Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation
(Philadelphia: Anderson & Meehan, 1820)
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Reading the lives and labours of such men as Elliot, Brainerd, and several others, who preached Christ with so much success to the American Indians, had an effect upon him. Their work, like that of the apostles, seemed to be plain before them. They appeared to him, in their addresses to those poor benighted heathens, to have none of those difficulties with which he felt himself encumbered. These things led him to the throne of grace, to implore instruction and
resolution. He saw that he wanted both; the one to know the mind of Christ, and the other to avow it.
He was, for some time, however, deterred from disclosing his doubts. During nearly four years they occupied his mind, and not without increasing. Being once in company with a minister whom he greatly respected, it was thrown out, as a matter of inquiry, Whether we had generally entertained just notions concerning unbelief? It was common to speak of unbelief as a calling in question the truth of our own personal religion; whereas, he remarked, "it was the calling in question the truth of what God had said." This remark appeared to carry in it its own evidence.
From this time, his thoughts upon the subject began to enlarge. He preached upon it more than once. From hence, he was led to think on its opposite, faith, and to consider it as a persuasion of the truth of what God has said; and, of course, to suspect his former views concerning its not being the duty of unconverted sinners.
He was aware that the generality of Christians with whom he was acquainted viewed the belief of the gospel as something presupposed in faith, rather than as being of the essence of it; and considered the contrary as the opinion of Mr. Sandeman, which they were agreed in rejecting, as favourable to a dead or inoperative kind of faith. He thought, however, that what they meant by a belief of the gospel was nothing more than a general assent to the doctrines of revelation, unaccompanied with love to them, or a dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. He had no doubt but that such a notion of the subject ought to be rejected; and if this be the notion of Mr. Sandeman, (which, by the way, he does not know, having never read any of his works,) he has no scruple in saying it is far from any thing which he intends to advance. *
* Since the first edition of this piece made its appearance, the author has seen Mr. Sandeman's writings, and those of Mr. A. M'Lean, who, on this subject, seems to agree with Mr. Sandeman. Justice requires him to say that these writers do not appear to plead for a kind of faith which is not followed with love, or by a dependence on Christ alone for salvation; but their idea of faith itself goes to exclude every thing cordial from it. Though he accords with them in considering the belief of
It appeared to him that we had taken unconverted sinners too much upon their word, when they told us that they believed the gospel. He did not doubt but that they might believe many things concerning Jesus Christ and his salvation; but being blind to the glory of God, as it is displayed in the face of Jesus Christ, their belief of the gospel must be very superficial, extending only to a few facts, without any sense of their real intrinsic excellency; which, strictly speaking, is not faith. Those who see no form nor comeliness in the Messiah, nor beauty, that they should desire him, are described as not believing the report concerning him. *
He had also read and considered, as well as he was able, President Edwards's Inquiry into the Freedom of the Will, with some other performances on the difference between natural and moral inability. He found much satisfaction in this distinction; as it appeared to him to carry with it its own evidence -- to be clearly and fully contained in the Scriptures -- and calculated to disburden the Calvinistic system of a number of calumnies with which its enemies have loaded it, as well as to afford clear and honourable conceptions of the Divine government. If it were not the duty of unconverted sinners to believe in Christ, and that because of their inability, he supposed this inability must be natural, or something which did not arise from an evil disposition; but the more he examined the Scriptures, the more he was convinced that all the inability ascribed to man, with respect to believing, arises from the aversion of his heart. They will not come to Christ that they may have life; will not hearken to the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely; will not seek after God; and desire not the knowledge of his ways.
He wishes to avoid the error into which we are apt to be betrayed, when engaged in controversy -- that of magnifying the importance of the subject beyond its proper bounds; yet he seriously thinks the subject treated of in the following pages is of no small importance. To him, it appears to be
the gospel as saving faith, yet there is an important difference in the ideas which they attach to believing. This difference with some other things is examined, in an Appendix, at the end of this edition.
* Isa. liii. 1, 2.
the same controversy, for substance, as that which in all ages has subsisted between God and an apostate world. God has ever maintained these two principles: All that is evil is of the creature, and to him belongs the blame of it; and all that is good is of himself, and to him belongs the praise of it. To acquiesce in both these positions is too much for the carnal heart. The advocates for free-will would seem to yield the former, acknowledging themselves blameworthy for the evil; but they cannot admit the latter. Whatever honour they may allow to the general grace of God, they are for ascribing the preponderance in favour of virtue and eternal life to their own good improvement of it. Others, who profess to be advocates for free grace, appear to be willing that God should have all the honour of their salvation, in case they should be saved; but they discover the strongest aversion to take to themselves the blame of their destruction in case they should be lost. To yield both these points to God is to fall under in the grand controversy with him, and to acquiesce in his revealed will; which acquiescence includes repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, it were not very difficult to prove that each, in rejecting one of these truths, does not, in reality, embrace the other. The Arminian, though he professes to take the blame of the evil upon himself, yet feels no guilt for being a sinner, any further than he imagines he could, by the help of Divine grace, given to him and all mankind, have avoided it. If he admit the native depravity of his heart, it is his misfortune, not his fault; his fault lies, not in being in a state of alienation and aversion from God, but in not making the best use of the grace of God to get out of it. And the Antinomian, though he ascribes salvation to free grace, yet feels no obligation for the pardon of his impenitence, his unbelief, or his constant aversion to God, during his supposed unregeneracy. Thus, as in many other cases, opposite extremes are known to meet. Where no grace is given, they are united in supposing that no duty can be required; which, if true, grace is no more grace.
