Christ Precious to Those Who Believe
The preciousness of Jesus Christ, to those who
believe—practically considered and improved.
By John Fawcett
"Yes, He is very precious to you who believe!" 1 Peter
Chapter I. Introductory Remarks.
The subject to which the reader's attention is invited in these pages is of the highest importance; since love to the divine Redeemer is the distinguishing characteristic of a real Christian, and most indispensably requirement in order to our serving God acceptably in this world, and to our dwelling with him in the next world. Without a sincere and loving attachment to the Author of eternal salvation, whatever works of morality we may perform, our obedience will be materially and essentially defective, as not flowing from a proper principle.
Love is the parent and promoter of everything excellent and amiable in the Christian character. It diffuses itself through the whole train of holy actions. It gives them all their motion, and dignifies them with all their real value. The eloquence of men, or even of angels, the gift of prophecy, the knowledge of all mysteries, the power to work miracles, the most extensive liberality to the poor, and even the suffering of martyrdom, are all insignificant and unprofitable without love to Jesus.
He who loved us so as to give himself a ransom for our souls, who was lifted up upon the ignominious cross, that he might draw all men unto himself, proposes to those who profess to be his disciples, the solemn and important inquiry, "Do you love me?" He values not our service—if the heart is not in it. He knows what is in man; he sees and judges the heart, and has no regard to outward acts of obedience, if no devout affection is employed in them. It is not enough for the eye to be lifted up to him, or the knee to bow before him; it is not enough for the tongue to be employed in speaking of him, or the hand in acting for his interest in the world. All this may be done by those whose religion is mere pretense! But the heart with all the inward powers and passions of the soul, must, in the first place, be given to him. "Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity;" and as the natural consequence of that, keep his commandments.
I would ground the following observations on the words of the apostle Peter, "Yes, He is very precious to you who believe!" 1 Peter 2:7. The word precious, signifies honor, price, or preciousness itself; that which is of infinite value.
The people to whom Christ is precious, are, with great propriety, said to be those who believe. Unbelievers see no beauty or majesty in him, nor any loveliness that they should desire him. Hence have we so many strange notions advanced, concerning his adorable person. Many daringly deny the only Lord that bought us with his own dear life, and substitute a mere creature in his room. There are others who have such low and irreverent conceptions of him, as if they knew not the value of his person, his work, and his sacrifice, in the business of our salvation. Whereas, there is nothing in our religion which has either truth, reality or substance—but by virtue of its relation to Christ, and what he has accomplished on earth on our behalf.
Perhaps in no age, since the establishment of Christianity in the world, was greater opposition made to the real dignity and glory of the Son of God, than in the present. It is a consideration which may justly affect the hearts of all who love him in sincerity. The doctrine of his proper Deity, is the ground of all our hope and salvation by him, and the very foundation of the Christian religion; yet the disbelief of this is openly avowed by many, who strenuously maintain, and industriously diffuse their sentiments in the world.
It is awful to consider, how many ruin their own souls by stumbling on the rock of safety, and dash themselves in pieces on that which is laid as the only foundation of hope. Yet in this the Scripture is fulfilled. The same Jesus, who is precious to those who believe, is "a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to those who stumble at the Word, being disobedient." The reason here assigned why men stumble at the Word, and at what it reveals concerning Jesus Christ, is disobedience; and, perhaps it will be found, that, in many instances, the cause of men's rejecting the Savior, is a rooted aversion to that purity of heart and conduct which the evangelical system requires. "This," says our blessed Lord, "is the condemnation, that light has come into the world, but men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil."
Christ is not precious to those who do not, under a sense of their absolute need of him, manifest that regard for him which the sacred Scriptures everywhere require. The religious system, adopted by many at this day, has very little of real Christianity in it. Many labored performances are now published to the world, in which we find the duties of morality recommended with peculiar elegance of style, and acuteness of reasoning, wherein we meet with little or nothing concerning the person, the work, or the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is like raising a superstructure, without a solid foundation. The great mystery of redemption by the blood of that Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, appears to be of little or no use with such people, in their attempts to promote piety and obedience.* There may be many things in such performances highly worthy of attention; there may be a striking display of learning and ability; but at the same time, that which constitutes the real essence of Christianity, and which is the proper spring of all true obedience, is entirely omitted.
*A modern writer, of distinguished eminence, justly remarks that towards the close of the last century, divines professed to make it their chief object to inculcate the moral and practical precepts of Christianity; but without sufficiently maintaining, often even without justly laying the grand foundation of a sinner's acceptance with God; or pointing out how the practical precepts of Christianity grow out of her peculiar doctrines, and are inseparably connected with them. By this fatal error, the very genius and essential nature of Christianity underwent a change. She no longer retained her peculiar character, or produced that appropriate frame of spirit by which her followers had been characterized.
The example thus set was followed during the present century, and its effect was aided by various causes. The fatal habit of considering Christian morals as distinct from Christian doctrines, has insensibly gained strength. Thus the peculiar doctrines of Christianity went more out of sight; and, as might naturally have been expected, the moral system itself also began to wither and decay, being robbed of that which should have supplied it with life and nutriment. At length, in our own days, these peculiar doctrines have almost altogether vanished from the view. Even in many sermons scarcely any traces of them are to be found. Wilberforce's Practical View, Chapter 6.
'It is not so,' says a very respectable writer of the present age, 'it is not so in our view of things. We find so much use for Christ, that he appears as the soul which animates the whole body of our divinity; as the center of the system, diffusing light and life to every part of it. Take away Christ, and the whole ceremonial of the Old Testament appears to us little more than a dead mass of uninteresting matter; prophecy loses almost all that is interesting and endearing; the gospel is annihilated, or ceases to be that good news to lost sinners, which it professes to be; practical religion is divested of its most powerful motives; the evangelical dispensation of its peculiar glory, and heaven itself of its most transporting joys.
The sacred penmen appear to have written all along, upon the same principles. They considered Christ as the all in all of their religion, and as such, they loved him with their whole hearts. Do they speak of the first tabernacle? They call it a "figure for the time then present. But when Christ came as a high priest of good things to come, by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us." Do they speak of prophecy? They call the testimony of Jesus the spirit of prophecy. Do they speak of the gospel? It is Christ crucified. Do they speak of the medium by which the world was crucified to them, and they unto the world? It is the cross of Christ. One of the most affecting ideas which they afford us of heaven, consists in ascribing everlasting glory and dominion "to him who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood." (Fuller's Calvinistic and Socinian Systems compared, page 217, 218.)
All the lines of evangelical truth meet and center in Jesus Christ, and therefore he himself says, "I am the truth." Were he to be excluded, the several parts of the glorious system would be disconcerted, and the whole frame would be broken in pieces. What would become of the doctrine of redemption, of pardon of sin, of justification, of preservation, or of future felicity?
