JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH.
ROMANS 3.25.—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, through the forbearance of God.
THE glorious transaction of our redemption by Jesus Christ, is the just surprise and wonder of the reasonable creation. The angels desire to look into these things; and man, who is immediately interested herein, has especial reason to adore the amazing love, that shines with such lustre in his deliverance from death and hell. And what brightens the glory of this stupendous work, and gives us occasion of the highest exercise of gratitude, is the infinite price, by which our salvation is purchased. For thus saith the Scripture—"We are redeemed, not by corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." And God hath purchased his church with his own blood. Thus the price of our deliverance bears proportion to the degree of our misery and guilt. When these were so aggravated, that all the angels in heaven were insufficient for our rescue; when no created wisdom could invent an effectual expedient; when no created power was equal to the vast design; God our Saviour looked, and there was none to help; and wondered that there was none to uphold. He therefore himself interposed, and his own arm brought salvation. According to the appointment of God the Father, our Lord-Redeemer has undertaken to be a propitiation for us, that through faith in the merits of his blood, we may be interested in his righteousness, and obtain the remission of our sins; as we are instructed in the words of our text;
In which we may note the following particulars:
1. Observe the person here spoken of, represented by the relative whom, which leads us to the last words of the foregoing verse—"Jesus Christ whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation.''
2. We may observe the character here attributed to this person, that is, a propitiation or atonement. The Greek word here rendered propitiation, is very emphatical, and signifies one person's being substituted in the room and place of another, to bear his guilt, or to discharge his debt; and thereby to make atonement or satisfaction on his account. By which is exhibited to us, how the Lord Jesus Christ undertook to become a curse for us, to bear our sins in his own body on the tree, that he might thereby expiate our guilt, pacify offended justice, and reconcile us to God.
3. We are here shown the divine appointment of this glorious person to be a propitiation for us. "Whom God hath set forth," proposed or ordained. This merciful provision of God for our recovery from ruin by the atonement of Christ, is the fruit and consequence of the eternal covenant of redemption, or counsel of peace between them both. God the Father, as the first in order in the blessed Trinity, is represented as proposing or appointing, and God the Son as undertaking this glorious work. Whereby is not only shown how the operations of this blessed Three in One do follow the order of their personality, but also how God the Father, as sustaining the character of supreme in the economy of redemption, demands satisfaction to offended justice, and has allotted this way of obtaining it, by Christ's being a propitiation for us, that in this way "he might be just, and yet the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus."
4. Here is pointed out to us the means or method of our getting actually interested in this propitiation, "through faith in his blood." It is through a believing acceptance of, and dependence upon the death and sacrifice of the Redeemer, that we are to partake of the benefits of his atonement. His satisfaction is sufficient for all, but actually applied, and effectual to none but the believer.
5. We may note the blessed fruit and consequence of an interest in this propitiation of Christ; "the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God." All the sins committed before justification, while God so patiently exercised his forbearing goodness to the guilty sinner, are fully remitted and for ever done away, through the merits of this atonement, upon the first exercise of a true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, insomuch that the sinner is at once reconciled to God, and instated in his favour.
But there are three things here, that more especially demand our attention, and which I shall endeavour more distinctly to consider:
First, What is implied in our Lord Jesus Christ's being a propitiation for us.
Secondly, What we are to understand by that faith in him, by means of which we are interested in this propitiation.
Thirdly, How faith in Christ operates or influences to bring about our remission and justification in the sight of God. As to the nature of justification, I shall have occasion to consider that in my next discourse, and therefore pass it at present.—Here,
I. Then, I am to show what is implied in Christ's being a propitiation for us.—And that I may illustrate this in the most familiar and perspicuous manner I am capable of, I shall endeavour to be somewhat particular and progressive in my attempts to explain it.—Now,
1. This implies, or rather presupposes the guilty condemned state of apostate man, and our utter inability to recover ourselves. The apostasy of Adam, I mean the guilt thereby contracted, was, by a just imputation, transmitted to all his natural posterity, so that we are all become guilty before God. And the contagion or pollution, contracted by the apostasy, being also propagated to the miserable progeny of a condemned rebel, hence all our affections and passions are corrupted and defiled, and our conversation being a stream from this polluted fountain, is become irregular and sinful, whereby we have lost the favour of God, and are the objects of his righteous displeasure. This is plainly the case of the whole world of mankind, while in a state of nature. This fatal fruit of the fall does indeed seem one of the darkest dispensations of providence, and is what carnal reason is exceedingly apt to cavil at. But I think I have given such answers to the chief objections made against it, in my discourse on this subject, as may justly quiet our minds, and silence all our opposition.
This, then, being our distressed case, whither could we flee for help? It is evident to every one's observation, that we cannot come up to that unspotted obedience, which God has the justest claim to from a rational creature; that our best duties and most careful observances of the law of nature, are sadly defiled with sin; that we have vicious habits and inclinations, which we cannot conquer; and that our carnal minds are enmity against God, are not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. Whence it is certain, we are so far from being capable of atoning for our apostasy, that we are utterly incapable to live up to the law of nature, had that breach been made up.
If any will suppose, that our repentance would have been sufficient to have appeased the divine displeasure, without any other satisfaction: I would ask them how they can be certain of this. I would desire them to show what necessary connexion there is between the sorrow of guilty rebels for their sins, and the favour of an offended God, without a satisfaction or atonement. And I would inquire, whether they have this good news for the fallen angels. It would be such glad tidings, as I dare say, they had never heard since their first apostasy. But were even this supposed, still I inquire, how would that afford any relief in our case? For we are naturally incapable of a true repentance, by any power of our own, as much as of making a strict and adequate atonement. We are too much in love with sin, to loath and abhor it, as of ourselves. The habits of sin too intimately adhere to our souls, to be wholly subdued and forsaken, by any attempts or resolutions of ours. And can we please God with a partial and insincere repentance, which is all we can pretend to? Can God be deceived, or will he be mocked? No, surely! We can neither discharge the debt already contracted, nor avoid running further into debt every day.
