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SERMON XL.4242   Preached 25th March 1694.

1 John v. 1.

Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.

WE have gone on to shew, what the believing Jesus to be the Son of God is. And so much having been said concerning the grounds, both principal and subservient, of this belief, I shall superadd hereunto in the

Second place, what I reckon is not less necessary concerning the properties of it, that you may the more distinctly understand what sort of belief this must be that is to be given unto so great and important a truth, Jesus is the Christ. And I shall so state the properties of this belief as that they may visibly stand in that opposition wherein is requisite they should be set, to that common false belief which multitudes do satisfy and deceive themselves by at once to their destruction. You may, eadem opera, by the same cast of your eye discern the properties of that common 505false belief, and of that sincere faith concerning this truth, that the one may be avoided and declined, and the other may be aimed at with a restless endeavour and pursuit; so as that none may satisfy themselves till they can say, I find the belief of this great truth hath now its place in my soul, which will be finally saving to it.

There needs both much caution and much, light to avoid the mistaken false faith of the multitude concerning this thing. I call it false, not doubting any of you apprehend that it is too possible a thing that there may be a very false faith of the greatest truth. One may believe the most important truth that can fall under human faith with a false faith. The thing is true that is believed in such cases, but It is not believed truly. And that is the sort of faith which I would have you know and avoid. And when you know what you are not to rest in, you will with the same light discern wherein you may safely rest. About a matter of such importance as this, it very much concerns both speaker and hearers at any time to speak and hear in agonies, and with hearts full of solicitude, lest we should mistake ourselves in a matter upon which eternity doth so immediately and entirely depend. Now,

1. The deceiving false faith of the multitude in this matter is but negative; but the sincere belief of this great truth, that Jesus is the Christ, is a most positive act of the soul. The common belief in this case is but a negative belief. Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ? Yes, shall one tell you off hand, without deliberation or doubt, I do believe it. And what is the meaning of that? He believes it only thus, he doth not believe the contrary. He hath no formed opposite belief in his mind, and therefore thinks himself a very good believer. Whenas his believing is nothing else but a negation, an utter negation; to wit, he doth not disbelieve it. As if he should say, your question is to me upon the matter a new one, a new question, I never thought much of the business. I never asked myself whether I believed Jesus to be the Christ, yea or no. And for my part I have no contrary belief, and therefore hand over head he concludes himself a very good sound believer of this matter. But that faith which the Gospel claims, and which the necessities of souls do require and challenge, that they may have life by Christ, it is a most positive act of the soul, wherein the soul hath a real exercise. There is an exerted power of the soul put forth in this act, so that nothing can be more positive than that is. It is a substantial 506act of the soul, according as substance doth signify positive entity. And so is this faith called, it is the very substance of the thing believed, whatsoever that be, Heb. xi. 1. This other common faith hath no substance in it. Grasp it, feel it, it is but a shadow, hath nothing of substance. Do you believe Jesus to be the Christ? Yes, I do believe it; that is, there is as much substance in it as their saying so; as much as there is in the sound of a word, and no more. It is a mere negative thing, there is nothing positive in it.

2. The former of these is an ignorant, but the other a most intelligent act, proceeding upon knowledge. The deceived multitude, when they pretend Jesus to be the Christ, they believe they know not what; they say they believe Jesus is the Christ, but they never consider what they mean by Christ. When they say this Jesus is the Christ, what the signification of that name is they never trouble themselves to understand, they were never at leisure to think of such matter. Indeed they have often heard the word, but they have not a meaning in their minds correspondent to that word (Christ) what it imports, what signification it carries with it; and so what is affirmed concerning this Jesus when he is affirmed to be the Christ, they neither have what we speak nor whereof we affirm about it. Jesus is considered by them as an ordinary person that lived so many years ago; but to say of him, that he is the Christ, you might as well have said nothing: they believe hand over head, but they believe they know not what.

