« PreviousContinue »
sidering some cases in ordinary life. A man comes to me and relates some circumstance which happened at a distance: I have no doubt, for such and such reasons, that what he tells me of the matter is true; that is to say, I believe that man, and the account he brings me: but it does not therefore follow, that I trust myself with him; that I depend, or, in the Scripture sense, believe on him. But if the matter of which he brings me word concern my own good very nearly; for example, suppose him one skilled in the law, bringing me an account of some property which I may somehow recover, and if I show my opinion of him by not only believing the facts he relates to me, but also putting myself in his hands for the conduct of the whole business, relying upon him, and really endeavouring to take every step he advises me, and giving up my own will and opinion to his: then, indeed, I may be said to believe on such a lawyer, to trust myself with him, to have faith in him. This kind of simple parable, the like to which any one who chooses may readily contrive for himself, will show what the Bible means, when it makes such a difference between merely believing CHRIST and believing on HIм.
The same thing is shown, still more plainly, by that which may be called the favourite Scripture example of a true, lively, justifying faith; the example of Abraham, the father and pattern of the faithful. Abraham did not only believe, that what God promised to do for his posterity was true, but he showed his belief by acting accordingly. He trusted himself altogether with GOD, following His call to a distance from his native land, not knowing whither he went; sojourning, contented, in a strange country, in which no land of his own was given him, no, not so much as to set his foot upon; and, finally, offering up his only begotten Son, through whom all the promises on which he depended had been expressly made to him. Is it not manifest that Abraham's faith, the faith which was counted unto him for righteousness, lay not in merely believing God's Word, but in behaving as if that Word were true, and in trusting himself with his MAKER accordingly? But such as his faith was, such too must ours be, if we would have our sins forgiven. They that are of such faith, they only, if we will believe St. Paul, may hope to be "blessed with faithful Abraham."
If you had rather have examples from the New Testament,
the Book of Acts of the holy Apostles is full of the noble deeds of those persons, who, in the beginning of the Gospel of CHRIST, became Christians and were justified by faith. It would not do at that time for men to believe the Apostles' preaching, and confess the faith of CHRIST crucified, and yet go on as before. By the very act of confessing they really renounced the world, to which, until then, they had been used; they gave up many things which they naturally loved; they exposed themselves to hatred, derision, desolation, and sometimes to a cruel death. This was believing on the LORD JESUS, as that jailor at Philippi did, who was converted in the night by the miraculous earthquake, and fell so eagerly before St. Paul, saying, "What must I do to be saved?" St. Paul answered, much as St. John in the text, "Believe on the LORD JESUS CHRIST, and thou shalt be saved;" not meaning a bare naked belief, but such a belief as would take him from among heathens, and cause him to be baptized, and reckoned among Christians; that is, in other words, it would expose him to be treated as he had just seen done to St. Paul; to be beaten in their synagogues, and scourged from city to city. at once, was any thing but a bare naked faith, a mere feeling of confidence in the mind: it was as practical as any thing could possibly be; as much so as Abraham's own conduct, when he, as an Apostle tells us, was "justified by works, having offered Isaac his son on the altar." And the other instances of saving faith in the Acts are just like this: faith, in those days, being put to trial immediately, and it being hardly possible for an hypocritical professor of Christianity to continue many days a professor at all.
This, you see
Faith, then, to be like the faith of Abraham, or like the faith of those early Christians, requires sincere, general resignation of heart, not in this or that thing, but in the whole course and conduct of our life.
But if it be so, some will ask, (with the disciples of our LORD on an occasion not very unlike this,) Who then can be saved? who can flatter himself that his resignation is so complete and perfect as this?
It is too true, there is no such thing as perfection in Faith, or any thing else in this world. Even of Abraham, our pattern, we are expressly told that his faith wavered; he had misgivings at times. But the consolation of Christian Faith is this, that it
shows us ONE on whom we may depend for a thorough pardon of such infirmities, provided we sincerely and regularly try to amend them. It shows us the Cross of our Most HOLY SAVIOUR, for whose sake God is well pleased even with such an imperfect service as penitent sinners are able to offer. He will not be extreme to mark what is done amiss; He will deal with them who really make it the chief business of their lives to please HIM;—who in earnest endeavour to believe, and repent, and obey, seeking always His grace to enable them to do so:—with these our gracious FATHER will deal as if they had really deserved well of HIM. Though it be quite impossible for creatures to deserve any thing of their CREATOR, or for sinners to make their JUDGE their debtor, yet to the sincerely believing and penitent, our LORD will say at the last day, “Well done, good and faithful servant;" and He promises to such in the Book of Revelation, "They shall walk with ME in white, for they are worthy."
