BLESSINGS OF GRACE.
THE SALVATION OF MEN IS ENTIRELY OF
Grace is unmerited favor. Paul distinguishes, in Rom. iv. 4, between the reward of grace and the reward of debt. When good is conferred because it is due, it is not of grace. Whatever may be claimed on the score of justice, cannot be regarded as unmerited favor. Justice gives to every man according to his works; and if salvation were of works, it could not be of grace. Paul has made this matter very plain: "To him that worketh, is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. If by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace; otherwise work is no more work."2
For the same reason that salvation is not of works, it is not of the law. The law is the rule of justice, and takes cognisance of the men's works. If it gave life to men, it could be only on the ground of their obedience to its requirements; for its language is, "the man that doeth these things shall live by them."3 Salvation by the law is declared to be impossible: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.4 The Scriptures represent grace and law as opposed to each other: "The law was given by Moses; but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."5 "Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?"6 "It is of faith, that it might be by grace."7 Sometimes the term law is used in an extended sense; as when the law of faith is opposed to the law of works;8 and the law of the spirit of life, to the law of sin and death.9 Hence we read of "the perfect law of liberty,"10 which cannot be the rule of justice: that says, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them."11 When the term law is used in this extended sense, it denotes the method of salvation by grace through faith, and is carefully distinguished from "the law of works."
The doctrine that salvation is of grace, is taught in the sacred Scriptures with great clearness. In the second chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians, the declaration is twice made, "By grace ye are saved." Paul ascribes his own salvation to grace: "By the grace of God, I am what I am."12 He traces the blessing of salvation to "the grace given in Christ Jesus, before the world began:"13--to "the riches of his grace:"14--to "the exceeding riches of his grace."15
Salvation is entirely of grace. The passages already quoted show that salvation is not partly of grace and partly of works. Grace and works are so opposed to each other, that, when it is affirmed to be of grace, it is denied to be of works: "Not of works; otherwise grace is no more grace." "Not according to our works; but according to his own purpose and grace."16 The exclusion of all boasting,17 was, that the blessing bestowed is entirely of grace: "Not of works, lest any man should boast."18 Our works are wholly excluded; because they are all sinful, and can deserve nothing but the wrath of God. Faith renounces all reliance on our own works, all expectation of favor on their account; and asks and receives every blessing as the gift of divine grace through Jesus Christ. When salvation is so received, all boasting is effectually excluded.
That salvation is entirely of divine grace, may be argued from the condition in which the Gospel finds mankind. We are justly condemned, totally depraved, and, in ourselves, perfectly helpless. All this has been fully proved in a former chapter; is verified in the experience of every one who is awakened to a just view of his lost state; and precisely accords with the language of God to his ancient people: "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thy help."19 The second chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians describes the condition of men by nature: "Children of wrath," "dead in trespasses and sins," "without hope and without God;" and it attributes their deliverance from this wretched and hopeless condition, to the grace of God, who is rich in mercy: "But God, in his great love, wherewith he loved us even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved), and hath raised us up together; and hath made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. For by grace ye are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." In the eagerness of his desire to impress the minds of the Ephesian Christians with a sense of their obligation to divine grace, before he reaches the conclusion of his argument, as if impatient to express the thought with which his own mind was so deeply impressed, he introduced it parenthetically, by anticipation, "By grace ye are saved." Afterwards, when his argument is completed, he repeats the declaration, and expands it to the utmost fulness of meaning, when he adds that faith itself is the gift of God. If the blessing bestowed is of faith, that it might be by grace, and if faith itself is the gift of God, it must be emphatically true that salvation is of grace.
The blessings which are bestowed in salvation, demonstrate that it is entirely of grace. We shall proceed to a particular consideration of these, in the sections which follow: but we may here, in a general view, comprehend them under two gifts, namely, of Christ, and of the Holy Spirit.
The gift of Christ, to die for us, and to become to us the author of eternal salvation, is entirely of grace: "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son."20 "God commendeth his love toward us."21 "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all; how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?"22 Without the death of Christ, our salvation was impossible: and we had no claim on God to draw forth from him the gift of his well-beloved. He was freely given, of God's great love, wherewith he loved us: and as he was freely given, so all the blessings which flow through him are freely given also. If any man feels that Christ was under obligation to die for him, or that God was bound to give his Son to make the needed sacrifice for sin, he totally mistakes, on a point of vital importance to the salvation of his soul. The doctrine that salvation is of grace, is not a useless speculation; but it enters into the very heart of Christian experience; and the faith which does not recognise it, does not receive Christ as he is presented in the Gospel. It is, therefore, a matter of unspeakable importance, that our view of this truth should be clear, and that it should be cordially embraced by every power of our minds.
As the Son of God was freely given to effect our salvation by his death; so the Holy Spirit is freely given, to apply the salvation which the Son has wrought out: "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us."23 We receive the Holy Spirit as a gift of the Father's love, who bestows it, as earthly parents give good things to their children.24 And this gift is not bestowed because of merit in the recipient. Paul asks, "Received ye the Spirit, by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?"25 From this inquiry we learn that this gift also is of faith, that it might be by grace.26The Spirit is given in answer to the prayer of Christ: and being thus bestowed through Christ, it is one of the good things freely given together with Christ. We are encouraged to pray that God would give us his Holy Spirit: but our prayer cannot be acceptable, and will not be heard, if we ask the blessing as one which is justly due, and which we may demand as a right. When our humbled hearts plead that God would, in the exceeding riches of his grace, grant us his Holy Spirit, to renew and sanctify us, and fit us for his service, our petitions rise with acceptance to the ear of the Lord of hosts.
An objection to the views which have been presented, may arise from the fact, that, in the last day, men will be judged according to their works.27 But the good works of the saints are the fruit of grace bestowed; and, although the sentence in the great day will be according to their works, the reward will nevertheless be of grace, and not of debt. Their works will be an evidence of their faith; and Christ, the Judge, will refer to them, as proof of love to him. The kingdom which he will bestow, will be, not a reward for the merit of their works, but an inheritance prepared for them before the foundation of the world.28 It will be as true on that day, as it is now, and it will be felt to be true by all the saints, that eternal life is the gift of God through Jesus Christ.29
ALL WHO REPENT OF SIN OBTAIN FORGIVENESS
THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.30
Forgiveness implies deliverance from the penalty due to sin. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness: and when men become sensible to the danger to which they are exposed, deliverance from the impending wrath becomes an object of intense solicitude. Hence arises an anxious desire to obtain forgiveness. To persons in this state of mind, the doctrine that there is forgiveness with God, is most welcome.
All forgiveness is bestowed through Jesus Christ. It is he who delivers from the wrath to come.31 In him "we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace."32 He had power on earth to forgive sins;33 and he is now exalted a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins.34 That we might be delivered from the penalty due to our sins, it was necessary that Christ should bear it for us. Hence it is true, that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission;35 and hence, in the teachings of Scripture, the forgiveness of sins stands connected with redemption by the blood of Christ. With this agrees the language of the redeemed: "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins, in his own blood."36
The blessing of forgiveness is bestowed on all who truly repent of their sins. This is taught in various passages of Scripture. "Repent ye, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out."37 "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins."38 Repentance and remission of sins39 were preached in the name of Christ, and are associated blessings, bestowed by "the exalted Prince and Saviour."40 When Jesus said, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish,"41 it was implied that, if they repented, they would escape. God, in the gospel, commands all men everywhere to repent, in view of the approaching judgment.42 The hope of escape in that great day, is clearly held out to those who obey the command, and sincerely repent of their sins.
Forgiveness is sometimes represented in the Scriptures, as received by faith in Christ: "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sin."43 Repentance and faith are twin graces, proceeding from the same Holy Spirit, and wrought in the same heart; and, although they may be contemplated separately, they exist together, and the promise of forgiveness belongs to either of them.
In the New Testament, a connection appears, between the remission of sins and the ordinance of baptism. John preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;44 and Ananias commanded Saul, "Arise, and be baptised, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord."45 In the Old Testament, a similar connection appears, between remission and the sacrifices of that dispensation. "Almost all things were by the law purged with blood, and without the shedding of blood is no remission."46 Yet Paul has taught us that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin;47 that these offerings were only figures of things to come; and that the only effectual removal of sin is by the blood of Christ. Baptism under the gospel, is as truly a figure, as the sacrifices were under the law. In the ceremonies instituted by Moses, the death of Christ was prefigured by the death of the slaughtered victims; and in the gospel ceremony, the burial and resurrection of Christ are figured forth in the ordinance of baptism: and in both cases, the remission connected with the ceremony is merely figurative. Our sins are washed away in baptism, in the same sense in which we eat the body and brink the blood of Christ, in the ordinance of the Lord's supper.48 Baptism and the Lord's supper are duties to be performed under the gospel dispensation; as the various ceremonies instituted by Moses, were duties under the former dispensation; but the figures ought not, in either case, to be confounded with the things which they represent. In a figure, baptism washes away sin: in reality, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin." We must be careful not to rely on the figure, instead of the reality which it represents.
To escape the wrath to come, is the first desire of the awakened sinner; and mercy, mercy, forgive, forgive, are the first words uttered in his earnest prayers. Forgiveness is bestowed on repentance, and repentance is the first duty enjoined in the gospel. It is fit that the first blessing of grace which the sinner anxiously seeks, should be connected with the first duty required of him. It shows, on the one hand, the holiness of God, who will not pardon sin, except on the condition of the sinner's return to obedience; and, on the other, God's readiness to forgive, inasmuch as his wrath is averted at the first step of the sinner's return. He might have required that the sinner should undergo a long discipline of painful penance, and a long course of laborious service, as a condition of release from the indignation and wrath so long provoked. But God's readiness to forgive, is beautifully illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son, by the conduct of the father, who, while his son was yet a great way off, ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him,49 with free and full assurance of pardon and acceptance. Such is the love which God manifests to the returning sinner. It hastens to receive him on the first indication of true penitence. Nor is it a partial forgiveness which is then bestowed. The storm of divine wrath, which had been gathering over the sinner's head, during all his life of impenitence, is at once dispelled, and his sins, as a thick cloud, are at once blotted out.50 To show the completeness of his pardon, his iniquities are represented as buried in the depths of the sea;51 not in some shallow place, where an ebbing tide might leave them uncovered; but in the depths of the ocean, where, if they should be sought for, they could never be found. Such is God's forgiveness. Why are sinners so averse to seek it?
