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thee. Behold, therefore, the goodness and severity of God! On them which fell severity; but towards thee goodness, 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. iii. 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. iv. 5.) 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 toward 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 working 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 jailor 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.”
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 righteous
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 selfdestroyed, 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.” O glad 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 simply 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 66 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. “Suffer these," in anywise, 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,
66 Go and preach the Gospel to every creature." If 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 are ye 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 Martin Luther, from reviving it. Nor can we wonder thereat; for, as that man of God observes,
66 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 and
THE ALMOST CHRISTIAN :
ST. MARY'S, OXFORD, BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY,
ON 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 toward any; not to cheat or over-reach 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 forsworn, 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 ;