« Prev Sermon XXXVIII. Preached May 11th, 1693. Next »

SERMON XXXVIII.4040   Preached May 11th, 1693.

1 John v. 1.

Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.

THE subject that I last finished, you find did connect faith and friendship with God. This connects faith and sonship to God. And the one and the other must be understood (by them that will consider) to be of the greatest importance to us imaginable; so great, that it is to be hoped the former is not forgotten, and this latter will not slightingly and negligently be attended to.

The words in themselves are an express doctrinal assertion, which I shall not need therefore to vary into other terms; “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.” It needs only to be explained and applied: for the explication of it, that you cannot upon the first hearing of such an assertion as this, but think very necessary. For it may seem strange to unaccustomed ears, at least, that such a thing as this should be affirmed so generally, concerning believing Jesus to be the Christ, that every such 485an one should be said to be born of God. How amazing a sound may this carry with it to many who do less consider, or who understand less what the meaning of these terms is, to “believe Jesus to be the Christ,” and to “be born of God;” the latter of these doth indeed, at the very first hearing, appear a very great thing—be born of God! It might even swallow up a man’s soul to think of such a thing as this, affirmed of such worms as we are. We, that might “say to the worm, Thou art our father, and to corruption, Thou art our sister and mother;” to speak of such creatures as we, as of a divine offspring and heavenly progeny, as of persons born of God; how wonderful and transporting may it be to us.

But that only which can make such an assertion as this seem strange is, that while this is apprehended (as it is to be really and truly) a very great thing; for the most part, such believing is reckoned a very little thing. It may, indeed, seem a great thing to be a son of God, one born of God; but the name of believing is become so cheap amongst us, and carries so little and so diminished a sound with it, that we are too generally tempted to look upon it as a slight, and small, and trivial matter. But when these terms come to be opened and understood, it will be found that there is such a near affinity between these two things, being “born of God,” and “believing that Jesus is the Christ;” that the one will be easily understood not to have anyplace at all where the other hath no place; that they can never be apart, but wheresoever the one is the other must be too.

Our business therefore in the explication must be to do these two things; first, to consider the parts of this assertion; and then, secondly, to shew their necessary connexion with one another.

I. We are to open the parts of this assertion severally, which you see are these two, concerning Christ and a divine birth; “believing that Jesus is the Christ,” and being “born of God.” And,

1. For the former of these, what the import is of “believing that Jesus is the Christ.” And as touching that, there are again, more particularly, two things to be stated. First, the thing to be believed, that Jesus is the Christ; and, secondly, the believing of this.

(1.) The thing to be believed, that Jesus is the Christ. I pray you attend to it. Much of the greatness of this thing, which is our present subject, to wit, faith concerning him, depends upon a right understanding what it is that must be the object of this faith, and which is stated as the object of 486it here. The thing to be believed is, that Jesus is the Christ. It concerns us greatly to understand this aright. It is not a trivial matter that is here represented to us as the object of our faith, or the thing we are to believe. And that we may more distinctly apprehend it, we are yet to go lower, and to consider, first, the subject of this affirmation unto which we are to yield our assent, and give up our faith, which is represented to us only under one single term, Jesus; and then, secondly, what we are to believe of this subject, that he is the Christ.

[1.] The very subject itself must be truly stated; we must in our own thoughts determine of the person here spoken of, and concerning whom this affirmation is pronounced, otherwise we do nothing. Why, who is this Jesus of whom we are to believe that he is the Christ? Take we heed that our thoughts do not wander here; for that would be fatal if they should, if they should wander to another subject. This, which is so peculiarly said concerning him, must be understood exclusively of any one else; it is not spoken of any other, nor to be thought of any other. That there should be here an error personae, a mistake concerning the person spoken of, it may prove a most destructive error. “Art thou he that should come, or look we for another?” This is the. question which John directs his disciples to put to Christ for their information, not for his own, that he might gain them an opportunity of being convinced and satisfied in the great and important question of that age; which yet could not be of greater importance to that age than it is to our own, nor of greater to John’s disciples than it is to every one of us: and we see what our Lord saith to it, “Tell John what you hear and see;” such and such wonders are wrought and done. And he adds in the close of all, “Blessed is he that is not offended in me;” which words would carry a kind and benign import with them beyond all that can be expressed. But they carry withal an intimated menace, as any one may apprehend—“Blessed is he that is not offended in me;” as if he should have said, Such an one hath a merciful and wonderful deliverance, “he that is not offended in me.” But it is also as if he had said, Woe be to him that is; when so clear a light shines concerning me, and when there is so bright and so express a discovery; blessed is he that doth not stumble, blessed is he that doth not mistake, that doth not take one for another. The intimation is plain, nothing but wrath and vengeance and woe must hang over the guilty heads of them that do take one for another in such a case; and when the light that 487shines is so clear, so as that none can be guilty of a mistake, but it must be a wilful mistake if any should take another for me.

