« AnteriorContinua »
enter the world in a mean and low condition, and humble himself to a death upon the cross, that is, to be executed as a malefactor, in order, by whatever means it was done, to promote the attainment of salvation to mankind, and to each and every one of themselves, was a theme they dwelt upon with feelings of the warmest thankfulness; because they were feelings proportioned to the magnitude of the benefit. Earthly benefits are nothing compared with those which are heavenly. That they felt from the bottom of their souls. That, in my opinion, we do not feel as we ought. But feeling this, they never cease to testify, to acknowledge, to express the deepest obligation, the most devout consciousness of that obligation to their Lord and Master; to him whom, for what he had done and suffered, they regarded as the finisher of their faith, and the author of their salvation.
ALL STAND IN NEED OF A REDEEMER.
Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.-Hebrews ix. 26.
IN a former discourse upon this text I have shown, first, That the Scriptures expressly state the death of Jesus Christ as having an efficacy in the procurement of human salvation, which is not attributed to the death or sufferings of any other person, however patiently undergone, or undeservedly inflicted; and farther, it appears that this efficacy is quite consistent with our obligation to obedience; that good works still remain the condition of salvation, though not the cause; the cause being the mercy of Almighty God through Jesus Christ. There is no man living, perhaps, who has considered seriously the state of his soul, to whom this is not a consoling doctrine, and a grateful truth. But there are some situations of mind which dispose us to feel the weight and importance of this doctrine more than others. These situations I will endeavour to describe; and, in doing so, to point out how much more satisfactory it is to have a Saviour and Redeemer, and the mercies of our Creator excited towards us, and communicated to us by and through that Saviour and Redeemer, to confide in and rely upon, than any grounds of merit in ourselves.
First, then, souls which are really labouring and endeavouring after salvation, and with sinceritysuch souls are every hour made sensible, deeply sensible, of the deficiency and imperfection of their endeavours. Had they no ground, therefore, for hope, but merit, that is to say, could they look for nothing more than what they should strictly deserve, their prospect would be very uncomfortable. I see not how they could look for heaven at all. They may form a conception of a virtue and obedience which might seem to be entitled to a high reward; but when they come to review their own performances, and to compare them with that conception; when they see how short they have proved of what they ought to have been, and of what they might have been, how weak and broken
were their best offices; they will be the first to confess, that it is infinitely for their comfort that they have some other resource than their own righteousness. One infallible effect of sincerity in our endeavours is, to beget in us a knowledge of our imperfections. The careless, the heedless, the thoughtless, the nominal Christian, feels no want of a Saviour, an intercessor, a mediator, because he feels not his own defects. Try in earnest to perform the duties of religion, and you will soon learn how incomplete your best performances are. I can hardly mention a branch of our duty, which is not liable to be both impure in the motive, and imperfect in the execution; or a branch of our duty in which our endeavours can found their hopes of acceptance upon any thing but extended mercy, and the efficacy of those means and causes which have procured it to be so extended.
In the first place, is not this the case with our acts of piety and devotion? We may admit, that pure and perfect piety has a natural title to reward at the hand of God. But is ours ever such? To be pure in its motive, it ought to proceed from a sense of God Almighty's goodness towards us, and from no other source, or cause, or motive whatsoever. Whereas even pious, comparatively pious men, will acknowledge that authority, custom, decency, imitation, have a share in most of their religious exercises, and that they cannot warrant any of their devotions to be entirely independent of these causes. I would not speak disparagingly of the considerations here recited. They are oftentimes necessary inducements, and they may be the means of bringing us to better; but still it is true, that devotion is not pure in its origin, unless it flow from a sense of God Almighty's goodness, unmixed with any other reason. But if our worship of God be defective in its principle, and often debased by the mixture of impure motives, it is still more deficient, when we come to regard it in its performances. Our devotions are broken and interrupted, or they are cold and languid. Worldly thoughts intrude themselves upon them. Our worldly heart is tied down to the earth. Our devotions are unworthy of God. We hift not up our hearts unto him. Our treasure is upon earth, and our hearts are with our treasure. That heavenly-mindedness which ought to be inseparable from religious exercises does not accompany ours; at least not constantly. I speak not now of the hypocrite in religion, of him who only makes a show of it. His case comes not within our present consideration. I speak of those who are sincere men. These feel the imperfection of their services, and will acknowledge that I have not stated it more strongly than what is true. Imperfection cleaves to every part of it. Our thankfulness is never what it ought to be, or any thing like it; and it is only when we have some particular reason for being pleased that we are thankful at all. Formality is apt continually to steal upon us in our worship: more especially in our public worship; and formality takes away the immediate consciousness of what we are doing; which consciousness is the very life of devotion; all that we do without it being a dead ceremony.
