A CAVEAT AGAINST UNSOUND DOCTRINES
A.M. Toplady (1740-1778)
Copyright: Public Domain
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A CAVEAT AGAINST UNSOUND DOCTRINES
BEING THE SUBSTANCE OF A
IN THE PARISH CHURCH OF ST. ANN, BLACKFRIARS;
On Sunday, April 29th, 1770.
Seeing then, that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech.
2 Con.s iii. 12.
This Sermon was first preached at St. Matthew, Bethnal Green, April 22. Some persons then present, to whose judgment and request I pay the highest deference, desired me to retrieve as much of it as I could, the Sunday following, at St. Ann’s; with a view to its being taken in short hand and published.
The loss of my nearest relative, soon after this Sermon was preached, and the many avocations occasioned by that lamented and unexpected event account but too well for the delay with which the publication has been attended. Having, however, transcribed it at last, from the notes of the person who penned it at the time of its delivery, I now transmit it to the press, most affectionately and respectfully inscribed to my dear London friends; whose favors, equally great, numerous, and unmerited, I have no other public way of acknowledging, London, July 3, 1770.
“And if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine” 1Ti 1:10.
St. Paul is commonly, and most probably, supposed to have written this Epistle about A. D. 65, that is, about two years before his own martyrdom, and about thirty-one after our Lords ascension. He addressed it to Timothy; who, though a very (1Ti 4:12) young man, had been some time in the ministry, and was then entrusted with the oversight of the church at Ephesus. In the estimation of unprejudiced reason, honorable age is not that which standeth in length of time, nor that is measured by number of years: but wisdom is the gray hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age. (Wisd. 4:8, 9)
But Timothy, though young, was far from robust. He was only strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. His regenerate heaven-born soul dwelt in a sickly infirm body. Whence we read of his (1Ti 5:23) or frequent indispositions: arising, perhaps, originally from a natural delicacy of constitution: and, certainly, increased by a rigid abstemiousness, and constant course of ministerial labors. Thus our heavenly Father, graciously severe, and wisely kind, takes care to infuse some salutary bitter into his children’s cup below; since, were they here to taste of happiness absolute and unmingled; were not the gales of prosperity, whether spiritual or temporal, counterpoised, more or less, by the needful ballast of affliction; his people (always imperfect here) would be enriched to their loss, and liable to be overset in their way to the kingdom of God. Wherefore consummate felicity, without any mixture of wormwood, is reserved for our enjoyment in a state where perfect sanctification will qualify us to possess it. In heaven, and there only, the inhabitant no more say, in any sense whatever, I am sick. (Isa 33:24)
St. Paul, in the opening of his apostolic directions to Timothy, adopts the same simple, majestic, and evangelical exordium, with which the rest of his epistles usually begin. Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ; ordained and sent forth by the head of the Church, the supreme master of the spiritual vineyard: without whose internal, authoritative commission, none have a real right to minister in sacred things, nor to thrust the sickle into Gods harvest. For how can men preach to purpose, so as to be instruments of conviction, comfort and sanctification, except they be sent (Rom 10:15) of God, and owned of him? whence the apostle adds, by the commandment of God our Saviour, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our hope. As an English nobleman, who travels to some foreign court, cannot reasonably expect to be received as the representative of his sovereign here, unless charged with an actual delegation, and able to produce the credentials of his mission: no more is any individual authorized to arrogate to himself the honor of a divine embassage, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. (Heb 5:4) A sufficient degree of gospel light and knowledge; an ardent love of souls, and a disinterested concern for truth; a competent measure of ministerial gifts and abilities; and, above all, a portion of divine grace and experience; a saving change of heart, and a life devoted to the glory of God; are essential pre-requisites to an evangelical discharge of the sacred function.
The first verse may be read thus: Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ according to the express, or authoritative, designation of Jesus Christ our God, Saviour, and Lord. So the passage may be rendered; and so perhaps it ought to he understood, in its natural and most obvious construction. Now, even supposing that the apostle had not the divinity of Christ immediately in view, at the time of his writing these words; yet, you must either give up his inspiration, or believe that Christ is, with the Father and the Spirit, God over all, blessed for ever: since on a subject of such unspeakable consequence, it would have argued a degree of negligence, little short of criminal, had the apostle expressed himself in terms palpably liable to misapprehension. I therefore conclude that both as a scholar and as a Christian; as Gamaliels pupil and as an inspired apostle; our sacred penman would have delivered himself in a far more guarded style, had not the Son of God been indeed God the Son. Either Jesus is the God, Saviour and Lord of his people, or St. Paul was guilty of such inexcusable inaccuracy, as every writer of common sense and common honesty would be sure to avoid.
He goes on to style the blessed Jesus our hope. Ask almost any man, “Whether he hopes to he saved eternally?” He will answer in the affirmative. But enquire again, “On what foundation the rests his hope?” Here too many are sadly divided. The Pelagian hopes to get to heaven by a moral life and a good use of his natural powers. The Arminian by a jumble of grace and free-will, humus works, and the merits of Christ. The Deist by an interested observance of the social virtues. Thus merit-mongers, of every denomination, agree in making any thing the basis of their hope, rather than that foundation which Gods own hand hath laid in Zion. But what saith Scripture? It avers, again and again, that Jesus alone is our hope: to the exclusion of all others, and to the utter annihilation of human deservings. Beware, therefore, of resting your dependence partly on Christ, and partly on some other basis. As surely as yon bottom your reliance partly on the rock, and partly on the sand; so certainly, unless God give you an immediate repentance to your acknowledgment of the truth, will your supposed house of defense fall and bury you in its ruins, no less than if you had raised it on the sand alone. Christ is the hope of glory. (Col 1:2)Faith in his righteousness, received and embraced as our sole justifying obedience before God; and the love of Christ (an inseparable effect of that faith), operating on our hearts, and shining in our lives; are the most solid evidences we can have below of our acceptance with the Father, and of our being saved in Jesus with an everlasting salvation.
Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith; grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Some have thought that Timothy was not converted under the ministry of St. Paul; and they ground their conjecture on Act 16:1-2 where Timothy is mentioned as a disciple, and a person well reported of by the Christians at Derbe and Lystra, previous to St. Paul’s visitation of those places. That Timothy was a nominal professor of religion, and a youth of circumspect behavior, are evident from that passage: which external form of godliness was probably the effect of the religious (2Ti 3:15) education he had the happiness to receive from his earliest childhood. But, from St. Paul’s compellation of him as his own son in the faith; it may, I think, be reasonably inferred that the young disciple was led from the outer court of mere external profession into the sanctuary of heavenly and spiritual experience, either by the private labors, or under the public ministry, of this apostle. And none but those ministers whose endeavors have been blest to the conversion of souls, and those persons who have been born of God by their instrumentality, can form any idea of that spiritual relation and unspeakably tender attachment which subsist between spiritual fathers and the children of grace whom God hath given them.
Timothy had been a true believer some considerable time before St. Paul wrote this Epistle. Consequently, by the grace, mercy, and peace, which he prayed might be the portion of his beloved converts, we are to understand, not the first vouchsafement, but a large increase, of those spiritual blessings and comforts: that he might have repeated discoveries and continued manifestations of the Fathers electing grace; of Christ’s redeeming mercy; and experience that sweet peace and joy in believing which are fruits of the Holy Spirits influence and flow from fellowship with him. Privileges these which unawakened men will always ridicule; but to which every real Christian will ardently aspire.
Time would fail me, should I attempt to consider all the intervenient verses. I find myself at a loss, not what to say, but what to leave unsaid. However, I shall observe, as briefly as I can, that one grand reason of St. Paul’s writing this Epistle was, to put Timothy on his guard against the dissemination of corrupt doctrines, and the insidious arts of corrupt teachers, with which the Church of Ephesus where Timothy was now stationed, seems to have been particularly infested. Unregenerate ministers are much the same in all ages and in every country: an unconverted preacher in England, and an unconverted preacher in Italy, so far as matters merely spiritual are concerned, stand nearly on a level. These all are, what the Ephesian schismatics were desirous to he, teachers of the law, or legal teachers. And all unconverted people, whether their denomination be Protestant or Popish, desire to be hearers of the law, and are displeased when they hear anything else. We are, naturally, fond of that very law which, unless the righteousness of Christ is ours, is the ministration of death, pronounces us accursed, and binds us over to everlasting ruin. The pernicious error, against which Timothy was directed to guard his flock, was a dependence on the law and the works of it, for salvation. And the reason why this destructive tenet was taught and enforced by some preachers of that day, and has been taught by their successors ever since, is assigned by the apostle; who observes, that those blind guides understood neither what they said nor whereof they affirmed: for if they had understood anything of Gods inviolable holiness; of the laws inflexible rectitude, extent, and spirituality; of mans total inability to fulfill it perfectly (and without perfect obedience the law cannot justify); they would, at once, have ceased to be teachers of the law, and simply pointed sinners to that Saviour alone who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. (Rom 10:4)
Fashionable as the doctrine of legal, conditional justification is, we may say to every individual that embraces it, There is one that condemns you, even Moses, in whom you trust, (Joh 5:45) and that very law on which you rest: for its language is. He that breaketh me only in one point is guilty of all: (Jas 2:10) and, Cursed is every man that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them. (Gal 3:10) Show me the man who has never offended in one point; who hath continued in all things prescribed by Jehovah’s perfect law; who loves the Lord with all his heart, and his fellow-creatures as himself; show me the man who, from the first to the last moment of his life, comes up to this standard, and then you will show me a man who can be justified by works of his own.
