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Some verses, it may be observed, in the following Collection, were wrote upon the scheme of the Mystic divines. And these, 'tis owned, we had once in great veneration, as the best explainers of the Gospel of Christ. But we are now convinced that we therein greatly erred, not knowing the Scriptures, neither the power of God. And because this is an error which many serious minds are sooner or later exposed to, and which indeed most easily besets those who seek the Lord Jesus in sincerity; we believe ourselves indispensably obliged in the presence of God, and angels, and men, to declare wherein we apprehend those writers not to teach the truth as it is in Jesus.
And first, we apprehend them to lay another foundation. They are careful indeed to pull down our own works, and to prove, that by the Deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified. But why is this? Only, to establish our own righteousness in the place of our own works. They speak largely and well against expecting to be accepted of God for our virtuous actions; and then teach, that we are to be accepted for our virtuous habits or tempers. Still the ground of our acceptance is placed in ourselves. The difference is only this Common writers suppose we are to be justified for the sake of our outward righteousness. These suppose we are to be justified for the sake of our inward righteousness: whereas, in truth, we are no more justified for the sake of one than of the other. For neither our own inward nor outward righteousness is the ground of our justification. Holiness of heart, as well as holiness of life, is not the cause, but the effect of it. The sole cause of our acceptance with God (or, that for the sake of which, on the account of which, we are accepted) is the righteousness and the death of Christ, who fulfilled God’s law, and died in our stead. And even the condition of it is not (as they suppose) our holiness either of heart or life but our faith alone; faith contradistinguished from holiness as well as from good works. Other foundation therefore can no man lay, without being an adversary to Christ and His Gospel, than faith alone, faith, though necessarily producing both, yet not including either good works or holiness.
But supposing them to have laid the foundation right, the manner of building thereon which they advise is quite opposite to that prescribed by Christ. He commands to build up one another. They advise, “To the desert, to the desert, and God will build you up.” Numberless are the commendations that occur in all their writings, not of retirement intermixed with conversation, but of an entire seclusion from men, (perhaps for months or years,) in order to purify the soul. Whereas, according to the judgment of our Lord, and the writings of His apostles, it is only when we are knit together, that we have nourishment from Him, and increase with the increase of God. Neither is there any time when the weakest member can say to the strongest, or the strongest to the weakest, “I have no need of thee.” Accordingly our blessed Lord, when His disciples were in their weakest state, sent them forth, not alone, but two by two. When they were strengthened a little, not by solitude, but by abiding with Him and one another, He commanded them to wait, not separate, but being assembled together, for the promise of the Father. And they were all with one accord in one place, when they received the gift of the Holy Ghost. Express mention is made in the same chapter, that when there were added unto them three thousand souls, all that believed were together, and continued steadfastly not only in the apostles’ doctrine, but also in fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in praying with one accord. Agreeable to which is the account the great apostle gives of the manner which he had been taught of God, for the perfecting of the saints, for the edifying of the body of Christ, even to the end of the world. And, according to St. Paul, all who will ever come, in the unity of the faith, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, must together grow up into Him from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted (or strengthened) by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:15, 16.)
So widely distant is the manner of building up souls in Christ taught by St. Paul, from that taught by the Mystics Nor do they differ as to the foundation, or the manner of building thereon, more than they do with regard to the superstructure. For the religion these authors would edify us in is solitary religion. If thou wilt be perfect, say they, “trouble not thyself about outward works. It is better to work virtues in the will. He hath attained the true resignation, who hath estranged himself from all outward works, that God may work inwardly in him, without any turning to outward things. These are the true worshippers, who worship God in spirit and in truth.” For contemplation is with them the fulfilling of the law, even a contemplation that “consists in a cessation of all works.”
Directly opposite to this is the Gospel of Christ. Solitary religion is not to be found there. “Holy solitaries” is a phrase no more consistent with the Gospel than holy adulterers. The Gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness, but social holiness. Faith working by love is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection. This commandment have we from Christ, that he who loves God, love his brother also; and that we manifest our love by doing good unto all men, especially to them that are of the household of faith. And, in truth, whosoever loveth his brethren not in word only, but as Christ loved him, cannot but be zealous of good works. He feels in his soul a burning, restless desire of spending and being spent for them. My Father, will he say, worketh hitherto, and I work and, at all possible opportunities, he is, like his Master, going about doing good.
This then is the way: walk ye in it, whosoever ye are that have believed in His name. Ye know, other foundation can no man lay, than that which is laid, even Jesus Christ. Ye feel that by grace ye are saved through faith; saved from sin, by Christ formed in your hearts, and from fear, by His Spirit bearing witness with your spirit, that ye are the sons of God. Ye are taught of God, not to forsake the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is; but to instruct, admonish, exhort, reprove, comfort, confirm, and every way build up one another. Ye have an unction from the Holy One, that teacheth you to renounce any other or higher perfection, than faith working by love, faith zealous of good works, faith as it hath opportunity doing good unto all men. As ye have therefore received Jesus Christ the Lord, so walk ye in Him rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith, and abounding therein more and more. Only, beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For ye are complete in Him. He is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, the first and the last. Only continue in Him, grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel; and when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear, with Him in glory.
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