But, now, when any one doth sincerely believe Jesus to be the Christ, he, believing it, understands what this Christ is, and what the name Christ signifies, the anointed one of God unto that great office of mediatorship between God and man; and was therefore every way qualified for the high and great work of that office, invested with that full authority which belongs to such an office. All power is given to him, both in heaven and in earth: one full of grace and truth: in whom all the divine excellencies were resplendent and most conspicuous, which were to have their exercise in the discharge of the work of this mighty office. So that the apprehensive mind of a sincere believer in this thing runs a vast compass; when it hears the name of Christ, it traverseth heaven and earth; it runs through all the creation; for as such an one Christ is considered “over all, God blessed for ever.” One that descended; the same that afterwards ascended, that he might fill all things. And he could not be Christ else: one that must have an universal 507power over all minds and over all creatures: and one that can do whatsoever he will, both in heaven and earth, and all deep places; but whose kindness and benignity inclines him to the doing of all the good that any receptive and capable subject shall admit of; and to make many a one capable and receptive that is of itself quite otherwise. When, such mighty texts as we find upon record concerning Christ, these many glorious things that are spoken of him come in view, O how is such an one enlightened by the lustre of any such text that speaks concerning Christ! Yes; that represents him to me, concerning whom my faith hath its present exercise, that it is for Jesus to be the Christ, to wit, that child born for us, that Son given to us, whose name is Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, the Prince of peace. Jesus is the Christ; that is, he is the wonderful counsellor. When again we are told in Scripture that this is he who was in the beginning with God, and that he was God, and by whom the worlds were made, and that without whom nothing was made that was made: that came and descended, the eternal word and wisdom of the Father, and was made flesh and dwelt amongst us, and his glory shone as the glory of the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. Yes, this is my Christ! I believe that that Jesus who dwelt at Nazareth, born at Bethlehem, was such a Christ. He by whom all things were made, visible and invisible, thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, things in heaven and earth; this is my Christ. He that is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the Lord God almighty. He that was dead and is alive again and lives for evermore, and hath the keys of hell and death. This is my Christ. The name Christ fills such a man’s soul with light and glory, even in that very instant when he believes this Jesus to be the Christ; so as that admitting him into the mind under this notion, it in sensibly admits a deity in his all-comprehending fulness. He doth not believe a trivial thing concerning this Jesus, when he believes him to be the Christ, but believes him to be all in all. This is my all, and the universal all unto whosoever they are that shall come to partake felicity by him at length. This is nothing like the mock faith of the multitude, that think themselves well if off-hand they answer you the question when you ask, Is Jesus the Christ. Yes—But they neither know nor consider what Christ means, nor what they attribute to this Jesus, in calling him the Christ. Again,

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3. That former belief concerning him, it is a dubious, hovering, and fluctuating thing. The sincere belief of this, that Jesus is the Christ, is peremptory, and full of a concomitant certainty, and thorough persuasion of mind concerning him that so indeed he is. As to the former, what do you think? “Was that Jesus the Christ, or are we to look for another?” Here the mind hangs in a dubious suspense, and they rather say, No sure, we are not to look for another, because he came so long ago, and there hath no other appeared since. But concerning the sincere believer, this is the character under which we may conceive of him, John vi. 68, “We believe and are sure that thou art Christ the Son of the living God.” Many minds in those days hung in doubt; and less of doubting may appear among us, because we seldom hear the question asked. With many, the mind hangs on a suspense and indifferency. Is this the Christ, or is another to be he? Why this is as good as another; this may do as well as another; and for many years we have heard no talk of another, nor do we hear that for many an age by-past. But, saith the sincere believer, we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. A sincere belief in this matter determines the mind, so that there it pitcheth. As it is when the balance is cast, and gives over quivering, here we are at a point. “Whom say ye that I am?” saith our Lord to them. Matt. xvi. 16. And Peter answered for the rest, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.” See how our Lord own? and accepts his faith, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven.” Thus it is when a divine revelation shines into the heart. I am afraid that that belief is too great a rarity in our age, concerning which it may be truly said, it is not by the product of flesh and blood. O! how few are the souls that may avow it before the Lord, I have that belief in me, of Jesus being the Christ, that comes not from flesh and blood. It is not flesh and blood that hath prompted to this, but a divine light and mighty power from above upon my soul. And it is such a faith that makes a blessed man. “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona.” O! blessed man, that such a faith as this hath entered thy soul, that such a beam of heavenly and divine light hath been struck down into it. It is a great thing if, laying our hands upon our hearts, we can apply this pronounced blessedness to ourselves, as much as if it had been said to us by name. O! blessed, thou such an one, thou John, Thomas, flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto 509thee, but the eternal Father, he hath revealed his own Son, he hath taught thee to own him for his Christ, and his own Son. We believe and are sure; such a belief as carries a certainty with it, not that doth altogether exclude, at some certain intervals, a formido oppositi. There may be that which morality and policy is wont to style a plena voluntas, where there is a determination strong enough to carry a man to consequent acts. And so there may be a plenum judicium, not that totally excludes every degree of the contrary, but that prevails over every such degree; and so is determinative, carries the course and current of a man’s practical power with it, consequently and agreeably there unto. So we are to conceive concerning this certainty, that I am not in that dubious suspense, whether this Jesus be the Christ as thereby to surcease and desist from that which ought to be consequent thereupon, to wit, venturing my soul upon him, devoting myself to him, paying obedience to his laws, laying the stress and weight of all my concernments upon his faithfulness, love, and fulness. It is certainty in such a sense, that prevails so far as to govern my consequent resolutions and actions. And,