Although, on the first movement of a sinner in his return to God, the first blessing of divine grace is bestowed on him, so full, so freely, so gloriously; it does not follow, that he may safely stop short in his progress. The doctrine of the saints' final perseverance, which we shall hereafter consider, is misunderstood and misapplied; if men take encouragement from it, to relax in their efforts to advance in the way of holiness. The blessing of forgiveness, and the exercise of repentance, are connected with each other, at the beginning of the divine life; and their connection remains throughout its progress. We have occasion to pray for forgiveness, as often as we pray for our daily bread,52 and the prayer cannot be presented with a well grounded hope that it will be heard and answered, unless it proceed from a penitent heart. Penitence is as necessary to pardon, in the saint who is just finishing his warfare, and taking his departure for the other world, as it was in the first moment of his drawing near to God. Christ was exalted "to give repentance and remission of sins:" and if these do not accompany each other, they do not come from Christ. He who believes that all his sins, past and future, were forgiven at his first conversion, in such a sense that he may dispense with all subsequent penitence, and rest satisfied with his first forgiveness, has need to learn again the first principles of the doctrine of Christ.
ALL WHO BELIEVE IN CHRIST, ARE JUSTIFIED
BY HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS IMPUTED TO THEM.53
Justification is the act of a judge acquitting one who is charged with crime. It is the opposite of condemnation. In Deut. xxv. 1, the judges of Israel were commanded, in the discharge of their official duty, to justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.
Justification is a higher blessing of grace, than pardon. The latter frees from the penalty due to sin, but it does not fully restore the lost favor of God. A pardoned criminal, and a just man who has committed no crime, stand on different ground. The distinction between pardon and justification may be illustrated by these words of Job, "God forbid that I should justify you."54 If, in this passage, we should substitute the word pardon for justify, every one would perceive an important change in the meaning. This change shows the difference between pardon and justification. Such is the greatness of divine grace to the sinner who returns to God through Jesus Christ, that he is treated as if he had never sinned; and this is imported to the declaration that he is justified. We are, however, not to conceive of these as separate blessings. It is not true that one sinner is justified, and another merely pardoned: but every penitent believer is both pardoned and justified. As repentance and faith are duties mutually implying each other, so pardon and justification are twin blessings of grace, bestowed together through Jesus Christ. All whom Jesus delivers from the wrath to come are freely justified from all things, and presented faultless before the presence of his glory.
Justification is attributed, in the Scriptures, to the blood and the obedience of Christ: "Being justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him."55 "By the obedience of one, shall many be made righteous."56 Both his blood and his obedience were necessary to magnify the law, and make it honorable. His blood signifies the endurance of its penalty; and his obedience, the fulfilment of its precepts. On this endurance of the penalty, our deliverance from wrath is based; and on his fulfilment of the precepts, our complete justification before God. Justification, however, could not be complete, without deliverance from the penalty; and it therefore required both the blood and the obedience of Christ; or, in the language of Scripture, "his obedience unto death."
Justification is by faith. On this point, the Scriptures are explicit. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God."57 By him all that believe are justified from all things.58 Faith does not justify, because of its own merit. Other graces co-exist with it in the heart of the believer; as repentance, love, &c. And these have equal claim to merit; and especially love, which is the fulfilling of the law,59 but faith is selected as the justifying grace; and Paul assigns the reason, "It is of faith, that it might be by grace."60 In the very exercise of faith, merit is renounced, and the sole reliance is placed on the merit of Christ. Hence faith is opposed to works: "To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."61 In faith, the sinner as ungodly comes to God, who justifies the ungodly,62 through Christ, who died for the ungodly.63 He presents no plea, and entertains no hope, founded on personal merit, but relies wholly on the blood and obedience of Christ. Faith is an exercise of the believer's mind; and as such, it is as much a work as repentance or love, and it produces other works: for, "Faith worketh by love."64 But it is not as a work, or as producing other works, that faith justifies; but as renouncing all personal merit and self-reliance, and receiving salvation as a gift of free grace through Jesus Christ.
In justification, righteousness is imputed, accounted, or reckoned. "David describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness."65 Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness:66 "For us, also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe."67
How God can justly account an ungodly man righteous, is a problem which it required infinite wisdom to solve. How it was solved Paul has informed us. Him hath "God set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past through the forbearance of God; to declare I say at this time his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus."68 The propitiatory sacrifice of Christ, and faith is that sacrifice, are the means which God employs for the solution of the difficult problem: and these solve it completely; God himself, the perfectly just one, being judge. We may not be able fully to understand the solution, and perceive all its fitness and beauty; but we may learn much respecting it, from the light which the Scriptures throw on it; and, where we fail to comprehend, we ought patiently to wait for the further light which eternity will disclose.
When the Scriptures speak of justification by the obedience or blood of Christ, faith is supposed; otherwise, those passages which speak of justification by faith, would be without meaning. And in like manner, when they speak of justification by faith, the obedience and blood of Christ are supposed; otherwise, it would be unmeaning to say, "Justified by his blood;" "By his obedience many are made righteous." What Christ did and suffered, and also our faith in Christ, are necessary to effect our justification; and the part which each of these has in the process, is an interesting subject of inquiry.
We have already seen that faith does not justify as a meritorious work. If it justified on the ground of merit, it would need to possess sufficient merit to satisfy all the demands of the law, both perceptive and penal; and in that case the obedience and sufferings of Christ would be unnecessary. It is not jointly meritorious with the obedience and sufferings of Christ; for they are in themselves perfect: and, without addition from the works of the sinner, magnify the law and make it honorable. Christ, and Christ alone, is the end of the law for righteousness, to every one that believeth.69 Faith disclaims all merit of its own, but receives Christ as the propitiation that God has set forth, and, as the end of the law, fully satisfying all its claims. Faith distinguishes those to whom righteousness is imputed: "it is unto all, and upon all them that believe:"70 but it is not, in itself, either in whole or in part, the meritorious cause of justification.
But merit is ascribed, in the word of God, to the obedience and sufferings of Christ. His blood is represented as a price paid, and a price of such value, that our deliverance from under the law may, on the ground of it, be justly claimed: "Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold; but with the precious blood of Christ."71 "He was made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law."72
"Ye are not your own: ye are bought with a price."73 As a commodity may be claimed, when its full value has been paid, and the purchase completed; so our deliverance from the condemnation of the law, and our justification before God, may be claimed on the merits of Christ's obedience and sufferings. Avenging justice is satisfied: "He is the propitiation for our sins."74 "The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness' sake."75 He gave himself an offering and a sacrifice to God of sweet smelling savor."76
When the Scriptures speak of Christ's blood as the ground of our justification, his obedience is supposed: and, on the other hand, when his obedience is mentioned, his sufferings are supposed. His obedience to the precepts of the law would not have sufficed, if he had not also endured its penalty: and if, while enduring his sufferings, he had not loved God with all his heart, his sacrifice would have been polluted. A lamb without spot was needed; and perfect obedience was therefore necessary to render his offering acceptable. His active and passive obedience are both necessary to make a complete salvation; and when only one is mentioned in the Scriptures, the other is supposed.
In being made under the law, Christ became our substitute; and his obedience and sufferings are placed to our account, as if we had personally obeyed and suffered, to the full satisfaction of the law. We are thus justified by the righteousness of Christ imputed to us: "He who knew no sin, was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."77 Our sins were imputed to Christ when he died for them; and his righteousness is imputed to us when we receive eternal life through him. He was treated as if he had personally committed the sins which were laid on him: and all who believe in him are treated as if they had personally rendered that satisfaction to the law which was rendered by his obedience and sufferings.
Nothing can be accounted the meritorious cause of justification, but the obedience and sufferings of Christ: yet faith is indispensable: "He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; and the wrath of God abideth on him."78 By him all that believe are justified.79 Faith, then, is the turning point, by which a sinner's condition is determined. In God's method of grace, all the benefits of Christ's satisfaction to the law are made over to the sinner, as soon as he believes: and faith, therefore, serves to him instead of a perfect personal obedience to the law. On his believing in Christ, he is treated as if he had personally rendered a perfect obedience to the law: and this is the import of those Scriptures which say that faith is imputed to him for righteousness. It is not so imputed, because of any merit which it possesses; but because it is that which the Gospel recognises in the sinner as entitling him to the full satisfaction that Christ has rendered. When faith is said to be imputed for righteousness, the obedience and sufferings of Christ, on which faith lays hold, are viewed as connected with it, and constituting the meritorious ground of its acceptance.
That the sin or righteousness of one should be imputed to another, has been thought by some to be inconsistent with the principles of justice, the province of which is, to give to every man his due. From some cause, the notion of imputation has prevailed in all ages, in the sacrifices which have been offered, both by divine authority and by heathen worshippers. This notion has the full authority of God's word, and evidently lies at the foundation of the salvation which infinite wisdom and goodness have provided for guilty men. It would, therefore, be extreme folly in us to reject this salvation because of an objection which may arise to our erring reason in determining the abstract principles of justice. There is no higher rule of justice than God himself; and what the Judge of all does, must be right.
In explaining the imputation of Adam's sin, we showed that there is a threefold union between Adam and his posterity, rendering the imputation of his sin to them as an act of justice. There is, in like manner, a threefold union between Christ and his people, rendering the imputation of their sin to him, and of his righteousness to them, consistent with justice.
1. There is a union of consent. Christ consented to the righteousness of the law, in its condemnation of his people, and to the necessity of satisfaction: and they do the same. He consented to become a substitute for them, and render the required satisfaction in their behalf: and they joyfully accept the favor. While in impenitence and unbelief, they do not approve the law, or its sentence, and do not acknowledge the obligation to make satisfaction. When they become sensible of this obligation, the first effort is to make satisfaction in their own persons. In this state of mind their consent with Christ is only partial; and the Gospel does not pronounce them justified. But when they become convinced of their utter inability to render satisfaction in their own persons, they give themselves up to Christ, and not only consent, but pray to be found in him, not having their own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God by faith.
