« AnteriorContinuar »
Cyrus had issued his proclamation : but their settlements at Babylon, or in other places, with the perils and hardships of the attempt, would have overcome their almost expiring attachment to the holy city, if the Lord had not “ stirred up the spirit” of some among them. Ez. i. 1-5. The rest had the same warrant but not the same willingness to return : and this illustration is peculiarly apposite ; because the reluctancy of the Jews arose from unbelief, and the carnal state of their hearts: and their disregard to this typical redemption aptly represents the sin and folly of those, who neglect the great salvation of the gospel.
A willingness to be saved from eternal misery, and to be made eternally happy, according to men's several notions of happiness, is natural to all: but a desire of that holy felicity proposed in Scripture, and of that humbling salvation from merited wrath and from all sin which the gospel proclaims, is widely different. Yet no willingness to be saved, which leaves a man wholly unwilling to be saved in the way, and with the salvation of the gospel, can be of any use or value. The want of this willingness is the sole reason of the sinner's unbelief and destruction. They who perish from under the means of grace, have the same wa ant to believe in Christ, as they who are saved : but the gospel is to most men “ a price put into the hands of a fool to get wisdom, while he has no heart to it.”
The brazen serpent, lifted up in the centre of Israel's camp, with the public declaration of its use, was a sufficient warrant to every man, when bitten by a fiery serpent, to look unto it. But if any were so deprived of sensation as not to feel the fatal bite, or so stupid as not to fear approaching death ; if any foolishly preferred other methods of seeking a cure, or were so proud, rebellious, and unbelieving, as to shut their eyes, or look another way; or if any looked without at all expecting a cure according to the word of the Lord, they must have perished, not for want of a warrant to believe ; but because they did not submit to the wisdom and authority of God, or rely on his faithfulness and mercy in this appointed way of preservation.—Every man of reflection will see how these things apply to the case before us : and it is obvious thence to infer, that all sinners to whom the gospel is sent, have an equal warrant to believe in Christ, and to expect salvation from him, according to the holy scriptures ; and that men perish for want of a disposition of heart to comply with the invitations of mercy, and to submit to the authority and commandment of God our Saviour.
Some reasons for insisting on this position—" that the word of God is the sinner's only
and sufficient warrant for believing in Christ.”
As a disposition to believe is equally necessary to salvation, with a warrant to believe, it may perhaps be thought by some readers that it is not very important to insist so fully and strenuously upon this point; for after all the warrant will be of no use to those who have no heart to avail themselves of it. In considering this part of our subject, it may be observed :
I. That it is extremely futile to suppose the case of a jnan believing without a disposition to believe; and then gravely to make provision for it.—Whatever warrant or encouragement may be given, unless we leave matters unexplained or mis-stated, so that men think they believe when they do not, the indisposed will utterly disregard our words. To lay the blame therefore on the want of a disposition to believe, can discourage none but such as are consciously unwilling; and these certainly are not entitled to encouragement: but if the sinner had no warrant to believe, those would be discouraged who were most
of salvation ; while the proud and careless would be fure cuse for their unbelief.
say, “ A sincere willingness to be saved in the Lord's way rant to believe in Christ, and without this it is presumption
the consequence would be, that a newly awakened person, swledge and judgement, destitute of experience, and agitated
fears and conflicting passions, must solve to himself various
ions, concerning the nature of a sincere willingness, and the necessary .. re of it, before he could think himself allowed to come to the Saviour. Whereas, if the nature of salvation and of faith is clearly explained; and all men without exception are invited, exhorted, besought, and commanded in the name and by the authority of God, to believe in his only begotten Son; the willing come without hesitation ; others feel their reluctancy to be criminal, perilous, and fatal if not overcome ; convictions are frequently excited, and prayers for a willing mind presented; and God blesses his own word to break the stout heart, and bind up the broken heart, while the obstinate are left without excuse.
