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What took place, in fact, in the manner and circumstances of the admission of members into the primitive christian church, and the profession they made in order to their admission, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, will further confirm the point.
We have an account, concerning these, of their being first awakened by the preaching of the apostles and other ministers, and earnestly inquiring what they should do to be saved, and of their being directed to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus, as the way to have their sins blotted out, and to be saved; and then, upon their professing that they did believe, of their being baptized and admitted into the christian church. Now can any reasonably imagine, that these primitive converts, when they made that profession in order to their admission, had any such distinction in view as that which some now make, of two sorts of real Christianity, two sorts of sincere faith and repentance, one with a moral and another with a gracious sincerity? Or that the apostles, who disciplined them and baptized them, had instructed them in any such distinction? The history informs us of their teaching them but one faith and repentance; Believing in Christ that they might be saved, and repentance for the remission of sins; and it would be unreasonable to suppose, that a thought of any lower or other kind entered into the heads of these converts, when immediately upon their receiving such instructions they professed faith and repentance; or that those who admitted them understood them as meaning any other but what they professed.
Let us particularly consider what we are informed concerning those multitudes, whose admission we have an account of in Acts ii.. We are told concerning the three thousand first converts, that they were greatly awakened by the preaching of the apostles, pricked in their hearts, made sensible of their guilt and misery; “and said to Peter, and the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” i.e. What shall we do to be saved, and that our sins may be remitted? Upon which they directed them what they should do, viz. “Repent, and be baptized, in the name of the Lord Jesus, for the remission of sins.” They are here directed into the way of salvation, viz. faith and repentance, with a proper profession of these.—Then, we are told, that they which gladly received the word were baptized; that is, They which appeared gladly to receive the word, or manifested and professed a cordial and cheerful compliance with the calls of the word, with the directions which the apostles had given them. The manifestation was doubtless by some profession, and the profession was of that repentance for the remission of sins, and that faith in Christ, which the apostles had directed them to, in answer to their inquiry, what they should do to be saved? I can see no ground to suppose they thought of any lower or other kind. And it is evident by what follows, that these converts now looked upon it that they had complied with these directions, and so were at peace with God. Their business now is to rejoice and praise God from day to day; “They continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship—continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God.” The account of them now is not as of persons under awakenings, weary and heavy-laden sinners, under an awful sense of guilt and wrath, pricked in their hearts, as before; but of persons whose sorrow was turned into joy, looking on themselves as now in a good estate. And in the last verse it is said, “The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved;” in the original it is NOT ENGLISH the saved; NOT ENGLISH was a common appellation given to all visible Christians, or to all members of the visible christian church. It is as much as to say, the converted, or the regenerate. Being converted is in Scripture called being saved, because it is so in effect; they were “passed from death to life,” John v. 24.. Tit. i. 4.. “According to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” 2 Tim. i. 9.. “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling.” Not that all who were added to the visible church were indeed regenerated, but they were so in profession and repute, and therefore were so in name. 1 Cor. i. 18.. “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish, foolishness; but unto us [i. e. us Christians] which are saved [NOT ENGLISH] it is the power of God.” So those that from time to time were added to the primitive church, were all called NOT ENGLISH the saved. Before, while under awakenings, they used to inquire of their teachers, what they should do to be saved; and the directions that used to be given them, were to repent and believe in Christ; and before they were admitted into the church, they professed that they did so; and thenceforward, having visibly complied with the terms proposed, they were called the saved; it being supposed, that they now had obtained what they inquired after when they asked what they should do to be saved. Accordingly we find that Christ’s ministers treated them no more as miserable perishing sinners, but as true converts; not setting before them their sin and misery to awaken them, and to convince them of the necessity of a Saviour, exhorting them to fly from the wrath to come, and seek conversion to God; but exhorting them to hold fast the profession of their faith, to continue in the grace of God, and persevere on holiness; endeavouring by all means to confirm and strengthen them in grace. Thus when a great number believed and turned to the Lord at Antioch, Barnabas was sent to them; “who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they should cleave to the Lord.” Acts xi. 23.. See also Acts xiii. 43; xiv. 22; xv. 32, 41; xx. 32.. And when the apostles heard of the conversion of the Gentiles to the christian faith, visible by their profession when they joined themselves to the christian church, they supposed and believed that God had given them saving repentance, and a heart-purifying faith. Acts xi. 18. “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also granted unto the Gentiles repentance unto life.” Acts xv. 9. “And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.”
