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that which was commanded; and so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake. But you are come to mount Zion, ....and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than the blood of Abel. See that ye refuse not him that speaketh.” Heb. 12:18-22. 24,25. When tones so sweet descend from heaven and breathe their softness on the human ear, how unspeakable the crime of inattention or neglect! “How shall they escape that turn away?" The word refuse, means, not to accept. It is opposed to a gracious offer. A command, or entreaty to believe and repent, addressed to men dead in sin, implies God's design to give what he requires, repentance and faith. The general voice of scripture lifts up this truth, That repentance and faith are free gifts of God to men; while they are duties which we owe, and which by the working of his Spirit he enables us to perform. Thus in accordance with this view the prophet expostulates, “Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?” And Israel prays, “ Turn thou me and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after I was turned I repented,” &c. Such is the rich grace and compassion of God toward creatures, in whom he might glorify himself, in the exercise of justice, by punishing them with “ everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his power."
But it is proper to consider these words in the light of a command. “ This (says John) is his commandment, that ye should be lieve on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” It is a command, how. ever, accompanied with circumstances peculiarly encouraging. The divine right to require repentance and faith is as unquestionable, as is his right to require obedience to the moral law: and who will doubt that God has a righteous claim upon all our race to perfect obedience to this pure and perfect rule of righteousness, which, though“ it was ordained unto life,” will be found to be unto death” to every one who depends upon it for acceptance with God. If justification be sought by the deeds of the law, the sinner must fulfill, unaided, all its requirements, and must stand alone at the judgment seat. His condemnation follows of course. It is true, that death is the just punishment of all those who remain impenitent and unbelieving; for besides the aggravated guilt of rejecting Christ, and choosing to go on in a sinful course, they are indebted to God, to do the whole law; and that without a name to mention, or a plea to offer for forgiveness. While, in this channel, no mercy flows to present hope to man; a blessed hope is opened by the hearing of faith;” or by the gospel proposing salvation by faith in the righteousness of Christ. For while the gospel demands repentance and faith as duties which we owe; it holds forth God in Christ as proposing by his gracious operations on our hearts, to produce them in us as living graces; and standing qualities of the new and heavenly life. Thus God is said to have exalted his Son " to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel and forgive
ness of sins.” Acts 5:31. When the believing Jews heard of the work of grace at the house of Cornelius, they said, “ then has God also to the gentiles granted repentance unto life.” Paul enjoins on Timothy " meekness" in "instructing those that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentunce to the acknouledging of the truth.” Faith is expressly called "the gift of God.”
To the Philippians Paul says, "ihat it was given to them to believe,” and the Saviour expressly says, “this is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” John 6:29. To believe on Christ is indeed a work which God requires that we perform; while at the same time, it is a work which he works in us. Were it of man exclusively of the Spirit's working in us, then faith, as a deed of righteousness of our own, would justify. Faith is reasonably required; for what can be more reasonable, than to believe the truth upon satisfactory evidence; and what more reasonable than to require that men act under the influence of and in accordance with the thing believed ? If, without reasoning about the cause, the case is so withal, that the latter form of believing, I mean, “ believing with the heart unto righteousness," is impossible, through the corrupted and degenerated condition of man, is there any ground of blame in the Divine procedure, arising from the circumstance that he exerts his power on the human heart in producing the very thing he requires? And does the circumstance that he does so, or that his doing so, is indispensable to success, render attempts useless and unpromising? or, does not this rather lie at the foundation of our hope, and operate as the exciting cause of all reasonable endeavors to obtain salvation? That there is a gracious sovereignty which God exercises in the application of redemption, and which he exercises in perfect consistency with liberty of will in man, no one who believes the scriptures, and has respect for himself, will deny. “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” These words are plainly addressed to the gentile nations; to worshippers of idols. They call their attention and their worship from idols unto the true God, and specially to Christ, who here addresses them as their Saviour. Objects of mercy less hopeful could not be imagined. No where could the tide of human depravity have risen higher: no where could its overflowings have extended faster, endured longer, or carried greater desolation. Yet Jesus looks upon them and exclaims, “ Look unto me, and be ye saved,... for I am God.” The power and the will, and the wisdom are here: and your looking shall not be vain. This involved a purpose of God to save: and did they look, and were they saved? We ourselves are witnesses. We, the descendants of the "gentiles who followed not after righteousness," have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. I have said that this call was accompanied with a divine purpose and the execution is of God. Hear what follows. “ I have sworn by myseif, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return-that unto me every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall
swear.” These words are properly.directed to heathens in every age and in every clime. They show that the sinner is taken as God finds him: with all his sins upon him. They show that Jesus Christ, in whom all the blessings of God's covenant are treasured up, by means appropriate, which he himself has provided, is bringing the obstinate wills of men into subserviency to his own design; that with floods poured upon dry ground, he is rendering the desert a garden of the Lord.
