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because he is born of God."* St. John condemns a most corrupt maxim introduced in his day. A sect was thus early formed, which pretended that the Christian was raised above the contagion and impurity of sin ; and although he should commit the grossest acts of sensuality, and live in the licentious indulgence of every passion and appetite of human nature, yet his mind would not thereby be contaminated. These are merely the actions of the flesh, by which the minds of Christians are not rendered impure ; nor do they hereby forfeit the Christian character ; but, though they live as the wicked man liveth, yet they may expect to be admitted to the rewards of heaven, The apostle shows the absurdity and the wickedness of this maxim, and declares, that the child of God, who on consistent grounds entertains the hope of eternal life, must purify himself."Little children, let no man deceive you : he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that com. mitteth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin ; for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil : whosoever doeth not right. eousness is not of God.”+ The declaration of St. John is not that the Christian cannot fall into fatal sins ; but that he cannot habitually sin, and remain the child of God, Christian principles to be effec.
* 1 John üi. 9.
f 1 John iii. 7, 8, 9, 10.
tual, must purify the heart, and regulate the life ; and the man who habitually allows himself in the wilful commission of any sin, or in the habitual omission of any known duty, ceases to be the child of God, and forfeits the hope of eternal life. The apostle establishes a criterion by which we may test the Christian characters of men." He that doeth righteousness is righteous. Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God.”
The comments we have made show that the above passages comport with the apparent sense of those which we are now to introduce, and which speak of the apostacy of saints.
The prophet Ezekiel pronounces the condemna. tion of the man who, having been righteous, falls into a wilful and habitual course of wickedness. “When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned ; in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die."* Language cannot make any position more clear, than the prophet here states the supposable apostacy of the righteous. That the condition from which he may fall is that attainment in goodness which renders a man acceptable to God, is evident from the converse of the proposition, which the prophet gives us.
" If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath coin. mitted, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not
* Ezekiel xviii. 24.
die.”* If the righteous fall from this acceptable state of goodness into habitual wickedness, and do all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, he shall not live, but die. The righteous and the wicked here change their characters and their conditions. The sinner becomes a righteous man, and the righteous man becomes a sinner. The sinner is fitted to receive the rewards of righteousness, and the righteous man becomes a vessel of wrath fitted for destruction.
Our Saviour himself, speaking of peculiar trials, says, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”+ There is no discrimination here made, as it respects principle, in the love of the disciple who falls, and of him who abideth. The language is not, that, in the time of trial, the hypocrite shall be made manifest ; but that, under the pressure of persecution, the real attachment of some converts shall fail ; and that those who sustain the conflict, and maintain their affection, shall be rewarded. Jesus also declares, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”! In the previous context, Jesus represents himself as the vine, and his disciples as the branches. In the verse quoted, he declares, tliat if any abide not in him, they become withered branches, fit only to be burn. ed. The obvious meaning of this figure is, that individuals may be in him, the vine, and partake of its sap and nourishment, and afterwards be separated and wither. In plain language, that, at one time, a man may possess the qualifications of the Christian character, and afterwards lose them, and perish.
* Esekiol xvü, 21.
+ Matth. xxiv. 12, 13.
John ır. 6.
St. Paul thus admonishes Christians-"Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.”* " It is evident that the apostle in these words intended principally, if not only, a final falling away into a state of perdition ; for in the preceding part of the chapter, he had recited many examples of sinners whom God had cut off in and for their hardened impenitence, whose fall was certainly final. And having declared that these things happened to them for examples, to be applied by us for our ad. monition, he immediately infers—Therefore, let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall; that is, in all construction, thus finally fall as they did." In this admonition all Christians are concerned.
The author of the epistle to the Hebrews observes—"It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame."| The English translators have made the falling away of these characters hypothetick, “if they should fall away.”
In the original Greek, the language is categorical, “it is impossible to renew these characters, when they fall away."I The true construction of the passage is
+ Heb. vi..4, 5, 6, 7, See Macknight on the passage.
* 1 Cor. x. 12.
this : It is impossible to renew to repentance those who have been enlightened, &c. and have fallen away: It will not be denied that the persons here described were once really Christians. They had been enlightened by the knowledge of the gospel ; by it they had been liberated from the yoke of the Jews; and the superstition of the Gentiles; they had received those extraordinary gifts which were bestowed on primitive converts ; and they had realized the efficacy of the Christian dispensation in reforming sinners. That their falling is absolute, is evident from the closing expressions-“They crua cify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” The impossibility of re. newing these characters to repentance should be tas ken in connexion with the moral nature of man. They have acted in opposition to the highest ina struction with which men, as the subjects of a mora al government, are favoured, and resisted the most influential motives which can be presented to the human mind; and therefore, speaking of the ordinary means of reclaiming sinners, it is impossible to bring them to repentance:
Our text militates directly with the doctrine of perseverance.-" The just shall live by faith ; but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” While Christians retain their faith, they shall live ; but if
from the Christ. ian faith, profession, and practice, God will not ac
Let us now attend to several exhortations of the sacred writers, which warn Christians of the danger