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CHRIST THE AUTHOR, AND OBEDIENCE THE CONDITION OF SALVATION.
And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.—Heb. v. 9.
THIS is spoken of Christ, our great high-priest under the gospel; upon the excellency of whose person, and the efficacy of his sacrifice for the eternal benefit and salvation of mankind, the apostle insists so largely in this and the following chapters; but the sum of all is briefly comprehended in the text, that our high-priest, “being made perfect, became the author of eternal salvation to them that obey him.”
In which words we have these four things considerable:
1st, The great blessing and benefit here spoken of; and that is, eternal salvation; and this implies in it, not only our deliverance from hell, and redemption from eternal misery, but the obtaining of eternal life and happiness for us.
2dly, The author of this great blessing and benefit to mankind; and that is, Jesus Christ, the Son of God; who is here represented to us under the notion of our high-priest, who, by making atonement for us, and reconciling us to God, is said to be the author of eternal salvation to mankind.
3dly, The way and means whereby he became 93the author of our salvation; “being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation.” The word is τελειωθεὶς, having consummated his work, and finished his course, and received the reward of it. For this word hath an allusion to those that run in a race, where he that wins receives the crown. And to this the apostle plainly alludes, Phil. iii. 12. where he says, not as though I had already attained,” οὐχ ὄτι ἤδη ἔλαβον, not as if I had already taken hold of the prize; but I am pressing, or reaching forward towards it; ἢ ἤδη τετελείωμαι, “or were already perfect:” that is, not as if I had finished my course, or had the prize or crown in my hand; but I am pressing forward towards it. In like manner, our blessed Saviour, when he had finished the course of his humiliation and obedience, which was accomplished in his sufferings, and had received the reward of them, being risen from the dead, and exalted to the right hand of God, and crowned with glory and honour, he is said to be τελειωθεὶς, made perfect; and therefore, when he was giving up the ghost upon the cross, he said, (John xix. 30.) τετέλεσται, “it is finished,” or perfected; that is, he had done all that was necessary to be done by way of suffering for our redemption. And the same word is likewise used (Luke xiii. 32.) concerning our Saviour’s sufferings; “I do cures to-day and to-morrow, καὶ τὴ τρίτῃ τελειοῦμαι, and the third day I shall be perfected;” this he spake concerning his own death. And, therefore, (chap. ii. 10.) God is said .” to make the Captain of our salvation perfect through sufferings;” Διὰ παθημάτων τιλειῶσαι. And thus our high-priest, being “made perfect” in this sense; that is, having finished his course, which was accomplished in his sufferings, and having received the reward of them in 94being exalted at the right hand of God, “he became the author of eternal salvation to us.”
4thly, You have here the qualification of the persons who are made partakers of this great benefit, or the condition upon which it is suspended, and that is obedience; “he became the author of eternal salvation to them that obey him.”
These are the main things contained in the text. For the fuller explication whereof I shall take into consideration these five things:
1st, How and by what means, Christ is the “author of our salvation.”
2dly, What obedience the gospel requires as a condition, and is pleased to accept as a qualification, in those who hope for eternal salvation.
3dly, We will consider the possibility of performing this condition, by that grace and assistance which is offered, and ready to be afforded to us by the gospel.
4thly, The necessity of this obedience, in order to eternal life and happiness.
And, 5thly, I shall shew that this is no prejudice to the law of faith, and the free grace and mercy of God, declared in the gospel.
1st, We will consider how and by what means Christ is the author of our salvation; and this is contained in these words, “being made perfect, he be came the author of eternal salvation;” that is, (as I told you before) having finished his course, which was accomplished in his last sufferings; and having received the reward of them, being exalted at the right hand of God, “he became the author of eternal salvation” to us; so that, by all he did and suffered for us, in the days of his flesh, and in the state of his humiliation, and by all that he still continues 95to do for us now that he is in heaven at the right hand of God; he hath effected and brought about the great work of our salvation. His doctrine and his life, his death and sufferings, his resurrection from the dead, and his powerful intercession for us at the right hand of God, have all a great influence upon the reforming and saving of mankind; and by all these ways and means he is the author and cause of our salvation; as a rule, and as a pattern, as a price and propitiation, and as a patron and advocate that is continually pleading our cause, and interceding with God on our behalf, for mercy and grace to help in time of need.
