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THE ROOT OF THE REFINED ANTINOMIANISM
OF THE PRESENT AGE.
THE principal design of writing on controverted points, is to assist the reader, by holding forth clear light, to come to a well grounded judgment, touching the point in dispute. And to this end we should distinguish between things that differ, state the point in dispute, with great exactness; and then present to the reader the arguments on the one side and the other, of the question in debate, and leave him to judge for himself. Accordingly, in these pages I shall, 1. Make some needful distinctions; the neglect of which has occasioned no small confusion in this controversy, about the nature of justifying faith. 2. State the question now to be disputed, with great exactness. 3. Offer arguments against, and 4. Consider the arguments in favour of the position, which contains the question in dispute; and then leave every reader to judge for himself. The distinctions to be made, are these,
1. There is an essential difference between justification in the sight of God, and a persuasion in our own minds that we are justified. One is the act of God our judge; the other is the act of our own minds; as is self-evident. God's act must of necessity be, in order of nature, at least before our act. We must be justified before we can know that we are justified. For a thing must exist before its existence can be perceived. To say otherwise, is an express contradiction.
2. We are justified by faith alone, and that whether we know our faith to be of the right kind, or not. But we are assured of our justification, by a consciousness of our faith and other Christian graces, and by knowing they are of the right kind. We are justified without respect to any thing in us, or about us, considered as a recommending qualification; simply by free grace through the redemption that is in
A BLOW AT THE ROOT OF
Jesus Christ. Our union with Christ is the foundation of our interest in him, his atonement and merits; and so of our title to pardon, justification, and eternal life, according to the Gospel. Faith alone, is that on our part whereby we are united to Christ and become one with him, and so that alone by which we are justified. A consciousness in our own minds, that we have true faith, and those other Christian graces which are connected with it, and always accompany it, is that alone by which we can know that we are justified. So that while we are justified simply on the account of Christ's righteousness, we can know that we are in fact justified merely by a consciousness of our own inherent graces; even as a poor woman is made rich simply on her husband's estate, with whom she becomes one in the eye of the law by marriage: but she knows her title to her husband's estate, only as she knows that she was married to him, and actually continues to be his wife..
3. There is an essential difference between a full assurance, that those who receive Christ, and come to God in his name, shall be pardoned, justified, and have eternal life: and a consciousness that I do receive Christ, and come to God in his name, and am consequently pardoned, justified, and entitled to eternal life. That those who receive Christ and come to God in his name, shall be pardoned, justified, and have eternal life, is plainly and expressly revealed in the Gospel, and was true before I was born. And it appears to be true to every one, who understands the Gospel aright, and believes it with all his heart. But I must actually understand the Gospel, believe it with all my heart, and in the belief of it actually receive Christ, and come to God in his name, before I am justified; and so before I can be conscious to myself that I have so acted, and that consequently I am pardoned, justified, and entitled to eternal life.
4. Although justification in the sight of God, must of necessity be in order of nature before our knowledge that we are justified; because a thing must exist before its existence can be perceived by the mind: yet it is not impossible that a justified believer may know his justification soon, from an in
ward consciousness of his receiving Christ, and coming to God in his name, and from a consciousness of all the Christian graces, which are connected with and do always accompany true faith. At conversion, a sinner is brought out of darkness into marvellous light, and beholding the glory of the Lord, is changed into the same image; and may of course in the time of it, in all ordinary cases, be conscious of the change. And the greater the change is, the more conscious will he be of it. No man can prove but that divine light may possibly be imparted in so great a degree, and the change be so clear, that at once it may be known to be a saving change. I do not say, that it is always, or that it is ordinarily so, at present; but I am willing to grant that it may be so. From many expressions in the New Testament, I am inclined to think it was commonly so in the apostolic age. The three thousand on the day of pentecost, not only received the word gladly, but immediately began to spend their time in praising God, Acts ii. 41. 47. and converts in that age in general being justified by faith, had peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of the glory of God. Rom. v. 1, 2. Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye, (one and all,) rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, 1 Pet. i. 8. Nor do we read of one saint in the New Testament, who doubted of his being in a justified state: nor have we any reason from the writings of the New Testament, to think but that assurance of their good estate was universally enjoyed by all true believers in the apostolic age.
This consideration inclines me to entertain charitable thoughts of the first reformers, that their hearts might be right, although it could be proved that they made assurance of the essence of faith; as it is affirmed by some, that they did. For they were in the heat of dispute with the Papists who denied that assurance was at all attainable in this life. Good men among the first reformers might be conscious to themselves, that they had had assurance from the very time of their conversion; and might observe from the apostolic writings, that it used to be so with the apostolic converts, and might observe it to be so with their converts; and so, through want of proper attention to the nature of things,
might be led to affirm, that assurance itself is of the essence of justifying faith. And by that one false maxim, be insensibly led into many other mistakes. But the assembly of divines at Westminster, who sat about an hundred years after the reformation, time having been had meanwhile to look more carefully into things, and to distinguish between things that differ, left assurance out of their definition of justifying faith, in their confession of faith; larger and shorter catechisms. Nay, they even expressly affirm, in their larger catechism, in answer to question 81, "That assurance of grace and salvation are not of the essense of faith." For while it was affirmed that assurance was of the essence of faith by the protestant preachers, two things would constantly happen, it may reasonably be supposed, which would tend to convince them that they were wrong, viz. 1. Many of their seeming converts who appeared to be full of the strongest assurance of the pardon of their sins, would apostatize and fall away to open wickedness, before their eyes as it has been with many in our day.
2. And their adversaries, the papists, who hated all assurance of salvation in general, as some do in our day, would take the advantage of their mistake, and make such objections against them, as they could not answer. Which, when the heat of the controversy was a little over, and the protestant party had had time impartially to weigh things, (loath as men naturally are to give up a point they have once espoused,) they would feel themselves obliged to do it in this case. Accordingly it came to pass, within about an hundred years, that protestant divines in general gave up that notion, and defined faith in a very different manner; as we may see in the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of the assembly of divines at Westminster, and yet retained the doctrine of assurance, and asserted it in the strongest language, but not as being of the essence of faith, but as resulting "from the inward evidence of those graces, unto which the promises are made.” And in New-England, (which was settled about that time,) that notion has been, from the very first settlement of it to this day, universally exploded, by all our divines of note. Nay, I never heard of but one single minister in New-Eng