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OF THE NECESSITY OF GOOD WORKS.
This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God, might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.—Tit. iii. 8.
THIS Epistle of St. Paul to Titus, whom he had made bishop of Crete, contains directions how he ought to demean himself in that great charge.
1, By appointing in every city bishops or elders, to teach and govern those that were already, or should afterwards by their means be converted to the faith of Christ; and to be very careful to make choice of worthy and fit persons into this high office; men of sound doctrine, and unblameable lives, (chap. i. from ver. 5. to the end.)
2. By his own doctrine and conversation among them. And this is the subject of the two following chapters, in which he gives him a strict charge, to be very careful both of his doctrine and his life. Of his doctrine, that it be according to the soundness and purity of the gospel; not such corrupt and adulterate stuff, as the false apostles and teachers were wont to vend among them: (chap. ii. 1.) “But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine;” which he elsewhere calls “the doctrine of truth which is according to godliness,” such a doctrine as tends to reform the lives of men, to make 552them better, and more like to God. And then he should be careful, likewise, that his life and conversation be exemplary in all virtue and goodness; without which the best words will be of little weight, and the wisest doctrines and counsels of small efficacy and force to persuade others to the practice of them, (ver 7.) “In all things shewing thyself a pat tern of good works.” When sound doctrine is seconded by the good life of he teacher, it must have great authority and force of persuasion, (ver. 15.) “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority; let no man despise thee.” If the minister of God do but so preach and so live, this will give him authority, and set him above contempt; let men despise such an one if they can.
More particularly, as he would have him instruct men, in general, in all the virtues of a good life; so more especially, the several ages and conditions of men in the duties and virtues respectively belonging to them; to young and old, men and women.
And because great scandal had been brought upon the Christian religion, by the undutiful carriage of servants and subjects towards their masters and magistrates, upon a false notion of Christian liberty, advanced and propagated by the false apostles and Gnostic libertines, he gives Titus, in particular, charge, to put Christians in mind of their duty in this particular, and to inculcate it earnestly upon them, that the Christian religion might not be slandered upon this account: (chap. ii. 9, 10.) “Exhort servants to be obedient to their masters, &c. that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.” (Chap. iii. 1.) “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, and to be ready to every good work;” that is, in short, 553to endeavour to be good in all relations, and in all sorts and kinds of goodness.
And then (ver. 8.) he lays great stress and weight upon this matter, that Christians should constantly and upon all occasions be taught the great necessity of the virtues of a good life. “This is a faithful saying,” &c. By which solemn and vehement kind of expression, the apostle seems to insinuate, that the false apostles did exalt the virtue of faith, to the prejudice and neglect of a good life; as if, by a mere speculative belief and profession of the Christian religion, men were discharged and released from the practice of all virtue and goodness. And this is very probable, because we find these kinds of licentious doctrines very frequently reflected on, and reproved by the apostles in their epistles, and especially by St. Paul. The false apostles made the Christian religion a matter of mere speculation and dispute, but laid no weight upon the virtues of a good life. And therefore St. Paul, after he had charged Titus to inculcate upon Christians the necessity of good works, immediately adds, “But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law: for they are unprofitable and vain;” intimating that the false apostles, instead of pressing the necessity of a good life, did amuse people with these idle notions and disputes.
But to return to my text, “This is a faithful saying.” This kind of preface the apostle useth several times, but always when he is speaking of something that is of great weight and concernment to us, and which deserves our serious attention and regard; as in 1 Tim. i. 15. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came 554into the world to save sinners.” (1 Tim. iv. 8.) “Godliness is profitable unto all things; having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying.” And (2 Tim. ii. 11, 12.) “This is a faithful saying; if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him; if we suffer, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us.” And so likewise here in the text, “This is a faithful saying, that they which have believed in God, should be careful to maintain good works.” By which you see, that it is not a form which the apostle useth of course, and applies to any thing, but only to things of more than ordinary consideration and regard, such as are of the essence of Christianity, and fundamental to the belief and practice of it.
“This is a faithful saying,” πιστός λόγος, “a credible saying,” that which every man that truly understands the nature and design of religion will readily assent to.
“And this I will that thou affirm constantly.” He chargeth him to preach this upon all occasions, lest the doctrine of justification, by faith and by grace, without any works of righteousness proceeding, should be turned into licentiousness, as it had been by some, and men should falsely conclude, that because works of righteousness were not necessary before justification, and to bring men into that state, they were not necessary neither afterwards to our continuance in that state.
