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out any amendment, or, however, without atonement; some that ascribe so much to free will, as to exclude the need or use of Divine grace ; some conceive so highly of natural religion, and of virtues merely moral, as to despise that righteousness which the Gospel teaches; and some likewise there are, who fear not to boast even of sinless perfection, and who, for that reason, forbear to pray for forgiveness of God. Now St. Paul's doctrine concerning justification by faith is a standing evidence against all such proud boasters, confuting their big pretensions, and beating down their assuming claims. It is fatal oversight for a man not to consider well beforehand what to rest his salvation upon, or what chiefly to trust to, before the high tribunal. Come we before God in the way of humble petition, or in the way of strict claim? Stand we upon our own righteousness, or upon the merits of Christ? Seek we to be judged by the letter of the Law, or by indulgent favour, and a covenant of grace? In a word, stand we upon our perfect innocence, or upon the tender mercy of the Judge ? St. Paul has directed us how to move in this case, how to form our plea, and what course to take : move by faith, and trust in the merits of Christ Jesus: drop your plea of works, because there is a flaw in it, and there is no abiding by it; for we have all sinned, more or less, and God is of purer eyes than to accept of any thing in that way short of perfection. But if you sue to the throne of grace by faith in Christ’s blood, that is the same thing with dropping all plea from your own deservings, and glorying in nothing, "save" only " in the cross of our Lord “ Jesus Christ n.” That is the method, the only true method, whereby to escape punishment, and to arrive at heaven and happiness. Make your humble acknowledgments of the need you have of a Saviour, and rest your salvation upon him; and then the Divine Majesty can, with a salvo to his strict justice and holiness, have mercy upon you, while it is by his interest, and upon his account, not upon your own.
So much for that article.
III. I proceed now, thirdly and lastly, to observe, that such humble acknowledgments as I have been here mentioning, must not however be so understood as to afford any excuse or colour for slackness in our bounden duties, or for pleading any exemption or discharge from true Christian obedience: for what if St. Paul directs us to apply to God by faith? Doth not the same St. Paul tell us, that it must be a “ faith which worketh by love?" And what if he advises us not to insist upon our works as perfect, nor to stand upon that plea, in opposition to a better; yet does he not also tell us, that we are “ created in Christ Jesus unto “good works p?” and that “ the end of the commandment is “ charity 9?" It is right, and our bounden duty, to renounce all claims and strict demands while we stand before God, and to throw ourselves entirely upon a covenant of grace: but still that very covenant of grace has several reserves and exceptions in it to exclude all impenitent offenders, and carries its own conditions along with it; which are many, but are all summed in these two, an humble well-grounded faith, and a sincere, though imperfect, obedience.
n Gal. vi. 14.
There were some foolish persons in the days of the Apostles, who having heard, very probably, of St. Paul's doctrine of justification by faith and by grace, laid hold of it as an handle or colour for throwing off good works and Christian obedience. Any handle will serve, where either the judgment is exceeding weak, or corrupt inclination exceeding strong: otherwise one might justly wonder, how so wild a thought could have possessed any man that should call himself a Christian. However, St. James took care, in few but very expressive words, to obviate those loose principles, thereby to prevent the deception of the ignorant and undiscerning". St. Paul had before determined the general and previous question, about the right method of applying to God, and the plea that would be safest to stand upon, giving it on the side of humble faith, against all proud claims from our own performances : and now St. James determines a second question, about the true and full import of that plea of faith, evidently demonstrating that that very plea of faith is so far from excluding Christian obedience, that it necessarily takes it in, and cannot be understood without it. For faith without obedience is but a dead faith, or, in effect, no faith at all. Abraham's faith was a lively and working faith, exerting itself, as opportunities offered, in all kinds of virtues and graces, in every good word and work. Such must every man's faith be, if he hopes to be justified by it here, or saved by it hereafter.
