« AnteriorContinuar »
order of things, are required to precede it, will come in by way of implication ; and those which follow it, will be produced by it. Thus the primitive preachers seem to have had none of that scrupulosity which appears in the discourses and writings of some modern preachers. Sometimes, they exhorted sinners to believe in Jesus; but it was such belief as implied repentance for sin : sometimes, to repent and be converted; but it was such repentance and conversion as included believing: and, sometimes, to labour for the meat that endureth un. to everlasting life ; but it was such labouring as comprehended both repentance and faith.
Some have inferred, from the doctrine of justification by faith in opposition to the works of the law, that sinners ought not to be exhorted to any thing which comprises obedience to the law, either in heart or life, except we should preach the law to them for the purpose of conviction; and this, lest we should be found directing them to the works of their own hands, as the ground of acceptance with God. From the same principle, it has been concluded, that faith itself cannot include any holy disposition of the heart, because all holy disposition contains obedience to the law. If this reasoning be just, all exhorting of sinners to things expressive of a holy exercise of heart, is either improper, or requires to be understood as merely preaching the law for the purpose of conviction; as our Saviour directed the young ruler to keep the commandments, if he would enter into life. Yet the scriptures abound with such exhortations. Sinners are exhorted to seek God, to serve him with fear and joy, to forsake their wicked way, and return to him, to repent and be converted. These are manifestly exercises of the heart, and addressed to the unconverted.
Neither are they to be understood as the requirements of a covenant of works. That covenant neither requires repentance, nor promises forgiveness. But sinners are directed to these things under a promise of mercy and abundant pardon. There is a wide difference between these ad. dresses and the address of our Lord to the young ruler: that to which he was directed was the producing of a righteousness adequate to the demands of the law, which was naturally impossible : and our Lord's design was to show its impossibili. ty, and, thereby, to convince him of the need of gospel-mer,
cy: but that to which the above directions point, is not to any natural impossibility, but to the very way of mercy. The manner in which the primitive preachers guarded against selfrighteousness was very different from this. They were not afraid of exhorting either saints or sinners to holy exercises of heart, nor of connecting with them the promises of mercy. But, though they exhibited the promises of eternal life to any and every spiritual exercise, yet they never taught that it was on account of it; but of mere grace, through the redemption that is în Jesus Christ. The ground on which they took their stand was, Cursed is every one who continucth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them. From hence, they inferred the impossibility of a sinner being justified in any other way than for the sake of him who was made a curse for 48: and, from hence, it clearly follows, that, whatever holiness any sinner may possess, before, in, or after believing, it is of no account whatever, as a ground of acceptance with God. If we inculcate this doctrine, we need not fear exhorting sinners to holy exercises of heart, nor holding up the promises of mercy to all who thus return to God by Jesus. Christ.
ON THE QUESTION, WHETHER THE EXISTENCE OF A
HOLY DISPOSITION OF HEART BE NECESSARY TO
It is not from a fondness for controversy that I am induced to offer my sentiments on this subject. I feel myself called upon to do so, on two accounts. First : The leading principle in the foregoing treatise is implicated in the decision of it. If no holy disposition of heart be pre-supposed, or included in believing, it has nothing holy in it; and if it have nothing holy in it, it is absurd to plead for its being a duty. God requires nothing as a duty which is merely liatural, or intellectual, or in which the will has no concern. Secondly : Mr. M'Lean, in a second edition of his treatise on The Commission of Christ, has published several pages of animadversions on what I have advanced on this subject, and has charged me with very serious consequences; consequences which, if substantiated, will go to prove that I have subverted the great doctrine of justification by grace alone, without the works of the law.* It is true, he has made no mention of my name ; owing, as I suppose, to what I had written being contained in two private letters, one of which was addressed to him. I certainly had no expectation, when I wrote those letters, that what I advanced would have been publicly answered. I do not pretend to understand so much of the etiquette of writing as to decide whether this conduct was proper; but if it were, some people may be tempted to think that it is rather dangerous to correspond with authors. I have no desire, however, to complain on this account, nor, indeed, on any other; except that my sentiments are very partially stated, and things introduced so much out of their connexion, that it is impossible for the reader to form any judgment concerning them.