And you see how this one person is notified here, only by the name Jesus, as the subject of the affirmation, the Saviour. A name that signifies the aptitude of the person unto the office that he was to bear and manage. You know it was foretold and directed by the immediate counsel of Heaven, that he should be called Jesus; “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS; for he shall save his people from their sins.” Matt. i. 21. It was a rivaling of the hero of the world, who did affect such titles, and even that very title, which the pagans did therefore bestow sometimes upon their gods, and sometimes upon their kings, to wit, Saviour; the usual name among them of Jupiter, and with which some of their great princes did dignify themselves, and affected to be dignified by, as particularly Demetrius Soter. This was an affectation among the great ones of the world to claim this very name. Well, our Lord will be known to be the Jesus. This name is his, appropriated to him, to signify to persons one that is to save as no other could, that was to be so eminent and so glorious a Saviour; that person distinguished from others by the specifying circumstances (or the individuating circumstances rather) that did attend him. That Jesus who was born at Bethlehem, and lived at Nazareth, and was crucified at Jerusalem, commonly known there by this name, the name Jesus. It is of him peculiarly and alone that this is said, he is the Christ.

[2.] And that is the thing that is to be believed concerning him, that he is the Christ. The former was the personal name, this the name of office, and speaks of the person as invested with his office, or affirms that investiture concerning his office that he is invested there with. This indeed is variously expressed, that is the attribute given to the subject under this latter name. Some times the same thing is said concerning the believing this Jesus to be the Son of God; that doth equally entitle to the same great privilege, and brings a man into the same safe state, implies the same change and transformation upon his soul, as you see in the foregoing chapter of this epistle, at the 15th verse, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.” Sometimes the meaning and import of this expression, “is the Christ,” is signified by that conjunction with the other, both conjoined, that is, that he is the Christ, and that he is 488the Son of God. When our Lord demands of Peter, “Whom say ye that I am?” (Matt. xvi. 15) the various opinions are given, some saying he was Elias, some saying some other of the prophets. Well, but what say you, Peter, and the rest, that I am? “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” saith Peter. So you have both conjoined in reference to the same person, as in John xx. 31. “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 passages plainly intimate to us thus much, that to affirm that Jesus is the Christ, and that he is the Son of God, comes all to one, it amounts to the same thing. To say concerning this person believingly that he is the Christ, or that he is the Son of God, there is an equivalency in the one of these to the other. Sometimes a third expression, of equal import to either of the others, or both the others, is used; “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost.” A strange saying too, as this of the text seems to be, 1 Cor. ii. 3.; there “Lord,” is the name of the office too; the usual style by which he is spoken of in the New Testament, and in some places of the Old too; “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” Psalm cx. 1. It only imports that universal and sovereign dominion that did belong to the mediatorial office, the thing signified by the name of Christ. “He is Lord of all,” Acts x. 36. A thing that seems slid in by the apostle in the stream and current of his discourse; “he is Lord of all,” saith he, in a parenthesis; and so he goes on, dropping that by the way; and no man can say that he is so “but by the Holy Ghost,” to wit, with a correspondent disposition of soul internally, vitally, and practically acknowledging him, and subjecting his soul to him as Lord of all, as the Lord, he into whose hands all power is put both in heaven and earth.

