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OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH, THE MEANS OF ITS CONVEYANCE, AND OUR OBLIGATION TO RECEIVE IT.
But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.—John xx. 31.
I HAVE largely discoursed concerning the general nature of faith, and more particularly concerning the faith which is truly Divine and religious: in the latitude of which is contained a persuasion concerning the principles of natural religion, the being of God, the immortality of the soul, and a future state; and a persuasion of the Divine revelation of the Scriptures, and the matters contained in them. Now among matters of Divine revelation, the doctrine of the gospel is a principal part; which is the last and most perfect revelation, which God hath made to the world, by his Son Jesus Christ; and a firm belief and persuasion of this, is that which is called Christian faith, or the faith of the gospel; and which, by way of eminency, is usually called faith in the New Testament.
Now Christian faith is not opposed to a Divine faith, but is comprehended under it; as being a: principal and eminent part of Divine faith, but not all that which may be called Divine faith; Christian faith supposeth a belief of the principles of natural religion; and a belief of those revelations which 281God formerly made under the Old Testament: but it doth only formally contain in it a belief of the gospel, viz. that revelation which God hath in these last days made to the world by his Son Jesus Christ. The heathens, who were destitute of Divine revelation, did only believe the principles of natural religion; and the generality of them did not believe those but in a very imperfect mariner. The Jews, “to whom were committed the oracles of God,” did superadd to the belief of the principles of natural religion, the belief of such revelations as God was pleased to make to them under that dispensation. Christian faith superadds to both the former, a belief of the revelation of the gospel.
I shall now, therefore, by God’s assistance, endeavour to open to you the nature of Christian faith from these words; in which you have these three things considerable:
First, The end of committing the gospel to writing, which was, to persuade men to believe in Christ, to propagate and continue Christian faith in the world; “These things are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God:” and by faith to bring men to a participation of those benefits, and the salvation which Christ was the author of: “And that believing ye might have life through his name.” “These were written;” ταῦτα, “these,” which may either refer to σημεῖα, “these signs or miracles,” referring to the former verse, “and many other signs,” &c. but these signs or miracles are written to confirm Jesus to be the person he pretended to be, the Messias, the Son of God, and consequently to confirm the truth of the doctrine which he delivered; that, by this confirmation, men might be induced to believe him to be the 282true Messias, and to give entertainment to his doctrine.
Or else (which is very probable) the word ταῦτα may refer to the whole history of the gospel, in which you have an account of the life of Christ, and the doctrine which he taught, and the miracles which were wrought for the confirmation of it. And so we may look upon these two verses as a conclusion of the whole history of the gospel written by the four evangelists. For as for the chapter following, it seems not to be written by St. John himself, but by the church, probably, as Grotius conjectures, by the church of Ephesus, where he had resided, and whom he had acquainted with the particulars which are there set down; the principal of which is, the prediction of our Saviour concerning his long life, for the sake of which the rest of the story seems to be brought in; which particular was not fit to be recorded till after his death; I say, it seems probable that St. John ended his gospel here, and that the last chapter was added by others, as the last chapter of the Pentateuch was added by some other after the death of Moses; and the last chapter of Joshua after his death. And this seems very evident from the 24th verse of the chapter; where, after a relation of our Saviour’s prediction, concerning “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” it is added, “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things (that is, the fore going history of the gospel), and we know that his testimony is true;” which seems plainly to be spoken by some other persons: for it were improper for him to say this of himself, “We know that his testimony is true.”
So that here seems to be an end of the history of 283Christ which St. John wrote; and these two verses, seem to be the conclusion of the whole gospel writ ten by the four evangelists; and then the sense of them will be this; “Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book;” that is, the disciples were witnesses of many other miracles which Christ wrought, which they did not think necessary to set down in this book, that is, in this history of Christ written by the four evangelists: “But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name;” that is, These things which are recorded in this history, this account which is here given of the life, and actions, and doctrine, and miracles of Christ, is sufficient to bring men to the faith of the gospel, to satisfy men that Christ was the Messias, the Son of God, and consequently that his doctrine is true.
