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calculation. « Woe be to the world because of offences : for it must needs be that offences come; but woe unto that man by whom the offence cometh !" This solemn warning of our Saviour and Judge should render us very circumspect, and careful to keep at a distance from every word and action which may thus stumble and offend observers, and help to rivet the chains of darkness on an unbelieving world. On the other hand nothing can more powerfully tend to prevent or counteract these evils, than clear and explicit instructions concerning the nature of salvation, of faith, and of holiness; and making it evidently appear, that while we preach the doctrines of free grace, we abhor both antinomian principles and practices, and that our instructions are incompatible with all these hateful abuses, and can by no rules of fair interpretation be possibly, made to bear such a construction.
III. The holy nature of saving faith is thus earnestly contended for, in order to encourage weak and trembling believers. The author is well aware, that numbers will be startled at the very mention of this reason, as it is the ground on which they proceed in stating the subject in a widely different manner ; but he is confident, that on an impartial investigation it will be found universally true, that the scriptural method of preventing self-deception, and of protesting against every abuse of the gospel, is also the most effectual way of comforting the broken in heart, except as previous mistakes and prejudices render them regardless of these instructions. The greater part of the doubts and fears, to which the humble and upright are liable, do not arise from apprehensions that Christ is either unable or unwilling to save the true believer, in any case whatever ; but from a suspicion that they themselves are not true believers. They read in the Scriptures (whether they hear it from their pastors or not) that numbers deceive themselves ; that Satan transformed into an angel of light deceives multitudes; that many deceivers are gone forth into the world : and that “if it were possible they would deceive the very elect." They see many turn aside whom they have looked up to, as far more advanced in religion than themselves; they are conscious of very much amiss in their hearts and in their best duties: they do not exactly know what those “ things are which accompany salvation," or the nature of that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.” From these combined causes, they are frequently led to expect such grounds of personal confidence, as are unattainable, or to prize those which are of no value when attained; while they overlook that state of the heart, and those experiences which are infallible evidences of their reconciliation to God. Persons of this character, whatever doctrine they may read or hear, or however imperfect their views may be, cannot rest satisfied without some special evidence that their faith and hope essentially differ from the dead faith and presumption of self-deceivers, or without explicitly understanding in what that difference consists. Unless, therefore, they be clearly instructed in these points, they scarcely ever arrive at stable peace and permanent satisfaction as to the event. Hence it often happens, that almost their whole lives are occupied in fruitless endeavours to rise superior to their anxious fears, and in using one recipe after another to keep up a confidence of safety, without knowing on what to rest it. Thus all their earnestness is diverted into a wrong channel; and, though possessed of real love to God and man, they have little heart to improve their talents in active services, through ceaseless perplexity about their personal safety.
There is indeed a description of professors of the gospel, who, by the help of a hard heart and an unfeeling conscience, easily buoy up themselves into a confidence that all is well, and dream sweetly on the very brink of destruction. But whatever we may say or do, such as know the worth of their souls, and the import of the word ETERNITY, with the manifold danger of fatal delusion in this infinitely momentous concern, will be cautious and suspicious even to excess; and this will be the case in proportion as their views are defective or erroneous, and the opinions of those they revere are wavering and undecided, as to the proper ground of hope and assurance. For, let it here
be observed, that we extremely mistake or mis-state the matter, if we do not clearly and explicitly distinguish between the warrant of faith, and the ground of assured hope ; between the encouragement given to the vilest to come unto Christ for salvation, and the subsequent full and authorized satisfaction, that they have come in a right manner. To the former nothing but the word of truth is needful ; but the sanctification, seal, and witness of the Holy Spirit with their spirits, according to the word of truth, are indispensably requisite to the latter.
