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works which he had before prepared that they should walk therein," and enjoy and manifest all holy and heavenly tempers, even the same mind that was in Christ Jesus.
3. But does not preaching this faith lead men into pride? We answer, Accidentally it may: therefore ought every believer to be earnestly cautioned, in the words of the great apostle, Because of unbelief, the first branches were broken off; and thou standest by faith Be not high minded, but fear. If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he spare not thee. Behold, therefore, the goodness and severity of God! 'On them which fell, severity; but towards thee, good
if thou continue in his goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” And while he continues therein, he will remember those words of St. Paul, foreseeing and answering this very objection, Rom. jii, 27, "Where is boasting then ? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay, but by the law of faith. If a man were justified by his works, he would have whereof to glory.” But there is no glorying for him " that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly,” Rom.
To the same effect are the words both preceding and following the text : Eph. ii, 4, &c, “God, who is rich in mercy, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved,) that he might show the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness towards us through Christ Jesus. For, by grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves." of yourselves cometh neither your faith nor your
salvation : It is the gift of God;" the free, undeserved gift; the faith through which ye are saved, as well as the salvation, which he of his own good pleasure, his mere favour, annexes thereto. 'That ye believe, is one instance of his grace; that believing ye are saved, another. “ Not of works, lest any man should boast.” For all our works, all our righteousness, which were before our believing, merited nothing of God but condemnation. So far were they from deserving faith, which, therefore, whenever given, is not of works. Neither is salvation of the works we do when we believe : for it is then God that worketh in us : and, therefore, that he giveth us a reward for what he himself worketh, only commendeth the riches of his mercy, but leaveth us nothing whereof to glory.
4. However, may not the speaking thus of the mercy of God, as saving or justifying freely by faith only, encourage men in sin ? Indeed it
may and will : many will “continue in sin that grace may abound :" But their blood is upon their own head. The goodness of God ought to lead them to repentance; and so it will those who are sincere of heart. When they know there is yet forgiveness with him, they will cry aloud that he would blot out their sins also, through faith which is in Jesus. And if they earnestly cry and faint not; if they seek him in all the means he hath appointed ; if they refuse to be comforted till he come; " he will come and will not tarry.” And he can do much work in a short time. Many are the examples, in the Acts of the Apostles, of God's shedding abroad this faith in men's hearts, even like lightning falling from heaven. So in the same hour that Paul and Silas began to preach, the jailer “repented, believed, and was baptized :" as were three thousand, by St. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, who all repented and believed at his first preaching. And blessed be God, there are now many living proofs that he is still "mighty to save.” VOL. I.
5. Yet to the same truth, placed in another view, a quite contrary objection is made : “If a man cannot be saved by all that he can do, this will drive men to despair.' True, to despair of being saved by their own works, their own merits, or righteousness. And so it ought; for none can trust in the merits of Christ, till he has utterly renounced his own.
He that “goeth about to establish his own righteousness," cannot receive the righteousness of God. The righteousness which is of faith cannot be given him while he trusteth in that which is of the law.
6. But this, it is said, is an uncomfortable doctrine. The devil spoke like himself, that is, without either truth or shame, when he dared to suggest to men that it is such. It is the only comfortable one, it is
very full of comfort," to all self-destroyed, self-condemned sinners. That “whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed: that the same Lord over all, is rich unto all that call upon him :" Here is comfort, high as heaven, stronger than death! What! Mercy for all ? For Zaccheus, a public robber? For Mary Magdalene, a common harlot ? Methinks I hear one say, Then I, even I, may hope for mercy! And so thou mayest, thou afflicted one, whom none hath comforted! God will not cast out thy prayer. Nay, perhaps he may say the next hour, “Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee ;' so forgiven, that they shall reign over thee no more ; yea, and that “the Holy Spirit shall bear witness with thy spirit that thou art a child of God." tidings ! Tidings of great joy, which are sent unto all people ! “ Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters: Come ye, and buy, without money and without price.” Whatsoever your sins be," though red, like crimson,” though more than the hairs of your head, “return ye unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon you; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."