It is a fact, capable of the fullest proof, that in those places, where nice speculations on these subjects are avoided, men find scarcely any difficulty respecting them: but when deeply impressed with a sense of guilt and danger, and earnestly desirous of the salvation of the gospel : they apply to Christ for it, as the sick do for admission into an hospital. They seldom are troubled about a warrant to believe, though finding much difficulty in actually believing, they are led to pray with him of old, “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief ;" and are often distressed with anxious fears, lest they should not believe aright, or with a true and living faith. The language of their hearts seems to be this: “ Every sinner, however vile, is invited and commanded to believe in Christ, and to come to him for salvation: therefore I may and ought to come. I now feel very desirous of these blessings, which heretofore I despised, and would gladly embrace the gracious invitation. Lord help me to believe, and teach me to come aright; for I dread nothing so much as coming short of thy salvation !” Nay, those very persons, who, previous to deep convictions, have systematically perplexed their minds with nice distinctions and doubtful disputations, are often constrained, by urgent fears and desires, to act in direct opposition to their former scheme, and to apply to Christ in the manner above described !
If any thing be considered as a warrant for a sinner to believe in Christ, except the word of the gospel, it must be something of an holy nature : so that if his convictions and desires be not holy, he is not warranted to believe.-But this would fully justify that total unbelief, which the scriptures decidedly condemn: for certainly a man ought not to do what he is not warranted to do. It likewise sets a newly awakened person to resolve one of the most difficult questions in divinity. For he must so accurately understand the nature of true holiness, as to be able, in his own concern, under great discomposure of mind, to distinguish the minutest portion of it from all counterfeits; and clearly to ascertain its actual existence in his heart, amidst all the immense alloy of selfish and sinful passions! It would probably be found impossible for the ablest theologian in Christendom certainly to determine such a question, in respect of many peculiar exercises of his own mind : how then can it be expected, that embryo converts, so to speak, should be able, during an overwhelming tempest, to make such accurate obervations and nice distinctions ?- The general proposal of the truth, and the scriptural exhortation and assurance, “ Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” exactly suit the case of such persons; while the event will show the nature of their convictions. Whatever better informed and more experienced persons may determine concerning the nature of saving faith, whether it be or be not an holy exercise of the heart; the convinced sinner can decide nothing of the kind in respect of his own experiences; nor can others determine the question for him: since many are alarmed, and convinced, and, as far as
we can see, appear even to be humbled, who never believe to the saving of the soul.
Two very small seeds may be essentially distinct in species, yet the best eyes, assisted by the finest glasses, can scarcely know one from the other : how then could a person, with very weak eyes and with a very dim light, certainly distinguish between them? But when they are sown and grow up, the plants that spring from them will be easily and infallibly distinguishable. Thus it is with men's convictions: some are essentially different from others: but all our endeavours exactly to know such as are spiritual from such as are merely natural, except by the event, will answer little purpose. We must judge as well as we can, and act accordingly; but we shall frequently find ourselves mistaken. How impossible then must it be for the alarmed inquirer after salvation to find a warrant from any holiness in himself, to encourage his application to Christ ? and how wise and gracious the general language of Scripture, “ Let him that is athirst come, and whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely !" While we proceed on the scriptural plan, the Lord will distinguish what we cannot. They that thirst for the pure “ water of life-proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb,” be encouraged to approach and take of it freely; and others will either go back into the ways of open ungodliness, or be found among the stony-ground hearers, resting in a false peace, without " sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus.”
When the subject is considered in an abstract manner, the difference between a warrant to believe, and a disposition to believe, may at first glance appear trivial; but, viewed in its relation to experience and practice, it is immensely great and important.— It can never discourage a trembling sinner, who honestly inquires, “ What he must do to be saved;" to describe the nature of faith, and explain the way of salvation; and then to invite, exhort, and persuade him to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, not doubting but in so doing he will certainly be saved. But should we enter into a discussion concerning the nature of genuine convictions, gracious thirstings, and spiritual desires ; maintaining that it would be unwarranted presumption for him to believe, unless conscious that his experiences were of this nature; we should exceedingly embarrass his mind; take off his thoughts from the love of Christ, and the freeness and sufficiency of his mercy and grace; and give Satan an opportunity of tempting him to despondency, or of otherwise “ taking the seed out of his heart, lest he should believe and be saved.” Indeed, most deviations from scriptural simplicity may be traced back to this abstract way of discussing doctrines : and the subjects which chiefly perplex speculating men, and furnish the most materials for controversy, appear very easy and plain when applied to practical purposes, according to the state of mind they were intended to meet. So that the wisdom and goodness of God, in not arranging revealed truths according to the supposed exactness and consistency of human systems, are most illustriously displayed, when these truths are applied to the several cases to which they are suited, for conviction, instruction, warning, encouragement, or exhortation.