Jesus is the life of all the graces and comforts of a Christian. By the knowledge and contemplation of him, and of his death in our stead—faith lives, and is strengthened from day to day. All the springs of repentance are opened, and flow freely, when the heart is melted by views of a dying Savior. Love feels the attractive power of its glorious object, and is kindled into a holy flame. Sin is mortified. The world is subdued. The hope of future glory is supported, enlivened, and confirmed, so as to become sure and steadfast, like an anchor of the soul. But without him, whom having not seen we love, these graces would wither and die; or, to speak more properly, they would have no existence.
What is said in the following pages concerning the glory and preciousness of Jesus Christ, is not to be understood as if spoken to the exclusion of the Father, or of the Holy Spirit. But I would beg permission to say, that I am not able to form any clear, satisfactory, comfortable thoughts of God, suited to awaken my love, or encourage my hope and trust—but as he has been pleased to reveal himself in the person of Jesus Christ.* God was once manifested in the flesh on earth, and he is now manifested in the same human nature in heaven, exercising universal dominion, having the government of heaven, earth, and hell upon his shoulders! "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself." The light of his glory is seen in the face, or person, of Jesus Christ. This is the foundation on which the Christian's hope is built, the fountain whence he derives all his refreshment and consolation.
Until God in human flesh I see,
My thoughts no comfort find;
The holy, just, and sacred Three
Are terrors to the mind.
* Jesus Christ says, "I am God, and there is none else." This does not exclude the God-head of the Father. I think it is sufficiently evident from many places of Scripture, that the Father and the Son have an inconceivable communion, and that one and the same Divine nature, which is in the Father, dwells in the Son. For, since divine names and attributes, works and worship, are ascribed to both, they must both be truly God; and since there is but one true God, they must both have fellowship in the same God-head. Hence there is no other God-head but that which dwells in Christ; that God-head in which he partakes by his being One with the Father. "I and my Father are one. I am in the Father, and the Father is in me." Therefore the apostle says, "All the fullness of the God-head dwells bodily in him."
But if Immanuel's face appear,
My hope, my joy begins;
His name forbids my slavish fear,
His grace removes my sins. —Isaac Watts.
The outlines of our plan, in the ensuing discourse, are:
1. The character of the people to whom Christ is precious.
2. The evidence they give that Christ is precious to them.
3. In what respects Christ is precious.
Chapter II. The character of the people to whom Christ is precious:"to those who believe."
The import of the term believe is plain and easy. In common discourse it is so well understood, that no one is at a loss to determine what is intended by it. Every man knows the meaning of his neighbor, when he hears him say, 'I believe the fact which you relate;' or, 'I do not believe the report which I hear concerning you.' Now, if the term is understood, when it refers to the common affairs of life—why should we be at uncertainties about the meaning of it, when applied to religious subjects? The sacred writers do not use words in a sense directly contrary to their general acceptance. If they did this, the instructions they are authorized to give us, concerning the momentous affairs of our souls, and of eternity, would be wrapped up in impenetrable obscurity.
Yet we find in the sacred writings, two kinds of believing spoken of, and two sorts of believers described.
1. Some believe for a while—but in time of temptation fall away. Simon the sorcerer is said to have believed, when he was in the gall of bitterness, and the bond of iniquity; when his heart was not right in the sight of God.*
*It is said, Simon himself believed also; but it may be inquired, What did he believe? There is reason to conclude from the proofs which he presently gave of his ignorance and impiety, that he knew little or nothing of the real character of the glorious Redeemer. His belief of what he had heard delivered, was but in a very partial way. He believed just in the same manner as Judas repented. The repentance of that apostate was but partial; and a repentance merely on account of the dreadful consequences of his sin. Simon seems to have been prevailed upon, by the wonderful power discovered in the working of miracles, to believe that he, in whose name they were performed, must be divine. He believed that such a person as Christ existed, and likewise some little concerning what he was, as that he was a Being possessed of great power; but the chief part of the Savior's excellence, which is revealed in the gospel, and constitutes the very essence of it—was unknown to him. Much the same may be said concerning the faith of the stony-ground hearers of the word.
The apostle James speaks of a kind of faith which answers no valuable purpose, because it is destitute of those works which are the proper fruits of true faith. "Do you not know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" Such a faith as this, is to be found almost everywhere, in a country favored with the light of divine revelation, and the ministry of the gospel. But it is quite uneffective, since the man who is the subject of it, is still a slave to sin, a lover of this present evil world, an enemy to God and goodness, and in the broad way which leads to destruction!
2. The other kind of believing, spoken of by the inspired writers, especially in the New Testament, is that which has pardon of sin, justification before God, and everlasting life, annexed to it. "You are not of those who draw back unto perdition—but of those who believe to the saving of the soul." This faith is accompanied with certain qualities which are not connected with the other. Though the nominal and real Christian are both said to believe, and the articles of their creed may, in many respects, be the same—yet their dispositions and characters, are essentially different.
Now, the leading truth, which is to be believed, is—that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. "Peter said, You are Christ, the Son of the living God." That is, You are the true Messiah, and by way of eminence, the proper Son of the eternal God, and the fountain of life and happiness to all your followers. So the apostle speaks to the Romans, "If you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved." The confession which the Ethiopian eunuch made, in order to be baptised, amounted to the same thing: "As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, 'Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?' And Philip said, 'If you believe with all your heart, you may.' And he answered and said, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'"
To believe this, is to believe the gospel; for the sum of the gospel is, "that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." Or in other words, that the supreme Governor of the world, of his free mercy, for the sole sake of what his Son Jesus Christ has done and suffered— pardons, justifies, and saves the believing sinner. But nothing is more certain, than that a mere nominal Christian, a man who has a name to live, and still is dead in trespasses and sins, may give his assent to all that is expressed above. He may state the articles of an orthodox creed as correctly, in many respects, as any other person. And therefore it is necessary to pay strict attention to those things which accompany true faith—and distinguish it from that which a man may possess, and yet die in his sins.
1. True faith implies that divine illumination, whereby we are taught to know ourselves, to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent, whom to know is life eternal.Faith cannot exist without knowledge; for how is it possible for a man to believe that which he does not understand? Believing in Jesus Christ to the saving of the soul, is the effect of Divine teaching. "It is written in the prophets," said Jesus, "They shall be all taught of God; everyone therefore who has heard, and learned of the Father, comes unto me." When Peter made that confession before recited, his Divine Master pronounced him blessed, as being the subject of illumination from above. "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you—but my Father, who is in heaven." Those who believe, are therefore said to know the truth. And thus the apostle Paul tells us, that he "knew whom he had believed."
