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it thus : No man can have scriptural ground to conclude himself interseted in this unspeakable benefit, except as he is himself conscious, and as he evidences to others, that he has true living faith, producing unreserved obedience. If he be overcome by temptation, and fall into sin, he must lose that confidence of his acceptance which he before enjoyed, if it were genuine : and this he never can legitimately recover, till, by deep repentance, with its appropriate fruits, and by renewed faith in God's mercy through Christ, his prayer, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation,” be answered. He may be, and indeed, if a true believer, Calvinists suppose that he is, in a safe state: but he cannot know, and is not authorized to think himself in a safe state, after having grossly sinned, till unequivocal repentance has taken place. And it is our general instruction, that, if a man take encouragement from this doctrine, when living in the habitual practice of any known sin, or the habitual neglect of any known duty, and quiet his conscience by it ; it is a decided proof that he is a hypocrite. Whether these sentiments be true, or not, this is my view of the subject : and I would not be thought to plead the cause of any who wish to state this point in a more lax and accommodating manner. If this statement deserve the censure contained in the passage adduced, let it bear it. It is indeed true that some, who do not 'pass
over in silence the great duties of morality,' or rather of Christian holiness, do treat on other subjects more earnestly. But, in so doing, they meet the decided disapprobation of a large and increasing number of those who hold the same doctrine. - It does not appear what is* meant by the 'efficacy of virtue.' It is allowed that even real good works have no efficacy in our justification. But, “ If there be any virtue, if there be any praise, " think of these things,” is our exhortation to our flocks. We indeed dwell earnestly on the necessity of faith, and on its efficacy, if genuine, for our justification : but we speak as little of the
merit of faith' as of the efficacy of virtue ;' for merit and efficacy are by no means the same.
Although the best actions of men must partake of the infirmity of their nature, and cannot give • the slightest claim to eternal happiness; yet to
represent every human deed as an actual sin, - and deserving of everlasting punishment, is not
only unauthorized by scripture, but is also of very dangerous consequence. It tends to destroy all distinction, between virtue and vice, and to make men careless of their conduct; it is to confound those who live under the absolute dominion of sin, with those who occasionally yield to temptation ; it is to make no discrimination ' between the habitually wicked, and those who 'through surprize or inadvertence deviate from “the path of duty; between premeditated crimes
and unintentional offences. Not only particular 'actions of men are commended both in the Old ' and New Testament, but at the day of final
retribution Christ is described as saying, “ Well ‘done, thou good and faithful servant;" which
implies that a man's general habits and conduct ' in life may be deserving of the approbation of ' his Judge. How can this address of our Saviour
be reconciled with the tenets of those, who consider every action of man as sinful and punishable? * Where can be the justifying works of which St. 'James speaks ? where can be “ the charity, and
service, and faith, and patience,” recorded in the * Revelation : Where are those who “ have not
defiled their garments,” who“ are worthy,” and ( whose “ names are not blotted out of the book of life?"'1
If the best things which we do have something ' in them to be pardoned,'? then there must be sin in every human deed.
gone ' from original righteousness, and is of his own ' nature inclined to evil ; so that the flesh always · lusteth against the spirit.'3 “Works done be'fore the grace of Christ, and the inspiration of ' his Spirit, are not pleasant to God :—for that
they are not done, as he hath willed and com‘manded them to be done, we doubt not but they ' have the nature of sin.'4 " The ploughing of the “ wicked is sin.” 5 Every human deed, therefore, which is done before the grace of Christ, is an actual sin. “ Cursed is every one who continueth “ not in all things written in the book of the law “ to do them.” Therefore “ they that are of the “ works of the law are under the curse.”6“ Depart “ from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire."7 It is not requisite here to argue, whether every
human deed deserves everlasting punishment,' so that each deed in a sinner's life, singly considered,
Ref. 172, 173. • Art. xiii. 7 Matt. xxv. 41.
Note, Ref. 60, 61.
3 Art. ix.
'merits damnation. It may be sufficient, as “sub“mitting to the righteousness of God," in the punishment denounced against every transgressor of his law, to acknowledge that we deserve everlasting punishment for our many and complicated crimes. When, as thus condemning ourselves, we “have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set “ before us” in Christ, we begin to do real good works, acceptable to God through the Saviour's mediation : yet these are imperfect, and need washing in his blood; they cannot 'endure the • severity of God's judgment;'l there is a mixture of evil in them, which deserves wrath, and needs forgiveness : yet it is of these works that the texts of scripture, adduced in the quotation, manifestly speak. Every action of man is sinful and punishable, and would subject him to punishment, according to the strict and holy law of God: but, according to the gospel, God mercifully forgives what is evil, and graciously accepts and rewards what is good, even the fruits of his Spirit in true believers. « The fine linen, clean and white, are “ the righteousness of the saints :" yet they 66 washed their robes and made them white in the “ blood of the Lamb.”2 In discoursing on these subjects, there is certainly a danger of clouding the proper distinction between virtue and vice, and of making all sins equal, like the Stoics of old. Caution is therefore needful, and we must “ ask wisdom of God,” to guide us at a distance from the dangers on either side : for there certainly is also, on the other hand, very great danger, lest,
I Art. xii.
Comp. Rev, vii. 14. xix. 8.
while palliating some instances of human conduct, in which God is neglected and forgotten, and commending human virtues, we should lead men to entertain slight thoughts of sin, as disobedience to God, when it is not evidently mischievous to man; lest we should foster a proud self-justifying spirit; and encourage a hope of salvation, without repentance, conversion, and genuine holiness. If the grand truths and encouragements of the gospel be fully set before men, along with the declarations concerning the evil of sin, and the sinfulness of their ordinary, nay, their best actions ; they, who duly attend, will indeed give up a hope of saving themselves by their own virtues, but they will also be led to hope for salvation by Christ Jesus ; and this will induce them to a stricter conscientiousness than they before so much as thought of. But, if any so preach, as not to discriminate between the direct ungodliness, or gross crimes of the wicked, and the lamented deficiencies of true Christians ; or between their sins of surprise and inadvertency, and the premeditated crimes of those who are habitually wicked; he has not at all learned
rightly to divide the word of truth.”
• If men heartily strive to practise the whole of 'their duty ; if it be the great object of their lives 'to make the precepts of the gospel the invariable 'rule of their conduct, but still froni the frailty of 'their nature, they should sometimes be guilty of - sin, or not rise to the standard of purity and
excellence required by our holy religion; we ' have ground to believe, that an imperfect and * defective obedience of this kind will be accepted