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thereby persuade men to forsake their sins, and turn to God.'
And now, may the holy and all-powerful Spirit prosper this blessed work in our hands, and your hearts, that all our hopes and fears may operate together for our entire conversion, and eternal salvation, through Christ our Saviour; to whom, with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now, and for evermore. Amen.
THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CHRISTIANITY, AND THE NECESSITY OF FAITH THEREIN.
HEB. X. 38, 39.
The just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.
But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them who believe, to the saving of the soul.
THERE are two things strongly set before us in this passage of Scripture; first, That it is by faith we are to hope for salvation, and eternal life; and, secondly, That, of consequence, he who draws back from this faith, or apostatizes, having lost the principle of life, brings on himself perdition, or damnation. Immediately after asserting, in these words, the importance of faith, the apostle goes on to tell us what faith is; and then, by a long enumeration of its effects, shews what it had done before, and under the law, in them who had not received the promise, that is, the thing promised, which was Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the righthand of the throne of God;' chap. xii. 2. In this we see the Christian faith sufficiently distinguished from all other kinds of faith, both by him in whom we are to believe, and by that
which we are to believe of him; namely, that it was he who was promised by God, not only as a Redeemer to Israel, but as that seed of Abraham, in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed' with light, through his instructions; and with remission of sins, through his blood. To inculcate this doctrine, and thereby to shew the superiority of the Christian above the Mosaic dispensation, was the scope of the whole epistle, the substance whereof the inspired author recapitulates, and farther enforces, as he proceeds, from my text to the end.
Whatsoever therefore this great teacher hath told us, either in person, or by his Spirit, speaking through the apostles, is the matter of that faith, on which so great a stress is laid. God did not become our Redeemer and Comforter, to teach us trifles, or things of so little moment, as to leave us excusable, if inattentive to them. If he speaks, we may be sure it is on a subject of great importance; we may be sure it is perfectly true in itself, and highly useful to mankind; and therefore cannot be neglected by us, without a grievous crime, nor contradicted, without a mortal sin. But as what he hath delivered, although highly important in all its parts, is not equally important; so the ignorance of some things is both a smaller loss, and a less sin, than that of others. By faith, when it is made necessary to the salvation of all, to whom sufficient evidence is offered, is to be understood a firm belief of the important articles, or doctrines, which relate alike to all mankind, as containing whatsoever is to be universally known or practised. What these are we must know, and that they are true, we must believe, or we cannot be saved; we, I mean, to whom God hath been pleased to communicate the means of this knowledge and faith.
Nothing in Scripture is more clearly and strongly declared, than that faith in Christ is the first, the fundamental means of salvation. St. Paul takes a world of pains to shew us, that it is faith which justifies;' and not only in my text, but in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, and in the third of his Epistle to the Galatians, repeats what we find, Hab. ii. 4, The just shall live by his faith;' plainly intimating, that he is rendered just in the sight of God by faith, and, being justified, is rewarded, through the imputed
merits of Christ, applied by faith, with eternal life. Christ himself lays this down as the great fundamental: As Moses,' says he, lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life,' John iii. 14, 15. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life;' chap. v. 24. I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth, and believeth on me, shall never die;' John xi. 25, 26.
On the other hand, death, or damnation, is no less unquestionably and peremptorily threatened to unbelief; that is, to a want of faith in Christ, as already explained; and no wonder; for, if life is the consequent or reward of faith, death, by the rule of opposites, must be the consequent or punishment of infidelity. He that believeth not,' saith Christ, John iii. 18, is condemned already; because he hath not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. He that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him;' John iii. 36.
Here we see faith imputed to us for righteousness, and followed by the proper reward of righteousness, eternal life; and here also we see unbelief imputed to us for sin, and pursued with the proper punishment of sin, eternal death. To this not only the Deists, but the deistical Christians also, object, as a thing wholly unreasonable; for, say they, faith is not in our power; we neither choose nor refuse it; but always passively give it to that testimony which appears sufficient; and as passively withhold it, when the evidence appears defective. For this reason, we cannot look on it as matter of morality, nor consequently be persuaded, that God would declare it rewardable, or its opposite punishable, both being involuntary.