The following particulars are premised, for the sake of a clear understanding of the subject: --
First, There is no dispute about the doctrine of election, or any of the discriminating doctrines of grace. They are allowed on both sides; and it is granted that none ever did or ever will believe in Christ but those who are chosen of God from eternity. The question does not turn upon what are the causes of salvation, but rather upon what are the causes of damnation. "No man," as Mr. Charnock happily expresses it, "is an unbeliever, but because he will be so; and every man is not an unbeliever, because the grace of God conquers some, changeth their wills, and bends them to Christ."*
Secondly, Neither is there any dispute concerning who ought to be encouraged to consider themselves as entitled to the blessings of the gospel. Though sinners be freely invited to the participation of spiritual blessings; yet they have no interest in them, according to God's revealed will, while they continue in unbelief; nor is it any part of the design of these pages to persuade them to believe that they have. On the contrary, the writer is fully convinced that, whatever be the secret purpose of God concerning them, they are at present under the curse.
Thirdly, The question is not whether men are bound to do any thing more than the law requires, but whether the law, as the invariable standard of right and wrong, does not require every man cordially to embrace whatever God reveals; in other words, whether love to God, with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength, does not include a cordial reception of whatever plan he shall at any period of time disclose.
Fourthly, The question is not whether men are required to believe any more than is reported in the gospel, or any thing that is not true; but whether that which is reported ought not to be believed with all the heart, and whether this be not saving faith.
Fifthly, It is no part of the controversy whether unconverted sinners be able to turn to God, and to embrace the gospel; but what kind of inability they lie under with respect to these exercises; whether it consists in the want of natural powers and advantages, or merely in the want of a heart to make a right use of them. If the former, obligation, it is
* Discourses, Vol. II. p. 473.
granted, would be set aside; but if the latter, it remains in full force. They that are in the flesh cannot please God; but it does not follow that they are not obliged to do so; and this their obligation requires to be clearly insisted on, that they maybe convinced of their sin, and so induced to embrace the gospel remedy.
Sixthly, The question is not whether faith be required of sinners as a virtue, which, if complied with, shall be the ground of their acceptance with God, or that on account of which they may be justified in his sight; but whether it be not required as the appointed means of salvation. The righteousness of Jesus believed in is the only ground of justification, but faith in him is necessary to our being interested in it. We remember the fatal example of the Jews, which the apostle Paul holds up to our view. "The Gentiles," saith he, "who followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith: but Israel, who followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but, as it were, by the works of the law; for they stumbled at that stumbling-stone. * Though we had not been elsewhere told (1 Pet. ii. 8) that in doing this they were disobedient, ** yet our judgments must be strangely warped by system if we did not conclude it to be their sin, and that by which they fell and perished. And we dare not but charge our hearers, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear, to beware of stumbling upon the same stone, and of falling after the same example of unbelief.
Finally: The question is not whether unconverted sinners be the subjects of exhortation, but whether they ought to be exhorted to perform spiritual duties. It is beyond all dispute that the Scriptures do exhort them to many things. If, therefore, there be any professors of Christianity who question the propriety of this, and who would have nothing said to them, except that, "if they be elected they will be called," they are not to be reasoned with, but rebuked, as setting themselves in direct opposition to the word of God. The greater part of those who may differ from the author on these subjects,
* Rom. ix. 30-32.
** 1 Peter ii. 8.
it is presumed, will admit the propriety of sinners being exhorted to duty; only this duty must, as they suppose, be confined to merely natural exercises, or such as may be complied with by a carnal heart, destitute of the love of God. It is one design of the following pages to show that God requires the heart, the whole heart, and nothing but the heart; that all the precepts of the Bible are only the different modes in which we are required to express our love to him; that, instead of its being true that sinners are obliged to perform duties which have no spirituality in them, there are no such duties to be performed; and that, so far from their being exhorted to every thing excepting what is spiritually good, they are exhorted to nothing else. The Scriptures undoubtedly require them to read, to hear, to repent, and to pray, that their sins may be forgiven them. It is not, however, in the exercise of a carnal, but of a spiritual state of mind, that these duties are performed.
