy word;" I am a lost sinner, but "there is mercy with thee that thou mayest be feared:" then the seed of the kingdom, the word of God, "is received in an honest and good heart;" for nothing is wanting to render the heart initially good and honest, but the sincere submission of our free will, to that free grace which courts us, and says, "Behold! I stand at the door [of every heart] and knock. If any man hear my voice and open, I will come in and sup with him, and he with me." He shall "taste how good the Lord is," he shall "taste the good word of God and the powers [of truth, which are the powers] of the world to come." And so shall he rise superior to shadows and lies, which are the powers of this present evil world.
Thus opens the kingdom of God in the believing soul: thus is Christ the "truth and the life," formed in the heart by faith: thus grace begins to "reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ."
I call that faith "saving and operative," because so long as it lives, it saves; and so long as it saves, it "works righteousness,"-it works by a righteous fear of the evil denounced against sin; by a righteous opposition to every known sin; by a righteous hope of the good promised to obedience; and by a righteous love of the truth that has produced it, and of the Father of lights, from whom that truth proceeds; it being scarcely possible to welcome heartily a beam of the sun for its brightness, without indirectly welcoming the sun itself. Therefore, when living faith ceases to "work," it dies away, as the heart that ceases to beat; it goes out, as a candle that ceases to shine.
"But, upon this footing, what becomes of the modish doctrine of a faith without frame and feeling?" If the ministers, who recommend such a faith, mean that we must set our heart as a seal to the Gospel truths adapted to our present state, and stamp them with all our might, not considering whether our fallen nature and carnal reason relish them, and steadily following the poet's direction,
"Tu ne cede malis; sed contra audentior ito,
Quam MALA te NATURA sinit:"
they maintain a truth, a great truth, which cannot be too much urged upon tempered, desponding, and despairing souls. But if they mean that we must believe ourselves unconditionally elected to glory, be the frame of our minds ever so carnal, and the feelings of our hearts ever so worldly, they destroy "the health of the daughter of God's people," with as rank poison as ever grew in spiritual Egypt. I am no judge of what passes in the breasts of those gentlemen; but, for my part, I never feel faith more strongly at work than when I wrestle not only with flesh and blood, but with the banded powers of darkness.
None but a dead man is quite destitute of frame and feeling. It is not a real flame that neither warms in winter nor shines in the dark. The moment a light is not in its degree able to triumph over darkness, and even to turn it into light, it ceases to be a true light. You may see in Windsor Castle a candle most exquisitely painted; it shines as steadfastly as Mr. Fulsome believes. Was the coloured canvass as loquacious as that Antinomian hero, it might say, "I shine without feeling, though not without a frame." But even then Mr. Fulsome's faith would have the pre-eminence; for if we credit him it shines without either frame or feeling. How absurd is Solifidianism? how dangerous! If any man can show me a true light, that actually emits no beams, I will repent of the ridicule I cast upon the dotages, which make way for a "justifying faith" that works by adultery and murder; an ill-smelling candle this, which burns in the breasts of apostates to the honour of him that kindled it at the fire of Tophet; an infernal candle, sending forth darkness instead of light, and so far benighting the good men who follow it, that they look upon it as the inextinguishable "candle of the Lord," and upon sincere obedience as a "jack o'lantern."
The preceding pages represent truth as the remedy and nourishment of our souls; and I have already observed, that as we cannot take food without the continual help of the God of nature, so we cannot receive the truth without the continual assistance of the God of grace; it being the first axiom of the Gospel, that all our sufficiency and ability to do any good are of God. Nevertheless, lest those who seek occasion against the truth, which they do not relish, should call the free grace I hold forth Pelagianism, I shall conclude this section by asserting, that if Christ were not "the Saviour of all men," and if we were entirely destitute of the gracious, evangelical "light that enlightens every man," and "helps our infirmities," we should be, with respect to saving truths, like people who either have no kind of food, or no appetite at all to their food; nay, like sick people that have an insurmountable aversion to a medicine and an irresistible longing for poison. But the saving "grace of God having appeared to all men," and having mercifully given us an evangelical capacity to receive the truth as it is revealed to us in the dispensation we are under, we may either put that truth from us, as the unbelieving Jews did, or welcome it, as Job and his friends, although not without difficulty: yea, such difficulty as forms the "trial of our faith," and makes it reasonable in God to bid us "choose life" rather than death, when truth and error, blessing and cursing, are set before us.
The operative belief of the truth and the operative belief of a lie are the two roots that produce all our good and all our bad actions. An appeal to reason and matter of fact.
No plant can grow without its root, and no moral action can spring into existence without its principle. When we do not dissemble, our principle of action is our prevalent persuasion, our predominant belief; a cordial, practical belief of the truth and rejection of a lie being always the principle of a good action; and a cordial, practical belief of a lie and rejection of the truth being always the principle of a bad action.
That good works can have no origin but the belief of the truth will appear indubitable, if we trace them back to their sources. To fear, love, and obey God are undoubtedly good works; but can I do them without believing the truth, that is, without believing that God is, that he is to be feared, loved, and obeyed, and that it is my duty or privilege so to do? Again: that bad works can have no other origin but the belief of a lie will also appear evident if we follow them to their spring. To neglect and disobey God are certainly bad works; but can we do them without "believing a lie?" without being more or less persuaded that although it may not be our duty, yet, upon the whole, in our present circumstances, it will be for our advantage or credit to neglect God and to swim with the stream?
May not the preceding argument concerning the importance of faith be confirmed by appeals to reason, experience, and matter of fact? Did not Eve stand in paradise so long as she forbore eating of the forbidden fruit? Did she not forbear eating so long as she believed the truth, that is, so long as she believed she should die if she ate of that fruit? Would she have sinned if she had not first believed a lie, yea, swallowed down a cluster of lies? "That she should not die; the fruit was as good as it was fair; it was to be desired to make one wise; she should be as God," &c; were not these untruths, freely entertained in her heart, the causes of her committing the direful deed?
Why did Judas once forsake all to follow the indigent Jesus? Was it not because he believed it his real advantage so to do? And did he not so far believe the truth and show his faith by corresponding works? By and by the spirit of error suggested that he should be a loser by following and a gainer by betraying his Master. Was not this an infamous lie? When he had believed it, did not his heart become a nest for the old serpent, a throne for the father of lies? And did not our Lord speak the words of soberness and truth when he said to his disciples, "One of you hath a devil?"
Why did Peter deny his dear Lord? Undoubtedly because in that fatal hour he believed that the Jews were more able and ready to fall upon and destroy him than Christ was to save and defend him. And was not this believing an untruth? When he had completed his crime, why did he go out to weep, and not to hang himself, like Judas? Was not because he admitted the truth again; believing that where sin had abounded grace might yet superabound; and that great as his crimes were, God's mercy and Christ's love were yet greater? Saving truths these which Judas could no longer believe, having "done [final] despite to the Spirit of truth, [who] leads, [not drags,] into the truth."
Why did David attack Goliah with undaunted courage? Was it not because he heartily believed that the Lord would not be insulted by that blaspheming monster, and would stand by any one that attacked him in the name of the God of Israel? A great truth this, through which he waxed valiant in fight, killed his gigantic adversary, and turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Why did he afterward stain his righteous soul with atrocious crimes? Was it not because he practically, and therefore most cordially, believed a horrid untruth; namely, that the company of his neighbour's ewe lamb was preferable to the delights afforded by the Lamb of God? Why did he afterward repent? Was it not because he received the truth again; heartily believing that he had committed dreadful sins, and that he must repent or perish?
Again: why are men "lovers of the world more than lovers of God?" Is it not because they really believe that the world can make them happier than God? If I say, "I believe that God is preferable to the world," and do not seek my chief happiness in him, do not I deceive myself and tell a gross untruth? And while St. James charges me to show my faith by my works, does not St. John show himself a rational divine when he protests that "the truth is not in me?" Once more: why did Saul of Tarsus "breathe threatenings and slaughter" against Christ's members? Was it not because he believed the grand lie of his day, that is, that Christ was an impostor? And why did he afterward breathe nothing but fervent love to Christians and unextinguishable zeal for Christ's glory? Was it not because his inmost soul was penetrated with the force of this almighty truth, "Christ is the true Messiah; he loved me and gave himself for me?"
From these and a thousand such observations upon the conversion of sinners and the perversion of saints, I draw the following consequences, which, I trust, will recommend themselves to the reason of every calm inquirer after truth.
I. To convert or pervert a man, you need only change his principle of action, his predominant practical belief of a damnable lie or of a saving truth. For if the spring be new, so undoubtedly will be the streams. If you have a new tree, you will infallibly have new fruit. If the rudder be truly turned, the ship will certainly take a new course.
2. Truth is the heavenly seed that produces living faith; and living faith is the heavenly root that produces good works. Truth and faith, therefore, are at the bottom of every good work. To suppose them absent from a good work is to suppose that a good work can be void of sincerity and truth, and of course void of goodness. And is not this supposing a glaring absurdity? On the other hand, a lie is the hellish seed that produces unbelief; and unbelief is the hellish root that produces bad works. A lie and unbelief are then at the bottom of every bad work. To suppose them absent from a bad work, is to suppose that a bad work can be wrought in faith and in truth, which is as impossible as to do a good work in malice and wickedness.
As the rise and fall of a good weather glass infallibly show the real, though as yet invisible alterations of the Atmosphere; so our rising from sin and our falling into sin surely evidence the secret, and perhaps unnoticed changes that happen in our faith, for the better or for the worse. For the whole of our words and actions, taken into connection with our views and tempers, are the certain result of our present faith or unbelief, and consequently the best marks that we please or displease God, according to the last and capital proposition of the Minutes.
4. When there is "truth in the inward parts," there is faith also, it being as impossible to admit religious truths any other way but by faith, as it is to partake of the light any other way but by sight. Truth and faith tincture with goodness the most extraordinary actions. Thus Samuel cuts Agag in pieces before the Lord; St. Paul strikes Elymas with blindness; St. Peter strikes Ananias with sudden death; Phinehas [stabs] Zirnri and Cosbi through the body; Abraham offers Isaac in truth and faith; and "God counts these actions to them for righteousness to all generations for evermore." On the other hand, the actions that do not spring from truth and faith, be they ever so good in the eyes of men, are an abomination in the sight of God, who requires "truth in the inward parts." Thus King Saul offers a sacrifice; Judas pleads for the poor; the Pharisees make long prayers; Pilate washes his hands from the blood of Christ; and God reckons these works to them for sin to all generations for evermore.
