« PreviousContinue »
upon God's justice, but a free gift of his mercy. ' A promise, from its nature, implies that it might
have been withholden without injustice; but he ' who promises contracts a debt, which he is bound
to discharge upon the performance of the con'ditions on which the promise is made. 'Justum 'est ut reddat quod debet; debet autem quod ‘ pollicitus est.”' (Bernard.) A promise proves 'the kindness of him who promised, and not the 'worthiness of him to whom the promise is made;
and that kindness is the greater, the greater is * the value of the thing promised, and the more easy the conditions upon which it is promised.'?
This note appears to give a right view of the text on which it is made.
· Those, who listen to the enthusiasts of the present day, too often suppose themselves the « 3 chosen vessels of God, and are persuaded that
no conduct, however atrocious, however unchris' tian, can finally deprive them of eternal felicity ; ‘since they are taught to believe that, though it
may be ordained that for a time they may fall ' from grace, yet it is irreversibly decreed that
they shall ultimately be saved. If these preachers “ do not in so many words tell their hearers, that their moral conduct will have no influence
upon the sentence which will be pronounced upon 'them in the last day; or, if they do not entirely pass over in silence the great duties of morality;
It is just that any one render (or pay) what he oweth; but • he oweth what he hath promised.'
2 Note, Ref. 170. 3 Acts ix. 15. Onuos exroris, vessel of election.
‘yet, if they dwell so much more earnestly and more frequently upon the necessity and merit of faith, as to induce an opinion that good works ‘are of little comparative importance, the natural consequence will be a laxity of principle and a dissoluteness of manners. Even a doubt of the efficacy of virtue will lead to a disregard of its laws.'1
This belongs properly to the subject of the next chapter. Had the words the enthusiasts of the ' present day' been explained, and the reader clearly informed what body of men were intended, what sentiments these persons maintained, and how they might be distinguished from other teachers : the caution to avoid them would have been more explicit, and suited to produce more effect. As it is, we must put it along with another phrase, often improperly used on the other side of the question ; “The blind Pharisees of the present
day.' It will, however, be concluded by numbers, that his Lordship means 'the evangelical clergy,' as part of the company at least. But I hope there is not one of them, I am sure there are but few, who teach their hearers to suppose themselves the « chosen vessels of God, and to be persuaded that
no conduct, however atrocious or unchristian, can finally deprive them of eternal felicity.' Many of the evangelical clergy do not indeed hold the doctrine referred to ; it forms no prominent part of the public instruction of a large majority of those who do; and they who are most particular on the subject, with not many exceptions, state
Ref. 171, 172.
it thus : No man can have scriptural ground to conclude himself interseted in this unspeakable benefit, except as he is himself conscious, and as he evidences to others, that he has true living faith, producing unreserved obedience. If he be overcome by temptation, and fall into sin, he must lose that confidence of his acceptance which he before enjoyed, if it were genuine : and this he never can legitimately recover, till, by deep repentance, with its appropriate fruits, and by renewed faith in God's mercy through Christ, his prayer,
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation,” be answered. He may be, and indeed, if a true believer, Calvinists suppose that he is, in a safe state: but he cannot know, and is not authorized to think himself in a safe state, after having grossly sinned, till unequivocal repentance has taken place. And it is our general instruction, that, if a man take encouragement from this doctrine, when living in the habitual practice of any known sin, or the habitual neglect of any known duty, and quiet his conscience by it; it is a decided proof that he is a hypocrite. Whether these sentiments be true, or not, this is my view of the subject: and I would not be thought to plead the cause of any who wish to state this point in a more lax and accommodating manner. If this statement deserve the censure contained in the passage adduced, let it bear it. It is indeed true that some, who do not pass
over in silence the great duties of morality, or rather of Christian holiness, do treat on other subjects more earnestly. But, in so doing, they meet the decided disapprobation of a large and increasing number of those who hold the same doctrine. - It does not appear what is meant by the
efficacy of virtue.' It is allowed that even real good works have no efficacy in our justification. But, “ If there be any virtue, if there be any praise, “ think of these things,” is our exhortation to our flocks. We indeed dwell earnestly on the necessity of faith, and on its efficacy, if genuine, for our justification : but we speak as little of the 'merit of faith' as of the efficacy of virtue ;' for merit and efficacy are by no means the same.
* Although the best actions of men must partake of the infirmity of their nature, and cannot give 'the slightest claim to eternal happiness; yet to represent every human deed as an actual sin, and deserving of everlasting punishment, is not only unauthorized by scripture, but is also of very dangerous consequence. It tends to destroy all distinction, between virtue and vice, and 'to make men careless of their conduct; it is to * confound those who live under the absolute do* minion of sin, with those who occasionally yield 'to temptation ; it is to make no discrimination ' between the habitually wicked, and those who through surprize or inadvertence deviate from the path of duty; between premeditated crimes • and unintentional offences. Not only particular 'actions of men are commended both in the Old ' and New Testament, but at the day of final · retribution Christ is described as saying, “ Well ‘done, thou good and faithful servant ;" which
implies that a man's general habits and conduct ' in life may be deserving of the approbation of his Judge. How can this address of our Saviour
be reconciled with the tenets of those, who con
sider every action of man as sinful and punishable? 'Where can be the justifying works of which St. * James speaks ? where can be “ the charity, and • service, and faith, and patience,” recorded in the * Revelation: Where are those who “ have not defiled their garments,” who “ are worthy,” and whose “ names are not blotted out of the book of life?"1
If the best things which we do have something ' in them to be pardoned,'? then there must be sin in every human deed. Man is
gone ' from original righteousness, and is of his own ' nature inclined to evil ; so that the flesh always · lusteth against the spirit.' 3 'Works done be'fore the grace of Christ, and the inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God :-for that they are not done, as he hath willed and com‘manded them to be done, we doubt not but they ' have the nature of sin.'4 “ The ploughing of the “ wicked is sin.” 5 Every human deed, therefore, which is done before the grace of Christ, is an actual sin. “ Cursed is every one who continueth “ not in all things written in the book of the law “ to do them.” Therefore “ they that are of the “ works of the law are under the curse.” 6 “ Depart “ from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.”? It is not requisite here to argue, whether' every • human deed deserves everlasting punishment,' so that each deed in a sinner's life, singly considered,
Ref. 172, 173.
? Note, Ref. 60, 61.
3 Art. ix.