And, indeed, our condition required a high-priest who was qualified in all these respects for the recovery of mankind out of that corrupt and degenerate state into which it was sunk; a high-priest “whose lips should preserve knowledge,” and from whose mouth we might learn the law of God; whose life should be a perfect pattern of holiness to us, and his death a propitiation for the sins of the whole world; and by whose grace and assistance we should be endowed with power and strength to mortify our lusts, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God; and, therefore, “such a high-priest became us, who was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners, who might have compassion on the ignorant, and them that are out of the way, and being himself compassed with infirmities, might have the feeling of ours, being in all points tempted as we are, only without sin;” and in a word, “might be able to save to the utmost all those that come to God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for us.”
By these qualifications our high-priest is described 96in this Epistle; and by these he is every way suited to all our defects and infirmities, all our wants and necessities; to instruct our ignorance by his doctrine, and to lead us in the path of righteousness by his most holy and most exemplary life; to expiate the guilt of our sins by his death; and to procure grace and assistance for us by his prevalent intercession on our behalf. By all these ways, and in all these respects, he is said to be “the author of eternal salvation.”
1st, By the holiness and purity of his doctrine, whereby we are perfectly instructed in the will of God and our duty, and powerfully excited and persuaded to the practice of it. The rules and directions of a holy life were very obscure before, and the motives and encouragements to virtue but weak and ineffectual, in comparison of what they are now rendered by the revelation of the gospel. The general corruption of mankind, and the vicious practice of the world, had in a great measure blurred and defaced the natural law; so that the heathen world, for many ages, had but a very dark and doubtful knowledge of their duty, especially as to several instances of it. The custom of several vices had so prevailed among mankind, as almost quite to extinguish the natural sense of their evil and deformity. And the Jews, who enjoyed a considerable degree of Divine revelation, had no strict regard to the morality of their actions; and contenting themselves with some kind of outward conformity to the bare letter of the ten commandments, were almost wholly taken up with little ceremonies and observances, in which they placed the main of their religion, almost wholly neglecting the greater duties and weightier matters of the law.97
And therefore, our blessed Saviour, to tree mankind from these wanderings and uncertainties about the will of God, revealed the moral law, and explained the full force and meaning of it, clearing all doubts, and supplying all the defects of it, by a more particular and explicit declaration of the several parts of our duty, and by precepts of greater perfection than the world was sufficiently acquainted withal before; of greater humility and more universal charity; of abstaining from revenge and forgiving injuries, and returning to our enemies good for evil, and love for ill-will, and blessings and prayers for curses and persecutions. These virtues, indeed, were sometimes, and yet but very rarely, recommended before in the councils of wise men; but either not in that degree of perfection, or not under that degree of necessity, and as having the force of laws, and laying an universal obligation of indispensable duty upon all mankind.
And as our blessed Saviour hath given a greater clearness, and certainty, and perfection, to the rule of our duty, so he hath revealed, and brought into a clearer light, more powerful motives and encouragements to the constant and careful practice of it; “for life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel;” the resurrection of Christ from the dead being a plain and convincing demonstration of the immortality of our souls, and another life after this, and an evidence to us both of his power, and of the fidelity of his promise, to raise us from the dead. Not but that mankind had some obscure apprehensions of these things before. Good men had always good hopes of another life, and future rewards in another world; and the worst of men were not with out some fears of the judgment and vengeance of 98another world; but men had disputed themselves into great doubts and uncertainties about these things; and as men that are in doubt, and almost indifferent which way they go; so the uncertain apprehensions which men had of a future state, and of the rewards and punishments of another world, had but a very faint influence upon the minds of men, and wanted that pressing and determining force to virtue and a good life, which a firm belief and clear conviction of these things would have infused into them.