2. This also implies or presupposes that divine justice demanded satisfaction for our offences, in order to our reconciliation unto God. I shall not undertake to determine whether the punishment of sin be indispensably necessary from the nature of God and naturally results from his essential righteousness and purity, absolutely considered. It is indeed certain, that holiness and justice are essential perfections in God; that he is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity; and that his justice being infinite, must be inflexible. But, mankind not having adequate ideas of these divine perfections, we may err in our reasonings and deductions from them. However, I think we may safely affirm that God's requiring satisfaction for sin, is agreeable to his rectoral holiness and governing justice; and that as he is the supreme Judge and Governor of the world, he justly requires sin should be punished; that by this he may illustrate and vindicate his own holiness, and convince the world, that the "righteous Lord loveth righteousness;" and that "the wicked his soul hateth." Psalm 11.5,7. That by this he may testify his adherence to his own laws; and let the world see, "that Heaven and earth shall sooner pass away, than one jot or tittle shall pass from them." Matt. 5.18. That by this he may discover the value he puts upon the obedience of his creatures; and show that their observance of his law is not a vain thing for them, because it is their life. Deut. 32.47. And that by this he may assert his own sovereignty; and the world may see, that "verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth." Psalm 58.11. I might add, by this he also brandishes a flaming sword against the impiety of future transgressors; and discovers, that "to him belongeth vengeance and recompense." Deut. 32.35. The truth of God does certainly make satisfaction for sin necessary. He threatened death as the consequence of the fall. Gen. 2.17. And his word is immutable, like his infinite nature. Hath he said it, and will he not do it? What he has spoken, he is able also to perform; and being the God of truth, will he not bring it to pass? In a word, God's actually requiring satisfaction for sin, is a fact abundantly confirmed in the Scriptures; and therefore cannot but be owned a reality. Among the multitudes of Scriptures that might be cited in this case, you may consider these that follow. Exod. 34.7. "That will by no means clear the guilty." Josh. 26.19. "He is an holy God, he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins." Rom. 3.5,6. "Is God unrighteous, who taketh vengeance. I speak as a man, far be it: For how then shall God judge the world?" Which shows, that as God is judge of the world, it is a righteous thing for him to take vengeance. Rom. 3.26. "To declare at this time his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." Which shows, that the satisfaction of Christ was requisite, in order to God's being just, in the justifying of sinners; and that it would not have been agreeable to his justice, to have saved them without satisfaction. Rom. 6.23. "The wages of sin is death." This is so, both from the justice and law of God.
3. This implies, that the blessed Redeemer undertook to represent poor guilty criminals; and to give himself a ransom for them. This is a doctrine discoverable only by revelation; and I can no ways explain it, but by showing in what light the Scriptures set this before us. And in those blessed oracles, God the Father is exhibited as admitting, by virtue of his supremacy in the dispensation of man's redemption, the transferring our sin and punishment to the Mediator; and accordingly as sending him to undertake our salvation. Thus, John 3.16,17. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world, to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." Rom. 8.3. "For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us." 2 Cor. 5.21. "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." 1 John 4.9,10. "In this was manifested the love of God towards us; because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God: but that he loved us; and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." The Scriptures also represent the Lord Jesus Christ, as freely and voluntarily consenting to undertake this great work; unto which he could be liable to no constraint. Mark 10.45. "For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister; and to give his life a ransom for many." John 10.17,18. "I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me; but I lay it down of myself; I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." Tit. 2.14. "Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity." Heb. 10.7. "Then said I, Lo, I come, in the volume of the book it is written of me, to do thy will, O God." The Scriptures do moreover set forth the Redeemer, in the quality of our surety and representative, in this wonderful transaction. Heb. 8.22. "By so much, was Jesus made a surety of a better testament." 1 Pet. 2.24. "Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we being dead to sin, might live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed." 1 Pet. 3.18. "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit." In which texts, the substitution of the Lord Jesus Christ in our room and stead is clearly and strongly expressed, in his bearing our sins, and suffering for us, and the like expressions are very numerous throughout the New Testament. I will only add, that the Scriptures represent the sufferings of Christ, and his obedience unto the death, as a proper sacrifice and atonement for us, and as the purchase of our redemption. Isa. 53.10. "When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed." Eph. 5.2. "And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us; and given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet smelling savour.'' Heb. 3.17. "That he might be a merciful and faithful high priest, in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people." See also 1 Cor. 6.20. Tit. 2.14, with many other passages to the same purpose, which frequently occur in the sacred pages. Let men therefore strain their wits as much as they can, to put false glosses upon these and such like texts of Scripture, there is nothing more certain, than that the proper satisfaction and atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ for the sins of the world, is in the strongest, most plain and familiar terms, repeatedly asserted in the word of God.1 If we have any regard at all to the way of salvation proposed in the gospel, we must expect redemption through the alone merits of his life and death; and depend upon him as our ransom, as the propitiation for our sins, and the Lord our righteousness.
I am aware, that there are some difficulties in the way of this doctrine, which the carnal mind is ready to stumble at. It is an objection against this, that it is not just, to accept of and punish the innocent instead of the guilty. To which I answer:
It must be granted, that in human judicatures this would be most unjust, thus to transfer capital punishment; because no man has power to dispose of his own life at pleasure, nor power to give his life for another, be sure not the just for the unjust. Neither hath the civil magistrate power thus to sacrifice a good man for a bad, though even with his own consent; because it would be highly injurious to the community to cut off the innocent and valuable member, and to spare the guilty criminal as a pest and nuisance to society. But these reasons do not affect the case now before us. Our Redeemer had power to lay down his life, and power to take it up again. As he was the Lord from heaven, he had the absolute property and disposal of his own life. And he has declared himself the Son of God with power, by his resurrection from the dead. And instead of this being injurious to the community, it has brought most glorious advantages to us, both with respect to the present and future world. I may add to this, that our blessed Saviour, did not finally perish; as a substitute must do, in capital punishments among men. No; he underwent but a short temporary death, and received his life again, with greatest advantage. From whence it appears, that those objections, which would be just in other cases, can have no place here. The character and quality of the substitute, and the absolute sovereignty of the supreme Judge, render the case exempt from all the rules of human judicatures. It is true indeed, that the justice of God could not have demanded satisfaction from the Redeemer, if he had not voluntarily made himself responsible for us: but Christ having a more absolute and sovereign disposal of his own life, than any man can have of his estate, he might as freely offer it, and God the Father as justly accept it, in satisfaction for our sins, as any man can be accepted as surety for another man's debt.