But if no such person could ever be found, Jesus Christ the righteous singly excepted, St. Paul’s conclusion stands unshaken, that they who teach or hold justification by any other obedience than that of Christ, neither know what they say, nor whereof they affirm.
Yet, notwithstanding we neither are, nor can be, justified by the law; still the uses of the law are numerous and important: whence the apostle takes care to add, that the law is good, or answers several valuable purposes, if a man use it lawfully. Nothing can be more evident than that, by the law, in this place, is meant the moral law. The ceremonial could not possibly be intended; because it is not now to be adhered to, and is no longer in force: whereas the apostle speaks of a law which is, to this very day, unrepealed, and of standing use: the law is good, if a man use it lawfully. Of this law there is a two-fold use: or rather, an use and an abuse. The use of the law is, among other things, first to convince us of our other sinfulness; and then, secondly, to lead us to Christ, as the great and only fulfiller of all righteousness. Now the law does not answer these important ends directly, and of itself; but in a subservience to the Holy Spirits influence; when that adorable person is pleased to make the law instrumental to the conversion of a sinner. In which case, having shaken us out of our self-righteousness, and reduced us to a happy necessity of closing with the righteousness of Christ; the law has still another and a farther use, no less momentous: for, thirdly, it from that moment forward stands as the great rule of our practical walk and conversation: seeing a true believer is not without law, (a lawless person) towards God; but is within the bond of the law to Christ (1Co 9:21); not exempted from its control, as the standard of moral action; though delivered from its power and execration as a covenant of works.
* “A gracious sight of our vileness,” says one of the ablest and most useful writers of the last century, “is the work of Christ only by his Spirit, The law is indeed a looking-glass; able to represent the filthiness of a person: but the law gives no eyes to see that filthiness. Bring a looking-glass, and set it before a blind man: he sees no more spots in his face than if he had none at all. Though the glass be a good glass, still the glass cannot give eyes: yet, if he had eyes, he would, in the glass, see his blemishes. The apostle James compares the law to a looking-glass; and a faculty to represent is all the law possesseth: but it doth not impart a faculty to see what it represents. It is Christ alone who opens the eyes of men to behold their own vileness and guilt. He opens the eyes, and then in the law, a man sees what he is.”
These are the three grand lawful uses of the law. On the other hand, if any of us are so deplorably lost to all sense of Christian duty and gospel privilege, as to suppose that by our own partial conformity to the law, how sincere soever it be, we can work out and work up a righteousness for ourselves, wherein to stand before the tribunal of God, and for which to obtain any favor at his hand, we use the law unlawfully; we sadly mistake the very end for which the law was promulgated, which was, that, under the efficacy of grace, and the teachings of the blessed Spirit, it might bring us to a knowledge of our (Rom 3:20) guilt, and a sense of our (Deu 33:2; Heb 12:21-28) danger; convince us of our (Ps 119:96. Ro 7:3) helplessness. and, as a schoolmaster, bring us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith, and not by the works of the law; for, by the works of the law, as performed by us, shall no flesh be justified. (Gal 3:24; 2:16)
That grand error of the heart (for it is a heart-error, as well as a head-error; deeply rooted in our corrupt nature, as well as perniciously pleasing to unassisted reason), which misrepresents justification as at all suspended on causes or conditions of human performance; will, and must, if finally persisted in, transmit the unbeliever, who has opportunities of better information, to that place of torment where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
The apostle goes on: knowing that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the disobedient, &c. The phrase, a righteous man, means, in its strictly evangelical sense, one that is in Christ; or, who is righteous before God in the righteousness of his Son, apprehended by faith. Now, the law, i.e., the damnatory sentence of it, was not designed for such a person. Weak believers have sometimes a good deal to do with the law, and are apt to hover about Mount Sinai; but the law has nothing to do with them; any more than a creditor who has received ample payment from the hand of a surety can have any remaining claim on the original debtor. The law took as it were our heavenly bonds-man by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And Jesus acknowledged the demand. He paid the double debt of obedience and suffering to the utmost farthing. So that, as some render the words under consideration, the law lieth not against a righteous man; its claims are satisfied; its sentence is superseded; its condemning power is abolished. And whoever have been enabled to fly for refuge to the righteousness of Christ, and to lay hold on the hope set before them, may depend on this, as a most certain truth, that Christ hath redeemed them from the curse of the law, having been himself made a curse for them. (Gal 3:13) Such are not under the law, whether as a covenant of works to be saved by, or as a denunciation of wrath to be condemned by, but they are under grace: (Rom 6:14) under that sweet dispensation of everlasting love which, when made known to the believing soul, at once ensures the practice of universal godliness, and refers the entire praise of salvation to the unmerited grace of Father, Son, and Spirit. I said that the dispensation of grace ensures the practice of universal godliness: for considered as a rule of moral conduct, the law most certainly is designed for believers. And, indeed, only believers can yield real, acceptable, obedience to the law: for without faith it is impossible to please God, (Heb 11:6) and whatever proceedeth not from faith is sin. (Rom 14:23) Therefore, if God hath not wrought living faith in your heart, you have never performed one truly good work in your whole life.
St. Paul next proceeds to draw a catalogue of sins, against which the denunciations of the law are most eminently leveled; closing the list with the words first read, “And if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.” A plain intimation, that error, in principles fundamental, has a very unfavorable influence on practicals: and that, in proportion as the doctrines of God are disbelieved, the commandments of God will be disobeyed. Doctrinals, therefore, are not of that small significance which the injudicious and the heterodox affect to give out. For, though matters of doctrine are, by some, considered merely as the shell of religion, and experience only as the kernel; yet let it be remembered that there is no coming at the kernel but through the shell: and, while the kernel gives value to the shell, the shell is the guardian of the kernel. Destroy that, and you injure this.
The apostle, in the words before us, stamps the evangelical doctrines with the seal of dignity, usefulness and importance: as is evident from the epithet he makes use of. He calls the system of gospel-truths sound doctrine: salutary, health-giving doctrine; not only right and sound in itself, but conducing to the spiritual strength and health of those that receive it: doctrine, that operates like some efficacious restorative on an exhausted constitution; that renders the sin-sick souls of men healthy, vigorous and thriving; that causes them, through the blessing of divine grace, to grow as the lily, and to cast forth the root as Lebanon, to revive as the corn, and to flourish as the vine, to diffuse their branches, and rival the olive tree (Hos 14) both in beauty and fruitfulness.
On the other hand, unsound doctrine has the very opposite effects. It impoverishes our views of God; withers our hopes; makes our faith languid; blasts our spiritual enjoyments; and lays the axe to the very root of Christian obedience. We may say of it, as the Jewish students said, on another occasion, there is death in the pot. If you eat it you are poisoned. With the utmost attention, therefore, should we attend to the apostles caveat, and avoid every thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.
