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THE CONDITION OF THE GOSPEL-COVENANT, AND THE MERIT OF CHRIST, CONSISTENT.
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 in my former discourses on these words, treated largely of the nature of Christian faith; particularly as it sanctifies, justifies, and saves men. All that I farther propose is, to make some reflections upon this whole discourse, particularly that which relates to justifying faith, and then apply all to our own use.
I have already taken notice of two objections, to which my discourse may seem liable; and if there yet remain any prejudice upon any man’s spirit against this doctrine, I would desire such calmly to consider it, and the agreeableness of it, not to the opinions of men, but to the word of God, and the suitableness of it to the great design of Christian religion, every where expressed in the gospel, which is to bring men to holiness and obedience. And what argument and consideration can be more powerful to take men off from sin, and to excite them to the practice of holiness, than this, that repentance and obedience are an indispensable condition of our justification and pardon? And this is the very point in difference, whether the gospel 329do not make repentance and obedience the conditions of our pardon and justification, as well as an assent to the truth of the gospel, and a trust in Christ as the meritorious cause of our salvation. That they are, I have endeavoured to prove from Scripture; and, for the farther clearing of it, I desire that the nature of the gospel covenant may be well considered, which I take to be this. On God’s part, there are certain benefits promised, justification and pardon of sin, and eternal life and salvation. On our part there are certain conditions required before we can be made partakers of those benefits; these are, to assent to the truth of the gospel, trusting in Christ as our only Saviour, repentance from dead works, and a sincere purpose and resolution of obedience, and a holy life; these make up the whole and entire condition of the gospel, and are often expressed by this one word, faith, which signifies the whole duty of a Christian; be cause he that truly believes the gospel, will do what ever the gospel requires. And hence it is, that to be a Christian, and to be a believer, are in the phrase of the New Testament all one. Now the matter in controversy is plainly this; whether this whole condition be required of us in order to our pardon and justification, as well as in order to our salvation. That repentance, and obedience, and holiness of life, are conditions of our salvation, I think, is universally agreed; I am sure it is clearly expressed in these two texts—“Christ is the author of eternal salvation to them that, obey him;” (Heb. v. 9.) “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord;” (Heb. xii. 14.) And that the conditions of our justification and salvation are the same, I think is every whit as clear, both from Scripture, and from 330the general acknowledgment of divines, by necessary consequence. From Scripture: St. James says, that the same thing that justifies us, saves us; for when he disputes, whether we are justified by faith only, or by faith and works, he hath this expression, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works; can faith save him?” From whence the inference is plain, that upon the very same condition that we are justified, we are saved. And it is evident, by necessary consequence, from the general acknowledgment of divines; for I think this is universally agreed by divines, that whatever puts a man into a state of justification and pardon, puts a man into a state of salvation; and if this be true, it necessarily follows, that the conditions of our justification and salvation are the same: and if assent to the truth of the gospel, and trust in Christ as our only Saviour, be the only conditions of our justification, then they are the only conditions of our salvation; and repentance and obedience are not conditions of our salvation: but if they be conditions of our salvation, then they are of our justification. And I will be bold to say, that this hath as much of demonstration in it, as any thing in divinity is capable of; and I wonder extremely how any man that considers the nature of the gospel covenant, can imagine that we should be made partakers of any blessing or benefit promised in the covenant, without performing the whole condition of the covenant.
