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Int has a powerful tendency that way: yet many, who are charged
presenting holy dispositions as a necessary warrant to faith in Christ, en on those dispositions to be as entirely a free gift of the Saviour, as any of the blessings they afterwards receive : and (whether consistently or not I pretend not to determine,) they enter as fully as their opponents into the spirit of the apostles words, “ By grace ye are saved, through' faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast; for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.'
-- Who made thee to differ from another ?" or " what hast thou that thou hast not received ?"-" Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." The fact seems to be this: Some pious men, in guarding against abuses, have unwarily thrown impediments in the way of discouraged souls ; others by attachment to system have moreover furnished excuses to proud and prejudiced unbelievers; and many have expressed themselves in a manner which may be perverted to encourage a degree and kind of self-preference inconsistent with the pure gospel of Christ. On the other hand, some have incautiously used language on the subject, which may be understood to render even the preaching of regeneration, sanotification, and holiness of life, dangerous ; by representing all holy dispositions and good works, as tending to boasting and self-confidence: and the charge of giving countenance to self-righteousness, has been so indiscriminately advanced, as to involve many persons and opinions, that by no means deserve it. But if we adhere simply to the word of God, we shall keep at a distance from these extremes : and none will pervert our doctrine, except those “ who stumble at the word, being disobedient," and who “ wrest the Scriptures themselves to their own destruction."
SAVING FAITH IN CHRIST ESSENTIALLY HOLY
IN ITS NATURE.
The terms Defined and Explained.
The holy nature of saving faith, at least in its first exercises, has been exa pressly denied by several persons, who have maintained the doctrine insisted on in the former part of this work ; and others have used language capable of this construction : thus the subject has been enveloped in obscurity, and the truth exposed to unmerited objections.
That we may the better understand the subsequent discussion, we should previously obtain precise ideas of the meaning in which the words holy, holiness, sanctifying, and sanctification are here used. Holy or holiness is opposed to unholy or unholiness ; and not to unrighteous or unrighteousness. An un. righteous man, in the language of argumentative theology, signifies a man under condemnation for his sins, and not brought into a state of justification; an unholy man is one unrenewed by the Spirit of God, and under the
dominion of sin. Holy and holiness therefore relate to the dispositions and | affections of his heart, and not to his state as justified before God: nor is
this distinction of trivial consequence, but essential to a clear understanding of the subject. Indeed few things have more perplexed religious controversies and discussions, than want of aceuracy in speaking of justification and sanctification, and carefully keeping the ideas of them distinct.
The question, therefore, concerning the holy nature of saving faith, has nothing to do with the doctrine of justification, but belongs entirely to another topic in theology. We are “justified freely by the grace of God;" or by free mercy, entirely contrary to our deservings : we are justified by the righteousness and atoning blood of Christ, as the meritorious ground of our pardon and title to eternal life: and we are justified by faith alone, because faith alone constitutes our relation to Christ, that we may be “ made the righteousness of God in him.” According to the holy and good law of our righteous Sovereign, and the covenant of works, the least imperfection or failure in obedience condemns us; all the holiness we can ever possess, with all the obedience we have performed, weighs not an atom in the opposite scale ; and to the last moment of life we need free forgiveness of every defect, to whatever degree of sanctification we have attained, or how many good works soever we have done. “Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them."—Not only the new convert, or the feeble believer in his first actings of faith in Christ, is excluded from taking any encouragement from his incipient sanctification, if he be capable of ascertaining its existence: but the most advanced Christian, after half a century spent in holy obedience, and zealous endeavours to glorify the Saviour and serve his generation; comparing himself and his best duties with the perfect standard, must exclaim, “ I am all as an unclean thing, and all my righteousness are as filthy rags.” Even perfect holiness of heart, and obedience in conduct, could do nothing towards atoning for past sins, or redeeming the forfeited inheritance: and if Paul's justification at the tribunal of Christ, depended, as its meritorious ground, on the last expression of his love and zeal, when he was expiring as a martyr, he must be condemned by the holy law of God. From first to last we must be justified by mere mercy and grace, through the righteousness and atoning blood of Emmanuel, and by faith alone: nor can sanctification whether more or less advanced, avail any thing towards justification. If this was well considered and fully understood, many plausible objections to the holy nature of saving faith, which suppose that it interferes with the doctrines of imputed righteousness and free justification, must fall to the ground, and would require no further answer.
“ Now to him that worketh not, but believeth in him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness." These words of the apostle have been greatly misunderstood in this controversy: for it may as fairly be inferred from them, that believers never work at all, for any purpose, or from any motive, as that they are in all senses absolutely ungodly, when God justifieth them. The sinner, when he believes in Christ, “ labours for the meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give him;". he “ works out his own salvation with fear and trembling :" he "gives diligence to make his calling and election sure:" he is “ zealous of good works,” « fruitful in all the works of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God;" yea“ always abounding in the work of the Lord.” But notwithstanding this, he not only ceases to work, in respect of justification, when he first applies for an interest in the righteousness of Christ; but, amidst all his “ diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end,” to glorify God, and to do good to mankind; he never works at all, át least allowedly, in dependence on his own doings, or in order to add them to “ the righteousness of God by faith.”
