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proposes to be baptized. Philip said : “ If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. He answered, and said : I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Then Philip baptized him,” ver. 26–28.
It seems therefore, that the christian religion may be so set before men, as that they shall in a short time attain to a competent knowledge of it, and believe upon good grounds. And it must be agreeable to think, that the knowledge of the doctrine of salvation, in which all men are concerned, is not a very abstruse and difficult science, but easy, and upon the level with ordinary capacities.
Indeed, where there are strong prejudices and worldly passions prevailing greatly, as in most of the Jews in our Saviour's time, the best instructions will have little effect. But when men are well disposed, the christian religion and its evidences may be soon perceived and understood, if rightly proposed. This is manifest from the instances in the Acts, just mentioned; and from many sincere conversions, and numerous churches formed by the apostles in divers places in a short space of time.
However, in such a world as ours, where there are temptations of no small force, and numerous amusements and avocations, it is requisite that we carefully attend to “ the things which we have heard,” Heb. ii. 1, and often meditate upon them. Nor should we forsake the assemblies of christians, but stir up one another to love and good works, ch. x, 24, 25,
Moreover some will teach things which they ought not, for the sake of private interest : and there is danger, if we are not upon our guard, lest some articles should be mixed with the pure and uncorrupted doctrine of the gospel, that tend to enervate its purifying and sanctifying influences.
And we should go on to perfection, and improve in religious knowledge and useful gifts, that we may be able to instruct and admonish others.
St. Paul, as we all know, cultivated the good principles which he had planted in the minds of men. He was greatly solicitous for their welfare, and apprehensive lest by some means they should be seduced and perverted from the simplicity that is in Christ. He therefore sent to them some of his fellow-labourers, in whom he could confide, to strengthen and comfort them: or by personal visits, or by epistles, reminded them of the truths he had taught : exhorting them to be “ stedfast in the faith," and to adorn it by a holy conversation : “ Beseeching and exhorting them by the Lord Jesus, that as they had received of him, how
they ought to walk and to please God, so they would abound more and more," 1 Thess. iv. 1.
7. We are hence enabled to form a just estimate of the conduct of those who receive, and of those who reject the gospel.
For the doctrine of the gospel is a kind proposal and gracious message from God to mankind, by Jesus Christ and his apostles, and others after them, instructing men in the way of salvation, teaching them how they may obtain eternal life, and surmount and overcome every obstacle in the way to it.
They therefore who receive and obey it, act wisely. They consult their present peace, and secure to themselves the happiness of a better life.
What then do they who reject it? As St. Luke says of some: They reject the counsel of God against " or toward " themselves.” Luke vii. 30. It becomes us to be cautious how we censure particular persons ; remembering St. Paul's advice : “ Judge nothing before the time,” 1 Cor. iv. 5. God only knows the hearts of men, and all their peculiar circumstances. But where the gospel is proposed in truth and simplicity, men had need to take heed how they reject it; and should at least afford it a serious attention and impartial examination.
8. It follows from what has been said, that we, to whom the doctrine of the gospel has been preached, and who have received it as the word of God, know the way
of salvation, and may obtain eternal life if we use due care and diligence.
And, certainly, we ought so to do; and not neglect any of the rules and precepts that have been delivered to us. The profession of christianity will not save us. Christians, so called, if they are wicked, are not in the way of salvation; for they do not the things which their religion teaches they ought to do in order to be saved. They are condemned, and excluded from happiness by the very rules and laws of that religion which they profess to receive as divine. Such therefore are still “ in the gall of bitterness, and bond of iniquity. They have no part or lot in this matter. Their heart is not right in the sight of God,” Acts ix. 20—23. And they cannot but know, that they should immediately repent and seek forgiveness of God, or they perish for ever; and their ruin will be great and terrible.
9. We have here a good argument to be stedfast in the truth as it is in Jesus, and to let his word abide in us.
For it is the word of life. It is the doctrine of salvation. Does it want any thing to complete that character? Is there
other word equal to it? Is it not strict to a great degree ? Are not its rules and precepts reasonable and excellent? And does it not afford the best arguments that can be devised, to promote and secure that universal holiness which it requires ?
Indeed, it is supposed in the epistle to the Hebrews, that some may
fall away, who were once enlightened, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,” Heb. vi. And St. Peter makes the supposition, “ that some, who have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, may be again entangled therein, and overcome," 2 Pet. ij. 20. Ånd St. Paul with grief speaks of " many, who so walked," as to show themselves s enemies of the cross of Christ,” Philip. iii. 18.
