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Romans iii. 28—Therefore we conclude, that Man is justified by faith, without works
In my last discourse, I attempted to show, that faith and urbelief are voluntary exercises of the mind, and may, therefore, be virtuous or sinful ; and to refute the objections against this doctrine. This I did, without critically examining the Nature of faith, which I purposely reserved for a separate discussion. This is evidently the next object of inquiry. I shall, therefore, endeavour, in this discourse, lo explain the Faith of the Gospel; or the Faith by which we are justified.
I. Faith, in this sense, respects God as its object.
Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. Gen. xv. 6. Rom. iv. 3. Gal. ii. 6. James ii. 23. Without faith it is impossible to please Him : for he that cometh to God must believe, that he is, and that he is the rewarder, of them that diligently seek him. Heb. xi. 6. Believe in the Lord your God; so shall ye be established. 2 Chron. ii. 20. Who by him, says St. Peter to the Christians to whom he wrote, do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead and gave him glory, that your faith and hope might be in God. 1 Pet. i. 21. The Jailer rejoiced, believing in God with all his house. Acts xvi. 34. That they who have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. Jesus answering saith unto them, Believe in God. Mark xi. 27. He that believeth on him that sent me hath everlasting life. John v. 24.
It will be unnecessary to multiply proofs any farther. I have made these numerous quotations, to show, that, in the common language of the Scriptures, Faith in God is commanded; is the universal characteristic of Christians; is declared to be the object of Divine approbation; is counted to them for righteousness; and is entitled to an everlasting reward.
II. The faith of the Gospel especially respects Christ as its object.
Ye believe in God, says our Saviour to his Apostles, believe also in me. John xiv. 1. If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins. John viii. 24. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: he that believeth not is condemned already. John iii. 36. John iii. 18. and John vi. 40. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Rom. iv. 5. In these passages it is evident, that to all such as are acquainted with the Gospel it is indispensable, that their faith respect Christ as its especial object; that, wherever this is the fact, they are assured of everlasting life ; and wherever it is not, they will not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on them.
III. The faith of the Gospel respects Christ, particularly, as the Son of God.
He that believeth on the Son, hath life. John vi. 40. John iii. 36. And he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father. 1 John ii. 23. He that believeth not, is condemned already, because he believeth not on the name of the only begotten Son of God. John iii. 18.
IV. The Faith of the Gospel respects Christ as its object, in all his offices, but especially in his priestly office.
As a prophet, or the preacher of the Gospel.
Then said Jesus to those Jews who believed on Him, If ye continue in my word, ye are my disciples indeed. And ye shall know the truth; and the truth shall make you free. He that receiveth not my words hath one that judgeth him. John xii. 48. The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. John vi. 63. That they might ali be damned, who believed not the truth. 2 Thess. ii. 12. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Rom. i. 16. In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel. 1 Cor. iv. 15.
As a Priest.
Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood. Rom. iii. 25. My blood is drink indeed. John vi. 55. Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life. John vi. 54. See also 53, 56, and 57. So many of us, as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death. Rom. vi. 3. Generally, all those passages, which speak of mankind as justified, and saved, by the blood and by the death of Christ, indicate, in an unequivocal manner, that our faith especially respects this as its object; because his death is especially the means of our salvation; since by this he became a propitiation for the sins of the world. As a King.
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house. Acts xvi. 31. No man can say, that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. 1 Cor. xii. 3. And they stoned Stephen, invocating, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit; and he cried, with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. Acts vii. 59, 60. For I know in whom I have believed; and am persuaded, that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. In all these instances the Faith, referred to, is evidently faith in Christ, as the Lord, or King, in Zion. The two last passages exhibit very strong examples of faith in Christ, as the sovereign disposer of all things. To deny the Lord, who bought us, St. Peter declares to be the means of bringing upon ourselves swift destruction. 2 Pet. ii. 1.
V. The Faith of the Gospel is an affection of the heart.
With the heart, says St. Paul, man believeth unto righteousness. Rom. x. 10. This passage would be more literally translated, With the heart faith exists unto righteousness, that is, the faith which is accounted to man for righteousness, or which is productive of righteousness in the life, hath its seat in the heart; and the heart in this exercise co-operates with the understanding. In the former of these senses, the faith itself is called, Rom. iv. 13, the righteousness of faith; the faith itself being a righteous or virtuous exercise. For the promise, that he should be heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through law, but through the righteousness of Faith. Rom. iv. 13. If thou believest with all thine heart, said Philip to the Eunuch, thou mayest be baptized. Acts viii. 37. The faith of the heart, therefore, was indispensable to the Eunuch, as the
proper subject of baptism. VI. The Faith of the Gospel is the Faith of Abraham.
Both St. Paul and St. James have taught this doctrine so clearly, and so abundantly, that I suppose no proof of this truth will be demanded. I shall only observe, therefore, that by St. Paul the believing Gentiles are said to walk in the steps of the faith of Abraham; and to be the seed, which is of the faith of Abraham ; and that on this account Abraham is called the Father of all them that believe, in reference to the promise, that he should be the father of many nations. Rom. iv. 11, 12, 16.
Having established, as I hope, these several points by clear, unequivocal scriptural decisions ; I proceed to the main object of this discourse, to which all that has been said will be found to be intimately related, and highly important, by every person who wishes to understand this supremely interesting subject, viz. the nature of that exercise, which thus respects God as its object; which peculiarly respects Christ as its object; which is an affection of the heart; and which is of the very same nature with that faith, which was counted to Abraham for righteousness. I assert, then,
VII. That the Faith of the Gospel is that emotion of the mind, which is called trust, or Confidence, exercised towards the moral character of God, and particularly of the Saviour.