It may also be objected, that this seems derogatory to the goodness of God, to have penal satisfaction lead the way to the exercise of mercy; and that this represents the divine Being too like the most merciless of human creatures, who have such an appetite to revenge, as cannot be satisfied without blood: whereas it would seem more agreeable to infinite goodness, to pardon freely.
I answer, the mistake lies in the objector, and he only, I think, has unworthy notions of God. To imagine the death of Christ flowed from an irregular appetite to vengeance, is indeed to measure the divine perfections by our depraved lusts and passions. But to suppose, that God's demand of satisfaction arises from, or at least is consonant to, the infinite purity of his nature, whereby he cannot look upon sin with approbation, but testifies his abhorrence of it to all the rational world: to suppose that the righteous Governor of the world, should inflict punishments, as well as bestow rewards, according to the rectitude and equity of his own glorious nature: to suppose, that this glorious lawgiver should insist upon maintaining the honour of his own laws, whereby he has determined to govern the world; this is not to entertain thoughts in any respect unworthy of infinite grace and goodness. The goodness of God does hereby shine in its brightest lustre, that he is willing to save poor guilty rebels at such an infinite expense; and that in such an admirable method, mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other.
4. Christ's being a propitiation for us does also imply, that God did accept of the passive obedience of Christ, together with his active, as sufficient satisfaction to the demands of justice. "Jesus Christ hath made reconciliation for the sins of the people." Heb. 2.17. And he has reconciled the world to God, that their trespasses are not imputed. 2 Cor. 5.18,19. Thus peace is made with God, and we reconciled to him by his cross, the enmity being slain. Eph. 2.15,16. So that the imputation of the obedience of Christ, does fully and perfectly acquit the believer from the guilt of sin, the empire of Satan, the curse of the law, and the damnation of hell. God has received satisfaction from the surety; and therefore will demand no more from the principal debtor.
Thus I have briefly considered what is implied in Christ's being a propitiation for us; and have endeavoured to confirm each particular, by full and clear testimonies from the word of God. From this view of the case, it appears to me as reasonable, to call the whole of divine Revelation into question, as to doubt of this great article, Christ's having made a proper satisfaction and atonement by his blood, for the sins of his people.
Now of the things of which I have spoken, this is the sum. That by our first apostasy we have violated the fundamental laws of nature, have been traitors and rebels to the Sovereign of the world, have plunged ourselves into guilt, debased and polluted all the noble faculties of our souls; and separated between our God and us; whereby we are not only become guilty, but impotent and helpless: that the Supreme Governor of the world, willing to assert the infinite purity and holiness of his nature, and his eternal and immutable antipathy to sin and sinners, has testified the value he puts upon his righteous laws, and upon the observance of them; has vindicated his sovereign dominion, and the truth of his threatenings; and has set before the rational world the dreadful consequences of rebelling against him; by insisting upon a satisfaction to his offended justice; that when we were utterly incapable to make atonement, by anything less than eternal sufferings, the great God, as Supreme Judge and Arbiter of his own laws and affairs of government, was pleased of his infinite goodness and compassion, so far to relax the threatening, as in our stead to accept of a surety in the person of his dear Son; who was with his own voluntary consent appointed by the Father to work out our redemption, by taking upon him our sin and guilt, bearing our punishment, and fulfilling the law for us, and thereby purchasing our acquittance from death and hell, and recovery to life and happiness. The blessed fruit of his mediation is, that there is no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus; but whoso hath the Son, hath life, life everlasting.
Thus I am prepared to take notice, in what way we may hope for the benefits of this redemption; which brings me to consider,
II. What are we to understand by that faith in Christ, through which we have an interest in this propitiation. And it may be proper to take notice, that a saving faith is variously described in the Holy Scriptures. Particularly,
1. It is sometimes described, as an assent of the mind to the gospel revelation of Christ. Thus, Mark 1.15. "Repent ye, and believe the gospel." So, 1 John 5.1. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God." And, Rom. 10.9. "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus; and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." In these and many other like passages of Scripture, a saving faith is proposed as an act of the understanding; and as an assent unto, or belief of the truth of the gospel.
2. Faith is sometimes described in Scripture, as a consent of the will to the gospel offer of salvation by Christ. Thus, John 1.12. "To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God; even to them that believe on his name." And, John 6.35. "He that cometh unto me, shall never hunger; and he that believeth in me, shall never thirst." So, Col. 2.6, "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him." In which texts we find, that receiving Christ, and believing on his name, and coming to him, and believing in him, are terms of the same significancy: and all of these expressions imply a willingness to obtain the salvation by Christ, upon his own terms.
3. Faith is also described in Scripture, as a confiding in and depending upon the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Thus, Eph. 1.12. "That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ." Phil. 3.9. "And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law: but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." 2 Tim. 1.12. "For I know whom I have believed; and am persuaded, that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day." In which texts, faith is considered as our trusting in Christ, hoping to be found in him, relying upon his righteousness, and committing our souls to him.
By this it appears, that faith is sometimes described by one of its essential properties, and sometimes by another: but we must always remember, that when it is described by one of these properties, the other two are not excluded, but included; and that therefore each of these descriptions, if duly considered, will amount to the same thing.