If we consider the divinely constituted relation between Christ and the elect in the economy of redemption, it may aid us in discovering the propriety of the command to believe, as well as the means of obedience to it. Sinners, who shall be saved, are contemplated by God the Father as in Christ, and as his, in Christ, from everlasting. “ He (God the Father) hath chosen us in him, (Christo) before the foundation of the world, that we should he holy," &c. Christ is responsible to the Father for all that were given him in the great decree. “I (says Christ)
“I (says Christ) have manifested thy name to the men which thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them me, and they have kept thy word.” He intercedes for them. After praying for his disciples he adds, “neither pray I for these alone, but for them also who shall believe on me through their word.” It pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell in Christ for the use and benefit of sinners who should be saved through him. Thus the obedience of his life and death is the sinner's justifying righteousness. Thus the sanctification of the soul, produced by the working of the Spirit of Christ, is the sinner's personal holiness. Now sinners are commanded to believe and repent under these circumstances, even when “dead in'trespasses and sins." What effort, then, can be consistent in sinful man; but that of striving with Christ for the gift of the Holy Spirit to change his heart, to work faith and every grace within him. The unrenewed sinner, like the renewed man, can do all things by Christ strengthening him. Repentance and faith are fruits of Christ's death, and with every new-covenant blessing, are of free grace to men; while neglect in seeking them through the proper channel, or in essaying to repent and believe is flagrant crime, and wilful disobedience to the divine command.
I have said above, that in obtaining faith, there is an exercise of sovereignty in God; which ought to satisfy every inquirer, that faith “ is not of ourselves.”
The everlasting ruin of men, is ascribed to God's withholding, or withdrawing his power and grace from men. Moses said to the Israelites, “ Ye have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh, yet the Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, or ears to hear unto this day.” Deut. 29:2.4. “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.” Matt. 11:25. The prophets, earnest and anxious as they were, could not conquer the obstinacy of their hearers, nor constrain them to believe. “ Who," exclaims Isaiah, “ hath believed our report, and to whoin is the arm of the Lord revealed?” The Saviour, after quoting the above, adds, “ Therefore, they could not believe, because that Isaiah said again, he hath blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, and be converted and I should heal them.” These passages surely mean something. They surely do not mean, that if we do not believe, the fault is God's. They surely do not mean, that men are not under obligations to believe, and justly condemned for unbelief. To me they seem to signify, that from many who enjoy the means of grace, God, in adorable sovereignty, withholds the renewing and converting power of his Spirit: and leaving them to such an use of means as degenerated man can make, the effect is, the hardening of their hearts, and the darkening of the understanding. To others whom he pleases he gives new hearts and new spirits, by which they discern the truth, feel its influences and yield to its powers.
On this subject there are two mistakes. Which of the two is most dangerous my reader will judge.
The first is, that since men are unable of themselves to repent and believe, it is unjust in God if he command them so to do. And therefore the just God does not command them to repent and believe.
The second is, that a just God would not command men to do what they cannot do; yet he does command men to believe and repent, and therofore they are able.
The first of these, that God does not command men to repent and believe, &c., is proved untrue by so many passages in scripture directly requiring them, and by so many plainly implying the duty, that nothing but wilful and determined opposition to divine truth can deny it. None can read their bibles in the exercise of common sense, and not discover that they are not only commanded duties, but also that they are enforced by the most solemn sanctions. To say that God is unjust, were to utter blasphemy. Now as we are sure that God has commanded us to repent and believe, we are also sure, that it is consistent with truth and holiness and justice: for all God's commands must be such. Let such then as deny this truth, ask themselves, whether the declarations of Jeho. vah are to be rejected or his authority disowned, because they cannot see the reasons on which they are founded, or reconcile them to their views and feelings?
The scriptures, if they prove any thing, do prove that we cannot repent, believe, or perform any spiritual duty without the power of divine grace. If then God cannot, consistently with his righteousness, command us to do what we are unable to do, then all law and all authority are at an end. Then let the infidel lift up his toice and exclaim, " The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God
of Jacob regard it.” Men may read their bibles, but are not bound to believe them. They may hear the gospel offers, but are at liberty to reject them. They may listen to the history of redemption; and look upon the blood that flowed in sealing a covenant of redemption for man; but without crime “account it an unholy thing." Such views of a dispensation of grace toward men, how profane! Let then the ministers of Christ take up the words of their Master, and proclaim, with growing solemnity to the dying all around them, “Repent and believe the gospel;" and, let them add, “he that believeth not shall be damned.”
The second mistake summarily is: That since God does command men to repent and believe; and as God is just, therefore men are able to repent and believe. It is believed, that all who embrace the standards of the Presbyterian church, in their plain, common-sense, and unmetaphysized meaning, do believe and teach, that those powers and faculties, whose exercises are prescribed by the divine law, are still in man; and that the law demands no more, than that these faculties and powers be employed as it directs: While they believe also, that all these are so impaired and deranged, through sin, that they can in no case be so directed and exerted as to answer the demands of the law; but on the other hand they dispose and incline them to disobedience, and expose them to the penalty which the law threatens. This they call depravity, or corruption. In this the inability of man consists. With this inability man was not created. From this estate, the
of divine grace can and will deliver many. The mysterious manner of the operations of grace in preparing the human heart for the exercise of the dispositions from which believing proceeds, and upon the existence of which, its continued exercise depends; I pretend not to explain. But that God has purposed so to connect the operations of grace, with human efforts used in the appointed channel of seeking them; that the duty of believing is presented to us in the most favorable aspect, and with strong inducements to the performance. Very many, while seeking the graces of repentance and faith, have, ere ever they were aware, repented and believed. And the Spirit of the Lord, though they knew it not, was the agent that stirred up the spirit of seeking which was successful. These commands, though they assert the divine right to the obedience which they claim, are strongly sanctioned and enforced by the unmerited grace whereby they are done in us; while our own mental operations proceed in their natural order, and are free and voluntary.
That the power of obeying a command, is, in every case, indispensable in order to justify the command, is by no means selfevident. Commands are often given, when mere instrumentality is only contemplated in those to whom they were addressed. The disciples of our Lord were commanded to go forth and heal the sick and cast out devils in their Master's name; they did so,