Does any one imagine that it is at all disrespectful to the Sovereign Grace and free Mercy of the Ever-blessed SON and SPIRIT of God, when we speak of HIм as opening Heaven to the believing and penitent only? Does it seem to any one as so much taken from God's glory, when true Faith and Christian Obedience are called Conditions of His Holy Covenant? Those who are inclined to speak thus, or to hearken to others so speaking, would do well to consider what they can make of the express words of Holy Scripture, representing the Last Day every where as a day of rendering up men's accounts; a time when the MASTER will come and see if His servants have done their work; a final examination of the branches of the Vine, whether they bear fruit or no. In short, our LORD's preaching from beginning to end is summed up in His own brief warning: "Not every one that saith unto ME, LORD, LORD, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of My FATHER which is in Heaven."
Let us then seriously ask ourselves, Can it be safe, or wise, or Christian, to think of our own salvation as of a matter in which we have nothing at all to do, our LORD having done all for us already? It cannot be right, for one short and plain reason: that it is quite contrary to Holy Scripture. GOD, who surely knows best which way of teaching is most for His own glory, speaks to us Christians, every where, as if it now depended upon ourselves
whether we shall be saved or lost. Surely it must be a mistake, whenever any, out of a vain notion of glorifying HIM, think little of Christian practice, and of what is to be done on our part.
Our SAVIOUR Himself has taught us to consider the case between God and a believing penitent as being like the case of a creditor forgiving a debtor. Now consider a moment. Is a man said to forgive his debtor less freely, because he makes that kindness depend on certain conditions? Suppose a drunkard, or a profane swearer, in debt to one who really wishes him well; and suppose the creditor should say to him, "Now I will tell you what I will do: I will forgive you all that debt, if you will come to me three years hence, and prove to me by undoubted testimony that you are thoroughly cured of this bad habit of yours." Will any one pretend to say, that such kindness on the part of the creditor would be less free, or less complete, than if he had forgiven all the debt at once, leaving the person to go on as profanely and sottishly as he pleased? Now, this is a sort of likeness of GOD'S way of dealing with Christians, as made known by the Holy Gospel; only the debt there forgiven is far more than we can conceive, and the consideration upon which God forgives it, is the Blood of His own Eternal Son, made Man, and dying for us. A thought, beyond all other things, proper to make us perceive His infinite love, and endeavour, as we can, to love HIM in return, and give HIM all possible glory. But surely men do not love their SAVIOUR the less, nor take any thing from His glory, because they are very much afraid of forfeiting the rich treasure of His love, and very desirous of doing their best, that when He comes, He may in His mercy count them not unworthy of remaining with Him for ever.
The glory, then, of our Divine REDEEMER is not in any degree lessened, by our putting men in mind of what God expects of them, as their part of the Holy Covenant. On the other hand, since it is clear that no man is so good as he ought to be, and yet we encourage those who always try to be quite sincere in their faith and practice, to hope for pardon and happiness at last : here is clearly a kind of temptation, an occasion which the hypocrite in heart may take hold of, for continuing wilfully imperfect in his faith and repentance. He may say-many thousands have
said—“No doubt there is a certain quantity of imperfection, which will not shut Heaven against a man. Why should I not believe that this or that indulgence, to which I feel myself strongly inclined, may in my case be considered a part of that pardonable imperfection? Why may I not take such and such liberties, though God's word be expressly against them, and yet be reckoned on the whole, and at last, faithful?" Many, I say, no doubt, do daily deceive themselves in this manner: they do, knowingly and presumptuously, venture as near the edge of sin as they dare; for why? they say, "Every man has his fault, and God expects penitence, not perfection."
Now, such people must be told plainly, that what God expects is sincerity, and their conduct shows them insincere; and therefore, if indulged and continued in, it will shortly bring them to eternal death. For if they really loved their SAVIOUR, and desired to trust themselves altogether with HIм, they could not allow themselves to reason in this way, and contrive beforehand how many wrong things they might do, and how many right ones leave undone, and yet have a chance of obtaining mercy through HIM. Real love and trust would render them at once ashamed of all such thoughts.
You may know it by your feelings to an earthly benefactor. Should you think it gratitude, to be contriving beforehand how little you might do of what you know he delights in, without forfeiting his favour for the future? By the same rule, you must condemn yourself of wanting faith in your Divine SAVIOUR, as often as you detect yourself saying in your heart, "Thus far will I go in sin, and no further."
Of all things, beware of such a temper; for it is turning that which is the only hope of sinners, the very Cross of our LORD and SAVIOUR, into a fearful occasion of falling. Those who so play with God's mercy and judgment at once, what other can they look for in the great and dreadful hour, than to hear HIM, who came to be their SAVIOUR, calling them wicked and slothful servants, and ordering them into outer darkness?
Upon the whole, you must, I think, clearly see that the true doctrine of Faith in the Son of GOD-Practical Faith, the devotion of the heart and life;-this doctrine, rightly understood, neither takes any thing from His glory, nor encourages us in wil