How the union of Christ and his people rendered it just in God to inflict the penalty of their sins on him, and to justify them, we cannot claim fully to understand. God knows well what his moral government requires; and as he has approved the arrangement, we may be sure it must be right. We may hope to obtain further knowledge of this glorious mystery when the counsels of infinite wisdom are unfolded to our view in the future world.
But even here we may see, in part, a fitness in the procedure. Without the consent of Christ, we cannot suppose that justice would have laid our iniquities on him: and, without the consent to be saved by him, which faith yields, we cannot understand how justice would have been honored in our being justified. As the consent of Adam's descendants to the deed of their father, in rebelling against the law of his Sovereign, justifies the imputation of his sin to them; so the consent of Christ and his people to the divine scheme of grace, justifies what is done to them both in the execution of the scheme.
2. There is a spiritual union. As Adam was the natural head of his posterity, so Christ is the spiritual head of his people. Adam's descendants are born from him according to the flesh, and possess the nature which existed in him as its beginning or fountain. Christ's people are born of the Spirit, and possess the spirit which was in Christ without measure; so that, "If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his."80 This union is like that of the head and members of the human body: "and by one spirit believers are all baptised into this one body.81 It is like the union of the vine and its branches; through all which the same vitalizing and fructifying sap circulates. This union secures the perfect consent, which has already been notice, between Christ and his people; and further illustrates the fitness of that arrangement by which they are regarded as one in the administration of God's moral government.
3. There is a federal union. As Adam was the federal head and representative of his descendants; so Christ stood, in the covenant of grace, as the federal head and representative of all whom the Father gave to him. For their sakes he undertook the work of mediation; and for their sakes he did and suffered all that was necessary to the full execution of the work. Justice, and every other attribute of the divine nature, concurred in the arrangement, by which he was to see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; and by the knowledge of him to justify many.82 And now, justice, and every other attribute of the divine nature, fully sanction the arrangement, by which his righteousness is imputed to all his elect people, on their believing in him. "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died."83
The imputation of Adam's sin to his posterity, is an act of justice; the imputation of Christ's righteousness to believers, is an act of grace. The former is on the proper level of justice; but the latter rises above it. Justice has nothing to say against it, but, on the contrary, is fully satisfied and abundantly honored by it; yet the plan did not originate in the justice, but in the love, of God, which provided the needed sacrifice. This distinction ought never to be forgotten. If our condemnation, is our natural state, is not just, our deliverance from it is of debt, and not of grace. When we feel, in every power of our minds, that we are justly condemned before God, and that his wrath is our righteous due; we can then receive Christ and salvation by him, as the gift of God, the free gift, the unspeakable gift, of his grace.
The Apostle James says: "A man is justified by works, and not by faith only."84 In this he appears, at first view, to contradict the words of Paul: "A man is justified by faith, without deeds of the law."85 James has assigned a reason, which furnishes a clue that leads to a perfect reconciliation of this apparent contradiction: "For," says he, "faith without works is dead."86 Faith alone, is dead faith; and dead faith, according to his teaching, does not justify; and this doctrine, Paul does not contradict. The justifying faith of Paul, is living, working faith. He says expressly; "Faith works by love."87 James does not exclude faith from justification; but, on the contrary, introduces works, not as excluding faith, but as making it perfect: "By works was faith made perfect."88 As thus perfected, faith justifies, according to his teaching: and this is precisely what Paul teaches. The works which Paul excludes are not works of faith, but works of law--not works, evidencing the genuineness and vitality of faith; but works, claiming to be, in whole, or in part, the meritorious cause of justification. Such works are excluded, because they would imply an imperfection in Christ's work, and give the sinner a ground of glorying. It is manifest that James insists on works, merely as evidences of faith: "Show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works."89 Even words, as well as works, are necessary, to give evidence of faith: "With the heart, man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation."90 So far as words prove the presence or absence of faith, it is true, that, "By thy words thou shalt be justified; and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."91 But words without works, avail nothing; for Christ teaches that, "Not every one that saith Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven."92 And words and works together, avail nothing, without faith; for, whatever a man may say or do, if he believe not, he "shall be damned."
A difference of opinion has existed as to the proper date of justification. Some have regarded the day of judgment as its proper date. It is an act of God, as Judge; and, in the judgment of the great day, the Judge will publicly pronounce, on every individual, the sentence which will determine his condition through eternity. Then God's judgments will be fully revealed; but a partial revelation of them is made in the present life: "Even now, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness, and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness."93 It is true, "He that believeth not, shall be damned;94 but it is also true, "He that believeth not, is condemned already."95 In like manner, it is true that Christ will publicly own his people in the great day, and pronounce the final sentence in their favor; but it is also true, that they are justified in the present life. Hence Paul says: "Ye are justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."96 "All that believe are justified from all things."97 The same rule by which the eternal state of men will be determined in the great day, is now made known on the authority of him who will sit on the throne of judgment then, and who is now the Judge of all the earth. By this revelation, men are already condemned or justified, according to their character. That character is often secret here. In the great day, God will judge the secrets of all hearts; but he will not establish a new rule of judgment: so far as that rule has been correctly applied here, its decision will be confirmed in the last day by the final sentence.
Some have dated justification in eternity past, regarding it as grace given in Christ Jesus before the world began. Justification is not a secret purpose in the bosom of God, but a revelation from him, and therefore it cannot be eternal. It implies, not only the accounting of the sinner righteous, but the declaring of him righteous; other wise, it would not be the opposite of condemnation; and neither justification nor condemnation can be from eternity. God's purpose to justify is eternal, and so is his purpose to glorify; but it is improper to say that believers are justified from eternity, as to say that they are glorified from eternity. It is clearly the doctrine of Scripture, that, on believing in Christ, men pass from a state of condemnation into a state of justification.
GOD ADOPTS, AS SONS, ALL WHO BELIEVE IN
In adoption, as practised among men, an
individual receives the son of another into his family, and confers on him the same
privileges and advantages, as if he were his own son. In this sense, God adopts all who
believe in Jesus Christ: "We are all the children of God by faith in Jesus
Christ."99 "Behold what
manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of
God."100 This blessing of
grace rises higher than justification. Though a judge may fully acquit one who is
arraigned before him on a charge of crime, he does not confer, on the man so acquitted,
any of the privileges or advantages which belong to a son. But the believer in Jesus is
permitted to regard God, not only as a justifying Judge, but as a reconciled and
affectionate Father. The problem, how he can be put among the children,101 has been solved. Though once afar off, he has
been brought nigh by the blood of Christ, and made of the household of God.102
Among the privileges and advantages which adoption secures, we may enumerate the following:
1. The love of God, as a kind Father, is secured to believers. The Scriptures frequently exhibit the love of God to his people, under the figure of a Father's love to his children: "As a Father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him."103 "If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him."104 "Your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things."105 Corresponding with this encouraging and delightful exhibition of God's love, is the confidence with which the believer in Christ is inspired to approach his heavenly Father: "Because ye are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into yours hearts, crying Abba, Father."106 Hence Christ habitually spoke to his disciples of God as their Father, and, before he justify them, said, in language full of endearment and encouragement: "I ascend to my Father and your Father:"107 and hence he taught them to say, in their daily prayers: "Our Father, who art in heaven."108
2. The discipline of God, as a kind and wise Father, is secured to all who believe in Jesus: "Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth."109 "We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence. Shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of Spirits and live?"110 "For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness."111 Inestimably rich is this blessing of divine discipline. Let the wealthy and noble of the earth rejoice in the advantages which give them distinction among men, and supply them with the means of carnal enjoyment; but let the afflicted believer in Jesus, rejoice in the lot which God has assigned him, because it has been chosen for him by a Father who knows what is best for him, and who loves him so tenderly as to withhold from him no good thing. Having all good in heaven and earth at his disposal, he has selected that portion for each of his children on earth, which will best promote their highest interest.
3. Believers in Christ are made heirs of God: "If children, then heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ."112 God, the creator of all things, is the proprietor of all things, and his adopted children are made heirs to this vast estate. "He that overcometh, shall inherit all things."113 "All things are yours, and Christ is appointed heir of all things; and believers are co-heirs with him."114
The inheritance of God's children, is frequently represented as a kingdom: "Fear not, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."115 "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom."116 The adoption of believers does not take full effect in the present life: "We are waiting for the adoption, the redemption of the body;' "waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God."117 Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom; and, therefore, this vile body must be changed, and fashioned like the glorious body of Christ, before we can receive the glory and joy which God has prepared for us. Yet the title to the inheritance is made sure, since we are co-heirs with Christ; and the promise and oath of God, two immutable things in which it is impossible for God to lie,118 give to the heirs of promise, the strongest possible assurance, that they shall receive the inheritance: "Beloved, now are we the sons of God; and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know, that when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."119 Though now in exile, and pilgrims and strangers in the earth, perhaps despised and forsaken, we are the children of God, and heirs of an inheritance which is incorruptible, undefiled, and fadeth not away. Even now, whatever may be our poverty, affliction, or reproach, we are the objects of our Father's care, and he gives us, as an earnest of the future inheritance, so much of it in present enjoyment, as he sees to be best for us. All things within the boundless dominion of Jehovah, work together for good, to them that love God.120
IN ALL WHO ARE FINALLY SAVED, THE HOLY
SPIRIT PRODUCES A GREAT MORAL CHANGE, BY WHICH THEY BECOME INCLINED TO HOLINESS.121
In our natural state we are totally depraved. No inclination to holiness exists in the carnal heart; and no holy act can be performed, or service to God rendered, until the heart is changed. This change, it is the office of the Holy Spirit to effect. Pardon, justification, and adoption, are changes in a man's condition; but if no other change were wrought, the man would remain a slave to sin, and unfit for the service and enjoyment of God. Grace, therefore, does not stop with a mere change of condition, but it effects also that change in the character, without which the individual could not participate in the holy enjoyments of heaven, or be fitted for the society of the blessed.