If any should here object, that when such multitudes were converted from Judaism and heathenism, and received into the christian church in so short a season, it was impossible there should be time for each one to say so much in his public profession, as to be any credible exhibition of true godliness to the church: I answer, This objection will soon vanish, if we particularly consider how the case was with those primitive converts, and how they were dealt with by their teachers. It was apparently the manner of the first preachers of the gospel, when their hearers were awakened and brought in good earnest to inquire what they should do to be saved, then particularly to instruct them in the way of salvation, and explain to them what qualifications must be in them, or what they must do in order to their being saved, agreeable to Christ’s direction, 452 Mark xvi. 15, 16.. This we find was the method they took with the three thousand, in the second chapter of Acts, verse 37-40.. And it seems, they were particular and full in it: they said much more to them than the words recorded. It is said, verse 40. “With many other words did Peter testify and exhort.” And this we find to be the course Paul and Silas took with the jailor, Acts xvi.. Who also gave more large and full instructions than are rehearsed in the history. And when they had thus instructed them, they doubtless saw to it, either by themselves or some others who assisted them, that their instructions were understood by them, before they proceeded to baptize them. For I suppose, none with whom I have to do in this controversy, will maintain, from the apostles’ example, that we ought not to insist on a good degree of doctrinal knowledge in the way and terms of salvation, as requisite to the admission of members into the church. And after they were satisfied that they well understood these things, it took up no great time to make a profession of them, or to declare that they did, or found in themselves, those things they had been told of as necessary to their salvation. After they had been well informed what saving faith and repentance were, it took up no more time to profess that faith and repentance, than any other.—In this case not only the converts’ words, but the words of the preacher, which they consented to, and in effect made their own, are to be taken into their profession. For persons that are known to be of an honest character, and manifestly qualified with good doctrinal knowledge of the nature of true godliness, in the more essential things which belong to it, solemnly to profess they have or do those things, is to make as credible a profession of godliness as I insist upon. And we may also well suppose, that more words were uttered by the professors, and with other circumstances to render them credible, than are recorded in that very brief history, which we have of the primitive church in the Acts of the Apostles; and also we may yet suppose one thing further, viz. that in that extraordinary state of things so particular a profession was not requisite in order to the church’s satisfaction, either of doctrines assented to, or of the consent and disposition of the heart, as may be expedient in a more ordinary state of things; for various reasons that might be given, would it not too much lengthen out this discourse.
One thing which makes it very evident, that the inspired ministers of the primitive christian church looked upon saving faith as the proper matter of the profession requisite in order to admission into the church, is the story of Philip and the eunuch, in Acts viii.. For when the eunuch desires to be baptized, Philip makes answer, verse 37. “If thou believest with all tine heart, thou mayst.” Which words certainly imply, that believing with all his heart was requisite in order to his coming to this ordinance properly and in a due manner. I cannot conceive what should move Philip to utter these words, or what he should aim at in them, if at the same time he supposed, that the eunuch had no need to look at any such qualification in himself, or at all to inquire whether he had such a faith, in order to determine whether he might present himself as the subject of baptism.