The apostle, indeed, did teach that “God did justify the ungodly,” by the grace of the gospel, and faith in Christ; that is, that those who did sincerely believe and embrace the gospel, though they had been never so great sinners before, were justified upon that faith; that is, all their former sins 555were forgiven, and they were received into the favour of God. But though works of righteousness were not necessary before their justification, yet they are necessary afterwards, because the faith of the gospel, and the embracing of Christianity, doth imply a stipulation and engagement on our part, to live according to the laws and rules of the gospel, which do strictly enjoin all kinds of virtue and goodness. The covenant of baptism, by which we are entered into Christianity, doth contain on our part not only a profession of faith in Christ, but a solemn promise “to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, and righteously, and godly, in this present world.” So that it is the greatest mistake in the world to think, that because we are justified by faith and the profession of Christianity without works of righteousness, therefore we are under no obligation to a good life: for faith in Christ, and the sincere profession of the Christian religion doth imply a good life, and an engagement to the practice of all virtue and goodness, which, if we do not perform and make good, we fail in our part of the covenant, and thereby forfeit all the blessings and benefits promised therein on God’s part.
Therefore it is observable, that the apostle, after he had spoken of our justification by grace without works of righteousness, gives this charge to Titus, to press the necessity of good works upon those who did believe and embrace the profession of the gospel, as it were on purpose to prevent all mistake and abuse of the doctrine of justification by faith, and the free grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ: (ver. 5-7.) “Not by works of righteousness which we have done; but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the 556renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that is, by our solemn profession of Christianity at our baptism; “that, being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life.” And then he adds, (ver. 8.) “This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works;” that is, that they who are thus justified by the faith of the gospel, should be so far from thinking themselves hereby excused from good works, that they should, upon this account, be more careful to maintain and practice them, because, by the very profession of the Christian faith and religion, they have solemnly engaged themselves so to do.
That they which believe in God; that is, who have taken upon them the profession of Christianity in their baptism. For it is not improbable, that the apostle, having spoken of baptism just before, may, by this phrase of believing “in God,” refer to that profession of faith made in baptism, which began with these words: “I believe in God;” and then “they which have believed in God,” are those who in baptism have made a solemn profession of Christianity: as if he had said, “these things I will that thou affirm constantly,” that all that profess themselves Christians “be careful to maintain good works.” Or if by the phrase of believing “in God,” we will understand an assent to all Divine revelations, more especially that of the gospel and the Christian religion, the most perfect that ever God made of his will to mankind, the matter will come much to the same issue.
“Be careful to maintain good works.” This 557phrase seems, in the latter end of this Epistle, to be used in a very restrained sense; for labouring in a honest calling: (ver. 14.) “Let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.” In the margin of your Bibles you will find it rendered, “to profess honest trades.” “Let ours also learn to profess honest trades for necessary uses;” that is, for the supply of their necessities: but in the text it seems more agreeable to the scope of the apostle’s discourse, to render the phrase of maintaining good works, for the practice of all Christian virtues, especially those which are most useful and beneficial to human society; among which, diligence and industry in a honest calling is none of the least considerable, because it follows, “these things are good and profit able unto men.” And, indeed, these are properly works of goodness, which redound to the public benefit and advantage.
But good works may well be taken in a larger sense for all sorts of virtuous actions. And so it is certainly used several times in this Epistle: (chap. i. 16.) “Unto every good work reprobate,” speaking of all profligate persons who were lost to all virtue and goodness. (Chap. ii. 7.) “In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works;” that is, an example of all kind of virtue. And (chap. iii. 1.) “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, and to be ready to every good work;” that is, to the practice of all goodness, of whatsoever is honest and virtuous in itself, amiable and commendable in the sight of others, useful and beneficial to any.
Having thus explained the words, I come now to consider the two points contained in them.558
First, The certain truth and credibility of this saying or proposition, that they which have believed in God, ought to be careful to maintain good works. “This is a faithful saying;” that is, a most evident and credible truth. And,
Secondly, The great fitness and necessity of inculcating this upon all Christians, that the Christian religion doth indispensably require the virtues of a good life. “These things I will that thou affirm constantly,” &c. I begin with the
First of these points, viz. The certain truth and evident credibility of this saying or proposition, that “they which have believed in God, should be careful to maintain good works.” “This is a faithful saying, πιστός λόγος, a saying worthy of credit, a most certain and credible truth/ And it will appear to be so, whether we consider the great end and design of religion in general, or of the Christian religion in particular.