2. True faith is grounded on the testimony of God.What other idea of faith can we have, than that of believing something revealed, or made known? Hence the prophet says, "Who has believed our report?" The faith of a Christian, is a divine conviction of the truths which God has revealed in His Word.
Has the author of our being revealed in his blessed word, the purity of his own nature, his abhorrence of sin, the strictness and holiness of that law by which we are governed? This is known and believed, when, under the illumination of the Divine Spirit—the commandment comes home to the conscience; then sin revives, the awakened sinner gives up his delusive hope, and, in that sense, dies.
Has God revealed the depravity of human nature? That the heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; that we are altogether become filthy; that there is none that does good, no not one; that we are alienated from the life of God; that we are the servants of sin, the slaves of Satan, children of wrath, under the curse, condemned already, and liable to eternal destruction and misery? All this is in some measure known—and really believed by him who has true faith.
No man is solicitous about being saved—who does not see and feel himself lost. The whole do not apply to the physician—but those who are sick. No man comes to Christ for pardon—who does not see the greatness and grievousness of his sins. No man believes with the heart unto righteousness—who is not convinced of the insufficiency of his own works to justify him before God. No man looks to the Redeemer for justification—who does not see that he is under the sentence of condemnation. No man comes to Jesus that he may have life—who is not sensible, that, as a sinner, he is doomed to eternal death. Thus, true faith implies a conviction and belief of what the Word of God reveals, concerning the state and condition of fallen man.
Does the divine word reveal a Savior? Does it inform us, that the Son of God took upon him our nature, stood in our place, bore our sins, satisfied justice for our offences, and reconciled us to God? Does the Father declare unto us that he is well pleased with his Son, who has obtained eternal redemption for us? This is understood and believed, by him that has true faith.
Does the gospel contain promises of pardon, of righteousness, of life and salvation, made to the most wretched and guilty of mankind, who are enabled to come to Jesus for them? Does it assure us, that none who sincerely come unto him are ever cast out, on any account whatever? Saving faith is no other thing, than a sincere and hearty belief of this. It is a divine persuasion of the truth of what the Word of God makes known for our belief. Hence it is called "the belief of the truth."
Perhaps there cannot be a better definition of true faith in a few words, than that just mentioned, "the belief of the truth;" and yet it is necessary to inquire what is meant by truth. That Jesus Christ has appeared and sojourned on earth, according to what was predicted of him; that he was born of a virgin, in the town of Bethlehem; that he preached the gospel, and wrought miracles; that he suffered, was crucified, rose again from the dead, and ascended up into glory—having atoned for sin, satisfied Divine justice, and obtained eternal redemption for us—all this is truth; but it is not the whole truth. The infinite excellency of the blessed God; the equity, reasonableness, and goodness of his law; the exceeding sinfulness of sin; the ruinous and lost condition of man, as in a state of alienation from his Maker; the absolute need of holiness and purity of heart, in order to final happiness; the infinite loveliness and preciousness of Jesus Christ, and the suitableness and glory of the way of salvation by him, as in every respect honorable to God, and safe for man—these are branches of the truth which must be believed, as firmly as those above mentioned. But they have not full possession of the minds of any, excepting those whose faith is of the gift and operation of God.
Those whose hearts are not purified by faith, do not conceive of divine objects as they are in themselves; and therefore they do not believe the truth concerning them. "You thought that I was altogether such a one as yourself; but I will reprove you!"
The Word of inspiration represents God in his true character; it represents men as they really are; it declares the truth concerning the evil of sin, and its just demerit; it sets forth not only the reality—but the excellency of heavenly things. That is, it holds them forth as they are in themselves; and that must undoubtedly be the truth concerning them. To conceive of them otherwise than according to this representation, is not to believe the truth—but to believe a lie!
Our blessed Redeemer tell us, that he came to "bear witness to the truth," that is, among other things—to the purity and inflexibility of the divine law, to the justice and holiness of God, to the evil and demerit of sin, and to the reality of his being the only begotten of the Father, and the Savior of men. This was to bear witness of things—as they really are in themselves. It must therefore be the truth; and a hearty reception and persuasion of it, as it is revealed—which is what the apostle calls "the belief of the truth." Thus when he denominates the Thessalonians believers, he immediately signifies what it was which constituted them such, "Because our testimony among you was believed." This testimony is elsewhere called "the testimony of God concerning his Son Jesus Christ." It is that in which the everlasting interests of men are deeply and intimately concerned. "He who has received this testimony, has set to his seal that God is true."
3. Faith is the result of serious and impartial inquiry, and of a reverential regard to the authority of God, in what he has spoken."The word is near you, even in your mouth, and in your heart; that is, the word of faith which we preach; for faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." The truth is believed, not from common report, not from the testimony of man—but from the testimony of God. Hence, says the apostle to the Thessalonians, "For this cause we thank God without ceasing, because, when you received the Word of God, which you heard of us—you received it not as the word of men—but, as it is in truth, the Word of God, which effectually works also in you who believe."
4. True faith in Jesus Christ, is accompanied with a sincere and hearty approbation of him—as the exclusive, the all-sufficient Savior.It is not a faint, feeble, wavering assent—but such a firm persuasion as, in some measure, corresponds with the strength and clearness of the evidence with which the truth is confirmed. The whole soul acquiesces in the relief which it brings, and approves of the method of salvation which it reveals. There is great propriety in such expressions as these concerning true faith. "If you believe with all your heart." "With the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." These terms must imply the consent of the judgment, connected with the approbation and acceptance of the will, and the affections. This is faith sincere.
People may profess to believe this and the other thing, when, in fact, it is but a mere pretense—as is evident from the general tenor of their actions. He who really believes that certain substances are of a poisonous quality, will act accordingly; he will carefully avoid them. He who is fully persuaded that fire will burn, cannot be induced to rush into the flames. He who believes that the profits, the pleasures, and the honors of the world will make him happy—acts in a manner consistent with what he believes—he pursues these objects with all his might. His belief in this case, is not a mere pretense—but real, as is evident by his practice. He who certainly believes that a large estate is left him by a deceased relation, will not delay to put in his claim for it. In all these cases, and many others which daily occur in common life, we see that a real and sincere belief—is followed by a corresponding practice.
Apply this to religious subjects. A man professes and pretends to believe that God is angry with the wicked every day, and that his wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men—yet he lives as unconcerned as if there were no danger—he does not flee from the wrath to come—he takes no measures for his soul's escape. Is this man's belief real and hearty—or only a mere pretense? Is it not evident, that he does not sincerely believe the solemn declarations of God's word with his whole heart?*
* Justin Martyr, in his apology for the Christians, addressed to the emperor Antoninus Pius, expresses himself to the following purpose: 'I must tell you, that of all men living we are the greatest promoters of peace, by teaching that it is impossible for any worker of iniquity, any covetous or insidious person, to hide himself from God; and that everyone is stepping forward to eternal misery—or happiness, his works giving evidence for him or against him before the Judge of all.' He then adds, 'If men were once fully persuaded of these things, (or did they believe them with their whole hearts) who would make the bold adventure to embrace the pleasures of sin for a season—with his eye upon eternal fire at the end of the enjoyment? Who would not strive to the utmost of his power to check himself on the brink of ruin, and seek to be possessed of what is necessary to secure him from everlasting vengeance?'