I have the pleasure to agree with Mr. ML. in considering the belief of the gospel as saving faith. Our disagreement on this subject is confined to the question, What the belief of the gospel includes ? Mr. M-L. so explains it, as carefully to exclude every exercise of the heart or will, as either included in it, or having any influence upon it. Whatever of this exists in a believer, he considers as belonging to the effects of faith, rather than to faith itself. If I understand him, he pleads for such a belief of the gospel as has nothing in it of a holy nature, nothing of conformity to the moral law “ in heart or life;" a passive reception of the truth, in which the will has no concern; and this because it is opposed to the works of the law in the article of justification. On this ground, he accounts for the Apostle's language in Romans iv. 5. To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifeth the UNGODLY ; understanding, by the terms he that worketh not, one that has done nothing yet which is pleasing to God; and, by the term ungodly, one that is actually an enemy to God. He does not suppose that God justifies unbelievers : if, there,
† On the Commission, pp. 83-86,
fore, he justifies sinners, while in a state of enmity against him, there can be nothing in the nature of faith but what may consist with it. And true it is, if faith have nothing in it of a holy nature, nothing of conformity to the divine law in heart or life,” nothing of the exercise of any holy disposition of heart, it cannot denominate the subjects of it godly. Godliness must, in this case, consist merely in the fruits of faith; and these fruits being subsequent to justification, the sinner must, of course, be justified antecedently to his being the subject of godliness, or while he is actually the enemy of God.
If Mr. M.L. had only affirmed that faith is opposed to works, even to every good disposition of the heart, as the ground of acceptance with God; that we are not justified by it as a work; or that, whatever moral goodness it may possess, it is not as such that it is imputed unto us for righteousness; there had been no dispute between us. But this distinction he rejects, and endeavours to improve the caution of those who use it into a tacit acknowledgment, that their views of faith were very liable to misconstruction : in cther words, that they border upon the doctrine of justification by works in so great a degree, as to be in danger of being mistaken for its advocates. * He is not coriented with faith being opposed to works, in point of justification; it must also be opposed to them in its own nature. “ Paul," he affirms, “ did not look upon faith as a work.” In short, if there be any possibility of drawing a certain conclusion from what a writer, in almost every form of speech, has advanced ; it must be concluded, that he means to deny that there is any thing holy in the nature of faith ; and that, could it be separated from its effects, (as he supposes it is in justification,) it would leave the person who possessed it, among the enemies of God.
Notwithstanding the above, however, Mr. ML. allows faith to be a duty. He has largely, fand, I believe, successfully,) endeavoured to prove, that “ faith is the command of God;" that it is a part of obedience to God;" that “to believe all that God says, is right;” and that unbelief, which is its opposite, is a great and heinous sin.”But how can
• Commission, p. 76.
Belief of the Gospel Saving l'aith, pp. 34-44.
these things agree? If there be nothing of the exercise of a holy disposition in what is commanded of God, in what is right, and in what is an exercise of obedience: by what rule are we to judge of what is holy, and what is not? I scarcely can conceive of a truth more self-evident than this: That God's commands extend only to that which comes under the influence of the will. Knowledge can be no further a duty, nor ignorance a sin, than as each is influenced by the moral state of the heart; and the same is true of faith and unbelief. We might as well make the passive admission of light into the eye, or of sound into the ear, duties, as a passive admission of truth into the mind. To receive it into the heart, indeed, is duty; for this is a voluntary acquiescence in it: but that in which the will has no concern, cannot possibly be so.
Mr. M'L. sometimes writes as if he would acknowledge faith to be not only a duty, but to “contain virtue,” or true holiness ; seeing, as he observes, “it is the root of all Christian virtues, and that which gives glory to God, and without which it is impossible to please him.” Nay, the reader would imagine, by his manner of writing, that he was pleading for the holy nature of faith, and that I had denied it; seeing I am represented as having made the “too bold” and “ unfounded assertion," that mere belief contains no virtue. The truth is, I affirmed no such thing, but was pleading for the contrary ; as is manifest from what Mr. M.L. says in the same note : " But why so solicitous to find virtue, or moral excellence, in faith?” It is true, I contended, that if the belief of the gospel were a mere exercise of the understanding, uninfluenced by the moral state of the heart, it could contain no virtue, nor be the object of a divine command : but supposed it to be a persuasion of divine truth, arising from the state of the heart, in the same sense as unbelief, which Mr. MʻL. justly calls “its opposite,” is not a mere mistake of the judgment, but a persuasion arising from aversion to the truth. From the above, however, it would seem, that we are agreed in making faith in Christ something which comprehends “true virtue," or, which is the same thing, true holiness. Yet Mr. ML. will not abide by all or any of this: if he would, indeed, there would be an end of the dispute. But he proceeds to reason in favour of that very “unfounded assertion," for making