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words, He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself; viz. he hath a proof within himself that cternal life is in the Son, ver. 11. and is to be obtained by our believing in him. It is to the truth of this doctrine that the three bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and the three on earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood. And though the proof of the sincerity and truth of our faith now may be derived from hence by a farther consequence, yet the first and direct design of the apostle is to shew, that the truth and divinity of our religion has an inward witness to it in the heart of every believer.`
Here give me leave to put you in mind, that it is necessary for you, as it was for the primitive christians, to settle your profession of christianity upon solid grounds; otherwise you are christians but for the same reason that makes a Turk a disciple of Mahomet, or a heathen a worshipper of the Gods of his country; that is, because you were born in such a climate, and under such a meridian. And can you be contented with so poor a pretence to the noblest religion? and lay so sandy a foundation for your eternal hopes? Besides, the day in which we live, threatens you with bold temptations; and how will you stand if you have no surer grounds? Infidelity is a growing weed; the contempt and ridicule of revealed religion, flourish and become fashionable among the gay part of the world; and if you are not furnished with some solid proofs of the gospel of Christ, you may be in great danger of losing your faith; you may be tempted to yield up your religion to a witty jest, and become a heathen for company.
I might say another thing to awaken you to acquaint yourselves with some arguments that will justify and support your belief of the gospel. Suppose you think you have complied with the rules of your religion, and have raised your hopes of heaven to a high degree; should Satan the tempter spread his darkness round your souls, and in a melancholy and gloomy hour assault your faith with such bold questions as these, How do you know that christianity is the true religion? What tokens have you to shew that it came from God? If you have no other answer to make, but that it is the religion of your country, that you are born and bred up in it, think with yourselves how your spirits will be surprized, your comforts languish, and all your high built hopes totter to the ground; unless the Spirit of God, by his uncommon and sovereign grace, should give in an answer to the temptation, and by some immediate and convincing argument support your faith but if you are negligent to lay a good foundation at first, you have no reason to expect such a divine favour.
Let the importance of this concern therefore keep your attention awake, while I briefly run over some of the proofs of chris
tianity, and thus lead you down to the surest and best of them, which is contained in my text.
Many are the outward testimonies which God hath given to the gospel of his Son; many witnesses have confirmed it from the time that Christ appeared in the flesh, to the day when St. John wrote this epistle. If we trace his life from the cradle in the manger to his cross and the grave, we shall find the rays of divinity still shining round his doctrine and his works, sti pointing to his person, and proving his commission with a convincing and resistless light. At his birth the witnessing angels appeared in much brightness, and while the Son of God lay an infant below, his record was on high; for there appeared a strange new star, and was his witness in heaven. The wise men of the East were his witnesses, when they came from afar, and paid tributes and offerings, gold and incense to the God, the king of Israel. Simeon and Anna in the temple, by the Spirit of prophecy witnessed to the holy child Jesus. And the doctors with whom he disputed at twelve years old, were his witnesses that there was something in him more than man. At his baptism the Father and the Spirit witnessed to the Son of God; they told the world that this was He, the Messiah: The Father by a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove. His life was a life of wonders, and each of them witnessed to the truth of his commission, and to the divinity of his doctrine. Every blind eye that he opened, saw and witnessed Jesus, and declared his divine power. Every one of the dead that he raised were his witnesses. They came from the land of silence to speak his glory, and to give a loud testimony to his mission from heaven. The devils themselves, when he drove them out of their ⚫ possessions, confessed that he was Christ, The holy one of God; but he had no mind to accept their witness, and therefore forbade them to speak. Miracles attended him to the cross and the grave, and opened the grave again for him, and made a passage for him to his Father's right hand. Nor did the witnesses of his person and of his doctrine then cease; for that salvation which began to be spoken by Jesus the Lord, was afterwards published by those that heard him, God himself bearing them witness with signs and wonders; as in Heb. ii. 3, 4.
But all these still were outward witnesses to convince an unbelieving world. There is an inward witness that my text speaks of, that belongs to every true christian: He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself. And let us prepare now to examine whether our religion be true, and whether we are believers on the Son of God in truth, by searching after this
inward witness; which we shall endeavour to explain, by considering these three things:
I. What believing on the Son of God means.-II. What this inward witness is, that faith gives to christianity.-III. What sort of witness it is, and how it exceeds other testimonies in several respects. And, Lastly, We shall make some inferences.
I. What is meant in my text by believing on the Son of God? I answer briefly under these two heads. It is,-1. A believing Jesus Christ to be the Saviour of the world.-2. A trust in Christ Jesus as our Saviour.
1. It is a believing Jesus Christ to be the Saviour of the world; and in this manner it is often expressed by our apostle in these epistles: a belief that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, who was foretold by all the prophets, and represented by all the types and shadows of the Old Testament. This usually includes a belief of the most important things that are related in the gospel concerning his person; such as these, that he is true God and true man, i. e. that God and man are united in him; that he was the Son of God before all ages, and the son of man born in time. That he was the seed of David after the flesh, but declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead; Rom. i. 3, 4. That he is that eternal Word, who in the beginning was with God, and was God, and who was in due time made flesh and tabernacled among us, as in John i. 14. This is that mystery of godliness which we must believe, God manifest in the flesh; 1 Tim. iii. 16.
