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this world, the believer may be said to rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory, and to receive the end of his faith, even the salvation of his soul; 1 Pet. i. 8, 9.
Before I pass to the second head, I desire leave to make these few remarks.
Remark I. Though the first degree of faith or assent to the gospel be necessary to salvation, yet it is not of itself sufficient; and though the last degree of faith or assurance be gloriously useful in this work, yet it is not absolutely necessary.
A mere assent to the truths of the gospel is not sufficient to save; for there are many who by the force of education, or by the force of argument, yield their assent to the doctrine, and believe it to be true, yet it is a cold, feeble, languid assent; it begins and ends in the head, and never reaches the heart; it does not awaken them thoroughly, nor make them long after the pardon and the grace promised: They seem to sit still contented with the forms of their catechism, and a general belief of the christian religion, so far as they know it; but are under no painful solicitude, or concern of soul, about the forgiveness of their sins, the sanctification of their natures, their interest in the favour of God and eternal happiness; and therefore they proceed no farther, they never heartily apply themselves to Jesus Christ the only Saviour, and they fall short of the blessing. The devils believe as much as they do, but are in a state of damnation still.
Again, consider that a full assurance of our own interest in the favour of God through Jesus Christ, is the highest degree of attainment on earth; but it is not necessary to the being of christianity, nor doth it belong to every christian. It is true indeed, that every one ought to seek after it by the frequent exercise of faith and love, and every grace, thus brightening the evidences of his saving interest in the blessings of the gospel daily; and where assurance is obtained upon solid grounds, holiness and joy will rise by swift degrees, and the soul will make glorious advances towards the heavenly state and complete salvation: But some christians scarce ever arrive at this attainment all their days.
Since therefore a mere assent to the gospel in general is not sufficient for salvation, and a full assurance of our own interest is not necessary, it follows, that an affiance or trust in Christ as a Saviour is the most essential and important act of faith. This is that sacred and appointed duty of a convinced soul, whereby it is made partaker of the blessings of salvation according to the gospel, if it be practised in the way which I have just before described.
II. Take notice here of the difference between the law and
the gospel, between the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace. The one gives us life upon our working, the other saves us from death, and gives us a right to heaven upon our believing, therefore one is called the law of works, and the other the law of faith; Rom. iii. 27.
It is proper here to observe, that the scripture sometimes speaks of two covenants; the old and the new and means chiefly the economy or dispensation of the Jews under Moses, and the economy of Christ, or the dispensation of the gospel since the Messiah came. But by the two covenants I now speak of, I would be understood to mean the law or constitution of innocency, and the constitution of grace.
By the constitution, or law of innocency, man was to have obtained eternal life before his fall; and as this law or covenant was given to Adam as the head and representative of all mankind, so every son and daughter of Adam continues under it till they accept of the covenant of grace, or the offers of the gospel, either in the darker or brighter discoveries of it: And therefore all mankind, Jews and Gentiles, are laid under condemnation by it in the writings of St. Paul, in the second and third chapters to the Romans. By this law of works, every mouth is stopped, and the whole world is become guilty before God; Rom. iii. 19. Though the nations of the Jews and christians, and perhaps the greatest part of the heathen world, have had some revelations of the gospel or covenant of grace, and have been under the outward offers of it; yet Jews, heathens, and national christians, are all under the sentence of the covenant of the law of works, till they enter into the covenant of grace by repentance and faith in the mercy of God.
But the covenant of grace, or the gospel is a new constitution, which God hath ordained for the relief of poor fallen miserable man, condemned and perishing under the curse of the law of works. It is a constitution of grace, whereby alone fallen sinners can obtain salvation.
The law of works demands universal obedience to all the commands of God, obedience perfect and persevering; for this is the language of it; the man that doth them shall live in them; Rom. x. 5. and it curses every sinner without hope or remedy; cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them; Gal. iii. 10, 12. But the voice of the gospel, the righteousness of faith, or the way of justification by Christ, speaketh on this wise, With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation; for the just shall live by faith; Rom. x. 10. Gal. iii. 11. The one proclaims eternal life to all that perfectly obey, the other publishes salvation to all that believe, though their obedience be very imperfect.
I grant indeed, that the apostle cites these descriptions of the law of works out of the books of Moses, and therefore some persons would suppose him only to mean the particular law given to the Jews at mount Sinai, and not the general covenant of works made with Adam, and with all mankind in him.
But to this I give these two answers:
1. The laws of works, which the apostle speaks of in the epistle to the Romans, particularly in the second and third chapters, cannot signify merely the Jewish law; for it is such a law as includes all the heathen world, as appears plain; Rom. ii. 14, 15. and by which the heathens as well as the Jews were condemned, and could never be justified; Rom. iii. 20. By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin; therefore this must be a law that extended to all mankind, since it stops every mouth, and proclaims the whole world guilty before God.
2. The law given to the Jews, or the covenant of Sinai, so far as it is purely political, was indeed a covenant of works; and their continuance in, or rejection out of the land of Canaan, depended upon their own works, their obedience or disobedience to this law, as it is often expressed in the writings of Moses : And upon this account it is used sometimes by the apostles as a very proper emblem or representative of the covenant of works made with our first father Adam, who was to have enjoyed or forfeited some earthly or heavenly paradise, according to his obedience or disobedience. It is plain then, that though St. Paul may cite the law of Moses to shew the nature of a law of works in general, yet it does not follow that he means only the law or covenant of Sinai; and it is as plain, by his including the Gentiles under it, that he does not mean the law of Sinai, but the original law or covenant of works made with all mankind in Adam their father and their head, and of which the law of Sinai was a proper emblem or figure.