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* John i.12; iii. 16; Psal. cxviii. 22; 1 Pet. ii. 7; Platt. xxi.42; Acts xiii. 46.
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meets with, becomes a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death. *
The controversies which have arisen concerning faith in Jesus Christ are not so much an object of surprise as the conduct of those who, professing to be Christians, affect to decry the subject as a matter of little or no importance. There is not any principle or exercise of the human mind of which the New Testament speaks so frequently, and on which so great a stress is laid. And with regard to the inquiry whether faith be required of all men who hear, or have opportunity to hear, the word, it cannot be uninteresting. If it be not, to inculcate it would be unwarrantable and cruel to our fellow sinners, as it subjects them to an additional charge of abundance of guilt; but if it be, to explain it away is to undermine the Divine prerogative, and, as far as it goes, to subvert the very intent of the promulgation of the gospel, which is that men “should believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and, believing, have life through his name,” John xx. 31. This is doubtless a very serious thing, and ought to be seriously considered. Though some good men may be implicated in this matter, it becomes them to remember that "whosoever breaketh one of the least of Christ's commandments, and teacheth men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven." If believing be a commandment, it cannot be one of the least: the important relations which it sustains, as well as the dignity of its object, must prevent this: the knowledge of sin, repentance for it, and gratitude for pardoning mercy, all depend upon our admitting it. And if it be a great commandment, the breach of it must be a great sin; and whosoever teaches men otherwise is a partaker of their guilt; and, if they perish, will be found to have been accessory to their eternal ruin. Let it be considered whether the apostle to the Hebrews did not proceed upon such principles, when he exclaimed, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" And the Lord Jesus himself when be declared, "He that believeth not shall be damned!"
In order to determine, whether faith in Christ be the duty
* Mark xvi. 16. 1 Peter ii. 8. 2 Cor. ii. 16.
** John xx. 31.
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of all men who have opportunity to hear the gospel, it will be necessary to determine what it is, or wherein it consists. Some have maintained that it consists in a persuasion of our interest in Christ and in all the benefits and blessings of his mediation. The author of The Further Inquiry, Mr. L. Wayman, of Kimbolton, who wrote about sixty years ago upon the subject, questions "whether there be any act of special faith which hath not the nature of appropriation in it" (p. 13); and by appropriation he appears to mean a persuasion of our interest in spiritual blessings. This is the ground upon which he rests the main body of his argument: to overturn it, therefore, will be in effect to answer his book. Some, who would not be thought to maintain that a persuasion of interest in Christ is essential to faith, for the sake of many Christians whom they cannot but observe, upon this principle, to be, generally speaking, unbelievers, yet maintain what fully implies it. Though they will allow, for the comfort of such Christians, that assurance is not of the essence of faith, (understanding by assurance an assured persuasion of our salvation,) but that a reliance on Christ is sufficient; yet, in almost all other things, they speak as if they did not believe what at those times they say. It is common for such persons to call those fears which occupy the minds of Christians, lest they should miss of salvation at last, by the name of unbelief; and to reprove them for being guilty of this God-dishonouring sin, exhorting them to be strong in faith, like Abraham, giving glory to God; when all that is meant is, that they should, without doubting, believe the goodness of their state. If this be saving faith, it must inevitably follow that it is not the duty of unconverted sinners; for they are not interested in Christ, and it cannot possibly be their duty to believe a lie. But if it can be proved that the proper object of saving faith is not our being interested in Christ, but the glorious gospel of the ever-blessed God, (which is true, whether we believe it or not,) a contrary inference must be drawn; for it is admitted, on all hands, that it is the duty of every man to believe what God reveals.
I have no objection to allowing that true faith "hath in it the nature of appropriation," if by this term be meant an application of the truths believed to our own particular cases.
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"When the Scriptures teach," says a pungent writer, "we are to receive instruction, for the enlightening of our own minds; when they admonish, we are to take warning; when they reprove, we are to be checked; when they comfort, we are to be cheered and encouraged; and when they recommend any grace, we are to desire and embrace it; when they command any duty, we are to hold ourselves enjoined to do it; when they promise, we are to hope; when they threaten, we are to be terrified, as if the judgment were denounced against us; and when they forbid any sin, we are to think they forbid it unto us. By which application we shall make all the rich treasures contained in the Scriptures wholly our own, and in such a powerful and peculiar manner enjoy the fruit and benefit of them, as if they had been wholly written for us, and none other else besides us." *
By saving faith, we undoubtedly embrace Christ for ourselves, in the same sense as Jacob embraced Jehovah as his God (Gen. xxviii. 21); that is, to a rejecting of every idol that stands in competition with him. Christ is all-sufficient, and suited to save us as well as others; and it is for the forgiveness of our sins that we put our trust in him. But this is very different from a persuasion of our being in a state of salvation.