4. The false deceiving faith of the multitude in this matter is cold and dead, unoperative and without efficacy; lets their hearts remain as stones or clods of clay under it, unaffected and unmoved. But this belief, when it is sincere, is vivid, lively, affectionate, and most efficacious; productive of whatsoever is suitable and correspondent hereunto. A vast difference there is in this respect also! I am sure the difference cannot be greater than the importance is. But it is a very great difference that appears here between belief and belief. A belief that never moves my soul, and is as if it had never touched it. According as some fantastically speak (your enthusiastical writers among the Papists, some of them) concerning theoretical knowledge, wherein they place the sum all religion, that it doth tangere intangibiliter, it touches the mind as if it never touched it; indeed this is the deceiving belief of the multitude, they have a belief that so toucheth their minds that it cannot be perceived it ever touched it, it never touched their minds at all, but leaves them unimpressed; there is no signature left behind, no mark, no character, by which it can be said such a faith was ever there. That is, notwithstanding, all the belief they pretend to concerning this Jesus, and concerning the great things of the Christian Religion (whereof this is the sum;) their hearts are as dead, as cold, as terrene, as unaffected, as if they had never 510heard of any such thing, void of all kind of impression. Dost thou believe Jesus to be the Christ, and retain an hard heart, a dead heart, a stupid heart, touched with nothing, having no sense, no feeling of any thing that this great truth carries so plain a signification of in it? What doth this Jesus being the Christ, signify? It plainly signifies the lost, undone state of souls, the miserable condition of men in this world, that there needed such a Jesus, such a Christ to descend and come down from heaven with such fulness and divine power. When a man can believe Jesus to be the Christ (as he saith he doth) but it never moves his soul one way or other; his faith makes no more impression upon him than if he had never believed or heard of such a thing, or than if he had believed the quite contrary. Be no more affected with Christ by believing him to be the Christ, than if he had believed him to be a deceiver and an impostor; his heart as little touched or moved with any suitable, correspondent impression of such a belief of his being the Christ, as if he had never heard of any such thing, or had believed concerning him the quite contrary. Will we call this believing Jesus to be the Christ with a Gospel faith?

On the other hand, the sincere belief of this, that Jesus is the Christ; it worketh through and through a man’s soul—works down into every power and faculty. It is a faith that hath spirit in it, that penetrates and spreads itself into all the regions of a man’s soul; as we read of a spirit of faith, 2 Cor. iv. 13, “We having the same spirit of faith,” (speaking of what had been said by David many an age before) what doth that signify when he quotes him professing faith in reference to such a thing so long ago: and the Apostle now resumes the matter, and saith, “We have the same spirit of faith.” It signifies that faith, wheresoever it hath been sincere and true, even in the most distant times and ages, that may be supposed it is a spirit of faith, or it is a faith full of spirit. Sincere faith is a spiritual thing, a thing that carries life and spirit, and power with it, wherever it is. Pray let us not deceive ourselves about this. They are mighty affections which the belief of such a thing as this must excite and raise in those souls in whom it truly is; especially those two most correspondent unto the person concerning whom we have this belief, that he is the Christ; to wit, reverence and love, and especially that love which rises unto delight and high complacency, the joy taken in him of whom we have this apprehension or this belief.