Various forms of expression are employed in the Scriptures, to denote the change of heart; and they signify it with various shades of meaning.. It is taking away the heart of stone, and giving a heart of flesh;122 giving a new heart;123 putting the law in the heart;124 quickening or making alive;125 a resurrection from the dead; an illumination;126 a conversion, or turning back to God.127 So great is the change produced, that the subject of it is called a new creature,128 as if proceeding, like Adam, directly from the creating hand of God; and he is said to be renewed,129 as being restored to the image of God, in which man was originally formed. With reference to the mode in which the descendants of Adam come into the world, the change is denominated regeneration;130 and the subjects of it are said to be born again.131
The change is moral. The body is unchanged; and the identity of the mind is not destroyed. The individual is conscious of being the same person that he was before; but a new direction is given to the active powers of the mind, and new affections are brought into exercise. The love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost.132 No love to God had previously existed there; for the carnal heart is enmity against God. Love is the fulfilling of the law, the principle of all holy obedience; and when love is produced in the heart, the law of God is written there. As a new principle of action, inciting to a new mode of life, it renders the man a new creature. The production of love in the heart by the Holy Spirit, is the regeneration, or the new birth; for "he that loveth, is born of God."133
The mode in which the Holy Spirit effects this change, is beyond our investigation. All God's ways are unsearchable; and we might as well attempt to explain how he created the world, as how he new-creates the soul. With reference to this subject, the Saviour said, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit."134 We know, from the Holy Scriptures, that God employs his truth in the regeneration of the soul. "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth."135 Love to God necessarily implies knowledge of God, and this knowledge it is the province of truth to impart. But knowledge is not always connected with love. The devils know, but do not love; and wicked men delight not to retain the knowledge of God,136 because their knowledge of him is not connected with love. The mere presentation of the truth to the mind, is not all that is needed, in producing love to God in the heart. What accompanying influence the Holy Spirit uses, to render the word effectual, we cannot explain: but Paul refers to it, when he says, "Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost."137--"but in the demonstration of the Spirit, and with power."138
The term regeneration is sometimes used in a comprehensive sense, as including the whole formation of the Christian character. At other times it is used for the first production of divine love in the heart. In the latter sense, the work is instantaneous. There is a moment known only to God, when the first holy affection exists in the soul. Truth may enter gradually, and may excite strong affections in the mind, and may for a time increase the hatred of God which naturally reigns in the heart. So Paul says, "Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence."139 But, in his own time and manner, God, the Holy Spirit, makes the word effectual in producing a new affection in the soul: and, when the first movement of love to God exists, the first throb of spiritual life commences.
Faith is necessary to the Christian character; and must therefore precede regeneration, when this is understood in its widest sense. Even in the restricted sense, in which it denotes the beginning of the spiritual life, faith, in the sense in which James140 uses the term, may precede. But a faith which exists before the beginning of spiritual life, cannot be a living faith. Yet some have maintained that faith produces love. This opinion is of sufficient importance to demand a careful consideration.
The power of faith over the actions, the conscience, and the affections of the heart, every one must admit. Confidence place in a treacherous man, has often led to a course of action ruinous in its effects on the condition and character. A belief in false principles of morality blinds the conscience, and causes it to approve the wrong, and condemn the right. We may love or hate an individual, under a mistaken view of his character; and our affection towards him may be completely changed, by a better acquaintance with him. Now, it may be asked, does not dislike of God proceed from a wrong view of his character, and will not a true knowledge of him infallibly produce love?
That hatred of God, and a wrong view of his character, accompany each other, no one can deny; but which of these produces the other, ought not to be assumed without investigation. We readily judge well concerning those whom we love, and ill concerning those whom we dislike. Men's interests pervert their judgments. In a deliberative assembly, parties are formed, according to the interests of individuals; and man take sides according to the circumstances which influence the heart. In these cases, the affections control the faith. The affections and faith mutually influence each other, and if either be wrong, the other cannot be perfectly right. The enmity to God which rules in the hearts of unregenerate men, renders their view of this character incorrect. A perfectly correct view cannot co-exist with enmity to him: and yet it does not follow that love to him may be produced, by giving right views of his character.
Some have maintained the opinion that a revelation of God's love to us is sufficient to produce love to him. That it ought to do so, cannot be denied; and in a heart under no evil bias, it would produce this effect. We may rather say, that a heart in which no evil bias exists, will love God, on receiving a revelation of his general character, without waiting for evidence of special favor. If our love to God proceeds from a belief that he loves us in particular, it is merely a modification of self-love. Such love has no moral excellence in it; for "sinners love those that love them."141 Some have supposed, that the faith of devils differs from the faith of Christians in the circumstance, that it sees in God no manifestation of love towards them, and therefore can produce no love in their hearts towards God. But this opinion regards the faith which distinguishes the people of God, and purifies their hearts, as possessing no moral excellence in its nature. The circumstances in which it is exercised, do not make its nature better. If it may consist with perfect hatred to God, it cannot have moral excellence in itself, or tend to produce moral purity.
An inspired writer has said, "We love him, because he first loved us:"142 but these words do not teach, that our love to God originates in the conviction that we are the favorites of his love. The love of God towards us, operates both as an efficient, and as a motive. 1. As an efficient cause. "For his great love where with he loved us,143 when we were dead in sin, hath quickened us together with Christ." Here is an operation entirely distinct from that of mere motive. The dead body of Christ in the grave, was quickened by the Spirit; and a like power quickens the dead soul. "We believe according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead."144 Here faith itself is ascribed to this divine operation. All this operation proceeds from God's great love wherewith he hath loved us. It is plain, therefore, that this love operates as an efficient cause, before it operates as a motive to holiness. It cannot operate as a motive without faith; and faith is produced by its efficient power. After this efficiency has quickened the dead soul, the love of God towards us then operates. 2. As a motive. The goodness of God leads to repentance, and every attribute and act of God has a tendency to call forth the love of the heart, when in the right state. Nothing so effectually melts the heart, as a view of God's great love towards us, while we were yet sinners: and of Christ's love in giving himself for us: but many a heart has felt this melting influence, without having in view the personal benefit to be received from this love. Our love to God does not produce a disregard to our own happiness, but it rises above the consideration of it. It is, therefore, not a modification of self-love.
This divine operation, which is additional to the motive power of truth, proceeds from what has been called the direct influence of the Spirit. Truth, as contained in the Holy Scriptures, is a revelation from the Holy Spirit; and as men's words, whether spoken or written, have an influence on the minds of other men, so the words of the Holy Spirit have an influence on the minds of all who read the Bible, or hear the gospel preached. In this indirect way, the Holy Spirit operates on men's minds, as the author of a book operates on all who read his work. But this indirect influence is by means of truth as a motive power; and no mere motive, operating on the sinner's heart, can induce him to love God for his own sake. While self-love rules in the mind, all motives derive their power from their relation to the ruling principle; and cannot, therefore, establish a higher principle of action. This change, by which true love to God is produced, results from the direct influence of the Holy Spirit, accompanying his word, and making it effectual. It was this direct influence which rendered the word so effectual on the day of Pentecost,145 which opened Lydia's heart,146 so that she attended to the things that were spoken by Paul;--which gave the increase when Paul planted, and Apollos watered,147--and which has ever brought the word to the heart, in demonstration of the Spirit, and with power.148
The doctrine of the Holy Spirit's direct influence, is a fundamental truth of the gospel dispensation. That Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, and completed the great work for which he assumed our nature, is a truth that lies at the foundation of Christianity. The gospel reveals to us the Spirit as well as the Son. When about to leave the world, Jesus promised another comforter, who should dwell with his disciples for ever. The Holy Spirit, as God, had always been in the world: but he was now to be present by a peculiar manifestation and operation. This manifestation and operation attended the ministry of the Word on the day of Pentecost, and the gospel has always been the sword of the Spirit,149 the instrument with which he operates in the fulfilment of his office for which he has come into the world, in answer to the prayer of Christ.
The experience of mankind, before the coming of Christ, prepared the way for the introduction of his religion. The wise men of the world had sought to know God, but their laborious research had been ineffectual. Some other means of knowledge was, by their failure, proved to be necessary: "After that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe."150 While an experiment was made in the heathen world, demonstrating the necessity of revelation, another was in progress among the people of Israel, under the Mosaic dispensation, demonstrating the inefficiency of revelation, unless accompanied by direct influence of the Holy Spirit. The Israelites had this great advantage over the heathen world, that to them were committed the oracles of God.151 The Scriptures, given by inspiration from God, were in their possession: and God spoke to them at sundry times and in divers manners, by prophets whom he raised up among them, and inspired to declare his will. That these prophets, with their burdens of divine messages, might arrive in due time, God represents himself as rising up early and sending them.152 So abundant were the means of religious knowledge granted them, that God said, "What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?"153 Yet, with all this advantage, they turned away from the God of Israel, and provoked him to anger. Another influence was needed, to produce love and obedience to God. Hence it was said, by the prophet Jeremiah, "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel, and to the house of Judah."154 This new covenant is explained in the Epistle to the Hebrews,155 to be the spiritual dispensation of the gospel. Its grand peculiarity is, that the law of God is written in the heart. The Israelites had the revelation from God written on stone and parchment, but it was not in their hearts; and an new divine influence was promised by the prophet, and the promise has been fulfilled in the direct influence of the Holy Spirit, the gift of which characterizes the gospel dispensation as the ministration of the Spirit.156 The saints of God, under the former dispensation, received this influence of the Holy Spirit, and to them also was the gospel preached.157 The privileges and blessings of the future dispensation, were, by anticipation, bestowed on them; and the Christ to come was made their Saviour, as if he had already appeared and fulfilled his work. But the abundant influence of the Holy Spirit was reserved for the times following the ascension of Christ, and from that day he dwells in the Church, and makes the bodies of believers his temple. This peculiar presence implies the peculiar influence by which the truth is put into the heart; that is, by which men are made to love the truth. The whole Mosaic dispensation was an experiment, demonstrating the necessity of this peculiar influence. That covenant did not promise this blessing, and God found fault with it, because it did not secure the obedience of his people. The experiment was made, in his wisdom, not for his information, but for our benefit; and, by the failure of that covenant, we are enabled better to estimate the value of the blessing that distinguished the covenant founded on better promises.