5. Some actions, such as the commission of adultery and of murder, can never be tinctured by truth and faith, because they have for their principle triumphant impurity, gross injustice, and flagrant unbelief; and whenever such sins prevail in the soul, the contrary virtues, holiness, truth, and faith are gone; just as when racking pains and a putrid fever prevail in the body, ease and health are there no more. To suppose, therefore, that living faith lurked in David's heart during his grievous apostasy, is as absurd as to suppose that health lurks in a body infected by the plague, and life in a corpse. "Ay, but David's faith, like that of Peter, was raised up again." True: and so was the body of Lazarus, that of our Lord, and that of the ruler's daughter: but is this a proof that Lazarus, Christ, and the damsel, did not undergo a real death? A concession, however, I cheerfully make to my objector; wishing that it may be a mean of reconciling him as much to the faith of St. James, as I am reconciled to that of St. Paul. If he grant me that Peter's and David's faith went out as really as a candle which is put under an extinguisher; I will grant him, that through the long suffering of God, who never seals the absolute reprobation of sinners so long as their day of visitation lasts, the extinct faith of those fallen saints was as an extinguished light, that continues to smoke, and can the sooner be lighted again. Their falls, great as they were, did not amount to complete obduracy and the sin against the Holy Ghost.- "He will not quench the smoking flax," was a promise in which they were still interested with all those who have not yet done final "despite to the Spirit of grace." Free grace, therefore, visited them again; and when she put her candle to their hearts, they again knew their day; they welcomed the light; the smoking flax once more caught the pure flame of truth; and living faith, with her luminous train, was rekindled in their breasts. Thus, by improving what remained of the accepted time, they escaped the fate of Judas. who so hardened him-self, that his candle was put out in final darkness; they avoided the doom of the foolish virgins, who so procrastinated repentance, that their extinguished lamps were never lighted again. To return:-
6. As our pulses all over the body exactly answer to the beating of our heart; so our inward works, that is, our thoughts, desires, schemes, and tempers exactly answer to our faith or principle of action. I say "our inward works," because hypocrites can mimic all external works. How improperly then is St. Paul quoted against the works of faith! Does he not assure us himself that saving "faith worketh by love?" And is it not as absurd to oppose the works of faith to faith, as to oppose the pulses to the beating of the heart; no two things in the world being more strongly connected? However, as the heart always beats before the arteries, and as a cannon is always fired before the explosion can be heard, the ball felt, or the flame perceived; so faith always moves before it can set fear, hope, desire, or love in motion. And if godly fear, hope, desire, and love, which are our internal good works, always spring from faith; our external good works, such as publicly worshipping God, doing good to our neighbour, &c, from a right principle and in a right manner, always flow from faith also. For our external works are nothing but the effects of the works which we have already wrought in our hearts; just as the rapid motion of a ball out of the cannon is nothing but the effect of the motion that was communicated to it, while it was yet IN the cannon.
7. If every internal good work (suppose a sincere operative desire to love my enemy for God's sake) necessarily springs from a good principle, that is, from true faith; it follows, that, so long as I consistently continue in the same disposition, my principle of action is good, and I am (so far) a good man, according to the standard of one or another of the Gospel dispensations. On the other hand, if any one inward bad work (suppose a malicious desire to hurt my neighbour) springs from a bad principle, it follows also that, so long as I continue in that bad disposition, whatever degree of sanctity I may pretend to, my principle of action is bad, I am a wicked man of the Pharisaic or of the Antinomian order. To conclude:-
8. As by suppressing the beating of the heart you may stop all the pulses; so by suppressing the act of faith you may put a stop to all good works. On the other hand, as by cutting the main arteries you may put an end to the motion of the heart; so by suppressing the good motions caused by faith you may put an end to the life of faith, and destroy the new creature in Christ Jesus.
The reasonableness of the doctrine of salvation by faith is farther evinced by a variety of arguments. How much we are indebted to the Solifidians for having firmly stood up in defence of faith. How dearly they have made us pay for that service, when they have so enforced our eleventh article, which guards salvation by faith, as to make void the twelfth, which guards morality: and why the overpowering splendour of truth is qualified by some shades.
SHOULD some readers still think that it is unreasonable to dwell first upon faith, and to insist more upon it than upon the other works and graces which adorn the life and character of a Christian; to remove their scruples, and to vindicate more fully the fundamental doctrine of salvation by faith, I present them with the following remarks:-
1. If true faith is the root that produces hope, charity, and sincere obedience, as the preceding section evinces, is it not reasonable principally to urge the necessity of believing aright? The end of all preaching is undoubtedly to plant the tree of evangelical obedience; and how can that tree be planted but by its root? Was a gardener ever charged with unreasonableness, for not setting a tree by the branches?
2. If faith working by love is the heart of true religion, should we not bestow our chief attention and care upon it? Suppose you were a physician, and attended a patient, who had an imposthume in his stomach and another on his hand; would you do honour to your skill, if overlooking the internal mischief you confined your attention to the external ulcer?
3. The most excellent gift of God to man, next to the invaluable gifts of his Son and Spirit, is that of saving truth. Nay, the Son of God, in his prophetic character, came only to display the truth. He was manifested in the flesh to be its herald among men. St. Paul tells us that "Christ witnessed a good confession before Pilate;" and St. John informs us that part of this confession ran thus: "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth." Now if "bearing witness to the truth" was a great "cause," and a peculiar "end" of our Lord's coming into the world; if the Spirit itself is called the "Spirit of truth," because his grand office is to reveal and seal the truth; if truth is no better than error to us, till we receive it by faith; and if the Scripture declares four times that "the just shall live by his faith," a declaration this which St. Paul confirms by his own experience, when he says, "I live by faith;" is it not evident that when we practically reject the doctrine of faith, we reject life, together with all the blessings which are "brought to light by the Gospel;" a Gospel disbelieved being undoubtedly a Gospel rejected?
4. Our feelings and conduct greatly depend upon our apprehensions of things. A false report that your son is dead reaches your ears; you believe it, and pangs of grief distract your breast. Soon after a true account of his being drowned is brought to you; you disbelieve it, and you remain unaffected. A diamond by moonlight glitters at your feet; you think it is only a glow worm, and this mistake prevents your stooping to pick it up. A glow worm shines at some distance; you fancy that it is a diamond, and you run to it with a degree of hope and joy proportionable to the degree of your vain confidence. The God of truth is an infinite, spiritual diamond, if I may use the expression; and. yet so faint are our ideas of his excellence that we overlook him, and madly run after deceitful objects, the brightest of which are but glow worms to the "Father of lights." Nothing, therefore, but a firm "belief of the truth," stamping our souls with just apprehensions of things, and fixing in us a strong persuasion of their intrinsic worth or vanity, can rectify our judgment, and make us regulate our conduct according to the dictates of God's word, which are invariably one with the truth, and with the nature of things.
5. When St. Paul exhorts his converts to the pursuit of things. "honest, just, pure, lovely," &c, he mentions first, with great propriety, "whatsoever things are true." For as soon as obedient faith allows truth to sit upon the throne, there is an end of mental anarchy: all things resume their proper ranks and places. Creatures, in a great degree, disappear before their Creator; earth before heaven; and time before eternity. Thus Satan's charm is broken, God begins to be to us what he is in himself, "all in all;" and when we see him such, if our faith be lively and practical, we treat him as such: we answer the end of our creation: truth prevails: "Satan falls as lightning from heaven:" man is man, and God is God.
6. A truth, next to God, is the most powerful thing in the world; if we can have no communion with God but by the medium of truth; if falsehood is the rankest poison in hell; and if we take a draught of this poison as often as we take in a capital religious error; can you reasonably explode the doctrine of salvation by faith, since the office of living faith is to expel the poison of destructive error, and to receive the reviving, healing, strengthening cordial of Gospel truth?
7. If an unfeigned faith in the truths which God reveals under one or another of his evangelical dispensations is the instrumental cause of all our good works, while a cordial consent to one or more of Satan's lies is the parent of all our bad actions; if these two springs move every wheel of righteousness and of iniquity in the world; is it not highly consistent with reason to mind them first? Would you not pity your watch maker if he so regarded the hand and dial plate of your watch as to forget the wheel work and spring? And can you approve the method of Honestus, who insists upon good works, without ever touching upon the principles of sincere obedience, and upon faith, which is the spring that sets all in motion?
8. Again: if Abraham, by "not staggering at the promise of God through unbelief, and by being strong in faith, gave glory to God," and "set to his seal that God is true;" if you cannot honour a superior more than by receiving his every word with respectful confidence, and moving at his every beck with obedient alacrity; and if faith thus honours God, why should you refuse it the first place among the graces which support and adorn the Church militant? Especially since the Lord declares that "the pure in heart shall see God," and that our "hearts are purified by faith;" and since the Scriptures testify that "without holiness no man shall see life and that we "are sanctified through faith that is in him."
9. All fullness dwells in God; creatures, abstracted from the Divine plenitude, are mere emptiness. Rational creatures, in their most perfect state, are only moral vessels, filled with the grace of God, and reflecting the light of Divine truth. Now if we can be saved any other way than "by grace through [obedient] faith," that is, by freely receiving the grace and light of God, through the practical belief of the truth proposed to us; if we are in any degree saved by our proper merit through faithless works; we may indulge Pharisaic boasting. But God does not so give his glory to human worms; therefore such a boasting is excluded by the law of faith; and the apostle wisely observes that salvation "is of faith, that it may be by grace;" the justifying faith of sinners always implying a cordial acknowledgment of their sin and misery, and a hearty recourse to "the tender mercy of our God, whereby the day spring from on high hath visited us," more or less clearly, according to the dispensation we are under.*
To establish the doctrine of the Gospel dispensations; to show that saving truth, in its various manifestations, is the object of saving faith; I need only prove, that a man, in order to his salvation, is bound to believe at one time what he was not bound to believe at another. Take one instance out of many. If St. Peter had died just after he had been pronounced "blessed," for acknowledging that our Lord was "the Son of God," he could not have been cursed with a "Depart from me," &c. He would have been saved; and in that case he would have obtained salvation without believing one tittle about our Lord's resurrection, and might I not also say about his crucifixion? And, nevertheless, St. Paul, a few years after, justly represented that article as essential to the salvation of those to whom it is revealed! "IF thou shalt BELIEVE with thy heart that God HATH RAISED the Lord Jesus from the dead, thou shalt be saved," Rom. x, 9. Few people, I think, can read the Acts of the Apostles without seeing, that the numerous conversions wrought by St. Peter's preaching were wrought by the force of this truth, "God has raised up that Jesus whom you have crucified." A victorious truth this, which would have been a gross untruth three months before the day of pentecost. Nay, what is at one time an article of saving faith, may at another time become an article of the most confirmed unbelief. Thus the expectation of the Messiah, which was a capital article of the faith of the ancient Israelites, is now the buttress of the Babel of modern Jews. The property of faith is then to make our hearts bow to the truth as it is manifested to us; it being evident that God never blamed the children of men for not believing what was never revealed to them.