Many such things there are. I have not time even to recite, much less to expatiate on, them all. I shall, therefore, only endeavor, as God may enable me, to point out a few very common, but very capital errors, which are totally inconsistent with sound doctrine. Previous to my entrance on this part of the subject, I would premise two particulars:
1. That what I am going to observe does not proceed from the least degree of bitterness against the persons of any from whom I differ; and,
2. That I am infinitely remote even from the slightest wish of erecting myself into a dictator to others.
The rights of conscience are inviolably sacred, and liberty of private judgment is every mans birthright. If, however, any, like Esau, have sold their birth-right for a mess of pottage, by subscribing to articles they do not believe, merely for the sake of temporal profit or aggrandizement; they have only themselves to thank for the little ceremony they are entitled to. With regard to myself, as one whom God has been pleased to put into the ministry; above all, into the ministry of the best and purest visible church in the whole world; I should be a traitor to God, to Christ, to the Scriptures and to truth, unfaithful to souls, and to my own conscience, if I did not, without fear or favor, declare the entire council of God, so far as I apprehend myself led into the knowledge of it. Inconsiderable as I am, man, of you are, no doubt, acquainted with the variety of reports that have been spread (especially since this time of my being in town), concerning me, and the doctrines by which I hold it my indispensable duty to abide. I deem myself, therefore, happy, in having one more opportunity to testify the little that I know concerning that mystery of the gospel which God ordained before the world for our glory. And I desire in the most public manner to thank the great Author of all consolation for a very particular instance of his favor, and which I look upon as one of the most felicitating circumstances of my whole life: I mean my early acquaintance with the doctrines of grace. Many great and good men, who were converted late in life, have had the whole web of their preceding ministry to unravel, and been under a necessity of reversing all they had been delivering for years before. But it is not the smallest of my distinguishing mercies that, from the very commencement of my unworthy ministrations, I have not had a single doctrine to retract, nor a single word to unsay. I have subscribed to the Articles, Homilies, and Liturgy, five separate times; and that from principle: nor do I believe those forms of sound words because I have subscribed to them: but I therefore subscribed them because I believed them. I set out with the gospel from the very first; and having obtained help from God, I continue to this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than Moses and the prophets, (Act 26:22) Jesus and his apostles, have said before me. And, in an absolute dependence on the divine power and faithfulness, I trust that I shall, to the end, be enabled to count neither health, wealth, reputation, nor life itself, dear to me, so I may finish my course with joy, and fulfill the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God (Act 20:24).
“Careless (myself a dying man”Of dying men’s esteem;”Happy if thou, O God, approve, “Though all beside condemn,”
If the most accomplished and respectable person of all heathen antiquity could declare that he “would rather obtain the single approbation of Cato than have a triumph voted to him by the senate,” much more will a Christian minister prefer the approbation of God to all the evanid eclats of an applauding universe.
I shall arm myself, this afternoon, with a two-fold weapon: with the Bible in one hand; and our Church-Articles in the other. I shall appeal at once, for all I have to say, to the authority of Gods unerring oracles; and to their faithful epitome, the decisions of the Church of England. They who, perhaps, set light by the Scriptures, may yet pay some decent deference to the Church; and they who, it may he, pay little attention to Church-determinations, will render implicit credit to the Scriptures. So that, between the Bible and the Thirty-nine Articles, I hope I shall be able to carry my point, and, as far as my subject leads me, enter a successful caveat against whatever things are contrary to sound doctrine. In attempting this, I shall fix my foot upon Arminianism; which, in its several branches, is the gangrene of the Protestant Churches, and the predominant evil of the day.
What think you,
I. Of conditional election? We have, indeed, some who deny that there is any such thing as election at all. They start at the very word, as if it were a spectre, just come from the shades, and never seen before. I shall waste no time on these men. They are out of the pale to which my allotted plan confines me at present. They cannot be Church of England men who proscribe a term that occurs so frequently in her offices and standards of faith; nor can they even be Christians at large who cashier, with affected horror, a word which, under one form or other, is to be met with between forty and fifty times, at least, in the New Testament only.
My business now is with those who endeavor to save appearances by admitting the word, while in reality they anathematize the things. These profess to hold an election: but then it is a conditional one, and founded, as they suppose, on some good quality or qualities foreseen in the objects of it. Thus bottoming the purposes of God on the precarious will of apostate men; an making that which is temporal the cause of that which was eternal. “The Deity,” say persons of this cast, “foreknowing how you and I would behave, and foreseeing our improvements and our faithfulness, and what a proper use we should make of our free-will, ordained us, and all such good sort of people, to everlasting life.”
Nothing can be more contrary to sound doctrine, and even to sound reason, than this. It proceeds on a supposition that man is beforehand with God in the business of salvation; and that the resolutions of Gods will are absolutely dependent on the will of his creatures: that he has, in short, created a set of sovereign beings, from whom he receives law; and that his own purpose and conduct are shaped and regulated according to the prior self-determinations of independent man. What is this but atheism in a mask? For where is the difference between the denial of a first cause and the assignation of a false one?
Quite opposite is the decision of inspiration (Rom 11:6); where the apostle terms Gods choice of his people an election of grace, or a gratuitous election: and observes, that if it be of grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace were no more grace: but if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise, work were no more work. Conditional grace is a most palpable contradiction in terms. Grace is no longer grace than while it is absolute and free. You might, with far greater ease, bring the two poles together, than effect a coalition between grace and works in the affair of election. As far, and as high, as the heavens are above the earth, are the imminent acts of God superior to a dependence on any thing wrought by sinful, perishable man.
Consult our seventeenth Article, and you will clearly see whether conditional election be the doctrine of the Church of England. “Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid. He hath constantly decreed, by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind; and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honor.” Is there a word about conditionality here? On the contrary, is not election, or predestination unto life, peremptorily declared to be Gods own “everlasting purpose, decree, counsel, and choice?” The elect are said to be brought to salvation, not as persons of foreseen virtue and pliableness; but simply and merely “as vessels made to honor.” Add to this, that the article goes on to stile election a benefit, or gift; “Wherefore they that be endued with so excellent a benefit. “But how could predestination to blessedness be so termed, if it were suspended on the foresight of something to be wrought by the person predestinated? For a condition in matters of spiritual concern is analogous to a price in matters of commerce: and a purchased gift is just as good sense as conditional grace.
Our venerable reformers were too well acquainted with the Scriptures, and with the power of God, to err on a subject of such unutterable moment. Whence, in the article now cited, they took care to lay Gods absolute and sovereign election as the basis of sanctification; so far were they from representing sanctification as the groundwork of election. Our modern inverters of Christianity, the Arminians, by endeavoring to found election upon human qualifications, resemble an insane architect who, in attempting to raise an edifice, should make tiles and laths the foundation, and reserve his bricks and stones for the roof. Quot suni hominum virtntes, totidem sunt Dei dona, said the learned and excellent Du Moulin: and, if sanctification be God’s gift, men’s goodness could not possibly be a motive to their election: unless we can digest this enormous absurdity, viz. that Gods gifts may be conditional and meritorious one of another. Do you imagine that God could foresee any holiness in men which himself did not decree to give them? You cannot suppose it, without believing at the same time that God is not the author of all good; and that there are, or may be, some good and perfect gifts which do not descend from the Father of lights; and that the apostle was widely mistaken when he laid down this axiom, that it is God who, of his own good pleasure, worketh in us both to will and to do.
According to our Church, Gods election leads the van; sanctification forms the center; and glory brings up the rear (Act 17): “Wherefore, they that be endued with so excellent a benefit of God, be called, according to Gods purpose, by his Spirit working in due season: they, through grace, obey the calling; they be justified freely; they be made the sons of God by adoption.” Hitherto good works are not so much as mentioned. Why so? Because our reformers were Antinomians, and exploded or despised moral performances? by no means. Those holy? persons were, themselves, living confutations of so vile a suggestion. The tenor of their lives was as blameless as their doctrine. But they had learned to distinguish ideas, and were too judicious, both as logicians and divines, to represent effects as prior to the causes that produce them. They were not ashamed to betake themselves to the Scriptures for information, and to deliver out the living water of sound doctrine, pure and unmingled, as they had drawn it from the fountains of truth. Hence, election, calling, justification, and adoption, are set forth, not as caused by, but as the real and leading causes of, that moral change which, sooner or later, takes place in the children of God. For thus the article goes on: “They be made like the image of his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ; they walk religiously in good works; and, at length, by Gods mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.”
This, then, is the order: 1. Electron; 2. Effectual calling; 3. Apprehensive justification; 4. Manifestative adoption; 5. Sanctification; 6. Religious walking in good works; 7. Continuance in these to the end; which last blessing must, of necessity, be included, because the article adds that these elect, regenerate persons attain, at length, to everlasting felicity; which they could not do without final perseverance, any more than you or I, upon our departure from this Church, could arrive at our respective homes if we finally stop short of them by the way. Such, therefore, being the chain and process of salvation; how impious and how fruitless must any attempt be, either to transpose, or to put asunder, what God has so wisely and inseparably joined together!