That philosophy which shuts God out of his creation, and substitutes laws of nature for his ever-present influence and operation, stands ready to deny the doctrine of the Holy Spirit's direct influence. It admits not the possibility of any influence, but that which the means employed naturally tend to produce. But means have not natural efficiency apart from the will of God. By the will of God, the truth has its regenerating and sanctifying power; for he works in us to will and to do, according to his pleasure.158 It belongs to the Holy Spirit, in the economy of grace, to produce divine life in the soul, as he brooded over the face of the waters, at creation, reducing the chaotic mass to order, and filling it with life. He is pleased to work with means; and he employs the truth as his instrument of operation. This instrument he wields at his pleasure, and he renders it effectual by his divine power: "My word shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."159 By the ordinary providence of God, the Bible operates in the world, and influences the minds of men: but this providence equally existed in the former dispensation, in which the oracles of God were possessed by the Israelites, but held by them in unrighteousness. An influence above the ordinary providence of God is needed, to the regeneration of the soul. The coming of Christ into the world, and the coming and abiding of the Holy Spirit, belong to a dispensation which is above the ordinary providence of God. Into this new economy we are ushered, when we are translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son. Here we recognise both the Son and the Spirit, as specially given of God. It is contrary to the faith of the gospel to regard Christ and his redeeming work, as things of God's ordinary providence; and it is equally contrary to faith to consider the Spirit and his work in the heart as merely natural influence of the truth on the heart.
THE HOLY SPIRIT CONTINUES TO SANCTIFY
THOSE WHOM HE HAS REGENERATED, AND FINALLY PREPARES THEM FULLY FOR THE HOLY SERVICE AND
ENJOYMENT OF HEAVEN.160
Regeneration is the beginning of sanctification, but the work is not completed at the outset. A new affection is produced in the heart, but it does not govern without opposition. The love of the world, the love of self, and all the carnal appetites and passions, have reigned in the heart; and the power of habit gives them a controlling influence, which is not readily yielded. Hence arises the warfare of which every regenerate man is conscious: the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.161 In this struggle, the carnal propensities often threaten to prevail, and they would prevail, if God did not give a supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. "Without me," said Jesus, "ye can do nothing."162 If severed from the living vine, the branches are sapless, fruitless, dead. But "he that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit;"163 and the Spirit of life from Christ, the head, flows through all the members of his body, and gives and preserves their vitality. This Spirit in them lusteth against the flesh, and enables them to carry on their warfare, and gives them final victory: "He that hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."164
As in the beginning, so in the progress of the work, the Holy Spirit operates by direct and by indirect influence. The indirect influence is by means of the truth. With reference to this, the Saviour prayed: "Sanctify them through thy truth;"165 and, with reference to it, the Scriptures connect "belief of the truth," with "sanctification of the Spirit;"166 and speak of the heart being purified by faith.167 The direct influence fixes the affections on the truth; or, in the language of Scripture, "writes the law in the heart."168 The mode in which this direct influence is exerted, we cannot explain; but the result is, that the truth produces its proper effect, which otherwise it would fail to accomplish, through the depravity of the heart. Our carnal affections tend to shut out the truth from the heart; hence Christ said; "How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?"169 While carnal affections tend to prevent the proper influence of the truth, the Spirit exercises an opposite influence, and "lusts against the flesh." As this influence gives the word an efficacy which it would not otherwise possess, it is something superadded to the intrinsic power of the word. For this direct influence, the Psalmist prays: "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law;"170 and for this, the prayers recorded in the New Testament were offered: "Lord, increase our faith."171 "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."172 This influence operated on the two disciples, when their understandings were opened, that they understood the Scriptures.173 This influence is prayed for by every child of God, when, as he opens the Bible, he prays that what he is about to read, may be blessed to the good of his soul. And it is prayed for by the faithful minister of the gospel, and by every devout hearer, when at the beginning of a sermon, they ask God to make his truth effectual.
Besides the word of truth, the dispensations of Providence are used by the Holy Spirit, as means of sanctification. Afflictions are often blessed to the spiritual good of God's people. David says: "Before I was afflicted, I went astray; but now have I kept thy word."174 These afflictions are chastisements which our heavenly Father employs, to make us partakers of his holiness."175 In themselves, afflictions have no sanctifying efficacy, and many who are tried by them, are incited to greater hatred of God; but the Holy Spirit accompanies them to the believer with a sanctifying power, and uses them to wean his affections from the world, and fix them on God. When outward things either cease to give him enjoyment, or produce positive grief and pain, he finds within him a source of happiness, in the exercise of faith and hope in God. Hence, in his darkest hours, as to worldly prosperity, the believer sometimes finds his prospects of heaven most clear, and his foretaste of future blessedness most delightful.
SECTION VI.--FINAL PERSEVERANCE.
We have said, that the Holy Spirit
continues to sanctify those whom he has regenerated. In consequence of this, they
persevere in a course of holy obedience to the end of life. Whatever struggles it may
cost, and whatever temporary departures from the straight line of duty may mark their
course, they are graciously preserved from total and final apostacy. This truth may be
proved by the following arguments:
1. By the will of God, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, that which is produced in regeneration, is immortal. This is signified by the language of the Scriptures: "The hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible."176 "Being born of the incorruptible."177 "Whosoever is born of God, doth not commit sin, for his seed remaineth in him."178 Grace in the heart is here represented as incorruptible and abiding, and as securing its possessor from sin, that is, from a life of sin, such as unregenerate men pursue. The same truth is taught in these words of Christ: "He that believeth, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life."179 The new life which grace produces, is in the present possession of the believer, and is here called everlasting. Its perpetuity is asserted in another form, in the words "Neither shall he come into condemnation." If one who has been made a new creature, and justified by faith, can return to the state from which divine grace has rescued him, he will come again into condemnation; but this is declared in these words of the infallible teacher, to be impossible: "If they who have passed from death to life, may return again to death, their present life is not everlasting;" and the assurance, neither shall come into condemnation, is groundless. The same truth is exhibited in another light, in these words of Paul: "Knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more, death hath no dominion over him; likewise reckon ye yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord."180 Here believers are taught to account the new life which they have received, to be like the life of Christ, raised from the dead. As death hath no more dominion over him, the resemblance would fail in a most important particular, if their spiritual life were not immortal. As death can have no more dominion over the risen Saviour, so, death can have no more dominion over those who, in regeneration, have passed from death to life, and have been raised up together with Christ.
2. The union of believers with Christ is indissoluble. His love holds them fast. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ," &c.181 "Having loved his own, he loved them to the end."182 "His power holds them fast; neither shall any pluck them out of my hand."183 Such is their union to him, that their life is said to be in him, and he is called their life.184 The life of the risen Jesus, is the life of his people, and such is their union with him, as to render this life operative in them.: "If when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life."185 As his death was efficacious to bring us into a state of reconciliation with God, his life, now that he has been raised from the dead, and is ever living to make intercession for us, and is the source of our life, hid in the Godhead, will much more preserve us in this state of reconciliation, and secure our final and complete salvation.
3. The promises of God secure our preservation in Christ. When the new covenant is made with believers, by writing the law in their hearts, the accompanying promise is: "I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people."186 It is true that the Israelites were once accounted the people of God; and that they departed from God, and were rejected by him; and the same departure and rejection might happen to believers in Christ, if they were under the same covenant. But God found fault with the old covenant precisely on this ground, that it did not secure his people from disobedience and rejection: "Because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not."187 Having found fault with this covenant, which did not put the law in their hearts, and secure them from rejection, he abolishes that covenant, and makes a new one, founded on better promises: "I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me."188 "Believers are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation;"189 and the power which keeps them through faith, keeps that faith in existence and exercise, or it would fail to preserve them. This preservation of their faith, follows from the intercession of Christ,190 who prayed for Peter, that his faith should not fail; and as he ever liveth to make intercession,191 the preservation of faith is secured by the continued supplies of his grace, which otherwise would not be sufficient for his people. It is manifest that Paul entertained these views, when he wrote to the Philippians: "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."192
4. Final apostasy, when it does occur, is accounted for, in the Scriptures, on the ground that there was an absence of true religion. This is clearly expressed by John: "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."193 With this agrees the teaching of Christ, in the parable of the seed sown in different kinds of ground, and explained by him of the word in its effect on different classes of hearers. The stony ground hearers "in time of temptation fell away,"194 because the seed had not much depth of earth. There may be much appearance of religion where it does not really exist. Some, the Saviour has informed us, will seek to enter in, saying: "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name have done many wonderful works?" These applicants are rejected, not on the ground that their plea was false. Their profession of Christ, and their prophesying, and working of miracles, in his name, are not denied: but the ground of this rejection is stated in these words: "Depart from me, ye that work iniquity. I never knew you."195 Now, if any of them had ever been true followers of Christ, he must have known them as such, and therefore he could not say: "I never knew you."
The text last considered, may assist us in explaining a passage in which many have found difficulty: "It is impossible for those who were one enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the power of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance."196 Apostasy, after great attainments in religion, is here supposed; but these apostates had never been true disciples of Christ, distinguished by love to him, and works of holy obedience. In immediate connection with this account of them, Paul addresses true Christians thus: "Beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things which accompany salvation, though we thus speak, for God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love."197 The work and labor of love will be acknowledged by him in the great day, when the workers of iniquity will be rejected, whatever knowledge of divine things they may have possessed, and whatever miraculous gifts they may have been endowed with. The superiority of love to all knowledge, miraculous gifts, and all outward works, however costly and self-denying, is clearly taught in 1 Cor. xiii., and we are assured that all these, where love is wanting, will avail nothing. Hence all these, if without love, will not preserve from apostasy in this life, nor from rejection in the last day.
In a practical use of this and some other passages, the minds of many have been distressed with the apprehension that they had committed the unpardonable sin. For their relief, it is important to observe, that the difficulty in the way of the salvation of the apostates here described, consists in the impossibility of renewing them again to repentance. No humble penitent, therefore, has any ground to fear. Whatever his backslidings may have been, if he now truly repents of his sin, and implores pardon through the blood of the cross, he may feel assured that the way of salvation is open to him. The renewal to repentance has, in his case, been accomplished; and he may therefore know that he is not in the number of those, to whom this renewal is impossible.