Another man pretends to believe that sin is the greatest and worst of evils; that there is nothing so odious, nothing so dangerous to the soul, nothing so ruinous and destructive as sin. And yet this man secretly loves it—and daily lives in the known and allowed practice of it! What shall we think of his faith in this particular? Is he hearty in his belief? Or rather, since it has had no influence on his life and walk—is it not a mere pretense?
Others again profess to believe that there is a real excellency in true religion; that wisdom's ways are lovely, pleasant and peaceful; and that no joy can be compared with that of serving and pleasing God; and yet they live in the continual neglect of everything they pretend to approve! Can a faith so utterly uneffective—be real, and sincere? Is it thus—that men believe with the heart unto righteousness? Surely not!
Do such people tell us that they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and declare that there is no object so desirable, so excellent, so lovely as he is, in their estimation? While at the same time, the world has full possession of their hearts, they mind earthly things, and are entire strangers to a heavenly life. Surely such a faith is but imaginary; for sincere faith "works by love" to its object—the Lord Jesus Christ.
5. In true faith, there is a deep conviction of the importance of what is believed.It is far from being considered as a trifling, uninteresting concern. It is viewed as the most interesting of anything that can possibly engage the attention of mankind—as what relates to the life of the soul, and to its everlasting state. He who believes is like a man whose house is on fire, and who is eager to have it saved from the devouring flames! Or like a shipwrecked mariner, struggling amidst the overwhelming billows of the deep—but beholding before him a rock whereupon he may rest with safety.
Those who talk of their faith in Christ, and at the same time have little or no abiding concern about the salvation of their souls, and the affairs of a future world, do but deceive themselves. Those who believe are compared in the Scriptures to the man-slayer, who, sensible of his danger from the avenger of blood, ran with all his might to the city appointed for the protection of such people. "You have fled for refuge, to lay hold on the hope set before you." What the angel said to Lot, when he brought him out of Sodom, may be applied to him who is warned to flee from the wrath to come; "Escape for your life, look not behind you, neither stay you in all the plain! Escape to the mountain lest you be consumed!" When the jailor at Philippi was awakened to a just sense of his guilty and ruined condition, in an agony of distress he inquired, whether there were any possible way of relief for him, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved."
Such is the description which our Lord Jesus Christ himself gives of faith in his name. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whoever believes in him should not perish—but have everlasting life. The allusion is to what God said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks upon it, shall live." Here a divine remedy was provided against a national calamity; a sovereign antidote against spreading and mortal poison. Those who were stung and perishing, though they were at the utmost limits of the camp, might look up to the brazen serpent and find healing and life.
Physicians were of no use in that dreadful malady; human efforts, applications, plasters, or medicines were insignificant. The swift and fiery poison operated powerfully in such as were bitten, and, without relief, they were quickly brought to the very borders of the grave. But though they were just about to expire—if they could but cast a look towards the appointed remedy—they were sure of healing and recovery. On the confines of the grave, and the brink of death—they were restored to life and happiness—by a look to the brazen image of the serpent! A most lively picture this of a believing sinner. He is in himself as one ready to perish—but being enabled to believe the promises of grace in Jesus Christ, and looking to him that he may be saved, he is pardoned and healed; he is delivered from going down to the pit, through the ransom which has been found and accepted for him, and his life shall see the light: or, according to the words of our blessed Redeemer himself, "He shall not perish—but have everlasting life!"
6. True faith is connected with repentance of sin.If we are not turned from sin to God, if sin is not made bitter to us, if it does not appear hateful, if our hearts are not penetrated with sorrow, grief, and self-abhorrence on account of it—in vain do we imagine ourselves to be believers in Jesus! Looking unto him whom we have pierced, is accompanied with mourning and bitterness of soul. That faith which leaves the heart impenitent, is not saving; for repentance is absolutely necessary to salvation.
Our blessed Redeemer said to a certain woman in the gospel, "Your faith has saved you, go in peace." But what was the attendant of the faith she possessed? Was it not penitence? She wept at the feet of Jesus, she washed his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head. She remembered her own evil ways, and her sins—and loathed herself in her own sight! Repentance and faith are inseparably united; the one never exists in the mind of a sinner without the other. If we have ever beheld Jesus with sincere delight, as a Savior from sin—we shall mourn heartily that ever we sinned against him. We cannot but repent of sin—while we look for the forgiveness of it, through his astonishing love in dying for us, that so he might deliver us from eternal destruction. Repentance is justly said by some, to be the tear of love dropping from the eye of faith.
7. True faith in Jesus Christ, is attended with subjection of heart and life, to his will and government.For by faith the heart is purified, and consequently the life. To believe the gospel, is to obey from the heart, that form of doctrine which was delivered unto us. Faith works by love—both to God and man; and therefore it is positively affirmed, that "faith without works is dead." Talk not of your faith in Jesus, if you have no love to him. Pretend not to love him, if you are not concerned to please him. "This is the love of God—that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous." Our Divine Savior himself says, "He who has my commandments, and keeps them—he is the one who loves me."
The works of a real Christian are not the production of a spirit of legality; they are works of faith and labors of love, which are shown to him. Such is the efficacy of a saving and living faith—that it is the vigorous root to all holy obedience; it bears up the soul amidst the severest trials; it strengthens it for the most arduous services; enables it to overcome the world, and to lay hold upon eternal life. By way of describing its efficacy, allow me to make a short extract from a very ancient Christian writer.
Justin Martyr, describing the worship and the practice of believers, says, 'We worship the Creator of the universe, not with blood, libations and incense, of which he stands in no need; but we exalt him to the best of our power, with the rational service of prayers and praises, in all the oblations we make to him; believing this to be the only honor worthy of him. We approve ourselves thankful to him, and express our gratitude in the most solemn hymns—for our creation, our preservation, the various blessings of his providence, and the hopes of a resurrection to an incorruptible life, which we are sure to have. We who were formerly guilty of impure practices—now strictly keep ourselves within the bounds of chastity. We, who devoted ourselves to magic arts—now consecrate ourselves entirely to the true God. We, who loved nothing so much as our possessions—now produce all we have in common, and spread our whole stock before our indigent brethren. We, who were instigated with hatred to one another, and would not so much as warm ourselves at the same fire with those of a different race—now live and die together, praying sincerely for our enemies. For evils done to us—we return the gentlest persuasives to convert those who unjustly hate us—that they, being brought to a conformity to Christ, might be filled with the same comfortable hopes of enjoying the like happiness with ourselves. Christ commands his disciples to shine with a distinguishing patience and meekness, and to win men over from their sins, by such gentle methods of conversion. I could give you bright examples from many converts among us, who, from men of violence and oppression—were transformed into quite another nature.'