MEMORANDUM.-In page 534, I have said that "the genuine seed of the word is always good, always full of Divine energy." I desire the candid reader to read the following lines, as more particularly expressive of my meaning:- The word is [ôauôð:] and truth, like the sun, is always efficacious where its light penetrates. But I would by no means insinuate that the truth may not, like the sun, shine more brightly and powerfully at one time than at another; the word of truth, however, [always] performs, though more or less sensibly, that whereunto God sends it; being always a "savour of life unto life to them that believe," or of "death unto death" to willful unbelievers, according to the grand decree of conditional election and reprobation "He that believeth, &c, shall be saved; and he that believeth not shall be damned."
10. The manner in which faith and its works "exclude boasting," may be illustrated by a comparison. A beggar lies dying at your door, you offer him a cordial, he takes it, revives, and works. A deserter is going to be shot, you bring him a pardon from the king, if he will receive it with grateful humility; he does so, joins his regiment, and fights with such courage that he is promoted. Now, in these cases, it is evident that Pharisaic* boasting is excluded. If the beggar live ever so long, and work ever so hard,-if the deserter fight ever so manfully, and be raised ever so high; yet they can never say that their doings have procured them the life which they enjoy; for, before they did such works, that life was graciously given, or restored to them, upon the easy terms of confidently taking a remedy, and humbly accepting a pardon offered: The application is easy. By our fallen nature we are "conceived in sin, and children of wrath:" God freely gives us the light of life in Jesus Christ; faith, without necessity, humbly receives it, and works by it; the believer therefore, can never be so unreasonable and ungrateful as to suppose that his working merited him "the light of life," by which he began to work righteousness. So long as he deserves the name of a believer, he knows, he feels, that his faith is, in the first place, a mere receiver. "What hast thou that thou hast not received?" roars like thunder in the ears of a lively faith, and like lightning strikes dead the Pharisaic boast.
* There is an evangelical boasting which St. Paul recommends to others, and indulges himself. See note, p. 504.
II. I say that "faith is, in the first place, a mere receiver." This deserves attention. If we consider faith as a conduit pipe, which at one end receives the truth and power of God, and at the other end refunds those living streams to water the garden of the Lord; we may with propriety compare that mother grace to the pipe of a watering pot, which at the internal, unseen opening, receives the water that is in the pot; and at the external, visible perforations, returns it and forms artificial showers over the drooping plants. According to the doctrine of grace, maintained by the Solifidians, faith does nothing but receive the grace of God through Christ; and according to the doctrine of works, maintained by the moralists, faith is a mere bestower; but, according to the Gospel of Christ, which embraces and connects the two extremes of truth, faith is first an humble, passive receiver, and then a cheerful, active bestower: it receives grace and truth, and returns love and good works. In that respect, it resembles the heart which continually receives the blood from the veins, and returns it into the arteries. If the heart cease either to receive or to return the blood, (no matter which,) its motion and our animal life are soon at an end; and if faith cease either to receive grace, or to return good works, its motion and its life soon terminate in spiritual death, according to the doctrine of St. James. If the Solifidians and moralists candidly looked at faith in this rational and Scriptural light, they would soon embrace the whole Gospel, and one another. By considering faith as a receiver, according to the first Gospel axiom, Honestus would avoid the Pharisaic extreme; and by viewing it as a bestower, according to the second Gospel axiom, Zelotes would avoid the Antinominan delusion; and both would jointly recommend the humble, cheerful, consistent passiveness and activity of Bible believers.
12. "If we receive the witness of men," says St. John, "the witness of God is greater: for [under the Christian dispensation] this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son: he that believeth on the Son of God hath the testimony in himself; but he that believeth not God hath made him a liar, because he believed not the record that God gave of his Son." Upon these awful words I raise the following argument:- If a state of absolute doubt is quite unnatural: if it is almost impossible to keep the balance of our judgment unturned for one hour, with respect to all saving truths and destructive lies: if the stream of life, which hurries us along, calls us every moment to action: if we continually do good or bad works: if good works certainly spring from saving faith, and bad works from destructive unbelief: if skeptics are only so in imagination, theory, and profession: if our daily conduct demonstrates whether our heart inclines most to the lies of Satan, or to the truths of God: and if the moment we practically reject God's truths, we embrace the lies of the god of this world, and by that means take him for our god;-if, I say, this is the case, what reasonable man can be surprised to bear the mild Jesus say, "He that believeth not shall be damned?" Can there be a greater sin-a sin more productive of all iniquity, and more horrid, than to make the lying devil a god, and the true God a liar? Nevertheless, dreadful to say! this double crime is actually committed by all that live in willful, practical unbelief; and the commission of it is indirectly recommended by all those who decry the doctrine of salvation by faith.
Lastly. If our first parents fell by believing the gross lies told them by the serpent, is God unreasonable to raise us, by making us believe the great truths peculiar to our dispensation, that the Divine leaven of sincerity and truth may counterwork and at last expel the satanic leaven of malice and wickedness? Who ever thought it absurd in a physician to proportion the remedy to the disease, the antidote to the poison? And why should even the incarnation of the Son of God appear a mean too wonderful for an end so important? Why should it he thought incredible that the Son of God, who, as our Creator, is far more nearly related to us than our natural parents, should have graciously stooped as low as the human nature to redeem us; when Satan wantonly stooped as low as the beastly nature to tempt us? On the contrary, is it not absurd to suppose that hellish, wanton malice has done more to destroy, than heavenly, creating love to save the children of men? For my part, the more I compare the genuine Gospel with the nature of things, the more I admire their harmony; wondering equally at the prejudices of those hasty professors who pour perpetual contempt upon reason, to keep their irrational opinions in countenance; and at the unreasonableness of those pretended votaries of reason, who suppose that the doctrine of salvation by faith is incompatible with good sense.
OBJECTION. "But," says an objector, "if unfeigned faith, or a cordial belief of the truth, instrumentally turns us 'from the power of Satan to God;' why have you published tracts against the Solifidians whose favourite doctrine is, 'Believe; he that believeth hath everlasting life?"
ANSWER. By the preceding pages it is evident that we do not differ from the Solifidians when they preach salvation by faith in a rational and a Scriptural manner. So long at they do this, we wish them good luck in the name of the Lord. Nay, I publicly return them my sincere thanks for the bold stand they have made for faith, when the floods of Pharisaic ungodliness lifted up their voice against that mother grace, and threatened to destroy her with all her offspring. But, alas! how dear have they made us pay for that service, when they have asserted or insinuated that true faith is inadmissible, that it can live in a heart totally depraved, that a man's faith can be good when his actions are bad, detestable, diabolical; in a word, that true Christians may go any length in sin, may plunge into adultery, murder, or incest, and even proceed to the open worship of devils, like [Solomon], without losing their title to a throne of glory, and their justifying, sanctifying, saving faith!
This they have done in flat opposition to our Lord's doctrine: "A good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither does a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit; for every tree is known by its own fruit," Luke vi, 43. And this some of them seem determined to do, to the stumbling of the judicious, the deceiving of the simple, and the hardening of infidels; notwithstanding our twelfth article, which strongly guards the doctrine of faith against their Solifidian error. "Good works" says our Church in that truly anti-Calvinistic article, "do [at this present time] spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith, [and consequently bad works, of a false and dead faith;] insomuch that by them a lively [and by bad works a dead] faith may be as evidently known, as a tree is discerned by the fruit."
But, in the meantime, how do they evade the force of that article? Why, thus: David bears this year the fruit of adultery, hypocrisy, treachery, and murder, before all his kingdom: last year he bore the fruit of chastity, sincerity, truth, and brotherly love. However, according to the Crispian doctrines of grace, David must be a tree of righteousness now, as much as when he bore the fruits of righteousness. If this be not the case, Mr. Fulsome's Gospel will be false: now this must not be. That Gospel must stand. "But if it stand, our twelfth article falls to the ground." O! we can prop it by saying, that though a child of God, a tree of righteousness, may now produce adultery, &c, &c, &c, yet he will certainly produce good fruit again by and by. To this salvo I answer, that the article has only two grand designs; the one inseparably to connect a lively faith and good works, and the other to indicate the manner in which I may know whether I have a lively or a dead faith. Now, if I may have a lively faith while I commit adultery, &c, &c, &c, it evidently follows, (1.) That the necessary connection between a lively faith and good works is totally lost. (2.) That adultery and murder may denote a lively faith as well as purity and love. And, (3.) That our twelfth article has not even the worth of a nose of wax, and may be burned with St. James' Epistle, as an article "of straw." And yet these gentlemen are the persons that represent themselves as the only fair subscribers to our articles, and charge us with prevarication for taking the seventeenth article in connection with the sixth, the twelfth, the sixteenth, and the thirty-first, as well as with the latter part of that article itself, which demands that the election it speaks of be understood of conditional election!
To return. Should the reader object, that "if God had suspended our salvation upon our practical belief of the truth, he would have put so conspicuous a badge upon the saving truth peculiar to each dispensation that nobody could have Antinomian error, enthusiasm, priest-craft, or nonsense:" I answer-
1. God, having decreed to prove the loyalty and moral sagacity of his rational creatures, could not but place them in circumstances in which they might have an opportunity of exerting themselves. If hares were chained at the doors of dog kennels, what sagacity could hounds manifest above mastiffs? And if the deepest truths always lay within the reach of the most besotted souls, what advantage would candid, diligent inquirers have over those who wrap their minds in the veil of prejudice, and stupidly compose themselves to sleep in the arms of ignorance and sloth?
2. God will reward us according to our works of faith; but if the truth were attended with an irresistible energy, if it shone always upon our minds as transcendently bright as the dazzling sun does sometimes upon our faces, would God display his wisdom in rewarding us for confessing it? Did he, did any man in his senses, ever offer to reward us for believing that a bright luminary rules the day, when its meridian glory overpowers our sight?
3. Pearls are found in the bottom of the sea. Gold and diamonds lie generally deep in the earth. We sink pits to a prodigious depth only to come at the black mineral which we burn. Thousands of men go as far as the East and West Indies to fill our canisters with tea and sugar. Our meanest tradesmen sip the dews of both hemispheres at a breakfast. And yet, it may be, with a dish of tea in our hand, and a gold ring on our finger, we gravely complain that saving truth lies a great way off and that God is unjust in placing it in obscure mines, which cannot be worked without some trouble and industry.