And that this conclusion doth refer to the whole history of the gospel written by the four evangelists, I am induced to believe upon these two accounts:
1. Because St. John’s gospel doth not seem to be intended for a history of the life and actions of Christ: but an appendix to the history which had been written before by the other evangelists, and to supply only what they had omitted. Therefore you find that he gives no account of the genealogy or birth of our Saviour, nor of his sermon upon the mount, which did contain the sum of his doctrine, nor of any of his miracles, or his other discourses, which are related by the other evangelists; nor doth he relate any more of the history of his life, than was just necessary to bring in and connect those things which he thought fit to superadd to the 284former history. So that, considering how defective this gospel, taken by itself, is, in the most essential parts of the history of the life, and doctrine, and actions, of Christ; no man can think that St. John did intend this for a full and sufficient account of the life, and doctrine, and miracles of Christ; or that, upon this imperfect relation, in which he had knowingly omitted many of the most material and considerable things belonging to the history of Christ, he could expect that men should receive full satisfaction concerning him. Therefore I think it is highly reasonable, and almost necessary to conclude, that when he says, “These things are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God;” he does not solely refer to the gospel which was written by himself; but to the whole history of the gospel, which was put together into one book or volume, which was completed by this appendix.
2. Another reason I have for this, which doth much strengthen this conjecture, is what I find in Eusebius, in the 18th chapter of the third book of his history, where he tells us to this purpose, “That St. John, who lived the last of the apostles, did revise what they had written of the history of Christ, and added his Gospel as an appendix to the rest.”
I have insisted the longer upon this, that no man might think, when St. John says, “These things are written that ye might believe,” that his gospel taken alone and by itself is a sufficient account of Christ, and contains all that was requisite to bring men to believe on him. This is the first thing in the words, the end of committing the gospel to writing.
Secondly, You have here the nature of Christian 285faith described; it is a believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; that is, that he is the true Messias prophesied of in the Old Testament, and promised as the Saviour of the world; and that he is the Son of God, who came from the Father into the world; and took our nature upon him, that he might teach us and go before us in the way to eternal happiness.
Thirdly, The blessed effect of this faith, or the benefit that redounds to us upon believing: “that believing, ye might have life through his name;” that is, that upon these terms and conditions you might be made partakers of all those blessings and benefits which Christ, the Saviour of the world, hath purchased for us, which are here set forth to us in the name of “life;” it being usual in the phrase of Scripture, to express to us those things which are most excellent and desirable by “life.” Now the principal benefits which Christ hath purchased, and which in Scripture we are said to be made partakers of by believing, are regeneration, justification or pardon of sin, and eternal life and salvation; and the two first of these, as well as the last, are called life in Scripture. Regeneration, (in which I include the continuance and progress of this work, which is sanctification) that is, a new life, (Rom. vi. 4.) it is called “newness of life.” And we are said to have this life by faith; (Gal. ii. 20.) “And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God.” And, (Col. ii. 12.) “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also you are risen with him;” that is, regenerated and born to a new life. How? “By the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead;” that is, by believing the power of God, who raised up Christ from the dead, for 286the confirmation of the truth of the gospel; (1 John v. 1.) “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.” So likewise justification is called life. While we are under sentence of condemnation, we are dead in law; but being justified and pardoned, we are restored to life. So the apostle expresseth it, (Rom. v. 18.) “So by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” And that we are justified by faith, the Scripture tells us so frequently, that I shall not cite any texts for it.
And then eternal life and salvation; and this is the consummation of all, and I doubt not but is here principally intended in the text by the word life. So that the meaning of this expression, “that believing ye might have life through his name,” is, that by faith of the gospel ye might be renewed, and pardoned, and saved; though J think that the last, viz. eternal life and salvation, is principally, though not solely intended, as will appear by comparing this place with these parallel texts: (John iii. 15.) “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life:” and, (ver. 36.) “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” (John v. 24.) “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life.” (1 Pet. i. 9.) “The end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.”
Thus I have, as briefly as I well could, explained to you the meaning of the words, which I have done the more fully, that you may see how those observations which I shall raise from them are contained in them. The observations are these:
First, That writing is the way which the wisdom of God hath pitched upon, as the standing way to 287convey the knowledge of the gospel to the world. “These things are written.”
Secondly, That all things necessary to be believed in order to salvation, are contained in the gospel. “These things are written that ye might believe, and believing might have life:” but if any thing necessary to be believed by Christians, in order to eternal salvation, were omitted, then the gospel would be written to no purpose, and would fail in the end for which it was written.
Thirdly, That the miracles related in the gospel are a proper and sufficient means, or argument, to bring men to Christian faith. For this is the narrowest and most restrained sense in which we can take the words; “These things,” that is, these miracles, “are written that ye might believe,” &c. Now if St. John, by the Spirit of God, did record miracles to this end, we may conclude that they are proper and sufficient for this end.
Fourthly, That a credible history does give men sufficient assurance of matter of fact, and such as we may safely build a Divine faith upon. For, if these miracles were recorded for this end, that men might believe, then a credible history or relation that such miracles were done, is sufficient to assure us that such miracles were wrought; and upon this assurance we may build our faith; other wise, it had been in vain to have recorded these miracles to this end.