It is said by some, that Philip intended nothing more by believing with all his heart, than that he believed that doctrine, that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, with a moral sincerity of persuasion. But here again I desire, that the Scripture may be allowed to be its own interpreter. The Scripture very much abounds with such phrases as this, with all the heart, or with the whole heart, in speaking of religious matters. And the manifest intent of them is to signify a gracious simplicity and godly sincerity. Thus, 1 Sam. xii. 20. “Turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.” So verse 24. “Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth, with all your heart.” 1 Kings viii. 23. “Who keepest covenant and mercy with thy servants, that walk before thee with all their heart.” 1 Kings xiv. 8. “My servant David, who kept my commandments, and who followed me with all his heart.” 2 Kings x. 31. “But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart.” 2 Chron. xxii. 9. “Jehoshaphat sought the Lord with all his heart.” 2 Chron. xxxi. 20, 21. “Hezekiah wrought that which was good and right and truth before the Lord his God; and in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart.” Ps. ix. 1. “I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart.” Ps. lxxxvi. 12. “I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and will glorify thy name.” Ps. cxi. 1. “I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright.” And Ps. cxix. 2. “Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.” Verse 10. “With my whole heart have I sought thee.” Verse 34. “Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law, yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.” Verse 69. “The proud have forged a lie against me, but I will keep thy precepts with my whole heart.” Jer. xxiv. 7. “And I will give them an heart to know me—for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.” Joel ii. 12, 13. “Turn ye even unto me with all your heart—and rend your heart, and not your garments.” And we have the like phrases in innumerable other places. And I suppose that not so much as one place can be produced, wherein there is the least evidence or appearance of their being used to signify any thing but a gracious sincerity. And indeed it must be a very improper use of language, to speak of those as performing acts of religion with all their hearts, whose heart the Scriptures abundantly represent as under the reigning power of sin and unbelief—and as those that do not give God their hearts, but give them to other things—as those who go about to serve two masters, and who draw near to God with their lips, but have at the same time their hearts far from him, running more after other things; and who have not a single eye, nor single heart. The word believe, in the New Testament, answers to the word trust in the Old; and therefore the phrase used by Philip, of believing with all the heart, is parallel to that in Prov. iii. 5. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart.” And believing with the heart is a phrase used in the New Testament, to signify saving faith.— Rom. x. 9, 10. “If thou shalt believe in thine heart, that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved; for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” The same is signified by obeying the form of doctrine from the heart, Rom. vi. 17, 18. “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you; being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” Here it is manifest, that saving faith is intended by obeying the form of doctrine from the heart. And the same is signified as if it had been said, “ye have believed with the heart” the form of doctrine. But Philip uses a yet stronger expression, he does not only say, if thou believest with the heart, or from the heart, bur with all thine heart. Besides, for any to suppose, that those same persons which the Scriptures represent in some places as under the power of an evil heart of unbelief—as double-minded with regard to their faith, (James i. 6, 7, 8..) who, though they believe for a while, have their hearts like a rock, in which faith has no root, (Luke viii. 13.)—and yet that this same sort of persons are in other scriptures spoken of as believing with all their heart; I say, for any to suppose this, would be to make the voice of God’s word not very harmonious and consonant to itself.—And one thing more I would observe on this head, there is good reason to suppose, that Philip, while he sat in the chariot with the eunuch, and (as we are told) preached unto him Jesus, had showed to him the way of salvation—had opened to him the way of getting an interest in Christ, or obtaining salvation by him, viz. believing in him, agreeable to Christ’s own direction, Mark xvi. 15, 16.. and agreeable to what we find to be the manner of the first preachers of the gospel. And therefore, when after this discourse he puts it to the eunuch, whether he believed with all his heart; it is natural to suppose, that he meant whether he found his heart acquiescing in the gospel-way of salvation, or whether he sincerely exercised that belief in Christ which he had been inculcating; and it would be natural for the eunuch so to understand him.
Here if it be objected, that the eunuch’s answer and the profession he hereupon made, (wherein he speaks 453 nothing of his heart, but barely says,) I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, shows that he understood no more by the inquiry, than whether he gave his assent to that doctrine: to this I answer; we must take this confession of the eunuch together with Philip’s words, to which they were a reply, and expound the one by the other. Nor is there any reason but to understand it in the same sense in which we find the words of the like confession elsewhere in the New Testament, and as the words of such a confession were wont to be used in those days; as particularly the words of Peter’s confession, Matt. xvi. 16. “And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.” Which was a profession of saving faith, as appears by what Christ says upon it. And we read, 1 Cor. xii. 3. “No man can say, that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” Not but that a man might make a profession in these words without the Holy Ghost, but he could not do it heartily, or with all his heart. So 1 John iv. 15. “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.” i. e. Whoever makes this christian confession (this profession which all Christians were wont to make) cordially, or with his whole heart, God dwells in him, &c. But it was thus that the eunuch was put upon making this confession.
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