7. When no more objections occur, then we are smply told, that salvation by faith only ought not to be preached as the first doctrine, or, at least, not to be preached to all. But what saith the Holy Ghost ? “Other foundation can no man lay, than that which is laid, even Jesus Christ.” So then, that“ whosoever believeth on him, shall be saved," is, and must be, the foundation of all our preaching; that is, must be preached first. "Well, but not to all.” To whom then are we not to preach it? Whom shall we except? The poor? Nay; they have a peculiar right to have the gospel preached unto them. The unlearned ? No. God hath revealed these things unto unlearned and ignorant men from the beginning. The young ? By no means.
any wise, to come unto Christ, and forbid them not. The sinners ? Least of all. “He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Why then, if any, we are to except the rich, the learned, the reputable, the moral men. And, it is true, they too often except themselves from hearing; yet we must speak the words of our Lord. For thus the tenor of our commission runs, Go and preach the gospel to every creature.“
any man wrest it, or any part of it, to his destruction, he must bear his own burden. But still, as the Lord liveth, whatsoever the Lord saith unto us, that we will speak.”
8. At this time, more especially, will we speak, that " by grace ye are saved, through faith :" because, never was the maintaining this doctrine more seasonable than it is at this day. Nothing but this can effectually prevent the increase of the Romish delusion among us. It
is endless to attack, one by one, all the errors of that church. But salvation by faith strikes at the root, and all fall at once where this is established. It was this doctrine, which our church justly calls the strong rock and foundation of the Christian religion, that first drove popery out of these kingdoms, and it is this alone can keep it out. Nothing but this can give a check to that immorality, which hath “overspread the land as a flood.” Can you empty the great deep, drop by drop ? Then you may reform us by dissuasives from particular vices. But let the "righteousness which is of God by faith" be brought in, and so shall its proud waves be stayed. Nothing but this can stop the mouths of those who “glory in their shame, and openly deny the Lord that bought them.” They can talk as sublimely of the law, as he that hath it written, by God, in his heart. To hear them speak on this head, might incline one to think they were not far from the kingdom of God: but take them out of the law into the gospel ; begin with the righteousness of faith; with Christ, “ the end of the law, to every one that believeth ;" and those who but now appeared almost, if not altogether Christians, stand confessed the sons of perdition; as far from life and salvation (God be merciful unto them !) as the depth of hell from the height of heaven.
9. For this reason the adversary so rages, whenever “salvation by faith” is declared to the world : for this reason did he stir up earth and hell, to destroy those who first preached it. And for the same reason, knowing that faith alone could overturn the foundations of his kingdom, did he call forth all his forces, and employ all his arts of lies and calumny to affright that champion of the Lord of Hosts, Martin Luther, from reviving it. Nor can we wonder thereat; for as that man of God observes, “ How would it enrage a proud strong man armed, to be stopped and set at nought by a little child coming against him with a reed in his hand ?" Especially, when he knew that little child would surely overthrow him, and tread him under foot. Even so, Lord Jesus ! Thus hath thy strength been ever "made perfect in weakness !" Go forth then, thou little child that believest in him, and “his right hand shall teach thee terrible things !" Though thou art helpless and weak as an infant of days, the strong man shall not be able to stand before thee. Thou shalt prevail over him, and subdue him, and overthrow him, and trample him under thy feet. Thou shalt march on, under the great Captain of thy salvation, “ conquering, and to conquer," until all thine enemies are destroyed, and “ death is swallowed up in victory."
“Now, thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” to whom with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, for ever. Amen.
SERMON II.-The Almost Christian :
Preached at St. Mary's, Oxford, before the University, July 25, 1741.
“ Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian,” Acts xxvi, 28.
And many there are who go thus far: ever since the Christian religion was in the world, there have been many in every age and nation, who were
almost persuaded to be Christians.” But seeing it avails nothing before God, to go only thus far, it highly imports us to consider,
First, What is implied in being almost ;
I. (I.) 1. Now, in the being almost a Christian is implied, first, heathen honesty. No one, I suppose, will make any question of this ; especially, since by heathen honesty here, I mean, not that which is recommended in the writings of their philosophers only, but such as the common heathens expected one of another, and many of them actually practised. By the rules of this they were taught, that they ought not to be unjust; not to take away their neighbour's goods, either by robbery or theft; not to oppress the poor, neither to use extortion towards any; not to cheat or overreach either the poor or rich, in whatsoever commerce they had with them ; to defraud no man of his right; and, if it were possible, to owe no man any thing.