Unless we take absolute election: into the account, we must either suppose that God saves no man whatever, or that those he saves, are saved at random and without design. But his goodness forbids the first; and his wisdom excludes the latter. Absolute election, therefore, must be taken into the account; or you at once, (ipso facto,) strike off either goodness or wisdom from the list of divine perfections. That scheme of doctrine must necessarily be untrue which represents the Deity as observing no regular order, no determinate plan, in an affair of such consequence as the everlasting salvation of his people. I cannot acquit of blasphemy that system which likens the Deity to a careless ostrich which, having deposited her eggs, leaves them in the sand, to be hatched, or crushed, just as chance happens. Surely He, who numbers the very hairs of his peoples heads, does not consign their souls and their eternal interests to precarious hazard! the blessings of grace and glory are too valuable and important to he shuffled and dealt out by the hand of chance. Besides, if one thing comes to pass, either without, or contrary to, the will of God, another thing, nay, all things, may come to pass in the same manner: and then good bye to providence entirely.
When Lysander, the Spartan, paid a visit to king Cyrus (at Corinth, if I mistake not), he was particularly struck with the elegance and order, the variety and magnificence, of Cyrus’ gardens. Cyrus, no less charmed with the taste and judgment of his guest, told him, with visible emotions of pleasure, “These lovely walks, with all their beauty of disposition and vastness of extent, were planned by myself; and almost every tree, shrub and flower, which you behold, was planted by my own hand.” Now when we take a view of the church, which is at once the house and garden of the living God; that church which the Father loved for which the Son became a man of sorrows and which the Holy Spirit descends from heaven, in all his plenitude of converting power, to cultivate and build anew; when we survey this living paradise and this mystic edifice, of which such glorious things are spoken, (Ps 87:3) and on which such glorious privileges are conferred; must we not acknowledge Thy sovereign hand, O uncreated love, drew the plan of this spiritual Eden! Thy hand, Almighty power, set every living tree, every true believer, in the courts of the Lords house. Thy converted people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land for ever, even the branches of thy planting, the work of thy hands, that thou mayest be glorified. (Isa 60:21)
Admitting election to be thus a complete, eternal, immanent act in the divine mind, and consequently irrespective of any thing in the persons chosen; then (may some say) “farewell to gospel obedience; all good works are destroyed.” If, by destroying good works, you mean, that the doctrine of unconditional election destroys the merit of good works, and represents man as incapable of earning or deserving the favor and kingdom of God, I acknowledge the force of the objection. Predestination does, most certainly, destroy the merit of our works and obedience, but not the performance of them: since holiness is. itself, one end of election (Eph 1:4), and the elect are as much chosen to intermediate sanctification, on their way, as they are to that ultimate glory which crowns their journeys end* and there is no coming at the one but through the other. So that neither the value, nor the necessity, nor the practice of good works, is superseded by this glorious truth; our acts of evangelical obedience are no more than marshaled, and consigned to their due place; restrained from usurping that praise which is due alone to the grace of God; and from arrogating that office which only the Son of God was qualified to discharge.
That election, as taught by the Scriptures (and thence by our reformers), not only carries a favorable aspect on universal piety and holiness, but even ensures the practice of both, is evident, among many other passages, from that of the apostle (2Th 2:13), We are bound to give thanks, always, to God, for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God hath, from the beginning, i.e. from everlasting, chosen you to salvation through [not for, but through] sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. How very opposite were St. Paul’s views of the tendency of this doctrine from those of the Pelagian and Arminian objectors to it! They are perpetually crying out, that it “ruins morality, and opens a ready door to licentiousness.” He, on the contrary, represents the believing consideration of it as a grand incentive to the exercise of our graces, and to the observance of moral duty. Let us, says he, who are of the day, who are enlightened into the knowledge of this blessed privilege, and can read our names in the book of life; let us, who are thus of the day, be sober; putting on the breast-plate of faith and love, and, for a helmet, the hope of salvation: for God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ (1Th 5:8, 9). Now, if election secures the performance of good works, and, upon its own plan, renders them indispensably necessary; I should be glad to know how good works can suffer by the doctrine of election? You may as well say that the sun which now shines into this Church is the parent of frost and darkness. No: it is the source of light and warmth. And you and I want nothing more than a sense of Gods peculiar, discriminating favor, shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given to us (Rom 5:5) to render us more and more fruitful in every good word and work. As an excellent person (Dr. Arrowsmith) observes, “that mans love to God will be without end, who knows that Gods love to him was without beginning.”
II. What think you of that fashionable tenet, so contrary to sound doctrine, concerning the supposed dignity and rectitude of human nature in its fallen state? A doctrine, as totally irreconcilable to reason and fact, as if an expiring leper should value himself on the health and beauty of his person; or a ruined bankrupt should boast his immensity of wealth.
As soon as we are born we go astray. Nay, I will venture, on Scripture authority, to carry the point higher still. All mankind are guilty and depraved before they are born. Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin did my mother conceive me (Ps 51.). A thunder-bolt to human pride, and a dagger in the very heart of natural excellence! Thus speaks the Bible; and thus experience speaks. Our own Church, likewise, delivers her judgment in perfect conformity to both.
Of Original or Birth-Sin.
“Original sin standeth not in the following” [or Imitation] “of Adam, as the Pelagians* do vainly talk but it is the fault” [by imputation], “and corruption [by internal, hereditary derivation] “of the nature of every man who naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam: whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is, of his own nature, inclined to evil; so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit. And therefore, in every person born into this world, it” [namely, original, or birth-sin] “deserveth Gods wrath and damnation.”
* In this Article express mention is made of the Pelagians; but nothing is, by name, said of the Arminians. The reason is plain. At the time when on the Articles passed the two houses of convocation, in the year 1562, Arminius, who was then only two years of age, for he was born A. D. 1560, had not begun to sow his tares: he was no more than a schismatic in embryo. Arminianism is a mushroom of later date than the re-establishment of the Church or England of Elizabeth. It was not until the latter end of her reign that Arminianism had any great footing even in Holland, the seat of its nativity. I say, in Holland; for there this grand corruption of the reformation began; and thence it found its way to England. It was a Dutch wind that blew Arminianism over to this island, many years after our Articles were re-settled as we now have them. Therefore it is, that only Pelagianism is mentioned. However, though Arminianism is younger, by about l200. years, than Pelagianism; its nature and tendency are much the same in fact. The seeming difference lies in little more than this: Pelagius spoke out; Van Harmin (commonly called Arminius) with more art, but less honesty, qualified and disguised the poison, that it might not be quite so alarming. Somewhat like what a good man remarked, long ago, concerning the leaven, or false doctrines of the Pharisees: “Christ,” says he, “compares the errors of the Pharisees to leaven. Why so? because of its secret mixture with the wholesome bread. You do not make your bread all of leaven; for then nobody will eat it: but you mingle it skillfully, and by that means, both go down together. Thus, our Lord intimates that the pharisees mixed their errors with some truths; and therefore he directs them to beware, lest with the truths they swallow the errors also” (Gurnalls Christian Armour; vol. i. p. 104. Octavo edition).
Now what becomes of those plausible, sophistical similes, which compare the natural mind of man to a sheet of white paper? or, to a pliant ozier, which you may bend, with ease, this way or that? Or to a balance in aequilibrio, which you may incline to either side, according as you throw more or less weight into the scale? Or to a wax tablet, on which you may stamp what impressions you please? Alas! the impression is already made. The thoughts and purposes of man’s heart, previous to regeneration, are (spiritually considered) only evil, and that continually (Gen 6:5). When converting grace lays hold of us, there is not only a heart of flesh to be given, but a heart of stone to be taken away (Eze 36:26). God must not only write his own law on the minds of his people; but must obliterate the law of sin and death, which has a prior footing in every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam. So much for the spiritual and moral rectitude of man while unregenerate. –
What think you,
III. Of conditional redemption? Another modish tenet; and no less contrary to reason and sound doctrine than the preceding. We are gravely told by some that “Christ did indeed die; but he did not die absolutely, nor purchase forgiveness and eternal life for us certainly: his death only puts us into a salvable state; making God placable, and pardon possible.” The whole efficacy of his sufferings, according to these persons, depends on our being towardly and complying: which if we are, we then come in for a share in the subsidiary and supplementary merits of Christ; having first qualified ourselves for his aid by a performance of certain conditions required on our part, and entitled ourselves to the favor and notice of God. According to this scheme (which is only the religion of nature spoiled; spoiled by an injudicious mixture of nominal Christianity), the adorable Mediator, instead of having actually obtained eternal redemption (Heb 9:12) for his people, and secured the blessings of grace and glory to those for whom he died; is represented as bequeathing to them only a few spiritual lottery-tickets, which may come up, blanks or prizes, just as the wheel of chance and human caprice happens to turn. Our own righteousness and endeavors must, first, make the scale of eternal life preponderate in our favor; and then, the merits of Christ are thrown in, to make up good weight. The Messiahs obedience and sufferings stand, it seems, for mere cyphers; until our own free-will is so kind as to prefix the initial figure, and render them of value. I tremble at the shocking consequences of a system which, (as one well observes) considers the whole mediation of Christ as no more than “a pedestal, on which human worth may stand exalted:” nay, (to use the language of another) which “sinks the Son of God how shall I speak it? into a spiritual huckster, who, having purchased certain blessings of his Father, sells them out afterwards to men upon terms and conditions!”
