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Gospel is rejected, after being fairly proposed to them. Now, in this case, good works without faith will not save a man; because, in truth, the works are not good, which flow from that disposition which occasion the want of faith. The works may be good, that is, may be useful as to their consequences and effects
upon others; but this is not enough for the salvation of the person who performs them. They must also flow from a good disposition, which in the case supposed they could not do; for that good disposition would, along with the works, have produced faith.
On the other hand, cases undoubtedly may be supposed, and cases occur in innumerable instances, in which the want of faith cannot be attributed to the fault of the unbeliever. Whole nations and countries have never yet heard of the name of Christ. In countries in which he has been preached, multitudes have been debarred, by invincible impediments, from coming to the knowledge of his religion. To multitudes of others it has never been preached or proposed truly or fairly. In these and the like cases it is not for us to say, that men will be destroyed for their want of faith. The Scripture has not said so, but the contrary. The Scripture appears to intimate that which, so far as we can apprehend, is most agreeable to the divine equity, that such persons shall respectively be judged according to the law and rule with which they were, or (if it had not been their own fault) they might have been acquainted
whether that were simply the law of nature, or any addition
made to it by credible revelations. This is generally understood to be the meaning of that passage in the second chapter of Saint Paul's epistle to the Romans, in which he declares, that “ as many as have sinned without the law, shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law.” To which he adds, that “ when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, they having not the law, are a law unto themselves; which show the works of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.” Which two texts, taken together, intimate, as I have said, that in the assignment both of punishment and reward, respect will be had to the law or rule of action with which they were acquainted, so that those who acted conscientiously by that rule would be accepted; those who wilfully went against the dictates of their own conscience would be regarded as transgressors before God, be their condition, as to religious knowledge and information, what it would.
In order to understand that this doctrine does not detract from the value of Christianity so much as, at first sight, it may seem to do, two considerations are to be attended to, as possessing a material influence upon the subject. One is, that this gracious dispensation which comprises all mankind, which so condescends to their several diffi
culties and disadvantages, and is so indulgent to human blindness and wickedness, is procured to the world through the intervention, the mission, death, and mediation of Jesus Christ. Christ is the instrument of salvation to all who are saved. The obedient Jew, the virtuous heathen, are saved through him. They do not know this, nor may it be necessary they should. Yet it may be true in fact. That is one important consideration. The other is, that we are expressly taught in Scripture, that there are divers degrees of happiness even in heaven. Which being so, it is not unreasonable to expect that faithful followers of Christ will be advanced to higher rewards than others. This opinion is not repugnant to any ideas we form of distributive justice, and is scriptural.
Still, however, this speculation, though we cannot, I think, easily shut it out from our thoughts, does not touch our own proper concern.
Our concern is solely with the question how a Christian can be saved. And in this question we rest upon one single conclusion ; viz. that there is no safe reliance upon any thing but upon sincere endeavours after Christian obedience; and that a Christian's obedience consists in relinquishing his own sins, and practising his own duties.
ALL STAND IN NEED OF A REDEEMER.
HEBREWS ix. 26.
Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared
to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. In former discourses upon this text I have shown, first, that the Scriptures expressly state the death of Jesus Christ as having an efficacy in the procurement of human salvation, which is not attributed to the death or sufferings of any
person, however patiently undergone, or undeservedly inflicted: and secondly, that this efficacy is quite consistent with our obligation to obedience; that good works still remain the condition of salvation, though not the cause ; the cause being the mercy of Almighty God through Jesus Christ. There is no man living, perhaps, who has considered seriously the state of his soul, to whom this is not a consoling doctrine, and a grateful truth. But there are some situations of mind which dispose us to feel the weight and importance of this doctrine more than others. These situations I will endeavour to describe ; and, in doing so, to point out how much more satisfactory it is to have a Saviour and Redeemer, and the mercies of our Creator excited towards us, and communicated to us by and through that Saviour and Redeemer, to confide in and rely upon, than any grounds of merit in ourselves.
First, then, souls which are really labouring and endeavouring after salvation, and with sinceritysuch souls are every hour made sensible, deeply sensible, of the deficiency and imperfection of their endeavours. Had they no ground, therefore, for hope, but merit, that is to say, could they look for nothing more than what they should strictly deserve,
prospect would be very uncomfortable. I see not how they could look for heaven at all. They may form a conception of a virtue and obedience which might seem to be entitled to a high reward; but when they come to review their own performances, and to compare them with that conception; when they see how short they have proved of what they ought to have been, and of what they might have been, how weak and broken were their best offices; they will be the first to confess, that it is infinitely for their comfort that they have some other resource than their own righteousness. One infallible effect of sincerity in our endeavours is to beget in us a knowledge of our imperfections. The careless, the heedless, the thoughtless, the nominal Christian, feels no want of a Saviour, an intercessor, a mediator, because he feels not his own defects. Try in earnest to perform the duties of religion, and you will soon learn how incomplete your best