But when this is said, “that Jesus is the Christ,” and this again is used as an equivalent expression, “that he is the Son of God,” or, “he is Lord of all,” this only represents and gives us ah intimation of the state of the case at that time. He appearing now in the fulness of time upon the stage of this world, various opinions there were of him, some mistaken ones, some very malicious ones, and some that were right and true; this begat a great controversy; it was the question of the time, and the determination of it the right way called the present truth; to wit, the great question concerning this Jesus, who, and 489what he was; “I speak these things,” saith the apostle, “though you know and are established in the present truth.” The main dispute lay between them on the one hand, who believed him to be the Christ, or the Son of God; and them on the other hand, who apprehended him to be a deceiver, an impostor and blasphemer, for saying truly who and what he was. This was the true state of the question, he giving out himself to be the Son of God, calling the great God upon all occasions, Father—“My Father” hath directed me to do so and so, and to say so and so; he giving this out concerning himself, that he “came down from Heaven,” that he was “the Son of God,” in a most peculiar and appropriate sense; and reporting concerning himself too, (which was of most absolute necessity unto the end and design of his coming) that he might bear the office of Christ and the Messiah, and that he was the Son of God; the determining the one of these on his part would determine and conclude the other. Whereas he did upon all occasions intimate that he was the very person that should come, the Christ, the Messiah, and also that he was the Son of God. If it were true that he was the Son of God, it was impossible that could be false that he was the Messiah, that he was the Christ. For no one could imagine that the Son of God should bring down a lie from Heaven and diffuse it among men: therefore, to say he was the Son of God, was to say he was the Christ too; that is, it plainly implied that whereas he said both, it was impossible he could be the author unto men of a false affirmation concerning himself: and therefore, if he were the Son of God, he in whom the divine nature was in conjunction with the human, in whom the glory of God shone so as to characterize him the only begotten of the Father, (John i. 14;) if it were so avowing himself to be the Christ, the Messiah that was to come, that had been so long expected, even at that very time, he must truly and really be so. And so there was no medium between these two, his being the Son of God, and his being a deceiver and impostor; no medium, for if he was not the one, he was the other; if he was not the Son of God, he must deceive in saying he was the Christ. But he being the Son of God, that being sufficiently evinced, or evident that he was so, must give sufficient credit to this affirmation concerning himself, that he was also the Christ, he that was to come, so as that there was not another to be looked for.

Now what this Christ signifies, and what the affirming 490this Jesus to be the Christ must import, have been hinted to you already. But it is to be mere distinctly considered. It is (as you have heard) a name of office, as the other is a personal name. And this word signifies his unction to that office; so Messiah signifies, in the Hebrew language, and Χριστος in the Greek, an anointed person, and the import of that must be collected from the known usage of this and of former ages, and the continued usage of the same thing, even to this day, in all successive ages since; that is to in vest and inaugurate persons into high and great offices by unction or anointing. And two things, as to this person, this unction must signify, when it is said he was anointed above his fellows with joy and gladness, to wit, with triumph, (as high triumphs have been always used to attend the inauguration or coronation of princes,) two things as to him this unction must signify: 1. Authorization, and 2. Qualification. The former of these is relative, and the latter real.

First, Authorization; the conveying to him all the authority belonging to the high office of Mediator. He is the person authorized, (as the inauguration of princes signifies that,) either conferring or acknowledging the high authority in them belonging to their high office. Him hath God the Father sealed. He carries the signature, the character of the great God upon him, as his anointed one, his sealed one, marked out for the great work and office which he was to sustain and bear. But,

Secondly, It signifies qualification too. A real endowment, as well as that relative one. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me.” Isaiah lxi. 1. It signifies that mighty plenitude of the Spirit which descended and flowed down upon him, whereby whatsoever was requisite to the faithful and successful discharge of the work and business which was conferred upon the man Christ, the divine nature being so intimately united with the human, it signified that all the fulness of Godhead did come to inhabit this man, and so to suit him every way for the great affairs of that high and important office into which he was now put.

And this was the thing to be believed in opposition to the opposers of that time, and of all after-times; who were of two sorts then as they have been continually since, to wit, Pagans and Jews; the former whereof did disbelieve that there needed to be any Messiah at all; and the latter disbelieved that this was he. The former could have no apprehension that there was any need of a Messiah 491or a Christ at all. That was the case of the Pagan world; and much less could they believe that this Christ should ever need to be crucified: and therefore the doctrine of him, and especially of his cross, was to the wise Pagans foolishness. What needs any such transaction between God and (men in such a way as this, that there were come down one from heaven into this world, to die upon earth a sacrifice to the justice of heaven? Who can imagine such a thing as this, say the wiser Pagan?. There is no need of any Christ at all, say they.