And now, if any man ask, Cui bono? To what end is all this? Suppose it be true, to what purpose is it to awaken differences, and stir up controversies about these matters? In order to these two ends, which I take to be very considerable.331
1. That we may be able to answer the papists, who charge us with solifidianism: as if we were of this opinion—that if a man do but trust in Christ, that is, be but confidently persuaded that he will save him and pardon him, this is sufficient; and consequently, he that is thus persuaded, need not take any farther care of his salvation, but may live as he list: and I do not see how this can be avoided; especially if this be true, which our divines universally assert, that whatever puts a man into a justified state, puts him into a state of salvation; I say, I do not see how this charge can be avoided, unless we own holiness and obedience to be conditions of our justification, as well as trust in Christ. I know no other middle way between popery and antinomianism. But,
2. Which is more considerable, Without this we can give no satisfactory and reasonable account of our religion to a heathen. Suppose a heathen should say thus; Your religion gives a very good account of the corruption and sinfulness of man kind, and hath provided a very probable remedy for the expiation of it, by the death of the Son of God: but this seems to me very unreasonable, and to contradict the most natural notions that we have of God’s justice and holiness, that he should pardon men, as you say he does, though they do not repent of their sins, nor are resolved to leave them, nay, though they be resolved to go on in a wicked course. Did ever any wise prince pardon a traitor upon these terms? But whoever says that repentance, and a sincere purpose and resolution of obedience are not the condition of our pardon, says, that God will pardon men without repentance, though they are not at all sorry for what they have 332done, nor resolved to change their course: for that is a condition without which a thing cannot be; and if repentance be not a condition of pardon, a man may be pardoned without it. And if this be true, Christianity is the most lewd and senseless doctrine in the world. For what can be a greater encouragement to sin than this, to tell men that they may be pardoned without repentance? That is, though they live in sin, and continue so to do. Paganism never taught any such thing. Nay, they may add farther, that this which you teach as the doctrine of your religion, seems expressly contrary to your own books, which you say contain your religion. Does not the Bible say, that “he that confesseth and forsaketh his sin shall find mercy?” And doth not this plainly imply, that repentance is a condition of pardon? “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him: and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Doth it not say, that “if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you?” Can any words more plainly express a condition than these do?—How should we be able to defend our religion against such an assault, unless we disclaim this charge, and tell them plainly, and without a distinction, that our religion teacheth that repentance, and resolution of holiness, and obedience, are conditions of our pardon and justification? I would to God men would consult the honour of Christianity, and when they hold any opinion, they would not consider the interest of a party, but the universal concernment of the Christian religion! If we had to deal with subtle heathens, as the primitive fathers of the church had, we 333should see a necessity of laying aside such unreasonable opinions. I would fain have any man shew any one clear passage out of any of the ancient fathers and writers concerning Christian religion, which says, that trust in Christ for salvation is the only condition of our justification, and that repentance and obedience are not; or that explains justification by faith alone, in this sense. I know it is usually said, the ancient fathers and Christians were ignorant of the doctrine of justification in a great measure, and knew very little of the mystery of the gospel. I know not what they mean by mystery, but I am sure they defined Christian religion better, and gave a more reasonable and satisfactory account of it, than any of those do who are so apt to slight them.
The use of this doctrine is as follows:
First, To persuade men to place all their hope and confidence of salvation in Jesus Christ, the Son of God; that is, to believe that through the alone merit of his death and sufferings, God is reconciled to us, and that only upon the account of the satisfaction which he hath made to Divine justice, we are restored to the favour of God, and our sins are pardoned to us, and we have a title to eternal life. Not but that there are conditions required on our part, to make us capable of these benefits, faith and repentance, and sincere obedience and holiness of life, without which we shall never be made partakers of them: but that the satisfaction of Christ is the only meritorious cause of these blessings. And to persuade men to the belief of this, I shall endeavour to satisfy them of these two things:
I. That Christ hath properly merited these blessings for us.334
II. That he only hath done it. The first of these propositions is directly levelled against the Socinians: the second against the papists. I shall speak but briefly of them.
I. That Christ hath properly merited these blessings for us: and this being purely matter of revelation, we are to rely upon Scripture only for the proof of it. (Matt. xx. 28.) “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many,” λύτρον ἀντὶ πολλῶν, “a price of redemption, “instead of that which should have been paid by us. (John vi. 51.) “And the bread which I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John x. 11.) Christ is called “the good shepherd that lays down his life for his sheep.” (John xv. 12, 13.) “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (Matt. xxvi. 28.) “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many, for the remission of sins.” (Rom. v. 6.) “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (1 Cor. xv. 3.) “For I delivered unto you first of all, that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” (2 Cor. v. 14, 15.) “For the love of Christ 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 henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” (Eph. i. 7.) “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace.” (Col . i. 20 22.) “And (having made peace through the blood of 335his cross) by him to reconcile all things unto him self; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you that were sometime alienated, and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled, in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblamable, and unreprovable in his sight.” (1 Thess. v. 9, 10.) “For God hath not appointed us to wrath; but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us.” (Heb. ii. 9.) “That he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” (Heb. ix. 11-15.) “But Christ being come a high-priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh; how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works, to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the Mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” And, (ver. 25-28.) “Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high-priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others: for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world, hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed 336unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him, shall he appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation.” (Heb. x. 11, 12.) “And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this man after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God.” (1 Pet. i. 18, 19.) “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers: but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (1 Pet. ii. 21. 24.) “Because Christ also suffered for ns; who his own self bare our sins, in his own body, on the tree.” (1 Pet. iii. 18.) “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” (1 John ii. 1, 2.) “My little children, these things write I unto you, that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John iii. 16.) “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John iv. 10.) “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (Rev. i. 5.) “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins by his own blood.” (Rev. v. 9.) “Thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” From these and many other texts, it seems to be 337very plain and evident, that Christ died for our sins, and suffered in our stead, and by the sacrifice of himself has made an atonement for us, and reconciled us to God, and hath paid a price and ransom for us, and by the merit of his death hath purchased for us forgiveness of sins, and “inheritance among them that are sanctified.” And I do not know any doctrine of our religion, that is founded and established upon more and plainer texts, which cannot be understood in any other sense, without offering great violence to the first and most obvious meaning of them.