Whatever be the nature of divine illumination, or whatever may have been a man's previous thoughts about it, he cannot in general, when first divinely illuminated, very readily perceive any holiness in the change of which he is conscious. He now discovers, as it were intuitively, that he is a guilty polluted creature ; that his supposed virtues were specious vices, and his religious duties formal, selfish, and hypocritical ; and that his heart is deceitful and desperately wicked ; and in proportion to the degree of his illumination, is his conviction of these humiliating truths. These recent discoveries (or these new perceptions of what perhaps he before assented to as a notion) occupy his thoughts: he can hardly conceive that the hearts and lives of other men are so bad as his own; still less can he think that real and eminent saints feel those evils of which he is conscious : nay, he can scarcely be convinced that his own heart was formerly so sinful as he now finds it to be. “ Without the law sin was dead :" and the spirituality of the precept not only detects, but irritates, the depravity of nature, excites all manner of concupiscence, and sometimes even stirs up the dormant enmity of the heart into direct exercises of opposition to the holy character and righteous government of God. This is also connected with a discovery of the hatefulness of sin, and a disposition to abhor it in all its forms ; so that self-loathing becomes a predominant part of the new convert's experience. The stone is become flesh; and exquisite sensibility, in feeling and hating every sinful emotion, is united to a quickness of discernment in discovering sin where not before suspected ; and its odious nature and numerous aggravations, which before were excused and palliated. Every thing, therefore, concurs to discourage, as well as to humble, a person in this situation, except the glad tidings of the blessed gospel ; and should a self-complacent thought intrude itself, while he reflected on these new and more just views of his own character, he would reject it with alarm and detestation.
Thus at the very time when the sinner is made completely willing to welcome Christ and his whole salvation, so far from perceiving any warrant in his own holy dispositions, to authorize his believing application to the Saviour and reliance on him, he commonly thinks himself worse than ever, and viler than any other sinner; and is often tempted to conclude that he has sinned beyond the reach of mercy, and that Christ will except him from the general rule of “ casting out none that come to him.”—What then can meet this case but the scriptural assurances, “ Ask and it shall be given you ; seek and you shall find ; knock and it shall be opened to you: for every one that asketh receiveth?"-And what can be more improper than to embarrass him with nice distinctions; in direct opposition to the apostolical direction, “ Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations? In proportion as the gospel is understood, it gives encouragement, and suggests pleas, to that man who is most vile in his own estimation. He cannot
“ God, I thank thee I am not as other men :" but he may smite on his breast, and say, “ God be merciful to me, a sinner.” “ For thy name's sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity, for it is great.” “ I do not present my supplications before thee for my own righteousness, but for thy great mercies.” The infinite and everlasting mercy of God; the all-sufficient merits, atonement, and intercession of the incarnate Son: the unencumbered invitations of the gospel, and its exhortations and injunctions, with the promises connected with them, fully warrant the vilest sinner that ever lived to apply for salvation without delay, and without any reason to fear a repúlse. For they who have committed the unpardonable sin, “cannot be renerel to repentance,” and will never thus come to Christ for his humbling holy salvation.