The Jews, they were taught long before to apprehend and believe there was need of a Christ; though they mistook much here what he was to do, and what the business of his office and coming was; but yet they had that gospel among them, under veils and shadows and typical representations, which did only hold forth to them what was the business and errand upon which Christ came into the world. All their sacrifices taught them, and no doubt to whom an understanding was given, as this apostle’s expression afterwards, is in this same chapter, “They who had the given understanding to know him that is true,” verse 20, they did understand that the sacrifices under their law, and offered according to the direction of it, must terminate in one greater sacrifice. They had that volume in their hands concerning which it is said, Ps. xl. 6, 7? “Iu the volume of the book it is written of me, that when sacrifices and offerings will not serve the turn, (that is, of mean, abject, brute creatures) I must come after all to do thy will, O God,” That is to be performed and done by me which those sacrifices were useless and insignificant for: no other way useful but as they did point out me, who was to come, as the substance and fulness and accomplishment of them all. It was a thing generally taught, (whether it were understood or no among the Jews,) that there was to be a Christ, a Messiah, an everlasting high priest, as his office is sometimes dignified by that title, more eminently and principally in Psalm cx. “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” This the Jews found in the sacred records which they had among them, and in their hands. But yet when he came, they did not think this was he. And so as that was a question between the pagans and christians, whether there ought to be any Christ or no, so it was a question of equal importance between them and the Jews, whether this were the person. And therefore that he doth with so much authority and severity charge upon those that he conversed 492among in the days of his flesh, If you believe not that I am he, you shall die in your sins. It is not believing an indefinite Christ or Messiah to come, that will serve the turn now, now that there is a sufficient notification of the person; but now you are not only to believe that there is a Messiah to come, but now if you do not believe that I am he, you are lost creatures, you die under the unatoned guilt of all your other sins, and under the superadded guilt of this sin, not believing the revelation that is made by the great God of this his Christ, when it was made with so much clearness that it was impossible any discovery could have carried more convictive evidence with it than that did. This now was the thing to be believed concerning this Jesus. But then, you will say,

(2.) What doth the believing of this import? What is it to believe it, so as to give a ground for this affirmation concerning the belief of it, that he is born of God? Why, for this it is plain, in the

First place, this believing that Jesus is Christ must carry with it an understanding and a judicious assent of the truth of the affirmation that so he is; that he is indeed the Christ. An understanding and judicious assent: it cannot be less. Faith concerning this so important a thing is not the act of a fool, it must be an act suitable to an intelligent, apprehensive mind; and therefore if this be not assented to with the understanding and judgment, it is as if it were not assented to at all. To assent to this, understandingly and with judgment, is to apprehend some valid and sufficient ground upon which it is to be assented to. I pray consider this well; ungrounded faith is no faith: if there be never so clear and demonstrative ground upon which this truth is in itself founded, that Jesus is the Christ; if it be not at all apprehended by me, if I believe this at random, if inert will call that believing when I believe and I cannot tell why, and I care not why, I believe as a matter of common hearsay or of uncertain report, I take it up from the people amongst whom I live. Such an ungrounded faith as this is a nullity, a perfect nullity, it goes for nothing; it is not believing, it is but a hovering, fluttering opination, a vague opinion only I met with by chance, a thing that falls in my way; my religion, as I am a Christian, is to me a casualty. I am a Christian, but upon the same terms upon which they who live in the same country are Mahometans; and of the Jews, where they are of the Jewish faith, or infidelity rather. And this is all that the most 493have to say for their being Christians: that religion which was the religion of my forefathers, which is the religion of the country where I live, whish is the religion established by law, which is the religion that most suits my external conveniences to profess. I could not commodiously (it may be not safely) live in the country where I live, save on this profession, and not continuing this profession. That which is the ground of the belief of the most that go under the name of Christians, is but just the same, mutatis mutandis, that is the ground of their faith and religion who inhabit the Pagan world, in all the most dark and dismal quarters of it; they take their faith the same way. The Mahomedans, though less gross Pagans, take up their faith the same way. And so have the Jews done their faith the same way ever since Judaism came to be opposed to Christianity: therefore there must be some great flaw in this matter.

Most certain it is, that such grounds as do equally serve to infer falsehood and truth must be in themselves false. From truth nothing but truth can follow; but from false hood sometimes that which is true, and sometimes that which is false (as circumstances may be varied) will follow. And it is plain, that from this ground a falsehood doth follow many times and often, yea oftener, than truth. To wit, when the ground is that my religion is descended from my ancestors, it is the religion of the country where I live, it is established by law, it makes for my conveniency to be of this religion, it would be a great prejudice or reproach to me not to be of it, or profess the contrary. These grounds will as well infer a falsehood, as they happen to do truth in the present case, because they are common grounds upon which all the mistaken and false religions in the world are equally founded as well as the true.