But, my brethren, I hope better things concerning you, even the things that accompany salvation. We have not, I trust, so learned Christ; or, rather, so mislearned him, and the work he came from heaven to accomplish. God forbid that we should be found in the number of those who adopt a principle so highly derogatory from the glory of divine grace, and so deeply dishonorable to the great Saviour of sinners. To the law and to the testimony. How speaks St. Paul? He avers that Jesus, by the one offering of himself hath perfected for ever the salvation of them that are sanctified (Heb 10:14). And our Lord expressly declared, in the most solemn prayer that ever ascended from earth to heaven, I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do (Joh 17:4). Who, then, art thou, O man, that darest to tack an imaginary supplement of thy own to the finished work of Christ? Such a conduct, were to charge incarnate truth with uttering a falsehood; and would be equivalent to saying, “No! Thou didst not finish the work of redemption which was given thee to do; thou didst indeed a part of it; but I myself must add something to it, or the whole of thy performance will stand for nothing.”
He appeared once in the end of the world, or at the close of the Jewish dispensation, to do what? to render sin barely pardonable, on the sinners fulfillment of previous terms? No: but actually to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Heb 9:26). The apostles expression is, that Christ appeared, unto the utter abolition of sin: so that, by virtue of his perfect oblation, sin should neither be charged upon, nor eventually mentioned to, those for whom he was offered up. The iniquity of Israel shall be sought for and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve (Jer 50:20). In a word: either the death of Christ was not a real and perfect satisfaction for sin; or, if it was, then upon every principle of reason and justice, all that sin must be actually forgiven and done away, which his death was a true and plenary satisfaction for on the supposition that his redemption was not absolute, it vanishes into no redemption at all. Go over therefore fairly and squarely to the tents of Socinus; or believe that Christ is the Lamb of God who, in deed and in truth, beareth and taketh away the sin of the world (Joh 1:29).
How speaks the Church of England, concerning this important matter? I refer you to her 31st Article, “Of the one oblation of Christ, finished upon the cross.
“The offering of Christ, once made, is that perfect redemption, propitiation and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual: and there is no other sacrifice for sin, but that alone.”
Do not let that expression, the whole world, stumble you. You remember what our Te Deum says: “When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, thou didst open the kingdom of Heaven to all believers.” So in the above article; – The oblation of Christ once made for all the sins of the whole world: i.e. the whole world of believers: for Gods elect are a world within a world. The whole world is a Scripture term, and the compilers of our articles did well in adopting it. But do you imagine that every individual of mankind is meant? surely, no; for, were redemption thus universal, salvation would and must he of equal extent: otherwise, either God the Father would be unjust, or the Mood-shedding of Christ could not be (what our articles affirm it to have been) a perfect satisfaction for all sin. Let unlimited redemption be once proved, and I will take upon myself to prove unlimited salvation.
There are many Scripture passages, where the phrases world, and whole world, are, and must be understood in a restricted sense. So, where St. Paul thus addresses the Roman converts: your faith is spoken of, or celebrated, throughout the whole world, i. e. throughout the whole believing world, or Christian Church: for none but believers would applaud and celebrate the Romans for their faith in Christ (Rom 1:8) – We are of God, says the apostle John, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one (1Jo 5:19). Where, if the whole world denote every individual of mankind, it would follow that both the apostle himself, and the Christians to whom he wrote, were, at that very time, in the wicked one; and consequently, that he was guilty of a self contradiction, in saying, we are of God. In the Book of Revelations Satan is styled the deceiver of the whole world (Rev 12:9), and the whole world are said to wander after the beast (Rev 13:3), meaning a considerable part of the world.
Nay, even in daily conversation, it is customary with us to make use of the word world in a limited signification. So, when we speak of the learned world, the busy world, the gay world, the polite world, the religious world; we do not mean that every man in the world is learned, busy, gay, polite, or religious; we only mean those in the world who are so.
To close this head. Upon the supposition of a random redemption, and a precarious salvation, St. Paul’s inference, “Who shall condemn? it is Christ that died;” might be easily answered and overthrown: since, if the Arminian hypothesis be true, millions of those for whom Christ died will be condemned; and what heightens the absurdity, condemned on account of those very sins for which Christ did die. A supposition exploded by the apostle as impossible. Surely Christ knew for what, and for whom, he paid the ransom-price of his infinitely precious blood! Nor would the Father purchase to himself a church of elect persons for his own peculiar residence; and then leave Satan to run away with as many of the beams and pillars as he pleases. Equally contrary to sound doctrine is,
IV. The Tenet of justification by works.
All human righteousness is imperfect: and to suppose that God, whose judgment always according to truth, will by a paltry commutation which he every where disclaims, and which the majesty of his law forbids, be put off with not only a defective but even a polluted, obedience, and justify men by virtue of such a counterfeit (at most a partial) conformity to his commandments; to imagine that the law accommodates itself to human depravation, and chameleon like, assumes the complexion of the sinners with whom it has to do; is antinomianism of the grossest kind. It represents the law as hanging out false colors, and insisting on perfection, while in fact it is little better than a formal patent for licentiousness; and degrades the adorable law-giver himself into a conniver at sin.
Add to this, that if God can consistently with his acknowledged attributes, and his avowed declarations, save guilty obnoxious creatures, without their bringing such complete righteousness as the law demands; it will necessarily follow that God, when his hand is in, may save sinners without any righteousness at all, since the same flexibility which (as the Arminians suppose) induces God to dispense with part of his law may go a step father, and induce him to set aside the whole. Moreover, if our persons may be justified, without a legal (i.e. a perfect) righteousness; it will follow, on the same principle, that our sins may be pardoned without an atonement: and then farewell to the whole scheme of Christianity at once.
There are two grand axioms which enter into the very foundation of revealed religion:
1. That the law will accept no obedience short of perfect, as the condition of justification; and,
2. That ever since Adams first offence, man has, and can have, no such obedience of his own.
What then must a sinner do to be saved? He must believe in and rest upon that Saviour who was, by gracious imputation, made sin for us, that we by a similar exchange, might be made the righteousness of God in him.(2Co 5) If this be the gospel scheme of salvation the apostles assertion will be incontestable: As many of you as are justified by the law, or seek justification on the footing of your own works, are fallen from grace, (Gal 5:4) revolted and apostatized from that gospel system which teaches that men are justified by the grace of God, flowing through Christ’s righteousness alone (Rom 5:21). Alas! how hardly are we brought to accept salvation as a gift of mere favor! We are for bringing a price in our hands, and coming with money in our sacks mouth: notwithstanding the celestial direction is, Buy wine and milk, without money and without price (Isa 55:1);i.e., take as absolute possession of pardon, holiness and eternal life, as if they were your own by purchase; but remember that you nevertheless have them grads, without any desert, nay, contrary to all desert of yours. We did not bribe God to create us; and how is it possible that we should pay him any thing for saving us?
Zeuxis, the celebrated Grecian painter used, towards the latter part of his life, to give away his pictures without deigning to accept of any pecuniary recompense. Being asked the reason, his answer was, “I make presents of my pictures because they are too valuable to be purchased. They are above all price.” And does not God freely give us a part in the book of life, an interest in his Son, and a title to his kingdom; nay, does he not make us a present of himself in Christ; because these blessings are literally above all price? too great, too high, too glorious, to be purchased by the works of man? because we cannot merit them, God is graciously pleased freely to bestow them.
