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« I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous « answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and « fed thee? &c. And the king thall answer, and say unto them, " Verily, I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unio one of « the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then “ fall he say unto them on the left-hand, Depart from me, ye “ cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: “ for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, " and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not “in; naked, and ye cloathed me not; fick and in prison, and ye « visited me not. Insomuch that ye did it not to one of these, ye " did it not to me. And these ihall go into everlasting punishment; « but thc'righteous into life eternal.”
These, I think, are all the places where our Saviour mentions the last judgement, or describes his way of proceeding in that great day; wherein, as we have observed, it is remarkable, that every where the sentence follows doing or not doing, without any mention of believing, or not believing. Not that any to whom the gospel hath been preached shall be faved, without believing Jesus to be the Mefliah; for all being finners, and transgressors of the law, and so unjust, are all liable to condemnation, unless they believe, and so through grace are justified by God for this faith, which shall be accounted to them for righteousness : but the rest, wanting this cover, this allowance for their transgressions, must answer for all their actions; and, being found transgreflors of the law, shall, by the letter and sanction of that law, be condemned, for not having paid a full obedience to that law, and not for want of faith; that is not the guilt on which the punishment is laid, though it be the want of faith which lays open their guilt uncovered, and exposes them to the sentence of the law against all that are unrighteous.
The common objection here, is, If all finners shall be condemned, but such as have a gracious allowance made them, and so are juitified by God for believing Jesus to be the Messiah, and so taking him for their king, whom they are resolved to obey to the utmost of their power, what thall become of all mankind who lived before our Saviour's time, who never heard of his name, and contequently could not believe in him? To this the answer is so obvious and natural, that one would wonder how any reasonable man should think it worth the urging. Nobody was, or can be, required to believe what was never proposed to him to believe. Before the fulneis of time, whicn God from the council of his own wisdom had appointed to send his son in, he had at several times, and in different manners, promised to the people of Israel an extraordinary person to come, who, raised from aniongst themselves, should be their ruler and deliverer. The time, and other circumstances of his birth, life, and person, he had in sundry prophecies so particularly deicribed, and lo plainly foretold, that he was well known and expected by the Jews under the name of the Meffiah, or Anointed, given him in some of these prophecies. All then that was required
before his appearing in the world, was, To believe what God had revealed, and to rely with a full assurance on God for the perforinance of his promise ; and to believe, that in due time he would fend them the Meffiah, this anointed king, this promised Saviour and deliverer, according to his word. This faith in the promises of God, this relying and acquiefcing in his word and faithfulness, the Almighty takes well at our hands, as a great mark of homage, paid by us frail creatures, to his “goodness” and “truth,” as well as to his « power” and “ wisdom;' and accepts it as an acknowledgement of his peculiar providence and benignity to us. And therefore our Saviour tells us, John xii. 44. “ He that believes on me, r believes not on me, but on him that sent me.” The works of nature thew his wisdom and power; but it is his peculiar care of mankind, moit eminently discovered in his promises to them, that Thews his bounty and goodness; and consequently engages their hearts in love and affection to him, This oblation of an heart fixed with dependance on, and affection to him, is the most acceptable tribute we can pay him; the foundation of true devotion, and life of all religion. What a value he puts on this depending on his word, and resting satisfied in his promises, we have an example in Abraham, whose faith " was counted to him for righteousness,” as we have before remarked out of Rom. iv. And his relying firmly on the promise of God, without any doubt of its performance, gavo him the name of the Father of the Faithful, and gained him so much favour with the Almighty, that he was called “the Friend of God;" the highest and most glorious title can be bestowed on a creature, The thing promised was no more but a son by his wife Sarah, and a numerous pofterity by him, which should possess the land of Canaan. These were but temporal blessings, and (except the birth of a son) very remote, such as he should never live to see, nor, in his own person, have the benefit of; but because he questioned not the performance of it, but rested fully satisfied in the goodness, truth, and faithfulness of God who had promised, it was counted to him for rightcousness. Let us see how St. Paul expresses it, Rom. iv. 18—22 “ Who, against hope, believed in hope, that he might " become the father of many nations; according to that which was “ spoken, so shall thy feed be: and being not weak in his faith, « he considered not his own body now dead, when he was above an « hundred years old; neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: he « staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was “ strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded, « that what he had promised he was able to perform ; and THERE<FORE it was imputed to him for righteousness.” St. Paul, having here emphatically described the strength and firmness of Abraham's faith, inforins us, that he thereby gave glory to God;" and therefore it was “ accounted to him for righteousneis." This is the way that God deals with poor frail mortals. He is graciously pleased to take it well of them, and give it the place of righteousness, and a kind of merit in his fight, if they believe his promises, and have
