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ON GRACE AND FAITH.
Faith is the Gift of God.
Ephes. ii. 8.---For by Grace are ye saved, through Faith; and that not of
yourselves; it is the Gift of God. In the works of nature, many of those things, which to a superficial eye may appear as defects, will on a careful enquiry be found to be marks of consummate wisdom, and kind contrivance. And on the same principle, I confess, I have often thought, there is reason to be thankful for the very inaccuracies of scripture. The baste in which the apostle Paul was, by the multiplicity of his affairs, obliged to write, has given us an opportunity of viewing more of his heart in his epistles, than we might perhaps have seen, if he had frequently reviewed and corrected them. Those parentheses, in particular, and those repetitions, which render the style less elegant, and the sense sometimes less conspicuous, do nevertheless shew to greater advantage, how deeply those thoughts were impressed upon his mind, which he introduces in such a manner. And of this, the words which I have now been reading are an instance. In the course of his preceding argument, a few verses before, while he is telling the Ephesians, that God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved them, even when they were dead in sins, had quickened them together with Christ; he adds, (by way of parenthesis) by grace ye are saved * : And when he goes on to say, they were raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, he further tells them, that this was with an intention That in the ages to come, Gad might shew the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness towards us, through Christ Jesus + : Nay, his heart was so full of the subject of grace, free and astonishing grace, that as if all this was not enough, by a most glorious and edifying tantology, if I may be allowed so to speak, he inserts the words of my text, by grace
* Ver. 4,5,
+ Ver. 6, 7.
are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.
I have already shewn you, from these words, in what sense we may be said to be saved through faith ;—And I have also proved, that in consequence of this, it is evident we must be saved by grace ; since faith being incapable of satisfying the demands of God's injured justice, can much less merit such a recompence as eternal life ; nor can it indeed have any esficacy, or any place at all in this affair, otherwise than by God's free constitution and gracious appointment.—I then concluded with observing, that this argument would have a convincing force, even though faith were ever so entirely an act of our own ; or that we had no more support or assistance from God in forming and exerting it, than we have in any of the common actions of natural life. But I am now to shew, that even this is not the case ; but that a new proof of our being saved by grace arises from considering, III. The argument which the apostle suggests in the close of the
text, that even this faith is not of ourselves ; but it is the gift of God.
I am sensible that some endeavour to invalidate and supersede all this part of the argument, by giving another turn to this last clause, referring it in general to our salvation by faith, as if it had been said, “ Our being thus saved by grace, through faith, as I have just now said, is not of ourselves, but it is the gift of God.” But I apprehend, that an impartial reader would not be willing to allow of this interpretation ; which makes the latter clause a mere repetition of what was said before, and a repetition of it in less proper and expressive words. None could imagine, that our being saved through faith was of ourselves; or that we ever could ourselves constitute and appoint such a way of salvation, which was indeed fixed so long before we had a being. But faith being really our own act, it was highly pertinent to observe, that the excellency of this act is not to be arrogated to ourselves, but is to be ascribed to God. All that are acquainted with the genius of the original must acknowledge, this is a construction which it will very fairly admit. And we shall prove, in the process of this argument, that other scriptures expressly declare the truth, which this interpretation makes to be the meaning of the words.
Faith may be called the gift of God,-as it is God that reveals the great objects of faith,—that brings the mind to attend to them, that conquers our natural aversion to the gos
pel method of salvation, and so implants faith in the soul ;-and also as it is he that carries it on to more perfect degrees, and improves its vigour and activity, 1. Faith may be called the gift of God," as it is God, who re
veals the great objects of faith.”
