This is a part 2 of 4 of some chapters out of the book by John Fletcher "The Portrait of St. Paul"
Part 1 [url=http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/newbb/viewtopic.php?topic_id=12012&forum=34]Observations upon the repentance of worldly men[/url]
Part 3 [url=http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/newbb/viewtopic.php?topic_id=12014&forum=34]The true minister goes on to announce a lively hope [/url]
[url=http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/newbb/viewtopic.php?topic_id=12015&post_id=93302&order=0&viewmode=thread&pid=0&forum=34#93302]The true minister preaches Christian charity [/url]
The second point of doctrine, insisted upon by the true minister, is a living faith.
To show the necessity of repentance, without publishing the remission of sins, through faith in Jesus Christ, would be to open a wound without binding it up. It would be leading sinners to the brink of a tremendous gulf, and cutting off all possibility of their retreat. But nothing can be more contrary to the intention of the faithful minister, than to sport with the miseries of man, or ultimately to aggravate his distress.
When he has discovered to his hearers that natural propensity to evil, which manifests its existence in every heart, by a variety of external transgressions; when he has convinced them, by the word of God, and by an appeal to every mans conscience, (2 Cor. Iv, 2), that they are unable to deliver themselves, either from that fatal propensity or its dreadful consequences; after he has thus demonstrated the need in which they stand of a Redeemer, who hath all power in heaven and in earth, (Matt. Xxviii, 18); if they harden not their hearts, (Psalm xcv, 8); if they stand, like the first sinner, naked and trembling before God, (Gen. iii, 10), having received the sentence of death in themselves, (2 Cor. I, 9), in a word, when they cry out like the publicans and soldiers alarmed by the preaching of John, What shall we do? (Luke iii, 12); they are then properly disposed to receive the glorious Gospel of Christ, (2 Cor. Iv, 4), and will be enabled to experience its powerful effects. From this time, the evangelical pastor affectionately preaches remission of sins through faith in the name of a merciful Redeemer.
This is the very same method which Christ and his forerunner pursued. Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world, was the cry of John the Baptist, (John I, 29). And blessed, said our Lord, are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, (Matt. V, 3). God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life, (John iii, 16). He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him, (John iii, 36). Whosoever shall drink of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but it shall be in him a well of water, [a source of sacred consolation,] springing up into everlasting life, (John iv, 14). Again, when it was inquired by the multitude, What shall we do, that we may work the works of God? Jesus said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day, (John vi, 28, 29, 40). Thus it was that our adorable Master proclaimed salvation through faith in himself. And indeed, it was for this end alone that he appeared upon earth; as we learn from the last address he made to his disciples: It behooved, said he, Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day, that remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem, the abode of his murderers, (Luke xxiv, 46).
Observe the great commission given to those messengers of peace. Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned, (Mark xvi, 15, 16). To the same purpose was the commission with which the Apostle Paul was afterward honored. I have appeared unto thee said the persecuted Jesus, for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness to the Gentiles, unto whom I now send thee, to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them that are sanctified, by faith that is in me, (Acts xxvi, 16, 17, 18).
