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Showing That God Alone, Without Any Human Aid, Is The Author Of Our Salvation, And That We Are To Submit Unreservedly To His Grace; Also, That Christ's Merit Is Not Imputed To The Impenitent.
But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.—1 Cor. 1:30.
In this impressive sentence, St. Paul teaches us that all things necessary for our salvation are merited by Christ Jesus our Lord. When we were ignorant of the way of life, he was made wisdom unto us; when we were sinners, he was made our righteousness; when we were an abomination before God, he was made our sanctification; and when we were in a state of damnation, he became our redemption.
2. It is therefore most certain, that 110 man does not contribute so much as one jot to his salvation. Sin, indeed, man could commit of himself, but he was not able to justify himself again; he could lose, but not recover himself; kill, but not restore to life; he could submit himself to the devil, but could not shake off his spiritual fetters. As a dead body cannot quicken itself again, so men “being dead in sins” (Eph. 2:1, 5), as the Apostle declares, cannot raise themselves again to life.
3. We did not contribute anything towards our creation, neither do we perform anything towards our redemption, regeneration, and sanctification, which are far greater transactions than the creation itself.
4. Hence it was necessary, that the Son of God should take human nature upon him, to recover all that was lost in Adam, and to revive those that were dead in sins and trespasses.
5. That this may be the better understood, we ought to represent to ourselves the traveller in the Gospel, who, falling among thieves, was cruelly wounded and bruised by them, and at last utterly disabled from helping himself again. Luke 10:30. Him, therefore, the good Samaritan receives into his arms, binds up his wounds, sets him on his beast, takes him to an inn, and omits nothing that a faithful physician could administer to a sick and wounded person. And as the traveller showed himself obedient to his physician, and strictly followed the directions prescribed by him; so we ought to act if we desire to be healed of our disease. We ought to suffer the healing hand of the Lord, and not to resist, when he attempts the cleansing of our wounds; and when, after having poured in wine and oil, he binds them up. To obtain the blessed effect of these spiritual operations, we must wholly resign ourselves to him, who alone is able to save us; and then we may trust to the goodness of God, that on his side he will not fail to restore us to health and soundness.
6. No sooner does a sinner repent than he begins his happy return towards the Lord, grieving for his former transgressions, and suffering that his wounds be washed with the sharp wine of the law, and the oil of consolation. Whoever complies with these terms, in him, Christ, by his grace, works an unfeigned faith, attended with all the fruits it produces,—righteousness, life, peace, joy, comfort, and salvation, and thus “worketh in him both to will and to do, of his good pleasure.” Phil. 2:13.
7. But it is not in the power of man by nature to forsake sin. The Scripture calls the natural man a “servant of sin” (John 8:34), and one that is “sold under sin” (Rom. 7:14), who can do nothing but sin; and the prophet says, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil.” Jer. 13:23. But “the grace of God that bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men (by the Gospel), teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” Tit. 2:11, 12. This is offered us by the word of God; and it is this grace which excites, teaches, and allures fallen man; which urges and influences him to renounce sin, and to submit to the discipline of grace. And these divine admonitions, furnished through the Word, fully agree with the inward testimony of the conscience; so that a man is convinced both from without and from within of his sinful life, and of the necessity of quitting it, in order to 111 preserve his soul from everlasting destruction, for whoever lives in sin, lives in opposition to God and his own conscience.
8. When a man yields to the suggestions and exhortations of divine grace, and, proving obedient to the Word, begins to withdraw from his vicious life, then the grace of God endows him with all those virtues which the Gospel requires. It is then that faith springs up in the soul, the original principle of all other virtues. This is followed by love, and all Christian graces, which grow as so many fruits on the tree of faith. It is then, also, that light begins to shine in the midst of darkness. But as it is impossible that darkness should be able to enlighten itself; so it is also impossible for fallen man to raise himself from darkness to light. Hence the Psalmist says, “For thou wilt light my candle; the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.” Ps. 18:28. Let a man open his eyes ever so much, he will never be enlightened whilst the light of the sun is withdrawn from his sight. Thus the grace of God, that is, of Christ himself, is that clear and serene light, risen on all men “that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.” Luke 1:79. “He enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9): that is, he manifests himself to all, and offers his grace to all. He is the light of the whole world; he shows the way of life to all men; and leaving us his own example for imitation, he goes before us like a good shepherd (John 10:4), and guides his flock into the path in which they are to walk. He sought us out as his lost sheep, and even now daily seeks and allures us. Luke 15:4. Nay, more; he still follows us closely, calls after us, and wooes us to his love, in as endearing a manner as a bridegroom does his bride. O that men did not love sin and darkness rather than light and grace!
9. Now, as a physician, addressing his patient, says: “Beware of this, lest you die; you hinder the workings of the medicine by an irregular life, so that you cannot be made whole;” so Jesus Christ, the true physician of souls, says: “My beloved, I beseech thee, incline thy mind to true repentance; utterly forsake all thy sins; shake off thy pride, thy covetousness, thy carnal propensities, thy wrath, and thirst of revenge, with other sins. If this change be not wrought in thee, thou must surely die; and the precious medicine of my blood and merit can profit thee nothing, whilst thy disorderly life hinders their healing effect.”
