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not uncommon, however, to find persons of this description. Nothing is so absurd, or so contrary to the whole tenor of scripture, but that, if it be supported with a few sophistical arguments, and an appearance of zeal, it will find adherents, at least for a season, and till some other wind of doctrine shall blow. Even some of the most important truths of the gospel, such as the divine sovereignty in regeneration--the universal and particular providence of God the complete divinity and humanity of Christ
--atonement for sinners by his vicarious sufferingsjustification by faith, without the deeds of the law, and many others, are embraced and rejected by some, almost as often as they hear these subjects discussed by persons of different sentiments. Nor are there wanting those who seem to imagine, that there is nothing criminal or dangerous in such instability. They seem to suppose that it is not much matter what men believe, even respecting the most essential points. That men who deduce totally different and opposite systems of faith from the Bible may be equally good Christians ; equally acceptable to God; and consequently, that it is immaterial which we fall in with, or how often we change from one to é the other. That we shall arrive safe at the haven of rest, however tossed to and fro in our passage, and driven about, like a ship that has no anchor or rudder. But, certainly, the language of inspiration is very different from this. Of very different import is the warning in our text: “ Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines.”
Divers, that is, sundry ; or many different ones ; embracing first one, and then another, without any stability. Strange doctrines; that is, (as the original signifies, such as have been unknown, or not received by the church ; as persons coming from a distance, whom we do not know, are called strangers.
Thus the same word is rendered. Eph. ii. 19. “Ye are no more stiacrs and forcigners; but
fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” The apostolic injunction in our text therefore is, to be steadfast in the faith formerly delivered to the saints, and all along received by the church ; and not to follow the propagators of new and strange notions. This further appears to be the meaning of the admonition, not to be carried about with divers and strange doctrines, from the introduction to it in the two preceding verses:
Remeniber them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you
the word of God; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation ; Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” To follow now and strange doctrines, stands in contrast with this ; and it is intimated, that to depart from the faith of the church, in which thcy liad been indoctrinated, would be practically saying, that Jesus Christ is not now the same he once was.
In the last clause of my text, the apostle enforces his exhortation to steadfastness, by saying, “ For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace." And he acids, “ Not with meats which have not profited them that have been occupied therein." On this we may remark, that teaching to expect justification, in whole or in part, by the deeds of the law, and to observe the Jewish ritual respecting meats, and other things, with that expectation, was a new and strange doctrive ; different from that delivered to Abraham ; and from the true import of the law given by Moses ; and that those who had lived under that dispensation, and had thus understood it, were never profited by their most punctual observances of it. This is agreeable to Rom. ix. 31, 32. “But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore ? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.” And Chap. x. 4. “ For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth:”
The last part of my text, taken in its connection, may be undersiood as implying, that a principle of grace in the heart is needful, and will have great influence to preserve one firm in the true faith of the gospel.
But the doctrine of the text, designed now to be particularly illustrated, is this;
That it is an important duty, incumbent on the professors of Christianity, to be steadfast and unwarering, in the faith once delivered to the saints.
It is proposed,
1. To explain what is implied in, or prerequisite to, our being thus steadfast in the Christian faith ; and,
II. To prove the doctrine, and show the impora tance of the duty.
In the first place, we will consider what is implied in, or prerequisite to, our being established and steadfast, in the true faith of the gospel.
In order to our being thus established, it is ne. cessary, I observe,
1, That we have an acknowledged standard, for the trial of every doctrine ; and that this standard be the word of God.
Without a known and allowed standard and critea rion of truth, there could be no such thing as trying doctrines, or knowing what is truth. Nor shall we be satisfied and fixed what we are to believe, unless we make the word of God our standard ; and submit, in all things, to its decision. If we make our imperfect reason, or our partial views and feelings, or the judginent of other men, the standard, to the neglect of the holy scriptures, we shall never arrive at any uniform and consistent conclusions respecting rcligious truths; but shall be constantly liable to call
evil good, and good evil ; to put darkness for light, and light for Jarkness. And if, in any instances, we find the truth, we shall be constantly liable to relinquish it for error, through the want of a perfect and unvarying standard.
2. We must be thoroughly acquainted with our standard. And here the subject we considered in the morning comes in to our assistance. We must let the word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom. All necessary divine truth is contained in the word of Christ, or in the scriptures; and every thing advanced is to be tried and proved by that. « Prove all things,” says the apostle, hold fast that which is good.” But how can we prove or try all things, and know what to hold fast as good, or true; and what to reject as evil, or false, unless we are well acquainted with the standard, and know how to use and apply it?
3. In order to be established and steadfast in the truth, amidst surrounding errors, and the cunning of those who study to deceive, it is requisite, not only that we be acquainted with the general contents of the scriptures, but with the system of doctrines they contain, in a particular manner.
We may find that particular doctrines are contained in the scriptures, but when we see their connection with and dependence upon each other, and that to reject one, is in effect to discard the whole, we are thereby greatly strengthened in the truth, and guarded against the most plausible arguments which can be brought against particular parts. How important therefore, is an acquaintance with the analogy or proportion of faith ? or the system of doctrines contained in the scriptures, in times of apostacy and errors, when various winds of doctrines blow, and many are carried away, making shipwreck of faith? With out this, there is no safety..
Even real Christians, so long as they are confused in their ideas, and have not a clear view of the system of scripture doctrines, are liable often to change from one sentiment to another, and have the appearance of instability, to the injury of themselves and the.cause.
4. As a means to continue steadfast and unshaken in the truth, it is important that we, as much as possible, avoid men of corrupt minds ; whose object it is to pervert the scriptures, that they may build a system congenial to their own corrupt taste and desires. Here thotsands have fallen a prey to the adversary
of souls. To associate with those who deny and
oppose the truth, and hearken to their words, with a kind of willingness to have them true, because wc delight not in the truth of God, is to place ourselves greatly in the power of the tempter, and provoke God to give us over to blindness and hardness, to believe a lie. Hence it is that we are so often warned of the wiles of the adversary, cautioned against deceivers, and directed to associate and converse with those who love the truth. This leads me to observe,
5. That a most essential and important requisite to our being established and continuing steadfast and unshaken in the truth, is a firinciple of grace in the heart.
The importance of the heart's being established with grace, in order to the mind's becoming settled in the belief of the truth, and continuing in it, will appear from the following considerations.
1. Grace in the heart will naturally influence the mind to enquire after the truth. Divine truth is food to the gracious mind. It longs for it with the keenest appetite and relish. Thus, as David did; every gracious heart longs for the word of God, and prizes it more than thousands of gold and silver.