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Faith the Way to Salvation.
Rom. i. 16.-The gospel of Christ,-it is the power of God unto salvation
to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. SALVATION is a frequent and familiar word in the mouth of all who call themselves christians. It is a sort of asseveration or oath among the looser and meaner part of mankind : As I hope to be saved. But little do they know what salvation means. All the notion they have of it is this, that they would be saved from going down to hell, a place of fire and torment, and that they would go up to heaven when they die, to some unknown shining place above the skies, where they shall be free from all pain and uneasiness. This is the utmost point to which their idea reaches, and I think I have hit their sense exactly in this description. Alas! poor ignorant creatures ! They have no thought of being saved from sin, of having their hearts made holy, their sinful inclinations rectified, their passions subdued or refined, their love turned toward God and things spiritual, and their desire and delight fixed upon things divine and holy, instead of their sensual entertainments of flesh and blood. They have no concern about the pardon of the guilt of sin, and restoration to the favour or image of God, and not so much as a wish for the joys that arise from his love, or from the blessed presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the world to come.
I have shewn you therefore in the foregoing discourse what this salvation is, and made it appear that the gospel is the power of God to salvation, that is, it is a powerful means in the hand of the Spirit of God to save us from the guilt of sin, and to give us a right to heaven; to save us from the power of sin, to fit us for the business and the joys of heaven, and ensure to us the actual possession of it.
There are two things yet remain to be considered in discoursing on this subject :
I. The place or influence that faith, or believing, hath in this salvation ; for the gospel provides this blessing only for believers. It is called the power of God to salvation to every one who believes.---II. The wide extent of this glorious benefit: It belongs to every one that believes, whether Greek, or Jew.
I shall treat of each of these particularly :
First, Since the gospel is the power of God to the salvation of them that believe, let us enquire, wtrat place or influence has our faith in this concernment?
To answer this, we may consider faith in its various acts or degrees of exercise as it begins in assent, as it proceeds to affiance, and as it is completed in assurance; and show what infiuence each of them hath in the work of salvation.
1. An assent to the truths of the gospel must begin the work of salvation in us: There must be a belief and inward conviction of our sinful and dangerous state, which is more clearly revealed under the gospel, and that there is an atonement made for sin by the blood of Christ: We must believe, that there is forgiveness to be found with God, for the sake of this atonement; and that there is grace enough in our Lord Jesus Christ, to renew our sinful natures, and to fit us for heaven. This usually begets in the sinner, who is truly awakened, some desire toward this salvation, and some distant hope of obtaining it. When the poor perishing creature believes and beholds the glorious influence of the death and righteousness of Christ to justify a sinner in the sight of God; when he surveys the love, the wisdom, the grace, and the power of Christ, answerable to all his wants, he then comes to determine thus with himself, “ This salvation is glorious and desirable; the methods proposed, even for my own attainmeut of it are practicable and sufficient, and why should not I apply myself to this Saviour, and seek this unspeakable happiness?"
2. Affiance or trust in Jesus Christ the Saviour is the next degree of faith. When we are willing to be delivered from the condemning guilt of sin, and from the defiling power of it, and have seen an all-sufficiency of atonement, grace, and power in Christ, then we commit our souls into the hands of Jesus, the Mediator for this blessed purpose, and make a solemn surrender of our whole selves into his charge and care, that we may be pardoned for the sake of his death, that we may be accepted of God through his righteousness, that we may be sanctified and made holy by his grace and Spirit, and that we may be fitted for and preserved to his kingdom. We reflect upon our past iniquities, and mourn to think that we have been rebels so long'; we are ashamed and grieved for our rebellions, and we now most earnestly desire to be made willing subjects to his holy government; and therefore we entrust our souls with him, and beg that he would take us under his care for this end, and bring us into the Father's presence with comfort and joy. This is the soul's coming to God by Jesus Christ.
Now such an act of faith as this is, has some sensible ten
dency to promote the peace of a distressed conscience, the sanctification of a sinful nature, the solid hope of heaven, and a pre. paration for it. But still it must be acknowledged, that its original and chief influence arises from divine appointment. The gospel is the power of God to salvation, and it is by divine promise and power that faith saves the soul. Such a faith, or trust in Christ, has all the promises of gospel-blessings belonging to it. God has appointed in his word, and it is the standing rule of the gospel, He that believeth shall be saved; Mark xvi. 15, 16.