I. If we consider the great end and design of religion in general, which is to make us happy, by possessing our minds with the belief of a God, and those other principles which have a necessary connexion with that belief; and by obliging us to the obedience and practice of his laws.
1. By possessing our minds with the belief of God, and of those other principles which have a necessary connexion with it. Such are the belief of the Divine perfections, of the infinite goodness, and wisdom, and power, and truth, and justice, and purity of the Divine nature; a firm persuasion of his providence, that he governs and administers the affairs of the world, and takes notice of the actions of men, and will call them to an account for them; of the immortality of our souls, and their endless 559duration after death, and consequently of the eternal rewards and punishments of another life. These are the great principles of natural religion, which mankind are in some measure possessed with, and persuaded of, without any external revelation from God; and these are necessary and fundamental to religion, as the apostle to the Hebrews declares: (Heb. xi. 6.) “Without faith it is impossible to please God;” that is, there can be ho such thing as the practice of religion, without the belief of the principles of it; and what these are he tells us in the next words: “He that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
But then we must not rest here, in the belief of a God and the principles of religion; for this faith is not required of us for itself, but in order to some farther end, which if it be not attained by us, the mere belief of the principles of religion is to no purpose, neither acceptable to God, nor useful and beneficial to ourselves. God would not have imprinted the notion of himself upon our nature, he would not have discovered himself to us, nor have required of us the belief of his being and providence, merely that we might know there is such a being as God in the world, who made us and governs us; but that this belief might have its proper influence upon us, to oblige us to the obedience of his laws, which are the proper causes and means of our happiness. It will not avail us at all, nor is it in the least acceptable to God, for men “to profess that they know him,” when “in works they deny him, being abominable and disobedient, and to every good work reprobate,” as the apostle describes some, (chap. i. 16.) And therefore,560
2. The great end and design of religion is, that our minds being possessed and prepared by the principles of religion, the belief of these should have its proper influence upon us, which is effectually to oblige us to the obedience and practice of God’s laws. Now the laws which God hath given us to live by, as they are the rule and measure of our duty, by the performance whereof only we can hope to gain the favour of God, so they are the proper directions and means in order to our happiness; they teach us both the conditions of our happiness, and the proper qualification and disposition for it.
Obedience to the laws of God is the condition of our happiness, both temporal and eternal, both in this world and the other. The promises which God hath made of temporal felicity and blessings, are upon condition of our obedience to his laws; it is godliness only that hath the promise of this life as well as the other. (1 Tim. iv. 8.) A truth so certain and evident, that the apostle thought fit to add that solemn seal to it which he prefaceth to the saying in the text, “This is a faithful saying.” And though God be pleased, out of his excessive goodness, to bestow many temporal blessings and favours upon very bad men, that by this goodness of his he might lead them to repentance; yet God never made any promise of temporal blessings to wicked men; but, on the contrary, hath threatened them with great temporal evils and calamities; but all the promises, even of temporal good things, are made to the obeying of God’s laws; “to them that keep his covenant, and remember his commandments to do them.”
And this is not only the condition upon which the promises of temporal blessings are suspended, 561but generally, and for the most part, the natural cause and means of those blessings; for there is no moral duty enjoined by God, no virtue, the practice whereof he requires from us, which does not naturally tend to our temporal felicity in this world; as temperance and chastity to that invaluable blessing of health, and to the preservation of our estate, which is wasted by lewd and riotous living; humility and meekness to our quiet and safety; justice and integrity to our reputation and honour, one of the chief instruments of temporal prosperity and success. Kindness and charity, and a readiness to do good to all men as we have opportunity, are in their nature apt to recommend us exceedingly to the love and esteem of all men, and to their favour able regard and assistance, when we stand in need of it. And so, I might instance in all other virtues, the sincere practice whereof, though it be not in all cases certain and infallible, yet it is the best and wisest course that any man can take, to attain the greatest happiness which this world can afford, and to avoid the greatest miseries and calamities of it: as, on the contrary, there is no vice, no wicked practice, but is naturally productive of some great temporal mischief and inconvenience.