But these instances do not invalidate the truth of God, nor the power of the gospel of Christ; which does very forcibly " teach us to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world,” Tit. ii. 12. St. Paul therefore was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; knowing it to be “the power of God to salvation, both to Jews and Gentiles." And he therefore glories in it, because “ thereby the world had been crucified to him, and he to the world.” St. James makes no hesitation to exhort men to “ receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save their souls," Jam. i. 21.
Let us then esteem the doctrine of the gospel as a very precious advantage, teaching us how to act, so as to approve ourselves to God; how to perform the duties of our stations; how to improve the mercies and afflictions of this state, so as that we may lay up a good foundation against the time to come, and obtain everlasting life.
Happy discoveries are pleasing and entertaining to men, whilst new and fresh; but they are really a good foundation of lasting joy. We have reason always to rejoice, and think ourselves happy, that we have the knowledge of God, and of Jesus Christ, and the way of salvation through him. It was the abiding frame of the apostle Paul. And after that the gospel had cost him much of those things which are highly esteemed by the most, he declares, that he “ counted all things” base and contemptible, “ for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord,” Philip. iii. 8.
10. Finally, this subject puts us in mind of the importance of our preaching and hearing.
Says St. Paul to Timothy :-“ Take heed to thyself, and to thy doctrine. Continue in them. For so doing, thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee," 1 Tim. iv. 16. This is the design of our preaching; to teach men the way of salvation, and to persuade them to walk and persevere therein. Such therefore must be the usual topics of our discourse, as explair the certain principles, and enforce the great duties of religion. And such things ought to be carefully attended to.
And when men receive the truth in the love of it, and come under the power of it; when their affections are set upon things above; and they can be contented in every condition; when men live in love and friendship, and their moderation is conspicuous; and they are ready to offices of goodness of various kinds, to all men; this is the best recompence, the most desirable fruit of well meant endeavours, to instruct men in things of religion; greater than applauses for elegance of speech, and exactness of method, or any thing else that can be named. Such hearers are an honour to their instructors. And if they who speak, and they who hear, are saved in the day of the Lord, they will be mutually a crown of glory and rejoicing, when the most splendid, and the most durable things of this earth are no more.
THE GOOD EXERCISE OF FAITH.
Fight the good fight of faith. Lay hold on eternal life:
whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good
profession before many witnesses. 1 Tim. vi. 12. THERE are some texts of scripture, that at first appear plain, and easy to be understood; which yet are somewhat difficult and obscure, and the precise meaning is not readily apprehended. And sometimes we are liable to be diverted from the right meaning by a translation. Which is not always owing to the mistake of the translators of the Bible; but rather to some defect in modern languages, which want words corresponding to the ancient original.
Of this we seem to have an instance in the present text. “ Fight the good fight of faith.” Many may be apt to think, that the apostle's metaphorical expressions are taken from wars and battles; and that he here recommends to Timothy, to behave as a valiant soldier in the service of the gospel. And they may be the more induced to this
apprehension by some other exhortations to Timothy, where the allusion is manifest. “ This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy,—that thou mightest war a good warfare," 1 Tim. i. 18. And, “ Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ,” 2 Tim. ii. 34. Moreover St. Paul has made use of the same allusion in an exhortation to christians in general : " Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God- -Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth; and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. Above all taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God,” Eph. vi. 13-17.
Nevertheless it appears from the original words, that the apostle alludes not here to the life of a soldier engaged in wars, but rather to the games, at that time very famous among the Greeks, and in some parts of Asia, which had learned the Greek customs; and, indeed, almost all over the Roman empire. In which games there were contentions in the way of racing, on foot and in chariots, and in the way of combat. And the present text is rather to be explained by that in the ninth chapter of the first to the Corinthians, than by that before cited from the epistle to the Ephesians. The passage is to this purpose : " Know ye not, that they which run in a race, run all, but one receiveth the prize ? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery, is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air,” 1 Cor. ix. 24-26; where the apostle alludes to two of the exercises of those games, running and boxing,
Such is the figurative expression in the text; and perhaps the allusion might be made more manifest, and the ambiguity in some measure avoided, if the original were rendered, “ Exercise the good exercise of faith.” The word here rendered “ fight," is the same with that which is rendered “ striving for the mastery” in the passage just quoted from the first to the Corinthians. Every Αγωνιζε τον καλον αγωνα της πιςεως. :
Πας δε ο αγωνιζομενος.