The confessions of men eminent for piety, prove that they are not free from sin; and the cases of David, who committed adultery, and Peter, who denied his master, prove that true saints have sometimes fallen into gross sins. But David was renewed to repentance, and the record of his penitential acknowledgments has been transmitted to us in the 51st Psalm. A look of Jesus melted Peter's heart, and he went out, and wept bitterly. But the apostates, who are described in the passage which we have been considering, are given over to hardness of heart: "It is impossible to renew them again to repentance." The difficulty is, not that the blood of Christ is insufficient to atone for sins so atrocious, but that it is impossible to renew them again to repentance. God never bestows the grace of repentance on such characters. But when one who has been born of God, falls into sin, this impossibility of renewing of repentance does not exist; but his seed remaineth in him; and divine grace brings him back form his wanderings, and restores him to the paths of righteousness. The fire of divine love in the heart, though its flame may be smothered for a time, is more easily rekindled than when first produced; and it is never true of him, as it is of an unregenerate man who falls away, that the last state is worse than the first.
Several other passages of Scripture, which have been understood to imply the apostasy of true believers, require consideration.
"Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away."198 This figurative representation, which the Saviour has employed, teaches that there is a sense, in which persons are "in" him, who do not bring forth the fruits of holiness. Such persons do not abide in him.199 Their connection is not vital, but professional. They are among his disciples, but not of them; for if they had been of them, they would no doubt have continued with them. The process of separating them, described by the words, "he taketh away," corresponds well with the removing of a branch which has been grafted into a stalk, but has failed to become vitally connected with it. The perseverance of true saints is taught in the remaining part of the verse: "Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit."
"If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins; but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries."200 This passage has sometimes severely tried the faith of weak believers. When conscious of having committed sins to which their will has consented, these words present themselves in dreadful array, and seem to deter them from all further approach to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, from which they once obtained peace. In such times of trial, the language of faith is, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him."201 While this awful text fills with terror, the existence of an humble abiding trust in God is thus demonstrated, and, in view of it, other texts authorize encouragement and hope. With these encouraging and consolatory texts, the passage now under consideration, if properly understood, cannot be inconsistent. It describes the sin of those Hebrews who, after embracing the gospel of Christ, forsook the assembly of Christians,202 and turned back to Judaism. To them no efficacious sacrifice for sin remained, in the abolished ceremonies of the Mosaic dispensation; and if that of Christ were renounced, no other could be found. But these words were never designed to deter any humble penitent from free approach to the atoning sacrifice of Christ, whatever sins he may have committed. The assurance that Jesus has given, "Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out,"203 is sufficient to banish all fear from those who put their trust in him. The same invitation which first made them welcome, and the same assurance which first gave them peace, remain to encourage their continued confidence in this power and grace.
"Of how much sorer punishment suppose ye shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing; and hath done despite to the spirit of grace?"204 The difficulty in this passage is found in the phrase "wherewith he was sanctified." Do these words teach that persons who have been sanctified may apostatise? Let it be observed that the word sanctify, among the Hebrews, was used to denote external consecration to God.205 This consecration, under the former dispensation, to which the Hebrews had been accustomed, was by the blood of animals. In professing Christianity, they had turned from the blood of animals to the blood of Christ; and their consecration to the service of Christ was by professed faith in his blood. In returning to Judaism, they rejected this precious blood, and accounted it an unholy thing, as if it had been the blood of a vile impostor. But it is better to interpret the phrase by referring the pronoun "he" to the last antecedent, "the Son of God." The Son of God was sanctified and sent into the world;206 and as the priests of the law were consecrated with blood, Jesus, as our great High Priest, may be said to have been consecrated with the blood of the new covenant.
"The just shall live by faith; but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him."207 In this verse our translators have supplied the words, "any man," which have no corresponding word in the Greek. The regular translation would be, "If he draw back," &c. Thus rendered, the pronoun "he" naturally refers to the just man, mentioned in the preceding clause; and the words seem to imply that a just man may draw back, so that God will have no pleasure in him. An argument for supplying the words "any man," may be drawn from the fact that these words are quoted from the Septuagint version of Habakkak ii. 6, in which the last clause occurs first; and the man who draws back is manifestly distinguished from the just man. The same distinction is made by Paul in the words which immediately follow: "We are not of them who draw back to perdition, but of them who believe to the saving of the soul." The introduction of the words "any man," may therefore give a correct exposition of Paul's words: still, they are an exposition, and not a translation. Paul has inverted the order of the two clauses written by the prophet: and, in so doing, he was doubtless guided by the Holy Spirit, for some wise purpose; and it becomes us to learn from his words, as they have been given by the Spirit for our instruction and admonition. The prophet's warning was, "If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him." This warning Paul places in such order, as to make it apply to the just man. What is true of any man, must be true of the just man; and Paul will not deny to the just man the benefit of this admonition. Such admonition, in the apostle's view, was not inconsistent with the doctrine of the saints' final perseverance.
"When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done, shall he die."208 These words are to be understood in the same manner as the words of Paul which have just been considered. The terms "just" and "righteous" are of like import, and are descriptive of those who obey God's commands, and enjoy his favor. Such persons need the admonitions contained in these passages; and they are given in language precisely adapted to the case. To all, except the Searcher of hearts, there is an uncertainty respecting man's character in his sight; and, on the ground of this uncertainty, opportunity is given for the needed admonition. Paul spoke with confidence, that the Hebrews whom he addressed were "of those who believe to the saving of the soul:" yet, without relying on his own estimate of their character, or deriving from it an assurance of their perseverance, he warned them earnestly against apostasy.
"If, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning."209 These words describe men who have been reformed in their conduct by the influence of the gospel, but without a thorough change of heart. This appears from the proverb applied to them: "The dog has returned to his vomit, and the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire."210 As the temporary change of the dog and the sow had not altered their natural propensities, so it was with these men. Their change, though a reform, had not made them new creatures.
"Whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace."211 These words describe a change in their doctrinal views as to the method of salvation. They had turned from salvation by grace to salvation by the law. But how far the state of their hearts was influenced by their doctrinal creed, either before or after the change here described, the passage does not inform us.
"Concerning faith having made shipwreck."212 "Overthrow the faith of some."213 Wrong views had been inculcated by these men respecting the resurrection of the dead. It may be that neither they, nor those who were misled by them, had ever received the love of the truth. On this point the passage says nothing.
"Through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish for whom Christ died?"214 When the stronger Christian will not, for the sake of a weak brother, deny himself a carnal indulgence, he exhibits a criminal disregard of his weak brother's interest. The tendency of this conduct is the ruin of his weak brother; and the criminality is to be judged by its tendency; and is the same, whether the tendency goes into effect, or is prevented by the interposition of divine grace. The question propounded does not affirm what the result will be; but impressively exhibits the guilt of the offender by contrasting his conduct with that of Christ. Christ died for the weak brother; and would you cause him to perish, rather then deny yourself a trifling gratification?
"I keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway."215 These words contain a manifest reference to the Grecian games, in which the herald, who announced them, took no part in the contest, or the previous preparation for it; and therefore did not receive the crown Paul was not only a herald, making the gospel proclamation, but he entered the lists as a combatant, and made diligent preparation for the conflict, by keeping under his body. He did this, knowing that his preaching, or acting the herald, to others, would not secure a crown to himself. He prepared diligently for the combat, that he might receive the crown, and not be a castaway, or one rejected by the Judge.
The explanation which has been given to this passage, removes all appearance of inconsistency between it and the doctrine of the saints' final perseverance; yet it admits that Paul was stimulated to activity and perseverance in the Christian conflict, by the belief that his obtaining of the crown depended on his perseverance and success in the struggle. They who understand the doctrine of perseverance to imply that God's people will obtain the crown without the struggle, totally mistake the matter. The doctrine is, that God's people will persevere in the struggle; and to suppose that they will obtain the crown without doing so, is to contradict the doctrine. It is a wretched and fatal perversion of the doctrine, if men conclude that, having been once converted, they will be saved, whatever may be their course of life. God's work plainly declares, that "he who sowth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption:" and every man who does not keep under his body, and bring it into subjection, and who does not endure to the end, in this spiritual conflict, will assuredly fail to receive the crown. Without this, no conversion which he may have undergone, and not even a call to apostleship, will secure the approbation of the final Judge.
We have said that the new creature produced in regeneration, is immortal; but this immortality is dependent on the will of God, and is secured by means which God has provided. Adam, in his primeval innocence, was immortal; but his life was sustained, under God, by the fruits of the garden which had been assigned to his use. So God has appointed necessary means for preserving the divine life in the soul, and the use of these means is as indispensable to the accomplishment of the purpose, in this, as in all other cases in which he has chosen to work by means. The doctrine of final perseverance, when properly understood, does not teach that God's people are in no sense in danger of final apostasy. Paul tells us that he had often been in perils of waters.216 One of these times of danger was the shipwreck which he experienced in his voyage to Rome. He, and all his companions in the vessel, were in great danger; and they could not have been saved, if the necessary means for their preservation had not been used. Yet God had both purposed and promised their deliverance. The righteous, notwithstanding the purpose and promise of God, are scarcely saved.217 They succeed at last, as by a narrow escape. Through danger, imminent danger, they are at last delivered: and, in order to that deliverance, the use of the appointed means is as necessary as the appointment itself;--as necessary as the purpose of God.
The warning which the Scriptures give to the people of God, constitute an important part of the means which God has appointed for their perseverance in holiness to eternal life. As the rock in the mariner's chart guards him from being dashed to pieces, so these warnings preserve the spiritual mariner from destruction. The awful warnings given by Paul to the Hebrews, were designed to guard them against final apostasy. They therefore imply that there was danger of such apostasy. The heirs of promise might have strong consolation, in the hope founded on the oath and promise of God, that they would be brought safely through the danger. In the wisdom of God, the warnings are so given, as to secure their proper effect, without destroying that confidence in God, which is the Christian's hope and joy. To make this clear, and to derive the proper benefit from these warnings, let us briefly review them.
The warning given in Heb. vi.4--7, was designed for real Christians. Every clause in the description of the persons, whose apostasy is declared to be fatal, would in other connections be understood to denote true Christians. The Hebrew Christians are elsewhere described as persons "illuminated."218 The first particular in the description here, is, "who were once enlightened." Other particulars are added, agreeing with well known peculiarities, which distinguished the followers of Christ. These words, therefore, contain a general description of Christians; and the warning which they contain was applicable to Christians, and designed for their benefit. With these features of the Christian character, which are so vividly portrayed, and which were so well known in the days of primitive Christianity, there was generally connected a love to the truth, which was necessary to the full and proper effect of divine instruction. When this operated, the warning here proposed had its proper effect. These persons were like the fruitful ground, which received blessing from God;219 and this love the apostle believed to exist in those to whom his epistle was directed.220 They who possessed this love were moved by his warning, to make advance in spiritual attainments, according to his exhortation in the beginnings of the chapter. But this result did not invariably follow the instructions and warning, which were given to those who possessed the general features of the Christian character. Apostasy sometimes occurred; and apostasy which was final and hopeless. This fact gave just occasion for the warning.