Perhaps what I have hinted of the two several questions,
• Gal. v. 6.
p Ephes. ii. 10.
qi Tim. i. 5.
r James ü. 14—26.
decided by the two Apostles, may be made a little plainer, by an easy and familiar example. Imagine a criminal going to be tried for his life. It is proposed to him, in that case, whether to stand upon strict law and his own perfect innocence, or to plead some act of grace, some act of indemnity. He deliberates upon it, as the first question, and at length comes into the plea of grace, as his safest plea : this is doing what St. Paul advised in another case.
After that, another question comes on, very distinct from the former; viz. What are the conditions of that very act of grace which the criminal had submitted to, and resolved to abide by? This the lawyers determine upon the trial, and upon that depends the final issue of the cause. In like manner, after St. Paul's decision of the previous question about pleading the act of grace, St. James coines in to shew what conditions that act contains.
Now the practical conclusion from all that has been here said is, to guard the more carefully against two very dangerous extremes, which some or other have, in all ages, unhappily fallen into, and to keep the middle path, the plain and even road, where you may be safe, not turning aside either to the “ right hand or " to the left s."
If you come before God full of your own selves, reckoning upon your own deservings, trusting in your own holiness, or righteousness, and not humbling yourselves as sinners and unprofitable servants, or not resting your salvation upon the rich mercy of God and the all-prevailing atonement made by the blood of Christ, then you are“ proud, knowing nothing,” or nothing considerable; having no right knowledge either of your own frailties, failings, and omissions, or of God's all-searching eye, and his tremendous justice, were he once to be extreme to mark whatever has been done amiss, and to exact it of us.
If, on the other hand, (considering how mean and worthless, in the sight of God, even our best services are, and that all our hope and comfort lie solely in his mercy and Christ's merits,) you should thereupon neglect to cleanse your hands and purify your hearts, (as far as by God's grace you may,) or should grow slack and careless in Christian duties, fainting by the way, and not persevering to the end, but presuming upon God's mercy to save
s Prov. iv. 27.
you, though you live and die in your sins; then you run into the other extreme, not less pernicious than the former.
What then is the way to take into and pursue, so as not to miscarry here or there? The way is to aspire to righteousness and true holiness with all your might, and not to be proud of it when you have done. Think it worthless in the sight of God, and infinitely below his acceptance, were it not for the merits of Christ: but still remember, that it is as much worth to you as heaven is worth, because “ without" such “ holiness, no man shall see the Lord ."
To conclude: be as ambitious of leading a good life, as if you were sure even to merit by it: at the same time be as humble before God, as the great St. Paul was, who besides keeping the faith, after he had done perhaps more in the way of good works than any mere man had done before him, yet summed
his own life and character in a very few and very humbling words, that he was nothing. He remembered that God was all; in whom “ we live, and move, and have our being."
t Heb. xii. 14.
u 2 Cor. xii. II.
* Acts xvii. 28.
The Care required in choosing our religious Principles,
and the Steadiness in retaining them when so chosen, stated and cleared.
1 THESSALONIANS V. 21.
Prove all things ; hold fast that which is good.
HE text contains two very weighty and important precepts,
well deserve both to be rightly understood, and carefully retained by all.
The first is, to prove, try, or examine all things, (proposed as of any consequence to our belief and practice,) that so we may discern what is really good : the next is, to close in with it heartily as soon as found, and firmly to adhere to it. The design of which precepts is to caution us against two pernicious extremes, which many unthinking persons are prone to run into : one is the taking opinions upon trust from others, without ever examining or considering what or why; the other is, being too unsettled and irresolute even after examination, not being able, after a wise choice, to fix and abide by it. It is hard to say which of the two extremes is the most unreasonable; whether the being too credulous in receiving any thing or every thing without distinction, or the not receiving and retaining what upon due eramination well deserves it. Credulity on one hand, or unsteadiness on the other, are equally dangerous : both contributing to multiply mistakes, and to confound all distinction of true