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THE POSSIBILITY AND NECESSITY OF GOSPEL OBEDIENCE, AND ITS CONSISTENCE WITH FREE GRACE.
And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.—Heb. v. 9.
FOR the explication of these words, I proposed to consider 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, The possibility of our 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.
5thly, The consistency of this method and means of our salvation with the law of faith, and the free grace and mercy of God declared in the gospel.
I have handled the two first of these, and now proceed to the
Third thing I proposed to consider; viz. The possibility of our performing this condition, by that grace and assistance which is offered, and ready to be afforded to us by the gospel. For if Christ be Hie author of eternal salvation only to those who obey him, then those who live in disobedience to the gospel, are in a state of damnation. But there cannot 115 be the guilt of disobedience, where obedience is impossible; no man being guilty, or justly liable to punishment, for the not doing of that, which it was no ways possible for him to do. Therefore the covenant of the gospel, into which God has entered with mankind, doth necessarily suppose the possibility of performing the condition of it; otherwise it leaves them in as bad a condition as they were in before, because it only offers new blessings and benefits to us, but sets us never the nearer the obtaining of them, if so be the condition upon which they are granted be altogether impossible to us; nay, it renders our state many degrees worse, if our not performing the condition of such gracious offers brings us under new and greater guilt.
If it be said, that some few persons have great benefit by it, because they, by an especial and effectual grace, shall be enabled to perform the conditions of this covenant; is not this a mighty straitening to the grace and mercy of the gospel, to confine it within so narrow a compass, as still to leave the greatest part of mankind in a worse condition, than if salvation had never been offered to them? as it certainly does, if (as this doctrine does necessarily suppose) the guilt and punishment of men shall be greatly increased and heightened by their contempt of, and disobedience to, the gospel; when, at the same time, it is acknowledged, that it was not possible for those men to obey it, for want of that special and effectual grace, which is necessary to enable them thereto. I do not love to handle these points contentiously; but this in my apprehension does as much derogate from the amplitude and riches of God’s grace in the gospel, as any thing that can easily be said.116
And therefore, for the right stating and clearing of this matter, I shall endeavour to make out these three things:
1. That we are not sufficient of ourselves, and by any power in us, to perform the conditions of the gospel.
2. That the grace of God is ready to enable and assist us to the performance of these conditions, if we be not wanting to ourselves.
3. That what the grace of God is ready to enable us to do, if we be not wanting to ourselves, that may properly be said to be possible to us, and, in some sense, in our power.
1. That we are not sufficient of ourselves, and by any power in us, to perform the conditions of the gospel. The grace of God doth clearly appear in the whole business of our salvation: “By grace ye are saved (says the apostle), and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Faith is the gift of God, and so is repentance. “It is God that works in us both to will and to do of his own goodness;” that is, who both inclines and excites us to that which is good, and enables us to do it. “Without me (says Christ) ye can do nothing;” and “through Christ strengthening me (saith St. Paul) I am able to do all things;” all things which God requires of us, and expects to be done by us in order to our salvation. Without the grace of Christ, “we are without strength; and are not sufficient of ourselves, as of ourselves, to think a good thought;” that is, we are not sufficient of ourselves to design or resolve upon any thing that is good; but our sufficiency is of God.
The depravation of our nature hath brought a great impotency and disability upon us to that 117which is good; and we have made ourselves much weaker by evil practice; by the power of evil habits, we are enslaved to our lusts, and “sold under sin.” So that if, at any time, we are convinced of our duty, and from that conviction, have an inclination to that which is good, “evil is present to us.” When the law of God gives us the knowledge of our duty, and stares our consciences in the face, “there is another law in our members, warring against the law of our minds, and bringing us into captivity to the law of sin, which is in our members.” Sin brings us under the power of Satan, and gives him dominion over us. “For his servants ye are whom ye obey;” so that he rules and bears sway in us, and “we are led captive by him at his pleasure.” Evil and vicious habits are a kind of second nature superinduced upon us, which takes away our power and liberty to that which is good, and renders it impossible to us to raise and rescue ourselves; so that we are prisoners and captives, till the Son of God sets us free: and dead in trespasses and sins, till he gives us life. And therefore the prophet represents the recovery of ourselves from the bondage of sin, by such things as are naturally impossible, to shew how great our weakness and impotency is: (Jer. xiii. 23.) “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, who are accustomed to do evil.” And by how much stronger the chains of our sins are, and the more unable we are to break loose from them: by so much the greater and more evident is the necessity of the Divine assistance, and of the power of God’s grace, to knock off those fetters, and to rescue us from this bondage and slavery.