4. But although nobody can be established in the truth without "labouring for the meat that endureth for everlasting life;" yet God's terms of salvation are not so hard as some prejudiced people conceive. Nor do I scruple to assert, that if we could read the hearts of all men, we would see, that, for a time, unbelievers take as much pains to exclude the light of truth as believers do to welcome it, and that wicked men work as intensely, though not as intentionally, to make their reprobation and damnation certain, as good men do "to make their calling and election sure:" for "the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. The reward of his hands shall be given him. The wages of [his] sin is death; [and he frequently toils like a horse for his wages,] drawing iniquity with cords of vanity, [and] sin as with a cart rope," to hale himself and others into the burning lake.
From the preceding answers I conclude, that God, who makes the golden light of the sun and the silver light of the moon succeed each other, and who wisely tempers the blaze of a summer's day by the mildness of the starry night, with equal wisdom qualifies the blaze of the day of truth by the mild obscurity of a night of probation; not only that the flaming truth may be more delightful at its return, but also that there may be room left for a gentle trial of our faith, and for the reasonable rewardableness of our works of faith.
l. If faith be so closely connected with truth, present salvation with faith, and eternal salvation with the works of faith, how injudicious are those gentlemen, who assert that principles are nothing, and that it little matters what doctrines we hold, provided our actions be good! Alas! if our leading principles be wrong, how can our actions be right? If we be men of no principles, or of bad principles, and do seemingly good actions, do we not do them from bad, Pharisaical motives? Even when such actions appear good to man, who judges according to appearance, are they not evil before the Searcher of hearts? Are they not detestable before the Examinator of principles? Undoubtedly; hypocrisy being the most odious sort of iniquity in the sight of Him who "requires truth in the inward parts."
2. If the effects of truth be so wonderful, and if the pure word of God be essentially one with truth, how fatal is the mistake of the laymen who slight the Gospel word! who listen to a sermon with less attention than they do to a play! and who read the Scriptures with less eagerness than they do the newspapers! And how culpable are those clergymen who preach the first sermon they set their hand upon, without examining whether it contain truth or error, or a mixture of both; at least, without considering whether it be adapted to the capacity and circumstances of their hearers!
3. Can we decry prejudice too much, if it unfit our souls for receiving the truth, as trash unfits our stomachs for receiving proper food? Should not a narrow, bigoted spirit, that collects itself like a hedgehog in its own fancied orthodoxy, and bristles up assertions and invectives instead of arguments, be firmly opposed by every generous inquirer after truth? Can we deplore too much the case of those sanguine persons, who judge of the strength of their faith by the force of their prepossession; and who fancy that a hundred plain scriptures, and as many cogent arguments, have no weight, if they do not countenance their favourite sentiments and misunderstood feelings? And can we too warmly recommend a candid, sober, fearless turn of mind, which lays us open to information, and disposes us publicly to espouse the cause of truth, even when destruction threatens her, and her despised adherents?
4. "Charity rejoiceth in the truth;" and "though I speak with the tongues of angels," says St. Paul, "if I have not charity," that is, if I do not "rejoice in the truth," whether it makes for or against my prejudices, "I am become as sounding brass." Upon this footing what can we say of those warm moralists, who, in their zeal for works, are ready to burn against the doctrine of faith? What of those rash Solifidians who, in their zeal for faith, are ready to lay down their lives against the doctrine of works? Alas! like St. Paul in the days of his ignorance, they court and yet persecute the truth; they embrace and yet stab the Divine stranger. These false martyrs may give their body to be burned for one truth against another; but God will say to them, "Who required this at your hands?" and they themselves will say, "It profiteth us nothing."
5. If there be various forms in the school of truth, how unreasonable is it to say that none have any acquaintance with her, but such as are in one of the highest forms! And if the temple of truth has various divisions to which we advance, as we go on "from faith to faith," how cruel is it to consign over to damnation the sincere souls who have yet got no farther than the porch!
6. If there are as many sorts of religious truths as there are of nourishing food, how irrational is it to despise those truths which the apostle compares to milk, merely because they are not the truths which he calls "strong meat!" On the other hand, if we cannot yet receive those strong truths, how rash are we, if we represent them as chaff or poison! And what mischief is done in the Church of Christ by those who deal in palpable absurdities, and in errors demonstrated to be of a stupifying or intoxicating nature; especially if they retail such errors to an injudicious, credulous populace, under the name of "rich honey" and" Gospel marrow!"
7. If Divine truth is one through its various appearances, and if "the light of the righteous [who holds on his way] shines more and more unto the perfect day;" what shall we say of those prejudiced men, who oppose the truth with all their might, merely because it does not come up to their false standard, or because it appears in a dress to which they are not accustomed? Did a Persian ever refuse to admire the rising sun, because it was not the meridian sun, or laugh at it as being an insignificant meteor, because it rose under a cloud? If Christ is not ashamed to call himself "the light" and "the truth," should we be ashamed to confess him in his lowest appearances? If Christ, exalted at the right hand of God, is one with Christ transfigured on the mount,-bleeding on Calvary,-lying in the manger,-confined, a helpless embryo, in the virgin's womb; may not the triumphant truth that shines like the sun in the heart of a "father in Christ," have some affinity with the spark that glows in the heart of an infant in grace under the dispensation of Noah? Ought we to give up the greatest part of our neighbours as men that "never had grace," when the Scripture expressly declares, that "the saving grace of God has appeared unto all men," and that Christ is "the light of the world that enlightens every man?" Let mystical Herods seek the young child's life; but thou, man of God, leap for joy, like the unborn Baptist, before the least and feeblest appearance of thy Lord. Instead of calling it "common grace," that thou mayest cut it off the next moment as "no grace," cherish it as saving grace in thy own breast, and in the hearts of all that are around thee.
8. If the most powerful displays of truth improve its feeblest appearances, without ever contradicting them, how mistaken are the men who impose upon us the immoral doctrines of the Antinomians, and the unevangelical doctrines of the Pharisees! When we have once admitted that "there is a holy God, who makes a difference between the just and the unjust," can we, without renouncing that truth, become Antinomians, and think that a man, who actually defiles his neighbour's wife, can be "a man after God's own heart?" And when we have been taught our second gracious lesson, namely, that "we are miserable sinners," can we, without renouncing this principle, suppose that we can be saved any other way than by the covenant of grace and mercy? Away, then, for ever away with Antinomian and Pharisaic delusions, which are built upon the ruins of these two capital truths, "God is holy," and "man is sinful!"
An address to baptized heathens.
HERE I would take leave of my readers; but they have consciences as well as reason, and therefore I beg leave to address the former of those powers, as bluntly as I have done the latter; diversifying my expostulations according to the different cases of the persons, into whose hands Providence may direct these sheets.
1. If you do not make the bulk of my readers, I fear you make the bulk of the nation, O ye that regard pleasure, profit, and honour, more than justice, mercy, and the fear of God; ye that, far from embracing Divine truth at the hazard of your character, spread abroad scandalous untruths, to the ruin of other people's reputations: ye who try to persuade yourselves, that religion is nothing but a monstrous compound of superstition, enthusiasm, and priestcraft: ye who can violate the laws of temperance or honesty without one painful remorse; breaking through promises, oaths, and matrimonial or sacramental engagements, as if there were no future state, no supreme Judge, no day of retribution, no Divine law enacting that "whosoever loveth or maketh a lie shall be cast into the lake of fire; that the wicked shall be turned into hell, with all the people that forget God:" ye are the persons that I beg leave to call baptized heathens. Baptismal water was applied to your bodies, as a figure of the grace which purifies believing souls. Ye received, and continue to bear, a Christian name, that binds upon you the strongest obligations you can possibly be under, to partake of Christ's holiness, and to lead a sober, Christian life: but how opposite is your conduct to that of Christ! Alas! conscientious heathens would disown you; and shall God own you? Shall the Searcher of hearts forgive your immorality, in consideration of your hypocrisy? Will you live and die with such a lie in your right hand and upon your forehead? God forbid! If you have not sold yourselves to the father of deceits for ever, pay yet some attention to natural, moral, and evangelical truths. They recommend themselves to your senses, your reason, and your conscience.
1. Regard natural truths. Earthly joys vanish like dreams. Life flies like an arrow. Your friends or neighbours are daily seized by sickness, and dragged into eternity. Death comes to terminate' your delusions, and set his black seal upon your false lips, your wanton eyes, your rapacious hands, your luxurious palates, your sinful, treacherous breasts. Ere long the king of terrors will screw you down in his hard couch, a coffin: he will convey you away in his black carriage, a hearse: he will confine you to his loathsome dungeon, a grave; and there he will keep you in chains of darkness and corruption, till the trump of God summon you to judgment.
2. And say not that the doctrine of a day of judgment is a fable. If you do, I appeal to moral truths. Is there not an essential difference between truth and falsehood, between mercy and cruelty, between honesty and villany? Have you, with all the pains you have taken about it, been able to erase from your breasts the law of truth and mercy, which the righteous God has deeply engraven there? Is there not something within you, that, bad as you are, forbids you to wish your father dead, that you may have his estate; and your wife poisoned, that you may marry the woman you love? If you say that these are only prejudices of education; I ask, How come these prejudices to be universal? Why are they the same, even where the methods of education are most contrary? Why do they reign in the very countries where there are neither magistrates nor priests; and where of course politics and priestcraft never bore the sway? If your consciences would condemn you for the above-mentioned crimes; how much more will God do it, who is the Author and Judge of your consciences? Does not your good sense tell you, that so sure as the wonderful machine of this world did not make, and does not preserve itself, there is a God who made and preserves it? And that this God is possessed of ten thousand times more truth, equity, impartiality, justice, and power, than all the righteous rulers in the world were ever endued with? And, to say nothing of the gracious checks and sad forebodings of your guilty consciences, does not your reason discover, that as certainly as this great God is possessed of infinite wisdom, power, and justice; and has given us a moral law, he will call us to an account for our breaches of it; and that, as he does not in general do it in this world, he will infallibly do it in a future state?
3. If reason and conscience thus lead you to religion; regard religious truths. They are supported by so great a variety of well attested facts, by such clouds of righteous witnesses, by so many astonishing miracles and accomplished prophecies:- they so perfectly agree with the glory of our Creator, the interests of mankind, the laws of our nature, and the native desire we have for immortality: they so exactly coincide with our present, as well as future happiness, that you cannot expose your unreasonableness more, and do yourselves greater injury, than by rejecting them.
What reasonable objection can you make to these Scriptural directions? "Cease to do evil. Learn to do good. Speak the truth in love. Return to the Lord. Call upon his name." Say, "Grant to us in this world the knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting." Confess yourselves sinners, great sinners: spread this melancholy truth before the throne of Divine mercy;-spread it with tears of undissembled repentance: "Except you repent, you shall all perish:" but if you "sow in tears, you shall reap in joy."