All the parts of salvation come by faith : Justification, and favour in the sight of God; Rom. v. 1. Being justified by faith, we have peace with God. Adoption comes also by faith ; Gal. ii. 26. Ye are the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. Sanctification is ascribed to the same principle: Acts xv. 19. The Gentiles had their hearts purified from sin by faith. Joy and hope come in this way also ; Rom. xv. 13. The God of hope fill, you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost. And you may read several of these benefits of the gospel, these divine ingredients of our salvation put together, and all attributed to faith ; Acts xxvi. 18. I send thee now to the Gentiles, saith the Lord Jesus to St. Paul, to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them who are sanctified, by faith that is in me.
Faith, or affiance in Jesus Christ, is an acceptance of this salvation, it is a trust in the offered grace, it is a dependance on the promises of the gospel confirmed by Christ, it is the surrender of a sinful soul to Jesus the Saviour to perform his whole work of grace for him and to him; and thereby the believing sinner, according to the appointment of God in his gospel, partakes of all the benefits that are treasured up in Christ.
Faith in the gospel relieves the distressed soul under a sense of the guilt of sin, and the humble weary sinner finds mercy to forgive, and strength to subdue it. Faith appropriates and applies the blood of Christ, that sovereign medicine, to the wounds of a guilty conscience, and the conscience finds ease and refreshunent. It applies the grace of Christ, that powerful antidote, to expel the venom of in-dwelling sin, and the soul is healed in some measure, and the poison is expelled. It lays hold on the power of Christ to assist in the performance of every duty, and it obtains divine assistance. Every true believer has experienced something of these benefits by a sincere surrender of himself to Christ in such a way of trust and holy dependance.
Can the thirsty soul taste of the running water, and not find refreshment, since God, who created water, las ordained it to refresh the thirsty? Can weary limbs lie down on a bed, and not find ease, since a bed is made to give case and rest to the weary? Can a fainting creature drink
a divine cordial appointed to give life, and yet feel no revival? No more can a guilty, distressed, and penitent sinner believe the truths of the gospel, and trust in Jesus the Saviour, and yet find no relief: for this is the will and settled law of the God of hcaven, that peace and holiness shall be obtained this way.
3. When faith grows up to assurance, it approaches towards complete salvation. Then the christian can say, I know I have believed on the Son of God, I know I enjoy his favour. Then the holiness and the joy increase, for the salvation enters into the soul in fuller measures : The nearer faith arises to assurance of our own interest in the grace of Christ, the more it supports the soul, the more it comforts, the more it sanctifies, and the more evidently doth the gospel appear to be divinely powerful to save us from sin and heli.
“ Can I believe God has pardoned me, so vile a rebel, and forgiven me so many and aggravated offences, and yet is it possible I should not love him, and rejoice? Can I be assured he loves me, and not make him a return of my highest and warmest love? Can I believe that Christ the Son of God died for me, and shall I not consecrate myself and all the powers of my nature to him, that I may live devoted to his service ? He has bought me with a price, a dear and valuable price, that of his own blood, and I must glorify him with my body and with my soul, which are his ; i Cor. vi. 20. Can I believe that I am redeemed from hell and destruction, and shall I dare to walk in the road that leads to it? And not rather run with patience and joy the race that is set before me, till I arrive at the gates of heaven? Am I not assured that Jesus the beloved of God suffered death for my sins, and shall not I hate sin, which caused his suffering? Sin, which was the occasion of his agonies, and the very sting of his sorrows! I am crucified and dead to sin, and to this world, by my union with a crucified Saviour, yet I live, saith the divine apostle, and the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who hath loved me, and given himself for me ; Gal. ii. 20. How is it possible that I should hope to be made like Christ in glory, with a full assurance of arriving thither, and not purify myself as he is pure ; 1 John iii. 2, 3. While I believe and am persuaded that the promise of the joys of heaven shall be fulfilled to me, I would awaken myself hourly to the joyful prospect, and be ever preparing for the possession of that blessedness."
Thus when faith arises to a sublime and eminent degree in
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 åssent to the truths of the gospel is not sufficient to Save; for there are many who by the force of cducation, or by the force of arguinent, yield their assent to the doctrine, and be lieve 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 carth; 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 státe 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, it it be practised in the way which I have just before described.
II. Take notice here of the difference between the law and