I know the Socinians have framed evasions to all these texts, which I have not time now to produce and examine; nor would it be worth the while. I shall only say this to them in general; that there is no principle of religion so plainly laid down in the whole Scripture, but may be overthrown by the same or the like evasions. Suppose Christ had died in our stead, and made satisfaction for sin, and God had intended to declare so much to us; in what plainer and more express and proper words could he have done it, than the Scripture hath already done? If God had said in the Scripture expressly that “Christ had died in our place and stead, and had satisfied for our sins;” these very expressions, by the same arts of interpretation, might have been strained and wrested to some other sense. So that if God did not intend to express to us by these texts, that “Christ satisfied for the sins of men;” yet they are so obvious to be interpreted to that sense, and so hardly, if at all, capable of any other, that we cannot imagine, without a great reflection upon the wisdom of God, that he should deliver his mind to men in words and expressions so exceedingly 338liable to a quite different sense from what he intended. Besides that there is nothing more unreasonable than to deny that to be the meaning of Scripture, which if it had been the meaning could not have been expressed in plainer and more advantageous words; especially when this is done, not in one or two texts, but very many; and not by one form of expression, but several, and all inclining to the same sense; and, which is worst of all, this violence is offered to Scripture in a matter which does neither contradict other texts, nor the reason of mankind, viz. that one man should suffer in another’s stead, and make satisfaction for the crimes and faults which another hath committed; sup posing the party offended be willing to accept of the commutation, and the party that suffers in another’s stead do voluntarily do it.
II. That Christ only hath merited these blessings for us, and that he had no partner with him in this; or there is no other hath merited these blessings for us, nor can we ourselves merit them.
1. No other hath merited these blessings for us. Not to take notice of what the papists say, of the meritoriousness of our works of supererogation, which go into the treasury of the church, and make up a public stock of merit, to be disposed and dealt out by the pope at his discretion; they have by a most unparalleled blasphemy joined the Virgin Mary with Christ in the work of our redemption; and some of them have been so impiously bold, as to parallel the virtue of her milk with the efficacy of Christ’s blood. And though Christ say, “that he trod the wine-press of his Father’s wrath alone, and of the people there was none with him;” yet Bonaventure in his meditations ventures to corrupt the 339text by this foolish gloss, Nullus erat tecum. Recte, Domine, sed erat tecum femina; “Right, Lord, there was no man with thee, but there was a woman, viz. thy mother.”
2. Nor can we ourselves do any thing whereby we can merit these blessings at God’s hand. Considering that we received our being, and all that we are and have from God, and upon account of these benefits are obliged to love him and serve him to the utmost; what a senseless piece of arrogance is it to say, that a creature can merit any thing at God’s hand? Whatever we give God is of his own, and when we have done all we can, we have done no more than our duty. And can any man challenge a reward for doing what he ought to do? Can any man make satisfaction for a fault that he hath committed, by doing his duty, that is, by not committing an other? It is a sure rule, debitum debito non solvitur. We are indebted to God by the breach of his law: but we cannot quit this debt, and satisfy for this breach, by not breaking it again, because we owe to God all possible obedience.