No man reviews his services towards God, his religious services, but he perceives in them much to be forgiven, much to be excused; great unworthiness as respecting the object of all worship;
much deficiency and imperfection to be passed | added, that in those whose power of doing good, over, before our service can be deemed in its nature according to any mode, is small, the principle of an acceptable service. That such services, there-benevolence will at least restrain them from doing fore, should, in fact, be allowed and accepted, harm. If the principle be subsisting in their hearts, and that to no less an end and purpose than the attainment of heaven, is an act of abounding grace and goodness in Him who accepts them; and we are taught in Scripture, that this so much wanted grace and goodness abounds towards us through Jesus Christ; and particularly through his sufferings and his death.
But to pass from our acts of worship, which form a particular part only of our duty to God; to pass from these to our general duty, what, let us ask, is that duty? What is our duty towards God? No other, our Saviour himself tells us, than "to love him with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind:" Luke x. 27. Are we conscious of such love to such a degree? If we are not, then, in a most fundamental duty, we fail of being what we ought to be. Here, then, as before, is a call for pardoning mercy on the part of God; which mercy is extended to us by the intervention of Jesus Christ; at least so the Scriptures represent it.
In our duties towards one another, it may be said, that our performances are more adequate to our obligation, than in our duties to God; that the subjects of them lie more level with our capacity; and there may be truth in this observation. But still I am afraid, that both in principle and execution our performances are not only defective, but defective in a degree which we are not sufficiently aware of. The rule laid down for us is this, "to love our neighbour as ourselves." Which rule, in fact, enjoins, that our benevolence be as strong as our self-interest: that we be as anxious to do good, as quick to discover, as eager to embrace every opportunity of doing it, and as active, and resolute, and persevering in our endeavours to do it, as we are anxious for ourselves, and active in the pursuit of our own interest. Now is this the case with us? Wherein it is not, we fall below our rule.. In the apostles of Jesus Christ, to whom this rule was given from his own mouth, you may read how it operated; and their example proves, what some deny, the possibility of the thing; namely, of benevolence being as strong a motive as self-interest. They firmly believed, that to bring men to the knowledge of Christ's religion was the greatest possible good that could be done unto them; was the highest act of benevolence they could exercise. And, accordingly, they set about this work, and carried it on with as much energy, as much order, as much perseverance, through as great toils and labours, as many sufferings and difficulties, as any person ever pursued a scheme for their own interest, or for the making of a fortune. They could not possibly have done more for their own sakes than what they did for the sake of others. They literally loved their neighbours as themselves. Some have followed their example in this; and some have, in zeal and energy, followed their example in other methods of doing good. For I do not mean to say, that the particular method of usefulness, which the office of the apostles cast upon them, is the only method, or that it is a method even competent to many. Doing good, without any selfish worldly motive for doing it, is the grand thing: the mode must be regulated by opportunity and occasion. To which may be
it will have this operation at least. I ask therefore again, as I asked before, are we as solicitous to seize opportunities, to look out for and embrace occasions of doing good, as we are certainly solicitous to lay hold of opportunities of making advantage to ourselves, and to embrace all occasions of profit and self-interest? Nay, is benevolence strong enough to hold our hand, when stretched out for mischief? is it always sufficient to make us consider what misery we are producing, whilst we are compassing a selfish end, or gratifying a lawless passion of our own? Do the two principles of benevolence and self-interest possess any degree of parallelism and equality in our hearts, and in our conduct? If they do, then so far we come up to our rule. Wherein they do not, as I said before, we fall below it.