And suppose not that I want to drive you to despair. On the contrary, I declare that, dangerous as your case is, it is not absolutely desperate. The Gospel offers you a remedy. You have dealt with lying shadows, but you may yet embrace the eternal substance. You have wounded the truth; but Christ, from whom you have the name of Christian,-Christ, who says, "I am the truth," has been wounded for you. You have crucified revealed truth, and the Prince of life has been crucified in your place. I point you to his cross, and declare, in the name of unprejudiced reason, that few histories are supported by such a variety of indisputable evidences as the wonders that redeeming love wrought on Calvary for you.
Let not the scandalous falls of apostates, and the bad lives of hypocritical Christians, frighten you from the Gospel. Immoral and unloving men, high as their pretensions to faith may be, are no more Christians than you. Suffer not the disputes of professors to keep you in infidelity; for they prove the truth, and not the falsehood of Christianity; being expressly foretold, Acts xx, 30; 1 Cor. xi, 19; Jude 4; 1 Tim. iv, 1. Nor stupidly wonder that the serpent should most spitefully bruise the heel of the truth that most powerfully bruises his head. Above all, be candid; be inquisitive.; apply to the "Father of lights" for direction; and his invisible hand will conduct you over every rock of offence, and lead you to the sure foundation, "the Rock of ages, the truth as it is in Jesus."
How near is that truth to you! It always embraces mercy, and mercy now embraces you. O! the length and breadth, the depth and height of redeeming mercy! It spares you to believe, to repent, to live. The arms of Divine patience still encircle your guilty souls, and bear up your mortal bodies above the terrors of the grave. Crying as your sins are, the cries of your Saviour's blood are yet heard above them. Provoking as your unbelief is, it has not yet provoked God to set upon you the seal of absolute reprobation. Unspotted holiness, glorious majesty, flaming power, thundering justice, weeping mercy, bleeding love;-all the Divine attributes join yet in a concert of grace and truth. You are the objects of it; and the burthen of their terrifying, melting accents is, "Turn ye, turn ye: why will ye die, O house of Israel?" Why should "iniquity be your ruin? Turn! for I have redeemed you. Turn! and the second death shall have no power over you." Turn! and you "shall have a crown of life."
Thus, my dear fellow sinners, and far more earnestly than I can describe, mercy and truth exert themselves in your behalf; waiting only for your consent, to diffuse their Divine perfumes through your converted souls. This is "the day of God's power"-your Gospel day. This is "a day of salvation," a day of spiritual jubilee, a day of "the year of release." Know it: improve it: break your bonds: claim your liberty: change your service: scorn to be the devil's drudges: become the servants of the Most High. Regard neither the husks nor the grunts of the swine: the heavenly feast is before you: the Father of the prodigal son runs to meet, to forgive, to welcome, to embrace you; and to raise your doubting hearts, he bids me impress these gracious promises upon your yielding breasts: "When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness, and does that which is lawful and right, [and what is more lawful and right for sinners, than to repent, believe, and obey the Gospel?] he shall save his soul alive. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, for he is merciful; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."
An address to Christianized Jews
AND ye, Christianized Jews, will you still be offended at our sincerely preaching free grace to all our fellow Gentiles? Will you still stop your ears and cry out, "The children of Abraham, the temple of the Lord are we?" Or, in other terms, we are the little flock necessarily contradistinguished from the immense herd of absolute reprobates. Will ye still assert, Reprobos ideo in hanc pravitalem addicios, qiiiajuslo et inscrutabili. Dei judicio siiscitati sunt ad gloriam ejus sua damnatione illustrandam: "That the reprobates are devoted to wickedness, because, through the just and unsearchable judgment of God, they were raised up to illustrate his glory by their damnation?" Will ye still add, Quos vero dainnationi addicil, his justo quidem el irrepre!iensibili, sed incomprehensibili ejus judicio, ntis aditum prisckidi. "That by God's just and irreprehensible, though incomprehensible judgment, the way to life is blocked up for those whom he has devoted to damnation?" Will ye never blush to intimate, Quos ergo Aens prirlerit, repro hat. N'eque alia causa, nisi quod ab hcsreditate, quam Jiliis suis prisdestinal, illos vult exeludere: "Therefore those whom God passes by, he reprobates, for no other reason but this; he will exclude them from the inheritance which he predestinates for his Sons?" * Will ye still call "blind" all who think that God is sincerely loving to every man, without any exception, in the day of salvation? Will ye still monopolize "the light that enlightens every man who comes into the world?" Will ye still sound the bottomless abyss of Divine mercy with your short line, and judge of the Almighty's enlarged heart by the narrowness of your own? O learn to know the God of love, the God of truth better. "He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. He commands all men every where to repent:" and he bids us "account his long suffering salvation; [assuring us that] the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long suffering lead to repentance [even those wretches who,] after their hardness and impenitent hearts, treasure up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of his righteous judgment."
* These three quotations are taken from Calvin's Institutes, Third Book, chap. 24, ace. 14; chap. 21, sec. 7; chap. 23, sec. 1.
If you will not credit God's word, pay at least some regard to his oath. "As I LIVE," says he, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that he turn from his way and live." Just as if he had said, "By myself I swear that I have absolutely reprobated no man. If any perish, their destruction is of themselves, and not of merciless decrees rashly imputed to my sovereignty. Free agency in man, and not free wrath in me, sinks those who make their conditional rejection and reprobation sure by their unnecessary unbelief and avoidable impenitency. Far from delighting absolutely in the reprobation of any one sinner, I solemnly protest that I would offer violence to the liberty of the most obstinate, and force them all into heaven by the exertion of my omnipotence, if my truth as a lawgiver, my justice as a judge, my veracity as the inspirer of my prophets, my wisdom as a rewarder, and my equity as a punisher, did not absolutely forbid it."
Come then, my prepossessed brethren, show yourselves "the children of Abraham:" return to the God of your father,-the God by whom "ALL the families of the earth may be blessed in the seed" of Abraham. Think not that the Lord is only jealous of his supreme dominion; nor make him graceless and merciless toward countless myriads of reprobated infants, to extol the grim sovereigniy which your imagination has set up.
Set not at odds Heaven's jarring attributes; Nor, with one excellence, another wound.
Allow God to be "all over, consummate, absolute, full orb'd, in his whole round of rays complete." Merciful in the day of salvation, and just in the day of judgment, to every individual of the human race. What can you possibly object to a doctrine so rational, so Scriptural, so worthy of God!
If you complain that we make the way to heaven too broad, I ask, ought we not to represent it as broad as the Scriptures make it? Do we make it wider than St. Peter did when truth and love made him divest himself of his Jewish prejudices, and cry out with pleasing amaze, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted of him?" Or do we make it narrower than St. Paul, when he wrote: "If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: no adulterer, &c, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of God?"
For your own credit do not ask, "If all men may be saved through Christ, by following the light of the Gospel dispensation, which they are under, what advantage hath the Christian? and what profit is there of baptism and Christianity?" If you make such an objection, you "show yourselves to be Christianized Jews" indeed. The apostle has just said, "If the uncircumcision," i.e. if uncircumcised heathens (like Melchisedec or Job, Cornelius or the Canaanitish woman) "keep the righteousness of the law [according to their light,] shall not their uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?" That is, shall they not be saved as well as if they were circumcised Jews? St. Paul saw that the partial hearts of the Jews would take fright at his doctrine; and would start an objection, capable of demolishing, if possible, the impartiality of God, and the freeness of the everlasting Gospel. He therefore produces this formidable objection thus:-If the Gentiles may be saved by following their light, "what advantage hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?" Rom. iii, 1. The answer which he gives stops the mouths of all Jews, whether they live in London, Rome, or Jerusalem. "The Jews," says he, (and much more the Christians,) "have much advantage every way, chiefly because that unto them were committed the oracles of God." The heathens have only the light of God's works, the light of God's providence, the light of reason, the light of conscience, and the light of that saving grace which "has appeared to all men, teaching them to live soberly," &c, and reproving them when they do not. But the Jews, (to say nothing of the light of tradition, which is far brighter among them than among the heathens,) over and above this fivefold light, have the light of the Old Testament; and Christians the light of the New.
Come then, my prejudiced brethren, let St. Paul's answer satisfy you. Get from under your parched gourd of reprobation. "Let not your eye be evil because God is good;" nor fret, like Jonah, because the Father of mercies extends his compassion even to all the humbled heathens in the great city of Nineveh. "As the elect of God, put on bowels of mercy," and show yourselves the genuine children of Him who "is loving to every man, and whose mercy is over all his works." So shall your mistakes no longer straiten your minds, sour your tempers, and shut your hearts against your "non-elected" neighbours.
And supposing you are of the happy few, in whose souls the impartial grace of God overrules the ordinary consequences of your partial doctrines;-supposing you be "loving to every man," and have more bowels of mercy than the God whom you extol;-supposing you are true to all men, and surpass in sincerity the God whom you recommend, who calls "all men every where to repent," and all the day long stretches out his hands in token of his compassionate love to people, on whom he absolutely fixed his immortal hatred before the foundation of the world;-supposing, I say, you have the happiness of being so much better than your principles, so much holier than the god of your OPINIONS, [Note-I say not "the God of your SALVATION;"] yet, by renouncing those opinions, you will no longer countenance Antinomianism, deceive the simple, contradict yourselves, shock moralists, and render Christianity contemptible in the eyes of all that confound it with your doctrines of forcible grace to hundreds, and of forcible wrath to thousands.
Should you countenance your Jewish notions by saying, "We are Christians: we have nothing to do with the heathens:" I answer: (1.) You have far too much to do with them, when, by the "doctrine of grace," which you so zealously inculcate, you indirectly send them, one and all, to the pit; unless they are brought under the Christian dispensation. (2.) You renounce the Church of England, if you disregard them: for on Good Friday (the day on which Christ "tasted death for every man,") she enjoins us to pray thus for them: "O merciful God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, nor wouldest the death of a sinner, but RATHER that he should be converted and live, have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, infidels, and heretics." (3.) You indirectly sacrifice the feelings of humanity, and the honour of God's perfections, to your unscriptural doctrine of grace, when you embrace the horrid idea of the insured damnation of the heathens, for the injudicious pleasure of saying, "Why me! Why me!" and of teaching the "poor reprobated creatures," while they sink into the bottomless pit, to say, "Why me! Why me!" A dreadful why me this, which is not less offensive to God's justice, impartiality, goodness, and truth, than your why me is odious to his wisdom, equity, veracity, and holiness. (4.) If Cain was culpable for intimating that he had nothing to do with his brother, when he had just knocked him on the head, are they praiseworthy, who enjoy with peculiar delight, and recommend with uncommon glee, "doctrines of grace," so called, which absolutely fix the unavoidable damnation of perhaps as many millions of their unborn fellow creatures, as Abel had hairs upon his head? And do they mend the matter, when, to vindicate their severe opinions, they calmly wipe their mouth, and say, "We have nothing to do with the heathens?" That is, in plain English, "our orthodoxy demands, that they should inevitably perish if they do not explicitly believe in Christ crucified, of whom they never heard: nor do we care what becomes of them. Let them sink, provided our doctrines of grace stand!"