Besides that all our obedience is imperfect, and is so far from meriting, that it stands in need of pardon; and can a man demerit and merit by the same action! Can he who deserves to be punished for an action, because he did it no better, deserve to be rewarded for the same action, because he did it so well? And to say that Christ hath merited that our imperfect obedience should merit, either signifies only this, that Christ hath merited that our imperfect obedience should be accepted by God, notwithstanding its imperfection (and this is true, but no thing to the purpose of merit); or else it signifies, that Christ hath merited that that which is no wise 340meritorious, should be so; that is, that the nature of things should be altered; which is not only false, but senseless.
Secondly, To persuade us to live as we believe. If we profess to believe the gospel to be true, then let our hearts and lives be suitable to those truths which we believe. If we believe Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God, we believe the doctrine which he delivered to the world to be from God, and consequently to be true; we believe the precepts of it are holy, and just, and good, and that they are necessary to be observed by us, as being in order to our peace and happiness; we believe that the promises of the gospel are “all yea, and amen,” and shall every tittle of them be made good; we believe that the threatenings of the gospel shall all punctually be fulfilled. Now how ought men to live, that believe all this? Having a law given us which hath the sanction of such promises and threatenings, ought we not to conform our lives to it; and charge ourselves with obedience to all those precepts of piety towards God, and purity and temperance in the government of ourselves, and justice and righteousness in our dealings with others, which are contained in this new law of the gospel? If the gospel hath promised eternal life and happiness to those who do conscientiously abstain from sin, and follow holiness; having these promises, ought we not “to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God?” If the gospel hath threatened, that at the end of the world, Christ will “come in flaming fire,” &c. if we believe these things shall be, “what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness?”341
I have formerly shewed at large, how unbecoming it is for any man that professeth himself a Christian, to live unsuitable to his profession, that it is the greatest disparagement to the gospel, and the highest reflection upon it that can be; and that it is infinitely dangerous to us; and though these be very proper considerations, yet, because I have formerly urged them, I shall not now enforce my exhortation with these arguments; but shall mention two other considerations, and so conclude.
First, If our lives be not answerable to our belief, our faith will be ineffectual to all intents and purposes.
Secondly, A life unsuitable to our belief, is the high way to infidelity and atheism.
First, If our lives be not answerable to our belief, our faith will be ineffectual to all real intents and purposes.
1. It will be ineffectual to give us the reputation of Christians among wise and discerning persons. We profess to believe the gospel; but if we live contrary to it, our profession is protestatio contra factum, and therefore not credible; because our actions contradict it. The constant tenor of a man’s actions is a more credible and emphatical declaration of the inward sense of his heart, and shews better what the man believes, than the most solemn profession in words. When our words are not confirmed by our actions, they are but an empty sound, and signify nothing. I may allude to that of St. Paul, (1 Cor. xiii. 2.) “Though a man have all faith,” yet, if he be destitute of the true effect of faith, “charity, he is but as a sounding brass, and a tinkling cymbal.” St. James doth very well set forth the inefficacy of such a faith, by this similitude, (James ii. 15-17.) “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be you warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit? even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead.” Men are not so easily cozened as we think they are. Discerning men will not be imposed upon, and put off with a formal and empty profession of faith, when there is nothing in our lives to answer it. It is not standing up in the church, and professing that we believe in God, and in Jesus Christ, that he was born, and died, and rose again, and at the end of the world will come to judge the quick and the dead, that will persuade men that we are Christians. Men will look into our lives, and examine our actions, and inquire into our conversations: by these they will judge of the truth and reality of our profession. Let us not delude ourselves, and think to pass for Christians upon these terms, among any that know how to make a true judgment of things. We may cozen ourselves; but we cannot cheat others, who are not so partial to us as we are apt to be to ourselves. It is not our winking that hinders others from seeing us.