When not only the generality of mankind, but even those who are endeavouring to do their duty, apply the standard to themselves, they are made to learn the humiliating lesson of their own deficiency. That such our deficiency should be overlooked, so as not to become the loss to us of happiness after death; that our poor, weak, humble endeavours to comply with our Saviour's rule should be received and not rejected;-I say, if we hope for this, we must hope for it, not on the ground of congruity or desert, which it will not bear, but from the extreme benignity of a merciful God, and the availing mediation of a Redeemer. You will observe that I am still, and have been all along, speaking of sincere men, of those who are in earnest in their duty, and in religion; and I say, upon the strength of what has been alleged, that even these persons, when they read in Scripture of the riches of the goodness of God, of the powerful efficacy of the death of Christ, of his inediation and continual intercession, know and feel in their hearts that they stand in need of them all.
In that remaining class of duties, which are called duties to ourselves, the observation we have made upon the deficiency of our endeavours applies with equal or with greater force. More is here wanted than the mere command of our actions. The heart itself is to be regulated; the hardest thing in this world to manage. The affections and passions are to be kept in order; constant evil propensities are to be constantly opposed. I apprehend that every sincere man is conscious how unable he is to fulfil this part of his duty, even to his own satisfaction; and if our conscience accuse us, "God is greater than our conscience, and knoweth all things." If we see our sad failings, He must.
God forbid that any thing I say, either upon this or the other branches of our duty, should damp our endeavours. Let them be as vigorous and as steadfast as they can. They will be so if we are sincere; and without sincerity there is no hope; none whatever. But there will always be left enough, infinitely more than enough, to humble self-sufficiency.
Contemplate, then, what is placed before us-heaven. Understand what heaven is: a state of happiness after death; exceeding what, without experience, it is possible for us to conceive, and unlimited in duration. This is a reward in
finitely beyond any thing we can pretend to, as of right, as merited, as due. Some distinction between us and others, between the comparatively good and the bad, might be expected; but on these grounds, not such a reward as this, even were our services, I mean the services of sincere men, perfect. But such services as ours, in truth, are, such services as, in fact, we perform, so poor, so deficient, so broken, so mixed with alloy, so imperfect both in principle and execution, what have they to look for upon their own foundation? When, therefore, the Scriptures speak to us of a redeemer, a mediator, an intercessor for us; when they display and magnify the exceeding great mercies of God, as set forth in the salvation of man, according to any mode whatever which he might be pleased to appoint, and therefore in that mode which the Gospel holds forth; they teach us no other doctrine than that to which the actual deficiencies of our duty and a just consciousness and acknowledgment of these deficiencies, must naturally carry our own minds. What we feel in ourselves corresponds with what we read in Scripture.
THE EFFICACY OF THE DEATH OF CHRIST CONSISTENT WITH THE NECESSITY OF A GOOD LIFE: THE ONE BEING THE CAUSE, THE OTHER
THE CONDITION OF SALVATION.
tion of the goodness of God, leads to the allowing of thyself in sin: this is not to know what that consideration ought in truth to lead to: it ought to lead thee to repentance, and to no other concinsion.
Again: When the apostle had been speaking of the righteousness of God displayed by the wickedness of man; he was not unaware of the misconstruction to which this representation was hable, and which it had, in fact, experienced: which misconstruction he states thus,-"We be slanderously reported, and some affirm, that we say, let us do evil that good may come." This insinuation, however, he regards as nothing less than an unfair and wilful perversion of his words, and of the words of other Christian teachers: therefore he says concerning those who did thus pervert them, "their condemnation is just:" they will be justly condemned for thus abusing the doctrine which we teach. The passage, however, clearly shows, that the application of their expressions to the encouragement of licentiousness of life, was an application contrary to their intention; and, in fact, a perversion of their words.
In like manner in the same chapter, our apostle had no sooner laid down the doctrine, that "a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law," than he checks himself, as it were, by subjoining this proviso: "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law." Whatever he meant by his assertion concerning faith, he takes care to let them know he did not mean this, "to make void the law," or to dispense with obedience.