And then the practice of virtue and goodness, as it is the absolute and indispensable condition of our future happiness in another world, so is it the necessary and only proper qualification for it, and the certain and infallible means of attaining it.
It is an absolute and indispensable condition of attaining it; and, without this, it is in vain to hope for it. As God will certainly punish the transgressors of his laws, so nothing but obedience to them can pretend to his rewards. This God hath most 562expressly declared, that without purity and holiness, no man shall see him; that Christ is the author of eternal salvation only to them that obey him. And if God had not declared this in his word, the consideration of God’s essential holiness and justice would sufficiently assure us of it.
But, besides this, in the very nature and reason of the thing, holiness and goodness is the necessary and only proper qualification for happiness. With out the blessed sight and enjoyment of God we cannot be happy, and holiness and goodness can only qualify us for this: for happiness is a state which results from a temper and disposition of mind suited to it; and where this is wanting, the man is no more capable of happiness, than he that is sick is of ease. Virtue and goodness are so essential to happiness, that where these are not there is no capacity of it. These make us like to God, who is the fountain and pattern of all happiness; and if we be not like to God, we can have no enjoyment of him; and a wicked man, if he could steal into heaven, into the sight and presence of God, would, from the temper and disposition of his own mind, so unsuitable to that holy place and company, be extremely miserable, even in the mansions of the blessed. Such a temper of mind, such a polluted and guilty conscience, as a sinner carries with him out of this world, will accompany him, and remain with him in the other; and guilt is always restless and full of torment; and though God should not punish it with any positive infliction of pain, would of its own nature make a man for ever miserable. So that it is a vain dream and imagination, that any man, without the practice of holiness and virtue in this life, can be happy in the other. A sincere and 563thorough repentance of all our sins will, indeed, clear our consciences of guilt, and by the mercy of God, make us capable of happiness: but it does this by changing our minds, and, reconciling them to holiness and goodness, in firm purpose and resolution of a new life; and by changing our lives and actions too, if there be opportunity for it; but till this change be wrought, either in firm purpose, or in real effect, it is impossible we should be happy; and though I will not deny but this may be done by a deep repentance, and such as God sees would prove sincere, in the last act of our lives: yet it is extreme madness to run such a hazard, because we may be cut off from the opportunity of it; or, if God should afford us time and grace to that purpose, it is the hardest thing in the world to have any comfortable and well-grounded assurance of the sincerity of it: so that very little hopes of heaven and happiness can be given upon any other terms, than the general and constant course of a holy and virtuous life; and least of all to those who have, all their life long, resolved to venture their everlasting happiness upon the infinite uncertainties of a death-bed repentance at the last. But,
II. The truth of this proposition, that “they which have believed in God, should be careful to maintain good works,” or that faith and the virtues of a good life ought to go together: I say, the truth of this will yet be more evident, if we consider the great end and design of the Christian religion in particular, which was to reform the world, to purify the hearts and lives of men from corrupt affections and wicked practices, to teach men to excel in all kinds of virtue and goodness.
And this is every where in the New Testament 564most expressly declared. The great promise of blessedness is made to the virtues of meekness, and patience, and peaceableness, and purity, and righteousness, as our Saviour expressly teacheth in that excellent sermon of his upon the mount, which is the summary of the Christian religion. (Eph. iv. 17, 18, &c.) “This, I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth,” that is, now that ye have embraced Christianity, “walk not as other gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. “But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: that ye put off, concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt, according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind: and that ye put on that new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness. Wherefore, putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour; for we are members of one another. Be ye angry and sin not, let not the sun go down upon your wrath; neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole, steal no more; but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers; and grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all 565bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice; and be ye kind one to another,” &c. So that you see, that unless there be an universal reformation of heart, and life, we have “not so learned Christ as the truth is in Jesus:” we do not rightly understand the gospel, and the tendency of the Christian religion: (Gal. v. 22-24.) “But the fruits of the Spirit,” of that spirit which the Christian religion endows men withal, “is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, temperance;” and “they that are Christ’s, have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts;” that is, they that profess themselves Christians are obliged to endeavour after all these virtues, and to put off the contrary lusts and vices: (Phil. iv. 8.) “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” St. James likewise declares, to the same purpose, the genuine effect of Christianity, which he calls the knowledge and “wisdom which is from above:” (James iii. 13-17.) “Who is a wise man, and endowed with knowledge amongst you? Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness and wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish; and the wisdom that is from above, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” To which I will 566add but one text more, which is the sum and comprehension of all the rest, and it is (chap. ii. of this Epistle to Titus, ver. 11.) “The grace of God (so he calls the doctrine of the gospel) the grace of God which brings salvation, hath appeared unto all men, teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, and righteously, and godly in this present world.”