My objections to this notion of faith are as follows: --
First, Nothing can be an object of faith, except what God has revealed in his word; but the interest that any individual has in Christ and the blessings of the gospel, more than another, is not revealed. God has no where declared, concerning any one of us, as individuals, that we shall be saved; all that he has revealed on this subject respects us as characters. He has abundantly promised that all who believe in him, love him, and obey him shall be saved; and a persuasion that if we sustain these characters we shall be saved, is doubtless an exercise of faith: but whether we do or not, is an object not of faith, but of consciousness. "Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him" -- "My little children, let us not love in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth hereby
* Downame's Guide to Godliness, p. 647
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we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him."* If any one imagine that God has revealed to him his interest in his love, and this in a special, immediate, and extraordinary manner, and not by exciting in him the holy exercises of grace, and thereby begetting a consciousness of his being a subject of grace, let him beware lest he deceive his soul. The Jews were not wanting in what some would call the faith of assurance: "We have one Father," said they, "even God:" but Jesus answered, "If God were your Father, ye would love me."
Secondly, The Scriptures always represent faith as terminating on something without us; namely, on Christ, and the truths concerning him: but if it consist in a persuasion of our being in a state of salvation, it must terminate principally on something within us; namely, the work of grace in our hearts; for to believe myself interested in Christ is the same thing as to believe myself a subject of special grace. And hence, as was said, it is common for many who entertain this notion of faith to consider its opposite, unbelief, as a doubting whether we have been really converted. But as it is the truth and excellence of the things to be interested in, and not his interest in them, that the sinner is apt to disbelieve; so it is these, and not that, on which the faith of the believer primarily terminates. Perhaps what relates to personal interest may, in general, more properly be called hope than faith; and its opposite fear, than unbelief.
Thirdly, To believe ourselves in a state of salvation (however desirable, when grounded on evidence) is far inferior in its object to saving faith. The grand object on which faith fixes is the glory of Christ, and not the happy condition we are in, as interested in him. The latter doubtless affords great consolation; and the more we discover of his excellence, the more ardently shall we desire an interest in him, and be the more disconsolate while it continues a matter of doubt. But if we be concerned only for our own security, our faith is vain, and we are yet in our sins. As that repentance which fixes merely on the consequences of sin as subjecting us to misery is selfish and spurious, so that faith which fixes merely on the consequences of Christ's mediation, as raising us to
* 1 John ii. 3. 5; iii. 18, 19.
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happiness is equally selfish and spurious. It is the peculiar property of true faith to endear Christ: "Unto you that believe he is precious." And where this is the case, if there be no impediments arising from constitutional dejection or other accidental causes, we shall not be in doubt about an interest in him. Consolation will accompany the faith of the gospel: "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Fourthly, All those exercises of faith which our Lord so highly commends in the New Testament, as that of the centurion, the woman of Canaan, and others, are represented as terminating on his all-sufficiency to heal them, and not as consisting in a persuasion that they were interested in the Divine favour, and therefore should succeed. "Speak the word only," says the one, "and my servant shall be healed; for I am a man in authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it." Such was the persuasion which the other entertained of his all-sufficiency to help her, that she judged it enough if she might but partake of the crumbs of his table -- the scatterings as it were of mercy. Similar to this is the following language: -- "If I may but touch the hem of his garment, I shall be made whole." -- "Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord." -- "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." -- "If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us: Jesus said, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." I allow that the case of these people, and that of a sinner applying for forgiveness, are not exactly the same. Christ had no where promised to heal all who came for healing; but he has graciously bound himself not to cast out any who come to him for mercy. On this account, there is a greater ground for faith in the willingness of Christ to save than there was in his willingness to heal; and there was less unbelief in the saying of the leper, "If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean,” than there would be in similar language from one who, convinced of his own utter insufficiency, applied to him for salvation. But a persuasion of Christ being both able and willing to save all them that come unto God by him, and consequently to save us if we so apply, is very
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different from a persuasion that we are the children of God, and interested in the blessings of the gospel.
Mr. Anderson, an American writer, has lately published a pamphlet on the Scripture Doctrine of the Appropriation which is in the Nature of saving Faith. The scheme which he attempts to defend is that of Hervey, Marshall, &c., or that which in Scotland is known by the name of the Marrow doctrine.* These divines write much about the gospel containing a gift or grant of Christ and spiritual blessings to sinners of mankind; and that it is the office of faith so to receive the gift as to claim it as our own; and thus they seem to have supposed that it becomes our own. But the gospel contains no gift or grant to mankind in general, beyond that of an offer or free invitation; and thus, indeed, Mr. Boston, in his notes on the Marrow of Modern Divinity, seems to explain it. It warrants every sinner to believe in Christ for salvation, but no one to conclude himself interested in salvation till he has believed; consequently, such a conclusion, even where it is well-founded, cannot be faith, but that which follows it.