* Should the persons whom I now address say that I falsify my subscriptions to the eighteenth article of our Church, by asserting that even the heathens, who fear God and work righteousness by the general light of Christ's grace, are accepted through Christ's unknown merits; I refer them to the Vindication of Mr. Wesley's Minutes, pages 171, 172, where that objection is answered.
O my dear brethren, my heart is enlarged toward you, though yours is straitened toward the heathens, and those who do not engross the light of" the Sun of righteousness." Suffer the word of expostulation one moment more. Do not you detest the character of a stiff Pharisee? I know you do, in the circumcised progeny. And why should you admire it in the baptized race? I am persuaded that you abhor the damnatory bull of those self-elected men of old, who, from the height of their conceited orthodoxy, looked down upon their neighbours and said, "This people who know not [what we call] the law are cursed." And will you exemplify their uncharitable positiveness by indirectly saying, "This people [these myriads of men] who know not [what we call] the Gospel are cursed?" Will ye become Christianized Pharisees, to contenance abandoned Antinomians. No: the spark of candour in your breast is stirred, and almost sets fire to your prejudices. You are staggered, you are ready to yield to the force of truth! Some of you would do it even now, if you were not afraid that our doctrine of free grace obscures the Christian dispensation, and encourages the pernicious delusion of antichristian moralists. To convince you that your fear is groundless, permit me to expostulate with them before you.
An address to anti-christian moralists.
MORAL men, who ridicule the Christian faith; you suppose that your honesty counterbalances your sins, which, by a soft name, you call foibles; and for which you hope that God will never punish you with hell torments. I do not desire to make the worst of things. I wish you were as good as you fancy yourselves to be. I wish you may have been as exact in all the branches of your duty as you pretend. I would rejoice if the law of respectful obedience to your superiors, of courteous love to your equals, and of brotherly kindness to your inferiors, had always been fulfilled in your words and actions, in your looks and tempers. I am ready to congratulate you, if in all cases you have done to your fellow creatures exactly as you would be done to; and never plunged once into the gulf of intemperance. But permit me to ask, if you have fellow creatures, have you not a Creator? And if you have a Creator, do not reason and conscience command you to render him warm gratitude, cheerful praise, humble adoration, and constant obedience? But have you done this one year, one month, one day, one hour, in all your lives?
Although you are so ready to make us understand that you are not is other men, adulterers, unjust, uncharitable, hypocrites, &c, are you entirely satisfied with your own goodness? Nay, if you ever "looked into the perfect law of liberty," and searched your breasts with "the candle of the Lord," can you say, before the omniscient Searcher of hearts and spirits, that there is one of the commandments which you never broke in its spiritual meaning?
If, upon second thoughts, you cannot acquit yourselves; and if God's dignity as a Creator, his veracity as a Lawgiver, his wisdom as a Governor, his justice as a Judge, his holiness as a God, forbid him to hold the guilty guiltless; or to forgive them in a manner inconsistent with any one of his infinite perfections; are you wise to despise an Advocate with him, a Divine Prophet, an atoning Mediator? Is it prudent a you to run from the city of refuge, to which you should flee with unabated swiftness? Do you act a reasonable part when you take shelter under the dispensation of the heathens, from the blessings that pursue, and from the light that surrounds you, in this Christian land? If I may allude to the mysterious divisions of Solomon's temple-will ye obstinately remain in "the court of the Gentiles," when you are graciously invited to enter into "the holy place," with true Christians? Think ye, that because righteous heathens are saved without the explicit know-edge of Christ, ye may be saved upon their plan? If ye do, may the following remarks help you to see the unreasonableness of this conclusion!
1. Not to repeat the hints already given to baptized heathens, I ask, is not a grain of sincere love to truth the very beginning of a true conversion? Is that man a sincere lover of light who runs away from the light of the sun and moon, under pretence that he has the light of a star? Do those people sincerely love money, who, when they are prevented with gold and silver, throw it back to the face of their benefactor, they have some brass? And is that moralist a sincere lover of truth, who contemptuously rejects the silver truths of the Jewish dispensation, and the golden truths of the Christian Gospel, under pretence that he is an adept in "the religion of nature," and has what I beg leave to call, the brass of heathenism?
2. You talk much of "the religion of nature;" but should you not distinguish between the religion natural to man in his unfallen state, and that which is natural to him in his fallen condition? Is not the regimen which is natural to the healthy, unnatural and frequently death to the sick? If upright, innocent man, needed not a spiritual physician, does it follow that depraved, guilty man can do without one? does not heathenism allow the fall and degeneracy of man? Have not one of the wisest Pagans seen, though darkly, their need both of a mediator, and of a propitiatory sacrifice? Do you think it prudent, so to depend upon your self righteousness, as to trample under foot the Jewish and Christian revelations, together with the discoveries of considerate heathens? Does your wisdom show itself to advantage, when thus makes you sink below heathenism itself?
3. No adult heathen was ever saved without the repentance of the contrite publican. "I am a guilty, helpless sinner, totally undone, if the mercy of Him that made me do not extend itself to me. Great Author of my existence, pity, pardon, and save me for thy mercy's sake." Now, if you were brought to this genuine repentance, would you despise the light of revelation that recommends it, and leads on to farther attainments? Think ye, that those who sincerely rejoice in the dawn of day, will readily decry morning light? Is it not therefore much to be feared that Pharisaism and impenitency stand in your way to Christianity, more than a mistaken respect for reason and truth? Nay, does not reason bid you assent to well attested matters of fact? And are not the Jewish and Christian revelations so inseparably connected with notorious events, that it is less absurd to doubt the exploits of Alexander and Ceasar, than to disbelieve the miracles of Moses and Jesus Christ?
4. The heathens, who were saved without the explicit knowledge of Christ, far from despising it as you do, implicitly desired it; and those that were blessed with a ray of it, rejoiced in it like Abraham. That precious knowledge is offered to you; and (shocking to say!) you reject it! you make sport with it! you pass jests upon it! you call it imposture! enthusiasm! O! how much more tolerable will it be for Pharisaic heathens; yea, for Chorazin and Bethsaida, in the day of judgment, than for you, if you die under so fatal an error! And how can ye flatter yourselves, that because righteous heathens, who have but one talent, shall be saved in the faithful improvement of it; you, who have five, shall be saved, though you bury four of them?
"O! but I, for one, improve the fifth: I am moral." God forbid I should discountenance morality! I value it next to piety: nay, true morality is the second branch of true piety. Nevertheless, this you must permit me to say: Your morality hath either pride, impenitency, and hypocrisy at the bottom; or humility, sincerity, and truth. If the former, your morality, like Jonah's gourd, has a worm at its root. When the sun of temptation shall shine warmly upon you, or when death shall lay his cold hand upon you, your morality will wither, and afford you neither safety nor comfort: but if it has sincerity and truth at the bottom; and if you are faithful, your little light will increase, the clouds raised by your prejudices will break, and you shall "see the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ," because, like Saul of Tarsus, you do not oppose the truth maliciously, but "ignorantly in unbelief." And O! may these pages convey to you the accents of that "truth which shall make you free!" and may the gracious voice, which formerly thundered in the ears of the great Jewish moralist, the fierce opposer of the Christian Gospel: "Saul! Saul! why persecutest thou me?" May that voice, I say, whisper to each of you, "Honestus! Honestus! why neglectest thou me? I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: Jesus, who yet act in the Mediator's part between my righteous Father and thy self-righteous soul. It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks of my truth, and the stings of thy conscience. I am a Sun of righteousness and truth: wrap thyself in unbelief no more: let the beams of my grace penetrate thy prejudiced soul, and kindle redeeming love in thy frozen breast. Nor force me, by an obstinate and final denial of me before men, to fulfil upon thee the most terrible of all my threatenings, by 'denying me also [neinre?] my father and his angels;-for, 'if ye [to whom my Gospel is fully preached] believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins.'"
An address to a penitent mourner.
THOU deniest that loving Redeemer no longer, O thou poor, mournng penitent, who art ready to sink under the burden of thy sins, and longest to find rest for thy soul. The Lord, who pronounces thee blessed, says, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my mourning people. By whom shall I comfort thee?" O! that it were by me! O! that I were so happy as to administer one drop of Gospel cordial to thy fainting spirit! Though I am less than the least of my Lord's servants, he sends thee by me a Benjamin's portion: be not above accepting it. Thou hast humbly received the wounding truths of the Gospel; why shouldst thou obstinately reject the healing ones? Thou hast eaten the bitter herbs of repentance: yea, thou feedest upon them daily, and preferrest them to all the sweets of sin. What then, O! why should thy heart rise against the flesh and blood of the true paschal Lamb? Why shouldst thou starve, when "all things are now ready?" Why shouldst thou not believe the whole truth as well as one part of it? Will "the word of God's grace" be more true ten years hence than it is now? is not "Christ the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever?" If thy dull "believing in God has already saved thee from thy vain conversation and thy outward sins; how much more will a cheerful "believing in the Lord Jesus," save thee into Christian righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Ghost.
Do not "begin to make excuse," and say, "I must not believe the joyous truths of the Gospel till they are first powerfully applied to my soul." It is right, very right for thee, for all, never to rest short of such an application. But how art thou to wait for it? In the way of duty, or out of it? Surely in the way of duty. And is it not thy duty no longer to "make God a liar?" Is it not thy bounden duty, as it is thy glorious privilege, to "set thy seal," as thou canst, to the word of God's grace, as well as to the declaration of his justice? Does he not charge thee to "believe," though it should be "in hope against hope," the reviving "record which he has given of his Son?" Is not "this the record: -That God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son: that to as many as receive him, that is, to as many as believe on his name, he gives power to become the sons of God: that God commendeth his love toward us, in that when we were yet sinners, Christ died for us [men and for our salvation:] that his blood [through faith on our part] cleanseth from all sin: that he was delivered for our offences, and rose again for our justification, and that he even now "maketh intercession for us;" bearing us up in the arms of his mercy, that we sink not into hell, and "drawing to Him, who justifieth the ungodly, all men," that renounce their ungodliness as thou hast done, and believe in Jesus as I want thee to do?
