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2. To believe in Christ is the work of God-the first and great thing which he insists upon, as all our works must be performed in the exercise of this faith, in order to their being acceptable in his sight, and rewardable in the world to come.
Col. ii. 17, “ Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” 1 Pet. ii. 5, “ Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” And 1 Cor. ii. 11-14, “ For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid which is Jesus Christ. Now, if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble : Every man's work shall be made manifest ; for the day that cometh shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire ; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide, which he hath built thereupont, he shall receive a reward.” Imperfect good works deserve a curse, because of their deficiency ; and can never entitle the doer of them to a blessing, on the ground of strict law and justice. But when they are done in the name of Christ, and by one who belongs to him, their imperfections being pardoned through his atonement, as far as there is any real goodness in them, they will be graciously accepted, and gloriously recompensed at the resurrection of the just. The acceptance of our services, as well as the justification of our persons, is only through faith in Christ.
3. To believe on him whom he hath sent, may be said to be the work of God, because all our spiritual ability for the performance of good works, besure with that perseverance which our final salvation requires, is from union to Christ by faith. John xv. 5, “ I am the vine, ye are the branches ; he that abid. eth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing.”
Gal. ü. 20, “I am crucified with Christ : nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me : and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God.” And Phil. iv. 13, “ I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Now, since the best of men are thus dependant on Christ for a life of holinesssince all spiritual strength for such a life is derived, by faith, from him; the answer is natural to those who inquired, “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” “ This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent."
Our subject may be applied and improved to the following purposes :
1. To make us cautious not to entertain wrong ideas of saving faith. Such definitions have been given of it by many, as render their doctrine of justification by faith alone, liable to just and weighty objections. If we explain that faith by which alone men become infallibly entitled to eternal salvation, as being only a bare conviction that the gospel report is true; or to be only a confident belief that they themselves are elected and shall be saved, we thus make void the law; and likewise the great design of the gospel. Such a faith as either of these, pre-supposes no holiness of heart ; and will not necessarily, or naturally, be productive of any real holiness of life. If, on the contrary, conformably to the evangelist John, we suppose that as many as receive Christ, become the sons of God; having been previously born, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God :" if we suppose regeneration prior to saving faith, and that faith implies a cordial reception of Christ in all his mediatorial offices, with a hearty determination to be his obedient subjects; then, though “ we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the
deeds of the law,” good works will be effectually secured, and the law most honorably established.
2. We may hence judge what is truth, in regard to the importance of mairitaining or denying, that our justification before God, is by faith alone in the righteousness of Christ.
The smooth Doctor, several times refered to in the preceding discourse, gliding over the capital points of contention among christians, and pronouncing them all of contemptible insignificance, says; “ I will further instance in the disputes about justifi. cation. There are no disputes which have disturbed the christian church much more ; nor are there any which can appear, to a considerate man, more unmeaning and trifling. The principal subject of these disputes has been the question, whether we are justified by faith alone, or by faith in conjunction with good works. You should consider, with res. pect to this question, that those who hold notions the most rigid, make justifying faith to be the seed and principle of personal holiness ; and that there is no sect of christians (however extravagant their doctrines may be) which have not some expedient or salvo for maintaining the necessity of good works. If they say that personal holiness is not a condition of justification, they say what amounts to the same, that it is a qualification which inust be found in all justifi. ed persons, and that without it we cannot be accepted.. If they say that we are justified by faith alone, they add, that we cannot be justified by that faith which is alone (that is, by a faith not accompanied with good works) and that it is only on the virtuous believer, or the man who proves the truth of his faith by his works, that the grace of God in Christ will confer future happiness. How triling then have been the controversies on this subject? As long as all hold that the practice of riglicousness is necessuy to bring us to heaven, what does it signify whether it
is necessary as the condition of heaven, or as an indispensible qualification for it ?”
Thus suddenly, and with the utmost ease, we have a final settlement of this troublesome controversy! But, by this hasty decision, both parties will not be satisfied. The dispute may not be so very trifling on one side, however needless it should appear to have been on the other. If all who hold the doctrine of justification by faith alone, had so explained themselves that the most jealous advocates for good works could have no great occasion to dispute against it; still there may be reason enough to contend earnestly for it, as one of the most essential articles of the faith once delivered to the saints. Notwithstanding all acknowledge, that a recovery to personal holiness is an essential part of our salvation, and that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God, upon the gospel plan ; yet, between holding that we are justified by faith alone, and by faith in conjunction with good works; there is as wide a difference as between trusting entirely in the righteousness of Christ, and partly in our own righteousness, as the meritorious ground of acceptance with God. And if any man does the latter, an apostle will tell him, he is fallen from grace, and Christ shall profit him nothing. It may easily be taken for granted, that the doctrine of justification by faith is an error ; and it may be shown, without much difficulty, that it is not a very dangerous error. But those who are convinced it is a gospel truth, and who rightly understand the reasons of it, will not so easily give it up, or cease to insist upon it, if they have any concern for the glory of God, or the salvation of men.
3. It may hence be seen that ministers of the gospel may well direct even unregenerate sinners to believe in Christ to the saving of their souls; and represent this as their indispensible duty, and the only way of peace and safety. We have the highest
authorities for such directions and representations. When the jailor said to Paul and Silas, “ Sirs, what must I do to be saved ?" they answered him immediately, “ Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” And you see what was the answer of our divine Lord and Teacher, to those whose hearts were carnal, when they inquired what they should do that they might work the works of God. Nor can sinners have any thing to object against the reasonableness of such directions, or against their obligation to a compliance with them, except what must arise from the blindness, the hardness, the total wickedness of their hearts.
4. Hence let those who are following directions short of this, be cautioned not to make a righteousness of their external duties, or to think they are working the works of God, while they do not truly believe on him whom he hath sent.
Awakened sinners, if they reform their lives, and become constant in attending upon the outward and ordinary means of grace, often grow easier in their minds, thinking that they are now doing their duty, and are in a hopeful way to obtain mercy : thinking God's anger will now be turned away from them, since they are doing the best they can. Such self-righteous imaginations are undoubtedly the ruin of many souls. You ought not, indeed, to be careless about the externals of morality, nor to neglect a constant attendance on the instituted means of instruction and conversion. Nor are you to think there is no hope from the use of these means, while you are not true believers. There is encouragement to search the scriptures, since these testify of Christ, and a careful perusal of them is the way to see for yourselves, what you are to believe concerning him. There is encouragement to attend upon the word preached, and to be attentive to it, since faith cometh by learing. There is encouragement to pray, since faith is