2. The grace of God is ready to assist and enable 118us to the performance of these conditions; that is, to faith and repentance, and all the purposes of obedience and a holy life; if we be not wanting to ourselves, and do not reject or neglect to make use of that grace which God offers us, and is ready to afford us in a very plentiful manner. And this is that which renders all the mercies of the gospel effectual (if it be not our own fault, and wilful neglect) to the great end and design of our salvation; and, without this, all the gracious offers of the gospel would signify nothing at all to our advantage.
And this, likewise, is that which renders the unbelief and impenitency and disobedience of men utterly inexcusable, because nothing of all this does proceed from want of power, but of will to do better. And therefore this is so necessary an encouragement to all the endeavours of obedience and a good life, that men should be assured of God’s readiness to assist and help them in the doing of their duty; that, without this, the revelation of the gospel, though never so clear, would signify nothing to us, all the precepts and directions for a good life, and the most vehement persuasions and exhortations to obedience, would have no force and life in them; for what signifies it to direct the dead, and speak to them that cannot hear, and to persuade men, though it were with all the earnestness in the world, to those things which it is impossible for them to do?
Therefore our blessed Saviour, when he had laid down, and explained the precepts of holiness and virtue in his sermon upon the Mount, to encourage them to what he had been directing and proposing to them, he assures them that God is ready to afford his grace and assistance to all those that are sincerely desirous to do his will, and do earnestly implore 119his grace and assistance to that purpose. (Matt. vii. 7-11.) “Ask (saith he) and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” So that if any man want the grace and assistance of God’s Holy Spirit, it is his own fault; it is either for want of seeking, or for want of earnestness in asking; for our Saviour expressly assures us that he denies it to none; “for every one that asketh receiveth.”
And to give us a more lively and sensible assurance of this, he represents the care and kindness of God to men, by the affections of earthly parents to their children, who, though they be many times evil themselves, yet are not wont to deny their children necessary good things, when they decently and dutifully beg them at their hands: “What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or, if he ask a fish, will give him a serpent? If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” Here is a general promise and declaration, that, upon our humble and earnest prayer to God, he will grant us whatever is good and necessary; by which is certainly intended, in the first place, spiritual good things, because these are the best and most necessary; and to satisfy us that our Saviour did, in the first place, and more especially, mean these, St. Luke does particularly instance in the grace and assistance of God’s Holy Spirit: (Luke xi. 13.) “How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? The Holy Spirit;” that is, the continual 120presence and influence of it to all the purposes of guidance and direction, of grace and assistance, of comfort and support in our Christian course.
And what else is the meaning of that parable of our Saviour’s concerning the talents entrusted with every man, according to his capacity and opportunities, (Matt, xxv.) I say, what else can be the meaning of it but this: “that God is beforehand with every man, by affording the advantages and opportunities of being happy, and such a mea sure of grace and assistance to that end, which, if he faithfully improve, he shall be admitted “into the joy of his Lord.”
And upon this consideration of the gracious promises of the gospel to this purpose, it is, that the apostle St. Paul doth so earnestly exhort Christians to endeavour after the highest degree of universal holiness and purity, that we are capable of in this life: (2 Cor. vii. 1.) “Having, therefore, these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” And so likewise, (Phil. ii. 12, 13.) “Wherefore, my beloved, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; (that is, with great care and concernment, lest you should fall short of it) for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do, of his good pleasure.” The consideration of God’s readiness to assist us, and of his grace which is always at hand to stir up our wills to that which is good, and to strengthen us in the doing of it, ought to be a great argument and encouragement to us, to put forth our utmost endeavours, and so co-operate with the grace of God toward our own salvation.
