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were of the world; who, instead of considering themselves as pilgrims and strangers on earth, who have no abiding city here, set up their rest in this life, are immersed in earthly things, are making no moral improvement, are strangers to earnest prayer, to a holy temper of mind, to a conformity to the will of God, who, in short, are Christians only in the name and form of worship, while their spirit, temper, maxims, views, and conduct, are just the same as if Christianity had not been revealed? Alas! what can we say of such, but that they have a name to live and are dead? For where is that personal holiness, that purity of heart, which the Gospel requires? They want the very essential characters which alone constitutes the title to Christianity. A lifeless, nominal Christianity, has been the great evil of the world; nor can any general or solid reformation take place, till the distinction between real and pretended Christianity is clearly understood, till the genius and character of the Gospel is studied, and the power, rather than the form, of godliness becomes the object of our desire. This great and fundamental distinction, the doctrine of regeneration is well calculated to explain. It alarms the careless sinner, and confounds the self-deceiver: it allows of no sin, nor permits the absence of any virtue. Its immediate tendency is to put an effectual stop to every evil way, to administer a thorough cure to spiritual diseases, and to form and fashion us after the image of Christ. Such are its practical effects; por can the danger of neglecting it be described in more awful terms than the Great Judge of the quick and dead has used in the words of my text: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Ephes. ii. 8—10. By grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
· WHEN it is said, that salvation depends on our faith, and not on our works, a very strong objection will immediately suggest itself:—“What, then, are good works of no avail to salvation? Do the righteous by their holy and excellent lives, establish no better claim to heaven than the profligate and profane? Is not this repugnant to common sense? Is it not contrary to all our ideas of the justice and righteousness of God? Is it not a doctrine dangerous to the interests of morality, depreciating the value of a good life, and encouraging the wicked presumptuously to expect salvation in opposition to the many plain declarations of Scripture?" Such are the objections which unavoidably force themselves
upon the mind, and which, without doubt, would be of the greatest weight if they were founded upon a correct statement of this doctrine.
No truth, I can conceive, can be more just in itself, more consonant to reason, and more fully established in Scripture, than that “without holiness no man shall see God.” The uniform tendency of revelation is to inculcate purity and righteousness. “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.” At the day of judgment, the righteous will be admitted into the kingdom of heaven; and the wicked will be shut up in outer darkness, to dwell with the devil and his angels for ever. “Jesus Christ gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works."
If, then, there appear to be assertions in Scripture inconsistent with these declarations, which either represent good works as unnecessary or depreciate their value, such assertions must be understood in a qualified sense, or at least must be explained so as to accord with the declarations of an apparently opposite kind: for Scripture cannot contradict itself, but must speak a uniform and consistent language. I conceive, however, that nothing is necessary beyond a clear and just statement of the doctrine of salvation by faith, to shew that it is perfectly consistent with the strong assertions of the inspired writers, respecting the necessity of holiness and good works. For this purpose I shall endeavour to lay before you a brief explanation of this doctrine.
The Eleventh Article of our Church affirms, that "we are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only, is a most whole
some doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.”
I quote the words of our venerable Church, not merely because they explain her doctrine—though that consideration ought to have the greatest weight with us—but because, as forming an article of our national faith, they will necessarily have more authority than the opinion of any individual, and because they contain a summary of the faith professed by every Protestant Church at the period of the Reformation. Indeed, the doctrine of justification by faith alone was one of the fundamental points in which the Reformers differed from the Church of Rome; and so important was it esteemed that it was termed, by Luther, the article according to the belief or denial of which a church might be said to stand or fall.
If the holy Scriptures had not spoken plainly and decisively on this subject, the doctrine in question would scarcely have been asserted thus strongly by the reformed churches. But these assertions are amply justified, both by the express language of the revelation and by the whole analogy of the Christian faith.
The language addressed by St. Paul to the Ephesians, is very strong. “By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast." Nor was the statement of the same Apostle to the Galatians less remarkable: “We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by the faith of Jesus Christ; even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." "To the Philippians he wrote: “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having my own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” He instructs the Romans, that "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in the sight of God; for by the law is the know ledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets, even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
These passages are strong and decisive, and their meaning seems too obvious for dispute or uncertainty. Yet we may be still more clearly satisfied that we have not misunderstood them, when we consider the other evidence afforded by St. Paul's Epistles, that the opinions of our own Church on this subject were held by the Church of Christ in the time of the Apostles. The objection which is now so frequently urged against this doctrine, was not less forcibly advanced when it was first promulgated. “We be slanderously reported," says the Apostle; "and some affirm that we say, Let us do evil, that good may come.” It is evident, therefore, that the doctrine which the Apostles preached seemed at first sight to afford some ground for the imputation made by the enemies of Christianity, who, either through error or malignity, insisted that it tended to promote licentiousness. For had the Apostles preached only the necessity of virtue and a holy life as the qualifications for heaven, with what colour of reason, or under what pretence, could any persons have charged them with teaching a doctrine which encouraged sin? It is still more remarkable, that St. Paul himself perceived that such an imputation might be made with at least some degree of plausibility, and therefore anticipated and fully repelled it. In the sixth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, after having stated the doctrine with great precision, he proceeds immediately