a Stedfast a stedfast relying on his veracity and goodness. St. Paul, Heb. xi. 6. tells us, ' Without faith it is impoliible to please God :” but at the same time tells us what faith that is. « For,” says he, “ He " that cometh to God, must believe that he is; and that he is a “ rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” He must be perfuaded of God's mercy and good-will to those who seek to obey him, and rest assured of his rewarding those who rely on him for whatever, either by the light of nature, or particular promises, he has revealed to them of his tender mercies, and taught them to expect from his bounty. This description of « faith” (that we might not mistake what he means by that “ faith,” without which we cannot pleale God, and which recommended the faints of old) St, Paul places in the middle of the list of those who were eminent for their “ faith,” and whom he sets as patterns to the converted Hebrews under persecution, to encourage them to persist in their confidence of deliverance by the coming of Jesus Christ, and in their belief of the promises they now had under the gospel : by those examples he exhorts them not to “ draw back” from the hope that was set before them, nor apoftatize from the profession of the Christian religion. This is plain from ver. 35–38. of the precedent chapter: « Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recom« pence of reward. For ye have great need of persisting, or per“ severance” (for so the Greek word signifies here, which our translation renders “ patience," see Luke viii. 15.), “ that after ye s have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For « yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not « tarry. Now the just shall live by faith. But if any man draw « back, my soul ihall have no pleasure in him.”
The examples of " faith,” which St. Paul enumerates and proposes in the following words, chap. xi. plainly thew, that the « faith” whereby those believers of old pleased God was nothing but a stedfast reliance on the goodness and faithfulness of God, for those good things which either the light of nature, or particular promites, had given them grounds to hope for. Of what avail this " faith" was with God, we may fee, ver. 4. “ By faith Abel offer“ ed unto God a inore excellent facrifice than Cain; by which he « obtained witness that he was righteous.” Ver. 5. ~ By faith « Enoch was translated, that he should not see death: for before “ his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” Ver. 7. “ Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet ;" being wary, “ by faith prepared an ark, to the saving of his house; " by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the " righteousness which is by faith.” And what it was that God so graciously accepted and rewarded, we are told, ver. 11. “ Through “ faith allo Sarah herself received strength to conceive feed, and " was delivered of a child, when she was past age.” How she came to obtain this grace from God, the apostle tells us; “ because “ she judged him faithful who had promised.” Those therefore who pleased God, and were accepted by him before the coming of
Christ, did it only by believing the promises, and relying on the goodness of God, as far as he had revealed it to thein. For the apoitle, in the following words, tells us, ver. 13. « These all died « in faith, not having received (the accom.pliihment of) the pro« mises; but having seen them afar off : and were persuaded of “ them, and embraced them.” This was all that was required of them, to be persuaded of, and embrace the promises which they had. They could be “persuaded of” no more than was proposed to them; “ embrace” no more than was revealed, according to the promises they had received, and the dispensations they were under. And if the faith of things “ seen afar off," if their trusting in God for the promises he then gave them ; if a belief of the Melliah to come, were sufficient to render those who lived in the ages before Christ acceptable to God, and righteous before him; I desire those, who tell us that God will not (nay, some go so far as to say cannot) accept any who do not believe every article of their particular creeds and systems, to consider, why God, out of his infinite mercy, cannot as well justify man now for believing Jefus of Nazareth to be the promised Messiah, the king and deliverer, as those heretofore, who believed only that God would, according to his promise, in due time, send the Messiah to be a king and deliverer? : There is another difficulty often to be met with, which seems to have something of more weight in it; and that is, that though the « faith” of those before Christ (believing that God would send the Meffiah, to be a prince, and a Saviour to his people, as he had promised), and the faith” of those fince his time (believing Jesus to be that Mefliah, promised and sent by God), shall be accounted to them for righteousness; yet what shall become of all the rest of mankind, who, having never heard of the promise or news of a Saviour, not a word of a Messiah to be sent, or that was come, have had no thought or belief concerning him?
