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Some persons may be perplexed with difficulties, in respect of certain points of doctrine ; but if they truly embrace the salvation of Christ and walk worthy of it, they will be at length led to establishment in the truth. “If any man will do the will of God, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God." An upright heart and an obedient will, directly tend to free the mind from the clouds of various prejudices and passions, to produce teachableness, and to improve spiritual discernment; and there are numerous promises of divine teaching to persons of this description. But they “ who love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil,” are given up to strong delusions, and fall into final condemnation.
Difficulties also occur to many, in determining whether they be in a state of salvation or not; nor are they able, after much self-examination, to decide the important question. To these likewise we may say, “ Only let your conversation be, as it becometh the gospel of Christ ;” and this will have a powerful, though gradual efficacy, in producing the desired satisfaction. “ Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to know the Lord.” “ For the path of the just shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”.
The exhortation before us also points out, to those who are labouring to do good in their families and connections, or in a more extensive sphere, the grand method of obtaining the desired success; and when the interest of the gospel in any place seems greatly declined; the consistent conduct of the few who adhere to it, will have the happiest effects in promoting a revival. Finally some persons are harrassed with apprehensions of future trials and temptations, or with the dread of death ; but let all such trembling believers attend to the apostle's exhortation; and they may rest assured, that the grace of the Lord Jesus will be sufficient for them; and his strength be perfected in their weakness. “ For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come ; nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Seeing we address ourselves to those only, who expect to be thought Christians, the exhortation may be applicable to every individual. Let a becoming conversation prove that you are Christians in reality. But alas, what gloomy reflections crowd into the mind, when this subject comes in our way! Do the generality of nominal Christians live as becomes the gospel? Is not the conversation of a vast majority diametrically opposite to the spirit and precepts of our holy religion? Who can imagine that Christ will own such men as his true disciples? Who can doubt, but that it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for them?
There are persons who say, "When you instruct us in our duty, we regard you ; but we are not infidels, we have always believed the doctrines of Christianity. But let me ask you, have these doctrines properly influenced your heart and life? If they have not, then surely you have believed in vain ! You would say to an Åntinomian professor of justification by faith alone, who lived an immoral life, “ Know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead.” Beware then lest you slide into Antinomianism of a more reputable kind. Faith and practice are not like grapes tied upon a vine branch, but like grapes growing upon a living vine. True faith receives the doctrines of the gospel into the heart, where they produce a change in the judgments, dispositions, and affections; thus the tree becomes good, and good fruit is the genuine consequence.
This is real Christianity: and all that comes short of this, however distinguished, is a mere name, notion, or form. But if we have thus received the gospel, we shall be conscious that we have in many things fallen short of a becoming conversation. Let us then humbly seek forgiveness of the past, and beg to be enabled henceforth so to abide in Christ, “ that we may bring forth much fruit.” “and walk worthy of God, who hath called us to his kingdom and glory.”-Amen.
WARRANT AND NATURE
FAITH IN CHRIST
SOME REFERENCE TO THE VARIOUS CONTROVERSIES
ON THAT SUBJECT.
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.-Acts xvi. 31. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.- 1 John v. 1. I speak as unto wise men : judge ye what I say.--1 Cor. x. 15.
To those who are convinced that all men are lost sinners, in absolute need of a Saviour, and that all things are ready in Jesus Christ for the complete salvation of every believer ; a more important question can scarcely be proposed, than that which relates to the warrant and nature of saving faith. At first sight indeed the subject appears very easy: and a reflecting person, conversant with the holy Scriptures, and unacquainted with controversy, will seldom be much perplexed with difficulties respecting it. But men have so bewildered themselves and each other by speculations, and controversies have been so multiplied and managed; that the simple testimony of Scripture is frequently disregarded, or even wrested from its obvious meaning to establish preconceived opinions: while the authority of men is appealed to, in support of evident deviation from the plain meaning of the inspired writers.
These are obvious sources of mistake and perplexity; and another may also be properly noticed. Pious men, who never intended to form a party, have been so grieved by witnessing the fatal effects of prevailing errors, and so haunted with the dread of more extensive mischief ; that they have been driven into the opposite extreme, as the only effectual remedy. Thus, able and valuable persons, in their zeal for or against certain opinions, write more like special pleaders, than calm inquirers after important truth. Their arguments are consequently often inconclusive: their opponents readily discover where they are most vulnerable: and then by acting the same part, they lay themselves open to similar retorts. In the mean while the minds of numbers are perplexed instead of satisfied: and much disputation about matters stated in Scripture with great simplicity and perspicuity, serves to cherish a sceptical spirit among the more unconcerned witnesses of the contest.