Fifthly, That we are not now-a-days destitute of a sufficient ground of faith; because we have these writings credibly conveyed to us, which contain the doctrine of the gospel, and the relation of the miracles, written for the confirmation of it.
Sixthly, That men now-a-days, those to whom 288the gospel comes, are under an obligation to believe; or, which is all one, that now-a-days men may be guilty of such a sin as unbelief: for now-a-days we may have sufficient grounds of faith.
Seventhly, That to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is truly and properly Christian faith. This is the description which is here given, of it, that it is a believing, “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”
Eighthly, That to believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, is truly and properly sanctifying, and justifying, and saving faith; by this faith we have life. “These things are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”
These observations are all virtually contained in these words. The greatest part of them I shall very lightly pass over, and speak but briefly to them, because I intend mainly to insist upon the two last; in the handling of which, I shall open to you the nature of Christian faith, and shew you, that the faith which is here described, is that which is truly and properly justifying and saving.
First, That writing is the way which the wisdom of God hath pitched upon, as the standing way of conveying the knowledge of the gospel to the world. This is matter of fact, and for the proof of it we have the evidence of the thing. The gospel de facto was written, and this writing is conveyed down to us, and is the instrument which God hath in all ages since the apostles’ time, that is, since the eye and ear-witnesses of the miracles of Christ and his doctrine ceased, made use of to convey to the world the knowledge of the gospel. And here it were proper to shew what advantage this way of conveyance 289of the gospel hath above oral tradition: but that I have already done,1010 See the foregoing Sermons. in some former discourses, where I shewed at large, that this way of conveyance is a more universal and diffusive, a more certain, and liable to less imposture and falsification, a more equal and uniform, and a more human way of conveyance, than oral tradition; so that I shall not insist longer upon this.
Secondly, That all things necessary to be believed by Christians, in order to salvation, are contained in the written gospel; or else, how could St. John, in reason, say, that “these things are written (to this end) that men might believe and be saved;” if these things be not sufficient to this end? which certainly they are not, if any thing necessary to be believed in order to salvation be left out. The papists being urged with this text, to prove the sufficiency of the written word, in opposition to those traditional doctrines which they pretend to be necessary over and besides the written word, tell us, that St. John doth not here speak of the doctrine of Christ, but only of his miracles; these are writ ten to confirm our faith of the Messias; but the doctrine of Christ was not all written, but left to the apostles to be delivered by mouth to their successors, and so down to posterity. But I have shewn before, that the necessary doctrines of the gospel, as well as the miracles, are comprehended in these things, which, St. John says, were written. Besides that, it will be very hard for any man to devise a convenient reason, why miracles, as well as doctrines, might not have been left to the apostles, to have been traditionally delivered down to 290posterity without writing. For doctrines may as well be committed to writing, as relations of miracles; and miracles may be with as much ease, and certainty, and convenience in all respects, delivered down to posterity by an oral tradition, as doctrines may.
Thirdly, That the miracles related in the gospel, are a proper and sufficient means to bring men to Christian faith. That they are so, it is a good sign, that God did work them to this end, and after wards commit them to writing for this very reason, that the knowledge of them might be conveyed to posterity, and there might still remain in the world a proper and sufficient argument to persuade men to believe; and we may well imagine, that God would not do any thing but what is very proper and sufficient for its end. Now that miracles were wrought by the Divine power purposely to this end, and that they are in reason a very sufficient attestation to a person, and confirmation of the doctrine which he brings, I have largely shewn elsewhere;1111 See the foregoing Sermons. and that all along both in the Old and New Testament, God did empower Moses and the prophets, Christ and his apostles, to work miracles, to bring men to faith, and that this was the principal argument whereby those who did believe were wrought upon.
Fourthly, That credible history doth give men sufficient assurance of matter of fact; and such assurance, as we may safely build a Divine faith upon. We freely believe innumerable things, which are said to have been done many ages before we were born, and make not the least doubt of them, 291only upon the credit of history: so that if the relation of miracles be but granted to be a credible history, we may, upon the credit of the relation, safely believe that such miracles were wrought; and, if such miracles were wrought, we may safely believe the doctrine to be from God, for the confirmation of which they were wrought; and, consequently, a Divine faith may be safely built upon such an assurance of miracles, as we may have from a credible history and relation.