All those of my audience, who have been accustomed to read theological writings, must know, that few moral subjects have been so much debated, as Faith. The controversy, concerning it, began in the days of the Apostles, and has continued to the present time. Many writers have undoubtedly adopted views concerning this subject, which are not warranted by the Scriptures. Many others, who have been sufficiently orthodox, have yet appeared to me to leave the subject less clear, and distinct, than I have wished. Few of their readers have, I suspect
, left the perusal of what they have written with such satisfactory views, concerning the nature of faith, as to leave their minds free from perplexity and doubt. Most of them would, I apprehend, wish to ask the writers a few questions at least; the answers to which would, in their view, probably re
move several difficulties, and place the whole subject in a more distinct and obvious light. The difficulty, which, in my own researches, has appeared to attend many orthodox writings concerning it, has been this : It has been connected with various other things, which, although contributing, perhaps, to the writer's particular purpose, have yet distracted my attention, and prevented me from obtaining that clear and distinct view of faith, which I wished. Like a man, seen in a crowd, its appearance, although in many respects real and true, was yet obscure, indistinct, and unsatisfactory. I wished to see and survey it alone.
It will not, I suppose, be doubted, that Evangelical faith, whatever is its object, is in all instances one single exercise of the mind. This being admitted, I proceed to show, that this exercise is the Confidence, mentioned above, by the following arguments.
1st. This Confidence was the faith of Abraham.
This position I shall illustrate from two passages of Scripture. The first is Heb. xi. 8, By Faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place, which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. In this passage of Scripture it is declared, that Abraham was called to go into a distant land; and that, in obedience to this call, he went out ; not knowing whither he went. It is further declared, that he went by faith ; that is, the faith so often mentioned in this chapter. That this was Evangelical or justifying faith is certain; because at the close of the preceding chapter, it is mentioned as the faith by which the just shall live, (see verse 38) because it is styled the faith, without which it is impossible to please God; the faith, with which Abraham offered up Isaac;* with which Moses esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; with which believers are said to desire a better country, that is, an heavenly; and on account of which God is not ashamed to be called their God; and to reward which he is said to have prepared for them a city; or in other words, heaven.t The faith, then, with which Abraham went out to the land of Canaan, was the faith of the Gospel.
The whole of the chapter is employed in unfolding the nature of this Virtue. The manner, in which this is done, will, I am persuaded, be found, upon a thorough examination, to be singularly wise and happy. Faith is here described by its effects, and by effects which it has actually produced. These are chosen with great felicity and success. The persons selected, are persons who lived long before the appearance of Christ. Of course they knew very little concerning this glorious person, in the strict sense of the term, knowing. Their faith was, therefore, not at all confused, and ob scured, by any real, or apprehended, mixture of knowledge. It existed simply, and by itself; and for that reason is seen apart from
* See James ii. 21–23.
+ See Heb. xi. 6, 16, 17, 26.
all other objects. In each of these persons it is seen in a new situation; and therefore, in some respects, in a new light. It appears in strong and efficacious exercise ; and is therefore seen indubitably. It is exhibited as producing obedience in very many forms; and is thus exhibited as the source of obedience in every form. It is seen in many situations, and those highly interesting and difficult; and is therefore proved to be capable of producing obedience in every situation, and of enabling us to overcome every difficulty. In a word, it is here proved beyond debate, that faith is in all instances, the victory, which overcometh the world.
The faith of Abraham, exercised on this occasion, was, then, the faith of the Gospel. To understand its nature, as exhibited in this passage, it will be useful to consider the whole situation and conduct of Abraham, at the time specified.
When Abraham was called to go out of his own land, he knew not whither he was going; to what country, or to what kind of residence. He knew not whether the people would prove friends or enemies, kind or cruel, comfortable or uncomfortable, neighbours to him ; nor whether his own situation, and that of his family, would be happy or unhappy. Wholly uninfluenced by these considerations, and all others, by which men are usually governed in their enterprises, he still adventured upon an undertaking, in which his own temporal interests and those of his family, were finally embarked. Why did he thus adventure? The only answer to this question is, he was induced to go by a regard to the character of the person who called him. This regard was of a peculiar kind. It was not reverence, love, nor admiration. Neither of these is assigned by the Apostle as the cause of his conduct. They might, they undoubtedly did, exist, in his mind; but they did not govern his determination.
The emotion, by which he was compelled to leave his home, was confidence. God summoned him to this hazardous and important expedition : and he readily obeyed the summons.
The true and only reason was, he confided entirely in the character and directions of God. God, in his view, was a being of such a character, that it was safe, and in all respects desirable, for Abraham to trust himself implicitly to his guidance. Such were his views of this glorious Being, that to commit himself, and all his concerns, to the direction of God was, in his estimation, the best thing in his power; best for him, and best for his family. He considered God as knowing better than he knew, and as choosing better than he could choose for himself. At the same time he experienced an exquisite pleasure in yielding himself to the direction of God. The Divine character was, to his eye, beautiful, glorious, and lovely; and the emotion of confiding in it was delightful. Sweet in itself
. it was approved by his conscience, approved by his Creator, and on both accounts doubly delightful.