It is equally sad and astonishing to observe the ingredients of that foundation on which self-justiciaries build their hopes of heaven. First, there is a stratum of freewill; then of good dispositions; then of legal performances: next a layer of what they term divine aids and assistances, ratified and made effectual by human compliances; then a little of Christ’s merits; then faithfulness to helps received; and to finish the motley-mixture, a perseverance of their own spinning. At so much pains is a Pharisee in going about to establish his own righteousness, rather than embrace the Bible-way of salvation by submitting to the righteousness of God the Son. (Rom 10:3):
Now, what says the Church of England concerning the cause and manner of our acceptance with the Father? Thus she speaks; and thus all her real members believe:
Of the Justification of Man.
“We are accounted righteous before God only for the merits of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” One would imagine this might have been enough to establish the point: but, utterly to preclude self-righteousness from all possibility of access, the Church immediately adds, “and not for our own works or deservings.”
Here the old question naturally recurs, “What then becomes of good works?” The plain truth is, that, until a man is justified by faith he can do no good works at all.
Of Works done before Justification.
“Works done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of his spirit, are not pleasant to God:” and if so, how is it possible that he should justify us on account of them? But why are they not pleasing to God? “Forasmuch,” adds the article, “as they spring not from faith in Jesus Christ.”
“Well, but,” may some say, “admitting that works done before justification do not properly recommend us to God, they may at least, qualify us for believing; and thereby be remotely a condition, of justification.” The Church will not even allow of this. For, treating in the above article, of works prior to justification, she adds: “neither do they make men meet to receive grace.” This clinches the nail; and cuts up self-righteousness root and branch. But does the Church stop here? No: to put the whole matter as far beyond doubt as words can place it, she closes her decision thus: “Yea, rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but that they have the nature of sin.” Now if works wrought previous to justification are sin, it is absolutely impossible that we should be justified by works; unless sin can be supposed to recommend us to Gods favor. Which to imagine, were Antinomianism outright. What think you,
V. Of the doctrine of uneffectual grace? A doctrine which represents Omnipotence itself as wishing and trying and striving to no purpose. According to this tenet, God, in endeavoring (for it seems it is only an endeavor) to convert sinners, may, by sinners, be foiled, defeated and disappointed: He may lay close and long siege to a soul, and that soul can, from the citadel of impregnable free-will, hang out a flag of defiance to God himself, and by a continual obstinacy of defense and a few vigorous sallies of free-agency, compel him to raise the siege. – In a word; the Holy Spirit, after having for years, perhaps, danced attendance on the will of man, may at last, like a discomfited general, or an unsuccessful petitioner, be either put to ignominious flight, or contemptuously dismissed, re infecta, without accomplishing the end for which he was sent.
Can then the Lord and giver of life; can he who, like the adorable Son, is God of God, and God with God; shall the Blessed Spirit of grace, who is in glory equal, and in majesty co-eternal, with the other two persons of the godhead, and has all power both in heaven and in earth; shall he who hath the key of David; who openeth and no man shutteth; and shutteth and no man openeth; (Rev 3:7) shall he knock at the door of the human heart, and leave it at the option of free-will to insult him from the window, and bid him go whence he came? Surely, mens eyes must be blinded indeed, before they can lay down such a shocking supposition for a religious aphorism; and even go so far as to declare, that unless God is vanquishable by man, “There can be no such thing as virtue or vice, reward or punishment, praise or blame!”
The main root of the error consists greatly in not distinguishing between the gospel of grace, and the grace of the gospel. The gospel of grace may be rejected; but the grace of the gospel cannot. Gods written message in the Scriptures, and his verbal message by his ministers, may or may not be listened to; whence it is recorded, All the day long have I stretched forth my hand to a disobedient and gainsaying people. (Rom 5:21) But when God himself comes, and takes the heart into his own hand; when he speaks from heaven to the soul, and makes the gospel of grace a channel to convey the grace of the gospel; the business is effectually done. If God makes a change who can turn him away (See the Marginal Translation of Job 11:10 and Ecc 3:14) Whatsoever he doth, it shall be for ever; nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doth it that men should feat before him, (2Co 4:7) and acknowledge, that the excellency of converting power is of him, and not of us (Isa 26:13).
A modern schismatic, now living, thought he both showed his wit and graveled his opponents in saying that, according to the doctrine of our Church, “The souls of men can no more vanquish the saving grace of God than their bodies can resist a stroke of lightning.” I would ask the objector, whether he ever knew of any lightning like that which flashed from the Mediators eye, when he turned and looked upon Peter? And something similar is experienced by every converted person. The Lord turns and looks upon a sinner, who then relents and cries out, with his whole heart, O Lord my God, other lords besides thee have had dominion over me; but now by thee, through the energy of thy renewing influence, will make mention of thy name only. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of thee (Ps 73:25). When God says to the heart, Seek thou my face; the reply is, and cannot but be, Thy face Lord will I seek (Ps 27:8). For God, who in the beginning of the creation commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath, by an exertion of power equally invincible, and as certainly effectual, shined into our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of God, as it is manifested in the person and grace of Jesus Christ (2Co 6:6). Wherefore then do men say, We are lords, and we will come no more unto thee (Jer 2:31), except we ourselves choose it? Alas, alas! did the matter rest with us, we should never choose to come to God at all. If he did not first change our wills we should never even will that great change, that internal regeneration, without which no man can see the kingdom of heaven (Joh 3:3). God, I am bold to declare, would not have been Lord of any hearts, now under this roof, had he not by the constraining power of his own love effectually gained them over, and invincibly attached them to his blessed self. The glorious and independent Creator made us at first without our leave; and yet according to the modern system, he must ask and wait for our leave before he can make us anew!
Do you desire to know the judgment of the Church upon this point? You have it in her 17th Article; where, speaking of Gods elect people, she asserts that “they are called according to his purpose, by his Spirit working in due season,” and immediately adds, that “they, through grace, obey the calling.” Gods converting call therefore is such as produces obedience to it: i.e. it is triumphantly efficacious; and rendered successful, not by the will and towardliness of the person called, but by the power and grace of him that calleth. Nay, so far is the efficacy of divine influence from being suspended on any internal or external ability of the creature, that in our 10th Article, concerning free-will, the Church expresses herself thus: “The condition of man since the fall of Adam, is such that he cannot turn, nor” even “prepare himself by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God.”
VI. What think you of Antinomianism?
By Antinomianism I mean that doctrine which teaches “That believers are released from all obligation to observe the moral law as a rule of external obedience: That in consequence of Christ’s having wrought out a justifying righteousness for us, we have nothing to do but to sit down, eat, drink, and be merry: that the Messiahs merits supersede the necessity of personal inherent sanctification; and that all our holiness is in him, not in ourselves: that the aboundings of divine grace give sanction to the commission of sin; and in a word that the whole preceptive law of God is not established, but repealed and set aside from the time we believe in Christ.” This is as contrary to sound doctrine, as it is to sound morals: and a man need only act up to these principles to be a devil incarnate. It is impossible that either the Son of God, who came down from heaven to perform and to make known his Fathers will; or that the Spirit of God. speaking in the Scriptures and acting upon the heart, should administer the least encouragement to negligence and unholiness of life. Therefore that opinion which supposes personal sanctification to be unnecessary to final glorification, stands in direct opposition to every dictate of reason, to every declaration of Scripture.
Indeed the very nature of election, of faith, and of all covenant grace whatever, renders holiness absolutely indispensable; forasmuch as, without a spiritual and moral resemblance of God, there can be no real felicity on earth, nor any future enjoyment of heaven. Suppose we appeal to experience? I speak now to you who know in whom ye have believed; to you who have received the atonement, and who have been sensibly reconciled to God by the death of his Son. If, at any time, ye have been off your guard, and suffered to lapse into sin: how have ye felt yourselves afterwards? Ye have gone with broken hearts and with broken bones (Ps 51). Ye have found it to be indeed an evil and a bitter thing to depart, though ever so little, from the Lord. Ye know, by dismal experience that the way of transgressors is hard; and that sin, like Ezekiel’s Roll, is written within and without with lamentation and mourning and woe. The gall of bitterness is inseparable from the bond of iniquity. Upon the principle therefore of mere self-interest (to go no higher), a true believer cannot help aspiring to holiness and good works.