And the apostle St. Peter useth the same argument 121to press men to use their utmost “diligence, to make their calling and election sure,” by abounding in all the virtues of a good life: (2 Pet. i. 3, 4.) “According as his Divine power hath given us all things which pertain to life and godliness, (that is, hath so plentifully furnished us with all the requisites to a godly life) through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue; (that is, by knowledge of the gospel and the grace therein offered to us) whereby he hath given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these ye might be partakers of a Divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” And then, from the consideration of this Divine power, conveyed to us by the gospel, and the promises of it, he exhorts men “to give all diligence, to add to their faith virtue, and knowledge, and temperance, and patience, and godliness, and brotherly love, and charity.”
And, indeed, the Scripture every where ascribes our regeneration and sanctification, the beginning, and progress, and perseverance of our obedience, to the powerful grace and assistance of God’s Holy Spirit; we are said to be “regenerated and born again of the Spirit, to be renewed and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, to be led by the Spirit, and by the Spirit to mortify the deeds of the flesh,” and, in a word, to be “kept by the mighty power of God through faith unto salvation.”
3. What the grace of God is ready to enable us to do, if we be not wanting to ourselves, may properly be said to be possible to us, and in some sense in our power. That may be said to be possible to us, which though we cannot do of ourselves, as of ourselves, (that is, by our own natural power) yet we 122can do by the help and assistance of another, if that assistance be ready to be afforded to us; as we are sure the grace of God’s Holy Spirit is, because he hath promised it to them that seek it, and “he is faithful who hath promised.”
That cannot be said to be wholly out of any man’s power, which he may have for asking; that which we are able to do by the strength and assistance of another, is not impossible to us. Surely, St. Paul did no ways derogate from the grace of God, when he said, “I am able to do all things through Christ strengthening me;” he reckons himself able to do all that which by the strength of Christ he was enabled to do.
And this is the true ground of all the persuasions and exhortations, which we meet with in Scripture, to holiness and obedience; which would all be, not only to no purpose, but very unreasonable, if we were wholly destitute of power to do what God commands: but if he be always ready at hand to assist us by a grace sufficient for us, if he co-operate with us in the work of our salvation, then is there abundant ground of encouragement to our endeavours; and if we fall short of eternal salvation, it is wholly our own fault; it is not because God is wanting to us in those aids and assistances of his grace which are necessary; but because we are wanting to ourselves, in not seeking God’s grace more earnestly, or by neglecting to make use of it when it is afforded to us. For it is really all one, both to the encouragement of our endeavours, and to the rendering of our disobedience inexcusable, whether we be able of ourselves to perform the condition of the gospel, or God be ready to assist us by his grace and Holy Spirit to that purpose.123
Wherefore, as the apostle exhorts, (Heb. xii. 12-15.) “Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way, but let it rather be healed. Follow holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord; looking diligently, lest any man fail of the grace of God;” intimating, that it is want of care and diligence, on our part, if the grace of God fail of its end, and be not effectual to all the purposes of faith and repentance, and obedience. God does not withhold his grace from us; but men may receive it in vain, if they do not make use of it. And thus I have done with the third thing I proposed to consider from these words. I proceed to the
Fourth; viz. To consider the necessity of this obedience, in order to our obtaining of eternal life and happiness. “Christ is the author of eternal salvation to them that obey him;” that is, to such, and only to such, as live in obedience to the precepts of his holy gospel, to them who frame the general course of their lives according to his laws. Some men seem to be so afraid of the merit of obedience and good works, that they are loath to assert the necessity of them, and do it with so much caution, as if they were not thoroughly persuaded of it, or did apprehend some dangerous consequences of it; but this fear is perfectly groundless; as if merit could not be excluded, without casting off our duty, and releasing ourselves from any necessary obligation to be good. For any man, surely, may easily discern a plain difference between a worthiness of desert, and a fitness of receiving a rebel, being penitent and sorry for what he hath done; though he cannot deserve a pardon, yet he may 124thereby be qualified and made meet to receive it; though repentance do not make him worthy, yet it may make him capable of it, which an obstinate rebel, and one that persists in his disloyalty, is not. This is a thing so plain of itself, that it would be waste of time and words to insist longer upon the proof of it.