Mr. Anderson is careful to distinguish the appropriation for which he contends from "the knowledge of our being believers, or already in a state of grace," -- p. 61. He also acknowledges that the ground of saving faith "is something that may be known before, and in order to the act of faith;" that it is "among the things that are revealed, and which belong to us and to our children," -- p. 60. Yet he makes it of the essence of faith to believe "that Christ is ours," -- p. 56. It must be true, then, that Christ is ours, antecedently to our believing it, and whether we believe it or not. This, it seems, Mr. Anderson will admit; for he holds that "God hath made a gift or grant of Christ and spiritual blessings to sinners of mankind," and which denominates him ours "before we believe it." Yet he does not admit the final salvation of all to whom Christ is thus supposed to be given. To what, therefore, does the gift amount, more than to a free invitation, concerning which his opponents have no dispute with him? A free invitation, though it affords a warrant to apply for mercy,
* Alluding to a work published some years since, under the title of The Marrow of Modern Divinity.
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and that with an assurance of success; yet gives no interest in its blessings, but on the supposition of its being accepted. Neither does the gift for which Mr. A. contends; nothing is conveyed by it that insures any man's salvation. All the author says, therefore, against what he calls conditions of salvation, is no less applicable to his own scheme than to that of his opponents. His scheme is as really conditional as theirs. The condition which it prescribes for our becoming interested in the blessings of eternal life, so interested, at least, as to possess them, is, to believe them to be our own; and without this he supposes we shall never enjoy them.
He contends, indeed, that the belief of the promises cannot be called a condition of our right to claim an interest in them, because if such belief be claiming an interest in them, it would be making a thing the condition of itself, -- pp. 50, 51. But to this it is replied, First, Although Mr. A. considers saving faith as including appropriation, yet this is only one idea which he ascribes to it. He explains it as consisting of three things: a persuasion of Divine truth, wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit; a sure persuasion; and an appropriating persuasion of Christ's being ours, -- pp. 54-56. Now though it were allowed that the last branch of this definition is the same thing as claiming an interest in the promises, and therefore cannot be reckoned the condition of it; yet this is more than can be said of the former two, which are no less essential to saving faith than the other. Secondly, The sense in which the promise is taken, by what is called appropriating faith, is not the same as that in which it is given in the promise itself. As given in the word, the promise is general, applying equally to one sinner as to another; but as taken, it is considered as particular, and as insuring salvation. Thirdly, If an interest in the righteousness of Christ were the immediate object of saving faith, how could it be said that "unto us it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus from the dead?" If Christ's righteousness be ours, it must be so as imputed to us; but this would be making the apostle say, If we believe Christ's righteousness to be imputed to us, it shall be imputed to us.
I have no partiality for calling faith, or any thing done by us, the condition of salvation; and if by the term were meant
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a deed to be performed of which the promised good is the reward, it would be inadmissible. If I had used the term, it would have been merely to express the necessary connexion of things, or that faith is that without which there is no salvation; and, in this sense, it is no less a condition in Mr. A.'s scheme than in that which he opposes. He thinks, however, that the promises of God are, by his statement of things, disencumbered of conditions; yet how he can prove that God has absolutely given Christ and spiritual blessings to multitudes who will never possess them, I am at a loss to conceive. I should have supposed that whatever God has absolutely promised would take effect. He says, indeed, that "the Lord may give an absolute promise to those who, in the event, never come to the actual enjoyment of the promised blessing, as in the case of the Israelites being brought to the good land, (Exod. iii. 17,) though the bulk of them that left Egypt perished in the wilderness through unbelief," -- p. 43. It is true God absolutely promised to plant them, "as a nation," in the good land, and this he performed; but he did not absolutely promise that every individual who left Egypt should be amongst them. So far as it respected individuals (unless it were in reference to Caleb and Joshua) the promise was not absolute.
Upon the mere ground of Christ being exhibited in the gospel, "I am persuaded," says Mr. A., "that he is my Saviour; nor can I, without casting reproach upon the wisdom, faithfulness, and mercy of God, in setting him forth, entertain any doubts about my justification and salvation through his name," -- p. 65. Has God promised justification and salvation, then, to every one to whom Christ is exhibited? If he has, it doubtless belongs to faith to give him credit: but, in this case, we ought also to maintain that the promise will be performed, whatever be the state of our minds; for though we believe not, he abideth faithful. On the other hand, if the blessing of justification, though freely offered to all, be only promised to believers, it is not faith, but presumption, to be persuaded of my justification, any otherwise than as being conscious of my believing in Jesus for it.
