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best Christians remember a time when they could no more believe than they could make a world, though they prayed for faith with all the ardour they were capable of ?"
Answer 1. You still seem to take it for granted that there is no true faith, but an explicit faith in Christ; and no explicit faith in Christ, but the faith of full assurance. But I hope that I have already proved the contrary in my answer to the fifth objection, (p. 577.) There are two extremes in the doctrine of faith which should be carefully avoided by every Christian : the one is that of the author of Pietas Oxoniensis, who thinks that an adulterous murderer may have true, saving faith in the height of his complicated crimes : and the other is that of those who assert there is no saving faith but that which actually cleanses us from all inbred sin, and opens a present heaven in our breasts. The middle path of truth lies exactly between those opposite mistakes, and that path I endeavour to point out.
As, on the one hand, it never came into my mind that an impenitent murderer can have even the saving faith of a heathen: so, on the other hand, it never entered my thoughts, that a penitent can believe with the faith of full assurance when he will: for this faith depends not only upon our general belief of the truth revealed to us, but also upon a peculiar* operation of God, or revelation of his powerful arm. It is always attended with a manifestation of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God."' And such a manifestation God in general grants to none wut them that groan deeply under “the spirit of bondage unto fear,” as Paul did while he remained blind at Damascus ;—or them that are peculiarly faithful to the grace of their inferior dispensation, and pray as earnestly for “ power from on high,” as the apostles did after our Lord's ascension.
* Mr. Wesley exactly describes this faith in his sermon on Scriptural Chris. tianity, of which you have here an extract :-"By this .faith of the operation of God, which was the very substance (or subsistence) of things hoped for,' the demonstrative "evidence of invisible things, he, (the penitent .pricked to the heart,' and expecting the promise of the Father,] instantly received the Spirit of adoption, whereby he (now) cried, Abba, Father! Now first it was that he could call Jesus Lord by the Holy Ghost, the Spirit itself bearing witness with his spirit, that he was a child of God.' Now it was that he could truly say, 'I live not, but Christ liveth in me,' &c. His soul magnified the Lord, and his spirit rejoiced in God his Saviour. He rejoiced in him with joy unspeakable, who had reconciled him to God, even the Father; in whom he had redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins. He rejoiced in that witness of God's Spirit with his spirit, that he was a child of God; and more abundantly in hope of the glory of God,' &c. • The love of God (was also) shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost which was given to him. Because he was a son, God had sent forth the Spirit of his Son, crying, Abba, Father! And that filial love of God was continually increased by the witness he had in himself" of God's pardoning love to him, &c, so that God was the desire of his eyes, and the joy of his heart ; his portion in time and eternity, &c. He that thus loved God, could not but love his brother also, &c. This lover of God embraced all mankind for his sake, &c, not excepting the evil and unthankful, and least of all, his enemies, &c. These had a peculiar place both in his heart and his prayers. He loved them even as Christ loved us,' &c. By the same almighty love was he saved, both from passion and pride, from lust and vanity, from ambition and covetous. ness, and from every temper which was not in Christ, &c. He spako evil of no man; nor did an unkind word ever come out of his lips, &c. He daily grew in grace, increasing in strength, in the knowledge and love of God, &c. lle visited and assisted them that were sick or in prison, &c. Ilo'gave all his goods to feed the poor.' He rejoiced to labour or to suffer for them; and whereinsoever he might profit another, there especially to deny himself.' Such was Christianity in its rise, [i. e. Christianity contradistinguished from the dispensation called the baptism of John.] Such was a Christian in ancient days, [i. e. a Christian contra. distinguished from a disciple of John or of Christ, before the dispensation of the Holy Ghost took place.] Such was every one of those who, 'when they heard
Therefore, from my asserting (p. 528) that “ so long as the day of salvation continues, all sinners, who have not yet finally hardened themselves, may day and night (through the help and power of the general light of Christ's grace mentioned John i, 9, and Tit. ii, 11,] receive some truth belonging to the everlasting Gospel,” which takes in the dispensation of the heathens; from my asserting this, I say, you have no reason to infer that I maintain any man may, day and night, believe the forgiveness of his sins, and the deep truths of the Gospel of Christ ; especially since I mention immediately what truth it is which all may believe, if they improve their talent, namely, this : “ There is a God, who will call us to an account for our sins, and who spares us to break them off by repentance."