But now the light of the glorious gospel of Christ hath scattered all these clouds, and chased away that gross darkness which hid the other world from our sight, and hath removed all doubts concerning the immortality of men’s souls, and their future state; and now “the kingdom of heaven,” with all its treasures of life, and happiness, and glory, lies open to our view, and “hell is also naked before us, and destruction hath no covering.” So that the hopes and fears of men are now perfectly awakened, and all sorts of considerations that may serve to quicken and encourage our obedience, and to deter and affrighten men from a wicked life, are exposed to the view of all men, and do stare every man’s conscience in the face. And this is that which renders the gospel so admirable and powerful an instrument for the reforming of mankind, and, as the apostle calls it, the “mighty power of God unto salvation;” because therein life and immortality are set before us, as the certain and glorious reward of our obedience; and therein also “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven, against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” So that, considering the perfection of our rule, and the 99powerful enforcements of it upon the consciences of men, by the clear discovery and firm assurance of the eternal recompence of another world; nothing can be imagined better suited to its end than the doctrine of the gospel is to make men wise, and holy, and good unto salvation; both by instructing them perfectly in their duty, and urging them powerfully to the practice of it.
2dly, The example of our Saviour’s life is like wise another excellent means to this end. The law lays an obligation upon us; but a pattern gives life and encouragement, and renders our duty more easy, and practicable, and familiar to us; for here we see obedience to the Divine law practised in our own nature, and performed by a man like ourselves, “in all things like unto us, sin only excepted.” It is true, indeed, this exception makes a great difference, and seems to take off very much from the encouraging force and virtue of this example. No wonder if he that was without sin, and was God as well as man, performed all righteousness; and therefore, where is the encouragement of this example? That our nature, pure and uncorrupted, supported and assisted by the divinity to which it was united, should be perfectly conformed to the law of God, as it is no strange thing, so neither doth it seem to have that force and encouragement in it, which an example more suited to our weakness might have had. But then this cannot be denied, that it hath the advantage of perfection, which a pattern ought to have, and to which, though we can never attain, yet we may always be aspiring towards it; and certainly we cannot better learn how God would have men to live, than by seeing how God himself lived 100when he was pleased to assume our nature, and to become man.
And then, we are to consider, that the Son of God did not assume our nature in its highest glory and perfection, but compassed with infirmities, and liable in all points to be tempted like as we are; but still it was without sin; and therefore God doth not exact from us perfect obedience, and that we should fulfil all righteousness, as he did; he makes allowance for the corruption of our nature, and is pleased to accept of our sincere, though very imperfect obedience. But after all this, his human nature was united to the divinity, and he had the “Spirit without measure;” and this would, indeed, make a wide difference between us and our pattern, as to the purpose of holiness and obedience, if we were destitute of that assistance which is necessary to enable us to the discharge of our duty; but this God offers, and is ready to afford to us, for he hath promised “to give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him;” and “the Spirit of him that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead” dwells in all good men, who sincerely desire to do the will of God; “in the working out our salvation, God worketh in us both to will and to do.”
So that as to that obedience which the gospel requires of us, if we be not wanting to ourselves, if we do not “receive the grace of God in vain,” and “quench and resist his blessed Spirit,” we may be as really assisted as the Son of God himself was; for, in this respect, all true and sincere Christians are the sons of God; so that St. Paul tells us, (Rom. viii. 14.) “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”101
So that, if all things be duly considered, the life of our blessed Saviour, as it is the most perfect, so, in the main, it is a very proper pattern for our imitation, and could not have come nearer to us, with out wanting that perfection which is necessary to a complete and absolute pattern. The Son of God condescended to every thing that might render him the most familiar and equal example to us, excepting that, which, as it was impossible, so had been infinitely dishonourable to him, and would have spoiled the perfection of his example; he came as near to us as was fit or possible, “being in all things like unto us, sin only excepted;” that is, abating that one thing, which he came to destroy and abolish, and which would have destroyed the very end of his coming; for if he had not been without sin, he could neither have made an expiation for sin, nor have been a perfect pattern of holiness and obedience.