In like manner he is ungodly, in himself, according to the law, by his own sincere confession, and in the unerring judgment of God; not only at the moment when he is first justified, but during the whole period that he lived by faith in Christ for justification. His incipient and imperfect godliness is not at all noticed in this respect : yet his coming to Christ with earnest de
sires of salvation, and his humble, obedient, and willing return to God through him, essentially distinguish his character from that of such persons, as say unto God, “ depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways;" and that of all others, who are in every respect absolutely ungodly, and have “ no fear of God before their eyes."
Whatever in any degree accords to the law of God is so far holy; but an external or rclative holiness falls not under our present inquiry. The moral law is spiritual, and takes cognizance of men's spirits ; whatever therefore, in the state of our hearts, answers to the spirituality of the precept, is holy. The least intermixture of unholiness, in the best and most spiritual exercises of the heart, or actions of the life, condemns us according to the legal covenant: but the actual existence of the smallest portion of a right and spiritual disposition, if it could be ascertained, would prove the possessor regenerate ; being one of the “ things which accompany salvation.” Abraham might justly have been condemned, and needed merciful forgiveness for the weakness and wavering of that very faith by which he was justified : while the small measure of obedience which Sarah rendered, in reverencing her busband, though she laughed in unbelief, denied her crime, and was sharply rebuked for it, is noticed with approbation by Peter, as a specimen of the “ manner, in which holy women who trusted in God adorned themselves.” 1 Pet. iii. 6. So entirely distinct are the questions concerning holiness, and concerning the way of justification; except as the sanctification of the Spirit evidences our interest in Christ by faith.
The case of Abraham, to which the apostle refers in the words before cited, is peculiarly unfavourable to the conclusions which many deduce from them. For that patriarch had walked with God for many years before the transaction, concerning which the sacred historian records, that “ He believed in God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." Yet on this passage the apostle grounds his remark, “ Now to him - who worketh not, but believeth in him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is accounted to him for righteousness.” But will any man maintain, that Abraham had been, even to that time, in all respects ungodly, and an enemy to God? And that he had never performed one good work in all the preceding years of his walking with God? Yet this must be the consequence of the absolute interpretation of this remarkable text. The same might also be shown respecting David, at the time when he penned the thirty-second Psalm, to which the apostle referred as another illustration of his subject.
Every degree of humilty, fear of God, desire of happiness in his favour and service, love to his perfections and those things which he approves, hatred of what he abhors and forbids ; simple belief of his testimony, reliance on his promises, and regard to his authority and glory, if it be genuine, accords to the spiritual precept of the law, and is so far holy. A transgressor, if renewed to a right spirit, and encouraged to hope for mercy, would plead guilty, apply for pardon, and approve of the most humbling and self-denying way of reconciliation, which the glory of his offended God required.
Sanctifying, and sanctification, as these words relate to our present subject, denote the renewal of an unholy creature to a right spirit ; and are applicable to every stage of this renovation, from its commencement in regeneration to its completion in glory.—But no measure of sanctification can possibly form any part of a sinner's justifying righteousness: because while it is imperfect, that imperfection needs forgiveness; and when perfected it can make no atonement for past sins, nor can it merit eternal life.-It however distinguishes a living faith from that which is dead and worthless; it forms our meetness for heaven; it enables us to glorify and prepares us to rejoice in God: and it is a distinct part of our free salvation, no less valuable than justification itself;—as distinct as a gratuitous cure of the jail-fever would be from the pardon of a felony, and the grant of an inheritance. If then the opinion, that saving faith is holy, even in its first and feeble actings, could countenance self-righteous confidence ; more complete sanctification must
have proportionably a still stronger tendency to it. Yet this is not supposed by the persons in question; for they see, that justification and sanctification, in the advanced Christian, are perfectly distinct : how is it then, they do not recollect, that they are distinct at the first, as well as at the last? Or if they allow it, how can they but perceive that their objections in this respect are perfectly unfounded ?
Saving Faith the effect of Regeneration. The holy nature of saving faith may be inferred from the consideration, that it is the gift of God, and wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit. To this it may indeed be objected, that many gifts are conferred by the same divine Agent, which are allowed to have nothing essentially holy in their nature. It should, however, be observed, that in those things which inseparably accompany salvation, the Holy Spirit directly acts upon the dispositions and affections of the heart, stamps his own image, and communicates his own holy nature to the soul, by permanently operating on all its faculties, as an indwelling source of life, light, purity, and felicity; whereas in imparting spiritual gifts, or miraculous powers, he only works upon natural principles, or enables a man occasionally to perform supernatural actions, without any abiding union or assimilation. Balaam, Judas, and many who in Christ's name prophesied, cast out devils, and wrought miracles, continued all the while covetous, ambitious, malignant, or sensual workers of iniquity: but no man ever truly believed in Christ, while his heart continued the willing slave of any lust. As these gifts and powers are not holy in their nature, or even in their effects; so neither are they connected with salvation, by any indissoluble bond : but faith in Christ is more explicitly and frequently in Scripture connected with eternal salvation, than any other exercise of the heart or soul whatever. If it therefore be not holy in its own nature, it is an exception to the general rule: for no other fruit, or gift, or operation, of the Holy Spirit, that invariably accompanies salvation, can be mentioned, which is not indisputably holy in its essential nature.