Holiness primarily signifies conformity to the holy image and law of God: but if we duly advert to the circumstances of a fallen creature under a dispensation of mercy, and the peculiar nature of the gospel, we shall evidently perceive, that the beginnings of holiness in a regenerate soul must assume in some respects a different aspect from the holiness of a creature that never sinned. Young converts and discouraged believers should, therefore, be taught especially to look for the evidences of their acceptance, in those holy dispositions which more directly belong to their situation. A broken and contrite heart, humiliation and sorrow for sin, with hatred and dread of it; willing renunciation of every kind of self-confidence and self-preference; cordial approbation of the humbling holy method of salvation proposed in the gospel ; earnest desires after an interest in the atonement and righteousness of Christ; diligence in the means of grace; susceptibility of keen distress from fear of coming short of this blessing ; suitable dispositions and affections towards the Saviour, his people, cause, ordinances, and precepts; tenderness of conscience manifested in willing obedience, and ingenuous grief and shame, on account of the defect and defilements of their obedience; these, I say, are the peculiar exercises of holiness, to which the attention of such persons should be directed in self-examination. Were our hearers constantly and clearly taught, that the human heart, when left to itself, is altogether proud, carnal, enmity to God and his law, and disposed to hate, despise, or make a licentious use of, his gospel; and that the unregenerate can only have a sel. fish unholy religion, in one form or other; and were the holy nature of salvation, and of genuine faith, fully explained, and distinguished from unscriptural views of them; the upright and humble would perceive some degree of holiness in their lowest depressions and most discouraging experiences, when they reviewed them in a calmer season by the light of divine truth. Thus their sighs and tears for past sins; their dread of relapsing into the evils in which they once lived without remorse ; their painful and persevering, though often unsuccessful, opposition to violent temptations, and corrupt propensities, strengthened by long bad habits; and their anxious dread lest the Saviour should reject them, or Satan deceive them (about which they were once wholly unconcerned), would be conclusive proofs that a blessed change had passed upon their souls. They would then clearly perceive, that every acting of real faith in Christ, every sincere desire after the complete salvation of the gospel, is above nature, and contrary to nature, in its present fallen condition. By degrees they would learn to distinguish the precious from the vile in their own experiences and affections; and to judge of gold and alloy by the essential qualities of each, and not by the size or glitter of the mass. They would find a measure of that “ holiness without which no man shall see the Lord,” in their consciousness of heartily “submitting to his righteousness, and supremely valuing his salvation, as well as in cheerful unreserved obedience to his commands, from love to his name and gratitude for his mercies.Purity of heart would be discerned in their abhorrence of sin, and the anguish of still feeling its detested influence, interrupting and defiling every devotional service or act of obedience ; notwithstanding all their watchfulness, persevering prayers for complete deliverance, and constant opposition to its first risings in the soul. For what can so fully prove our hearts pure, while any sin remains in them, as habitual abhorrence of that sin ? sorrow and bitterness on account of it, and earnest desires for its extirpation? Once these same evils reigned in undisturbed dominion : but as there was nothing cons :
trary to them in the temper of the heart, they were scarcely noticed, and gave very little uneasiness. Then we were wholly impure in heart, though prone to boast of the goodness of our hearts ; but now that we feel, detest, lament, and groan, being burdened on account of these inward evils; we are become in a measure pure in heart, and shall in due season be made perfectly holy:
The love of the soul to God likewise may be as certainly recognised in the sinner's mourning after him, in his grief for having offended or dishonoured him, longing for the tokens of his reconciled love, and with his patient persevering diligence, seeking it in the appointed way; as in the higher exercises of delighting in God, rejoicing in hope, and with enlivened gratitude celebrating his praises and glorifying his name.