Mr. A. illustrates his doctrine by a similitude. "Suppose that a great and generous prince had made a grant to a certain class of persons, therein described, of large estates, including
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all things suitable to their condition; and had publicly declared, that whosoever of the persons so described would believe such an estate, in virtue of the grant now mentioned, to be his own, should not be disappointed, but should immediately enter upon the granted estate, according to the order specified in the grant. Suppose, too, that the royal donor had given the grant in writing, and had added his seal, and his oath, and his gracious invitation, and his most earnest entreaty, and his authoritative command, to induce the persons described in the grant to accept of it. It is evident that any one of these persons, having had access to read or hear the grant, must either be verily persuaded that the granted estate is his own, or be chargeable with an attempt to bring dishonour upon the goodness, the veracity, the power, and authority of the donor; on account of which attempt he is liable not only to be debarred for ever from the granted estate, but to suffer a most exemplary and tremendous punishment," p.66.
I suppose the object of this similitude is expressed in the sentence, "It is evident that any one of these persons, having had access to read or hear the grant, must either be verily persuaded that the granted estate is his own, or be chargeable with dishonouring the donor." In what sense, then, is it his own? He is freely invited to partake of it; that is all. It is not so his own but that he may ultimately be debarred from possessing it; but in whatever sense it is his own, that is the only sense in which he is warranted to believe it to be so. If the condition of his actually possessing it be his believing that he shall actually possess it, he must believe what was not revealed at the time, except conditionally, and what would not have been true but for his believing it.
The above similitude may serve to illustrate Mr. A.'s scheme; but I know of nothing like it, either in the concerns of men or the oracles of God. I will venture to say there never was a gift or grant made upon any such terms, and the man that should make it would expose himself to ridicule. The Scriptures furnish us with an illustration of another kind. The gospel is a feast freely provided, and sinners of mankind are freely invited to partake of it. There is no mention of any gift, or grant, distinct from this, but this itself is a ground sufficient. It affords a complete warrant for any sinner,
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not indeed to believe the provisions to be his own, whether he accept the invitation or not, but that, relinquishing every thing that stands in competition with them, and receiving them as a free gift, they shall be his own. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." -- "To us it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead." Those who were persuaded to embrace the invitation are not described as coming to make a claim of it as their property, but as gratefully accepting it; and those who refused are not represented as doubting whether the feast was provided for them, but as making light of it, and preferring their farms and merchandise before it.
In short, if this writer can prove it to be true that justification and eternal life are absolutely given, granted, and promised, to all who hear the gospel, there can be no dispute whether saving faith includes the belief of it with respect to ourselves, nor whether it be a duty; but if the thing be false, it can be no part of the faith of the gospel, nor of the duty of a sinner, to give credit to it.
But to return. That the belief of the truth which God hath revealed in the Scriptures concerning Christ is saving faith is evident from the following passages: -- "Go preach the gospel to every creature: he, that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." Believing, here, manifestly refers to the gospel to be preached, and the rejection of which would subject the unbeliever to certain damnation.-- "These things are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that, believing, ye might have life through his name." Believing unto life is here described as a persuasion of Jesus being the Christ, the Son of God; and that on the ground of what was written in the Scriptures. "Those by the wayside are they that hear: then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved." This language plainly denotes that a real belief of the word is connected with salvation. Peter confessed, "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus answered, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven." Here it is plainly intimated that a belief of Jesus being the Christ, the Son of the living God, is saving faith; and that no man
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can be strictly said to do this, unless he be the subject of a spiritual illumination from above. To the same purpose are those express declarations of Paul and John: "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." -- "Whoso believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." -- "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" -- "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God." -- "He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true." -- "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Spirit." -- Again, "While ye have the light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light." The light they then had was that of the gospel; and had they believed it, they would have been the children of light, or true Christians. "Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth." -- "These things I say that ye might be saved." Our Lord could not mean less by this language than that, if they believed those things which John testified, and which he himself confirmed, they would be saved; which is the same thing as declaring it to be saving faith. Christ "shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day." The words in a parenthesis are evidently intended to give the reason of the phrase, "them that believe," and intimate that it was the belief of the gospel testimony that denominated them believers. "God hath chosen us to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." It cannot be doubted that, by the "belief of the truth," is here meant faith in Christ; and its being connected with sanctification of the Spirit and eternal salvation proves it to be saving. *
If the foregoing passages be admitted to prove the point, (and if they do not, we may despair of learning any thing from the Scriptures,) the duty of unconverted sinners to believe in Christ cannot fairly be called in question; for, as before said,
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it is admitted on all hands that it is the duty of every man to believe what God reveals.