But then if the matter be so, see what you are to account or reckon concerning such an ungrounded faith, be the matter of it what it will; if the grounds of it be false and wrong it is vain faith, as it is intimated by the Apostle, 1 Cor. xv. 1, 2, “I declare unto you the Gospel which ye have believed, which you have received, which hath been preached to you, and wherein you stand, and by which also you shall be saved, if you keep in the way that I have preached unto you, unless you have believed in vain.” The Greek word there used signifies sometimes temere; sometimes frustra; when it signifies the former, it is believed without ground; when it signifies the latter, it is believing without effect. Both ways faith may be vain, When I believe a 494thing without any ground, or without any proportionate ground, that is, I believe a divine truth, but with no divine faith, or not relying in my belief upon a divine testimony, which is the thing that specifically distinguished divine faith from human faith. The faith is as the ground of it is. If my faith rest upon an human testimony, it is an human faith; if it rest upon a divine ground, then it is a divine faith, and the efficacy of it is proportionable to the ground of it. Do but observe that, 1 Thess. ii. 13, the Apostle gives thanks for those Thessalonians, “that they received the gospel not as the word of man, but as it is indeed the word of God, which effectually works in them that believe.” We can never believe aright that Jesus is the Christ, but as taking it upon the authority of a divine testimony. “He that believeth not hath made God a liar, because he believeth not the record he hath given of his Son.” Why do I believe Jesus to be the Christ? because the eternal God hath given his testimony concerning him that so he is. This never enters into the minds of the most. They never consider who testifies this; only this is a common opinion, and they have happened upon it. But a testimony from heaven concerning him, hath averred and affirmed him to be the Christ, is that which must take hold of men’s souls, and come with power upon them, if ever they do in truth believe that Jesus is the Christ. “A man’s believing comes all to nothing without this, that there is a divine testimony. But how such a divine testimony is to be evidenced to be divine, or may appear to be so, will be matter of after consideration, as that also will, what is imported in being born of God. Such a faith as the gospel requires, and challenges to this truth, that Jesus is the Christ, it carries that mighty and marvellous power along with it as to transform a man’s soul, to make him a new man. Any man that pretends to this faith, he is but just as he was before; the same man that he was, as vain, as earthly, as carnal, as strange to God, he lives at the same rate of ungodliness that formerly he did, or that other men actually do; tor this man to pretend he believes that Jesus is the Christ, it is a pretence that carries its own confutation and shame in it.

He that understandingly believes Jesus to be the Christ, to wit, that understands why he believes it, and what this Christ was appointed for, to reconcile, to reduce us, and bring us back to God, to intitle to the divine favour, and to engage us in the divine communion: such a man as doth in good earnest believe this, is quite another man, as if 495he were but new born. Here is a creature produced that was not before: it is as if you were newly come into the world, and into being. If you do sincerely and truly believe that Jesus is the Christ, it is a thing that speaks you just new born $ that is, you are born quite another creature; as we shall have occasion further to shew. “Old things are done away, and all things are become new.” This faith cannot be unaccompanied with such an impression on the soul, that makes a man a godlike creature in comparison to what he was before: for every one that is born of God is like God by that very birth. It is true, that a thing may be made by another that is not like him, but what one begets or is born of him that hath the same nature, that bears his natural image; it is a creature new-produced, that imitates God, that resembles God, in whom this faith obtains concerning Jesus that he is the Christ.

I have chosen to insist upon this subject upon that account, and with this design, (as many things have been spoken of the same import, and upon the same design from time to time) that we may not impose upon ourselves, and be cheated by the name of faith instead of the thing. Will the shadow of faith save a man? Will it save a man to be called a believer, and to be no such thing? That faith that terminates upon Jesus as the Christ, which will save a man, must so transform him too, so as that he may truly admit to have it said of him, this is a man born of God. I see his faith makes him quite a new man throughout; for he was a stranger to God, an enemy to God, lived in all manner of ungodliness; but O! what a change is wrought? Now he resembles God, now he doth like God; he makes it his business to do good; the divine excellencies shine in him, and are conspicuous wheresoever he goes, and in whatsoever he does. To talk of one believing Jesus to be the Christ, who doth not appear to be born of God, doth not appear to be of an heavenly descent or birth, you may as well say such an one is a star, or an angel, as a believer. A believer, and one born of God, are expressions that do signify alternately one another as broad as long: so that every believer is born of God, and that every one that is born of God is a believer.

« Prev Sermon XXXVIII. Preached May 11th, 1693. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection