« PreviousContinue »
was, a right founded on an act of Divine grace and
* The reader will find this subject handled at large, and fully established by authorities from the early writers of the Church, in a "Discourse on the first Covenant and State of Man before the Fall," by the learned Bishop Bull. 8vo. edit. vol. iii.
+ Rom. x. 3.
commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter into the city" of God.* A conditional right established by grace on the part of God, not by merit on the part of man; for that, we trust, is universally disclaimed. God has graciously condescended to become, in a certain sense, man's debtor; in the language of St. Augustine, "non aliquid debendo, sed omnia promittendo, Deus se facit debitorem. Upon this ground, works become entitled to reward;† not because they possess in themselves a title to reward, but because a gracious God is pleased, through Christ, to regard them as proper subjects for it. Such is the language of Scriptures such the doctrine of the Church of England.
But there is a manner of stating this subject, very common to those who entertain a low opinion of our clergy, upon which it be may proper tos remarks
The revelation of the Gospel, so far as it respects the essential point of salvation, delivers a plain and
Rev. xxii. 14.
Extremum utrumque omni curâ vitandum: tum eorum qui opera nostra per se vitæ eternæ meritoria statuunt, (error iste pontificiorum quorundum toto animo detestandus est) tum eorum etiam, qui eadem opera ullam aliam cum cœlesti præmio connexionem habere præter hunc, quòd sint fidei ejus, cui salus promittitur, signia, omniò negant. Hæc enim sententia non paucis, usque clarissimis scripturæ testimoniis (ut vidimus) apertum bellum indicit. Media itaque via hic tenenda est, ut dicamus, relationis istius, quam ad vitam æternam habent opera nostra, unicum illud esse fundamentum, quod sint conditio in fadore Evangelico requisita, cui præstitæ ex eodem gratioso fædore præmium cæleste indulgeatur. BULL. Harm. Apost.
cap. v. sect. 5.
intelligible language. It says to fallen man, believe rightly, and obey conscientiously; and through the merits of a crucified Saviour thou shalt enter into life. In the comprehensive language of the Apostle, it teaches him to "deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." The doctrine of salvation, then, is not a scheme of natural philosophy; it is not a system of civil policy; nor is it the art of fine speaking and rhetorical discourse. But it teaches men of every rank the duties of their respective stations; what they are to believe, and what to do, in order to their being saved. At the same time it furnishes directions and assistances for the resisting and overcoming the temptations with which they are assailed, together with the best and most powerful arguments for the promotion of that holiness, which constitutes the indispensable preparative to eternal happiness.
If we will receive this doctrine as it has been revealed, we certainly shall be saved by it. But if we will make a doctrine for ourselves, different from that which Christ has taught, it matters not on which side the error lies, whether by reposing a false confidence on the one hand, or possessing an evil heart of unbelief on the other; in either case * Titus ii. 12, et seq.
we make void the scheme of salvation that has been projected, and our miscarriage must be inevitable.
Now the persons to whom I immediately allude, have always appeared to me to confound, rather than to explain, the Christian doctrine; by representing faith as comprehensive of all Christian duties. Where faith is, there, they tell you, will be repentance, obedience, and holiness of life; in short every thing that tends to the completion of the Christian character. Certainly where true faith is, (understanding thereby true lively faith) so long as it continues in that state, it must be. possessed of all the properties belonging to it. But this is a description of what Christian faith ought to be, when in its perfect state, accompanied with its correspondent effects; not what faith, abstractedly considered, really is. As such, though it possibly may do no harm, whilst confined in the minds of those persons, who through Divine grace feel themselves disposed to that life of holiness, to which Christian faith was designed to lead; yet it will do, and has done much injury to the Christian cause, when considered in connection with that erroneous and dangerous conclusion, which ignorant and unsanctified men have at all times been ready to draw from it.
To say that faith, by which we understand a firm belief in Christ, as the whole and sole cause of salvation, will secure to man the possession of all those graces and virtues necessary to adorn his Christian
* Vide Vindicia, c. vii. p. $45, relative to the omission of the word "true," which stood before "faith," in the preceding
profession, is, in other words, to say, that when the foundation is well laid, it will of itself raise the superstructure; or, to make use of another scripture allusion, where the root of the tree is, planted in Christ, Christian fruit will be the consequent produce of the branches. But in this case facts are, alas! often against us.
No corrupt tree bringeth forth good fruit."t Man, in his present state, is that corrupt tree of nature, from which no spiritual fruit is to be expected. But it does not from hence follow that when this corrupt tree is moved into God's nursery, (if we may be allowed the expression) and has its root planted in Christian soil, that it will of course bring forth good fruit; for this must depend upon circumstances, necessary to be taken into the account. The situation of a tree may be improved, without any material change being produced in its actual condition. It is not sufficient, therefore, that this tree of nature (to carry on our allusion) be moved out of a barren and unfruitful soil; it must more, over be regularly pruned and trained, and the wild and luxuriant branches must be carefully and constantly cut back, that proper nourishment may be carried to the bearing wood; should not this process be regularly pursued, in spite of the soil in.
"It must be obvious, that the position laid down in the foregoing passage is, that professional faith and perfect faith did not mean the same thing; and that the firm belief in Christ, which conveys to the professing party his original interest in the merits of Christ, did not of itself produce those future corresponding effects, required to make his calling and election sure."-Vindicia, c. vii. p. 350.
† Matt. vii. 18.