What shall we say then? shall we continue in But the clearest text to our purpose is that, unsin, that grace may abound? God forbid.-doubtedly, which I have prefixed to this discourse. Romans vi. 1.
THE same Scriptures which represent the death of Christ as having that which belongs to the death of no other person, namely, an efficacy in procuring the salvation of man, are also constant and uniform in representing the necessity of our own endeavours, of our own good works for the same purpose. They go further. They foresaw that in stating, and still more when they went about to extol and magnify the death of Christ, as instrumental to salvation, they were laying a foundation for the opinion, that men's own works, their own virtue, their personal endeavours, were superseded and dispensed with. In proportion as the sacrifice of the death of Christ was effectual, in the same proportion were these less necessary if the death of Christ was sufficient, if redemption was complete, then were these not necessary at all. They foresaw that some would draw this consequence from their doctrine, and they provided against it.
It is observable, that the same consequence might be deduced from the goodness of God in any way of representing it: not only in the particular and peculiar way in which it is represented in the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ, but in any other way. St. Paul, for one, was sensible of this, and therefore, when he speaks of the goodness of God, even in general terms, he takes care to point out the only true turn which ought to be given to it in our thoughts-"Despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" as if he had said,—With thee, I perceive, that the considera
Saint Paul, after expatiating largely upon the "grace," that is, the favour, kindness, and mercy of God, the extent, the greatness, the comprehensiveness of that mercy, as manifested in the Christian dispensation, puts this question to his reader
"What shall we say then? shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?" which he answers by a strong negative-"God forbid." What the apostle designed in this passage is sufficiently evident. He knew in what manner some might be apt to construe his expressions; and he anticipates their mistake. He is beforehand with them, by protesting against any such use being made of his doctrine; which, yet he was aware, might by possibility be made.
By way of showing scripturally the obligation and the necessity of personal endeavours after virtue, all the numerous texts which exhort to virtue, and admonish us against vice, might be quoted; for they are all directly to the purpose: that is we might quote every page of the New Testament. "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of hea ven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them."-In both these texts the reward attends the doing: the promise is annexed to works. Again: "To them, who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighte ousness, tribulation, and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil." Again: "Of the which," namely, certain enumerated vices, "I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things, shall not inherit the king
it casts the sufferings of this life at such a distance, as not to bear any comparison with it: will any one contend, that this is no more than what virtue deserves, what, in its own proper nature, and by its own merit, it is entitled to look forward to, and to receive? The greatest virtue that man ever attained has no such pretensions. The best good action that man ever performed has no claim to this extent, or any thing like it. It is out of all calculation, and comparison, and proportion above, and more than any human works can possibly de
To what then are we to ascribe it, that endeavours after virtue should procure, and that they will, in fact, procure, to those who sincerely exert them, such immense blessings? To what, but to the voluntary bounty of Almighty God, who, in his inexpressible good pleasure, hath appointed it so to be! The benignity of God towards man hath made him this inconceivably advantageous offer. But a most kind offer may still be a conditional offer. And this, though an infinitely gracious and beneficial offer, is still a conditional offer, and the performance of the conditions is as necessary as if it had been an offer of mere retri
dom of God." These are a few amongst many that there is no way of describing it, but by saytexts of the same effect, and they are such as caning that it surpasses human comprehension, that never be got over. Stronger terms cannot be devised than what are here used. Were the pur pose, therefore, simply to prove from Scripture the necessity of virtue, and the danger of vice, so far as salvation is concerned, these texts are decisive. But when an answer is to be given to those, who so interpret certain passages of the apostolic writings, especially the passages which speak of the efficacy of the death of Christ, or draw such inferences from these passages, as amount to a dispensing with the obligations of virtue; then the best method of proving, that theirs cannot be a right interpretation, nor theirs just inferences, is by showing, which fortunately, we are able to do, that it is the very interpretation, and these the very inferences, which the apostles were them selves aware of, which they provided against, and which they protested against. The four texts, quoted from the apostolic writings in this discourse, were quoted with this view: and they may be considered, I think, as showing the minds of the authors upon the point in question more determinately than any general exhortation to good works, or any general denunciation against sin could do. I assume, therefore, as a proved point, that whatever was said by the apostles concerning the effi-bution. The kindness, the bounty, the generocacy of the death of Christ, was said by them un- sity of the offer, do not make it less necessary to der an apprehension that they did not thereby in perform the conditions, but more so. A condiany manner relax the motives, the obligation, or tional offer may be infinitely kind on the part of the necessity of good works. But still there is the benefactor who makes it, may be infinitely beanother important question behind; namely, wheneficial to those to whom it is made. If it be from ther, notwithstanding what the apostles have said, or may have meant to say, there be not, in the nature of things, an invincible inconsistency between the efficacy of the death of Christ, and the necessity of a good life; whether those two propositions can, in fair reasoning, stand together; or whether it does not necessarily follow, that if the death of Christ be efficacious, then good works are no longer necessary; and, on the other hand, that if good works be still necessary, then is the death of Christ not efficacious.