The apostles unanimously preached in obedience to the orders, and in conformity to the example of their benevolent Lord. And all true ministers, instructed by the same Divine Teacher, continue to proclaim the glad tidings of the Gospel, through faith in Jesus Christ; laying as much stress, in all their sermons, upon this efficacious grace, as the apostle of the Gentiles was accustomed to do in all his epistles. Take a few instances of St. Pauls usual custom in this respect. After having convinced the Romans of their corruption and misery, he sets before them the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past; that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus, (Rom. Iii, 24, 25, 26). Therefore, continues he, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Rom. V, 1). To the Corinthians he writes: Brethren, I declare unto you the Gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, unless ye have believed in vain, (1 Cor. Xv, 1, 2). For Ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, (1 Cor. Vi, 11). God hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; for the hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him, (2 Cor. V, 18, 21). To the Galatians: Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by faith, and not by the works of the law, (Gal. ii, 16). Before faith came, we were kept under the law. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ. But after that faith is come, we are no more under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, (Gal. iii, 23-26). To the Ephesians: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath made us accepted in the Beloved; in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, (Eph. I, 3, 6, 7). By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast, (Eph. Ii, 8,9). Finally, my brethren put on the whole armor of God above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked, (Eph. Vi, 10, 11, 16). To the Philippians: Stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the Gospel, (Phil. I, 27). We rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh. Yea, I count all things but loss, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness which is of God by faith, (Phil. Iii, 3, 8, 9). To the Colossians: It pleased the Father, that in him [the Son] should all fullness dwell; and (having made peace through the blood of his cross) by him to reconcile all things unto himself. And you that were sometimes alienated, and enemies in your mind by wicked works, hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblamable in his sight; if ye continue grounded and settled in the faith, (Col. Ii, 6 7). To the Thessalonians: Let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith. For God hath not appointed us unto wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him, (1 Thess. V, 8, 10). We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, because that your faith growth exceedingly. Now the Lord shall come to be glorified in his saints and to be admired in all them that believe. Wherefore we pray that our God would fulfill in you the work of faith with power; that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in him, (2 Thess. I, 3, 12). To Timothy: This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. Howbeit, for this cause I obtained mercy that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long suffering for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting, (1 Tim. I, 15, 16). For God our Savior will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all, (1 Tim. Ii, 3, 6). God hath saved us [that is to say, hath put us in possession of the same present salvation, which the sinful woman experienced who, while she prostrated herself at the feet of Jesus, in faith and prayer, received from him these consolatory sentences, Thy sins are forgiven thee; thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace, (Luke vii, 48, 50)]. God hath saved us, not according to our works, but according to his own grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel, (2 Tim. I, 8, 10). To Titus: Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to Titus, mine own son after the common faith; grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, (Tit. I, 1, 4). who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works, (Tit. Ii, 14). We ourselves were sometimes disobedient; but after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs of eternal life, (Tit. Iii, 3, 7). To Philemon, he writes: Grace be to you, and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God, hearing of thy faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus Christ. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, (Philem.) Thus, a persecuted Savior became the Alpha and the Omega of this great apostle.
In his Epistle to the Hebrews, he uses the same language. It begins and concludes with Him who is the beginning and the end of all things, (Rev. xxii, 13). God, saith he, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, by whom also he made the worlds. Who being the brightness of his Fathers glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty of high, (Heb. I, 1, 2, 3). It became Him, for whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage, (Heb. Ii, 10-15). Though he were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he sufferance; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation, (Heb. V, 8, 9). This man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able to save them to the uttermost that come to God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them, (Heb. Vii, 24, 25. Having, therefore, a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near in full assurance of faith, (Heb. X, 21, 22). Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen; for by it the elders obtained a good report, who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens, (Heb. Xi, 1, 2, 33, 34). Wherefore, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, (Heb. Xii, 1, 2). Now the God of peace make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory forever and ever, (Heb. Xiii, 20, 21).
The same Savior whom St. Paul was so anxious to declare in his epistles, he as constantly preached in his sermons. He was no sooner converted, but straightway, says St. Luke, he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God, (Acts ix, 20). Take an abridgment of the first of his sermons which is left upon record, and which was preached at Antioch, in Pisidia. After asserting the fulfillment of that glorious promise which had been anciently given respecting the birth of our omnipotent Savior, he cries out, Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. For the inhabitants and rulers of Jerusalem, because they knew him not, nor understood the sense of those prophecies which are read every Sabbath day, Have given them their sad completion by condemning the Lord of life and glory. Though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written on him, they laid him in a sepulcher. But God, after three days, raised him triumphantly from the grave. And he was seen many days of his wondering disciples, whom he continued to visit and instruct, even after his resurrection, that they might become his witnesses to the people. And now, we declare unto you, that God hath fulfilled the promise which was made unto the fathers, in that he hath raised up Jesus from the dead. Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. Beware, therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets, Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish, for I work a work in your days, a work which you will in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you, (Acts xiii). When the cross of Christ and its happy effects are thus faithfully declared, the word of God is never wholly preached in vain. Some, it is true, will always reject and count themselves unworthy of everlasting life, (Acts xiii, 46). But others will rejoice in the truth, glorifying the word of the Lord; and all those who, by a true poverty of spirit, are disposed for eternal life, shall effectually believe, (verse 48).