And as the life of our blessed Saviour had all the perfection that is requisite to an absolute pattern (so that, by considering his temper and spirit, and the actions of his life, we may reform all the vicious inclinations of our minds, and the exorbitances of our passions, and the errors and irregularities of our lives), so it is a very powerful example, and of great force to oblige and provoke us to the imitation of it; for it is the example of one whom we ought to reverence, and have reason to love, above any person in the world: the example of our Prince and sovereign Lord, of our best friend and greatest benefactor, of the high-priest of our profession, and the Captain of our salvation, of the author and finisher of our faith, of one who came down from heaven for our sakes, and was contented to assume our 102nature, together with the infirmities of it, and to live in a low and mean condition, for no other reason but that he might have the opportunity to instruct and lead mankind in the way to life, to deliver us from sin and wrath, and to bring us to God and happiness. It is the example of one who laid down his life for us, and sealed his love to us in his blood, and whilst we were enemies, did and suffered more for us, than ever any man did for his friend.
And surely these considerations cannot but mightily recommend and endear to us this “example of our Lord and Saviour.” We are ambitious to imitate those whom we highly esteem and reverence, and are apt to have their examples in great veneration, from whom we have received great kindnesses and benefits, and are always endeavouring to be like those whom we love, and are apt to conform ourselves to the will and pleasure of those from whom we have received great favours, and who are continually heaping great obligations upon us.
So that, whether we consider the excellency of our pattern, or the mighty endearments of it to us, by that infinite love and kindness which he hath expressed towards us, we have all the temptation, and all the provocation in the world, to endeavour to be like him; for who would not gladly tread in the steps of the Son of God, and of the best friend that the sons of men ever had? Who would not follow that example to which we stand indebted for the greatest blessings and benefits that ever were procured for mankind? Thus you see of what force and advantage the example of our blessed Saviour is toward the recovery and salvation of mankind.
3dly, He is “the author of eternal salvation,” 103 as he hath purchased it for us, by the “merit of his obedience and sufferings,” by which he hath obtained eternal redemption for us; not only deliverance from the wrath to come, but eternal life and happiness. When, by our sins, we had justly incurred the wrath and displeasure of Almighty God, and were liable to eternal death and misery, he was contented to be substituted a sacrifice for us, “to bear our sins in his own body on the tree,” and to expiate the guilt of all our offences by his own sufferings. He died for us, that is, ^not only for our benefit and advantage, but in our place and stead: so that if he had not died, we had eternally perished; and because he died, we are saved from that eternal ruin and punishment which was due to us for our sins.
And this, though it be no where in Scripture called by the name or term of satisfaction, yet, which is the same thing in effect, it is called the price of our redemption; for, as we are sinners, we are liable and indebted to the justice of God, and our blessed Saviour, by his death and sufferings, hath discharged this obligation; which discharge, since it was obtained for us by the shedding of his precious blood, without which, the Scripture expressly says, “there had been no remission of sin,” why it may not properly enough be called payment and satisfaction, I confess I cannot understand. Not that God was angry with his Son, for he was always well pleased with him; or that our Saviour suffered the very same which the sinner should have done in his own person, the proper pains and torments of the damned; but that his perfect obedience and grievous sufferings, undergone for our sakes, and upon our account, were of that value and esteem with God, and 104his voluntary sacrifice of himself in our stead so highly acceptable and well pleasing to him, that he thereupon was pleased to enter into a covenant of grace and mercy with mankind; wherein he hath promised and engaged himself to forgive the sins of all those who sincerely repent and believe, and to make them partakers of eternal life. And hence it is, that the blood of Christ, which was shed for us upon the cross, is called “the blood of the covenant;” as being the sanction of that new covenant of the gospel, into which God is entered with mankind; and not only the confirmation, but the very foundation of it; for which reason, the cup in the Lord’s supper (which represents to us the blood of Christ) is called “the new testament in his blood, which was shed for many for the remission of sins.”