In another place he says, 'Those who do not make the precepts of Christ the rule of their lives, are to be looked upon as not true Christians, let them say ever such fine things of his law. Those who are Christians in word only, who talk of religion—but do not practice it, if such smart for their hypocrisy, it is no more than they deserve. Jesus himself has said, "Every tree which does not bring forth good fruit—is hewn down and cast into the fire. Not everyone who says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Such is the testimony given by this very respectable advocate for the Christian cause.
True faith transforms the temper and frame of our souls into another image, even the image of Christ. This is done, in some degree, in the first saving discovery which we have of him; so that he who truly believes in Jesus is a new creature. Compare the two following passages together; in the former, the apostle says, "Neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision—but faith which works by love." "Neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision—but a new creature." We hence infer, that to be a real believer is to be a new creature. "Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." Our very tempers are changed into Christ's holy likeness; the meek and lowly, the devout and heavenly mind, which was in Christ Jesus, in some degree, takes place in us.
Faith genuinely influences all the powers of the soul, and all the actions of the life, according to the degree of its vigor, strength, and liveliness. The more we live by faith in Jesus, the more steadily we look to him—the more we shall be transformed into his likeness. We lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily besets us—as we run the race which is set before us, looking unto Jesus. As the face of Moses shone when he had seen the Divine glory, so there will be some rays of holiness in our walk in the world—as we live by faith in the Son of God.
8. True faith sets all things in a different light before the eyes of the soul, and gives it quite another view of them.'It is,' says Isaac Watts, 'like some heavenly glass applied to the organ of sense, which not only assists and improves our sight—but represents all things in a divine light. It alters the view and appearance of all the great and mirthful things of this world. The treasures, the splendor and the entertainments of this world, were once the most inviting objects upon which we could look. But now we look on the world, with all its most glittering and the richest scenes—as trifling, poor, and despicable things. We are crucified to the world by the cross of Christ. We seek the things which are above, where our Redeemer sits at the right hand of God; and when the world begins to flatter us again, and to appear great and tempting in our eyes—renewed discoveries of Christ's glory, who is the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely, eclipse the splendor of all below the skies. "This is the victory which overcomes the world, even our faith."
The solemn attributes of God—his holiness, his righteousness and justice—were once the terror of our souls; so that we turned our eyes away, and could not contemplate him with pleasure. As we had no solid hope in his mercy or his love, we saw nothing in him desirable or delightful to us. We stood afar off from him; we neglected and forgot him; or, perhaps, like our first parents, we vainly endeavored to hide ourselves from him. The dreadful threatenings of his displeasure were to us, as the messengers of damnation. We beheld them as so many angels with flaming swords—to forbid our entrance into Paradise! But now, being enabled to believe in Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come, the terrors of the law have no longer have such a dreadful aspect. We know that the sword of justice has awoke against the man who is God's fellow—and that all its vengeance was executed upon him, as our surety. The threatenings of the Almighty are therefore now disarmed, and no longer stand as barriers in the way, to forbid our happiness.
We behold God in Christ, as reconciling sinners unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. Hence we are enabled to look upon him in his whole character, not only without dismay—but with a measure of delight! We "give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness;" we survey and dwell upon his glories with solemn pleasure; we lift up our eyes towards him with humble confidence, as our reconciled God, our Father and our Friend forever.
Our consciences were burdened with guilt. We said unto the Most High God, "Our flesh trembles for fear of you, and we are afraid of your judgment." We could find no relief until we were led to the cross of the bleeding Prince of peace. He who hung upon the tree, took off our burdens, sprinkled us with his own blood, undertook to secure us effectually from Divine wrath, and said unto us, "Fear not—I have redeemed you! Your sins are forgiven! Go in peace!"
We believe that his blood is sufficient to atone for our offences, and procure us pardon; that his righteousness is sufficient for our acceptance unto eternal life; that his power and grace are sufficient to conquer all our sins, to deliver us out of temptations, to sanctify our vitiated appetites and passions, to incline our wills to holiness, to strengthen us for the performance of good works, to accomplish in us all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power.
9. True faith endears Christ to the soul; since it is said, "he is precious to those who so believe." It enthrones him in the heart; for he dwells in the hearts of his people by faith. The proof of this is attempted in the following pages.
10. In a word, true faith is attended with a measure of solid peace and divine joy.These are experienced in different degrees by believers in Jesus, according to the strength or weakness of their faith. But we are assured, that all true believers shall not only be justified—but they shall have peace and joy. This they do in an especial manner, when they are filled with all joy and peace in believing, and made to abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. True faith fixes on that which alone can give peace and rest to the mind—the atoning blood and perfect righteousness of our Lord Jesus Grist. "We rejoice in God through Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom we have now received the atonement."
The happiness of a believer's life, consists in having his mind stayed on the all-sufficient Redeemer, by way of fervent affections, lively hope, and steady confidence. "You will keep him in perfect peace," says the prophet, "whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you." The apostle Peter, writing to a scattered, dispersed, persecuted people, concerning Jesus, says, "Whom having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you see him not—yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory."
It may easily be inferred from what has been said, as well as from many passages of Scripture, that the faith of a true Christian is not the mere effort of human nature and natural reason—but the gift of God. It is therefore called the faith of the operation of God. If we savingly believe the truth of the gospel, and its glorious promises—it is "given us so to believe, according to the working of God's mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead."
It may be allowed, as one writer observes, that believing, simply considered, is a natural act of the mind; but believing such things as the gospel reveals, and understanding the nature and excellency of them, must be a spiritual act. To think, and to love, simply considered, are natural acts; but to think godly thoughts, and to love holiness, are spiritual acts. The faith which is attended with such powerful effects, as has been mentioned, is not of ourselves; but is one of those good and perfect gifts which come down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, nor shadow of turning. However strong, rational, or convincing the evidence may be which accompanies the testimony of God—yet without the operation of his blessed Spirit, it will not effectually subdue the mind which is blinded by prejudice, bloated with pride, benumbed with carelessness, and poisoned with enmity against the truth.