Now, to give an account of this question, and of the difficulty which it seems to present, we must bear in mind, that in the business of salvation there are naturally and properly two things, viz. the cause and the condition; and that these two things are different. We should see better the propriety of this distinction, if we would allow ourselves to consider well what salvation is: what the being saved means. It is nothing less than, after this life is ended, being placed in a state of happiness exceedingly great, both in degree and duration; a state, concerning which the following things are said: "the sufferings of this present world are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed.”, “God hath in store for us such things as pass man's understanding." So that, you see, it is not simply escaping punishment, simply being excused or forgiven, simply being compensated or repaid for the little good we do, but it is infinitely more. Heaven is infinitely greater than mere compensation, which natural religion itself might lead us to expect. What do the Scriptures call it? "Glory, honour, immortality, eternal life." "To them that seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life." Will any one then contend, that salvation in this sense, and to this extent; that heaven, eternal life, glory, honour, immortality; that a happiness such as
a prince or governor, may be infinitely gracious and merciful on his part; and yet, being conditional, the condition is as necessary, as if the of fer had been no more than that of scanty wages by a hard taskmaster.
In considering this matter in general, the whole of it appears to be very plain; yet, when we apply the consideration to religion, there are two mistakes into which we are very liable to fall. The first is, that when we hear so much of the exceedingly great kindness of the offer, we are apt to infer, that the conditions upon which it was made, will not be exacted. Does that at all follow? Because the offer, even with these conditions, is represented to be the fruit of love, and mercy, and kindness, and is in truth so, and is most justly so to be accounted, does it follow that the conditions of the offer are not necessary to be performed? This is one error into which we slide, against which we ought to guard ourselves most diligently; for it is not simply false in its principle, but most pernicious in its application; its application always being to countenance us in some sin which we will not relinquish. The second mistake is, that when we have performed the conditions, or think that we have performed the conditions, or when we endeavour to perform the conditions, upon which the reward is offered, we forthwith attribute our obtaining the reward to this our performance or endeavour, and not to that which is the beginning and foundation, and cause of the whole, the true and proper cause, namely, the kindness and bounty of the original offer. This turn of thought likewise, as well as the former, it is necessary to warn you against. For it has these consequences; it damps our gratitude to God, it takes off our attention from Him.
Some, who allow the necessity of good works to salvation, are not willing that they should be called
and the performance of certain duties, a reward,
conditions of salvation. But this, I think, is a distinction too refined for common Christian appre-in magnitude and value, out of all competition behension. If they be necessary to salvation, they are conditions of salvation, so far as I can see, It is a question, however, not now before us.
But to return to the immediate subject of our discourse. Our observations have carried us thus far; that in the business of human salvation there are two most momentous considerations, the cause and the conditions, and that these considerations are distinct. I now proceed to say, that there is no inconsistency between the efficacy of the death of Christ and the necessity of a holy life, (by which I mean sincere endeavours after holiness;) because the first, the death of Christ, relates to the cause of salvation; the second, namely, good works, respects the conditions of salvation; and that the cause of salvation is one thing, the conditions another.