Heaven must be brought down into the human soul ere the human soul can be fitted for heaven. There must, as the school-men speak, be “a congruity and similitude between the faculty and the object,” i.e., there must be an inward meetness for the vision and glory of God, wrought in you by his Holy Spirit, in order to render you susceptible of those exalted pleasures, and that fullness of joy which are in his presence and at his right hand for ever. Was thy soul, O unconverted sinner, to be this moment, separated from thy body, and even admitted into heaven (supposing it was possible for an unregenerate spirit to enter there), heaven would not be heaven to thee. You cannot relish the blessedness of the new Jerusalem, unless God in the meanwhile makes you partaker of a new nature. The Father chose his people to salvation; the Son purchased for them the salvation to which they were chosen; and the blessed Spirit fits and qualifies them for that salvation by his renewing influences: for as a dead man cannot inherit an estate, no more can a dead soul (and every soul is spiritually dead until quickened and born again of the Holy Ghost) inherit the kingdom of God. Yet sanctification and holiness of life do not constitute any part of our title to the heavenly inheritance, any more than mere animal life entitles a man of fortune to the estate he enjoys: he could not indeed enjoy his estate if he did not live; but his claim to his estate arises from some other quarter. In like manner, it is not our holiness that entitles us to heaven, though no man can enter heaven without holiness. Gods gratuitous donation, and Christ’s meritorious righteousness, constitute our right to future glory: while the Holy Ghost, by inspiring us with spiritual life (of which spiritual life, good works are the evidences and the actings) puts us into a real capability of fitness for that inheritance of endless happiness which otherwise we could never in the very nature of things either possess or enjoy.
“Let it be observed,” says one of the most learned and judicious writers of this age, “that Christ’s active obedience to the law for us, in our room and stead, does not exempt us from personal obedience to it, any more than his sufferings and death exempt us from corporal death, or from suffering for his sake. It is true indeed we do not suffer and die, in the sense he did, to satisfy justice, and atone for sin: so neither do we yield obedience to the law, in order to obtain eternal life by it. By Christ’s obedience for us we are exempted from obedience to the law, in this sense: but not from obedience to it, as a rule of walk and conversation, by which to glorify God, and express our thankfulness to him for his abundant mercies.” Travelers inform us, that in Turkey the partisans of the several denominations there are distinguished by the color of their shoes: so that if you meet any person in the streets, you need only look at his feet to know of what religion he is. And may not the truth of grace be discerned to at least a high degree of probability by the life and conversation of those who make a religious profession? The man who says that he knows God, and in works denies him; who calls Christ, Lord, Lord, but does not the things that he enjoins; whose voice indeed is Jacobs voice, but his hands are the hands of* Esau; resembles our Saviours persecutors and murderers of old, who bowed their knees and cried, Hail, King of the Jews! while they spit in his face, and smote him with the palms of their hands. The hypocrites profession is dark and opaque: but that of a real saint is pellucid and transparent. The rays of grace in a genuine believer pervade his whole behavior; and are transmitted through all the parts of his practical walk. Though every moral man is not therefore a Christian, yet every Christian is necessarily a moral man.
*A very capital painter in London, lately exhibited a piece, representing a Friar, habited in his canonicals, View the painting at a distance and you would think the Friar to be in a praying attitude: his hands are clasped together, and held horizontally to his breast; his eyes meekly demised, like those of the publican in the gospel; and the good man appears to be quite absorbed in humble adoration and devout recollection. – But take a nearer survey, and the deception vanishes: the book which seemed to lie before him, is discovered to be a punch bowl, into which the wretch is, all the while, in reality only squeezing a lemon. – How lively a representation of an hypocrite!
When Flaminius, the Roman general did, at the Isthmian games, announce freedom to Greece in the name of the Senate and people of Rome, the transported Greeks received the glorious news with such acclamations of gratitude, and thunder of applause, that some ravens which were flying over the Stadium, dropt down to the earth, stunned and senseless: the very games and exercises were neglected, and nothing but bursting clats of admiring joy engrossed the day.So when the Holy Spirit of consolation announces gospel-liberty and eternal redemption to the souls of the awakened, the love of sin, and the ravens of detested lusts, fall before his sacred influence. Both the toils and the pleasures of the world are regarded as insignificant when set in competition with the one thing needful. Holy wonder, love, and joy, quite engage the powers of the believers mind, during the spring-tide consolations of his first manifestative espousals; and a sure foundation is, from that moment, laid for the performance of all those good works which are the fruits of salvation by grace. While faith is in exercise, and a sense of divine favor is warm upon the heart, a child of God is as much steeled to the allurements of sin as Octavius was cool to the meretricious charms of Cleopatra.
Thus conscientious obedience, though neither the cause nor condition of our justification in the sight of God, nor of our admittance into his glory, is, nevertheless, an essential branch both of privilege and duty, as well as a necessary indication of our acceptance in the Beloved. This is the point of view in which our Church considers good works: viz. not as preceding conditions of salvation, but as subsequent testimonies and marks of salvation already obtained.
Of Good Works
“Albeit that good works, which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification, cannot pet away our sins, and endure the severity of Gods judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith: insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by its fruit.
VII. What think you concerning the tenet of sinless perfection? which supposes that the very in being of sin may on earth, be totally exterminated from the hearts of the regenerate; and that believers may here be pure as the angels that never fell, yea (I tremble at the blasphemy) holy as Christ himself. To hold this heresy is the very quintessence of delusion; but to imagine ourselves really in the state it describes were the very apex of madness. Yet many such there are; sonic such I myself have known.
Indwelling sin and unholy tempers do most certainly receive their deaths wound in regeneration: but they do not quite expire until the renewed soul is taken up from earth to heaven. In the mean time, these hated remains of depravity will, too often, like prisoners in a dungeon, crawl toward the window (though in chains) and show themselves through the grate. Nay, I do not know whether the strivings of inherent corruption for mastery be not frequently more violent in a regenerate person than even in one who is dead in trespasses: as wild beasts are sometimes the more rampant and furious for being wounded. A person of the amplest fortune cannot heap the harboring of snakes, toads, and other venomous reptiles on his lands; but they will breed and nestle and crawl about his estate, whether he will or no. All he can do is to pursue and kill them whenever they make their appearance; yet, let him be ever so vigilant and diligent, there will always be a succession of those creatures to exercise his patience and engage his industry. So is it with the true believer in respect of indwelling sin.
Would you see a perfect saint? you must needs go out of the world, then, – you must go to heaven for the sight: forasmuch as there only are the spirits of just men made perfect (Heb 12:23). This earth, on which we live, never bore but three sinless persons; our first parents in the short state of innocence; and Jesus Christ in the days of his abode below. Of the whole human race beside, it always was and ever will be true, that there is not a just man upon earth, who doeth good and sinneth not. The most forward and towering professors are not always the firmest and most solid Christians. Naturalists tell us that the oak is a full century in growing to a state of maturity: yet, though perhaps the slowest, it is one of the noblest, the strongest, and most useful, trees in the world. How preferable to the flimsy, watery, shooting willow!
Our Church enters an express caveat against the pestilent doctrine of Perfection in her 15th article, entitled “Of Christ alone without sin:” where she thus delivers her judgment:
“Christ in the truth of our nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only excepted, from which he was clearly void both in his flesh and in his spirit. He came to be a Lamb without spot, who by sacrifice of himself once made, should take away the sins of the world; and sin, as St. John saith, was not in him. But all we the rest (although baptized and born again in Christ) yet offend in many things: and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
So it is declared, about the middle of the 9th Article, that the “infection of nature doth remain; yea, in them that be regenerated.” Let me just mention,
VIII. One more particular, contrary to sound doctrine: I mean the assertion of some who would fain persuade us that it is impossible for us to receive knowledge of salvation by the remission of sin. Such a denial is very opposite to the usual tenor of Gods proceeding with his people in all ages. The best believers, and the strongest, may indeed have their occasional fainting fits of doubt and diffidence, as to their own particular interest in Christ; nor should I have any great opinion of that man’s faith who was to tell me that he never had any doubts at all. But still there are golden seasons when the soul is on the mount of communion with God; when the Spirit of his Son shines into our hearts, and gives us boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him (Eph 3:12); and when runt sine nube dies (LNW – the cloudless day) may be the Christians exulting motto. Moreover, a person who is at all conversant with the spiritual life knows as certainly whether he indeed enjoys the light of Gods countenance (Ps 89:15), or whether he walks in darkness; (Isa 50:10) as a traveler knows whether he travels in sunshine or in rain. And as a great and good man (Gurnall; vol. I. p. 127) observes, “It is no presumption to read what was Gods gracious purpose toward us of old, when he, as it were, prints his secret thoughts, and makes them legible in our effectual calling. In this case, we do not go up into heaven and pry into Gods secrets: but heaven comes down to us and reveals them.”