All laws of works therefore are insufficient for the salvation of sinful man, and his restoration to God's favour and image, and eternal life. The law of Sinai was a law of works, promising an earthly Canaan to the obedient Jews. The law of innocency in Eden was a law of works, promising life and immortality to obedient mankind. But they have been both wretchedly broken; man was turned out of paradise, and the Jews out of Canaan, because of disobedience. But now the gospel whereby the Jews or Gentiles are to be saved, or to obtain eternal life, requires faith in the mercy and promises of God in and through Jesus Christ; and by this means it saves us, though our obedience be far short of perfection: This was the way whereby the Jews themslves were saved under the Old Testament: for the
gospel was preached to them as well as unto us; Heb. iv. 2. though it was in darker hints, and types and figures. And in this way were Abraham and David justified as the apostle teaches; Rom. iv. 3, 4, 5, 6.
Though the Jews' enjoyment of the land of Canaan depended on their good works and obedience to the law of Moses, yet their hope and enjoyment of heaven depended on their faith or trust in the mercy of God, which was to be farther revealed in the days of the Messiah. And it is the same gospel by which we are to obtain salvation, since Christ is come in the flesh; but with this difference, that we are how more expressly required to make Jesus Christ the object of our faith, and we have a thousand clearer discoveries of his righteousness and grace than ever the Jews were favoured with.
Happy mankind! though fallen and ruined in Adam, yet recovered and raised to righteousness, grace, and glory by Jesus Christ. How dreadful is that law which pronounces a curse and death upon every transgressor! Tribulation and wrath, indignation and anguish upon every soul that doth evil, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile; Rom. ii. 9. But how sweet and reviving is the grace of that gospel, which becomes the power of God to the salvation of every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek!
The great and blessed God saw the frailty of his creature man, how ready he was to ruin himself under a law of works therefore he appointed his recovery by the law of faith. And what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the infirmity of flesh, that he has sent his own Son Jesus Christ in the likeness of sinful flesh, to do for us, to fulfil all the demands of the law, both in the penalty and the precept, to finish transgression, to made an end of sin, by his own sufferings, and to bring in an everlasting righteousness, that whosoever believes on him shall be saved. Blessed God! How kind and condescending are thy ways to the children of men! How full of compassion to rebels, who had destroyed themselves! How gentle are the methods of thy recovering mercy! If we will but confess our sins, mourn over our own follies, return to the Lord our God by humble repentance, and put our trust in an almighty Saviour, there is peace and pardon, there is grace, and life, and glory provided for us, and laid up in the hands of Jesus Christ our Lord.
III. Though the gospel offers us salvation by faith and not by works, yet it effectually secures the practice of holiness since holiness is a part of that salvation. We are saved from sin as well as from hell by this gospel; and we must have our souls prepared for heaven, as well as brought to the possession of it. He that pretends to trust in Christ, for a deliverance from hell
and has no desire to be made holy, he has no desire after such a salvation as Christ proposes in his gospel, nor is he like to attain it.
We must be sensible then of the corruption of our natures, the perverseness of our wills, the vanity of our minds, the earthliness of our affections, our inability to do that which is good for time to come, as well as our guilt, condemnation and misery, because of our transgressions past: We must desire that a thorough work of repentance may be wrought in our hearts, that the power and reign of sin may be broken there, and that we may become new creatures as well as desire to escape the wrath of God, and hell, and eternal death, if ever we would be partakers of that salvation which the gospel proposes. Christ will not divide one part of his salvation from the other: And in vain do we presume to trust in him for happiness, if we are not willing to be made holy too.
How false and unreasonable are all the reproaches that are cast upon the doctrine of salvation by faith, as though it tended to promote looseness of life, and to indulge iniquity; when that very salvation includes in it a freedom from the power of sin, and a delight in all that is holy? This is the very character of Christ our Saviour, and the reason of his name Jesus, that he should save his people from their sins; Mat. i. 21. If we are delivered by Christ, it is from this present wicked world; Gal. i. 4. If we are redeemed, it is from all iniquity, that we might be a peculiar people purified to himself, zealous of good works; Tit. ii. 14.
IV. Though the gospel is such a glorious doctrine of grace, that there is no reason to be ashamed of it, yet since it saves us by faith, and not by works, there is no reason for us to boast when we are saved. We may glory indeed in the cross of Christ and make our boast in the Redeemer all the day long; but the gospel for ever cuts off all ground of boasting in ourselves. Here the justice and mercy of God shine forth gloriously; here the righteousness of God is declared, sinners find remission or pardon, God is just, and a justifier of him who believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay, but by the law of Faith; Rom. iii. 25, 26, 27. By grace ye are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast; Eph. ii. 8, 9.
The gospel concurs with the law in this respect, that it shews us our own guilt and vileness, our ruin and our impotence to restore ourselves, and therefore it has put all our help upon another. God has laid our help upon one that is mighty to save; Ps. lxxxix. 19. and he has ordained that the way whereby we should derive this salvation, is by renouncing all dependance upon self, and trust