If it is "a saying worthy of all men to be received, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save even the chief of sinners," upon Gospel terms; he undoubtedly came to save me and thee. Do not thou then foolishly excommunicate thyself from redeeming love. Away with thy unchristian, discouraging notions about absolute reprobation, preterition, non-election, &c, &c. Doubt not but thou art conditionally elected, that is, "chosen in Christ" to eternal salvation; yea, peculiarly chosen of God explicitly to "believe in that Just One who gave himself a ransom for all," and "by this one oblation of himself once offered, made a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world." Believe then thy election, and that of God. As certainly as Christ hung upon the cross, flesh of thy flesh, and bone of thy bone, thou art "chosen to eternal salvation THROUGH sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth." Wilt thou then be powerfully saved here, and eternally saved hereafter? Only "make thy calling and election sure, through sanctification of the Spirit;" and make "sanctification of the Spirit sure, through belief of the truth."
Believe, as well as thou canst, this comfortable, this sanctifying truth, "God so loved the world, that lie gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Be not afraid to conclude, upon the Divine record, that God loves thee, that Christ gave himself for thee, and that the Holy Ghost will gloriously witness the Saviour's love to thy soul. And calmly, yet earnestly wait for a Divine token, and an abiding sense of this love upon thy heart.
But, I repeat it, wait in faith: wait, believing the truth: wait, doing thy work; and Christ will surely finish his own: he will "save thee to the uttermost," from sin and hell into holiness and heaven. Remember, that as he once bled for thee, so he now "worketh in thee both to will and to do." Up then and be doing. "Work out thy own salvation with fear and trembling." Thou canst never do God's part, and he will never do thine: do not expect it; nor let the song of "finished salvation" make thee conclude that thou hast nothing to do. Even John Bunyan, in his "Heavenly Footman," cries out to the slothful, "If thou wilt have heaven, thou must run for it." And if thou dost not believe him, believe the Christians of the Lock Chapel, and of the Tabernacle, who, when they do justice to the second Gospel axiom, agree to "complain of spiritual sloth," in the following well known hymn: -
Our drowsy powers, why sleep ye so?
Awake, each sluggish soul;
Nothing has half thy work to do,
Yet nothing's half so dull, &c.
The God of truth will warm thy heart in a rational manner, by the truth, which is the Divine cordial generally used by the Comforter for that purpose. Thou must therefore take that cordial first. If thou art "of little faith," there is no need that thou shouldst be of little sense also. Some absurdly refuse to believe the Gospel till they can feel it, (if I may so speak,) with their finger and thumb: so gross, so carnal are their ideas of truth! And others think it their duty just to look at, or to bear about the Gospel feast; supinely waiting till all its rich blessings are forcibly thrust into their hearts, or at least conveyed there, without any endeavour of their own. "When the truth shall be powerfully applied to my soul," says a modern Thomas, "I will believe, and not before." Avoid this common mistake. If thou wert invited to a feast, and one said, "You must not eat this rich food, unless it is first powerfully applied to your stomach;" wouldst thou not reply, that thou must first eat it, in order to such an application? Be as wise in spiritual things; and remember that the way of relishing the Gospel, and "feeling it to be the power of God unto salvation," is actually to believe it till we can, till "the Spirit of truth" makes us feel its efficacy.
"To eat or drink spiritually," and "to believe or receive the truth," are Gospel terms of the same import. Come, then, leave all thy excuses to those who have learned the lessons of "voluntary humility." If the king offered thee a present, would it not be impertinent to make him stretch out his hand for one hour, under pretence that thou art not yet worthy of his bounty? And thinkest thou that a similar conduct is not highly provoking to the King of kings? Does he not complain, "I called and ye refused: I stand at the door and knock: all the day long have I stretched my hands to a gainsaying and disobedient people?" Come, then, know thy distance: know thy place: know thy God: send thy absurd ceremoniousness back to Geneva: crucify thy guilty fears on Calvary; and make the best of thy way to Sion, "the mountain where God has made unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines, of fat things full of marrow, of wines well refined."
"There is room," says the Lord: "Draw them with the bands of a man;" with arguments, threatenings, promises, expostulations, &c.- "Compel them to come in." There is balm enough in Gilead, bread enough in my house, love enough in my heart, blood enough in the fountain that my Son has opened for sin, grace enough in the river that flows from my throne, truth enough in the Gospel of my grace to heal, nourish, delight, transport a world of prodigal sons and daughters. And is there not enough for thee, who "fearest God?" For thee, to whom "the word of this Christian, this great salvation is sent?" Did not Christ himself break the bread of consolation for thee, when he said, "Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you?" Did he not offer thee the cup of salvation, when he added, "This is the cup of the New Testament in my blood, shed for the remission of sins; drink ye all of it," and carry it into all nations- "preach it," offer it "to every creature?" I bring thee this bread; it "came down from heaven to give life to the world;" it was surely consecrated in Gethsemane, and broken on Calvary for thee, man, and for, thee, woman, and for thy salvation. O! if the fragments of perishing barley bread were so to be gathered, that none of them might be lost, with what thankfulness shouldst thou receive the morsel which I set before thee! With what "hunger after righteousness" shouldst thou feast upon it! How shouldst thou try to relish every crumb, every particle of Gospel truth; of "the meat that endureth to everlasting life;" of "the word of the Lord that abideth for ever!"
Wonder at our Lord's condescension. Lest thou shouldest think that the word of his servants is insignificant, although it is the word of truth, he prays particularly "for them that shall believe on him through their words;" and he asks, "How is it that ye do not discern this time" of love? "Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right," and makes for your peace? "O ye that have no money, come, buy, and eat, buy wine and milk: yea, eat and drink abundantly, O beloved, without money, and without price. Hearken diligently unto me: eat ye that which is good: let your soul delight itself in fatness," in the richest Gospel truths. "Whosoever will, let him come and take of the bread and water of life freely." Thus "the water and the blood, the Spirit and the word," sweetly agree to invite thee, to chide thy delays, to bid thee come and welcome to Christ, and to all the unsearchable riches of his grace.
If thou refusest this drop of Gospel cordial, this crumb of the bread of life; or if, after a faint attempt to take it, thou sinkest back into thy stupid unbelief, I beg leave to inquire into the reason. (1.) Is it "the hour and the power of darkness?" Is thy mind so confused, and thy heart so distracted, that in this moment thou canst neither consider, nor welcome the truth? In this case, wait groaning: if thou canst not wait "in hope, believing against hope," endeavour at least not to yield despair. This storm will soon blow over: "the time of refreshing will come;" and the Lord, who permits thee to have fellowship with him in Gethsemane, will soon enable thee to triumph with him upon the mount.
Hast thou little or no appetite for the truth? In this case, I fear, thou still feedest upon husks and ashes, which spoil thy spiritual digestion; and I advise thee to exercise repentance; remembering "that to be carnally minded is death," and that the promise is not made to the slothful, but to them who, "through faith and patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory" -to them who, in taking up their cross and denying themselves, inherit the Gospel promises.
Hast thou made an absurd covenant with unbelief, as Thomas? Art thou determined not to credit God's record, unless he come down to thy terms? Dost thou still confound faith with its first fruits, and God's works with thine own? If this be thy case, how justly may the Lord suffer thee to go on moping, not only for a week, as the obstinate apostle did, but for years! And after all, when thou hast long dishonoured God, and tormented thyself by thy willful unbelief, thou wilt be glad to do upon a death bed what I want thee to do now. Being then surrounded by threatening billows, driven from thy carnal moorings, and tossed into true wisdom, thou wilt, without ceremony, venture upon the merits and blood of thy Saviour, and strive to enter, by wrestling faith, and agonizing prayer, into "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." Happy would it be for thee, in the meantime, if thou went not wiser in thy own conceit than seven men that can render a reason; if thou wert not obstinately bent upon nursing thy curse; if thou didst confer with flesh and blood no more; and if, regarding the Gospel passport more than
Solifidian embargoes, and the word of God more than the dispiriting speeches of faint-hearted spies, thou becamest one of the "ARONS to whom it is our heavenly Father's good pleasure to give the kingdom;" one of "the VIOLENT who take it by force,"-thou wouldst soon find that these two dispositions are as compatible as the two Gospel axioms; and "receiving the end of thy faith," thou wouldst soon, perhaps to-day, experience the astonishing force of truth, and taste the ravishing powers of the world to come.
An Address to Christian believers.
Ye taste those powers, happy believers, who see that God is love, boundless, free, redeeming, pardoning, comforting, sanctifying love in Jesus Christ. The more you believe it, the more you feel it. Do then always "the work of faith," and you shall always "abound in the patience of hope, and in the labour of love." You have believed the truth, and it has made you free. "Rejoice then in the truth:" worship the God of truth: triumph in Christ, "the living truth;" and be daily baptized "with the Spirit of truth." Beware of enthusiasm. "Speak the words of soberness and truth." God is not the author of nonsense.
Sail with all possible care through the straits of Pharisaism and Antinomianism. Many, by deviating from the word, have almost "made shipwreck of the faith." While some rest in high Pharisaic forms, others catch at empty Solifidian shadows, or slide into the peculiarities of a censorious mysticism, harden themselves against "the gentleness of Christ," and oppose a part of the truth as it is in Jesus. Embrace ye the whole: be valiant for the whole: recommend the whole: but above all, bring forth the fruits of the whole.
Be steady: many who believed once as firmly as you do, that Christ was a sacrifice for sin, consider him now only as a martyr for the truth. And some who were fully persuaded that God is "loving to every man" while the day of salvation lasts, now can bear, yea, perhaps delight to bear it insinuated that he is graceless and merciless to myriads of his unborn creatures. Be not thus carried about by a blast of vain doctrine, in opposition to the full tide of Scripture and reason. "Honour all men, and give double honour" to those to whom it is due; but be not moved from your steadfastness either by names or numbers. To judge of truth by popularity is absurd. Warm, zealous men, who can draw the attention, and work upon the passions of the populace, will always be popular; but popularity, you know, is no proof that any man's principles are unexceptionable. Go not then by that deceitful rule. "When truth is at stake, mind popular applause as little as a syren's song; and regard a Bonner's rack as little as a Nebuchadnezzar's dulcimer. Be cast into the furnace of persecution with two companions, rather than bow with thousands to the most shining, the most celebrated, and the richest image of error. If your two companions forsake you, O! do not forsake the truth. Turn not your back upon her when she wants you most. Run not away from her colours when the enemy pours in like a flood. If she be driven out of the professing Church, follow her to the wilderness,-and if need be, to the den of lions. There the God of Daniel will be with you; and from thence he will bring you out; for God will stand by the truth, and she will prevail at last. "Buy her" therefore at any rate; buy her, though you should give your last mite of wealth, and your last scrap of reputation for her: "and sell her not," though you should gain the whole world by the unhappy bargain.