We describe the operations of a gracious mind in detail, as if a considerable space of time were requisite for the production of them; but it ought to be remembered, that the change wrought in a sinner's conceptions and views, in his transformation from death unto life, from a state of nature to a state of grace, may be instantaneous. For there is no middle condition between death and life, enmity and reconciliation, unbelief and faith, or condemnation and justification. The publican, oppressed with conscious guilt, cried out, as he smote upon his breast, "God be merciful to me, a sinner," and he went down to his house justified. The jailor at Philippi inquired what he must do to be saved, and the same night gave evidence of an entire change of mind; for it is said, "he believed, rejoicing in God with all his house." The Lord opened the heart of Lydia, and she attended to the things which were spoken by Paul. Three thousand of Peter's hearers, on the day of Pentecost, hardened in impenitence, and fixed in unbelief—were at once pricked in their hearts, under solemn apprehensions of their sin and danger; they were directed to the Divine remedy provided for the relief of ruined man, they gladly received the word, were baptized, and the same day added to the church. The conversion of Zaccheus was somewhat similar.
It is true, all these were extraordinary instances of the power of saving grace. But in all other cases, I humbly apprehend, the change, as it is in itself, and as it is in the sight of God, must be instantaneous; though the discovery of it, both to the sinner's own satisfaction, and to the satisfaction of others, is often very gradual. The precise period when it takes place—is known to God, though it is often unknown to the man himself, otherwise than by the effects which follow upon it.
The entrance of God's Word gives light; but the light at first, is not clear and distinct. The God who caused the light to shine out of darkness, shines into the sinner's benighted heart, to give the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Yet it is but a very little which any believer knows at first—in comparison with the discoveries which are afterwards made to him. Perhaps all he can say, bears some resemblance to the language of the young man in the gospel, who had been born blind, "One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see." Faith, in like manner, may be at first but as a grain of mustard seed—but it is a great happiness when "your faith grows exceedingly, and," as its proper attendant, when "your love towards each other abounds." The disciples said unto the Lord, "Increase our faith."
"It is not necessary that all these several workings of the heart, should be plain, distinct, and sensible in every true believer. For the actions of the soul, and especially the springs, the motives, and designs of those actions—are so hidden, and so mingled with each other, that they are not all distinctly perceived, even by the man himself in whom they take place. When the poor man in the gospel said, "Lord I believe; help my unbelief;" there were a multitude of crowding thoughts and passions, which produced and mingled with those ideas and expressions of fear and faith—that could never be distinctly apprehended and recounted by the person who felt them." —Isaac Watts.
Yet the attendants of saving faith, or those things which prove it to be true, should be carefully attended to, lest we should deceive ourselves in a matter of so much importance.
The great things which are ascribed to faith, by the inspired writers, should induce us to be very deeply concerned to be partakers of it. We find them constantly asserting such things concerning faith as may convince us of its great use. Men have remission of sins through faith; they are justified by faith; their hearts are purified by faith; they have access to God by faith; they live, they walk, they stand by faith; they overcome all enemies by faith; they are kept by the power of God through faith; and, to encompass all in one word, they are saved by faith. How necessary, how important then is the apostle's exhortation, "Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith!"
Faith, we see, is neither more nor less than a sincere belief of the truth. So the divine word defines it. "These things were written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, you might have life through his name." But then it may be said of faith—as of love to God, of desire after him, and of hope and joy in him—by their fruits you shall know them. They are all distinguished and discerned to be true and genuine—by their attendants, and the way in which they are manifested.
In respect to true and sincere faith, the Word of God fully and clearly sets before us—what its attendants and its fruits are. It is the less needful to enlarge on them here, because this is intended to be done through the whole of the following chapter. I hope the brief and simple account of faith, already given, will not be found materially defective. And I would earnestly entreat the reader to examine himself concerning this important article. I apprehend it is evident from the Scriptures, that no man is a true believer, whose heart is not changed by the grace and Spirit of God. "For if any man is in Christ—he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new." "Being dead in your sins—you are risen with him, through the faith of the operation of God." The faith of one who lives a careless, unconcerned, thoughtless life—is a vain faith; he is yet in his sins.
No man is a true believer, in whom the blessed Spirit of God does not dwell, as his teacher and guide. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God—they are the Sons of God; but if any man has not the Spirit of Christ—he is none of his." "When he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he shall guide you into all truth. He shall reprove the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He shall glorify me, for he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you." The man who has never had a heart-affecting discovery of the purity of God's law, of the exceeding sinfulness and just demerit of sin, of his own guilty and depraved condition, of his utter helplessness, and the insufficiency of any righteousness he can perform, to recommend him to the Divine favor; the man who has never been taught, in an efficacious way, the glory of Christ's person, the sufficiency of his sacrifice, as a proper atonement for sin, the perfections of his righteousness, the fullness of his grace, and his ability to save to the uttermost; the man who has not been taught these things, in some degree, is yet in a state of unbelief. How can he have faith who neither knows nor understands what God's Word reveals as the truth? "I know," says the apostle, "whom I have believed."
He is no true believer—whose heart is not supremely attached to Jesus Christ; who sees no beauty, no excellency, no loveliness in him; for to all those who believe—Christ is precious. When the apostle Paul requires us to examine ourselves, whether we are in the faith, he adds, "Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you are reprobates?" According to him, to be in the faith, and to have Christ dwelling in us, so as to possess the chief place in our affections, and bear sway in our souls—are one and the same thing.
He is no true believer, in whom the Word of God does not dwell, in its sanctifying power and energy. Where the truth is sincerely believed, it enters the mind, it is received into the heart, it is incorporated with the soul, and it dwells and abides there. "The truth dwells in you. My Word abides in you. It works effectually in you who believe. It is in you as the ingrafted Word, which is able to save the soul. You have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered unto you." All these emphatic expressions are descriptive of those who believe. Hence is that remarkable account of faith, which is given us by the apostle to the Hebrews, where he tells us, that "faith is the substance of things hoped for." It realizes them, and gives them a subsistence in the mind and heart. The law of God is written there. The truth of Christ abides there, in its light, its energy, its sanctifying and governing power. It bears sway in the soul, and rules the life. Reader, this is true faith, faith in reality, or as the apostle Peter terms it, "precious faith;" precious in its author, its object, its use, its efficacy, and its end.
It must appear to every attentive reader, from what has been said, that the Lord Jesus Christ, in his work of mediation for the recovery and salvation of lost sinners, as proposed in the promises of the gospel, is the proper object of faith. Hence it is called a believing in him, and a believing on his name. If men would attend to their own experience in the applications they make to God for pardon and salvation, many unnecessary disputes concerning faith would be prevented. Every true Christian knows, that he has been enabled, with his whole heart, to believe the divine promises, containing and proposing the atonement of the Redeemer, as the procuring cause of our reconciliation and peace with God, according to the riches of his infinite grace and mercy. "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name, whoever believes in him, shall receive remission of sins." Every Christian knows that he has sincerely approved, and does still heartily approve of the way of justification and salvation by Jesus Christ, proposed in the gospel, as affording a most glorious display of the wisdom, the holiness, the love, and the mercy of God. Hence the apostle Paul describes the faith of those who are called, by its approbation of the wisdom and power of God in the plan of salvation. "We preach Christ crucified unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God." In the lack of this gracious acquiescence in the gospel scheme, consists the nature of unbelief. Without this, no man is influenced by evangelical motives, to hate and renounce sin, or to devote himself to God in the way of obedience. But wherever this cordial sincere approbation of the way of life by Jesus Christ does prevail in the mind, it will certainly produce humiliation for sin, and holiness of life.