To this I answer, that God will require of every man, “ ac“ cording to what he hath, and not according to what he hath not.” He will not expect ten talents where he gave but one ; nor require any one should believe a promile, of which he has never heard. The apostle's reasoning, Rom, X. 14. is very just: “how shall “ they believe in him, of whom they have not heard ?” But though there be many, who, being strangers to the commonwealth of Israel, were also strangers to the oracles of God committed to that people; many, to whom the promise of the Meffiah never came, and so were never in a capacity to believe or reject that revelation; yet God had, by the light of reason, revealed to all mankind, who would make use of that light, that he was good and merciful. The fame spark of the divine nature, and knowledge in man, which making him a man fhcwed him the law he was under as a man, shewed him also the way of atoning the merciful, kind, compalfionate author and father of him and his being, when he had tranfgreffed that law. He that made use of this candle of the Lord, so far as to find what was his duty, could not miss to find also the
way to reconciliation and forgiveness, when he had failed of his duty; though, if he used not his reason this way, if he put out, or neglected this light, he might, perhaps, fee neither.
The law is the eternal, immutable standard of right. And a part of that law is, that a man should forgive, not only his children, but his enemies, upon their repentance, asking pardon, and amendment. And therefore he could not doubt that the author of this law, and God of patience and consolation, who is rich in mercy, would forgive his frail offspring, if they acknowledged their faults, disapproved the iniquity of their transgressions, begged his pardon, and resolved in earnest for the future to conform their actions to this rule, which they owned to be just and right. This way of reconciliation, this hope of atonement, the light of nature revealed to them. And the revelation of the gospel having said nothing to the contrary, leaves them to stand and fall to their own father and master, whose goodness and mercy is over all his works.
I know some are forward to urge that place of the Acts, chap. iv. as contrary to this. The words, ver. 10. and 12. stand thus: “ Be « it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the " name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom « God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man” [i. e. the Jame man restored by Peter] “ stand here before you whole. This s is the itone which is set at nought by you builders, which is bese come the head of the corner. Neither is there falvation in any * other: for there is none other name under heaven given among 16 men, in which we must be saved.” Which, in short, is, that Jesus is the only true Messiah ; neither is there any other person but he, given to be a mediator between God and man, in whose name we may ask and hope for salvation.
It will here poflibly be asked, “ Quorsum perditio hæc?” What need was there of a Saviour? What advantage have we by Jelus Chrift?
It is enough to justify the fitness of any thing to be done, by resolving it into the wisdom of God,” who has done it, though our short views, and narrow understandings, may utterly incapacitate us to see that wisdom, and to judge rightly of it. We know little of this visible, and nothing at all of the Itate of that intellectual world, wherein are infinite numbers and degrees of spirits out of the reach of our ken or guess; and therefore know not what transactions there were between God and our Saviour, in reference to his kingdom. We know not what need there was to set up a head and a chieftain, in opposition to “ the prince of this world, the “ prince of the power of the air,” &c. whereof there are more than obscure intimations in scripture. And we shall take too much upon us, if we shall call God's wisdom or providence to account, and pertly condemn for needless, all that our weak, and, perhaps, biarled understandings" cannot account for.
Though this general answer be reply enough to the forementioned demand, and such as a rational man, or fair searcher after truth,