Now the necessity of obedience, in order to eternal life and happiness, relies upon these three grounds:
1st, Upon the constitution and appointment of God.
2dly, The general reason of rewards.
3dly, Upon the particular nature of that reward, which God will confer upon us for our obedience.
1st, The const i tuition and appointment of God. “Eternal life is the gift of God;” and he may do what he will with his own; he may dispense his gifts and favours upon what terms and conditions he pleaseth; and therefore, if he have plainly declared, that” to them who, by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality,” he will give eternal life; that, “without holiness, no man shall see the Lord;” but if we have our “fruit unto holiness,” our end shall be everlasting life; who shall resist his will, or dispute his pleasure? The right and authority of God in this matter is so unquestionable, that it admits of no contest; and the blessings and benefits proposed are so infinitely great and invaluable, that no condition of obtaining them, which is possible to be performed by us, can be thought hard and unequal; so that we ought thank fully to receive so great a favour, let the terms and conditions of it be what they will; and if there were no other reason for the imposing of these conditions 125upon us, of faith, and repentance, and obedience, but merely the will and pleasure of God, this were enough to silence all objections against it.
But, 2dly, The necessity of obedience, in order to eternal life, is likewise founded in the reason of rewards in general. For though the measure and degree of our reward, so infinitely beyond the proportion of our best duty and service, as eternal life and happiness is; I say, though the measure and degree of this reward be founded in the immense bounty and goodness of God, yet the reason of reward in general is necessarily founded in our obedience to God’s laws; for, according to the true nature and reason of things, nothing but obedience is capable of reward. For though authority may pardon the breach and transgression of laws, and remit the punishment due thereto, yet to reward the contempt of laws, and wilful disobedience to them, is directly contrary to the design of government, and does plainly overthrow the very reason and end of all laws, and makes obedience and disobedience to be all one; if so be they are equally capable of reward: and therefore nothing can be more absurd and senseless, than for any man to hope to be rewarded by God, who does not live in a sincere obedience to his laws. “Every man that hath this hope in him, (that is, in Jesus Christ, to be saved by him) purifieth himself, even as he is pure;” that is, endeavours to be like him in the purity and obedience of his life: and nothing, surely, can be more unreasonable than to expect to be rewarded by the great Governor and Judge of the world, if we be disobedient to his laws; for where obedience to law is refused, there all reason, and equity, and reward ceaseth. No wise prince can 126think fit to reward disloyalty and contempt of his laws; because to reward it, would be to encourage it; much less will God, the great and infinitely wise Governor of the world.
Thirdly, The necessity of obedience will yet more evidently appear, if we consider the particular nature of that reward, which God will confer upon us for our obedience. The happiness of heaven, which is the reward promised in the gospel, is described to us by the sight and enjoyment of God. Now to render us capable of this blessed reward, it is necessary that we be like God; but nothing but obedience and holiness, and being “renewed after the image of him who created us in righteousness,” can make us like to God. For he that would be like God, must be holy, and just, and good, and patient, and merciful, as God is; and this alone can make us capable of the blessed sight and enjoyment of God; for unless we “be like him,” we cannot “see him as he is;” and if we should be admitted into heaven, we could not find any pleasure and happiness in communion with him. “Blessed are the pure in heart, (says our Saviour) for they shall see God.” “Without holiness, (says the apostle) no man shall see the Lord.” And, indeed, it is in the very nature of the things impossible, that a wicked man (whilst he remains so) should ever be happy, because there can be no agreeable and delightful society between those that are of a quite contrary temper and disposition to one another, between him “who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity,” and a sinful and impure creature. For “what fellow ship (saith the apostle) can righteousness have with unrighteousness? what communion hath light with darkness, or God with Belial?” that is, with the 127wicked and disobedient. Till we become like to God in the frame and temper of our minds, there can be no happy society between him and us; we could neither delight ourselves in God, nor he take any pleasure in us; for “he is not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness, neither shall evil dwell with him. The wicked shall not stand in his sight, he hateth all the workers of iniquity.” It cannot be otherwise, but that there must be an eternal jarring and discord between the righteous and holy God, and wicked and unrighteous men. “I will behold thy face (says David) in righteousness.” There is no looking God in the face, upon any other terms. If we have been workers of iniquity, God will cast us out of his sight, and in great anger bid us to “depart from him;” and we also shall desire him to depart from us, being unable to bear the sight of him.
