« ZurückWeiter »
of God a:' that it is of the operation of God b;' and that it is given unto us in the behalf of Christ to believe on him c.' So that there appears good ground for the natural and usual distinction between a mere historical and a divine faith.
And now if we reverse what has been said, we shall plainly see the difference between the two characters of the real and the speculative Christian; and how it happens that the latter is said in Scripture to believe, though he believes not to the saving of his soul.
If it be inquired, then, of the man of this character, what it is he believes, it will perhaps be found that his idea of the gospel is a very mistaken one, or however that a great deal of error is mingled with the truth.
Or if this is not the case, and his notions are in general agreeable to Scripture, yet there is a defect in the grounds of his faith. It is not the result of impartial inquiry, and a serious regard to the authority of God; but of a concurrence of accidental circumstances. "The Christian religion is the religion of his country; he was born of Christian parents; his neighbours, friends, and relations are of this profession; and many good and learned men have told him, he may depend upon it the gospel is true." I mean not by this to insinuate, that these considerations may not properly create a presumptive evidence in favour of Christianity, and that they ought not to serve as inducements to further inquiry. But surely a faith that stands on this foundation alone, is not a divine faith, nor that faith to which the promise of salvation is so solemnly made in the New Testament.
Further, his assent to what he calls the gospel, though it may have in it all the obstinacy and tenaciousness of bigotry, is yet destitute of that manly firmness which is the result of free examination and full conviction. So that his creed, be it ever so orthodox, and his zeal for it ever so flaming, is after all, rather his opinion or sentiment, than the matter of his sober and serious belief.
And then in regard of that deep sense of the importance of divine truth which always accompanies a divine faith, he is a perfect stranger to it. His character is the reverse of that of the Thessalonians, to whom the gospel came not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost d. It makes little other impression
a Eph. ii. 8.
b Col. ii. 12.
c Phil. i. 29.
d 1 Thess. i. 5.
on his heart, than that a man receives from an idle tale he hears, and almost instantly forgets: unless, indeed, the eagerness and pride of party zeal happens, as was just observed, to create in his breast a warm and obstinate attachment to his profession.
To which it must be added, that however through various indirect causes or motives he is induced to assent to the gospel, he does not heartily fall in with its gracious proposals. He neither relies entirely on Christ as his Saviour, renouncing all merit of his own, nor yet cordially submits to his authority, approving of all his commands as most holy, just and good.-And from hence it is to be concluded that his external conduct, in regard of humility, meekness, temperance, benevolence, and the other Christian graces, hath little in it to distinguish him from the rest of mankind.
Thus have we contrasted the two characters of the real, and the merely nominal Christian; the man who believes to the saving of the soul, and him who, though he may be said to believe, yet believes not to any salutary or valuable purpose. And hence, I think, we may collect a just idea of the nature and properties of saving faith.
And now, let us examine ourselves upon this important question. We have heard the gospel; have we believed it? Have we received it in the love of it? And are our hearts and lives influenced and governed by it? We know not what true faith is, if the great concerns of religion do not strike us as infinitely more interesting and important than the most weighty affairs of the present life; if we do not feel and acknowledge our guilt, depravity, and weakness; if we do not most cheerfully intrust our everlasting concern to the hands of Jesus Christ, as our only Saviour and Friend; and if it is not our ardent desire to conform to his will, and to copy after his example, how deplorable will our condition be, should we at last be found in a state of unbelief and sin! But I hope better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though I thus speak. There are many, I trust, among us who do believe in the sense of the New Testament. Give me leave, my friends, to congratulate you on your happiness; while at the same time I tenderly sympathize with those who are weak in faith; but who yet amidst
all their doubts and fears, join issue with him in the gospel, who cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief a.-Let us now from this account of faith go on,
SECONDLY,-To speak of the SALVATION promised to them that believe.
Here a scene the most delightful and transporting opens to our view; a scene, the contemplation of which in the present life, fills the Christian with admiration and wonder, but will overwhelm him with ecstasy and joy in the world to come. But we can only glance at it in this discourse. General, however, and imperfect as our account of it must be, it will serve to shew the indispensable necessity of faith, and of consequence, the importance of giving earnest heed to the things we hear, lest at any time we should let them slip.