Human reason is but weak and imperfect, and has indeed interwoven the traces of its own weakness, with many of the fairest monuments of its strength. Even in its most advanced state, among the most learned and polite nations of antiquity, it is deplorably evident, how far it was from discovering the several branches of natural religion in its purity, extent, and order. And to speak freely, it shone more brightly in almost every other view, than in that which is its noblest end ; I mean, what relates to God, and immortality. It has indeed produced many admirable poems, and composed many moving orations : It has woven many exquisite threads of argument, with which the subtilest disputants have entangled each other, and have often entangled themselves: And much more useful it has been, in adorning the face of the earth, in subduing the sea, in managing the winds, and meting out the heavens. But this rich vein of knowledge, this mine of holy and divine treasure, lies too deep for human discovery.—If any ask, Where shall this wisdom be found, and where is the place of this understanding *? It must be granted, that it is a path, which the vulture's eye háth not seen t: Man knoweth not the price thereof, neither is it found in the land of the living. The depth of human science says, It is not in me: And the sea, with all the most improved countries that lie upon it, must say, it is not with me I: For Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him . There were no principles on which to proceed, in the investigation of this important knowledge : None could ever have learned, that God had formed counsels of
apostate creatures : None could ever, on natural principles, have discovered the very existence of the Son, and the Spirit. How much less then could they have known, or imagined, that the Son of God should have undertaken to redeem us with his own precious blood; and the Spirit be sent to manage affairs, as the great agent of the Redeemer's kingdom ; in consequence of whose gracious acts and influences, the soul should be savingly renewed and transformed, and then carried on with a growing pace in the way to heaven, till it was received to the separate state of holy and triumphant spirits at death, and to complete glory at the resurrection of the dead? All the men upon earth could never, by their own natural sagacity, have discovered any of these particulars; how much less then could the whole system have been discovered - But God himself has graciously revealed them by his Spirit *: And as he was pleased miraculously to interpose to give this revelation to the world; so he has interposed by remarkable providences to send to us such clear notices of it; and to send these notices so early too, as to throw the prejudice of education among us this way, rather than the contrary. And considering how powerful those prejudices are, and how many have fallen into ruin by them, this will appear no small matter to a considerate person ; especially when he surveys the state of the world in general, and considers how few nations and countries there are, in which this is the case; and in what various forms of most pernicious and destructive errors the generality of mankind are trained up from their tenderest infancy.—I would conclude this head with observing, that
* Job xxviii, 12.
of Ver. 7.
Ver. 13, 14.
& 1 Cor, ü.9.
whatever particular advantages we have enjoyed, they are all to be traced up to the distinguishing goodness of God to us." If wise and pious parents, if skilful, zealous, and faithful ministers, have been the instruments of working faith in our souls, This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts +; who taught their minds to conceive, and their lips to speak, and who opened our hearts to receive instruction. And this leads me to add, 2. That as God reveals the great objects of faith, so “it is
he also that inclines the mind to attend to them :" On which account faith may be further said to be the gift of God.
The great objects of faith are, and by their nature must be, to us invisible; while those of sense strike so strongly on the mind, that it is no wonder we are apt often to forget the other. And when å man is conscious to himself, that the first recollection and acquaintance with them must be painful, and must be attended with remorse and fear, how necessary soever that pain may be, it is too natural to draw back from it. And we may easily conceive that Satan, the great enemy of men's
+ Isa. xxvü. 29.
* I Cor. ii, 10. VOL. II.
eternal happiness, will exert all his artifices to prejudice them against it and to divert them from it.
Accordingly I make no doubt but that many of you, and especially young persons, have experienced this. You have found, that when you first began to be sensible you were in a lost and miserable state; when you began first to hearken to the tidings of deliverance by Christ, and to enquire into the way of salvation exhibited in the gospel, many circumstances arose to take off your attention from them. You found Satan endeavouring to steal away the good seed out of your hearts, lest you should believe and be saved* ; and joining the efforts of various of bis instruments, to allure, or to terrify you from religion. To what then will you ascribe it, that you have been able to break through all these snares ? To what will you ascribe it, that when you had perhaps laboured to stifle convictions in your own hearts, they have returned upon you with greater power than before ? And though you have endeavoured all you could to shift them off, yet you have found them every where pursuing you; keeping your eyes from sleep during the watches of the night, or breaking in upon you in the morning with the returning light; or following you perhaps into those scenes of business, or of vain conversation, to which you have fled as a refuge from them? You must undoubtedly ascribe it to the God of the spirits of all flesh, that you have thus been taught to Consider your ways t; and that your spirits have been so deeply impressed with concerns, which multitudes, whom the world reckons among the wisest of mankind, are entirely thoughtless about, and which perhaps you yourselves were once among the first to despise. 3. Faith may be further called the gift of God, as it is he that
conquers the natural aversion which there is in men's hearts to the gospel method of salvation, when it comes to be understood and apprehended.”
That method is so wise, so rational, and so gracious, that one would imagine every reasonable creature should embrace it with delight. Yet the degenerate heart of man draws its strongest objections against it, from those things which are really its greatest glory.
It is the way of humility, and of holiness : And a haughty and licentious heart rises against it in each of these views. To be stripped of all the pride of human nature, to stand guilty
* Luke viii, 12.
+Hag. i. 5.