10. It was for this cause that Christ gave it in charge to his apostles, before all things, to preach repentance (Luke 24:47); and he himself called sinners to it while he conversed with them upon earth; because an impenitent heart never can partake of his merits.
11. Whoever hears that either sin must be forsaken, or eternal condemnation be endured, must, of necessity, be brought to some serious consideration about the state of his soul. He is struck with a double conviction; the truth of the Word of God, and the power of his own conscience, leaving so strong an impression upon him, as to set him beyond all doubts about the truth of this matter. It is true, God hath freely promised remission of sin to all men; but it is on this condition, that they repent, and turn themselves unfeignedly to the Lord. Thus the prophet says, “If the wicked shall turn from his wickedness, he shall live thereby. None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned 112 unto him” (Ezek. 33:14, 16): where we see that repentance and remission of sin are linked together.
12. Christ, the Son of God, in no other sense promises life eternal to those that believe in his name. The nature of faith must, however, be more fully inquired into. This faith is a very active principle in the soul. It daily strives against the old man; it tames the flesh, and subjects it to the Spirit; it converts the whole man; it subdues and vanquishes sin; it purifies the heart. He is a true believer who turns from the world, from sin and the devil, to God, and seeks rest and comfort wholly and entirely in the blood, death, and merit of Christ, without the works of himself, or of any other man whatsoever; the blood of Christ being a perfect ransom for all the debts which the soul has contracted. Whoever, therefore, imagines that his sins may be pardoned, although he desist not from them, is most miserably deluded. He deceives himself with a false faith, which he has assumed to himself, and the dreadful effects of which he must hereafter feel. He can never be saved without true repentance.
13. Consider the case of Zaccheus the publican, who, having a sound apprehension of the doctrine of faith and conversion, freely acknowledged that to be true faith by which a man is turned from sin to God, and in this order hopes to obtain a gracious pardon from Christ, and an interest in his merit, so as to rely upon it with a filial trust and an unshaken firmness of mind. In this manner did he understand the word of our Lord, “Repent ye, and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15): that is, Desist from sin, trust in my merits, and expect forgiveness of sin from me alone. Hence Zaccheus says to Christ, “Behold, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” Luke 19:8. In these words he does not commend his own works at all, but extols the grace of God, which had taught him the way of true repentance. As if he had said: “O Lord, I am so thoroughly grieved at the fraudulent practices which I have committed against my neighbor, that I will not only restore fourfold unto him, but will also bestow half of my goods on the poor. Wherefore, Lord, since I confess my sin, and fully resolve to leave it, I now embrace thy promises with faith, and beseech thee to receive me into thy grace and favor.” And no sooner is this resolution taken, than the Physician declares, “This day is salvation come to this house. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
14. This is true repentance and conversion, carried on by a faith which is the work of God within us. God himself will begin, advance, and finish at last, the great work of our salvation, if we only yield to his Spirit, and do not resist him wilfully, as did the refractory Jews of old; to whom the apostle says: “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” Acts 13:46. It is, therefore, our duty to take the advice of the physician, after the manner of the sick, and to obey his precepts and prescriptions. As the physician first explains the nature of the disease, so the Lord lays open the spiritual disease of the heart, and then, as a faithful physician, warns us 113 against hurtful things, lest the healing virtue of the precious blood of Christ be obstructed, and at last rendered ineffectual.
15. No sooner does man, by the assistance of the Holy Ghost, withdraw from sin, than the grace of God begins to operate in him, and to endue him with new gifts. Without this, he is not sufficient to think any good thought of himself, much less to do any good work. Whenever such a person discovers any good motions arising in his mind, he attributes every good desire to divine grace, even as St. Paul says, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” 1 Cor. 15:10. Whoever, therefore, complies with this order of salvation, to him the merit of Christ and his perfect obedience, are fully imputed, as if he himself had made a complete atonement for all his transgressions; but no wicked person, and no contemner of this dispensation, has a share in the imputation of the merit of Christ.
16. God, when he works in us and through us, crowns and commends those things as our own, of which he himself is the chief author. “Without me,” saith Christ, “ye can do nothing” (John 15:5); that is, no good; for by nature we are ready enough to do evil without him. The doing of evil is our own property; as the doing of good is entirely the property of God. Therefore let no flesh glory in anything; all is of and through grace. Rom. 3:24; Eph. 2:8, 9.
17. Happy is the man that refrains from sin, and gives up his will to the Lord. Christ uses all his endeavors to gain our love and affections, and to wean us more and more from the profane love of the world. He applies the most endearing expressions, in his word, and in his addresses, to our hearts. He seeks and allures us; and even before we remember him, he bestows upon us tokens of his love and kindness; and this for no other end, than that we might at last forsake our beloved sin, and partake of the blessed effect of his blood and merits.
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