Nay, I go farther, it is not an earnest contending for fundamental articles of our Christian faith, if we live contrary to them, that will satisfy any wise man that we believe them; much less an intemperate zeal for indifferent opinions in religion. Such were the doctrines concerning the necessity on the one hand, and the unlawfulness of circumcision on the other; but the assent to the one opinion or the other in these matters, “neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but faith that worketh 343by love, the new creature, the keeping of the commandments of God,” as the apostle in several places expresseth it. Men stand much upon the title of orthodox, by which is usually understood, not believing the doctrine of Christ or his apostles, but such opinions as are in vogue among such a party, such systems of divinity as have been compiled in haste by those whom we have in admiration; and whatever is not consonant to these little bodies of divinity, though possibly it agree well enough with the word of God, is error and heresy; and whoever maintains it, can hardly pass for a Christian among some angry and perverse people. I do not intend to plead for any error; but I would not have Christianity chiefly measured by matters of opinion. I know no such error and heresy as a wicked life. That man believes the gospel best, who lives most according to it. Though no man can have a worse opinion of the Socinian doctrine than I have, yet I had rather a man should deny the satisfaction of Christ, than believe it, and abuse it to the encouragement of sin. Of the two I have more hopes of him that denies the divinity of Christ, and lives otherwise soberly, and righteously, and godly in the world, than of the man who owns Christ to be the Son of God, and lives like a child of the devil.
2. Such a faith as hath not an answerable life, will be ineffectual to the purpose of justification and salvation. St. James tells us, it is u a dead faith, and profits nothing,” that no man is justified by it, nor will it save any man. Christ is the author of eternal salvation to them who so believe his doctrine as to obey it. He will come in flaming fire, to render vengeance not only to them that do not believe, 344but to them that do not obey the gospel. It will not be sufficient at the day of judgment, to plead our profession of faith in Christ, and to say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name have done many wondrous works?” Doing all this in Christ’s name, implies that they profess to believe in him: but notwithstanding all this, if they be “workers of iniquity/ Christ will say to such, “Depart from me, I know you not.” If our Saviour makes a true and proper representation of the day of judgment, and the proceedings of it, (Matt. xxv.) men’s faith shall then be tried by the real fruits and effects of it; then the inquiry shall be, how men have lived; what good they have done, or omitted and neglected? and accordingly sentence will be passed upon them. Nay, such a faith is so far from saving, that it will be an aggravation of our condemnation, and sink us the deeper into hell. “There is one that condemneth you, even Jesus in whom ye trust.”
Secondly, A life unsuitable to our belief is the high way to infidelity and atheism, to bring others and ourselves to it.
1. To bring others to infidelity and atheism, and to confirm them in it. What can be a more effectual bar to keep heathens, and Jews, and Turks, from entertaining the gospel? What can be a greater confirmation of them in their infidelity, than so to misrepresent Christian religion to them, as we do by our unsuitable lives? What can be a stronger prejudice against it, to men who do not look narrowly into it, but only see it at a distance, than to see what fruit it produces in the lives of Christians? May they not invert that proverbial speech of our Saviour’s, “Does a vine send forth thorns?” If 345Christianity were such a holy institution, how conies it to pass that Christians are so wicked? If Jesus Christ were so excellent a master, we should see it in his scholars; Si Christus sancta docuisset. Christiani sancte vixissent, as Salvian speaks. And it is the way to bring men to atheism. What more likely to take a man off from all religion, than to see the religion which pretends to be the best in the world, represented by the lives of Christians at such a disadvantage, as if it were a barren and fruitless and ineffectual thing, and as if they who profess it, did believe it to be a lie, and gave no credit at all to the doctrines of it?
2. It is the way to bring ourselves to infidelity and atheism. As an erroneous judgment and understanding hath usually an evil influence upon men’s lives, so much more a vicious and corrupt life hath a bad influence upon men’s understandings. It is so uneasy a thing for men to act contrary to their reason, and against the dictates of their under standings, that men for their own quiet, and in their own defence, will bend their judgments, and make them comply with the interest of their lusts. Men’s affections, which way soever they incline, set a bias upon their understandings; and this doth not only proceed from the nature of the thing, but from the just judgment of God: (2 Thess. ii. 10-12.) the apostle tells us, “that those who receive not the truth in the love of it, that they may be saved; God will send them strong delusions, to believe lies; that they all may be damned, who believe not the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness.” If men once “have pleasure in unrighteousness,” it will not be long before they give over “believing the truth,” because God by his just judgment will give 346them over to themselves, to follow the bias of their own corrupt hearts, which incline them to believe lies. Of all persons in the world, a wicked and unholy Christian is most likely to turn a speculative infidel and atheist; and none so likely to fall into this gross darkness, as those who resist and quench so great a light as that of the gospel is, which they profess to believe.347
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