As unbelief springs from the “ love of darkness rather than light,” because the deeds of the unbeliever are evil; so faith must arise from the love of light rather than darkness, because of an incipient disposition to keep God's commandments. “ He that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God.” When the evil heart of unbelief is removed, and the sinner has received the love of the truth; then “ with the heart he believeth unto righteousness.” But in proportion as the doctrines of the gospel are proposed to the minds of proud and carnal men, with convincing energy ; they excite the greater measure of scorn, rage and enmity. The overbearing evidence, with which the hated light is poured in upon the reluctant understanding, disturbs and torments the conscience, affronts the self-complacency of the heart, and calls forth into vigorous opposition those evil propensities which before lay dormant. This was the effect of our Lord's discourses and those of his apostles, on the unbelieving priests, scribes, and Pharisees. Undeniable miracles, unanswerable arguments, decisive scriptural proofs, pointed warnings and rebukes, and the clear light of divine truth, connected with the meekness of wisdom and holy love, served but to excite the more determined resistance from their ambition, avarice, envy, and resentment: and when they were completely baffled, and could say nothing against either the miracles or the doctrine, they were enraged even to mada When a partial view of divine truth gains the assent of the understanding, without a disposition of heart congenial to the grand scope of christianity; such professors are formed, as our Lord describes under the similitude of the stony ground : and their fallacious confidence, selfish joy, and temporary faith, while “ they have no root in themselves, but in time of temptation fall · away,” are exemplified by facts on every side.—The seed too sown on thorny ground represents another very common way, in which a carnal heart “ holds the truth in unrighteousness," by a dead faith, an unwarrantable confidence, and an awful mistake as to the tendency and design of revealed truth : but an honest and good heart is the only good ground, in which the word of the kingdom will so “ take root, and spring up, as to bring forth fruit with patience."
It is really surprising that, with such Scriptures before them, serious and reflecting persons should speak of faith in Christ, as “ a mere act of the understanding, produced by a common illumination, totally distinct from regeneration !” I would ask those who use such language, whether this be not precisely the definition of a dead faith ? and whether any man be capable of giving a better? For is it not an assent of the understanding to the doctrines of the gospel as true, without any consent of the heart to them as good and holy? It is by no means intended, that all, who inadvertently seem to favour this sentiment, really countenance a dead faith ; for many parts of their writings have a contrary tendency: but it shows how readily even good men, when contending for a system, may be seduced to sanction opinions which entirely suit the purposes of very bad men.
In forming our judgment on this subject, let us next consider the following words of our blessed Saviour; “ No man can come unto me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him:"-" It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God.” “Every man therefore, that hath heard and learned of the Father cometh unto me. Therefore said I unto you, No man can come unto me except it were given him of my Father.” John vi. 41, 45, 65. Coming to Christ is the same as believing in him, at least as far as the present argument is concerned : and has this gift of the Father, this drawing, teaching, hearing, and learning, nothing holy in its nature? Surely, upon second thoughts, every serious mind will adopt the apostle's words, " Do not err, my beloved brethren ; every good gift, and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning :" especially as the same apostle afterwards carefully distinguishes the wisdom which is from above, by its holy and sanctifying nature, from that wisdom which is “ earthly, sensual, and devilish ;" as well as a living from a dead faith, by the holy obedience that accompanies it. James i. 16, 17 ; ii. 14-26; iii. 13—18.
But our divine Instructor has not left us to form our own conclusions from this general language : for he hath shown us in what manner the Father teaches and draws the sinner to come to him.-" When the Comforter is come, he shall convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.”— He shall lead you into all truth.”—“He shall glorify me ; for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.” John xvi. 8, 15. Under the illuminating and convincing influences of the Holy Spirit, sinners become acquainted with their own true character and real situation : and thus the discovery of their guilt, pollution, danger, and helpless misery in themselves, prepares them for perceiving the nature and value of the salvation of Christ. Then he becomes glorious in their eyes, and precious to their hearts: they consider him as the Pearl of great price, yea, of inestimable value. “What things were gain to them, they now count to be loss for Christ.” The fear of being rejected by him overpowers all other fears, and is frequently the source of permanent anxiety. The desire of his salvation, and of the felicity which they conceive his people to enjoy, overcomes their love of worldly objects. They are thus prepared to forsake all for Christ : and no important secular interest, no beloved relative, no, not even life itself, is so precious in their deliberate practical judgement as the loving Saviour of lost sinners.