I might proceed particularly to shew, that the whole dispensation and doctrine of the gospel, and all the parts of them, are calculated to raise and exalt human nature to the highest pitch and perfection of virtue and goodness, and effectually to reform the spirits and lives of men.
The dispensation of the gospel, or the Christian religion, consists in God’s merciful condescension to send his own and only Son in our nature, to live among us, and to die for us. The doctrine of the gospel consists in the things to be believed; the duties to be practised by us; and the arguments and encouragements to the practice of those duties. Now I shall briefly shew, that the design of every part, both of the dispensation and doctrine of the gospel, is to reform the minds and manners of men, and to engage them to the practice of all virtue and goodness. And,
I. For the dispensation of the gospel: by which I mean the gracious method which the wisdom of God hath pitched upon for the salvation and recovery of mankind, by sending his only-begotten Son into the world in our nature, to live among us, and to die for us. So that the principal parts of this dispensation are these three:
1. His incarnation, or appearing in our nature.
2. His life.567
3. His death and sufferings for us. And I will shew, that the great design of all this was to reform mankind and make them better.
1. For his incarnation. The great design of his coming into the world, and appearing in our nature, was this; and this was the reason of the name Jesus, given him at his birth, as the angel tells ns: (Matt. i. 21.) “His name shall be called Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matt. ix. 13.) He himself tells us, that he came to call “sinners to repentance;” that is, to reclaim them to a better and more virtuous course of life; and (chap. xviii. 11.) “The Son of man is come to save that which was lost;” that is, to recover mankind from a state of sin and misery, to a state of holiness and happiness. And St. Peter, exhorting the Jews to repentance, useth this argument, that for this very end God sent him among them: (Acts iii. 26.) “Unto you first God sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquity.” (Heb. ix. 20.) “But now once in the end of the world he hath, appeared to abolish sin;” that is, to destroy both the guilt and power of sin. (1 John iii. 5.) “Ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins.” And (ver. 8.) “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, to destroy the works of the devil.”
2. This likewise was the great design of his life, of his dwelling and conversing with us so long, to teach us by his doctrine in all holiness and virtue, and to give us the perfect pattern and example of it in his life. For his doctrine, I have spoken of that by itself: but, besides that, one principal end of his living amongst us, was, that in the course of his life, and all the actions of it, he might give us a perfect and familiar example of ail holiness and 568virtue, and therefore we are commanded to take him for our great pattern. “Learn of me, (saith he) for I am meek and lowly in spirit.” (Matt. xi. 29. John xiii. 15.) After that great instance of his humility, in washing his disciples feet, he adds, “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”
3. This also was the great design of his death and sufferings. So the apostles every where teach: (Gal. i. 4.) speaking of Christ, “who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world;” that is, that he might rescue us from the vicious customs and practices of the world. (1 Pet. i. 18.) “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” The death and sufferings of Christ did not only make expiation for our sins, but are proposed to us as a pattern of mortification to sin, and resurrection to a new life, and a most powerful argument thereto. (Rom. vi. 1-3, &c. and 2 Cor. v. 14, 15.) Speaking of the love of Christ in laying down his life for us; “For the love of Christ (saith he) constraineth us, because we thus judge; that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live, should not hence forth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them;” from whence he infers, (ver. 17.) “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” And, (ver. 21.) “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him;” that is, he hath made him, who was without sin, a sacrifice 569for our sins; which should be a strong motive and argument to us, to endeavour after the righteousness of God.
II. As the whole dispensation of the gospel tends to this end, so more particularly does the doctrine of the gospel, and every part of it. Now the whole doctrine of the gospel may be referred to these three heads:
1. The things to be believed by us.
2. The duties to be practised. And,
3. The arguments and encouragements to the practice of these duties. And all these have a most direct and proper tendency to reform mankind, and effectually to engage us to the practice of holiness and virtue.