The immediate design of Jehovah, in the great and important concern of our salvation, is, to display his own infinite perfections; "to declare his righteousness, to commend his love, to manifest his wisdom and his power," as his Word everywhere testifies. And the business of faith, in receiving the ineffable benefits of his salvation, is to give that glory to him which he designs so to exalt. Abraham, being strong in the faith, gave glory to God; and this is the nature of faith, even in its weakest degree. "We behold his glory, as in a glass. He gives us the light of the knowledge of his glory, in the face of Jesus Christ." The soul of a believer does herein give unto God, the glory of all those holy properties of his nature, which he designed to manifest, in our salvation by his own dear Son. To him the Father said, "You are my servant, in whom I will be glorified." And he directs us to fix our believing regards on him as such: "Behold my Servant, whom I uphold, my Elect, in whom my soul delights."
Before I conclude this chapter, I would beg permission, in a plain and serious manner, to address those who are yet in a state of impenitence and unbelief.
Supposing you then, my dear reader, to be in this condition, I would entreat you, by all that regard which you ought to have for the everlasting welfare and salvation of your own soul—to consider what the blessed God says to you in his holy Word, that Word according to which you are to be judged at the last day.
The gospel, as we have seen, plainly declares—that God has contrived a way for the reconciling of sinners unto himself; that this was accomplished by his substituting his only begotten Son, in the place of the guilty, sending him into the world to work out salvation for them, delivering him up to death, even the death of the cross, as an atoning sacrifice for their offences, and raising him again from the dead for their justification. It declares that, by this divine expedient, the law which they had violated is perfectly fulfilled and magnified; Divine justice fully satisfied; and God well pleased and glorified. It also declares, that whoever heartily receives and believes this testimony, upon the authority of Him who reveals it—shall most certainly be saved; and that purely by free grace, without any respect to works or merits of his own, through the redemption which is in Jesus Christ.
Upon this ground, the gospel addresses sinners as such, sinners of every rank and degree—calling upon them to regard and believe its gracious messages—that they may be saved. It not only contains a declaration of facts, concerning the person and work of the Redeemer—but the kindest invitations and exhortations, founded upon that declaration. The Son of God himself represents the preaching of the gospel, under the notion of inviting to a marriage supper, where all things are prepared and ready for the guests. All sorts of people are invited; the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind; they are called from all those places which may be supposed to be haunts of the destitute and the miserable; such as the streets and lanes of the city, and the highways and hedges of the country. The servants are commanded to bid these sons and daughters of woe and wretchedness to come to the marriage; nay, even by those efforts of persuasion, which are mighty through God—to compel them to come in, that the wedding may be furnished with guests.
What Jesus Christ represents by way of parable, the apostle Paul holds forth without a figure. Attend to what he says with the greatest closeness, my dear reader; it is not a vain thing; your life is in it: "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and has committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us, we beg you, in Christ's stead—be reconciled to God." These ambassadors were to press home the doctrine of reconciliation upon guilty, rebellious men, as the grand motive and argument, through the power of Divine grace, to engage them to give up themselves to God, to acquaint themselves with him, and so to be at peace.
This is the drift and scope, not of a few passages only—but of the whole of the New Testament. That this may not pass unnoticed, the Author of that divine book says, in the conclusion of it, "I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star. The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life!" Language more kind, more generous or more free, cannot possibly be devised. Yet this is perfectly conformable to what Jesus said to sinners, when he himself sojourned among them: "In the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirsts, let him come unto me and drink. He who believes on me, as the Scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water!" Nothing can be plainer, than that this was addressed to those who were then in a state of unbelief. O that you may attend to it, and receive it with thankfulness and joy, giving glory to God for the richness and freeness of his grace.
Let not your own inability to believe in Jesus Christ, be considered as an insuperable bar and hindrance; for he who calls you to this, can, at the same time, give you the needed power. He who spoke the world into existence, he who quickens the dead by his omnipotent Word, may, with the greatest propriety, say to him who is dead in trespasses and sins, "Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light." His word is living and powerful. It is as fire to quicken the lifeless soul; and as a hammer, to break the rock in pieces. It shall not return unto him void—but shall accomplish that which he pleases, and prosper in the thing whereunto he sends it.
Unbelievers are spoken of in the Word of God—as being dead in sin; by which is intended, their lying under a charge of guilt, which subjects them to condemnation; and their being under the power and dominion of sin. But this spiritual death is not, in all respects, like the natural death of the body; for if it was—the use of means to quicken and rouse such people, would not only be improper—but absolutely hopeless. Sinner, you have a conscience, you have a sense of right and wrong, you have hopes, you have fears, and other affections, capable of being wrought upon by those means which God has appointed. Your guilt will therefore be aggravated in proportion to the means of instruction you enjoy, and the warnings and exhortations given you, if you are not brought to repentance. This is so evident from the word of God, that it seems unnecessary to produce particular proofs of it. From this consideration it is plain—that you are capable of instruction, and of conviction, by the use of those means which Divine wisdom has ordained for that purpose; otherwise your guilt would not be heightened by disregarding them.
There is such a suitableness in the means which God has appointed, for bringing you to the knowledge of the truth, that if you should obstinately reject them, you would be entirely without excuse. The gospel is the happy expedient for quickening those who are dead in sin, since it is the power of God to the salvation of everyone who believes. The most wonderful effects are ascribed to it; it enlightens the understanding, it quickens the conscience, it converts the soul, and sanctifies the mind. And though it does not produce these effects, without the agency of the blessed Spirit of God—yet his agency is not to be considered, as abstracted from the means; for he works by them on the minds of men, and gives them all their efficacy.
Open that precious book, the New Testament, my dear fellow-sinner, and you will presently find, that the God of infinite mercy invites you to repent, and believe the gospel. At the same time, you will find, that he does not call you to believe—without showing you what you are to believe, and exhibiting the clearest and fullest evidence for it. Neither does he call you to repent—without declaring unto you, both your sin, and your danger on account of it. I will suppose that you have read this divine book, and that you have repeatedly heard the gospel preached. You are not then in the same state of total ignorance in which you once were. You know something of religion in theory. You have received some information which you once had not, both concerning your danger—and the divine remedy. Give me permission to remind you, that if you should neglect so great salvation, you will be hereby rendered quite inexcusable. For such neglect must now be the effect of perverseness, and not simply of ignorance. O, that your attention may be engaged to the evidence and the importance of the gospel-message; and that your heart may be won to believe and embrace the truth as it is in Jesus!
