Page images

in its pursuits, how immersed in its enjoyments, how insatiable in their desires after its richest communications. And, if you tell them that they are seeking after a mere phantom, they account you either splenetic or mad. Be ye then firm against those who would deride your pursuit of heavenly objects; and serve your God, as they serve theirs, wholly, uninterruptedly, and in defiance of all that can be said to turn you from your ways. In a word, “Be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord;" and know, that when they shall reap only vanity for their recompence, you shall find that "your labour has not been in vain in the Lord.”]

MMCCCCXXXIX. THE TRUE GROUNDS OF A CHRISTIAN'S STABILITY. 1 John ii. 19. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

THERE have been many apostasies from the Church of God, in every age. Of those who for a time were Christ's disciples, “ many went back, and walked no more with him." Of such apostates the Apostle Paul also complained”: and of such St. John speaks, in the words before us.

There had, many years before, been teachers who “ went forth from the Apostles in Judæa, subverting the souls of men by inculcating the necessity of circumcisiono:” so now, there were some who separated themselves from St. John, and the Church under his care; and, either by their false doctrines or unholy lives, brought disgrace upon the Gospel, and obliged the Apostle to guard the whole Christian Church against them. He calls them antichrists; because, in fact, whatever they might pretend, they were the greatest enemies to Christ. Not that they had ever been truly upright before God: for, if they had been really one in heart and spirit with God's Church and people, they would never have gone out from them ; but God suffered them thus to depart, that the Church might no longer be injured by them, or be involved in their disgrace. But St. John had a further reason for exposing these apostates. It had been foretold by our blessed Lord, that, previous to the destruction of Jerusalem, “there should arise false Christs, and false prophets, who, if it were possible, should deceive the very elect;” and that the prevalence of those persons should be “a sign that the destruction of the Jewish Church and polity was near at handa.” St. John refers to it in that view : “ Little children, it is the last time : and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even so now are there many antichrists; whereby we know it is the last time.” Then he adds, “ They went out from us; but they were not of us : for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us."

a John vi. 66. b 1 Tim. v. 12, 15. c Acts xv. 1, 24.

To elucidate these remarkable words, I will shew, I. Why the insincere are suffered to become apo

statesAll who are insincere do not become apostates: for we are told, that the tares will grow together with the wheat, even to the harvest °. But God is pleased to leave some of those who join his Church to apostatize from it; 1. That they may be exposed to merited disgrace

[Those who are insincere in their profession of religion greatly dishonour God, and do incalculable injury to his Church and people. It is but just, therefore, that they should be left to expose themselves, and to “ make it manifest that they never truly belonged to the Church of Christ.” They were branches of the living vine, it is true; but they were only dead branches, whose end was to be broken off, and burned. True, they were not distinguished from others by their brethren; who could see no further than the outward act, and were led from Christian charity to put the most favourable construction on all which they did. Not even Judas, who was a thief from the beginning, was suspected by his fellow Apostles: in fact, they all questioned their own sincerity, rather than his 8.


d Matt. xxiv, 3–5, 24, 25. f John xv. 2.

e Matt. xiii. 29, 30, 39, 40. 6 Matt. xxvi. 22.

Much less was Demas discoverable from others: indeed, so eminent was his profession, that he was twice joined with St. Luke, by the Apostle Paul, in his salutations to the Churchesh: but we can have no doubt but that the world was really uppermost in his heart during the whole time of his profession, though, perhaps, unperceived even by himself: and at last he betrayed to all his lurking preference, and “ forsook the Apostle Paul, having loved this present world." But, as

amongst the heathen, who did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave up many to a reprobate mind;" so he gave up these also to the evils of their own hearts, that on them might come the shame and condemnation which they so richly merited: “ They received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved; and God gave them up to their own delusions, that they might apostatize and perish?.") 2. That they may be a warning to others

[Lot's wife is particularly presented to us in this view. She came out of Sodom with her husband; but her heart was there; and she looked back, and was made a pillar of salt; that is, an everlasting monument of God's righteous indignation, and a warning to all future generations. Hence our

" Remember Lot's wife m." In like manner, the abandonment of the Israelites in the wilderness to their own lusts, and to the punishment consequent upon them, was ordained of God to be a warning “ to us, upon whom the ends of the world are come, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things, as they did.” In truth, every instance of apostasy speaks loudly to us, “not to look back, after we have once put our hand to the plougho;" since, if we do "turn back, it will be unto perdition ,” and “ our last end will be worse than our beginning."