If we, for example, consider faith as an assent to the gospel revelation concerning Christ, which, by the way, is the primary signification of the word faith, it will necessarily include in it a consent to what we believe, and an affiance in him on whom we believe. For this assent, or belief of the truth, must be supposed such a strong and thorough persuasion as will have a proper and effectual influence upon our minds. A mere doctrinal belief, or speculative opinion, cannot be recommended in Scripture as a saving faith. And this being supposed, that we have a firm realizing belief, and a lively impression, that Christ is the Saviour of the world, that his righteousness imputed to us is the only ground of our justification, that without this we must inevitably perish, and that he is both able and willing to save us; it will necessarily excite in us earnest desires after an interest in him, after union and communion with him, and bring us to place our hope and confidence in him only for salvation. We may have, as most of the professing world have, a disciplinary or notional belief of the truth of the gospel, that will produce no proper effect upon our souls, but will leave us, against the conviction of conscience, to neglect an offered Saviour, indulge our lusts, and perish in them. But though such a dead faith will profit us nothing, yet we cannot but esteem the Lord Jesus Christ to be precious, we cannot but choose him for our portion, and depend upon him to do all in us and for us, if we have lively and clear impressions of the truth of what the gospel reports concerning him. Though a careless indifferent or unsteady assent unto the gospel revelation, will not bring us off from our lusts and sinful pleasures, from our own righteousness and self-sufficiency, to receive Christ and depend upon him; yet a full realizing and hearty assent to this will bring us to consent to the offers of the gospel, and to place our confidence in the only object of our hope. Thus we see, that this first description of faith includes the other two, and if we distinctly consider them also, we shall find the same conclusion.
A consent, for instance, to the offers of Christ and his salvation in the gospel, necessarily implies an assent to the truth of the gospel. For it is impossible that we should, with our wills, concur to any proposal, that our understandings are not convinced of the truth of. It implies also a dependence upon Christ for salvation. For it is impossible to consent to receive Christ for our Saviour, and not depend upon him as such.
The same thing may also be observed, with respect to trusting in Christ, the last description of faith. For we cannot depend upon Christ, and confide in him, unless we assent to the gospel revelation, and consent to accept him as our Saviour. Upon the whole, these several descriptions of faith, do mutually imply and involve each other, and all of them do always belong to the essence of a saving faith; which makes way for this general description:—
Faith in Christ is such an assent to the Christian revelation, as brings us heartily and fully to receive him as he is therein exhibited to us, and to depend on him only for salvation upon gospel terms.
Here let it be distinctly observed,
1. Faith in Jesus Christ necessarily implies an assent to the gospel revelation. I am not now considering how far God may discover his salvation to the heathen world, who are strangers to the gospel. As on the one hand, I would not limit the Holy One of Israel, who may, for aught I know, reveal his Son in an extraordinary manner to some that never heard of the gospel; so on the other hand, I would leave secret things to God, unto whom they belong.2The business now before me is to consider a saving faith, as it relates to us, who dwell under gospel light, and are arrived at an age of consideration and observation. And in that view of the case, a hearty assent to the truths revealed in the gospel, is certainly essential to a true faith in Christ.
Unto this assent it is necessary, that we have a knowledge of the doctrines of the gospel, and of the way of salvation therein proposed. "How shall they call upon him, in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him, of whom they have not heard?" Rom. 10.14. Faith always follows the understanding, and cannot go before it. It is impossible to believe strictly and properly, what we do not in some respect understand. We may, indeed, in the general, believe that to be the truth, the special nature of which we neither understand nor believe. We may, for instance, believe the doctrine of the Trinity to be an undoubted truth, though we can neither understand, nor believe the particular modes, or manner how the divine Being is One in Three, and Three in One. In such cases, we can believe no more than what our understanding represents to us, from the word of God, as reasonable and credible. This being applied to the present case, makes it evident, that they who remain grossly ignorant of the doctrine of Christ, and the method of salvation, proposed in the gospel, cannot concur in it, nor comply with it. Ignorance here slays men in the dark, and makes them incapable of any benefit by an offered Saviour. We must therefore first know all that is really necessary to be believed; upon which account knowledge is sometimes in Scripture put for faith. Thus, John 17.3, "This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." And, 1 Cor. 2.2, "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." Though men may be capable of faith in Christ without brightness of parts, or eminent degrees of knowledge, either in polemical or systematical divinity, as it is called; yet it is needful that they be acquainted with the principal doctrines of Christianity, such as relate to the one only Mediator, Jesus Christ, his person, offices and benefits, his incarnation, life, sufferings and death, his resurrection, ascension, and intercession; and such as relate to their own lost estate, and necessary dependence upon his righteousness and grace for justification and life, in order to their believing in Christ.
Moreover it is also needful, that we heartily receive this revelation for divine truth, when we do understand it. It is necessary, that we receive it not as the word of man, but as it is in truth, the word of God, in order that it should effectually work in us, as in them that believe. 1 Thess. 2.13. It is not sufficient to believe this from the bias of education, or because we have been early and all along taught these doctrines. Alas, we should have been likely to have had the same faith in Mahomet, if we had been as early and constantly instructed in the Koran. It is not sufficient to have an implicit belief of these truths, to take them upon trust from any man or society of men whatsoever; this is to depend upon other men's faith, and have none of our own. It is not sufficient inconsiderately to take these things for granted, without making particular and due inquiry; this may possibly amount to opinion, but not to faith. Nor is it sufficient to give a cold and inactive assent to the gospel, though founded upon the best evidence, and most rational argumentation; for this will not effectually convince us of our absolute necessity of Christ, nor of his sufficiency to supply all our wants. But we must receive the testimony of God concerning his Son, and assent to the gospel report as the truth of God, as that upon which our eternal welfare depends, and as that which we are above all things in the world concerned about. If it be objected, that this will yet fall short of true faith; that the devils themselves give as firm an assent to the truth of the gospel as we can do—"they believe and tremble"—I grant that a bare assent to the gospel, separately considered, if never so steady and strong and rational, is not a saving faith; but yet it is always an essential part of it, though faith, as I before observed, has more implied in it; which brings me to consider,
2. That a saving faith does also imply a receiving the Lord Jesus Christ, as offered in the gospel. This, as I showed before, is given as a description of faith, John 1.12. By which we are to understand, a hearty desire of an interest in Christ, and a sincere willingness to comply with the offers he makes of himself and his saving benefits, upon gospel terms.