Similar remarks may be made on the passages in the 10th chapter of Hebrews. That they were designed as warnings to true Christians, may be seen in the fact that Paul includes himself in the number. "If we sin wilfully,"221 &c., and in the further fact that the just "are warned against drawing back."222 All these consequences were set before the Christians, who are addressed, and the apostle again expresses his confidence, that they, with himself, will, in the belief and love of the truth, receive the warning and be saved.
The warning against apostasy, and the exhortations to perseverance, were not addressed to false professors, as such. The apostle was not solicitous that these should persevere in their false profession. They to whom his epistle was directed, were all exhorted to hold fast their profession, on the supposition that it had been honestly made. All had exhibited the appearances of true religion, and were treated accordingly. The plant which springs from seed sown in stony places, does not differ from that which is sown in good ground, except in not having much depth of earth; and this defect becomes manifest, when it withers under the beams of the sun. So those who afterwards apostatise, agree in the profession which they make, and all the appearances of religion which they exhibit, with those who endure to the end. The difference is, that the word has not a deep place in their hearts; and this is discovered only by their apostasy. "They went out from us, that they might be made manifest, that they are not all of us."223 Hence, until their apostasy occurs, the same means of spiritual cultivation are employed for their benefit, as for others; the same hopes are entertained for them; and the same language is used in describing them. The tendency of this spiritual cultivation is to render them fruitful, like the rest; but it fails to produce this effect, because they have no sincere and abiding love of the truth.
The doctrine of final perseverance, properly understood, gives no encouragement to sluggishness or negligence in duty; much less does it lead to licentiousness. He who takes occasion from it to sin against God, or to be indolent in his service, not only misunderstands, and misapplies the doctrine, but has reason to fear that his heart is not right before God. Perseverance in holiness is the only infallible proof that the heart is right; and he who ceases to persevere, on the presumption that his heart is right, believes without the proper evidence, and is wofully hazarding his eternal interests on his presumption. The doctrine is, that grace in the heart will produce perseverance to the end; and where the effect is not produced, the cause does not exist. Every man, therefore, whatever his past professions and attainments may have been, has reason to take alarm, if he finds his heart inclined to depart from Christ: and the greater his past attainments may have been, the greater is the occasion for alarm; because his case, if he falls away, will so much the more resemble that in which renewal to repentance is impossible.
To reject the doctrine of final perseverance, tends to fix the hope of salvation on human effort, and not on the purpose and grace of God. If, in God's method of salvation, no provision has been made, which secures the safe keeping of the regenerate, and their perseverance in holiness, their salvation is justify dependent on their own efforts, and their trust must be in that which success depends. All that God has done for them, will fail to bring them through, if this effort, originating in themselves, be not superadded; and the eye of hope is necessarily directed to this human effort, as that on which the momentous issue depends. Thus the denial of the doctrine draws off the heart from simple trust in God, and therefore tends to produce apostasy. The just shall live by faith.224 Simple trust in God, is necessary to preserve the spiritual life; and to trust in man, and make flesh our arm,225 is to fall under the curse, and draw back to perdition. In our first coming to Christ, we renounce all confidence in self, and put our entire trust in the mercy and power of God: and in the same faith with which we began, we must persevere to the end of our course. Worldly wisdom may encourage self-reliance, and regard it as necessary to success: but the wisdom that is from above teaches us to renounce and avoid it as ruinous to the soul.
Convinced of his weakness and helplessness, the believer learns more and more in this life of faith to trust God, and to have no confidence in himself. He learns, by daily experience, the treachery of his own heart, and is increasingly weaned from the folly of trusting in it. It becomes his more earnest prayer, as he makes greater progress in the knowledge of himself and the way of salvation. "Hold thou me up."226 He looks forward to the temptations and trials through which he has to pass; and, unwilling to trust himself in the least degree, asks God, earnestly and importunately to keep him to the end. This prayer he may hope that God will answer, if the doctrine of final perseverance be true. If the grace to persevere is a gift of God, it is a proper subject of prayer; and that doctrine best accords with God's method of salvation, which teaches us to come boldly to the throne of grace, for the mercy and grace to help in every time of need. We cannot now ask with confidence, for grace to help us through all future times of need, and to incline and strengthen us to persevere to the end, if the bestowment of such persevering grace is not within God's plan of salvation.
The doctrine of final perseverance is full of consolation to the believer, when ready to faint in his spiritual warfare. So far as he finds, in a careful examination of his heart, evidence that the love of God has been shed abroad there by the Holy Spirit, he is enabled to regard this grace as an earnest of the future inheritance, and to rejoice in hope of obtaining that inheritance in full possession, at the time appointed of his heavenly Father. If doubts arise, they spring not from a view of incompleteness in God's method of salvation, but they refer exclusively to the question whether his heart has been brought to put simple and exclusive trust in that divine method, and the provision of mercy which it includes. As the best termination of these doubts, he views the way open for him to come now, if never before, and cast himself on this mercy, so richly provided, and so gloriously adapted to his necessities.
The process of sanctification, which is
continued during the present life, is completed when the subjects of it are perfectly
fitted for the service and enjoyments of heaven. In this work of the Spirit, the
resurrection of the body is included, and the fashioning of it like the glorious body of
Christ. Having been predestinated to be conformed to the image of God's dear Son,227 the purposed work of grace is
not completed until we appear in glory, with our bodies like the glorious body of the
Redeemer. For this perfect conformity, the saints on earth long, and to it they look as
the consummation of their wishes and hopes: "then shall I be satisfied, when I awake
with thy likeness."228 This
was the object of Paul's earnest desire, the prize for which he put forth every effort. He
refers to it in these words: "If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of
the dead: not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow
after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. I
press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."229
The work of grace will not be completed until the second coming of Christ: "He which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."230 Then the last change will be made, which will fit us for the eternal service and enjoyment of God, in his high and holy place. "Then we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." "Now we know in part; but then we shall know even as also we are known." "Then that which is perfect will have come;" and until then every saint must say with Paul: "Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect."
Besides this final perfection, to which the saints are taught to aspire, there are stages in their progress to which the name perfection is, in a subordinate sense, applied in the Holy Scriptures. The disembodied saints, now in the presence of God, though they have not attained to the resurrection of the body, are nevertheless called "just men made perfect."231 They are free from the body of death, free from sin, free from all the tribulations and sorrows of this world, and are present with the Lord, and in the enjoyment of his love.
Even in the present life there are stages in the Christian's progress to which the term perfection is applied. When they have attained to an enlarged knowledge of divine truth, they are said to be perfect, or of full age, to distinguish them from those who have learned only the first principles of the doctrine of Christ.232 Men who make a full and consistent exhibition of the religious character, by a godly life, are called perfect. So Job was "perfect and upright, fearing God and eschewing evil."233 To Christians generally the term "perfect" appears to be applied, in the exhortation of Paul: "Let us, as many as be perfect, be thus minded."234 He here includes himself among the perfect; and yet, in the same chapter,235 he affirms that he was not already perfect. It is clear, therefore, that the words are used in different senses in the two places.
No perfection to which the people of God attain in the present life, includes perfect freedom from sin. Job, though a perfect man, said, "If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me. If I say, I am perfect, it also shall prove me perverse."236 Paul, though numbering himself among the perfect, said, "When I would do good, evil is present with me."237 "I am carnal, sold under sin."238John says, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves:"239 and Solomon, "There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not."240 With these declarations of God's word, the experience of Christians in all ages has agreed; and they have found need for daily prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses."
In the precept, "Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect,"241 we may take the term in its highest sense. As we are commanded to love God with all the heart--to be holy because he is holy; it is our duty to be perfectly free from sin; and to come up to this standard, should be our constant aim and effort. We cannot attain to a perfect knowledge of God in the present life; but we may follow on to know him.242 So we cannot attain to a perfect likeness in holiness, yet we may be "changed into the same image from glory to glory."243 Progress in the divine life is full of reward, and full of encouragement, even while we are fighting the good fight of faith, and before we obtain the victor's crown. The promise of grace to help in every struggle, of continued success in every conflict, and of final victory, is sufficient encouragement to put forth every effort. We should ever press toward the mark, ever keep the high standard of perfection in view, and aim to reach it. "Having these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."244
The indication is fearful when a man excuses sin in himself, on the ground that perfection is not attainable in the present life. A true Christian may have a besetting sin; but any one who has an indulged, allowed, or excused sin, has reason to fear that the love of sin has never been crucified in his heart. And he who satisfies himself with any standard below absolute perfection in holiness, is so far allowing sin in himself, and giving the indication which ought to alarm him.
In the spiritual warfare, of which every believer is conscious, the love of God in the heart is in conflict with other affections which are not duly subordinated to it. Growth in grace implies an ascendancy of the holy affection over those with which it contends. That gains strength, and those grow weaker, as the house of David waxed stronger, and house of Saul weaker,245 in their struggle for dominion over Israel. It is therefore our duty, that we may grow in grace, to cherish the holy affections, which rise heavenward, and to mortify the carnal affections, which are earthward in their tendency. No man on earth can justly claim that the affections of his heart are perfectly regulated according to the high standard of God's law. The internal conflict between the law in the members and the law in the mind, does not cease till God calls away the spirit from its union with the mortal body. The phrase "law in our members,"246 does not imply that our sin belongs properly to our material bodies; but it nevertheless apparently suggests that the conflict between the law in the members and the law in the mind, may be expected to continue as long as the members and the mind have their present relation to each other. Just men are made perfect247 when they become disembodied spirits. When absent from the body, they are present with the Lord;248 and they are then holy; for without holiness no man shall see the Lord.249
We should not attribute to death the efficiency of our final deliverance from sin. It is only an instrument which the Holy Spirit uses in his work, just as he has used the many afflictions which have preceded death, and of which death is the termination. As this is the last suffering which the righteous will endure, the last enemy which remains to be destroyed, it is appropriately used as the last instrumentality which the Holy Spirit will employ in his work. And it is a most suitable instrumentality. Death introduces us into the full knowledge of God, which is necessary to the perfect love of him. It opens to our view the unseen things of the eternal world, that they may have their full and proper influence on our minds. It separates us for ever from the things of earth, to which our affections have been so strongly inclined to cleave. The death of a beloved friend has often been blessed as a means of our sanctification: but when we die, all our surviving friends die to us at once. The loss of property has weaned us from the world: but at death we lose all our earthly possessions at a single stroke. God may have burned down our dwellings and consumed in the flames the coffers which contained our gold, when he graciously designed to direct our thoughts to the house not made with hands, and to the treasure which cannot be consumed. What, then, when the earth itself, which he has given for the habitation of men, and all therein which he has given them to enjoy, shall be burned up in the last conflagration; or shall be shown to us as prepared to be cast into that funeral fire? This is well adapted to eradicate from the heart the love of the things that perish. This fit instrumentality the Spirit employs in completing his work of sanctification. Yet, as in all our afflictions, the efficiency is not in the means employed,, but in the divine power which employs them to fulfil his gracious purpose.