But the remarkable assertion of the Apostle, relative to the stability of the upright, leads me of necessity to shew, II. What security the upright have, that they shall

never be left so to dishonour their holy profes

sionIt is of great importance that this subject be understood aright. The doctrine of the perseverance

Lord says,

h Col. iv. 14. Philem. ver. 24.

i 2 Tim. iv. 10. k Rom. i. 28., 1 John xiji, 26, 27. with 2 Thess. ï. 10–12. m Luke xvii. 32. with Gen. xix. 26. n 1 Cor. x. 6, 11. with 2 Pet. ii. 1-9. o Luke ix. 62. p Heb. x. 38, 39.

g 2 Pet. ii. 20, 21. r John iv. 14. ti John iii. 9.

of the saints, as it is called, is by many accounted extremely dangerous and delusive; but if it be duly explained, and placed on its proper grounds, it will commend itself as perfectly unexceptionable, and as indisputably true.

It is affirmed by some, that there is in true believers an indefectible principle of grace, which renders it impossible for them to fall

[I confess, I think this a very erroneous view of the subject; and I think that the passages of Scripture adduced in proof of this doctrine do not warrant the conclusions drawn from them. Our Lord, we are told, asserts, that “the Holy Spirit shall be, in his people, a well of water springing up unto eternal life"." But this only marks its constant tendency, without determining its absolute and certain issue. St. Peter also says of Christians, that "they are born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible:" but he tells us, in the very next words, what that seed is; it is not an inward indefectible principle of grace, but the word of God, which liveth and abideth for evers." And this throws the true light upon another passage which is cited in confirmation of this point, even on that assertion of St. John, “ Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of Godt.” A man really born of God doth not, and will not, commit sin, as once he did : for the tendency and operation of divine grace will be, to keep him from it. But the absolute indefectibility of the grace received by him is not here asserted: nor is it asserted in our text, when it is said, that, if those apostates had been really and vitally united to the Church, “they would have remained with the Church.” The doctrine itself is true; but the ground, on which some endeavour to establish it, is, in my apprehension, unsound and erroneous: for I do not conceive that there is, or ever was, upon the face of the whole earth, a man who could say, “I have within me an indefectible principle of grace, so that I cannot fall, or cannot perish.Even Adam in Paradise could not say that: and sure I am that St. Paul did not entertain that sentiment, when he said, " I keep my body under, and bring it into subjection, lest that, by any means, after having preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away".")

The stability, of which my text speaks, stands on other grounds : it arises from,

s 1 Pet. i. 23. u 1 Cor. ix. 27.

1. The immutability of God's purpose

[" God's counsel shall stand; and he will do all his pleasure*."

And this counsel he has exercised in reference to the salvation of men; some of whom he has “chosen before the foundation of the world y,” yea, and “chosen unto salvation," through faith in his dear Sona: and “ those, whom from eternity he has predestinated to the adoption of children, he calls and justifies in time, and glorifies in the eternal world a." And, as in his nature “he changeth notb," so, in reference to these things, "there is with him no variableness, neither shadow of turningo:" and on this our hope, and the hope of all his people, is founded : for, seeing that, “ in order to shew to us the immutability of his counsel, he has confirmed his promise with an oath, we, who have fled to Christ for refuge, have from that very circumstance the more abundant consolation d.” On this ground, all his people may be confident that “ he will perfect that which concerneth theme;" and that “He who hath begun the good work in them, will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ.” On this ground, the very least and weakest of his saints may hope that they shall “ endure unto the end 8;" since they are assured that God “ will never, never leave them, or forsake them h.”] 2. The sufficiency of his grace

[Were man expected to keep himself, there is no one who must not sit down in despair. But we expect that God will exert in our behalf that very power which raised up his dear Son from the dead i; and that “ his strength shall be made perfect in our weaknessk.” We know that “ his grace is sufficient for us "," how great or numerous soever may be the difficulties with which we have to contend. We are assured, that “ none can ever pluck us out of his hands m;" and that, as “ he will not depart from us," so his fear put into our hearts will be sufficient to keep us from ever departing from him"; and, consequently, we may even now exult and triumph over our enemies, almost as we shall do in heaven itself; saying, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ ? Yea, we may be persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lordo."] x Isai. xlvi. 10. y Eph. i. 4.

2.2 Thess. ii. 13. a Rom. viii. 29, 30. b Mal. iii. 6.

c Jam, i. 17. d Heb. vi. 17, 18. e Ps. cxxxviii. 8. f Phil. i. 6. 8 2 Thess. iii. 3. h Heb. xii. 5, 6. i Eph. i. 19. k 2 Cor. xii. 9.

1 2 Cor. xii. 9. m John x. 29, 30. n Jer. xxxii. 40. o Rom. viii. 35, 39.

« PreviousContinue »