If then weak and trembling believers were directed to look to such things, as infallible evidences of saving grace, it would do unspeakably more towards comforting and establishing them, than reiterated exhortations and persuasions to take it for granted that they are safe, while they can discern no evidences of their safety. Indeed, to speak the truth plainly, the stress that is often laid upon assurance of personal safety, as almost, if not quite, essential to faith in Christ ; and the outcry made against evidences, in our own experience and consciousness of sanctification, as legal and tending to self-righteousness, and to keep the soul in bondage ; is exactly calculated to buoy up the confidence of self-deceived hypocrites, and to cast into deeper dejection those, who are already discouraged through weakness of faith, temptation, and manifold infirmities. For after all, no description of men whatever, actually satisfy themselves without evidences of some kind or other : and when such as the Scriptures continually insist upon are discarded, others are imperceptibly substituted. Thus a door is opened to a variety of enthusiastical impressions, dreams, visions, and other species of new revelation, to inform individuals that they are the children of God; while they either are strangers to, or overlook, the sanctification of the Spirit, with which God himself seals and distinguishes those who are reconciled to him by faith in Christ Jesus. Nay, even assurance itself is often most absurdly made an evidence of saving faith! though nothing can possibly be more unattainable by the trembling discouraged believer. But, whatever other evidences a man may possess, if he do not love Christ and keep his commandments, he has no right to deem himself his disciple, if St. John be admitted as competent to decide the question: for he says expressly, “ Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." 1 John ii. 3, 4. Let those therefore, who deny sanctification to be the proper, and the only decisive evidence of justification, fairly meet this apostolical declaration, before they attempt to reply to any of our arguments on the subject.
The discouragement to which the upright are exposed from poring on evidences, arises from their overlooking those beginnings of sanctification, which uniformly and inseparably accompany salvation: and judging of their state by such attainments as are peculiar to comparatively few of the whole multitude of believers, and to them only in the more advanced stages of their profession. The former they have, and could discern, were they but instructed to regard them as decisive: the latter they either have not, or they are incapable of ascertaining their existence.
It is of the greatest importance to the established peace and hope of believers, to distinguish accurately between the incipient holiness of a saint on earth, amidst all his conflicts and temptations; and the perfect holiness of an angel or a saint in glory. When this distinction is well understood, the deepest humiliation for detested and lamented defilements will not weaken a believer in discouragement, or lead him to conclude himself a hypocrite. He will in this manner be enabled to take the comfort of what the Lord hath done in him by his Spirit, as well as of what he hath done for him in the redemption of his son: even while increasing knowledge and sensibility of con
science render him far more aware of his sinfulness, and far more grieved for it, than he formerly was. Self-dissatisfaction must be essential to the holiness of an imperfect creature : nay, the more he is enlightened and renewed, the more he delights in God and communes with him, and the more he loves and longs after holiness, the lower will he sink in humility of heart, and at last deem his humiliation, all things considered, lamentably defective. This was the case with St. Paul. While he was unquestionably one of the most eminent believers on earth, he deemed himself « less than the least of all saints :" yet he never intimated a doubt but that he was a saint; and, had he been interrogated on the subject, would probably have considered his present lowly view of himself, contrasted with his former self-exaltation and self-complacency, when a persecuting Pharisee, as a most decisive evidence that he was “ in Christ a new creature: so that old things were passed away, and behold! all things were become new.”
If self-abasement, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, constant application to Christ, with believing reliance and earnest desire, for all the blessings of his new covenant, from unfeigned consciousness of our entire indigence and unworthiness, be not considered as real holiness; it must follow, that the more humble we become, the less we shall be able to rejoice in God : except we close our eyes to all those passages in the Scripture, which declare a new creation to good works, a spiritual mind, and the fruits of the Spirit, to be essential to a state of acceptance with God. For in that case, increasing humility would render us less capable of discerning, and less disposed to consider, these distinguishing effects of special grace: and how could we give God the glory of having made us to differ, if we could not, without pride, perceive that we were actually made to differ? But if we admit that the things above considered, constitute an important part of holiness, and are inseparably connected with all the rest; then indeed the life of faith will carry its own evidence along with it ; except in seasons of peculiar darkness and temptation, when we cannot ascertain the real nature of our own desires and experiences. And at these times we should come as sinners on the ware rant of the general invitations, which after a while will again clear up our special interest in the promises made to believers.