2. It would be absurd to suppose that you can believe with the luminous faith of assurance, when God is casting your soul into the dark prison of your own guilt to bring down your Pharisaic looks, and make you feel the chains of your sins. But even then may you not believe that God is just, holy, and patient? May you not acknowledge that you deserve your spiritual imprisonment far more than Joseph's brethren deserved to be “put all together into ward three days” by their loving, forgiving brother? May you not believe that, although heaviness may endure for a night,” yet “joy cometh in the morning?” And when you have humbly groaned with David, “I am so fast in prison that I cannot get forth;" may you not pray in faith, “ Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name. Let the bones which thou hast broken rejoice. Give me the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Convince” me as powerfully “of righteousness," as thou hast " of sin :” and let thy Spirit, which now acts upon me as a “ Spirit of bondage unto fear,” begin to act as a Spirit of adoption" and liberty—of righteousness, peace, and joy?” May you not even add, “ () God, I belieye thy promise concerning the coming of the Comforter; "help thou my unbelief,' and grant me such a faith as thou wilt vouchsafe to seal with that Holy Spirit of promise.' Thou shakest before me the rod of infernal vengeance: I deserve it a thousand times; but, O Father of mercies, O my Father, if for the sake of thine only begotten Son thou wilt yet permit such a wretch as I am to [the threatenings of the chief priests and elders, lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and were all filled with the Holy Ghost.””
I here set my seal to this Scriptural description of Scriptural Christianity: being fully persuaded of two things: (!.) That till a man be thus “ born of the Spirit,” he cannot see the (Christian) kingdom of God:” he cannot be under that glorious dispensation of Divine grace which Christ and the apostles spake of when they preached, “Repent, and believe the Gospel, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (2.) That whosoever has not in his breast the above de. scribed kingdom, i. e. righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost; and does not bring forth its excellent fruits in his life, either never was a spiritual Christian, or is fallen back from the "ministration of the Spirit" into the dispen. sation of the letter, or the base form of godliness, if not into open wickedness, See the next no!e.
call thee Father, give me the Spirit of adoption; and witness to my spirit that I am a child of thine. But if thou wilt still hide thy face from me, never suffer me to entertain one dishonourable thought of thee; never let me think thee a Moloch. Though thy justice slay me, let me still trust in thee, and believe that for Christ's sake thy mercy will revive my soul ?" Is it Scriptural to rank among absolute unbelievers a penitent who thus humbly and obediently waits for the faith of full assurance—the faith of Christianity in its state of perfection? If our Lord pronounces such mourners blessed, does it become us to pronounce them accursed? But I return to your objection.
3. The latter part of it confirms, instead of overturning my doctrine; it being evident that if the persons you speak of prayed with ardour for the faith of assurance, they had already some degree of faith : for praying is “calling upon the Lord,” and St. Paul speaks “ the words of soberness," where he says, “ How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed ?”
4. I am so far from thinking our power to believe is absolute, that I have asserted, (p. 528,) it is impossible heartily to believe the truths which do not suit our present state. And (page 538, &c,) I have observed, that we savingly believe the “ truth suitable to our present circumstances, when it is kindly presented by free grace, and affectionately embraced by prevented free will;" adding, that when we believe our “faith is more or less operative, not only according to the earnestness with which we welcome the truth to our inmost souls,” but also “ according to the power with which the Spirit of grace impresses it upon our hearts.” Nay, I have ascribed so much to the power of the free grace by which saving faith is “ instantly formed,” as to insinuate that sometimes (as at St. Paul's conversion) this power for a while bears all down before it. This at least was my meaning, when I said, section first, “We may in general suspend the act of faith, especially when the glaring light [i. e. the luminous power) that some. times accompanies the revelation of truth is abated.” Consider the force of the words, in general and especially; advert to the exception for which they make room; and you will see I allow that free grace, at times, acts with almost as much irresistibility, as some moderate Calvinists contend for.
5. With respect to my comparison between our power to believe, and our power to see, far from showing that all men may at any time believe the Gospel of Christ, it intimates, nay, it proves the very reCan
when you will, and what you will? Can you see in a dark night without a light? Can you see in a bright day, when a thick veil covers your face? Can you see if you place an opaque body full in your light? Can you see what is out of the reach of your eyes? Can you see the rising sun when you look full west, or the stars when you pore upon a dung hill? Can you see when you obstinately shut your eyes? Or when you have let a wicked man put them out, lest you should not live in idleness? Apply to faith these queries about sight; recollect the preceding observations: and you will perceive, (1.) That our power to believe is various ways circumscribed; it being impossible that he who has but one talent, perhaps unimproved, should carry on as extensive a trade as the man who diligently improves his
five or ten talents. (2.) That nevertheless, supposing we have still a ray of the light of truth, and have not yet been given up to judicial blindness, or to final hardness, we may day and night [if we do not still bury our talent] believe, by the above-mentioned helps, some obvious truth belonging to the lowest dispensation of Divine grace, and begin to follow our Lord's direction, “ While ye have the light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of the light.” And, (3.) That if we oppose this doctrine, we begin to follow our Calvinist brethren into Crispianity; and are just ready to bow at the shrine of the great Diana of the day, and to kiss her iron-clay feet, finished salvation and finished damnation.