This necessarily supposes, that we have an impressed sense of our necessity of an interest in Christ. Sinners are but hardly brought to embrace an offered Saviour. The most of the world are quiet and secure in a state of guilt, without any just apprehension of their danger, and without any serious concern about the welfare of their immortal souls. These go their way to their farms and merchandise, and excuse themselves from coming to Christ—they have something else to do. And as to others that are under some conviction of their sin and danger, they are ready to fly to any other refuge than the Saviour Christ, and to quiet their consciences with their good purposes or performances; until they are brought to see, that "in vain is salvation hoped for, from the hills and from the multitude of mountains;" that they have no where to go for salvation but to Christ alone, for he and he only hath the words of eternal life. These two things are essentially necessary to a true faith in Christ, a lively sense of our own emptiness, and inability to help ourselves, and a like sense of the sufficiency of Christ to relieve us. By the former we discover the last necessity of some remedy, beyond what we can possibly provide for our distressed souls. By the latter, the only door of hope is set open to us; and by both, we are made willing to comply with the blessed proposals of life and peace in the gospel, and submit to the terms whereon they are offered. While sinners can think themselves "rich, and increased in goods, and that they have need of nothing," they will set no special value by an offered Saviour. They must see themselves "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked," before they will repair to him, for "gold tried in the fire, that they may be rich; for white raiment that they may be clothed; and for eye-salve, that they may see." And this is the great reason of the unsuccessfulness of gospel ordinances, and of the unpersuadableness of the greatest part of the world to come unto Christ, that they might have life. They are insensible of their undone miserable state while at a distance from him: "The whole need not a physician, but they that are sick." They can rest quiet in their present attainments, and will therefore look no further. They will never come to Christ, till they are first brought to utterly despair of all help in themselves. And when they are even brought to this, it will have no better effect, than to fill them with horror and amazement, unless they have also a discovery that there is help to be had; that there is hope for their souls, from the sufficiency of redeeming love. But when they have both these discoveries, they cannot but see their necessity of Christ; and whatever else they want, they cannot but be willing to receive him upon any terms.
Moreover, this receiving of Christ does also suppose our complying with him as our King, as well as our Saviour. It is true, that sinners under a sense of their misery and danger do, in the first place, desire salvation from the wrath to come, of which they have awful apprehensions, and therefore repair to Christ for deliverance. But this is only a legal work. If they rest here, they will never be interested in Christ and his saving benefits. A true evangelical faith excites an earnest desire of salvation from the power and pollution of sin, as well as from guilt and danger. The believer desires Christ to save him from his sins, and not in them; he desires that Christ may reign in his heart, and that his whole man, in all its powers, may be subjected to him. There is no man willing to perish; destruction from God would be a terror to the worst of men, if realized; and since they know that there is no way of salvation but by Christ, they desire by him a salvation from hell, yet, however, it is with a reservation of their lusts and sinful pleasures, which they cannot part with. But this is very far short of a genuine saving faith, which receives a whole Christ with our whole heart; Christ in all his offices, as well as with all his benefits; the grace of Christ for our sanctification, as well as his righteousness for our justification. As a true penitent looks upon his sins as his greatest burthen, and groans after deliverance from the pollution and dominion of them, so the true believer values an interest in Christ upon this account, that he may break the yoke, and destroy the empire of his lusts: that the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, may make him free from the law of sin and death. Thus faith receives Christ as our Prince and Saviour. And this is the constant language of a true faith. Isaiah 33.22. "The Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King: he will save us."
I add to this, that it is also necessary unto a receiving of Christ, that we most earnestly endeavour in the use of all appointed means to obtain an interest in him upon his own terms. If ever we receive Christ at all, it must be in that way. We are not to wait in an idle unconcernedness for the operations of the Holy Spirit to compel us to come to Christ—no, but with an humble sense of our own impotency, and with a dependence on the spirit of grace, we must seek and strive, and lay ourselves out with unwearied diligence in the methods of duty prescribed in the gospel, to obtain an interest m Christ and his salvation. Receiving of Christ is indeed a metaphorical expression, that denotes an active acceptation, and it would be an abuse of it, to imagine from it that we are to sit still, without care or pains, until this glorious gift be thrust into our hands; but we must put ourselves into the way where it is offered, if we ever hope to receive it. And it may be depended upon, that Christ will never bestow himself upon any, but those who are first brought to think an interest in him worth seeking after. He is said to "walk in the midst of the golden candlesticks," Rev. 1.18, thereby intimating, that he is to be found in the way of his own ordinances. And we are directed, if we would find him, to go our way forth, by the footsteps of the flock, Cant. 1.8, that is, in the way in which all true believers have sought, and in which they have found communion with him. In this way we must seek grace to receive the Lord Jesus Christ, and in this way we must exercise that grace, when we have obtained it. If we be partakers of Christ at all, it must be by an active reception, by a faith accompanied with earnest diligent seeking him in the ways of God's appointment; for the neglect of duty is not a receiving, but a rejecting of Christ, and a practical declaration, that we "will none of him," that we "will not have this man to rule over us." The act of faith by which we receive the Lord Jesus Christ, is indeed distinct from the duties of religious worship; but as faith must be obtained in a way of duty, so it is necessarily productive of a life of duty in all that have it. The faith therefore, which I am describing, though in its nature distinct from diligence in duty, yet implies this as necessary, both to its being and operations. And thus I am prepared to take notice of the other thing contained in the description of this grace.
3. That faith in Jesus Christ does also imply a depending upon him, and him only, for salvation. That is, it implies a believing in him, as the author of our eternal salvation, as "the Lord our righteousness," as "the fountain of life," and of all our grace. It implies, that we "look to him," to do all in us, and all for us, and that we bring both our persons and services to God "in his name," pleading the merits of his cross, and his perfect righteousness, as our only title to the divine favour.
But that we may have a just view of what is signified by our depending upon Christ, it must be premised—That it is necessary in order to this, that we heartily renounce all dependence on ourselves, upon what we have done, are doing, or can do, as to justifying us in the sight of God, and procuring our acceptance with him. We must indeed be diligent in duty—we must endeavour to be found "walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless." It is in vain to hope for salvation in any other way, than that of diligent seeking and striving for it. But then, when we have done all, we must not only see ourselves to be unprofitable servants, but to have fallen infinitely short of the demands of justice, and therefore to have no claim to the least favour from the hands of God. We must be sensible, that "all our righteousnesses are but filthy rags;" that there is so much sinful imperfection cleaving to our best duties, as might justly condemn both us and them; that the "iniquity of our holy things" might "separate between God and us," and that our very tears of repentance want washing in the blood of Christ. Thus, while engaged in a most diligent application to duty, and in a most strict life of religion, we must at the same time cast our best performances at the foot of Christ, and account all that we are, have and can do, "but dung, that we may win Christ." Phil. 3.7. We shall otherwise build upon the sand, and our hopes will fall in the day of trial.