4thly, and lastly, Christ is said to be the author of our salvation, in respect of his powerful and perpetual intercession for us at the right hand of God. And this seems to be more especially intimated and intended, in that expression here in the text, that “being made perfect he became the author of eternal salvation to them that obey him.” Which words, of his being perfected, do, as I have shewed before, more immediately refer to his sufferings, and the reward that followed them, his exaltation at the right hand of God, where “he lives for ever to make intercession for us;” by which perpetual and most prevalent intercession of his, he procures all those benefits to be bestowed upon us, which he purchased for us by his death; the forgiveness of our sins, and our acceptance with God, and perfect restitution to his favour, upon our faith and repentance, and the grace and assistance of God’s Holy Spirit to enable us to a sincere discharge of our duty, to strengthen us 105against all the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, to keep us from all evil, and to preserve us to his heavenly kingdom.
And this is that which our apostle calls “obtaining of mercy, and finding grace to help in time of need,” (chap. iv. ver. 16. of this Epistle.) Our blessed Saviour, now that he is advanced into heaven, and “exalted on the right hand of the Majesty on high,” doth, out of the tenderest affection and compassion to mankind, still prosecute that great and merciful design of our salvation which was begun by him here on earth, and in virtue of his meritorious obedience and sufferings does offer up our prayers to God, and as it were plead our cause with God, and represent to him all our wants and necessities, and obtain a favourable answer of our petitions put up to God in his name, and all necessary supplies of grace and strength, proportionable to our temptations and infirmities.
And by virtue of this powerful intercession of our blessed Saviour and Redeemer, our sins are pardoned upon our sincere repentance, our prayers are graciously answered, our wants are abundantly sup plied, and the grace and assistance of God’s Spirit are plentifully afforded to us, to excite us to our duty, to strengthen us in well-doing, to comfort us in afflictions, to support us under the greatest trials and sufferings, and “to keep us through faith unto salvation.”
And for this reason, as the purchasing of our salvation is in Scripture attributed to the death and sufferings of Christ; so the perfecting and finishing of it is ascribed to the prevalency of his intercession at the right hand of God for us. So the apostle tells us, (chap. vii. 25.) that “he is able to save to the uttermost 106all those that come to God by him; seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for us.” He died once to purchase salvation for us; and that we may not fall short of it, but receive the full benefit of this purchase, “he lives for ever to make intercession for us,” and thus “he saves to the uttermost all those that come to God by him;” that is, he takes care of the whole business of our salvation from first to last. And now that he is in heaven, he is as in tent to procure our welfare and happiness, and as tenderly concerned for us, as when he lived here among us upon earth, as when he hung upon the cross, and “poured out his soul an offering for our sins;” for he appears at the right hand of God in our nature, that which he assumed for our sakes, which was made subject to, and sensible of our infirmities, and “which “was tempted in all things like as we are, only without sin;” and, therefore, “he knows how to pity” and succour “them that are tempted;” and from the remembrance of his own sufferings, is prompted to a compassionate sense of ours, and never ceaseth in virtue of his blood, which was shed for us, to plead our cause with God, and to intercede powerfully in our behalf.
So that the virtue and efficacy of Christ’s inter cession on our behalf, is founded in the redemption which he wrought for us by his blood and sufferings; which, being entered into heaven, he represents to God on our behalf. As the high-priest, under the law, did enter into the holy place with the blood of the sacrifice that had been offered, and in virtue of that blood interceded for the people; “so Christ, by his own blood, entered into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us;” as the apostle speaks, (chap. ix. 12.) He entered 107into “the holy place;” that is, “into heaven itself,” to make intercession for us, as the apostle explains himself: (ver. 24.) “Christ is not entered into the holy places which are made with hands, but into heaven itself, to appear in the presence of God for us.” And, (chap. x. ver. 12.) speaking of Christ’s appearing for us at the right hand of God, “this man (says he) after he had offered one sacrifice for sin for ever (that is, a sacrifice of perpetual virtue and efficacy) sat down at the right hand of God;” that is, to intercede for us in virtue of that sacrifice.
From all which it appears, that the virtue of Christ’s mediation and intercession for us in heaven is founded in his sacrifice, and the price of our redemption, which he paid on earth, in shedding his blood for us.