But to this statement it is objected, that Christianity having at that time great opposition made to it, and its professors being consequently exposed to great persecution and reproach, the belief and acknowledgment of the gospel was more a test of sincerity than it now is: men are now taught the principles of the Christian religion from their youth, and believe them, and are not ashamed to acknowledge them; while yet they give no evidence of their being born of God, but of the contrary. There is some force in this objection, so far as it respects a confession of Christ's name; but I do not perceive that it affects the belief of the gospel. It was no more difficult to believe the truth at that time than at this, though it might be much more so to avow it. With respect to that traditional assent which is given to Christianity in some nations, it is of the same nature as that which is given to Mahometanism and paganism in others. It is no more than that of the Jewish nation in the time of our Lord towards the Mosaic Scriptures. They declared themselves to be Moses's disciples, and had no doubt but they believed him; yet our Lord did not allow that they believed his writings. "Had ye believed Moses," says be, "ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me." The same is doubtless true of all others who assent to his gospel merely from having been educated in it. Did they believe it, they would be consistent, and embrace those things which are connected with it. It is worthy of remark, that those professors of Christianity who received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved, are represented as not believing the truth, and as having pleasure in unrighteousness, 2 Thess. ii. 10, 12. To admit the existence of a few facts, without possessing any sense of their humiliating implication, their holy nature, their vast importance, or the practical consequences that attach to them, is to admit the body without the spirit. Paul, notwithstanding his knowledge of the law, and great zeal on its behalf, while blind to its spirituality, reckoned himself to be "without the law," Rom. vii. 9. And such are those professing Christians, with respect to the gospel, "who receive not the love of the truth, that they may be saved."
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It is further objected, that men are said to have believed the gospel, who, notwithstanding, were destitute of true religion. Thus some among the chief rulers are said to have "believed in Jesus, but did not confess him; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God." It is said of Simon that he "believed also;" yet he was "in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity." Agrippa is acknowledged by Paul to have believed the prophets, and faith is attributed even to the devils. The term belief, like almost every other term, is sometimes used in an improper sense. Judas is said to have repented and hanged himself, though nothing more is meant by it than his being smitten with remorse, wishing he had not done as he did, on account of the consequences. Through the poverty of language there is not a name for every thing that differs, and therefore where two things have the same visible appearance, and differ only in some circumstances which are invisible, it is common to call them by the same name. Thus men are termed honest who are punctual in their dealings, though such conduct in many instances may arise merely from a regard to their own credit, interest, or safety. Thus the remorse of Judas is called repentance; and thus the convictions of the Jewish rulers, of Simon, and Agrippa, and the fearful apprehension of apostate angels, from what they had already felt, is called faith. But as we do not infer, from the application of the term repentance to the feelings of Judas, that there is nothing spiritual in real repentance, so neither ought we to conclude, from the foregoing applications of the term believing, that there is nothing spiritual in a real belief of the gospel.
"The objects of faith," it has been said, "are not bare axioms or propositions: the act of the believer does not terminate at an axiom, but at the thing; for axioms are not formed but that by them knowledge may be had of things." To believe a bare axiom or proposition, in distinction from the thing, must be barely to believe that such and such letters make certain words, and that such words put together have a certain meaning; but who would call this believing the proposition? To believe the proposition is to believe the thing. Letters, syllables, words, and propositions are only means of conveyance; and these, as such, are not the objects of faith,
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but the thing conveyed. Nevertheless, those things must have a conveyance, ere they can be believed in. The person, blood, and righteousness of Christ, for instance, are often said to be objects of faith; and this they doubtless are, as they are objects held forth to us by the language of Scripture: but they could not meet our faith, unless something were affirmed concerning them in letters and syllables, or vocal sounds, or by some means or other of conveyance. To say therefore that these are objects of faith is to say the truth, but not the whole truth; the person, blood, and righteousness of Christ revealed in the Scriptures as the way of a sinner's acceptance with God, are, properly speaking, the objects of our faith; for without such a revelation it were impossible to believe in them.
Mr. Booth, and various other writers, have considered faith in Christ as a dependence on him, a receiving him, a coming to him and trusting in him for salvation. There is no doubt but these terms are frequently used, in the New Testament, to express believing. "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." -- "He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth in me shall never thirst." -- "That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ." -- "I know whom I have trusted, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day." Whether these terms, however, strictly speaking, convey the same idea as believing, may admit of a question. They seem rather to be the immediate effects of faith than faith itself. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews describes the order of these things, in what he says of the faith of Enoch: “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Here are three different exercises of mind: First, believing that God is; Secondly, believing that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him; Thirdly, coming to him: and the last is represented as the effect of the former two. The same may be applied to Christ. He that cometh to Christ must believe the gospel testimony, that he is the Son of God, and the Saviour
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of sinners; the only name given under heaven, and among men, by which we must be saved: he must also believe the gospel promise, that he will bestow eternal salvation on all them that obey him; and under the influence of this persuasion, he comes to him, commits himself to him, or trusts the salvation of his soul in his hands. This process may be so quick as not to admit of the mind being conscious of it; and especially as, at such a time, it is otherwise employed than in speculating upon its own operations. So far as it is able to recollect, the whole may appear to be one complex exercise of the soul. In this large sense also, as comprehending not only the credit of the gospel testimony, but the soul's dependence on Christ alone for acceptance with God, it is allowed that believing is necessary, not only to salvation, but to justification. We must come to Jesus that we may have life. Those who attain the blessing of justification must seek it by faith, and not by the works of the law; submitting themselves to the righteousness of God. This blessing is constantly represented as following our union with Christ; and “he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit." *
Let it but be granted that a real belief of the gospel is not merely a matter presupposed in saving faith, but that it enters into the essence of it, and the writer of these pages will be far from contending for the exclusion of trust or dependence. He certainly has no such objection to it as is alleged by Mr. M'Lean, that “to include, in the nature of faith, any holy exercise of the heart, affects the doctrine of justification by grace alone, without the works of the law."+ If he supposed, with that author, however, that, in order to justification being wholly of grace, no holiness must precede it; or that the party must, at the time, be in a state of enmity to God; he must, to be consistent, unite with him also in excluding trust (which, undoubtedly, is a holy exercise) from having any place in justifying faith; but persuaded as he is that the freeness of justification rests upon no such ground, he is not under this necessity.