It may indeed be objected, that the Scripture doctrine of assurance when realized into an actual possession of the privilege, “may tend to foster pride, and promote carelessness.” It cannot lead to pride; for all who have tasted that the Lord is gracious know by indubitable experience (and one fact speaks louder than a hundred speculations), that believers are then lowest, at Gods footstool, when they are highest on the mount of assurance. Much indulgence from earthly parents may indeed be productive of real injury to their children; but not so are the smiles of God; for the sense of his favor sanctifies whilst it comforts. Nor can the knowledge of interest in his love tend to relax the sinews of moral diligence, or make us heedless how we behave ourselves in his sight. During those exalted moments, when grace is in lively exercise; when the disciple of Christ experiences.
“The souls calm sunshine, and the heart-felt joy,”
corrupt nature (that man of sin within), and every vile affection, are stricken as it were with a temporary apoplexy; and the believer can no more, for the time being, commit willful sin than an angel of light would dip his wings in mud. No: it is when we come down from the mount, and mix again with the world, that, like Moses, we are in danger of breaking the tables of the law. “But is it not enthusiasm to talk of holding intercourse with God, and of knowing ourselves to be objects of his special love?” No more enthusiastical (so we keep within Scripture-bounds) than it is for a favorite child to converse with his parents, and to know that they have a particular affection for him. Neither, in the strictest reason and nature of things, is it at all absurd to believe and expect that God can and does and will communicate his favor to his people, and manifest himself to them as he does not to world (Joh 14:21, 22) at large.
Yet, though God is thus graciously indulgent to many of his people (I believe to all of them at some time or other between their conversion and death); still, if they trespass against him he will not let their offences pass unnoticed nor uncorrected. Though grace itself is inadmissible, the comfort of it may he sinned away. Salvation is sure to. all the redeemed; but the joy of it may be lost (Ps 51:12). Great peace have they that love thy law; and they only. Holiness and consolation are wisely and intimately connected. In proportion as we are enabled to live near to God, to walk humbly and closely with him, and to keep our moral garments clean, we may hope for freedom of intercourse with him, and to assure our hearts before him (Joh 3:19): like the happy believers of old, concerning whom it is said, that they walked at once in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost (Act 9:31).
Let not, however, what has been observed concerning the blessing of assurance, stumble or discourage the feeble of Gods flock, on whom, for reasons wise and goods it may not hitherto have been his pleasure to bestow this unspeakable gift. The Scripture plainly and repeatedly distinguishes between faith; the assurance of faith; and the full assurance of faith: and the first may exist where the other two are not. I know some who have, for years together, been distressed with doubts and fears, without a single ray of spiritual comfort all the while And yet I can no more doubt of their being true believers than I can question my own existence as a man. I am sure they are possessed not only of faith in its lowest degree, but of that which Christ himself pronounces great faith (Mat 8:8, 10): for they can at least say, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof; but speak the word only, and thy servant shall he healed. Faith is the eye of the soul, and the eye is said to see almost every object but itself: so that you may have real faith without being able to discern it. Nor will God despise the day of small things. Little faith goes to heaven no less than great faith; though not so comfortably, yet altogether as surely. If you come merely as a sinner to Jesus, and throw yourself, at all events, for salvation on his alone blood and righteousness, and the grace and promise of God in him, thou art as truly a believer as the most triumphant saint that ever lived. And amidst all your weakness, distresses and temptations, remember that God will not cast out nor cast off the meanest and unworthiest soul that seeks salvation only in the name of Jesus Christ the righteous. When you cannot follow the rock, the rock shall follow you; nor ever leave you for so much as a single moment, on this side the heavenly Canaan. If you feel your absolute want of Christ, you may, on all occasions, and in every exigency, betake yourself to the covenant love and faithfulness of God, for pardon, sanctification and safety; with the same fullness of right and title as a traveler leans upon his own staff, or as a weary laborer throws himself on his own bed, or as an opulent nobleman draws upon his own banker for whatever sum he wants… I shall only detain you farther while I warn you.
IX. Against another limb of Arminianism totally contrary to sound doctrine: I mean that tenet which asserts the possibility of falling finally from a state of real grace. God does not give, and then take away. He does indeed frequently resume what he only lent; such as health, riches, friends, and other temporal comforts: but what he gives, he gives for ever. In a way of grace, the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (Rom 11:20): he will never repent of bestowing them; and every attribute be has forbids him to revoke them. The blessings of his favor are that good part which shall not be taken from those who have it (Luk 10:42).
A parent of moderate circumstances may give his children something to set up with in the world, and address them to this effect: “I have now done for you all that is in my power to do, and gone as far as my circumstances will allow: you must henceforward stand on your own feet, and be good husbands of the old stock. The preservation and improvement of what I have given you must he left to chance and yourselves.” In this very view does Arminianism represent the Great Father Almighty. But how does Scripture represent him? as saying, I will never leave thee or forsake thee (Heb 13:5): Even to your old age I am he; and even to hoary hairs will I carry you; I have made, and I will bear, even I will carry and will deliver you (Isa 46:4). My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither, shall any pluck them out of my hand.*
*Joh 10:28. True, said an Arminian schismatic, grown gray in the service of error, and who still goes up and down sowing his tares, seeking whom he may devour, and compassing sea and land to make proselytes: “True; Christ’s sheep cannot be plucked forcibly out of his hand by others: but they themselves -may slip through his bands, and so far (into hell and be eternally lost.” They may slip, may they? as if the Mediator in preserving his people, held only a parcel of eels by the tall I Is not this a shameless way of slipping through a plain text of Scripture? But I would fain ask the slippery sophister how we are to understand that part of the last cited passage which expressly declares, concerning Christ’s people, that they shall never perish since, perish they necessarily must and certainly would, if eventually separated from Christ; whether they were to be plucked out of his hands, or whether they were only to slip through them. I conclude then that the promise made to the saints, that they shall never perish, secures them equally against the possibility of being either wrested from Christ’s hand or of their own falling from it: since, could one or other be the case, perish they must, and Christ’s promise would fall to the ground.
In a word: if any of Gods people can be finally lost, it must be occasioned either by their departing from God, or by Gods departure from them. But they are certainly and effectually secured against these two, and these only possible, sources of apostasy. For thus runs the covenant of grace; I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me (Jer 32:40). Now if God will neither leave them, nor suffer them to leave him, their final perseverance in grace to glory must be certain and infallible.
Having greatly exceeded the limits I designed, I shall forbear to adduce the attestations of the Church of England to the doctrines of assurance and perseverance: especially seeing I have done this somewhat largely elsewhere (The Church of England vindicated from the charge of Arminianism). I must not however conclude without observing that irreversible justification on Gods part, and subjective assurance of indefectibility on ours, do by no means invest an offending Christian with immunity from sufferings and chastisement. Thus Nathan said to David, The Lord hath put away thy sin, thou shalt not die: yet was he severely scourged, though not disinherited, for his transgressions. The tenor of Gods immutable covenant with the Messiah, and with his people in him, is this: His seed will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven. If his children forsake my law, and walk not in nay judgments; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes: nevertheless my loving kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. I have sworn once for all, by my holiness, that I will not lie unto Jesus the Anti-typical David, by suffering any of his redeemed people to perish (Ps 89:20). Hence, as it is presently added, they shall be established for ever, as the moon; and as a faithful witness in heaven: nay, they shall stand forth and shine when the sun is turned into darkness, and the moon into blood; when the stars shall drop from their orbits, and the powers of heaven shall be shaken. As an excellent person somewhere observes, “Our own unbelief may occasionally tear the copies of the covenant given us by Christ, but unbelief cannot come at the covenant itself. Christ keeps the original deed in Heaven with himself, where it can never be lost.”
Upon the whole: are these things so? Then,
1. How great and how deplorable is the general departure from the Scripture doctrines of the Church of England, and the first principles of the reformation!
2. How blessed are the eyes that see, how happy are the hearts that feel, the propriety and the energy of these inestimable truths! And,
3. How ought such to demonstrate their gratitude by a practical glorification of God, in their bodies, and in their spirits, which are his! Resemble thunder in your boldness for God, and your zeal for truth: but let your lives shine as lightning, and flash conviction in the faces of those who falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ, and as falsely charge the doctrines of God with a licentious tendency. But let not your zeal be of the inflammatory kind: let it be tempered with unbounded moderation, gentleness, and benevolence; and shine forth as the sun, with healing in its wings. Remember who it is that hath made thee to differ from others; and that a man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven (Joh 3:27).
Not unto us, therefore O Lord, not unto us, but to thy name alone, be the praise of every gift, and of every grace ascribed; for thy loving mercy, and for thy truths sake. Amen.