The cause of salvation is the free will, the free gift, the love and mercy of God. That alone is the source, and fountain, and cause of salvation; the origin from which it springs, from which all our hopes of attaining to it are derived. This cause is not in ourselves, nor in any thing we do, or can do, but in God, in his good will and pleasure. It is, as we have before shown, in the graciousness of the original offer. Therefore, whatever shall have moved and excited, and conciliated that good will and pleasure, so as to have procured that offer to be made, or shall have formed any part or portion of the motive from which it was made, may most truly and properly be said to be efficacious in human salvation.
This efficacy is in Scripture attributed to the death of Christ. It is attributed in a variety of ways of expression, but this is the substance of them all. He is "a sacrifice, an offering to God; a propitiation; the precious sacrifice foreordained; the lamb slain from the foundation of the world; the lamb which taketh away the sin of the world. We are washed in his blood; we are justified by his blood; we are saved from wrath through him; he hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." All these terms, and many more that are used, assert in substance the same thing, namely, the efficacy of the death of Christ in the procuring of human salvation. To give to these expressions their proper moment and import, it is necessary to reflect, over and over again, and by reflection to impress our minds with a just idea, what and how great a thing salvation is; for it is by means of that idea alone, that we can ever come to be sensible, how unspeakably important, how inestimable in value, any efficacy which operates upon that event must be to us all. The highest terms in which the Scriptures speak of that efficacy are not too great: cannot be too great; because it respects an interest and an event so vast, so momentous, as to make all other interests, and all other events, in comparison contemptible.
The sum of our argument is briefly this. There may appear, and to many there has appeared, to be an inconsistency or incompatibility between the efficacy of the death of Christ, and the necessity of sincere endeavours after obedience. When the subject is properly examined, there turns out to be no such incompatibility. The graciousness of an offer does not diminish the necessity of the condition. Suppose a prince to promise to one of his subjects, upon compliance with certain terms,
yond the merit of the compliance, the desert of the performance; to what shall such a subject ascribe the happiness held out to him? He is an ungrateful man, if he attribute it to any cause whatever, but to the bounty and goodness of his prince in making him the offer; or if he suffer any consideration, be it what it will, to interfere with, or diminish his sense of that bounty and goodness. Still it is true, that he will not obtain what is offered, unless he comply with the terms. So far his compliance is a condition of his happiness. But the grand thing is the offer being made at all. That is the ground and origin of the whole. That is the cause; and is ascribable to favour, grace, and goodness, on the part of the prince, and to nothing else. It would, therefore, be the last degree of ingratitude in such a subject, to forget his prince while he thought of himself; to forget the cause, whilst he thought of the condition; to regard every thing promised as merited. The generosity, the kindness, the voluntariness, the bounty of the original offer, come by this means to be neglected in his mind entirely. This, in my opinion, describes our situation with re spect to God. The love, goodness, and grace of God, in making us a tender of salvation, and the effects of the death of Christ, do not diminish the necessity or the obligation of the condition of the tender, which is sincere endeavours after holiness; nor are in any wise inconsistent with such obligation.
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is this, To visit the fatherless and vidows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.-James i. 27.
NOTHING can be more useful than summary views of our duty, if they be well drawn and rightly understood. It is a great advantage to have our business laid before us altogether; to see at one comprehensive glance, as it were, what we are to do, and what we are not to do. It would be a great ease and satisfaction to both, if it were possible for a master to give his servant directions for his conduct in a single sentence, which he, the servant, had only to apply and draw out into practice, as occasions offered themselves, in order to discharge every thing which was required or expected from him. This, which is not practicable in civil life, is in a good degree so in a religious life; because a religious life proceeds more upon principle, leaving the exercise and manifestation of that principle more to the judgment of the individual, than it can be left where, from the nature of the case, one man is to act precisely according to another man's direction.
But then, as I have said, it is essentially neces sary that these summaries be well drawn up, and rightly understood; because if they profess to state the whole of men's duties, yet, in fact, state them partially and imperfectly, all who read them are misled, and dangerously misled. In religion, as in other things, we are too apt of ourselves to