2. Again, the common heathens allowed, that some regard was to be paid to truth as well as to justice. And, accordingly, they not only held him in abomination, who was foresworn, who called God to witness to a lie; but him also, who was known to be a slanderer of his neighbour, who falsely accused any man. And, indeed, little better did they esteem wilful liars of any sort, accounting them the disgrace of human kind, and the pests of society.
3. Yet, again there was a sort of love and assistance, which they expected one from another. They expected, whatever assistance any one could give another, without prejudice to himself. And this they extended not only to those little offices of humanity, which are performed without any expense or labour, but likewise, to the feeding the hungry, if they had food to spare; the clothing the naked, with their own superfluous raiment; and, in general, the giving, to any that need ed, such things as they needed not themselves. Thus far, in the lowest account of it, heathen honesty went, the first thing implied in the being almost a Christian.
(II.) 4. A second thing implied in the being almost a Christian, is, the having a form of yodliness, of that godliness which is prescribed in the gospel of Christ; the having the outside of a real Christian. Accordingly the almost Christian does nothing which the gospel forbids. He taketh not the name of God in vain : he blesseth and curseth not: he sweareth not at all, but his communication is yea, yea ; nay, nay. He profanes not the day of the Lord, nor suffers it to be profaned, even by the stranger that is within his gates. He not only avoids all actual adultery, fornication, and uncleanness, but every word or look, that either directly or indirectly tends thereto; nay, and all idle words, abstaining both from all detraction, backbiting, tale bearing, evil speaking, and from "all foolish talking and jesting,”—surganeda, a kind of virtue in the heathen moralist's account ;-briefly, from all conversation that is not "good to the use of edifying,” and that, consequently,
grieves the Holy Spirit of God, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.”
5. He abstains from “ wine wherein is excess ;" from revellings and gluttony. He avoids, as much as in him lies, all strife and contention, continually endeavouring to live peaceably with all men. And, if he suffers wrong, he avengeth not himself, neither returns evil for evil. He is no railer, no brawler, no scoffer, either at the faults or infirmities of his neighbour. He does not willingly wrong, hurt, or grieve any man; but in all things acts and speaks by that plain rule,“ Whatsoever thou wouldest not he should do unto thee, that do not thou to another.”
6. And, in doing good, he does not confine himself to cheap and easy offices of kindness, but labours and suffers for the profit of many, that by all means he may help some. In spite of toil or pain,“ Whatsoever his hand findeth to do, he doeth it with all his might;" whether it be for his friends, or for his enemies; for the evil, or for the good. For, being not slothful in this, or in any business, as he hath opportunity he doeth good, ali manner of good to all men ; and to their souls as well as their bodies. He reproves the wicked, instructs the ignorant, confirms the wavering, quickens the good, and comforts the afflicted. He labours to awaken those that sleep; to lead those whom God hath already awakened to the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness, that they may wash therein and be clean ; and to stir up those who are saved, through faith, to adorn the gospel of Christ in all things.
7. He that hath the form of godliness, uses also the means of grace ; yea, all of them, and at all opportunities. He constantly frequents the house of God; and that, not as the manner of some is, who come into the presence of the Most High, either loaded with gold and costly apparel, or in all the gaudy vanity of dress, and either by their unseasona ble civilities to each other, or the impertinent gayety of their behaviour, disclaim all pretensions to the form, as well as to the power of godliness. Would to God there were none even among ourselves who fall under the same condemnation : who come into this house, it may be, gazing about, or with all the signs of the most listless, careless indifference, though sometimes they may seem to use a prayer to God for his blessing on what they are entering upon; who, during that awful service, are either asleep, or reclined in the most convenient posture for it; or, as though they supposed God was asleep, talking with one another, or looking round, as utterly void of employment. Neither let these be accused of the form of godliness. No; he who has even this, behaves with serio'isness and attention in every part of that solemn service. More especially when he approaches the table of the Lord, it is not with a light or careless behaviour, but with an air, gesture, and deport ment, which speak nothing else, but“ God be merciful to me a sinner."
8. To this, if we add the constant use of family prayer, by those who are masters of families, and the setting times apart for private addresses to God, with a daily seriousness of behaviour ; he who uniformlv practises this outward religion, has the form of godliness. There needs but