So that there is great reason why holiness and obedience should be made the conditions of eternal life and happiness, since, in the very nature of the thing, it is so necessary a qualification for the blessed sight and enjoyment of God, who to us is the cause and fountain of happiness. I come, in the
Fifth and last place, To shew that this method and means of our salvation, is no prejudice to the law of faith, and to the free grace and mercy of God declared in the gospel. The gospel is called “the law of faith,” and “the law of grace,” in opposition to the Jewish dispensation, which is called “the law,” or “covenant of works,” because it consisteth so much in external rites and observances, which were but “types and shadows of good things to come,” (as the apostle calls them, in this Epistle,) 128and which, when they were come, that law did expire of itself, and was out of date, the obligation and observance of it was no longer necessary; but a better covenant, which was established upon better promises, came in the place of it, and men were justified by faith; that is, by sincerely embracing the Christian religion, and were no longer under an obligation to that external, and servile, and imperfect dispensation, which consisted in circumcision, and in almost an endless number of external ceremonies. These are the works of the law so often spoken of by St. Paul, concerning which the Jews had not only an opinion of the necessity of them to a man’s justification and salvation, but likewise of the merit of them; in opposition to both which opinions, St. Paul calls the covenant of the gospel “the law of faith,” and “the law of grace.”
But there is no where the least intimation given, either by our Saviour or his apostles, that obedience to the precepts of the gospel, (which are in sub stance the moral law cleared and perfected) is not necessary to our acceptance with God, and the obtaining of eternal life; but, on the contrary, it is our Saviour’s express direction to the young man, who asked, what good things he should do, that he might obtain eternal life? “If thou wilt (says he) enter into life, keep the commandments:” and that he might understand what commandments he meant, he instanceth in the precepts of the moral law. And, indeed, the whole tenor of our Saviour’s sermons, and the precepts and writings of the apostles, are full and express to this purpose. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven: whosoever heareth these sayings 129of mine, (that is, these precepts which I have delivered) and doth them not, I will liken him to a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand; and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. In every nation, he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted of him. In Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith, that is acted and inspired by charity.” And that the apostle here means, that charity, or love, which is the “fulfilling of the law,” is evident from what he says elsewhere, that “neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but the keeping of the commandments of God.” In which text it is plain, that the apostle speaks of the terms of our justification, and what is available with God to that purpose. And St. James, to the same purpose, tells us, that “by the works of obedience our faith is made perfect;” and that “faith without works is dead:” and surely a dead faith will neither justify nor save any man. St. John likewise very earnestly cautions us to take heed of any such doctrine, as would take away the necessity of righteousness and obedience: “Little children, (says he) let no man deceive you; he that doth righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” To all which I shall only add the plain words of my text, that “Christ became the author of eternal salvation to them that obey him.”
So that no man hath reason to fear, that this doctrine of the necessity of obedience to our acceptance with God, and the obtaining of eternal life, should be any ways prejudicial to “the law of faith,” and “the 130law of grace.” For so long as these three things are but asserted and secured:
First, That faith is the root and principle of obedience and a holy life, and that without it, “it is impossible to please God.”
Secondly, That we stand continually in need of the Divine grace and assistance to enable us to perform that obedience which the gospel requires of us, and is pleased to accept in order to eternal life. And,
Thirdly, That the forgiveness of our sins, and the reward of eternal life, are founded in the free grace and mercy of God, conferring these blessings upon us, not for the merit of our obedience, but only for the merit and satisfaction of the obedience and sufferings of our blessed Saviour and Redeemer; I say, so long as we assert these three things, we give all that the gospel any where ascribes to faith, and to the grace of God revealed in the gospel.