1 Eph. ii. 5, 7, 8; 2 Tim. i. 9; Rom. iii. 24; viii. 23; xi. 5, 6; ix. 15, 16.
2 Rom. xi. 6.
3 Rom. x. 5.
4 Gal. iii. 21.
5 John i. 17.
6 Gal. iii. 2.
7 Rom. iv. 16.
8 Rom. iii. 27.
9 Rom. viii. 2.
10 James i. 25.
11 Gal. iii. 10.
12 1 Cor. xv. 10.
13 2 Tim. i. 9.
14 Eph. i. 7.
15 Eph. ii. 7.
16 2 Tim. i. 9.
17 Rom. iii. 27.
18 Eph. ii. 9.
19 Hosea xiii. 9.
20 John iii. 16.
21 Rom. v. 8.
22 Rom. viii. 32.
23 Rom. v. 5.
24 Luke xi. 13.
25 Gal. iii. 2.
26 Rom. iv. 16.
27 Rev. xx. 12.
28 Matt. xxv. 34.
29 Rom. vi. 23.
30Isaiah lv. 7; Jer. iii. 12, 22; Luke xxiv. 46, 47; Acts ii. 38; iii. 19; v. 31.
31 1 Thess. i. 10.
32 Eph. i. 7.
33 Matt. ix. 6.
34 Acts v. 31.
35 Heb. ix. 22.
36 Rev. i. 5.
37 Acts iii. 19.
38 1 John i. 9.
39 Luke xxiv. 47.
40 Acts v. 31.
41 Luke xiii. 3.
42 Acts xvii. 30.
43 Acts x. 43.
44 Mark i. 4.
45 Acts xxii. 16.
46 Heb. ix. 22.
47 Heb. ix. 13.
48 1 Cor. x. 16.
49 Luke xv. 20.
50 Isaiah xliv. 22.
51 Mic. vii. 19.
52 Matt. vi. 11, 12.
53Acts xiii. 39; Rom. iii. 21, 22, 25, 26; x. 4; Gal. ii. 16; iii. 22, 24; Phil. iii. 8--10.
54 Job xxvii. 5.
55 Rom. v. 9.
56 Rom. v. 19.
57 Rom. v. 1.
58 Acts xiii. 39.
59 Rom. xiii. 10.
60 Rom. iv. 16.
61 Rom. iv. 5.
62 Rom. iv. 5.
63 Rom. v. 6.
64 Gal. v. 6.
65 Rom. iv. 6.
66 Rom. iv. 3.
67 Rom. iv. 24.
68 Rom. iii. 25, 26.
69 Rom. x. 4.
70 Rom. iii. 22.
71 1 Pet. i. 18, 19.
72 Gal. iv. 5.
73 1 Cor. vi. 19, 29.
74 1 John ii. 2.
75 Isaiah xlii. 21.
76 Eph. v. 2.
77 2 Cor. v. 21.
78 John iii. 36.
79 Acts xiii. 39.
80 Rom. viii. 9.
81 1 Cor. xii. 13.
82 Isaiah liii. 11.
83 Rom. vii. 33, 34.
84 James ii. 24.
85 Rom. iii. 28.
86 James ii. 17.
87 Gal. v. 6.
88 James ii. 22.
89 James ii. 18.
90 Rom. x. 10.
91 Matt. xii. 37.
92 Matt. vii. 21.
93 Rom. i. 18.
94 Mark xvi. 16.
95 John iii. 18.
96 1 Cor. vi. 11.
97 Acts xiii. 39.
98John i. 12; Rom. viii. 17; Gal. iii. 26; 1 John iii. 1, 2.
99 Gal. iii. 26.
100 1 John iii. 1.
101 Jer. iii. 19.
102 Eph. ii. 13, 19.
103 Ps. ciii. 13.
104 Matt. vii. 11.
105 Matt. vi. 32.
106 Rom. viii. 15.
107 John xx. 17.
108 Matt. vi. 9.
109 Heb. xii. 6.
110 Heb. xii. 9.
111 Heb. xii. 10.
112 Rom. viii. 17.
113 Rev. xxi. 7.
114 1 Cor. iii. 22.
115 Luke xii. 32.
116 Matt. xxv. 34.
117 Rom. viii. 19.
118 Heb. vi. 18.
119 1 John iii. 2.
120 Rom. viii. 28.
121John iii. 5, 6; Ezek. xi. 19; xxxvi. 26, 27; xxxvii. 14; Tit. iii. 5; James i. 18; 2 Cor. v. 17; 1 John iv. 8.
122 Ezek. xxxvi. 26.
123 Ezek. xviii. 31.
124 Heb. viii. 10.
125John vi. 63; Eph. ii. 1; Rom. vi. 11, 13.
126 Heb. x. 32.
127Ps. li. 13; Matt. xviii. 3; Ps. xxv. 16; Isaiah lix. 20.
128 2 Cor. v. 17; Gal. vi. 15.
129Col. iii. 10; Rom. xii. 2; Tit. iii. 5.
130 Tit. iii. 5.
131John iii. 3, 7; 1 Pet. i. 23.
132 Rom. v. 5.
133 1 John iv. 7.
134 John iii. 8.
135 James i. 18.
136 Rom. i. 28.
137 1 Thess. i. 5.
138 1 Cor. ii. 4.
139 Rom. vii. 8.
140 James ii. 17.
141 Luke vi. 32.
142 1 John iv. 19.
143 Eph. ii. 4, 5.
144 Eph. i. 19, 20.
145 Acts ii.
146 Acts xvi.
147 1 Cor. iii.
148 1 Cor. ii. 4.
149 Eph. vi. 17.
150 1 Cor. i. 21.
151 Rom. iii. 2.
152 Jer. xxxii. 33.
153 Isaiah v. 5.
154 Jer. xxxiii. 14.
155 Heb. viii.
156 2 Cor. iii. 8.
157Heb. iv. 2; Gal. iii. 8.
158 Phil. ii. 13.
159 Isaiah lv. 11.
1602 Thess. ii. 13; 1 Pet. i. 2; 1 Cor. vi. 11; 2 Cor. iii. 18; Mal. iii. 3; Eph. v. 26; Tit. ii. 14; Prov. iv. 18; Phil. i. 6; 1 John iii. 2.
161 Gal. v. 17.
162 John xv. 5.
163 1 Cor. vi. 17.
164 Phil. i. 6.
165 John xvii. 17.
166 2 Thess. ii. 13.
167 Acts xv. 9.
168 Heb. x. 16.
169 John v. 44.
170 Ps. cxix. 18.
171 Luke xvii. 5.
172 Mark ix. 24.
173 Luke xxiv. 45.
174 Ps. cxix. 67.
175 Heb. xii. 10.
176 1 Pet. iii. 4.
177 1 Pet. i. 23.
178 1 John iii. 9.
179 John v. 24.
180 Rom. vi. 9, 11.
181 Rom. viii. 35--39.
182 John xiii. 1.
183 John x. 28.
184 Col. iii. 3, 4.
185 Rom. v. 10.
186 Heb. viii. 10.
187 Heb. viii. 9.
188 Jer. xxxii. 40.
189 1 Pet. i. 5.
190 Luke xxii. 32.
191 Heb. vii. 25.
192 Phil. i. 6.
193 1 John ii. 19.
194 Luke viii. 13.
195 Matt. vii. 23.
196 Heb. vi.
197 Heb. vi. 9.
198 John xv. 2
199 John xv. 6.
200 Heb. x. 26, 27.
201 Job xiii. 15.
202 Heb. x. 25.
203 John vi. 37.
204 Heb. x. 29.
205Ex. xiii. 2; xix. 10, 22, 23, &c.
206 John x. 36.
207 Heb. x. 38.
208 Ezek. xviii. 26.
209 2 Pet. ii. 20.
210 2 Pet. ii. 22.
211 Gal. v. 4.
212 1 Tim. i. 19.
213 2 Tim. ii. 18.
214 1 Cor. viii. 11.
215 1 Cor. ix. 27.
216 2 Cor. xi. 26.
217 1 Pet. iv. 18.
218 Heb. x. 32.
219 Heb. vi. 7.
220 Heb. vi. 9, 10.
221 Heb. x. 26.
222 Heb x. 38.
223 1 John ii. 19.
224 Heb. x. 38.
225 Jer. xvii. 5.
226 Ps. cxix. 117.
227 Rom. viii. 29.
228 Ps. xvii. 15.
229Phil. iii. 11, 12, 13.
230 Phil. i. 6.
231 Heb. xii.23.
232 Heb. vi. 1; v. 14.
233 Job i. 1.
234 Phil. iii. 15.
235 Phil. iii. 12.
236 Job ix. 20.
237 Rom. vii. 21.
238 Rom. vii. 14.
239 1 John i. 8.
240 Eccl. vii. 20.
241 Matt. v. 48.
242 Hosea vi. 3.
243 2 Cor. iii. 19.
244 2 Cor. vii. 1.
245 2 Sam. iii. 1.
246 Rom. vii. 23.
247 Heb. xii. 23.
248 2 Cor. v. 8.
249 Heb. xii. 14.
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