Some time afterward, St. Paul delivered a sermon in the prison at Philippi, the capital of Macedonia. St. Luke, his historian, has not favored us with this discourse, but he has transmitted to us the subject matter of it. Despairing sinner, said the apostle to the affrighted jailer, who lay trembling at his feet, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. After hearing thus much, the astonished man collected his family together, and the apostle continued his discourse, declaring unto them all the word of the Lord. Such are the small remains we are able to collect of this excellent sermon. But though we are unacquainted with its several parts, we know that it was attended with the happiest effects; for, before the return of day, this converted jailer, snatched from the very brink of destruction, was seen, with all his believing family, rejoicing in God, (Acts xvi).
When the same apostle was afterward appointed to speak before the senate at Athens, he could not, with propriety, set before those unhumbled philosophers the mystery of the Gospel, (Eph. Vi, 19). But after bearing a public testimony against their superstition and idolatry, he pressed upon them the necessity of an unfeigned repentance; announcing Christ as an omniscient Judge, that he might afterward proclaim him as the compassionate Savior of men, (Acts xvii). To the same purpose was that other sermon of his, which was delivered before the tribunal of Felix, when the Roman governor was seen to tremble under the power of an apostles preaching, (Acts xxiv, 25). The little effect produced by these two last mentioned discourses may be brought as a proof, that the most momentous truths are hidden from the wise and prudent, while they are revealed unto babes, (Matt. Xi, 25).
It was by proclaiming the same mighty Savior that St. Stephen obtained for himself the first crown of martyrdom among the Christians. Behold an abridgment of his celebrated apology: Men, brethren, and fathers, you accuse me of having spoken blasphemously against Moses. But, on the contrary, I publicly acknowledge him as the deliverer of our fathers, and gladly embrace this opportunity of reasoning with you from the character of that favored prophet. He once supposed, that, by certain of his actions, his brethren would have understood how that God, by his hand, would deliver them. But so far were they from understanding any such matter that one of them thrust him away, crying out in an insulting manner, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? This Moses, however, whom they thus refused, was chosen of God to be their future prince and deliverer. This is that Moses who said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me. A prophet whom you will at first reject, as you rejected me; but who, nevertheless, when you shall receive him, will deliver you out of spiritual Egypt, as I once delivered you from the land of bondage, when you gave credence to my word. This promised Savior has already made his appearance among us, whom ye have rejected to your own condemnation. As our fathers rejected Moses in the wilderness, thrusting him from them, and in their hearts turning back again to Egypt, so you have rejected your greater Deliverer. Ye uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One, of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers; ye who have received the law of the disposition of angels, and have not kept it, (Acts vii).
That the powerful preaching of the Gospel is sometimes made the savor of death unto death, (2 Cor. Ii, 16), is sufficiently clear from the following account. After Stephen had finished this discourse, the hearts of his hearers were transported with rage, insomuch that they gnashed upon him with their teeth. Meanwhile the holy martyr continued to proclaim Christ; and, far from being intimidated by their threatenings, looking steadfastly up to heaven in a kind of ecstasy, produced by the strength of his faith, the vigor of his hope, and the ardor of his love, he cried out, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. And while the multitude ran upon him with stones, after committing his own soul to the care of his exalted Savior, he cried, with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. Behold an apology, which was looked upon by the preachers of that day as replete with ignorance and fanaticism, though delivered by an evangelist who was filled with faith and power, and with the Holy Ghost!
The same doctrine was preached by the evangelists, who were dispersed abroad by the persecution excited against Stephen, and was followed by the benediction of the Lord. For we find that some of them, entering into the city of Antioch, spake unto the Grecians there, preaching the Lord Jesus; and the hand of the Lord was with them, so that a great number believed and turned unto the Lord, (Acts xi, 19, 20, 21).
We shall go on to select a few proofs, that all the apostles were of one heart in this matter, preaching Jesus Christ as the Savior of all those who believe in him.
Though St. James professedly wrote his epistle against the error of those who had destroyed the law of charity, by an imaginary faith in Christ, yet so far is he from despising the substantial faith of believers, that, as the servants of God, and of our Lord Jesus Christ, he exhorts false brethren to seek after and manifest it by its proper fruits. He even employs a species of irony to point out the necessity of this powerful grace; Show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works, (James ii, 18). He intimated that our faith must be tried by divers temptations, in order to our becoming perfect and entire before God. Whence we learn that, according to his judgment, the perfection of Christians absolutely depends upon the perfection of their faith, James i, 2-4. On this account he exhorts us to ask wisdom in faith. And lastly, he declares, that the prayer of faith shall be powerful enough to procure health for the sick, and remission for the sinful, (James v, 15).