From whence the apostle reasons, “that there is but one mediator between God and man,” by whom we are to address our prayers to God: (1 Tim. ii. 5.) “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all.” His mediation is founded in his ransom, or the price which he paid for our redemption, The apostle, indeed, does not say there is “but one mediator” between God and man in express words, but surely he means so; if by saying “there is one God,” he means “there is but one God,” for they are joined together, and the very same expression used concerning both: “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men;” that is, there is “but one God” and “one mediator.” But then, they of the church of Rome endeavour to avoid this plain text, by distinguishing between a mediator of redemption, and a mediator of intercession; 108but now, if Christ’s mediation, by way of intercession, be founded in the virtue of his redemption; then if there be but one mediator of redemption, then there is but one mediator of intercession in heaven for us. “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all.” So that the power and prevalency of his intercession is founded in his ransom; that is, the price of our redemption; in virtue whereof alone he intercedes with God for us, as the apostle to the Hebrews does most plainly assert. So that all other intercessors in heaven for us are excluded from offering and presenting our prayers to God, besides our high-priest, “who is at the right hand of God, and lives for ever, to make, intercession for us,” and by virtue of his intercession “is able to save to the uttermost all those that come to God by him;” that is, who put up their prayers to God in the alone virtue of his mediation. So that there is no need of any other, if his intercession be available “to save to the uttermost:” so there is great danger in applying to any other (whether saint or angel, or even the blessed Virgin) if the benefit of his intercession be limited to those “who come to God by him.” And thus I have shewn by what means Christ is “the author of our salvation;” which was the first thing proposed to be considered. I proceed to the
Second thing I proposed to inquire into: namely, What obedience the gospel requires as a condition, and is pleased to accept as a qualification, in those who hope for eternal salvation. And this I shall explain, first negatively, and then positively.
1st, negatively: It is not a mere outward profession of the Christian religion, and owning of 109Christ for our Lord and lawgiver, that will be accepted in this case. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, (saith our Saviour) shall enter into the kingdom of God.” By which we may very reasonably understand, all that profession of religion which falls short of obedience and a holy life; as, the profession of faith in Christ, being baptized into his name and religion, the mere belief of his doctrine, and the owning of him for our Lord and Saviour; no, nor the external worship of him, and profession of subjection to him, by prayer and hearing his word, and communicating in the holy sacrament. No, though this be set off in the most glorious manner, by prophesying and working miracles in his name; for so it follows in the next words: “Many shall say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name have done many wondrous works? We have eat and drunk in thy presence, and have heard thee preach in our streets.” But he tells us, that nothing of all this, without obedience to his laws, will be sufficient to gain us admission into heaven.
2dly, positively: That which God requires as a condition and will accept as a qualification, in those who hope for eternal life, is faith in Christ, and a sincere and universal obedience to the precepts of his holy gospel. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of God: but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” And here in the text it is expressly said, that “Christ is the author of eternal salvation to them that obey him,” τοῖς ὑπακούουσιν ἀυτῶ, to them that hearken to him; that is, to them that do so hear and believe his gospel, as to obey it; to 110them, and no other, he is “the author of eternal salvation.”
And, that we may the more clearly and distinctly understand what obedience it is, which the gospel exacts as an indispensable condition of eternal salvation, and a necessary qualification in all those who hope to be made partakers of it, we may be pleased to consider, that there is a virtual and an actual obedience to the laws of God, a perfect and sincere obedience to them; the explication of these terms will give us a distinct conception of the things we are speaking of.
1st, There is a virtual, and there is an actual obedience to the laws of God. By an actual obedience, I mean the practice and exercise of the several graces and virtues of Christianity in the course and tenor of a holy life; when “out of a good conversation men do shew forth their works;” and, by the outward actions of their lives, do give real testimony of their piety, justice, sobriety, humility, meekness, and charity, and all other Christian graces and virtues, as occasion is ministered for the practice and exercise of them.