I have been careful to express these things more full and distinctly, that no man may imagine, that, whilst we assert the necessity of obedience and a holy life, we have any design to derogate in the least from the faith and the grace of God; but only to engage and encourage men to holiness and a good life, by convincing them of the absolute and indispensable necessity of it, “in order to eternal salvation. For all that I have said, is, in plain English, no more but this that it is necessary for a man to be a good man, that he may get to heaven; and who ever finds fault with his doctrine, finds fault with the gospel itself, and the main end and design of the grace of God therein revealed to mankind, which offers salvation to men upon no other terms than these which I have mentioned; and to preach and 131press this doctrine, is certainly, if any thing in the world can he so, to pursue the great end and design of the Christian religion, so plainly and expressly declared by St. Paul (Tit. ii. 11, 12.) “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.” And if the grace of God declared in the gospel have this effect upon us, then we may with confidence “wait for the blessed hope, and the glorious appearance of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works:” and then he adds, “these things teach, and exhort, and rebuke with ail authority;” that is, declare and inculcate this doctrine, and rebuke severely those who teach or practise contrary to it. And he repeats it again with a more vehement charge to Titus, to press upon men the necessity of obedience and good works: (chap. iii. 8.*) “This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they who have believed in God be careful to maintain good works.”
All that now remains, is to make some useful inferences from what hath been said upon this argument, and so to conclude this discourse.
First of all, To convince us that an empty profession of the Christian religion, how specious and glorious soever it be, if it be destitute of the fruits of obedience and a holy life, will by no means avail to bring us to heaven. No profession of faith in Christ, no subjection to him, though we be baptized in his name, and list ourselves in the number of his disciples and followers, though we have made a 132constant profession of all the articles of the Christian faith, and have performed all the external parts and duties of religion, have gone constantly to church, and frequented the service of God, and have joined in public prayers to God with great appearance of devotion, and have heard his word with great reverence and attention, and received the blessed sacrament with all imaginable expressions of love and gratitude to our blessed Redeemer; nay, though we had heard our blessed Saviour himself teach in our streets, and had eaten and drunken in his presence; yet, if all this while we have not done the will of God, and obeyed his laws, none of all these things will signify any thing to bring us to heaven, and make us partakers of that salvation, which he hath purchased for mankind.
But we cannot plead so much for ourselves, as those did, of whom our Saviour speaks. None of us shall be able to allege for ourselves, at the great day, that we had prophesied in his name, and in his name had cast out devils, and in his name had done many wonderful works; and yet if we could allege all this, it would do us no good. All that such can say for themselves is, that they have called him Lord, Lord; that is, they have made profession of his religion, and been called by his name; that they have paid an outward honour and respect to him, and declared a mighty love and affection for him; but they have not done his will, but have hated to be reformed, and have cast his commandments behind their backs; they have only borne the leaves of an outward profession, but have brought forth no fruit unto holiness, and therefore can have no reasonable expectation, that their end should be everlasting life. So that, when these men shall appear 133before the great and terrible Judge of the world, they shall have nothing to say but those vain words, Lord, Lord: to which our Saviour will answer in that day, “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord: when ye would not do the things which I said?” Notwithstanding all your profession of faith in me, and subjection to me, “ye have been workers of iniquity, therefore depart from me, I know ye not whence ye are.”
Secondly, The consideration of what hath been said should stir us up to a thankful acknowledgment of what the author of our salvation hath done for us; and there is great reason for thankfulness whether we consider the greatness of the benefit conferred upon us, or the way and manner in which it was purchased, or the easy and reasonable terms upon which it may be obtained.
1st, If we consider the greatness of the benefit conferred upon us, and that is salvation, eternal salvation, which comprehends in it all the blessings and benefits of the gospel, both the means and the end, our happiness, and the way to it, by saving us from our sins; from the guilt of them, by our justification in the blood of Christ, and from the power and dominion of them, by the sanctifying grace and virtue of the Holy Ghost.
And it comprehends the end, our deliverance from hell and the wrath to come, and the bestowing of happiness upon us, a great and lasting happiness, great as our wishes, and immortal as our souls; all this is comprehended in eternal salvation.