Fifthly, That we are not now-a-days destitute of a sufficient ground of faith; because the doctrine of the gospel hath still the same confirmation that it had, viz. miracles: only we who live at this distance from the time when, and the place where they were wrought, have the knowledge of them conveyed to us, and come to be assured of them, in. another way. Those who lived in the age of Christ and his apostles, had assurance of miracles from their own senses: and we now are assured of them by credible history and relation. Now, though these ways be not equal, yet they are both sufficient to beget in us an undoubted assurance, and such as no prudent man hath any reason to doubt of. For a man may be as truly and undoubtedly certain, that is, as well satisfied that a thing was done, from the credit of history, as from his own senses. I make no more doubt whether there was such a person as Henry the Eighth, king of England, than I do whether I be in this place.
Sixthly, That now-a-days, those to whom the gospel comes, are under an obligation to believe; or that now-a-days there is such a sin as unbelief of the gospel. And I the rather note this, because there are some well wishers to atheism, who, out of 292prudence and regard to their own safety, choose rather secretly to undermine religion, than openly to deny it. I grant, indeed, that, in our Saviour’s time, when such great miracles were wrought, those who saw those miracles (which they think nobody did) were under an obligation to believe, and guilty of a great sin in not believing the gospel; but now-a-days, when we see no such miracles wrought for the confirmation of the gospel, there lies no obligation upon any man to believe it; and that now there is no such sin as unbelief. Now, any man may, with half an eye, see the consequence of this assertion: for being once admitted, it doth as certainly destroy Christian religion, as if men should deny that there was any such person as Jesus Christ, or that he ever wrought any miracles: for if to disbelieve the gospel be no sin, and consequently brings a man into no danger; but on the other hand, dangers and persecutions do attend the belief and profession of it; it were the greatest folly in the world for any man to believe; unless this possibly may be greater, for a man who does believe it, not to obey and live according to it. And if this were true, it were the greatest imprudence that can be, for any man to be a Christian. And if that were once admitted, there is all the reason in the world that Christianity should be banished and extirpated; not only as useless and impertinent, but as a thing dangerous and pernicious to the welfare of mankind.
I shall therefore briefly prove to yon, that it is now one of the greatest sins that men are capable of (except the sin against the Holy Ghost), for those who have the gospel sufficiently propounded to them, to disbelieve it; I say, except the sin against the Holy Ghost, which our Saviour tells 293us, was “blaspheming the Spirit of God,” whereby he wrought his miracles, and saying it was the spirit of the devil; and this sin, men in a lower degree and proportion may now-a-days be guilty of: for as the pharisees who saw the works that Christ did, and acknowledged them to be miracles, did commit the sin against the Holy Ghost, in ascribing those miracles, which were really wrought by the power of the Holy Ghost, to the power of the devil; so men now-a-days who own the history of Christ’s miracles as true, may be guilty of the sin against the Holy Ghost, in a lower proportion, by maliciously imputing those miracles to the power of the devil.
But excepting the sin against the Holy Ghost, the greatest sin that men are now capable of, is to disbelieve the gospel, when it is sufficiently propounded to them. Now the gospel is then sufficiently propounded, when there are sufficient grounds offered to persuade men to the belief of it; and I have already proved, that we now have sufficient ground to believe the gospel; and if so, then whosoever hath these grounds offered to him, is under an obligation to believe it: for every man is bound to believe that, for which he hath sufficient ground and reason; and every man sins who neglects his duty; that is, does not do that which he stands bound to do.
And not only whoever disbelieves the gospel, sins in so doing, but farther, he commits the greatest sin that now men are capable of. I say, now capable of: for I doubt not but that it was a sin of a higher degree, for those who saw Christ’s miracles to disbelieve, than it is for us who have only the relation of them. For by the same reason, that 294“he is more blessed that believes, and hath not seen;” a greater curse belongs to him, who hath seen, and yet doth not believe; and consequently such a person is guilty of a greater sin. But be cause we cannot now see the miracles of Christ, the greatest sin that men in this age are capable of, is to disbelieve the gospel confirmed by miracles, whereof we are assured by credible relation. For the sin of disbelieving now hath these two aggravations:
1. It is against sufficient light and evidence; and in this it is equal to the sins which are committed against natural light.
2. It is a sin against the greatest mercies and blessing that ever were offered to the world; and in this it exceeds the sins against natural light. Whoever disbelieves the gospel, he rejects the offer of eternal life and happiness. And these two aggravations the apostle puts together, (Heb. ii. 3.) “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him!” And if this be thus, it highly concerns us to inquire into the nature of this faith; and this brings me to the
Seventh observation; That to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is truly and properly Christian faith. But the consideration of this I shall leave to the next opportunity.295
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