The term trust appears to be most appropriate, or best
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adapted of any, to express the confidence which the soul reposes in Christ for the fulfilment of his promises. We may credit a report of evil tidings as well as one of good, but we cannot be said to trust it. We may also credit a report, the truth or falsehood of which does not at all concern us; but that in which we place trust must be some thing in which our wellbeing is involved. The relinquishment of false confidences which the gospel requires, and the risk which is made in embracing it, are likewise better expressed by this term than by any other. A true belief of the record which God has given of his Son is accompanied with all this; but the term belief does not, of itself, necessarily convey it. When Jacob's sons brought the coat of many colours to him, he credited their story; he believed Joseph to be torn to pieces; but he could not be said to trust that he was. When the same persons, on their return from Egypt, declared that Joseph was yet alive, Jacob, at first, believed them not, but, on seeing the waggons, he was satisfied of the truth of their declaration, and trusted in it too, leaving all behind him on the ground of it.
But whatever difference there may be between credit and trust, they agree in those particulars which affect the point at issue; the one, no less than the other, has relation to revealed truth as its foundation. In some cases it directly refers to the Divine veracity; as in Psal. cxix. 42, I trust in thy word. And where the immediate reference is to the power, the wisdom, or the mercy of God, or to the righteousness of Christ, there is a remote relation to veracity; for neither the one nor the other would be objects of trust, were they not revealed in a way of promise. And from hence it will follow, that trusting in Christ, no less than crediting his testimony, is the duty of every sinner to whom the revelation is made.
If it be asked, What ground could a sinner, who shall at last prove to have no interest in the salvation of Christ, ever possess for trusting in him? let it be considered what it was for which he was warranted or obliged to trust. Was it that Christ would save him, whether he believed in him or not? No: there is no such promise, but an explicit declaration of the contrary. To trust in this, therefore, would be to trust in a falsehood. That for which he ought to have trusted in him
* John v. 40; Rom. ix. 31, 32; x. 3; 1 Cor, vi. 17. + On the Commission, p. 83.
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was the obtaining of mercy, in case he applied for it. For this there was a complete warrant in the gospel declarations, as Mr. Booth, in his Tidings to Perishing Sinners, has fully evinced. There are principles, in that performance, which the writer of these pages, highly as he respects the author, cannot approve. The principal subjects of his disapprobation have been pointed out, and he thinks Scripturally refuted, by Mr. Scott;* but with respect to the warrant which every sinner has to trust in Christ for salvation, Mr. B. has clearly and fully established it. I may add, if any man distrust either the power or willingness of Christ to save those that come to him, and so continue to stand at a distance, relying upon his own righteousness, or some false ground of confidence, to the rejection of him, it is criminal and inexcusable unbelief.
Mr. Booth has (to all appearance, designedly) avoided the question, Whether faith in Christ be the duty of the ungodly? The leading principle of the former part of his work, however, cannot stand upon any other ground. He contends that the gospel affords a complete warrant for the ungodly to believe in Jesus; and surely he will not affirm that sinners are at liberty either to embrace the warrant afforded them or to reject it? He defines believing in Jesus Christ "receiving him as he is exhibited in the doctrine of grace, or depending upon him only." But if the ungodly be not obliged, as well as warranted, to do this, they are at liberty to do as the Jewish nation did, to receive him not, and to go on depending upon the works of the law for acceptance with God. In the course of his work, he describes the gospel message as full of kind invitations, winning persuasions, and importunate entreaties; and the messengers as commissioned to persuade and entreat sinners to be reconciled to God, and to regard the vicarious work of Jesus as "the only ground of their justification," -- pp. 36, 37, 2d ed. But how if they should remain unreconciled, and continue to disregard the work of Christ? How if they should, after all, make light of this "royal banquet," and prefer their farms and their merchandises to these "plentiful
* See his Warrant and Nature of Faith.
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provisions of Divine grace?" Are they guiltless in so doing, and free from all breach of duty? I am persuaded, whatever was Mr. Booth's reason for being silent on this subject, he will not say they are.
(remainder of text under construction)