There needs no more than an attentive perusal of this epistle to convince us that St. James announces a faith which saves the Christian, by producing in him hope, charity, and every good work.
The same doctrine was inculcated by St. Peter, both in his sermons and epistles. Three thousand souls were converted, while he cried out, upon the day of Pentecost, Ye men of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you, by miracles, and wonders, and signs; him, being delivered by the determinate counsel of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain. Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that he, who is the resurrection and the life, (John xi, 25), should be holden of it. This Jesus, therefore, being by the right hand of God exalted, hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear. Therefore, let all the house of Israel assuredly know, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now, when the convicted multitude inquired, in their distress, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Peter answered and said, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, [that is to say, first cordially believe, and then by baptism make a public confession of your faith,] in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, (Acts ii).
His second discourse was to the same effect. The God of our fathers hath glorified his Son Jesus, whom ye delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go. But ye desired a murderer to be granted unto you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses. And faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know; yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all. And now, brethren, repent ye, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord, (Acts iii, 13-19).
His apology before the council was founded upon the same Divine truths. Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone that was set at naught of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved, (Acts iv, 10, 12). Thus St. Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, spake the word of God with boldness, and with great power gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, (iv, 31, 33). Even after being commanded to speak no more in the name of Jesus, he departed from the council, rejoicing that he was counted worthy to suffer shame for his Masters sake, and daily in the temple and in every house, he ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ, (Acts v, 40, 42).
The fourth sermon of this apostle perfectly corresponds with the foregoing. This discourse was delivered in the house of Cornelius, the centurion, to whom an angel had before revealed that Peter should declare unto him things whereby both himself and his house should be saved. Of all the sermons which have ever been preached, this was, perhaps, the most effectual; since it is observed, that the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. Take an abridgment of this powerful discourse. God hath proclaimed peace to the children of Israel by Jesus Christ, whom they slew and hanged on a tree. But he, being raised again by the power of God, commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins, (x, 36, 43).
And, as in his sermons, so also in his epistles, St. Peter was ever anxious to declare salvation through faith in the name of Jesus Christ.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect of God. Blessed be God, who hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, (1 Pet. I, 1-5). It is contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious; and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you, therefore, which be disobedient, he is made a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, (ii, 6-8).
The second Epistle of St. Peter was written for the confirmation of the weak and the establishment of the strong. In the first verse, Christ is represented as the author and finisher of our faith; in the last, the glory of our salvation is expressly ascribed to the same Divine Person. And these two verses may be given as an abridgment of the whole epistle.
This powerful faith, and this adorable Savior, were as constantly proclaimed by the Apostle John. Though St. Luke has not transmitted to us any extracts from his discourses, yet his doctrine is sufficiently manifested in his epistles.
If any man sin, saith this favored apostle, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins, (1 John ii, 1, 2). He was manifested to take away our sins. And this is the commandment of God, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, (iii, 5, 23). Whosoever believeth is born of God whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith, (v, 1, 4). These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may yet more steadfastly believe, (ver. 13).
Many deceivers, continues the same apostle in his second epistle, have entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Whosoever abideth not in the doctrine of Christ hath not God; he that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, hath both the Father and the Son, (2 John 7, 9). Here St. John, foreseeing the melancholy revolution that would one day be effected in the Church by these antichristian teachers, notwithstanding his natural gentleness, cries against them with a holy indignation; If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive them not into your house, neither bid them God speed. For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds, (10, 11).
In his third epistle he expresses the utmost joy over Gaius, on account of his steady adherence to the truth; assuring him that he had no greater joy than to hear that his children continued to walk in the truths of the Gospel. He commends his charity toward the people of God, and exhorts him to continue a fellow helper to the truth, by affording a hospitable reception to those who, with a view of spreading that truth, were journeying from place to place.
St. Jude, in his short epistle, writes thus: Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to exhort you, that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ, (Jude 3, 4). But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life, (verses 20, 21).