In the early part of the present century, the doctrine of justification by faith in the Son of God was comparatively but little attended to in this country: and the honoured instruments, whom God employed to revive a more general knowledge of it, were naturally led to insist on the important subject with peculiar earnestness, and in the most energetic language. Some of them were so fully engaged in active services, as to have little leisure for study : and if they sometimes dropped an expression, in the vehemence of an honest zeal, which was capable of miscontruction: every candid man must acquit them of intending any thing unfavourable to practical godliness, which they eminently promoted and exemplified.-But men arose afterwards, who attempted to establish unscriptural systems on a few of their detached expressions, and on their fervent addresses to large and affected auditories; or at least to support such systems by their authority: and very respectable persons have been led to patronize and sanction their mistakes.- Indeed this was no more than re-acting the same scenes which had been exhibited by the first reformers from popery, and some of their successors, in whose writings the substance of almost all the controversies of these late years was fully discussed.
While matters were taking this turn in England, some eminent divines in North America, * who had deeply studied these subjects, and had abundant opportunity of observing the practical effects of the different opinions, attempted with great ability to stem the torrent. But in doing this, they seem rather to have gone too far, and to have thrown impediments in the sinner's path, when endeavouring with trembling steps to come unto the gracious Saviour. Perhaps they insist unduly on the necessity of a man's seeing the justice of God in his condemnation as a transgressor of the holy law, before he can believe in Christ to salvation; whereas allowing it, or submitting to it, seems to be all that is absolutely necessary, though not all that is desirable or attainable. In other instances likewise they do not seem sufficiently to distinguish between seeing and believing.–They appear, to me at least, not to make sufficient allowance for the imbecility of natural capacity in numbers ; their want of education and habits of reasoning ; the erroneous and partial instructions afforded them; the effects of custom, prejudices, and associated ideas; and the small degree of life, light, faith, and grace, which may subsist along with a large proportion of error and inconsistency. They ascribe many things merely to natural principles, excited by the common influences of the Spirit, which the Scriptures represent as the effect of renewing grace. They reject, as wholly selfish, such exercises of faith in Christ and cries for mercy, as the word of God in its obvious meaning unreservedly encourages; and sometimes they seem to intimate, that an almost total disregard to our own happiness is essential to true grace. They do not in all instances clearly distinguish that wise and holy self-love, which God originally implanted in our nature, to which he renews us by grace, which is the measure of our love to others, and which seeks its happiness in the enjoyment of God alone ; from that carnal, apostate, and foolish self-love, which is the consequence of the fall, affects independence on the Creator, and seeks its gratification from the creature.--In short, some of their principles, if carried to their full and legitimate consequences, would condemn many as false professors, whom God will own as real though weak believers; and thus “they quench the smoking flax, and break the bruised reed."-Perceiving that 6 while men slept, an enemy had sown tares in the field;" they seem to have been too earnest to root up the tares, and to have been in danger of rooting up the wheat also: not duly recollecting, that they cannot be wholly separated in this world, but must be left “ to grow together until the harvest.'
On these grounds a general prejudice has prevailed against their writings; and the very important instructions contained in them, which equal, and perhaps exceed any thing published in modern times, have been comparatively disregarded : so that few derive from them those advantages, which they are eminently suited to afford; especially to the pastors of the church, in respect of the essential difference between genuine experimental religion, and every kind of counterfeit. t-At the same time a controversy has been strenuously maintained in another part of the church, (in its present lamentably divided state) “ Whether it be the duty of sinners to believe in Christ ?” “ And whether ministers ought to exhort and invite them to believe ?" Nor can it be denied that the reasonings of those, who have taken the negative side in this dispute, have a very bad tendency. They deter ministers from addressing their hearers in the manner which the Scriptures exemplify; they quiet the consciences of the careless and irreligious, as if neglect of Christ and his salvation were their misfortune not their crime: they advance principles,
• President Edwards, Dr Bellamy, &c.