Our depending upon the Lord Jesus Christ does also suppose, that we actually and sincerely place all our hopes of acceptance with God, upon what he hath done and suffered for us. We are, by our sins, become guilty before God, and under a sentence of condemnation, and the blood of Christ is the only atonement to expiate this guilt, and to free us from the damning power of the law. We have forfeited all title to future happiness, and Christ's obedience unto the death, is the only purchase of our eternal salvation, by which we may hope for it, or lay claim to it. Now a saving faith is such an effectual apprehension of this as causes us to disclaim all other pretensions to God's favour, to "make mention of Christ's righteousness and that only," as the price of our pardon and happiness, and to expect, that "being justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him." The sum of the matter is, all our hope of pardon and justification is from the merits of the cross and obedience of Christ; all our hope of salvation is from Christ's having fulfilled all righteousness for us, and it is through receiving him by faith, that we are interested in this righteousness, and in the way of depending upon this righteousness, that we claim the favour of God. Faith looks upon Christ as our Redeemer, and expects "justification from God freely by his grace, through the redemption that there is in Christ." By faith we consider him as our only hope, our only help, and our only salvation, and rely upon him accordingly. As faith empties us of ourselves, and shows us that we are lost and undone, notwithstanding any thing we do or can do; so it discovers an abundant fullness and sufficiency in Christ, upon which we may safely trust, and venture our eternal interests. It shows us, that although we can do nothing ourselves, which will procure the favour of God, or entitle us to it, yet Christ has done enough for us, to reconcile us to God, and to answer all the demands of justice. Thus by faith we rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. We go forth unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach; and go up from the wilderness, leaning upon our beloved.
If any should now inquire—What place is there for good works, if we are to have all our dependence upon what Christ has done and suffered for us? I answer, we must depend upon him in the way of a carefulness to maintain good works. Tit. 3.8. And we can safely depend upon him in no other way. All other dependence, exclusive of this care of exemplary living, is not faith, but presumption. "For faith without works is dead." Though we are justified by faith without the deeds of the law, Rom. 3.28; yet the faith by which we are justified, is never, in case of opportunity, without the deeds of the law, though in truth animated by gospel motives, and springing from evangelical principles. They that have faith unfeigned dwelling in them, will live godly in Christ Jesus. Faith alone justifies, by receiving and depending upon the righteousness of Christ for justification; but the faith which justifies is never alone. For being thereby united to Christ as a branch to the vine, we shall bring forth fruit, much fruit, whereby our heavenly Father is glorified. It is a sanctifying faith, as well as a justifying.
Thus I have endeavoured briefly to set in view the nature and properties of a true saving faith. I have shown that the essence of a true faith consists in a hearty assent to the gospel revelation concerning Christ; in a hearty consent to the gospel offer of Christ, his offices and benefits; and in a hearty dependence upon what Christ has done and suffered for us, as the ground of our pardon and justification, and the price of eternal salvation. I have shown that our assent to the gospel revelation supposes a sufficient knowledge of the way of salvation therein revealed, for faith must follow the understanding, and cannot go before it; and that it supposes a reception of this revelation for divine truth, when we do understand it; for our faith should not stand in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God. I have shown that our consent to the gospel offer, or our receiving of Christ upon gospel terms, supposes such a sense of our necessity of an interest in Christ, as makes us earnestly desire, and cheerfully comply with any terms of obtaining it; for we shall never accept an offered Saviour upon his own terms, as long as we can do without him; that it supposes we accept him as our King, as well as our Saviour, for he must save us from our sins, and not in them; and it supposes that we receive him in the use of means, and not in the neglect of them, for the neglect of duty is a practical rejection of Christ. I have shown that our dependence upon Christ supposes that we renounce all confidence in ourselves, in any thing we do or can do; for he will be a complete Saviour, and the only Saviour, or none at all; and that it supposes we place all our confidence in his active and passive obedience; for he is the Lord our righteousness, and in him shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.
And now I am prepared to consider,
III. How faith in Christ is concerned in bringing about our remission and justification in the sight of God. And I shall endeavour to explain this, by observing,
1. Negatively, that faith does not reconcile us to God, considered subjectively, or as it is our own act. The act of believing is no more a condition of our justification, than the act of repenting, or the exercise of any other grace or duty. There are no works of righteousness which we have done, or can do, that will save us, whether they be considered as our legal or evangelical righteousness. Our legal righteousness, or deeds of the law, cannot save us, because they cannot atone for our past offences, nor can they in any instance come up to the demands of the law, but in every thing fall short of the perfection thereby required. Nor may we imagine, that our evangelical righteousness or obedience to the gospel can save us, because that would be to place merit in our repenting and believing, and to set our faith in the room of Christ's obedience, which is the only price of our justification. Though we are said to be justified by faith, we are no where said to be justified for it. This act of ours, as well as all others, is very imperfect, and accompanied with much sinful unbelief at the best, therefore stands in need of pardon itself, and so cannot possibly merit our salvation.
But now I would say affirmatively,
2. Faith justifies us, as it is the instituted means of our obtaining an interest in what Christ has done and suffered for us. "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." Rom. 10.10. We are espoused by faith to Christ, and in this way his benefits are dispensed to us. The Lord Jesus Christ has performed a perfect obedience for us, as I have particularly shown above, and has purchased salvation for all that are interested in that obedience. He has done and suffered all that the law required of us. He has fully answered its penal demands. He has been made sin for us, who knew no sin. He has borne our sins in his own body upon the cross. He has undergone the wrath of God, as well as of men and devils, for our sakes, that he might propitiate an offended God, and pay the debt which our sins had contracted. He has obeyed the whole preceptive part of the law; been perfect in his compliance with all its commands, and fulfilled all righteousness, that he might entitle us to the eternal inheritance and purchase salvation for us. And all this he has done in the capacity of our surety. It is in our name, place, and stead that he has wrought out this perfect righteousness. An interest in him does therefore invest us with this righteousness, and make it as much ours, and pleadable by us, as if it had been in fact personally performed by ourselves.