The concluding book of the New Testament abounds with striking testimonies to the foregoing truths, and was added for the consolation of the Church in every age. It opens with a sublime eulogy pronounced upon that incomprehensible Savior, who is the Alpha and the Omega, the faithful Witness, the first begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth, who hath loved and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father, for ever and ever, (Rev. I, 5, 6).
The faithful, who groan in secret to behold their Master rejected by Deists, and neglected by the greater part of Christians, attend with holy transport to the representations here given by St. John. Here they perceive that condescending Savior, who was dishonored upon earth, acknowledged and adored by the hosts of heaven. They see the prostrate elders, and behold the innumerable multitude of the redeemed assembled before the throne. They hear that new song of adoration, in which angels and the spirits of just men made perfect unanimously cry out, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing, (Rev. v, 12). These are scenes which the believer is assisted to realize by means of a lively faith, and in which he already bears an humble part, ascribing, with his more exalted brethren, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever, (ver. 13).
This mysterious book concludes with that short prayer of St. John, which shall one day be offered up with the energy of the Holy Spirit, by ten thousand times ten thousand of the faithful, Come, Lord Jesus, fully to accomplish thy gracious promises, (xxii, 20).
If it be here inquired, Do not all ministers maintain this Scriptural faith? I answer, It is a rare thing with the generality of ministers to treat on a point of so vast importance; and even when they are heard to speak of this mighty grace, they represent it as something manifestly different from that living faith by which we are regenerated. If ever they discourse with their catechumens on this subject, they speak as men who attempt to teach what they have yet to learn. They frequently repeat the word faith, but are unable to open its spiritual signification. They take it for granted that all their neighbors are possessed of this grace, except those who openly rejected the word of God; and thus they become perfectly satisfied with that species of faith against which St. Paul and St. James were authorized to denounce the anathemas of the Gospel. On this account, one of the last texts a worldly pastor would make choice of, is that solemn exhortation of the apostle, Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves; know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? (2 Cor. Xiii, 5). The faith with which he contents himself, and which he publishes to others, may be equally possessed by those who are conformable to this present evil world, and those who have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts, (Gal. v, 24). It belongs to self-exalting Pharisees, who boast of their own righteousness, as well as to those humble believers who count themselves unworthy of the benefits they have received.
Farther: so far is the ill-instructed minister from preaching the true faith, that he is always prepared to plead against it. In confirmation of this melancholy truth, take the following relation: --
A believer, whose circumstances frequently engaged him in conversation with a worldly man of his neighborhood, once took occasion to offer him such advice as brotherly charity suggested. After the customary civilities, Sir, said he, we have lived as neighbors long enough to know one another; and, I presume, the intimacy of our acquaintance authorizes us to speak to each other without any reserve. It has given me real satisfaction to observe your constant attendance at our church and your strict attention to her most solemn services. Nevertheless, permit me to express my fears that you are not seeking the kingdom of God with that earnestness and solicitude without which it can never be obtained. Though you are constant at church, yet you are as constant at tables of festivity; and an approaching entertainment appears to afford you greater pleasure than an approaching sacrament. I regularly observe the gazette upon your table, with a variety of new and ingenious publications; but I have never found you perusing the sacred pages of a more important volume. I have heard you speak in an agreeable manner upon twenty different things; but cannot recollect that your conversation ever turned upon what our Lord has described as the one thing needful, (Luke x, 42.) In short, sir, I apprehend from your conduct that you are altogether unacquainted with evangelical faith; and if so, your hope is as fallacious as your devotion is Pharisaical.
Neighbor. I am obliged, sir, by the interest you appear to take in my salvation; but allow me to say, with Solomon, There is a time for all things.
Believer. Yes, sir; for all that is good. But, if you really believe there is a time for all things, is it not amazing that after you have found four seasons in every day convenient for eating and drinking in your family, you should find no proper opportunity, through the whole course of a week, to pour out your prayers with that family before God?
N. It is true, I do not pique myself upon my piety: and I will confess to you, that I frequent the church and the Holy Communion, rather out of decency than choice. But, notwithstanding this, my faith is as orthodox as that of my neighbors. We all believe in God as our Creator and in Christ as our Redeemer, except some few persons, who glory in trampling all revelation under foot. For my own part, I have never erred from the faith since I first became acquainted with the Apostles Creed; and that was so early in life that I cannot recollect who first instructed me in it.