OBJECTION VII. “ Your doctrine concerning the school of faith, and its several forms ; concerning the temple of faith, and its capital partitions, is entirely founded upon the doctrine of the dispensations of Divine grace; a doctrine this which many people will rank with what they call, The novel chimeras of your Checks."
I hope that I have proved what I have advanced concerning the dispensations, by arguments founded upon Scripture, reason, and conscience. However, that the idea of novelty may not stand in the way of any of my readers, out of fifty authors, whom I may quote in support of this important doctrine, I shall produce two, a Calvinist and an antiCalvinist ; not doubting but their consentaneous testimony will suficiently break the force of your objection. The first is the Rev. Mr. Green, late curate of Thurnscoe, in Yorkshire, and once an assistant to Mr. Whitefield. In his book, called Grace and Truth Vindicaled, (page 116,) you will find the following just remarks :
" It appears to me, from Scripture as well as experience, that there are divers dispensations, but the same Spirit: the kingdom of heaven consists of various degrees, and different mansions. This is true, whether by the kingdom of heaven we understand the outward professors of religion and the privileges, the inward kingdom of grace, or the kingdom of glory: (in all which senses the words in Scripture are frequently used.] As face answers to face in a glass, so do these respectively answer each other. Thus the outward privileges of religion from Adam to Moses were least; from Moses to Christ greater ; and from Christ to the restitution of all things greatest. Again : to be a spiritual or enlightened heathen, as Socrates, Plato, or Cornelius before he heard Peter, is one degree or dispensation of grace. To be a spiritual or enlightened Jew, and with Peter and the other disciples before the day of pentecost to believe and acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah, though not spiritually come, is a greater. But to be a spiritual Christian, to have Christ, the exalted God-man, revealed in us from heaven, and to be sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise unto the day of the redemption of this vile body, is the last and most perfect dispensation of grace. He that is feeble here shall be as David, and he that is strong, &c, shall be, &c, as the angel of the Lord, &c. For it may be observed, that every dispensation admits of a growth therein ; and moreover, that each of them is in some sort and degree experienced by a spiritual Christian,” &c.
My second witness is the Rev. Mr. J. Wesley, who, even in his first sermon on salration by faith, preached near forty years ago,
clearly distinguishes Christian faith, properly so called, or faith in Christ glorified, not only from the faith of a heathen, but also from the faith of initial Christianity, that is, "the faith which the apostles had while our Lord was upon earth.”
“ And first,” says he, “it (the faith that saves us into the great salvation described in the second part of the sermon] is not barely the faith of a heathen. Now God requires of a heathen to believe that God is, that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him, &c, by glorifying him as God,' &c, and by a careful practice of moral virtue, &c. A Greek or Roman therefore, yea, a Scythian or Indian, was without excuse if he did not believe thus much : the being and attributes of God, a future state of reward and punishment, &c. For this is barely the faith of a heathen.” Soon after he adds :- :-“ And herein does it (this faith in Christ glorified] differ from that faith which the apostles themselves had while our Lord was upon earth, that it acknowledges the necessity and merit of his death, and the power of his resurrection.”
The doctrine of Christian perfection is entirely founded on the privileges of the Christian dispensation in its fulness : privileges these which far exceed those of the Jewish economy and the baptism of John. Accordingly Mr. Wesley in his sermons on Christian perfection makes the following just and Scriptural distinction between those dispensations :-" It may be granted, (1.) That David, in the general course of his life, was one of the holiest men among the Jews. And, (2.) That the holiest men among the Jews did sometimes commit sin. But if you would hence infer that all Christians do, and must commit sin, as long as they live; this consequence we utterly deny. It will never Sollow from those premises. Those who argue thus seem never to have considered that declaration of our Lord, Matt. xi, 11, · Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women, there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist. Notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. I fear indeed there are some who have imagined the kingdom of heaven here to mean the kingdom of glory: as if the Son of God had just discovered to us that the least glorified saint in heaven is greater than any man upon earth. To montion this is sufficient to refute it. There can, therefore, no doubt be made, but the kingdom of heaven here (as in the following verse, where it is said to be taken by force) or the kingdom of God, as St. Luke expresses it, is that kingdom of God on earth, whereunto all true believers in Christ, all real Christians belong. In these words then our Lord declares two things: (1.) That before his coming in the flesh, among all the children of men, there had not been one greater than John the Baptist : whence it evidently follows that neither Abraham, David, nor any Jew, was greater than John. (2.) That he who is least in the kingdom of God (in that kingdom which he came to set up on earth, and which the violent now began to take by force) is greater than he. Not a greater prophet (as some have interpreted the word) for this is palpably false in fact : but greater in the grace of God, and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we cannot measure the privileges of real Christians by those formerly given to the Jews. Their ministration,' or dispensation, we allow