Now this salvation, whether we consider it in reference to the evils we escape, or the opposite good to which we become entitled, is most glorious indeed. It infinitely surpasses every thing we read of in history. What was the deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt, their protection and support through the wilderness, and their conquest of Canaan, with the freedom, prosperity, and happiness they enjoyed there; what, I say, were these events, however splendid and miraculous, but imperfect shadows, faint preludes, of that great salvation wrought out for us by Jesus, the Son of God! It is a salvation from moral, natural, and penal evil in their utmost extent; and that followed with the enjoyment of positive blessedness in its highest perfection. 1. It is a salvation from moral evil.
The soul of man is the workmanship of God, and in its construction the skill and power of the great architect is wonderfully displayed. But alas! this temple of the living God, once honoured with his presence, is now laid in ruins. Sin, with a long train of miseries, has entered the heart, and taken possession of it. It has darkened the understanding, perverted the judgment, enslaved the will, and polluted the affections. It has dethroned reason, brought a load of guilt upon the conscience, created a thousand painful anxieties and fears in the breast, and spread universal anarchy through the soul.
Now, from all these evils we are saved by our Lord Jesus
a Mark ix. 24.
Christ. He procures for us the free pardon of our sins, reinstates us upon equitable grounds in the favour of our offended Sovereign, and sends down his good Spirit into our hearts, to renew our nature, and make us meet for heaven. His doctrine illuminates the benighted mind, restores peace to the troubled conscience, gives a new bent to the will, and directs the passions to their proper objects. What a blessed change is this! But the salvation thus begun arrives not at perfection in the present life. Light and darkness, faith and unbelief, hope and fear, joy and sorrow, are here blended together. And hence the errors, follies, and sins which the best of men are chargeable with, and which they so pungently lament at the feet of divine mercy.
Death, however, the friend, not the enemy of the believer, shall set the captive soul at liberty, and restore the immortal spirit to its primitive rectitude and purity. At that happy moment the Christian shall be freed from all remains of ignorance, imperfection, and sin. No evil thought, no vain imagination, no irregular desire shall ever any more afflict his heart, or disturb his devotion. His intellectual faculties shall become capable of the noblest exertions, and his affections be unalterably fixed to the Supreme Good. The image of the blessed God shall be fully delineated on his soul, and in the contemplation and fruition of that great Being, he shall be employed to all eternity. Thus the salvation, begun here in sadness and sorrow, shall be finally completed in everlasting happiness and glory.—Again,
2. It is a salvation from natural evil.
Many and great are the miseries of an outward kind to which human nature is liable in the present life. This is a fact not to be denied; proofs arise from every quarter. If we look into the histories of former times, we shall find the greater part of them employed in relating the calamities which have befallen nations and public bodies of men, the ravages of war, and the devastations occasioned by fire, tempest, earthquake, pestilence, and famine. If we go abroad into the world among the various orders of mankind, our attention will every now and then be arrested, and our sympathetic feelings excited, by scenes of distress too painful to be particularly described—families sinking into all the wretchedness of poverty-parents following their only children to the grave-widows pouring their unavailing
tears over their helpless offspring-here a friend deprived of his reason and his liberty, and there another languishing on a bed of sickness and death. No wonder these and many other calamities we are the witnesses of, cast a gloom over our countenances, and imbitter our pleasantest enjoyments. And then, if we consider our own frame, the materials of which these tabernacles are composed, the disastrous accidents we are subject to, those harbingers of death, sickness, and pain, which are continually advancing towards us, and death itself, with the many distressing circumstances that often accompany it; when, I say, we consider these things, we can hardly avoid crying out in the language of the afflicted patriarch, Man that is born of a woman, is of few days, and full of trouble a.'
Now, from all these miseries, the sad effects of sin, the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to save us. Not that good men are exempted from the common afflictions of life: poverty, sickness, and death they are liable to as well as others. But none of these calamities befal them in the manner they do the wicked. From curses they are converted into blessings, and for Christ's sake they become salutary chastisements, instead of vindictive judgments. If their heavenly Father corrects them, it is that they may be partakers of his holiness; nor does he fail to provide them with all needful supports under their afflictions. And they are assured, that however death, the greatest of all natural evils, is not to be avoided; yet it shall do them no harm. Nor are we without many glorious instances of those who, through the faith of the gospel, have triumphed over the king of terrors, while executing his last commission upon them. With the apostle, in the most heroic strains, they have thus challenged the last enemy,-O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ b.
But let us extend our views to the heavenly world, where the promise of salvation, as it relates to natural evils, shall receive its full accomplishment. When the Israelites entered the good land, they ceased from their labours, and enjoyed all that tranquillity and happiness they had so long expected. In like man
Job xiv. 1.
b 1 Cor. xv. 55-57.