« PreviousContinue »
The Lord finds his people in different situations and of widely dissimilar characters; and he leads them in a vast variety of ways: but he brings them all, in his appointed time, "to count all "things but loss that they may win Christ." So
long, therefore, as men "neglect this great salvation," we must continue to warn them, that "he "who believeth not the Son of God shall not see "life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." In popular addresses it is by no means expedient to make many distinctions, exceptions, or limitations: yet it is of great consequence that the public teachers of religion should themselves be familiarly acquainted with such distinctions as are important: and then they will so propose the simplest general truths as not to contradict the deepest parts of heavenly wisdom; which "are strong meat, be
longing to those that are of age, even such as
by reason of use have their senses exercised to "discern both good and evil." Nay, if men (as 'one well observes,) distinguish ill, they must be opposed by those who distinguish better, and not
by such as do not distinguish at all.' If any one should attempt to expound certain precepts of our Lord's sermon on the mount, in an unqualified and unlimited sense, and to deduce the utmost practical consequences from them; every solid divine would protest against such a mode of interpretation, shew it to be contradictory to other parts of scripture, and justly remark, that those exceptions and restrictions must be admitted, which common sense could not fail to suggest, and which needed not be particularized in a public discourse. And ought not the same rules of interpretation to be adopted,
when declarations, such as these which we are now considering, are made in a general manner? Certainly they ought; otherwise the scriptures must perpetually appear to be in opposition to themselves. And, when thus explained, they are not in the least repugnant to the proposition, that true faith is always the effect of regeneration.
There may be a vital spark, or a dawning ray, where nothing but darkness and death are discernible by us and we should remember to copy him, who "will not quench the smoking flax, nor break "the bruised reed:" for "the path of the just is "like the shining light, which shineth more and "more unto the perfect day." A ray of light breaks in upon the previous reign of entire darkness, and imperceptibly diminishes the gloom: but, coming from the sun, it indicates his approach, and will continue to advance till it arrive at the full blaze of noon. "On you that fear my name, shall the "Sun of righteousness arise, with healing in his
wings." Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to "know the Lord; his going forth is prepared as "the morning." "If any man will do the will of God, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be " of God, or whether I speak of myself." "I will "bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I "will lead them in paths, which they have not "known; I will make darkness light before them, "and crooked things straight." These and similar passages of scripture naturally lead us to consider the work of God, in drawing the sinner unto himself, by Christ the living Way, in many instances at least, as very gradual and they by no means can be made even to appear consistent with the
opinion, that a man continues absolutely dead in sin, till after he has come to Christ, and has explicit knowledge of him, and faith in him; or even, as some state it, a full assurance of an interest in his salvation.
The new-born infant instinctively craves the milk of the breast, though incapable of understanding the nature of its wants and desires : but various circumstances may retard its actual satisfaction in the wholesome nutriment provided for it. Thus the new-born babe, in the spiritual world, feels a strong desire after "the sincere milk of the word," yet often scarcely knows what he wants or seeks for but the salvation of Christ alone can satisfy these new desires which he experiences; and, whatever may hinder his progress, he will still continue uneasy and inquiring, till brought to live explicitly by faith in the Son of God. Then he will seek no further, except to secure and enjoy the satisfying blessings he has discovered.
And now let the reader seriously and impartially consider these several arguments, and endeavour to estimate their collective force: after which, let him determine, whether it has not been completely proved, that, according to the word of God, saving faith is always the effect of regeneration; and consequently that it is holy in its nature, as well as in its fruits.
SAVING FAITH ALWAYS ACCOMPANIED BY OTHER THINGS
ANOTHER most conclusive argument, to prove the holy nature of faith, may be deduced from the other holy exercises of the heart with which it is inseparably connected.
No man ever yet truly believed in Christ, without some measure of humiliation for sin: and where this is totally wanting, a professed believer can at most rank no higher than a stony-ground hearer, who has "no root in himself," in whatever manner slavish terrors have been succeeded by selfish comforts. But, when a careless sinner, or a proud despiser of the gospel, is brought, with down-cast eyes, to smite on his breast, and from his inmost soul to cry, "God be merciful to me a "sinner;" he certainly thus far manifests “a right "spirit."-In the parable here alluded to, the question is not, what the Pharisee proudly assumed concerning his own sanctity, or what the publican humbly confessed of his own sinfulness; but whether the humble confession of the one was not intrinsically better, than the proud boastings of the other? and whether the publican's self-abasing cry for mercy was not an exercise of true holiness? That it sprang from humility and contrition, and was not extorted by mere terror, our Lord himself testifies: "I tell you, that this man went down to "his house justified rather than the other; for
every one that humbleth himself shall be ex"alted."* And this testimony ought to be decisive for it evidently proves that genuine humility inseparably attends on justifying faith, even in its feeblest and most discouraged applications. for pardoning mercy.
The Pharisee did not arrogate the honour of making himself to differ from other men; at least the words ascribed to him imply the contrary: and indeed the same is observable in the language of many who are notorious for spiritual pride. But he presumptuously deemed himself eminent in holiness, when he was altogether unholy; and established in the full favour of God, from which he was entirely estranged. If a man say, 'God I thank thee for giving me humility, repentance, and newness of heart;' and then rely on these supposed endowments as the meritorious ground of his justification; let him be classed with the Pharisee but surely we may know that God has given us these holy dispositions, and that " by his grace we are what we are," and heartily thank him for his special love in thus making us to differ; without in the least "trusting to our own righ"teousness, and despising others." Or else the most eminent believers, both of the Old and New Testament, must be joined with us under this condemnation.-In whatever measure we have experienced "the sanctification of the Spirit unto "obedience," we shall not, if properly instructed, depend on it in the smallest degree for justification and, if this be the case of the most eminent
Luke xviii. 14.