Trembling and almost desponding sinners seldom consider their convictions, as the effect of a supernatural influence : nor indeed do they in general reflect at all on the cause or nature of the change of which they are conscious. And when they have leisure from the tumult of their thoughts, to make inquiries of this kind; they commonly ascribe the whole to means and instruments ; and frequently imagine, that if others had heard the same sermon, or read the same book, they must have been equally convinced. And having a far worse opinion of themselves, it is very difficult to make them sensible, even by the clearest evidence, that their temper of mind is really better in the sight of God, than it was before. It must therefore be impossible for a sinner in this condition to find a warrant for his faith in those feelings of his own mind which constitute a disposition to believe. Nor has he the least occasion for it; as the word of the gospel gives him a sufficient warrant and a most abundant encouragement “ to come to Christ that he may have life.”
II. Even such persons as have been long accustomed “ to live by faith in the Son of God,” who have frequently known “ peace and joy in believing, and have abounded in hope by the power of the Holy Ghost,” are sometimes overcome by temptation, or called to pass through sharp conflicts, and great
darkness and distress of soul. In these circumstances they are often led to question whether all their past experiences have not been a delusion; whether they were ever "called with an holy calling;" whether they ever truly loved the Lord or not. Should they then keep away from the throne of grace, and stand at an awful distance from the compassionate Physician of their souls, till they have determined these questions? Alas, they can determine nothing in this dark and doleful state! Every thing in themselves appears polluted and vile: the recollection of their past profession, advantages, and comforts, aggravates their distress, and adds weight to the burden of their guilt; so that they are often tempted to draw the most desperate conclusions concerning their state, and the Lord's intentions respecting them. But in this manner they commonly begin to emerge from their distress. "If all," say they, "has hitherto been self-deception, still the Lord is infinitely merciful; all things are ready; the invitations except none; and the Saviour says, 'Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out."" Encouraged by such thoughts, "Out of the depths they cry earnestly unto the Lord:" they confess their guilt with all its aggravating circumstances, and plead his merciful forgiveness, and his plenteous redemption. Ps. cxxx. "Out of the belly of hell they look towards his holy temple,” and seek his gracious deliverance; Jonah ii. and while they beseech the Lord to glorify his infinite mercy in saving them, the vilest of sinners; he "brings them out of the horrible pit, and out of the miry clay; he sets their feet upon a rock, and orders their goings: and he puts a new song into their mouths, even thanksgivings unto their God" and Saviour. Then indeed a brighter light shining upon their experiences, they can discern some actings of holy fear, humility, desire, faith, hope, and love, amidst the perplexities of their souls yet they could ascertain nothing of this kind in the time of distress and dismay, when they stood most in need of encouragement.
III. But indeed the believer, who is best established in judgment and experience, and most assured in hope, does not consider his consciousness of sanctifying grace, or his upright walk and conversation, as in any sense his warrant for faith in Christ, or in applying to him and relying on him, for renewed pardon, and fresh supplies of wisdom, strength, grace, and consolation answerable to his daily needs. He may, and will, on some occasions, appeal to the Lord for his integrity: and as "his own heart does not condemn him" of hypocrisy, or allowed sin," he has that confidence towards God," which he could not otherwise enjoy. 1 John iii. 19-22. He will consider his conscious love to Christ and Christians, his hatred of sin, and his delight in God's commandments, as a full proof that his faith is living, and his salvation sure: he may plead these things, as a reason why the Lord should defend him against the tongue of slander, maintain his cause against those that injure him, and prosper his endeavours to do good and in various ways he may "rejoice in the testimony of his conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, he has had his conversation in the world." This is evident from numberless passages in the sacred Scriptures, and even from the prayers of the most eminent saints. But so long as a man needs forgiveness, and blessings innumerable and inestimable, which he hath not in the smallest degree merited by his best services; and so long as he is continually making unsuitable returns for former mercies, he cannot, properly speaking, have any warrant for his faith, except the word of the gospel; however his hope may be encouraged and assured by the seal and witness of the sanctifying Spirit. Nor will the poor publican's prayer be ever laid aside, as unsuitable to his case, by the greatest saint on this side the perfection of heaven though self-deceivers of various descriptions, may think themselves too holy to employ such self-abasing language.
It is commonly urged on this subject, that if any thing be considered as the warrant of faith, except the word of the gospel, boasting will be introduced, and self-confidence encouraged. This is true in general, and the