2dly, If we consider the way and manner in which this great benefit was purchased and procured for us; in a way of infinite kindness and condescension, in the lowest humiliation, and the unparalleled sufferings of the Son of God; for “never was there 134any sorrow like unto his sorrow, wherewith the Lord afflicted him in the day of his fierce anger;” in his taking “upon him the form of a servant,” and the person of a sinner, and his becoming “obedient to death, even the death of the cross,” which was the punishment of the vilest slaves, and the most heinous malefactors. The Son of God came down from heaven, from the highest pitch of glory and happiness, into this lower world, this vale of tears, and sink of sin and sorrow; and was contented himself to suffer, to save us from eternal ruin; to be the most despicable, and the most miserable man that ever was, that he might raise us to glory and honour, and advance us to a state of the greatest happiness that human nature is capable of.
3dly, If we consider the easy and reasonable terms upon which we may be made partakers of this unspeakable benefit, and that is, by a constant and sincere and universal obedience to the laws of God, which supposeth repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, as the root and principle of all the virtues of a good life; that is, by doing that which best becomes us, and which is most agreeable to the original frame of our nature, and to the dictates of our reason, and which, setting aside the consideration of our reward, is really best for our present benefit and advantage, our comfort and happiness, even in this world; for God, in giving laws to us, hath imposed nothing upon us, but what, in all reason, ought to have been our choice, if he had not imposed it; nothing but what is for our good, and is in its own nature necessary to make us capable of that happiness which he hath promised to s. And what can be more gracious, than to make one benefit the condition of a greater? than 135to promise to make us happy for ever, if we will but do that which, upon all accounts, is really best and most for our advantage in this present life?
Thirdly, Here is abundant encouragement given to our obedience; we have the Divine assistance promised to us, to enable us to the performance of the most difficult parts of our duty; we have the Holy Spirit of God to help our infirmities, to excite us to that which is good, and to help and strengthen us in the doing of it.
For our further encouragement we are assured of the Divine acceptance in case of our sincere obedience, notwithstanding the manifold failings and imperfections of it, for the sake of the perfect righteousness, and obedience, and the meritorious sufferings of our blessed Saviour: and though, when we have done all we can do, we are unprofitable servants, and have done nothing but what was our duty, yet God is pleased to accept what we can do, because it is sincere, and to forgive the defects and imperfections of our obedience, for his sake, who fulfilled all righteousness.
And, besides all this, we have the encouragement of a great and everlasting reward, infinitely beyond all proportion of any service and obedience that we can perform. And if God be ready to assist and strengthen us in the doing of our duty, and be willing so graciously to accept and to reward at such a rate the sincerity of our endeavours to please him, not withstanding all the failings and imperfections of our best service and obedience, what can we possibly desire more for our encouragement to “patient continuance in well-doing,” and to be “steadfast, and immoveable, and abundant in the work of the Lord?”
Fourthly, and lastly, The consideration of what 136hath been said upon this argument, may serve severely to rebuke the groundless presumption of those who rely with so much confidence upon Christ for eternal salvation, without any conscience or care to keep his commandments; as if salvation lay upon his hands, and he knew not how to dispose of it, and were glad of any one that would come and take it off upon any terms. No, “he came to save us from our sins, to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”
So that the salvation, which he hath purchased for us, doth necessarily imply our forsaking of our sins, and returning to God and our duty, and his death and sufferings are not more an argument of his great love to mankind, than they are a demonstration of his perfect hatred of sin. So that if we continue in the love and practice of sin, we defeat the whole design of his coming into the world, and of all that he hath done and suffered for us; and the redemption which Christ hath wrought for us will not avail us in the least Salvation is far from the wicked,” says David. (Psal. cxix. 155.) If we have been workers of iniquity, the Saviour of the world, when he comes to judge it, will bid us to depart from him.
From all that hath been said, it is evident, that it is the greatest presumption in the world for any man to obtain eternal salvation by any device what soever, or in the communion of any church whatsoever, without obedience and a holy life. For though our obedience cannot merit, yet it is necessary to qualify and dispose us for it: though it does not make us .strictly worthy, yet it makes us “meet to be made partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”137
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