By a virtual obedience, I mean a sincere belief of the gospel, of the holiness and equity of its precepts, of the truth of its promises, and the terror of its threatenings, and a true repentance for all our sins. This is obedience in the root and principle; for he who sincerely believes the gospel, and does truly repent of the errors and miscarriages of his life, is firmly resolved to obey the commandments of God, and to walk before him in holiness and righteousness all the days of his life; so that there is nothing that prevents or hinders this man’s actual obedience to the laws of God, in the course of a holy and good 111life, but only the want of time and opportunity for it. And this was the case of those who, upon the hearing of the gospel when it was first preached to them, did heartily embrace it, and turn from their sins, and the worship of idols, to the true and living God, but perhaps were cut off soon after; (as there were many who, being but newly gained to Christianity, were presently put to death, and suffered martyrdom for that profession;) there is no doubt to be made but that, in this case, a virtual obedience was in such persons a sufficient qualification for eternal life.
But where there is time and opportunity for the exercise of our obedience, and the practice of the virtues of a holy life, there actual obedience to the laws and precepts of the gospel is necessary to qualify us for eternal happiness; so that, though a man do sincerely believe the gospel, and truly repent of his sins, and resolve upon a better life; yet if he do not afterwards in the course of his life put this resolution in practice, and “bring forth fruits meet for repentance and amendment of life,” and persevere in a holy course, his first resolution of obedience, though it were sincere, will not avail him to salvation. Nay, if he should continue for some time in the resolution and practice of a holy and virtuous life, and afterwards fall off from it, and “turn from the holy commandment delivered unto him, his latter end would be worse than his beginning; all his righteousness that he hath done would not be remembered; he should die in his iniquity.” For “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” If “any man draw back, God’s soul will have no pleasure in him.” This is so very clear and plain from Scripture, that no man can entertain a contrary 112persuasion without contradicting the whole tenor of the Bible.
The sum of what I have said is this; that a virtual obedience and sincere faith and repentance are sufficient, where there is no time and opportunity for actual obedience, and the practice of a holy life: but where there is opportunity for actual obedience, and the continued practice of a good life, and perseverance therein; they are indispensably necessary in order to our eternal salvation, and a well-grounded hope and assurance of it.
2dly, There is a perfect, and there is a sincere obedience. Perfect obedience consists in the exact conformity of our hearts and lives to the law of God, without the least imperfection, and without failing in any point or degree of our duty. And this obedience, as it is not consistent with the frailty and infirmity of corrupt nature, and the imperfection of our present state, so neither doth God require it of us as a necessary condition of eternal life. We are, indeed, commanded to be “perfect, as our Father which is in heaven is perfect;” but we are not to understand this strictly and rigorously; for that is not only impossible to men in this present state of imperfection, but absolutely impossible to human nature, for men to be perfect, as God is perfect; but the plain meaning of this precept is, that we should imitate those Divine perfections of goodness, and mercy, and patience, and purity, and endeavour to be as like God in all these as we can, and be still aspiring after a nearer resemblance of him, as may be evident to any one who considers the connexion and occasion of these words.
By a sincere obedience, I mean such a conformity of our lives and actions to the law of God, as to the general course and tenor of them, that we do not 113live in the habitual practice of any known sin, or in the customary neglect of any material or consider able part of our known duty; and that we be not wilfully and deliberately guilty of the single act of heinous and notorious sins, as I have formerly explained this matter more at large in another discourse. And this obedience, even in the best of men, is mixed with great frailty and imperfection; but yet, because it is the utmost that we can do in this state of infirmity and imperfection, the terms of the gospel are so merciful and gracious, as that God is pleased, for the sake of the meritorious obedience and sufferings of our blessed Saviour, to accept this sincere, though imperfect obedience, and to reward it with eternal life. And this, I doubt not, after all the intricate disputes, and infinite controversies about this business, is the true and clear state of the matter.
And this sincere obedience, which the gospel requires of us as a condition of our happiness, though it be sometimes called by divines, evangelical perfection; yet it is but very improperly so called; for nothing is properly perfect to which any thing is wanting; and great defects and imperfections must needs be acknowledged in the obedience of the best and holiest men upon earth; and they who pretend to perfection in this life, do neither understand the law of God nor themselves, but (as St. John says of such persons) “they deceive themselves, and the truth is not in them;” and, besides other imperfections, these two are evident in them—ignorance and pride.
And thus much may suffice to have spoken to this second particular; namely, what obedience the gospel requires as a condition, and is pleased to accept as a qualification, for eternal life.114
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