Now it is by faith that we obtain an actual interest in him, and so are clothed upon with his righteousness, and in that respect we are justified by faith. The gospel proclaims the happy tidings of Christ and redemption; faith assents to, and entertains this blessed proclamation. The gospel makes a free tender of purchased salvation to sinners, sensible of their need of it, and willing to accept it; faith complies with the offer, and readily embraces a tendered Saviour. The gospel proposes Christ's righteousness, and that only, for our justification; faith makes us "esteem all things but loss and dung, that we may win Christ, and be found in him." The gospel requires a life of holy obedience unto God, as a proper fruit and evidence of faith, as a testimony of our acceptance of this offered Saviour, and our gratitude to him. Unfeigned faith produces this happy effect wherever it is. Faith purifies the heart, and works by love. So that faith is in every thing a compliance with what the gospel requires to the constituting and determining us justified persons. Christ is the end of the law, for righteousness, to every one that believeth. He that is once brought to live by the faith of the Son of God, is no longer under the law, but under grace; no longer considered as in Adam, by whose disobedience he was made a sinner, but as in Christ, by whose obedience he is made righteous. And thus faith brings us pardon and salvation, as it unites us to Christ, interests us in his perfect obedience, and makes his righteousness ours. Whence the righteousness of God is said to be "revealed from faith to faith." Rom. 1.17. And we are told, that "the righteousness of God is by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all, and upon all them that believe." Rom. 3.22.
3. Faith has the promise of Christ's continual intercession for us. Our highest attainments in faith and holiness, are accompanied with many imperfections. In many things we all offend. And as we are daily chargeable with new sins, we stand in daily need of renewed pardon and justification; upon which account Jesus Christ, the righteous, is represented as our advocate with the Father, to procure this for us; and to bestow it upon us, 1 John 2.1. The apostle puts an emphasis on Christ's intercession, Rom. 8.34, "Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." Now being interested in Christ by faith, we have an interest in his intercession: and by the efficacy of his intercession, the believer obtains a renewed pardon of his daily transgressions, and a confirmed pardon of all his trespasses. We have, through faith renewedly exercised, a claim to have all our new sins pardoned, and blotted out, by a fresh application of Christ's blood, an imputation of his righteousness. The believer is made accepted in the Beloved; and by virtue of his advocacy, the prayer of faith receives an answer of peace. "Wherefore he is able to save them to the uttermost, that come to God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them." Heb. 7.25.
I shall now proceed to make some practical improvement of what hath been said.
USE 1. This administers matter of conviction and awakening, to all that rest in a state of unbelief. If we are interested in the propitiation of Christ, by faith in his blood, what must be the case of those who are destitute of a saving faith? We are told, John 3.18,36, that they are condemned already, that they shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on them. Which awful consideration might justly startle and surprise the securest sinners; and put them upon the most solicitous inquiry after Christ and an interest in him by faith. Can you esteem it a trifling concern, whether you are saved or damned; whether you are by faith partakers of the salvation Christ has purchased, or whether you are by your unbelief shut out of the glories of the heavenly world, and left to lament your misery and loss with most amazing horror, to all eternity? Remember, that if you continue and die in unbelief, your misery must bear proportion to the mercy you have abused and forfeited; and it would have been better for you never to have heard of a Saviour, than to perish in your sins, from under gospel light and grace. This will be your condemnation, that light is come into the world, and you have chosen darkness rather than light; because your deeds are evil. John 3.19. You have the revelation of this salvation; and the continued offers of it, upon most easy and honourable terms. You have it pressed upon you, by repeated inculcation, in the ordinances of the gospel: and how aggravated will your guilt be, if you set light by this precious Saviour, and reject his salvation! O that neglectful sinners might therefore be awakened out of their security, to see their misery and danger, before it be too late; before the things of their peace are hidden from their eyes; and before the offers of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, be for ever past! O foolish unbelievers, who hath bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you! O the astonishing folly of Christ-despisers, and gospel-neglecters, who notwithstanding you are brought in view of the heavenly Canaan, will after all perish in the wilderness; and have your final lot assigned you among hypocrites and unbelievers! O how can you rest thus contented in an estate of unbelief, until you provoke God to swear in his wrath, that you shall never enter into his rest! Had you not better accept the Saviour now, than to have him your angry judge at last, and reject you with a "verily, I know you not!" Had you not better hearken to the offers of mercy now, than to have the gospel itself, and all the ordinances of salvation you have ever enjoyed, rise up in judgment against you, to aggravate your condemnation! But alas! till your eyes are opened, to see your sin and danger, you will not come unto Christ, that you might have life: you will rather run the venture of eternal perdition, than accept of this precious Saviour and his great salvation, though so freely offered. This seems to be the case of the greatest part of the gospelized world. And they must be left to the consequences of their unhappy choice. They must find, by sad experience, the dreadful effects of neglecting so great salvation, before they will receive conviction.
USE 2. Let all be exhorted to make it their concern to obtain a true faith in Jesus Christ, by which alone they can be justified in the sight of God. What has been said already, gives full evidence, that this is an affair of everlasting importance, a concern, that your eternity depends upon; and that you may expect to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, or mourn bitterly, with the sharpest accents of horror and agony, according to your compliance with, or rejection of this gospel exhortation. It is founded on Scripture calls and precepts, enforced with the most solemn and affecting sanctions, both of promises and threatenings. You have many examples, both to encourage and to warn you. You are invited to be followers of them, who through faith and patience do inherit the promises. And to a care of obtaining like precious faith with them, you are strongly excited, by the endearing attractions of Christ's infinite love, in his giving himself for and to his people. I therefore beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God our Saviour, that you come unto Christ as to a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God and precious. To this you are also most awfully warned by the awakening alarms of your guilt and danger. Take heed therefore, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. It is high time to fly from the impending storm, to this hope set before you. Be prevailed with to take hold of this instruction, and not let it go, but to keep it; for it is your life.
Labour after an effectual sense of the infinite importance of a saving faith in Christ. Get it impressed upon your mind, that you must believe in Christ, or perish without remedy. Do not put off this eternal concern; but think of it now, and think of it solemnly, as you must think of it, when you come to your final trial. Let this consideration lie down and rise with you; "He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned."
