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course, follow, that every sinner, whatever be his character, is completely warranted to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of his soul. In other words, he has every possible encouragement to relinquish his former attachment and confidences, and to commit his soul into the hands of Jesus to be saved. If believing in Christ, be a privilege belonging only to the regenerate, and no sinner, while unregenerate, be warranted to exercise it, as Mr. Brine maintains,* it will follow, either that a sinner may know himself to be regenerate before he believes, or that the first exercise of faith is an act of presumption. That the bias of the heart requires to be turned to God antecedently to believing, has been admitted; because the nature of believing is such, that it cannot be exercised while the soul is under the dominion of wilful blindness, hardness, and aversion. These dispositions are represented in the scriptures, as a bar in the way of faith, as being inconsistent with it; and which, consequently, require to be taken out of the way. But, whatever necessity there may be for a change of heart in order to believing, it is neither necessary nor possible that the party should be conscious of it till he has believed. It is necessary that the eyes of a blind man should be opened before he can see: but it is neither necessary nor possible for him to know that his eyes are open till he does see. It is only by surrounding objects appearing to his view, that he knows the obstructing film to be removed. But, if regeneration be necessary to warrant believing, and yet it be impossible to obtain a consciousness of it till we have believed, it follows, that the first exercise of faith is without foundation; that is, it is not faith, but presumption.
If believing be the duty of every sinner to whom the gospel is preached, there can be no doubt as to a warrant for it, whatever be his character: and to maintain the latter, without admitting the former, would be reducing it to a mere matter of discretion. It might be inexpedient to reject the way of salvation, but it could not be unlawful.
Secondly Though believing in Christ is a compliance with a duty, yet it is not as a duty, or by way of reward for a vir
* Motives to Love and Unity, &c. pp. 38, 39.
tuous act, that we are said to be justified by it. It is true, God does reward the services of his people, as the scriptures abundantly teach: but this follows upon justification. We must stand accepted in the Beloved, before our services can be acceptable or rewardable. Moreover, if we were justified by faith as a duty, justification by faith could not be, as it is, opposed to justification by works: To him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.* The scripture doctrine of justification by faith, in opposition to the works of the law, appears, to me, as follows: By believing in Jesus Christ, the sinner becomes vitally united to him, or, as the scriptures express it, joined to the Lord, and is of one spirit with him;† and this union, according to the divine constitution, as revealed in the gospel, is the ground of an interest in his righteousness. Agreeable to this is the following language: There is now, therefore, NO CONDEMNATION to them that are IN Christ Jesus-Of him are ye IN Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us RIGHTEOUSNESS, &c.—That I may be found in him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ. As the union which, in the order of nature, precedes a revealed interest in Christ's righteousness, is spoken of in allusion that of marriage, the one may serve to illustrate the other. A rich and generous character walking in the fields, espies a forlorn female infant, deserted by some unfeeling parent in the day that it was born, and left to perish. He sees its helpless condition, and resolves to save it. Under his kind patronage the child grows up to maturity. He now resolves to make her his wife casts his skirt over her, and she becomes his. She is now, according to the public statutes of the realm, interested in all his possessions. Great is the transition! Ask her, in the height of her glory, how she became possessed of all this wealth; and, if she retain a proper spirit, she will answer in some such manner as this: It was not mine, but my deliverer's; his who rescued me from death. It is no reward of any good deeds on my part: it is by marriage: ... it is of grace.
* Rom. iv. 2--5.
1 Cor. vi, 17.
It is easy to perceive, in this case, that it was necessary she should be voluntarily married to her husband, before she could, according to the public statutes of the realm, be interested in his possessions; and that she now enjoys those possessions by marriage: yet who would think of asserting, that her consenting to be his wife was a meritorious act, and that all his possessions were given her as the reward of it?
Thirdly From the foregoing view of things, we may perceive the alarming situation of unbelievers. By unbelievers, I mean not only avowed Infidels, but all persons who hear, or have opportunity to hear, the gospel, or to come at the knowledge of what is taught in the holy scriptures, and do not cordially embrace it. It is an alarming thought to be a sinner. against the greatest and best of beings: but to be an unbelieving sinner, is much more so. There is deliverance from the curse of the law, through him who was made a curse for us. But if, like the barren fig-tree, we stand from year to year, under gospel-culture, and bear no fruit, we may expect to fall under the curse of the Saviour; and who is to deliver us from this? If the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so GREAT salvátion?