Remember, that the declaration of it is accompanied with the most kind and tender invitations, entreaties and expostulations, which are urged in the Scriptures, by the most alluring and alarming motives which can possibly be proposed to the human mind. God forbid that you should be armored against them all, and harden yourself in unbelief, to your own utter ruin! Give the gospel a fair hearing; consider its evidence; attend to its kind and pathetic entreaties. Search the Scriptures daily, whether these things are so. The Bereans did this, and the sacred historian tells us, that "therefore many of them believed."
Let me entreat you to attempt the solemn work of calling upon God by earnest prayer and supplication. Hearken to what he himself says unto you, in reference to this: "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call you upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."
The gospel holds forth immediate relief to a wounded conscience. The same hour that the jailor at Philippi asked, "What must I do to be saved?" he was told that the remedy was at hand; "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." No long course of preparation, no prerequisites, no previous qualifications are necessary. Should they indeed be sought, they would be sought in vain. Humiliation for sin, love to God, devotedness to him, and victory over sin and the world—are not to be looked for in ourselves, in order that we may, on such grounds, be encouraged to believe; so far from it, that they are spoken of in the Scriptures as the certain effects which follow believing.
The legal spirit of which we are all naturally possessed, leads us to imagine, that we must not embrace the promise of life by Christ Jesus—unless we are some way fitted, prepared and qualified for so doing. This is a perversion of the free proclamation of the gospel, and turning, in some sort, the covenant of grace—into a covenant of works. This is setting the gospel remedy at so great a distance, that it is impossible for us to claim the benefit of it. Whereas, "the word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved."
The glory of this inestimable blessing is—that it is absolutely free to sinners, as such, of every rank and degree; and like the brazen serpent to the wounded, dying Israelites, it is designed to give immediate relief to perishing souls! "WHOEVER believes in him shall not perish. WHOEVER will, let him come," without seeking for any kind of preparation whatever. If he is a sinner, for such the remedy is provided. "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Jesus Christ carne into the world to save sinners." It is a deplorable mistake to look for the effects of faith, where the effectual cause of those effects is lacking.
Does the afflicted person say, 'As soon as I am cured of this deadly disease—I will call in the help of a physician?' The man who is fallen into an horrible pit, whose feet stick fast in the miry clay, needs immediate relief, and never thinks of waiting until he is qualified to deserve it, from the friendly hand which is ready to draw him out. When Peter was sinking in the mighty deep, he instantly cried out, "Lord, save me—or I perish."
Those who have believed through grace are, in the Word of inspiration, described by those holy dispositions, and that heavenly walk, which are the necessary fruits and effects of faith; as such, I have endeavored to point them out in the preceding pages. But it would be a strange perversion of the order of things, to conclude that we must not believe the promises of salvation by Jesus Christ—until we find in ourselves those fruits which can only be experienced in consequence of believing them. Remember, my dear fellow-sinner, that your hearts can only be purified by faith, and that love to God, and conformity to his will—follow upon believing, as effects which are dependent on their cause. Let the tree first be made good—and then, its fruits will be good. "You will recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can't produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn't produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you will recognize them by their fruit."
"Without faith it is impossible to please God. This is the work of God," a work most acceptable in his sight, "that you believe in him whom he has sent." The history of Christ, the truths of his gospel, and the promises of his grace, "were written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you might have life through his name.'' Thus the God of all grace proposed to our first parent, in his lost, forlorn, and hopeless condition, the promise of redemption by Christ, the belief of which, no doubt, brought him back from the borders of despair; and gave him immediate relief.
The awakened sinner's address to God, suited to the foregoing remarks.
Almighty and everlasting God, my Creator, my Preserver, and my Judge, before whose solemn tribunal I must shortly make my appearance. I am a poor individual of the fallen race of mankind, shaped in iniquity, conceived in sin, and chargeable with actual transgressions almost without number. I have brought myself under the condemning sentence of your righteous law, and rendered myself deserving of your everlasting displeasure. It is high time for me to awake out of sleep, and to inquire, with the utmost seriousness, and the deepest concern—whether there is any possible way of escaping that wrath which is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.
I feel a ray of hope spring up in my soul, since you have said, in your holy Word, "you have destroyed yourselves—but in me is your help." Jesus Christ, your only begotten Son, came into the world to save sinners, such as I am. This is no delusive supposition, no uncertain report; it is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance. But I learn from the sacred Scriptures, that he who disregards this testimony, who receives it not in the love of the truth, who believes not in the Son of God, the appointed Savior, must everlastingly perish. I learn from your word, that pardon of sin, deliverance from condemnation, and the enjoyment of eternal felicity—are inseparably connected with true faith in Christ.
Do mercifully impart to me, that divine illumination, without which I shall neither know the way of peace, nor believe the truth to the saving of my soul. O teach me to know myself—the deep depravity of my nature, the guiltiness of my whole life, the purity of your law which I have violated, the inflexibility of your holiness and justice which I have offended, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and my own utter inability to do anything, towards delivering my own soul out of that state of misery into which I have brought myself. Bring me to an acquaintance with you—the only true God, and with Jesus Christ, whom you have sent to redeem and save the lost and the undone—whom to know is life eternal. May your Holy Spirit set before me, in the most powerful and engaging manner, the glory of his person, the sufficiency of his sacrifice, the efficacy of his blood to cleanse from all sin, the perfection of his righteousness to clothe the naked soul, the fullness of his grace to supply every need, and his ability in every respect to save to the uttermost, all who come unto God by him.
May that precious gospel, of which Christ crucified is the sum and substance, appear to me in all its truth, as the testimony of God; in all its sacred importance as the Word of life; in all its fullness, its suitableness to my case, its preciousness, and its glory—that I may be enabled to receive it with full and entire approbation, as a system most honorable to God, and safe for man, and that I may believe it with my whole heart.
Let me be a partaker of that faith which is connected with true repentance of sin, a sincere attachment to Jesus Christ, a subjection of heart and life to his will and government, a holy indifference to all that this present world can afford, and a sincere and constant endeavor to obey your commands. May I receive and embrace the truth as it is in Jesus, so that it may dwell and abide in me, in all its sacred energy and sanctifying power, working effectually in me, as it does in all those who believe. Thus let my heart be purified by faith, and give me an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in you. Never let me be a stranger to the joy of faith; but fill me with all that joy and peace in believing, which arise from the view and manifestation of pardoning mercy, through the precious blood of your dear Son; to whom with yourself, and the blessed Spirit, the one eternal God—be equal and endless praises! Amen.