Labour after a lively impression of your incapacity to produce this important grace in yourselves. Keep up a constant remembrance, that flesh and blood cannot reveal this to you: but our Father which is in heaven. Let the humbling thought bring you to God's footstool; and make you deeply sensible that you lie at his mercy, unable to help yourselves, and unworthy of divine relief.
Let a discovery of this your distressed case quicken you to greater diligence in seeking the influence of the blessed Spirit, to work this faith in you. Be importunate in prayer, and in all ways of duty, to have the good pleasure of God's goodness, and the work of faith with power wrought in your souls.
And labour to exercise faith in Christ. Though you cannot work this grace in yourselves, yet if ever you obtain it, you yourselves must use and exercise it. The principle is from God, but the act must be your own. If God bring you to exercise this grace, you must be "made willing in the day of his power," and act with your free consent. This is his commandment, the great command of the gospel, that you should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ. It is therefore your duty to believe, and by consequence to labour to believe in Christ; and if God gives you the grace to do so, it will be by quickening and strengthening you in the way of your prayers and your endeavours. Labour therefore to comply with the gracious offer and call of the gospel, to see your perishing condition without Christ, and to realize his ability and readiness to help and save you. Contemplate his infinite excellencies and complete sufficiency for you; and endeavour, looking to God for his gracious assistance, to choose Christ for your Saviour and portion, to prefer an interest in him above all the world, to rely upon him as the author of your eternal salvation, and to plead his righteousness before God as your only claim to mercy. In a word, endeavour to accept him upon his own terms; and be earnest with God in your continual supplications, for grace to help you that you may indeed "receive Christ Jesus the Lord, and walk in him." Though you are without strength, yet through Christ strengthening you, you can do all things. And you should attempt, in his strength, to do what otherwise you are utterly insufficient for.
USE 3. Let all be exhorted to the utmost care and caution, that they be not deceived in this momentous affair, and that they do not take up with a false and counterfeit faith, which will issue in a fatal and eternal disappointment of all their expectations. Multitudes have been, and we may be deceived; and it is impossible to imagine the confusion that will cover us, if we are too late convinced of our mistake, and ashamed of our hope.
See that you evidence to yourselves the sincerity of your faith, by an earnest desire after Christ for your portion, and by the highest esteem for him. If you have a true faith, you will have the Lord Jesus Christ represented to you as the "chief among ten thousand, altogether lovely;" and will certainly value him accordingly. Hence it is said, "unto you that believe, Christ is precious." 1 Pet. 2.7.
Evidence the sincerity of your faith by a universal hatred of sin, and by an earnest, constant endeavour after the victory over all your lusts, without any reserve. We are told, that "faith purifies the heart." Acts 15.9. And that "whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." 1 John 3.9.
Evidence the truth of your faith by a life of universal holiness, by a careful constant endeavour after conformity to the whole revealed will of God, by purity of heart and hands. Walk in all the ways of God and godliness, in all the duties of religion, and in all the duties of each relation which God has placed you in; and endeavour to approve yourselves to a pure and holy God, in the discharge of them all. You may depend upon it, that no other evidence of sincerity without this can stand you in stead. Resolve then as he, James 2.18. "I will show my faith by my works."
Evidence the truth of your faith by having your affections weaned from the world, and by seeking the things which are above, where Christ Jesus sits at the right hand of God. If you are true believers, you "look not at the things that are seen and temporal; but at those which are unseen and eternal." You are looking upon all the affairs of time, but as trifling and vain, compared to the concerns of a future and everlasting world. For "this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." 1 John 5.4. Faith worketh by love, not to the world, or the things of it, but to God, and the things of God. Love not the world, therefore, or the things of the world; for if you love the world, the love of the Father is not in you.
Finally,—Evidence the sincerity of your faith by an habitual subjection of soul to the Lord Jesus Christ, and fervent applications unto him, to work in and for you the good pleasure of his will. Commit the whole concern of your salvation to him. Look to him in a way of constant earnest prayer and active diligence, for all supplies of grace. Whatever darkness, whatever deadness, whatever afflictions or temptations you may meet with, still repair to him, that you may "obtain mercy, and find grace to help in a time of need," that "of his fullness you may receive even grace for grace." You cannot trust too little to yourselves, nor too much to him in the way of duty. Resolve therefore constantly to come, empty and self-insufficient, to him, and "open your mouth wide, that he may fill it." If you thus "believe in him, you shall never be confounded." I conclude with these words of the apostle, 1 John 3.21-24. "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments, dwelleth in him, and he in him; and hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us."
1. Please note that the doctrine for which Mr. Dickinson is here arguing is that of a substitutionary atonement as opposed to the heretical schemes contrived by men, such as that of the Socinians, wherein Christ is set forth as having died upon the cross, but so as that he did not take upon himself our sins or die for any particular sins at all, but only provided an excellent example of Christian suffering to be imitated by his followers. Thus, the "satisfaction and atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ for the sins of the world," is not a satisfaction made for the sins of every individual in the world, but the one satisfaction provided for definite sins of definite persons throughout the entire world, of every tongue, nation, and people. 1 John 2.2: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. See Mr. James Durham's 72 Sermons on the 53rd Chapter of Isaiah for an excellent exposition of this Doctrine with thorough refutations of all of the contrary unbiblical notions set forth in the false gospels of Socinians and Arminians.
2. A charitable notion indeed, that God should "reveal his Son in an extraordinary manner to some that never heard the gospel," and undoubtedly a thing which, as to the nature of the event, is possible for God to accomplish,—the notion is, however, without any warrant from the word of God, which informs us that before any heathen receive the preaching of the gospel and are brought under the external Covenant of Grace, "That at that time they are without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world," and it is only once the gospel has come to them that it is affirmed, "But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ."—Eph. 2.12,13. The justice of God in no way requires that he should ever so reveal his Son to any people, all of which are without hope because of their sins. In his goodness he has revealed his Son to some for their salvation, which, according to his wisdom, he has seen fit to do by the preaching of the gospel: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith."—Rom. 1.16,17.