It implies also our belief of his doctrine, as well as of the divinity and humanity united in his person; viz. That we are all sinners condemned by the law of God; enemies to God in our minds, transgressors in our lives, and exposed to eternal death: That the divine law is so strict, so perfect, so holy, and so just that no mere man since the fall can fulfil it, nor yet can excuse or free himself from the condemnation of it: That Christ himself came to fulfil this law, as he tells us in Mat. v. 17, 18. That he came not only to perform the duties of it by an active obedience, but to put himself under the curse and condemnation for our sakes. Which the apostle to the Galatians expresses in this language, that in the fulness of time he was made under the law to become a curse for us, that we who are under the law might be redeemed from the curse, and receive a blessing; Gal. iii. 13. and iv. 5.. That he died for our offences, that he rose again for our justification; and that he has received the spirit of holiness, which he sends into our sinful natures, to form us fit for that heavenly inheritance which he hath purchased for us by his death. That without this purification of our natures, we can have no hope of heaven, for without repentance and holiness no man shall see
God. That Jesus Christ our Lord shall raise the dead, shall come in the last day to judge the world, and pass a decisive sentence, and shall then reward every one according to their works. Though all these things were not so plainly taught by our Saviour himself in his public ministry in the world, yet these were the doctrines which his apostles preached continually, and they received them from him by private instructions, or the inspiration of his Spirit, so that they may be properly called the doctrines of Christ.
But this is not all that is required of believers; for so much knowledge, and so much faith as this is, the devils may have, and Simon Magus the sorcerer might have as much as this when he believed. The faith that is expressed in this epistle, and in other places of scripture, is more than a bare assent to the great truths of the gospel; for it is such a faith as overcomes the world, such a faith as gains a victory over things sensual, and over Satan; such a faith as evidences a man to be born of God. And therefore something more must be implied in it than a mere belief of the nature and person of Christ, and the truth of his doctrine.
2. It therefore implies a betrusting the soul into the hands of Christ, that he may be our Saviour. And I have sometimes thought that those words in the Greek, which we render faith and believing are continually used in the New Testament, to signify faith, a saving faith; because they not only signify, in their natural sense, the believing of a truth, but the trusting in a person. They signify believing the doctrine of Christ, and committing the soul into his hands as a Saviour, as it is expressed by St. Paul; 2 Tim. i. 12. I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded he is able to keep what I have committed to him. To believe on the Son of God therefore, is when a person, from a sense of sin and danger of eternal death, and his inability to escape any other way, applies himself unto Christ Jesus, as the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. When the soul commits itself into his hands, as one All-sufficient in himself to save, and one appointed by the Father for this glorious purpose. When the soul is made willing to be justified by the merits and righteousness of another, seeing itself unable, by all its own works, to attain to a justifying righteousness. When the soul is desirous to be sanctified by the grace that is from above, because it sees the necessity of holiness, and yet feels itself utterly incapable to renew its own nature, to mortify its own sins, or to form itself fit for the enjoyment of God and heaven. When the soul for these ends, puts itself under the care of Christ Jesus, who is authorised and commissioned by the Father to take care of sinful and guilty souls, to remove and cancel their guilt by his sacrifice,
and invest them with a perfect righteousness, to begin the work of grace in them, to fill them with principles of holiness, and by degrees to fit them for his glory: such a soul is a believer on the Son of God, and such a soul has the witness in himself, that our religion is divine, and that christianity is from above.
II. The second thing I proposed to consider, is, What is the inward witness that faith gives to the truth of christianity?
At the first promulgation of the gospel, there were some souls overpowered with present miracles, attended with a divine light shining into them. This was such as they could not resist, such as carried glorious evidence with it, and effectually wrought upon them to believe that our religion was from heaven, that Christ was the Son of God, and that his name was the only ground of hope for salvation. This was miraculous and extraordinary, and not to be expected every day now; such was the conversion of St. Paul to christianity, and many such instances of miracles appeared in the first seasons of the gospel.
But the witness that the apostle John speaks of in my text, is such as belongs to every believer. It is an universal proposition, He that believes, has the witness in himself.
In order therefore to enquire into the nature of this testimony, I shall not lead you, nor myself into the land of blind enthusiasm, that region of clouds and darkness, that pretends to divine light. The apostle does not mean here a strong impulse, an irrational and ungrounded assurance that our religion is true. Many times these vehement impulses are but the foolish fires of fancy, that give the enquiring traveller no steady light or conduct, but lead him far astray from truth. Christianity has a better witness than this; being such as belongs to every believer, it must approve itself to the reason of men. And I will endeavour to explain it thus according to scripture.
Let it first be noted here, that the word witness is used frequently, by our translators, to signify testimony, or evidence. Nor will it create any confusion to use these words promiscuously in this discourse, while we distinguish them from the thing witnesed, (which in the original, is also μaplup.a) and is translated the record, ver. 19, 11.
Now if we enquire what is that testimony to christianity, or that inward witness that every believer has in himself, let us consider what that record is which God has testified concerning his Son Christ Jesus. That you will find in the context, ver. 11, 12. This is the record or thing witnessed, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son; he that hath the Son of God hath life, and he that hath not the Son hath not life. He then that believes on the Son of God hath the witness, or testimony to christianity, in himself, for he hath within him the thing testified. He hath eternal life in himself, he hath this eternal life