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But his being so distinguished and preferred before the other wretched man, was the consequence of his true penitence, and of a temper of piety, humility, and faith, and trust in the divine goodness, as manifested by Christ, which recommended him to the favour of God, and to this honourable notice and promise from the blessed Jesus.
Certainly there must have been a singular strength of mind, and of faith in God in this man, who discovered so much juster sentiments of Christ, and a firmer belief in his power from God, than even his own apostles had at this juncture, when their divine Master was dying under the hands of his enemies, and they gave up all their hopes from him, as lost.
There is not, indeed, any one instance or record in the scriptures, of such a sudden total change, wrought in a man, who had before been an habitual sinner, on his first receiving the Gospel; so as to make him immediately holy and good, either when in health, or in a dying state.
When our Lord said to Zaccheus, (Luke xix. 9.) “ This day is salvation come to this house :"
when he encouraged the penitent woman, who had not long before been a notorious sinnner, (vii . 50.) “ Thy faith hath saved thee:
in peace:” and when Paul and Silas, on the trembling jailor's addressing them (Acts xvi. 30, &c.) “Sirs, what must I do to be saved ?" replied—“ Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house:”
The expressions being saved, or salvation coming to persons, signify only the being put in the way of being saved ; the entertaining such just sentiments of the divine power
and goodness manifested by Christ, and, in consequence
of it, such penitent and holy dispositions excited in them; in which if they persevered, and became confirmed in them, they would be finally accepted of God, and, by his gracious promises in the Gospel, become heirs of eternal life.
Neither the sacred writings, nor any experience we have of the human frame, which is also the work of God, give the least countenance to the notion of virtuous tempers and dispositions being infused into any of mankind all at once. Invariably, as far as we see or know, piety,
purity, purity, integrity, and steady active benevolence, in which the whole of virtue, and
every thing that is excellent, may be comprised, are the work of time and labour ; from small beginnings going on and advancing, and by slow degrees to be carried forward, till a stability in righteousness and holiness is formed and settled.
This is to be effected, and is capable of being effected by the knowledge of the Gospel, and the powerful motives which it furnishes to
a holy life.
To this also contribute the various provividences of Almighty God, in his ordinary government over us : for nothing happens to us but by his appointment, and for wise and good ends; in the prosperous or adverse circumstances, that befall us from others, or which we bring upon ourselves, sickness, loss of friends, and the like; by which we are put upon seriousness and sobriety of mind, and recollection of our ways.
This is the discipline, sometimes harsh and severe, of our heavenly Father, to which he subjects us for our good, and for moral and spiritual improvement. It is the discipline to
which our Lord himself was subject; who, we are told, (Heb. v. 8.) “ though he were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things he suffered ; and by which he was exercised and made perfect :” (ii. 10.) “ It became him, from whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through suffering."
If we are not moved and changed, and drawn from sin and the world, and turned to God and our duty, and true happiness, by these things, we have no room or foundation to expect,
any supernatural influences will be used to produce a change in us to that which is good.
IV. We may go on further to remark, that the Gospel reward of eternal life, though entirely the gift of God, and to which nothing we could do could ever entitle us; yet it is, by his appointment, annexed only to a holy life ; to such obedience of his righteous laws in which our own personal endeavours are employed and instrumental.
The general call and commission, which our Lord gave his disciples to deliver to the world,
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and which he preached himself, was, pent, and believe the Gospel :" i. e. forsake your sins and follow my doctrine, which I teach you from God.
His constant exhortation to sinners was ; “ Go, and sin no more:" i. c. keep the commandments of God.
In short, his answer to the young man of some rank, who came to him with great earnestness and apparent good dispositions, contains the general tenor of his divine instructions ; (Matt. xix. 17.) -“ If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” Not that a perfect, unswerving obedience is demanded of us, but sincerity and uprightness, in not allowing ourselves in any known transgression of the divine laws, and in endeavours after progressive improvements in holiness.
We are not to imagine, that those rules and directions to obtain eternal life which our Lord delivered in his discourses, and to those that came to him, when alive and in health, or upon having restored them from sickness, would have been softened and relaxed by him, had it fallen in his way to speak to persons go