"These things," O men of God, "have I written unto you concerning them that [by fair shows of spirituality and voluntary humility] seduce you" into Pharisaism or Antinomianism: "but the anointing, which you have received of God, abideth in you, [since you have not been seduced,] and it is truth, and is no lie, abide in it therefore. Err not from the truth. Walk in the truth. Do nothing against the truth, but for the truth: and, as you have purified your souls by obeying the truth, through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren," see that his love extend itself particularly to your opponents. "Love them, love one another with a pure heart fervently." You will often be obliged to part with peace in order to maintain truth; but you never need to part with love. Be you herein followers of Christ and St Paul. You know that the Pharisees, the Herodians, the Sadducees, and the devil himself would gladly have made peace with those two champions of the truth upon the scandalous terms of betraying and giving her up. But St. Paul had not so learned Christ, and our Lord scorned to deny himself the truth, and to worship the father of lies. See how calmly, how lovingly, how resolutely they fight this good, this bloody fight of faith. Volleys of invectives and calumnies have been already thrown out against them: and now, reproving their persecutors, and yet praying for them, they go and meet bonds and prisons, stocks and scourges, the provoking taunt and the cruel mocking, the bloody sword and the ignominious cross. And how many stand by them in their extremity? Have ye forgotten the amazing number? "They ALL forsook him and lied. All men forsook me: I pray God, it may not be laid to their charge." And, astonishing! Judas, Peter, and Demas, led the van. O Jesus, stand by our weakness, and we will stand by thy truth! Thou sayest, "Will ye also go away?" And "to whom should we go," gracious Lord? "Hast thou not the words of truth, the words of everlasting life? Art thou not the light of the world and the light of men?" Our light and our life? Could all the ignes fatui in the professing world; could even all "the stars" in thy Church supply the want of thy light to our souls? No, Lord: be then our sun and shield for ever. Visit the earth again, thou uncreated Sun of righteousness and truth: hasten thy second advent: thy kingdom come! Shine without a cloud! Scatter the last remains of error's night! Kindle our minds into pure truth! Our hearts into perfect love! Our tongues into ardent praise! Our lives into flaming obedience!
and in the Nicene creed; that this distinction, I say, is neither chimerical nor enthusiastical, may be proved by a variety of arguments, two or three of which, I hope, will not intrude too long upon the reader's patience.
1. The first is taken from the doctrine expressly laid down in the New Testament. To what I have said on this head, p. 573, &c, I add here what Christ said to his disciples, "Ye believe in God, believe also in me." Here the most prejudiced may see that faith in the Father is clearly contradistinguished from faith in the Son. As for faith in the Holy Ghost, see in what manner our blessed Lord sowed the seed of it in the hearts of his disciples. "When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, he shall testify of me. It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. Behold I send the promise of my Father unto you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high." Nor was this great promise made to the apostles alone; for "in the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man [not if an apostle] thirst, let him come to me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this he spake of the Spirit, which they that believed on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; [his dispensation. which is the highest of all, was not yet opened;] because that Jesus was not yet glorified." And the opening of this dispensation in our hearts requires, on our part, not only faith in Christ, but a peculiar faith in the promise of the Father; a promise this, which has the Holy Ghost for its great object.
2. My second argument is taken from the experiences of those who, by the Holy Ghost, were made partakers of Christ glorified, either on the day of pentecost, or after it; and could feelingly confess Christ dying for us, and Christ living "in us, the hope of glory." Acts ii, 5, we read of "devout men out of every nation under heaven," who were come to worship at Jerusalem. But how could they have been devout men if they had not believed in God? What could have brought them from the ends of the earth to keep a feast to the Lord, if they had been mere Atheists? And yet it is evident, that through prejudice many of them rejected our Lord; putting him to open shame and a bloody death. But when Peter preached Christ on the day of pentecost, they at first believed on him with a true, though not with a luminous faith. This appears from the anguish which they felt upon being charged with having "slain the Prince of life." No man in his senses can be "pricked to the heart" merely for having had a hand in the just punishment of an impostor and a blasphemer, who "makes himself equal with God." If therefore keen remorse pierced the hearts of those penitent Jews, it is evident that they looked no more upon Christ as an impostor, but already believed in him as the true Messiah.
No sooner had they thus passed from faith in the Father to an explicit faith in the Son, but they cried out, "What shall we do?" And Peter directed them to make, by baptism, an open, solemn profession of their faith in Christ, and to believe the great promise concerning the Holy Ghost. "The promise is unto you," said he. "Be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins; and ye [every one of you] shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." And upon their "gladly receiving the word," that is, upon their heartily believing the gladdening promise relating to pardon and to the Comforter; and no doubt upon their fervently praying that it might be fulfilled in them, "they were all filled with the Spirit," all their hearts overflowed with "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
St. Peter, speaking, Acts xi, of a similar outpouring of the Spirit, says: "The Holy Ghost fell on them [Gentiles] as on us [Jews] at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water, [them that entered his dispensation,] but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost," when you shall enter the full dispensation of my Spirit: "God," adds Peter, "gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ." And when "the apostles heard these things, they glorified God;" not indeed by shouting, "Then hath God given the Gentiles power to speak Arabic:" but by saying, "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life," according to the fullness of the Christian dispensation.
That this dispensation of the Holy Ghost, this coming of Christ's spiritual kingdom with power, is attended with an uncommon degree of sanctifying grace, is acknowledged by all; and that the gift of tongues, &c, which at first, on some occasions and in some persons, accompanied the baptism of the Spirit, for a sign to bigoted Jews, or to stupid heathens;-that such a gift, I say, was a temporary appendage, and by no means an essential part of Christ's spiritual baptism, is evident from the merely spiritual effect which the receiving of the Holy Ghost had upon the penitent Jews, who, being "born of water and the Spirit, pressed after the apostles into the kingdom on the day of Pentecost.
"Even in the infancy of the Church," says an eminent divine, "God divided those [miraculous] gifts with a sparing hand. 'Were all [even then] prophets? Were all workers of miracles? Had all the gifts of healing? Did all speak with tongues?' No, in no wise. Perhaps not one in a thousand. Probably none but the teachers of the Church, and only some of them. It was therefore for a more excellent purpose than this that they, the brethren and apostles, 'were all filled with the Holy Ghost.' It was to give them [what none can deny to be essential to all Christians in all ages] 'the mind which was in Christ,' those holy 'fruits of the Spirit,' which whosoever hath not, is none of his; to fill them with 'love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness.'"
It is very remarkable, that although three thousand converts "received the gift of the Holy Ghost" on the memorable day in which Christ opened the dispensation of his Spirit, no mention is made of so much as one of them working a single miracle, or speaking with one new tongue. But the greatest and most beneficial of miracles was wrought upon them all: for "all that believed," says St. Luke, "were together; continuing daily with one accord in the temple, breaking bread from house to house, eating their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people," by their humble, affectionate, angelical behaviour. Or, as the same historian expresses it, Acts iv, 32, "The multitude of them that believed"-spoke Greek and Latin! No: but "were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common;" having been made perfect in one, agreeably to our Lord's deep prayer, recorded by St. John: "Neither pray I for these [my disciples] alone, but for them also who shall believe on me through their word, that they may be one; I in them, [by my Spirit,] and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one."
3. To this argument, taken from the experiences of the primitive Christians, I may add, that the doctrine of the dispensations is indirectly taught by our Church even to children, in her Catechism, where she instructs them to say, "By the articles of my belief I learn, first, to believe in God the Father, who made me, &c. Secondly, in God the Son, who redeemed me, &c. And, thirdly, in God the Holy Ghost, who sanctifieth me." For these three distinctions are expressive of the three grand degrees of the faith, "whereby we inherit all the promises of God," and "are made partakers of the Divine nature." They are not descriptive of faith in three gods, but of the capital manifestations of the triune God, in whose name we are baptized; and of the three great dispensations of the everlasting Gospel, namely, that of the heathens, that of the Jews, and that of spiritual Christians; the dispensation of Abraham being only a link between heathenism and Judaism; and the dispensation of John the Baptist or of Christianity begun, being only a transition between Judaism and Christianity perfected.
Our Church Catechism brings to my remembrance the office of confirmation. It was, it seems, originally intended to lead young believers to the fullness of the Christian dispensation, agreeably to what we read, Acts viii, 12, &c. Peter and John went from Jerusalem to Samaria to lay their hands on the believers who had not yet been baptized with the Holy Ghost, and to "pray that they might receive him: for as yet he was fallen upon none of them, only they 'were baptized by Philip in the name of the Lord Jesus. When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith upon the earth?" I fear but little of the faith peculiar to his full dispensation. Most professors seem satisfied with John's baptism or Philip's baìism. The Lord raise us apostolic pastors to pray in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. "Strengthen thy servants, O Lord, with the Holy Ghost, the Comforter; and daily increase in them thy manifold gifts of grace; the spirit of wisdom and understanding; the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength; the spirit of knowledge and true godliness; and fill them with the spirit of thy holy fear now and for ever." (Order of Confirmation.) Can it be said that those in whom that prayer is not now answered live under the dispensation of Christianity perfected? Are they either established Christians or spiritual Churchmen? How long shall the mystery of iniquity prevail? How long shall a Pharisaic, Deistical world destroy the faith of the Son, under colour of contending for faith in the Father? And how long shall a world of Antinomian, Solifidian professors destroy faith in the Holy Ghost, under pretence of recommending faith in the Son? O Lord, exert thy power. "Pour out thy Spirit upon all flesh," and give wisdom to all thy ministers to divide the word of truth aright, and to feed thy people according to their states and thy dispensations!
If these answers give my objector no satisfaction, and he still think it his duty to attack my Essay, I beg leave to address him in the words of a judicious divine of the last century:-" I shall not need, I presume, to desire you, that in your answer you will not rise up in your might against the weaker, looser, or less considerate passages or expressions, (of which kind you may very possibly meet more than enow,) but that you will rather bend the strength of your reply against the strength of what you shall oppose. You well know that a field may be won, though many soldiers of the conquering side should fall in the battle; and that a tree may flourish and retain both its beauty and firmness of standing in the earth, though many of the smaller twigs and lesser branches should prove dry, and so be easily broken off. So may a mountain remain unmoved, yea, unmovable, though many handfuls of the lighter and looser earth about the sides of it should be taken up, and scattered into the air like dust. In like manner the body of a discourse may stand entire in its solidity, weight, and strength, though many particular expressions, sayings, and reasonings therein, that are more remote from the center, should be detected either of inconsiderateness, weakness, or untruth."