If these things be not attended to, unestablished Christians, when exhorted to “ examine themselves whether they be in the faith,” are exceedingly pera plexed, and scarcely know how to set about it: and this perplexity is free quently increased by an indeterminate way of speaking concerning the sins of believers, which prevails both in books and sermons. The language of the sacred oracles, concerning the during rebellions of the Israelites, who like nominal Christians, were too generally mere formalists, is often accommodated, without much precision, to the lamented sins of true believers; and even una feigned humility leads some excellent persons to mention their own experience in terms which may be misunderstood by carnal persons, (who wish to conclude that there is no essential difference betwixt themselves and pious Christians,) to mean habitual and allowed transgression.-And thus, while “ workers of iniquity” are emboldened in the confident hope of salvation, notwithstanding their wilful and unrepented crimes; discouraged and tempted believers are led to think themselves like Ahab, or Judas, or other reprobates mentioned in the Scripture ; because, in some one particular, they seem to discern a faint similitude between a part of their conduct, and that of these hypocrites and apostates in ancient times.
No doubt the holiness of a real believer includes a disposition to love and delight in the whole law of God, to hate and forsake all sin, to practise all good works, and to aspire in all respects unto more perfect conformity to the divine image: and no supposed humiliation, experience, or reliance on the Saviour, can prove any one a true Christian, who allows himself in known sin, or habitually neglects known duty. Yet the exercises of heart, above insisted on, are undoubtedly holiness in its root and seminal principle: and if weak and wavering believers were instructed to find the evidences of their safety, and the pledges of their felicity, in those things about which they are most conversant, and from which their distresses comanoniy arise; they would more speedily be brought to establishment. When this was done, they would have more leisure, composure, and encouragement, to study and practise all other duties, to “ crucify,” still further, “ the flesh with its affections and lusts,” to cultivate all those holy tempers in which they had been most defective, and to improve their talents to the glory of God and the benefit of mankind.
Even in “giving all diligence to add to our faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity;"_in order to “ make our calling and election sure;” it is of great importance to know the nature and value of those things which we have already received : and in all the subsequent experience of the most assured believer, his habitual judgment, affections, and state of mind, relative to Christ and his salvation, must concur with every other evidence, to pre• serve his confidence unwavering, that “ he has passed from death unto life.” It is, therefore, in all respects of the greatest moment, to the real Christian's comfort, establishment, and fruitfulness, to possess a clear perception, that every acting of true faith implies a degree of genuine holiness, and evidences the sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience.
These are the principal reasons, on account of which the holy nature of saving faith has been so strenuously contended for: and they are abundantly sufficient, provided the truth of the doctrine has been scripturally established.—Í shall therefore now release my reader, by earnestly requesting him to bestow some time and pains, in acquiring a clear and ready understanding of the following distinctions, which seem to me of vast importance in these discussions, viz. The distinction between a warrant to believe, and a disposition to believe ; between a man's being spiritually alive and in part sanctified, and his knowing himself to be so; between the holy nature of faith, and the sinner's perception of that holiness, and taking encouragement from it in coming to Christ ; between the promises absolutely made to true believers, and the invitations given to sinners, with those promises which imply exhortations and suppose a compliance with them ; between a warrant to believe in Christ, and a confidence that we are believers ; between the believer's consciousness of sanctification, used as an evidence that his faith is living and justifying, and a self-righteous dependa ence on something in ourselves as in a degree the meritorious ground of our acceptance; and finally, between faith and hope: the full assurance of faith, and the full assurance of hope.
I trust the serious inquirer will not deem these to be distinctions without a difference, or made in matters of small moment: and it appears to me, after many years assiduous and earnest investigation of this subject, more than any other in theology; that a want of due attention to these distinctions is a principal cause of that amazing diversity of opinion, and that unaccountable inconsistence and perplexity, which are observable in the conversation, sermons, and writings of many evangelical persons on this apparently plain and most important subject. But it will answer little purpose to run them over; or even to allow that the things distinguished are really distinct, and that the distinctions are important; unless they be, one by one, deeply considered, compared with Scripture, and either deliberately rejected, or thoroughly applied to practical uses.
The last distinction mentioned, may perhaps require a little farther elucidation. Men clearly understanding the system of the gospel, the harmony and just proportion of its parts, and its tendency and design, may be said to possess " the full assurance of understanding." Col. ii. 2. When they cordially believe and embrace the gospel, they have faith ; when this faith excludes all doubts concerning the truth of the gospel, and its sufficiency for every purpose for which it is given, and the eternal salvation of all real believers, they have the full assurance of faith. But they only possess hope, in