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shall we deny his assertions, and tell him he is not so wicked as he makes himself?-This might be more than we should be able to maintain-Or shall we allow them, and acquit him of obligation? Rather ought we not to return to the place where we set out, admonishing him, as the scriptures direct, to repent and believe the gospel; declaring to him that what he calls his inability is his sin, and shame; and warning him against the idea of its availing him another day; not in expectation that of his own accord he may change his mind, but in hope that God peradventure may give him repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.
This doctrine, it will be said, must drive sinners to despair. Be it so, it is such despair as I wish to see prevail. Until a sinner despairs of any help from himself, he will never fall into the arms of sovereign mercy: but if once we are convinced that there is no help in us, and that this is so far from excusing us, that it is a proof of the greatest wickedness, we shall then begin to pray as lost sinners, and such prayer offered in the name of Jesus will be heard.
Other objections may have been advanced, but I hope it will be allowed that the most important ones have been fairly stated: whether they have been answered, the reader will judge..
FIRST, Though faith be a duty, the requirement of it is not to be considered as a mere exercise of AUTHORITY, but of INFINITE GOODNESS; binding us to pursue our best interest.—If a message of peace were sent to a company of rebels, who had been conquered, and lay at the mercy of their injured sovereign, they must of course be required to repent and embrace it, ere they could be interested in it; yet such a requirement would not be considered by impartial men as a mere exercise of authority. It is true, the authority of the sovereign would accompany it, and the proceeding would be so conducted as that the honour of his government should be preserved: but the grand character of the message would be mercy. Neither would the goodness of it be diminished by the authority which attended it, nor by the malignant disposition of the parties. Should some of them even prove incorrigible, and be executed as hardened traitors, the mercy of the sovereign in sending the message would be just the same. They might possibly object, that the government which they had resisted was hard and rigid; that their parents before them had always disliked it, and had taught them from their childhood to despise it; that to require them to embrace with all their hearts a message, the very import of which was that they had transgressed without cause, and deserved to die, was too humiliating for flesh and blood to bear; and that if he would not pardon them without their
cordially subscribing such an instrument, he had better have left them to die as they were: for instead of its being good news to them it would prove the means of aggravating their misery. Every loyal subject, however, would easily perceive that it was good news, and a great instance of mercy, however they might treat it, and of whatever evil, through their perverseness, it might be the occasion.
If faith in Christ be the duty of the ungodly, it must of course follow, that every sinner, whatever be his character, is completely warranted to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of his soul. In other words, he has every possible encouragement to relinquish his former attachment and confidences, and to commit his soul into the hands of Jesus to be saved. If believing in Christ be a privilege belonging only to the regenerate, and no sinner while unregenerate, be warranted to exercise it, as Mr. Brine maintains, it will follow either that a sinner may know himself to be regenerate before he believes, or that the first exercise of faith is an act of presumption. That the bias of the heart requires to be turned to God antecedent to believing, has been admitted, because the nature of believing is such that it cannot be exercised while the soul is under the dominion of wilful blindness, hardness, and aversion. These dispositions are represented in the scriptures as a bar in the way of faith, as being inconsistent with
* Motives to Love and Unity, &e. pp. 38–39.
it; and which consequently, require to be taken out of the way. But whatever necessity there may be for a change of heart in order to believing, it is neither necessary nor possible that the party should be conscious of it till he has believed. It
is necessary that the eyes of a blind man should be opened before he can see: but it is neither necessary nor possible for him to know that his eyes are open till he doth see. It is only by surroundding objects appearing to his view, that he knows the obstructing film to be removed. But if regeneration be necessary to warrant believing, and yet it be impossible to obtain a consciousness of it till we have believed, it follows that the first exercise of faith is without foundation; that is, it is not faith, but presumption.
If believing be the duty of every sinner to whom the gospel is preached, there can be no doubt as to a warrant for it, whatever be his character: and to maintain the latter, without admitting the former, would be reducing it to a mere matter of discretion. It might be inexpedient to reject the way of salvation, but it could not be unlawful.
Secondly, Though believing in Christ is a compliance with a duty, yet it is not as a duty, or by way of reward for a virtuous act, that we are said to be justified by it. It is true that God does reward the services of his people, as the scriptures
See proposition iv. p. 59.
abundantly teach: but this follows upon justification. We must stand accepted in the beloved, before our services can be acceptable or rewardable. Moreover, if we were justified by faith as a duty, justification by faith could not be, as it is, opposed to justification by works; To him that worketh is the reward reckoned, not of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. The scripture doctrine of justification by faith, in opposition to the works of the law, appears to me as follows-By believing in Jesus Christ, the sinner becomes vitally united to him, or, as the scriptures express it, joined to the Lord, and is of one spirit with him:t and this union, according to the divine constitution, as revealed in gospel, is the ground of an interest in his righteousness. Agreeable to this is the following language-There is now therefore, NO CONDEMNATION to them that are In Christ Jesus-Of him are ye IN Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us. RIGHTEOUSNESS, &c.—That I may be found in him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ. As the union, which in the order of nature precedes a revealed interest in Christ's righteousness, is spoken of in allusion to that of marriage, the one may serve to illustrate the other. A rich and generous character walking in the fields, espies a forlorn female infant, deserted by some unfeeling
Rom. iv. 2-5. † 1 Cor. vi. 17.