« PreviousContinue »
wrongs, which would have eluded the instructions of the pulpit. That these also have the same effect, becomes sometimes known to those who are happily the mean of accomplishing it: which gives ground of hope, that it takes place on other occasions, known only to the parties. So far however as private confession increases this good, it should be put into the balance against the immensely disproportionate mass of evils.
Among these, is the granting of indulgences, as a release from penalties inflicted in penance; and from punishment due in another world, for the non-payment of them in the present. The abuses in the issuing of indulgences, is not denied by any: and if it be pleaded, that they may be administered with discretion; it is at present to the purpose merely to state, that every Christian should look well to the foundation, on which so great a superstition has been confessedly erected.
In the lecture, there was but slightly touched the tenet held by some, that the test of acceptance with God, is an assurance of the fact conveyed immediately to the mind of the party, by the Holy Spirit of God. The consequent certainty is often illustrated by and compared with the saying of our Saviour to certain of his day—“ My son, thy sins are forgiven thee.” By him it was delivered vocally, and received by the organ of the ear: but it is now supposed to be said spiritually, and to be known by an inward feeling. Concerning this tenet it is designed to show, that the texts usually urged in favour of it are irrelative; and that there are other texts in opposition.
The passage the most commonly quoted in favour of the assurance here denied, is Rom. viii. 16-" The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirits, that we are the children of God." These words are reasoned
from, as if the language were—" To our spirits:” and some writers have so long contemplated the passage in that sense, as incautiously to make a wrong quotation of the words. But there are evidently spoken of two witnesses, whose joint testimony is to be relied on. One of them is the Holy Spirit of God, in his mira. culous effusions on the converted Gentiles of Rome; and the other refers to their own spirits, conscious of the holy dispositions suited to the Christian calling. What the said miraculous effusion was to the infant Church, the authentick record of it, and other evidences of Christianity are, to believers of the present day. When there is a consent of the possession of Christian graces with the requisitions of the word of God, there is the joint testimony recognized in the passage. Any other species of assurance, may be the result of animal sensibility:
Another passage, is Rom. v. 5—" And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." This is thought the state of mind, which must needs be accompanied by assurance. But the apostle makes it a cause of hope; although so well grounded, as to be no cause of shame. What is here meant by “the love of God?” Is it the loving of him? Or is it his love to those in question? If it be the for. mer, there can be no doubt, that our loving of God is one of the fruits of the Spirit; and therefore enters into a test of acceptance, very different from that objected to. However, it is rather here believed, that the text means the love of God, which was poured out on the Gentile Christians, in the miraculous effusion of the gift of the Holy Ghost; the same being appealed to by the apostle, as evidence of God's receiving of them into his Church, without subjection to the Mosaick law; agreeably to the whole argument of the epistle. The Greek word translated “shed abroad"* favours this interpretation. So does the end of St. Paul in writing,
Εκκε χυται. .
which was not the satisfaction of each man, personally considered, that he was within the covenant of grace; but to prove, that God had put the Gentile Christians, as a collective body, on a footing with the other collective body of Jewish converts. When he had outwardly poured on the Church the miraculous energies of his spirit, his love was thereby inwardly manifested to their hearts; and induced the effects of confidence and patience.
Heb. vi. 11. “We desire that every one of you do show the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope, unto the end." It is the full assurance of hope: and if there be any apparent incongruity in the connexion between the terms, the frequent use and known meaning of the latter should prevail; because the original of the former* will equally well bear to be translated “the consummation:" which also agrees well with a re. ference to the end. This passage can never be plausibly urged to the point in question, unless severed from the preceding verse; because when the verses are taken together, it appears that the assurance spoken of originated in labours of Christian love, and not in a divine intimation to the mind.
Verse 19. “Which hope we have as an anchor to the soul, both sure and stedfast.” This passage could never have been mistaken, if the word "hope" had been omitted; which is not in the original, and therefore printed in italicks. The immediately preceding verse speaks of "flying for refuge, to lay hold on the hope set before us:" that is, not hope as existing in the mind; but the ground of hope, in the promise and the oath of God, spoken of just before. Accordingly, these are the “anchor of the soul:” and they are “sure and stedfast” in themselves; whatever may be the measure of confidence in them on our part.
Eph. i. 13, 14. “ Ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise; which is the earnest of our inheri. tance:” It is evident, that this sealing cannot be the
assurance in question, which is defined to be cotempo. rary with true faith: whereas the matter here spoken of, was at some period subsequent to the act of believing. The passage means their being sealed as a Church: and the stampof the seal, was the pouring out of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost. Doubtless, there were also the sanctifying graces of the same blessed agent: but the other is referred to in this passage, as appears in the succeeding words" until's for unto] “ the redemption of the purchased possession.” The pouring out of the miracul us gifts of the Spirit, was the sealing of the Church: but the end of this, or what it served unto, was the spiritual redemption of the individual members of it; or the making of them a peculiar people and purchased possession.
Concerning all the texts quoted as to the purpose, it is worthy of remark, that they are from the epistles; misapprehended from inattention to the respective connexion, and that none of them are from any of the discourses made by our Lord in person. Now his last instruction to his disciples, related to “ the preaching of the forgiveness of sins."* That he had habitually preached this doctrine himself, resting the proposed benefit on the conditions of the faith and the repent. ance of the recipient, is certain. But it is not alleged, that in any instance he gave the promise of communi. cating it by an inward assurance to the mind of the party. How then can such an assurance be the matter, which, in the passage referred to, the disciples were to publish to all nations,“ beginning at Jerusalem.”
There has been given only a specimen of the op. posite arguing, by remarking on the most promi. nent of its texts. It is now proposed to offer other texts, containing a different standard; quite uselessly, if the opposite principle be correct. When St. Paul says* i. The fruit of the spirit is love”-and a long train of other graces; and when he says fur. ther." The fruit of the spirit is in all goodness
* Luke xxiv, 4.
and righteousness and truth," he tests the possession of the principle by these its evidences, on the maxim of knowing a tree by its fruits. When St. Peter says “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure;'* adding-“for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall;" the test referred to must be the things spoken of just before; which were “to add to our faith virtue,” and an attendant series of qualities, which constitute inward and produce outward righteousness. In the spirit of the same sentiment, St. John says~"Hereby we do know that we know him, “ if we keep his commandments.”+ Again: “Hereby”—that is, by loving in deed and in truth"we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” And “If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God.” It is to be noticed, that in these and the like places, we are referred to a test very different from that contended for on the other side: which, if it were well grounded, ought to supersede the necessity of any
other. The graces of the heart, in proportion as they are manifested in the life and conversation, might be still mentioned as evidences to the world: but in the way of evidence to ourselves, there would be no occasion for the mention of them in scripture. And yet, besides the passages which have been quoted, there are innumerable others of the same tendency; designed as the medium of a knowledge of ourselves, and of our religious state.
There shall be concisely stated the objections conceived to exist, to the opinion which has been dis. cussed; in addition to the circumstance of its not being found in scripture.
First; it places religion rather in animal sensibili ty, than in good affections habitually exercised. The difference between these two subjects, might be illustrated by a reference to the relations of social life; in which we may observe, how intimate,
* 1 iij. 19.
+ verse 19.
I v. 21.