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Gal. ii. 20, “ I am crucified with Christ : nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God." And Phil. iv. 13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Now, since the best of men are thus dependant on Christ for a life of holiness since all spiritual strength for such a life is derived, by faith, from him; the answer is natural to those who inquired, “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” “ This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”
Our subject may be applied and improved to the following purposes :
1. To make us cautious not to entertain wrong ideas of saving faith. Such definitions have been given of it by many, as render their doctrine of justification by faith alone, liable to just and weighty objections. If we explain that faith by which alone men become infallibly entitled to eternal salvation, as being only a bare conviction that the gospel réport is true; or to be only a confident belief that they themselves are elected and shall be saved, we thus make void the law; and likewise the great design of the gospel. Such a faith as either of these, pre-supposes no holiness of heart; and will not ne cessarily, or naturally, be productive of any real holiness of life. If, on the contrary, conformably to the evangelist John, we suppose that as many as receive Christ, become the sons of God; having been previously born, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God :" if we suppose regeneration prior to saving faith, and that faith implies a cordial reception of Christ in all his mediatorial offices, with a hearty determination to be his obedient subjects; then, though “ we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the
deeds of the law,” good works will be effectually secured, and the law most honorably established.
2. We may hence judge what is truth, in regard to the importance of maintaining or denying, that our justification before God, is by faith alone in the righteousness of Christ.
The smooth Doctor, several times refered to in the preceding discourse, gliding over the capital points of contention among christians, and pronouncing them all of contemptible insignificance, says; “ I will further instance in the disputes about justification. There are no disputes which have disturbed the christian church much more ; nor are there any which can appear, to a considerate man, more unmeaning and trifling. The principal subject of these disputes has been the question, whether we are justified by faith alone, or by faith in conjunction with good works. You should consider, with respect to this question, that those who hold notions the most rigid, make justifying faith to be the seed and principle of personal holiness ; and that there is no sect of christians (however extravagant their doctrines may be) which have not some expedient or salvo for maintaining the necessity of good works. If they say that personal holiness is not a condition of justification, they say what amounts to the same, that it is a qualification which must be found in all justified persons, and that without it we cannot be accepted. If they say that we are justified by faith alone, they add, that we cannot be justified by that faith which is alone (that is, by a faith not accompanied with good works) and that it is only on the virtuous believer, or the man who proves the truth of his faith by his works, that the grace of God in Christ will confer future happiness. How trifling then have been the controversies on this subject ? As long as all hold that the practice of righteousness is necessary to bring us to heaven, what does it signify whether it
is necessary as the condition of heaven, or as an indispensible qualification for it?"
Thus suddenly, and with the utmost ease, we have a final settlement of this troublesome controversy ! But, by this hasty decision, both parties will not be satisfied. The dispute may not be so very trifling on one side, however needless it should appear to have been on the other. If all who hold the doctrine of justification by faith alone, had so explained themsclvcs that the most jealous advocates for good works could have no great occasion to dispute against it ; still there may be reason enough to contend earnestly for it, as one of the most essential articles of the faith once delivered to the saints. Notwithstanding all acknowledge, that a recovery to personal holiness is an essential part of our salvation, and that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God, upon the gospel plan ; yet, between holding that we are justified by faith alone, and by faith in conjunction with good works ; there is as wide a difference as between trusting entirely in the righteousness of Christ, and partly in our own righteousness, as the meritorious ground of acceptance with God. And if any man does the latter, an apostle will tell him, he is fallen from grace, and Christ shall profit him nothing. It may easily be taken for granted, that the doctrine of justification by faith is an error ; and it may be shown, without much difficulty, that it is not a very dangerous error.
But those who are convinced it is a gospel truth, and who rightly understand the reasons of it, will not so easily give it up, or cease to insist npon it, if they have any concern for the glory of God, or the salvation of men.
3. It may hence be seen that ministers of the gospel may well direct even unregenerate sinners to believe in Clirist to the saving of their souls; and represent this as their indispensible duty, and the only way of peace and safety. We have the highest
authorities for such directions and representations. When the jailor said to Paul and Silas,“
Sirs, what must I do to be saved ?” they answered him immediately, “ Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” And you see what was the answer of our divine Lord and Teacher, to those whose hearts were carnal, when they inquired what they should do that they might work the works of God. Nor can sinners have any thing to object against the reasonableness of such directions, or against their obligation to a compliance with them, except what must arise from the blindness, the hardness, the total wickedness of their hearts.
4. Hence let those who are following directions short of this, be cautioned not to make a righteouspiess of their external duties, or to think they are working the works of God, while they do not truly believe on him whom he hath sent.
Awakened sinners, if they reform their lives, and become constant in attending upon the outward and ordinary means of grace, often grow easier in their minds, thinking that they are now doing their duty, and are in a hopeful way to obtain mercy: thinking God's anger will now be turned away from them, since they are doing the best they can. Such self-righteous imaginations are undoubtedly the ruin of many souls. You ought not, indeed, to be careless about the externals of morality, nor to neglect a constant attendance on the instituted means of instruction and conversion. Nor are you to think there is no hope from the use of these means, while you are not true believers. There is encouragement to search the scriptures, since these testify of Christ, and a careful perusal of them is the way to see for yourselves, what you are to believe concerning him. There is encouragement to attend upon the word preached, and to be attentive to it, since faith cometh by hearing. There is encouragement to pray, since faith is
the gift of God ; and since attempting to pray, in your present unhappy condition, has a tendency to convince you of the depravity of your hearts, and of your total want of the spirit of grace and supplication. But you ought to be told, and must be made to know, that however your lives may be reformed, and however much you may read, and hear, and pray; as long as your hearts reject the only Saviour, and
you do nothing in the exercise of faith in him, you cannot please God, or be at all acceptable in his sight : nor can we assure you that he will ever give you renewing grace. You are condemned still, as much as ever ; and the wrath of God, as much as cver, abideth on you ; and is this a state in which you ought to make yourselves easy ! Certainly, in a case of so much danger, and in a matter of such everlasting consequence, you ought to give yourselves no rest, till you have fled for refuge and laid hold on the hope set before you. Till you have received Christ, and are found in him; not having your own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. Very pertinent to the case of an awakened sinner, out of Christ, is the angel's admonition to Lot, when led by the hand out of Sodom : “ Escape for thy life ; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain : escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.”
5. Let those who think themselves believers, be cautioned not to rest in faith, as if this were the only work required of them, or the only thing that will have any influence on their condition in the world to come. They who have believed in God, and also in Christ, must be careful to maintain good works. In point of duty, the gospel enjoins sinless perfection, as much as the law : nor are any under so great obligation as true believers, to abound in the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the