B. It seems, then, neighbor, that you imbibed your faith as you drew in your nurses milk; and you have learned to believe in Christ, rather than in Mohammed, because you happened to be taught the English rather than the Turkish language.
N. That may be. However, if I had been a Mohammed, I trust I might also have been an honest man. I give to every one his due. This is the grand principle upon which I have always acted, and from this I leave every rational man to form a judgment of my faith.
B. Ah, sir! If such are the principles by which your conduct is regulated, then make a full surrender of your heart to God, and consecrate to his service those powers of body and soul which you have received from his bounty, and to which he has so just a title. But, alas! Without piety, your strict justice is like the fidelity of a subject, who fulfils his engagements with a few particular persons, while he withholds the homage due to his rightful sovereign. If such a subject can be termed faithful, then may you, with propriety, be accounted just, while you offer not to God that tribute of love, gratitude, adoration, and obedience, which is your reasonable service. You made a confession but now, that you piqued not yourself upon your piety; it would not have astonished me more had you said that you piqued not yourself upon paying your debts and acting with common honesty in the world. Alas, sir, your boasted principles do but confirm the fears to which your conduct had given rise. I entreat you, in the most solemn manner, to examine yourself, whether you be in the faith.
N. What do you call faith?
B. The Scriptures teach us that we must believe with the heart and that faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen, (Heb. Xi, 1). He, therefore, who truly believes in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, carries within him a lively demonstration of the Almightys presence, which penetrates him with sentiments of fear, respect, and love, for a Being so powerful, just, and good: he possesses an internal evidence of the affection of that Redeemer upon whom alone he grounds his hope of salvation, saluting him, with Nathanael, as the Son of God, the King of Israel, (John i, 49): and he discovers in his own heart the most indisputable testimonies of the sanctifying and consoling operations of the Holy Spirit. Now, from this threefold demonstration he is enabled to say, with suitable sentiments of gratitude and devotion, Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God, (1 John iii, 1). He hath made us accepted in the Beloved, in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, (Eph. I, 6, 7); and the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God, (Rom. Viii, 16). Tell me, then, since you boast of having received the Christian faith, have you ever experienced those salutary effects of faith, which I have now described?
N. If that demonstration and that lively representation of which you speak are essential to Christian faith, I must confess that to such a faith I am a perfect stranger. But the writings of St. Paul, whose definition of faith you have just cited, are generally looked upon as remarkably dark and mysterious; I wish you had rather quoted St. John.
B. I doubt, sir, whether you will gain anything by such an appeal. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, saith St. John, is born of God. This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John v, 1-5). You perceive, sir, that according to this apostle, faith is a principle of grace and power sufficiently forcible and victorious to regenerate and make us partakers of the Divine nature, enabling us to triumph equally over the most seducing, as well as the most afflicting occurrences in the world. Have you obtained, or have you even sought the faith of which such excellent things are spoken.
N. You embarrass me. I never heard the least intimation of such a faith in this country.
B. Indeed, sir, you are in an error, since this very faith is plainly set forth in the sixteenth chapter of the Helvetic Confession. The Christian faith, say the pious ministers who composed that work, is not a mere human opinion or persuasion, but a state of full assurance: it not only gives a constant and clear assent to, but also comprehends and embraces the truths of God, as proposed to us in the apostles creed. The soul, by this act, unites itself to God, as to its only, eternal, and sovereign good, and to Jesus Christ as the centre of all the promises. Have you, then, this Divine persuasion, this full assurance of the truths of our holy religion? And have you experienced this act by which the soul is united to God, through Christ, as to its sovereign good?
N. I have, undoubtedly, a persuasion that the word of God is true. But how may I absolutely determine whether or no I am a possessor of the faith of which you speak?