In answer to this, it must first be observed, that whereas the question is not about belief in general, but about Christian faith, which requiring an assent to certain mysteries, with a contempt whereof the pride man takes in his own conceitedly supposed wisdom, is oftentimes apt to fill him; and the practice of certain virtues and austerities, which his
dissolute heart is still more averse to; the receiving, or rejecting it, may depend materially on the will of him to whom it is proposed. He who receives it, not only because he thinks it hath God for its voucher, but because he hopes it will subdue in him those sinful inclinations his nature delights in, and who, before he received it, did, for the latter reason, give the due attention to its evidence, was, in so doing, both voluntary and virtuous. On the contrary, he who, foreseeing the disagreeable restraints it must lay him under, if embraced, will not, for that reason, give the requisite attention to its evidence, lest he should, in the end, find himself convinced of its truth, bewrays a very vicious disposition. Nay, as in this case God is concerned, the conduct of a man, to whom the Christian evidence is offered, becomes, on that account, infinitely more delicate; insomuch that if he refuses fully and fairly to examine, he adds impiety to his vice, even whether the evidence is qualified to stand the test or not; for it may, for aught he can judge, who will not properly inquire. Although the immediate seat of faith is in the understanding, it is nevertheless as much influenced by the will, as that is by the affections, and the heart. Hence it comes, that more evidence is requisite to convince a man of a truth he does not like, than is necessary for the conviction of another under no such bias. Experience even shews us, that where the bias is very prevalent, it averts the mind from all consideration of the proofs offered, or arms and hardens it against them, when they are obtruded. Piety, humility, self-diffidence, and integrity, which are all of them virtuous dispositions, are as so many preparatives to the faith of a Christian; for they dispose him to a ready reception of his doctrines, in case his understanding shall be satisfied with the sufficiency of its vouchers. But negligence will not suffer a man to examine, because it is attended with trouble; concupiscence, because conviction may lead to mortification; avarice, because it may inculcate restitution; fear, because it may awaken guilt. Woe unto him,' says the wise son of Sirach, that is faint-hearted! for he believeth not.' Suspicion and jealousy seldom fail to produce incredulity; and as, generally speaking, they are but the imputation of a man's own falsehood to others, so they forbid his reposing a confidence in any, though reason
should ever so strongly encourage it. Of all passions, pride is the greatest enemy to faith; because it is always too wise to be taught; too sagacious to rely on reports; too wary to believe what it does not see; too sufficient to need assistance; so conscious of its own merit, as to need no Redeemer; so satisfied with its dignity, as to need no intercessor; and, in a word, so every way capable of directing itself, and dictating to the whole world, that if it hath not chanced to be born to Christianity, that religion must not presume to expect the honour of its assent. Our Saviour was well aware of this, when he spoke thus to such as despised his mission, notwithstanding the evidence of his miracles, wrought before their eyes to prove it; How can ye believe, which receive honour of one another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?'
If our religion is from God, the arguments which support it must be sufficient to convince the rational, the candid, and the well-disposed, who, in case he closes with it, closes in opposition to all the corruptions and sinful dispositions of his nature; and, even in him, these may be enough, to make his faith a high and noble instance of virtue, in the sight of that Master, who will receive and reward every thing as such, that does honour to his Son.
If our religion is from God, its evidence must be sufficient; for God knew what was sufficient, and was too wise and good to leave the proofs of a religion defective, which cost him the life of his Son to introduce. If, nevertheless, any one shall resist this evidence, where are we to look for the source of his infidelity? Is it not in his will, corrupted and perverted by a bad heart, which either suffers him not sensibly to consider that evidence, or so blinds the eye of his judgment, as to leave him but a very faint perception of its light? St. Paul tells us, the Israelites, who fell in the wilderness, could not enter into the promised rest, because of unbelief,' Heb. iii. 18, 19; and, making use of them as an example, he says, ver. 12, Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief.' Hence it evidently appears that the inspired apostle charges infidelity on the obliquity of the heart. Since this is the case, it is not without good reason that God threatens unbelief with damnation, thereby giving that sin a very high rank in the