1. The matters of faith proposed in the gospel have a direct tendency to a good life, and immediate influence upon it. All the articles of our creed, and whatever the Christian religion proposeth to our belief concerning God the Father, the Creator and Governor of all things; and concerning Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour; and concerning the Holy Spirit of grace; the catholic church; the communion of saints; the resurrection of the dead, and everlasting life after death: all and each of these are so many arguments and reasons, motives and encouragements, to a good life. In general, our hearts are said to be “purified by faith,” (Acts xv. 9. 1 Tim. i. 5.) Faith is there reckoned among the principal sources and fountains of a good life: “The end of the commandment (the word is πραγγελίας, the end of the gospel declaration) is charity, out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” So that a sincere faith is the great principle of charity, which is the fulfilling of the 570law, and comprehends in it the duties of both tables. And here I might particularly shew, what influence the several articles of the Christian faith have upon the practice of holiness and virtue in our lives: but this would be too large a field of discourse; and the thing is very plain and obvious to every man’s consideration; and therefore I shall content myself with what I have said in general concerning the influence of faith upon a good life.
2. The duties enjoined by the Christian religion do likewise tend more immediately to the same end and design; I mean the laws and precepts of the gospel, which are nothing else but so many rules of good life, and in the main substance of them are the laws of nature cleared and perfected. For Christ came not to destroy the law, which was in force before; but to explain and clear it, where, through the corruption and degeneracy of mankind, it was grown obscure and doubtful, and to perfect it, by superadding some rules and precepts of greater goodness and perfection, than seem to have been enjoined by it: as, to abstain from all kind of revenge, to love our enemies, and not only to be ready to forgive them the greatest injuries they have done us, but to do them the greatest good, and even to be perfectly reconciled to them after the highest provocations, whenever they are in a meet capacity and disposition for it. So that the precepts of the Christian religion are a plain and perfect rule of all virtue and goodness, and the best and most absolute system of moral philosophy that ever was in the world, containing all the rules of virtue and a good life, which are scattered and dispersed in the writings of the philosophers, and the wise men of all ages, and delivering them to us with greater 571clearness and certainty, in a more simple and un affected manner, with greater authority, force, and efficacy upon our minds, than any philosopher and lawgiver ever did; teaching us how to worship God in the best manner, and most suitable to his nature and perfections; how to demean ourselves towards others with all meekness and humility, justice and integrity, kindness and charity; and how to govern ourselves and our own unruly appetites and passions, and bring them within the bounds of reason, much better than any law or institution that ever was in the world; and all these duties and virtues strictly commanded and enjoined in the name and authority of God, by one evidently empowered and commissioned by him, and sent from heaven on purpose to instruct us in the nature and practice of them. So that the doctrine of the gospel, in respect of the laws and precepts of it, is a plain and perfect rule of a good life. And then,
3. The Christian religion contains the most powerful arguments and encouragements to this purpose; and these are the threatenings and promises of the gospel.
(1.) The terrible threatenings of eternal misery and punishments to all the workers of iniquity, and wilful and impenitent transgressors of these laws. And this is an argument which taketh the safest and surest hold upon human nature, and will many times move and affect, when no other considerations will work upon us. Many men that could not be wrought upon by the love of God and goodness, nor by the hopes of everlasting happiness, have been affrighted and reclaimed from an evil course by the fear of hell and damnation, and the awe of a judgment to come. To think of lying under the terrible 572wrath and displeasure of Almighty God to eternal ages, of being extremely and for ever miserable, without intermission, and without end, must needs be a very dismal consideration to any man that can think and consider: “For who knows the power of God’s anger? who can dwell with everlasting burnings?” and yet to this horrible danger, to this intolerable misery, do all the workers of iniquity, every one that lives in the wilful contempt and disobedience of the laws of the gospel, expose themselves, and this is as expressly revealed and declared to us, as it is possible for words to declare any thing: (Matt. xiii. 40-42.) “So shall it be in the end of the world. The Son of man shall send forth his an gels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. xxv. 41.) There you have the very sentence recorded, which shall be pronounced upon sinners at the great day: “Then shall the King say to them on his left hand, (that is, to the wicked) Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his an gels.” And, (ver. 46.) “These shall go into ever lasting punishment.” And this is that which St. Paul tells us, renders the doctrine of the gospel so powerful for the conversion and salvation of sinners: (Rom. i. 16.) “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, because it is the power of God to salvation, to every one that believeth.” And, (ver. 18.) “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all un godliness and unrighteousness of men.” And, (chap. ii. 8, 9.) “To them that obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth 573evil.” (Ephes. v. 6.) “Let no man deceive you with vain words, for because of these things (viz. the sins he had mentioned before) cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.” (2 Thess. i. 7-9.) “When the Lord Jesus (speaking of the judgment of the great day), shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” So that the gospel gives all imaginable discouragement to the transgression and disobedience of God’s laws, by denunciation of the greatest dread and terror that can be presented to human nature, enough to make any sensible and considerate man willing to do or forbear any thing, to escape so horrible a danger, to cut off a foot or hand, or to pluck out an eye, not only to restrain nature in any thing, but even to offer violence to it, rather than to be cast into hell fire, “where the worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched/ as our Saviour expresseth it, (Mark ix. 48.) This is the first argument from the threatenings. The
(2.) Second, is from the promises of the gospel, which are full encouragement to obedience; and there are three great promises made in the gospel to repentance, and the obedience of God’s laws.