We are in the habit of pitying heathens, who are enthralled by abominable superstition, and immersed in the immoralities which accompany it but to live in the midst of gospellight, and reject it, or even disregard it, is abundantly more criminal, and will be followed with a heavier punishment. We feel for the condition of profligate characters; for swearers, and drunkards, and fornicators, and liars, and thieves, and murderers: but these crimes become ten-foid more heinous in being committed under the light of revelation, and in contempt of all the warnings and gracious invitations of the gospel. The most profligate character, who never possessed these advantages, may be far less criminal, in the sight of God, than the most sober and decent who possesses, and disregards them. It was on this principle that such a heavy wo was denounced against Chorazin and Bethsaida, and that their sin was represented as exceeding that of Sodom.
The gospel wears an aspect of mercy towards sinners; but
towards unbelieving sinners the scriptures deal wholly in the language of threatening. I am come, saith our Saviour, a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. IF ANY MAN HEAR MY WORDS, AND BELIEVE NOT, Ijudge him not: (that is, not at present :) for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.* It will be of but small account, in that day, that we have escaped a few of the lusts of the flesh, if we have been led captive by those of the mind. If the greatest gift of heaven be set at naught by us, through the pride of science, or a vain conceit of our own righteousness, how shall we stand when he appeareth?
It will then be found, that a price was in our hands to get wisdom, but that we had no heart to it: and that herein consists our sin, and from hence proceeds our ruin. God called, and we would not hearken; he stretched out his hand, and no man regarded; therefore, he will laugh at our calamit y, and mock when our fear cometh. It is intimated, both in the Old and New Testament, that the recollection of the means of salvation having been within our reach, will be a bitter aggravation to our punishment. They come unto thee, saith the Lord to Ezekiel, as the people come, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them. And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come!) THEN SHALL THEY KNOW THAT A PROPHET HATH BEEN AMONG THEM.† To the same purpose our Saviour speaks of them who should reject the doctrine of his apostles; Into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say, Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: NOTWITHSTANDING, BE YE SURE OF THIS, THAT THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS COME NIGH UNTO YOU.‡
Great as is the sin of unbelief, however, it is not unpardonable: it becomes such only by persisting in it till death. Saul of Tarsus was an unbeliever, yet he obtained mercy: and his being an unbeliever, rather than a presumptuous opposer of
John xii. 46-48.
Ezek. xxxiii. 31 33.
Luke x. 10, 11.
Christ against conviction, placed him within the pale of forgiveness, and is, therefore, assigned as a reason of it.*
This consideration affords a hope even to unbelievers. O ye self-righteous despisers of a free salvation through a Mediator, be it known to you, that there is no other name given under heaven, or among men, by which you can be saved! To him whom you have disregarded and despised, you must either voluntarily or involuntarily submit. To him every knee shall bow. You cannot go back into a state of non-existence, however desirable it might be to many of you: for God hath stamped immortality upon your natures. You cannot turn to the right hand, nor to the left, with any advantage; whether you give a loose to your inclination, or put a force upon it by an assumed devotion, each will lead to the same issue. Neither can you stand still. Like a vessel in a tempestuous ocean, you must go this way, or that; and, go which way you will, if it be not to Jesus, as utterly unworthy, you are only heaping up wrath against the day of wrath. Whether you sing, or pray, or hear, or preach, or feed the poor, or till the soil; if self be your object, and Christ be disregarded, all is sin,† and will all issue in disappointment: the root is rottenness, and the blossom shall go up as the dust. Whither will you go? Jesus invites you to come to him. His servants beseech you, in his name, to be reconciled to God. The Spirit saith, Come; and the bride saith, Come; and whosoever will, let him come, and take of the water of life freely. An eternal heaven is before you, in one direction; and an eternal hell, in the other. Your answer is required. Be one thing, or another. Choose you, this day, whom ye will serve. For our parts, we will abide by our Lord and Saviour. If you continue to reject him, so it must be: nevertheless, be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come NIGH unto you!
Finally From what has been advanced, we may form a judgment of our duty, as ministers of the word, in dealing with the unconverted. The work of the Christian ministry, it has been said, is to preach the gospel, or to hold up the free grace of God through Jesus Christ, as the only way of a sinner's salvation. This is, doubtless, true; and if this be not
Prov. xv. 8, 9. xxviii. 9. xxi. 4.
* 1 Tim. i. 13.