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(1.) Reverence. This belief concerning Jesus, that he is the Christ, it fills the sincere believer with the profoundest reverence of him; so that he falls before him, saying, “My Lord and my God.” John xx. 28. He is acknowledged in his glorious greatness when any do sincerely believe this concerning him; he is beheld as on the throne; he is considered as one that having purged our sins is ascended and sitten down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. It is a great thing to have this belief concerning him, answerably forming a man’s spirit into adoring postures. He is now great in our eyes; a glorious one; one that we think it profane ever to look towards but with veneration. We dare not lift an eye towards him but with an adoring soul. O! my great, glorious, and exalted Lord. This is he whom God hath exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sins. Him whom he hath sealed, to whom he hath given power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as God hath given him. With such a reverence must this belief be accompanied concerning this Jesus, that he is the Christ. And then,

(2.) With complacency; that love that hath heightened itself into a complacential joy thereupon. Do I believe this Jesus to be the Christ? O! how can a pleasant joy be there upon but spread in my soul? As we find it was when this belief first began to obtain concerning him, John i. 35. We read, that the two disciples of John having received the account, and being satisfied concerning this blessed one, having had John’s testimony, that he bare record that he upon whom ye shall see “the Spirit of God descending like a dove is the Son of God;” he having seen this satisfactory sight, and acquainting the other two of his disciples, they run away with it. Oh we have found the Messiah, who by interpretation is the Christ; so say they in transport. What a joy were these good men in, and how did it diffuse and spread among others! They run and tell others, Oh we have found Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ. It flies like lightning from one to another, every one being the ready instrument to convey the pleasant notice which they had got concerning this great thing. The joyful Εὐρηκα runs from mouth to mouth, and from ear to ear, and from heart to heart. Εὐρηκα, Εὐρηκα, saith one to another, we have found, we have found the Messiah the Christ. Have we indeed found him? Is it found among us that this Jesus is the Christ? O, what multitudes of transported souls would there be among us! 512For it is no excuse that this is no novelty among us: for it is a thing that never ought to grow old. As he is the way of returning sinners to God, that is always new and always living. It is a reproach to us to say that the notion is grown stale among us, of Jesus being the Christ. Instead of being grown old, it is grown to nothing, dwindled away to nothing. It looks but like a notion without any thing at the bottom, that we seem to account hath nothing of reality in it; from our apprehensiveness of the state of the case, and what the design of heaven was in constituting such an one in that high and sacred office that is notified by the name Christ, it is thus become such a notion. But, what? Are not the necessities free and urgent upon us every day for which we did need a Christ? Nay, can we go to God without him? And can we live comfort ably in this world without God? Nay, can we draw a breath without him? Are not all things delivered up into his hand? And is not he constituted Lord of all? By the same thing by which we would pretend the commonness of this belief, and the ancientness of it, as a reason why it affects no more, we do (as it were) proclaim the nullity of it, that it doth not only signify little with us, but it signifies nothing; it is an unoperative thing: and to be a dead thing in this kind is to be nothing: as a dead man or the carcase of a man is equivalent to no man, and so is that faith (in the Apostle James’s phrase) which is unoperative and works not, dead also. This faith that doth not affect the heart is but as a carcase without a spirit, which is for no valuable purpose and use to be reckoned otherwise of than a mere unformed piece of clay. An unformed piece of clay signifies as much for any valuable purpose as that which is formed into the shape of an human body where there is no spirit, and when it is but a breathless thing.

This of the operativeness and efficacy of this belief in contradistinction to the dead cold faith of the multitude in this matter, leads to what is yet further and more deeply to be considered concerning it; and that is, the residence which this faith hath in the will: for, being so efficacious a thing, it works itself into a government, a regency, a ruling power, into that which is the imperial faculty of the soul; to wit, the will, there it conies to have a throne erected, or rather there it doth enthrone Christ, so as that he comes to be exalted in a subject-will, and is actually entertained there according to that discovery the Gospel makes of him. And so next to this persuasion of the mind, 513which is to be distinguished from that which carries with multitudes the same deceiving, insignificant name—I say, besides and next to that persuasion or assent of the mind, there is a compliance of the will that belongs to the essence of this faith. We believe this Jesus to be the Christ, so as to will him accordingly; or by our will to entertain him in a correspondent admission unto the design of the revelation. We acknowledge him, we own him suitably, according to the import of this name Christ.


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