B. If you are possessed of faith, you have some experimental knowledge of those happy effects of that grace, which are thus enumerated in the same confession: True faith restores peace to the conscience. It procures a free access to God, enabling us both to approach him with confidence, and to obtain from him the things which we need. It retains us in the path of obedience, enduing us with power to fulfill our several duties both to god and our neighbor. It maintains our patience in adversity, and disposes us, at all times, to a sincere confession of our confidence. To sum up all in a single word, it produces every good work. Let it be observed, says the same confession, that we do not here speak of a pretended faith, which is vain, ineffectual, and dead, but of a living, effectual, and vivifying faith. This is a doctrine which St. James cannot be understood to combat, seeing he speaks of a vain and presumptuous confidence, of which some were known to boast, while they had not Christ living in them by means of faith.
N. Christ living in them by means of faith! I pray, sir, what is to be understood by this expression? I do not comprehend the thing. But, if I recollect, I shall have an opportunity, in a few hours, of mentioning the matter to our pastor, whom I expect here this evening to make up a party at cards. The true believer, after thanking his worldly neighbor for the patience with which he had listened to his conversation, took his leave and withdrew, apprehending every evil consequence from the decision of a pastor who was known to indulge a taste for play and vain amusement. His fears were too well founded. The minister, true to his engagement, arrived at the appointed hour, and the gentleman thus eagerly addressed him: I have been receiving some singular advice from a person of a very unaccountable turn, who appears to agree either with the Mystics or the Pietists. He spoke much of faith, asserting that all true Christians are really regenerate, and that they have Christ living in them by faith. What think you, sir, of such assertions as these? I will tell you freely, replied the minister, that these abstruse points of doctrine are among those profound mysteries, which neither you nor I are appointed to fathom. It is usual with enthusiasts to speak in this manner: but such mystic jargon is now out of season. There have been ages in which divines were accustomed to speculate concerning this faith, and publicly to insist upon it in their sermons. But, in an age like this, enlightened by sound philosophy and learned discoveries, we no longer admit what we cannot comprehend. I advise you, as a friend, to leave these idle subtilties close shut up in the unintelligible volumes of our ancient theologists. The only material thing is to conduct ourselves as honest men. If we receive revelation in a general sense, and have good works to produce, there can be no doubt but that our faith is of a proper kind, and highly acceptable before God. To this short discourse the card table succeeded, which served to strengthen the bands of intimacy between our careless clergyman and his deluded neighbor: so perfectly alike were their faith and their manners.
The circumstances alluded to in the above relation are not imaginary; and there is every reason to fear, that circumstances of the same nature are no less common in other Christian countries, than in that which gave birth to the writer of these pages.
Thus the worldly minister, instead of preaching this important doctrine in its purity, seeks to destroy even the curiosity which would engage an irreligious man to inquire into the necessity, the nature, the origin, and the effects of evangelical faith. And while the generality of those who are required to publish this victorious grace are seen to reject it with contempt, no wonder that the true minister esteems himself obliged to contend for it, with increasing earnestness, both in public and private, (Jude 3).
To close this section. When the Christian minister proclaims salvation by faith, he adheres, not only to the Holy Scriptures, but also to those public confessions of faith, which are in common use among the Churches of Christ. We believe, say the Churches of France, that every thing necessary to our salvation was revealed and offered to us in Christ, who is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, (Art. Xiii). We believe that we are made partakers of righteousness by faith alone; since it is said, that he [Christ] suffered in order to procure salvation for us, and that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, (Art. Xx). We believe that, by this faith, we are regenerated to newness of life, being by nature in bondage to sin. So that faith, instead of cooling in us the desire of living righteously and godly, naturally tends to excite such desire, and necessarily produces every good work, (Art. Xxii).
Such also is the doctrine of the Helvetic Confession: We believe, with St. Paul, that sinful man is justified by faith alone in Jesus Christ, and not by the law. Faith receives Jesus, who is our righteousness; and on this account justification is attributed to faith. That by means of faith we receive Jesus Christ, he himself has taught us in the Gospel, where he significantly uses the terms applied to eating for believing; for, as by eating we receive bodily nourishment, so by believing we are made partakers of Christ, (chap. Xv). Man is not regenerated by faith, that he should continue in a state of indolence, but rather that he should apply himself, without ceasing, to the performance of those things which are useful and good: since the Lord hath said, Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, (Matt. Vii, 19): he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit, (John xv, 6).
The Church of England expresses herself in the following terms upon salvation by faith, and the good works produced by that faith: -- We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works and deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort, (Art. Xi). Good works do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known, as a tree discerned by the fruit, (Art. Xii).