1. The promise of pardon and forgiveness.
2. Of grace and assistance.
3. Of eternal life and happiness. And these certainly contain all the encouragement we can desire; that God will pardon what is past, assist us in well doing for the future, and reward our perseverance 574in it to the end with eternal life: and all this is expressly promised to us in the gospel.
1. The pardon and forgiveness of sins past. (Acts xiii. 38, 39.) “Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” And this is a great encouragement to amendment, to be fully indemnified from all past sins and transgressions; and this promise is made to believing, which includes in it repentance and a better course.
2. The promise of grace and assistance to enable us to all the purposes of holiness and obedience. And this our Saviour has most expressly and emphatically promised to all that are sincerely resolved to make use of it; and that upon the easiest condition that can be, if we do but earnestly pray to God for it, telling us that we may, with the same confidence and assurance of success, (nay, with much greater) ask this of God, as we can any thing that is good of the kindest father upon earth, (Luke xi. 9.) And surely, here is a mighty encouragement to well-doing, to be assured that God is most ready to afford his grace and assistance to us to this purpose, if we heartily beg it of him. So that neither the consideration of our own weakness, nor of the power of our spiritual enemies, can be any discouragement or just excuse to us from doing our duty, since God offers us so freely all the strength that we need, and to endow us with an inward principle of well-doing, more powerful and effectual to all the purposes of holiness and virtue, than any opposition that can be raised against it. So St. John assures us, that we 575have God on our side, and the powerful assistance of his Holy Spirit, and therefore are sure of victory in this conflict: (1 John iv. 4.) “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome; because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. If the Spirit of God be more powerful than the devil, we are of the stronger side; and we have no just cause to complain of our inability and weakness to do the will of God, since that strength and assistance, which we may have for asking, is to all effects and purposes in our own power. And therefore St. Paul made no scruple to call it so, and to say, he was able to do all things: “I am able to do all things through Christ, which strengthened me.”
3. The promise of eternal life: and this is the great promise of the gospel, and the crown of all the rest: (1 John ii. 25.) “This is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.” And this is a reward so great and glorious, and so infinitely be yond the proportion of our service and obedience, that nothing can be more encouraging. What should not men do “in hopes of eternal life, which God that cannot lie hath promised to us?” The expectation of such a reward, so well assured to us, is sufficient to encourage us to do our utmost, and to strain all our powers for the securing and attaining of it, which we cannot do without holiness and obedience of life; for “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” So that all the promises of the gospel are to encourage and strengthen us in well-doing, “to make us partakers of the Divine nature, that we should cleanse ourselves from all filthiness, and perfect holiness in the fear of God.”
Thus you see that the whole dispensation of the gospel, and the doctrine of it, and every part of 576them, are all calculated to reform the minds and manners of men. This is the great design of the Christian religion, and all the parts and powers of it, to clear, and confirm, and perfect the natural law, to reinforce the obligation of moral duties by severer threatenings and greater promises, and to offer men more powerful grace and assistance to the practice of all goodness and virtue; and they do not understand the Christian religion, who imagine any other end and design of it. There is nothing that our Saviour and his apostles do every where more vehemently declare, than that hearing and believing the doctrine of Christ signifies nothing, with out the real virtues of a good life. “Know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead,” saith St. James. For men to think that the mere belief of the gospel, without the fruits and effects of a good life, will save them, is a very fond and vain imagination. And thus much may suffice to have been spoken concerning the first point.
END OF VOL. VIII.
J. F. DOVE, Printer, St. John’s Square.
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