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The Mistake, of relying upon Faith, considered, &c.
For by Grace, are you saved, through Faith; and that not of your selves: it is the Gift of God.
I Now come to the Second part of that Design, which I have, for some Time, had in View; viz. to examine particularly the principal of those false Pretences, and mistaken Notions, concerning the Terms of our Acceptance with God, by which Men support themselves in their Continuance in their beloved Vices; and endeavour to elude the Force, and arm themselves against the Power, of those plain Texts of Scripture, and those convincing Arguments, by which I have already proved that that Method laid down in the Christian Religion, by which Sinners may hope to be reconciled to God, thro’ Jesus Christ, is the actual Amendment of their Lives and Tempers in all such Instances as they know to be contrary, in any respect, to the Law of God; and that this is indispensably required of them in order to their final Justification at the great Day of the Lord.
THE first of these Mistakes which I shall take notice of, and examine, is the Mistake of those Men who appear to be induced, by some Texts of the New Testament, to rely upon Faith, or their believing in Jesus Christ, and confident Application of his Merits to themselves; and to expect Salvation from this, considered as distinct, and separate, from Obedience to the Moral Lawn of the Gospel. And amongst the rest, the Text which I have now read to you, hath been often heretofore, and is very likely to be often again, alledged to this Purpose, by Men who are thus disposed to lay hold on any thing rather than heartily to set about the uneasy Task of reforming what is amiss in themselves. In the Examination of this great and fatal Mistake, I design
I. To lay before you the plain meaning of St. Paul in the Text.
II. To shew that no such Pretence as this can fairly be built upon these, or any the like Words in the New Testament.
III. To observe that St. Paul, doth, in this very Epistle, as well as in many other Places, sufficiently declare against any such Pretence: as our blessed Lord did likewise before Him in the plainest Words.
IV. To shew you in what Sense, Faith, or believing the Gospel, is said to save us.
I. IT will be very proper to lay before you the plain meaning of St. Paul in the Text.
AND, if you look into the Chapter, you will find that He is there speaking of the former Condition in which the Ephesians were, before their Conversion from a State of Heathenism, to the Belief of the Gospel; and magnifying God’s Mercy, and the exceeding Riches of his Grace, or Favour, towards them, from the first Verse to the eighth: in which He therefore goes on to make them sensible of their Obligation to that God who had thus quicken’d them who were dead in sins. For by Grace are ye saved: that is, For it is very fit you should know and consider that it is by the mere Grace and Favour, or Mercy of God (as the Word signifies) that ye are saved through Faith; that ye, are put into a Method, and State of Safety and Salvation, by means of your receiving the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is his own Act, his mere Mercy, that you have Terms of Acceptance offered you, upon your believing in Christ. The being saved in this Method is by the Grace or Mercy of God, I say; not of your selves, that is, no Contrivance, or Appointment of your own; not owing to your selves: but it is the Gift, the free Contrivance, and Offer of God to you, that you should be put into this happy State by the Gospel. This is the meaning of the Expression, and that not of your selves; not, as it may found in our Translation, and that Faith or believing, not of your selves, but entirely the Gift of God; (for the Word That in the Greek is of the Neuter Gender, and so cannot so easily be supposed to relate to the Word Faith going before:) but, that, or this whole Matter, this your being saved by Faith; this being called into a State of Salvation by the Gospel, is not of your selves but the Gift, the Favour, the Offer of God; previous to all Design, and Thought of your own. Then follow these Words, ver. 9. Not of Works, lest any Man should boast, i. e. And as the Proposal of this gracious Method of Salvation was not owing to your selves, and your Contrivance: so neither was such a Favour merited at the Hands of God by any part Perfection, by any good Behaviour of your own, preceding it. For, as I told you already, v. 1. and 5. you were dead in Trespasses and Sins, when you were called to the Knowledge of this merciful Dispensation. And this I add, lest any of you should boast, as if you had deserved of the Hands of Almighty God, by your past good Behaviour, so merciful a Dispensation, so gracious a Proposal, as is made to you in the Gospel. Then he goes on to assure them farther that their happy Condition is owing entirely to God, who had, without any Contrivance or Desert of theirs, ordered Affairs so by his good Providence, that they were now Believers in Jesus Christ; and had the Offers of Salvation, upon the Terms of the Gospel, brought home to them.
THIS, therefore, is the manifest Design of the Apostle in the Text, to raise the Gratitude of the Ephesians to Almighty God; and to inspire them with all possible Regard to Him; by putting them in mind that they were formerly in an helpless and miserable Condition, dead in Sins; void of the true Life of reasonable Creatures; that they find no Thought themselves of such Salvation as had been offered them by the Christian Religion; that they had no Merit to engage God Almighty to make them such an Offer, and preach such a State of Reconciliation and Salvation to them; that it was of his Grace, or Favour, that they were saved from their former evil Condition of Sin and, Ignorance, by believing and receiving the Gospel: for which they were obliged therefore to magnify the exceeding Riches of God’s Mercy towards them in Christ; and not to attribute this Happiness to themselves, who were before this void of everything that could be pleasing to Almighty God, or influence him to shew them so great and remarkable a Kindness. It is by Grace that ye are delivered from your former miserable Condition; it is an Act of Grace that ye are saved thro’ Faith, or put into a State of Salvation by believing the Gospel: and this being saved in this Method, and by means of this believing, is not of your selves; but wholly owing to the good Will of God, whose free Offer, and Gift it is. This being so manifestly the Intent of the Apostle in this Place; it appears from hence what I proposed in the second place, viz.
II. THAT no such Pretence as that which makes Faith alone, separated from a good Life and Conversation, the Condition on which we shall be accepted at last; that no such Pretence as this, I say, can be built upon this Passage of the New Testament: which will lead us likewise to the farther Consideration of this Mistake; and to give a true Account of what St. James and St. Paul, upon other Occasions, have affirmed upon this Subject.
As for the Passage now before us; we have seen already that by our being saved by, or thro’ Faith, is meant our being put into the true Way of Salvation by believing in Jesus Christ: and therefore that it cannot be laid upon any such Expression as this, that it is this Faith or believing taken by it self, and considered without any Influence upon our Lives, that will at last be accepted by God; if we had Opportunity of practising Righteousness, and have refused to do it. Besides, every thing necessary to Salvation must be represented as the Method that leads to it and because Faith in Christ, believing in Him, and receiving Him for our Master, is one and the first Requisite; therefore we may be said to be saved by Faith, without any such meaning as that other Things may not be as necessary, and as indispensable, as that.
BUT here it may be said, Doth not St. Paul expresly in another place attribute Justification to Faith without the Works of the Law? Gal. iii. 6, 11. To which I answer, Doth not St. James In his Epistle, ch. ii. 14. expresly combat that Opinion which some Men may falsly build upon this, viz. that Faith, without Moral Works consequent upon it, is sufficient to Salvation? And is not St. James’s Epistle of Authority with Christians, as well as St. Paul’s? And is not this a Demonstration to all who acknowledge this, that St. Paul could not intend any such thing as some have fathered upon Him? But this is not all that is to be said. For it is manifest that St. Paul is there speaking of such Works of the Law, as Circumcision; and arguing, that such are not necessary, from Abraham’s being justified by the eminent Faith which He had before Circumcision: and this against some Persons who would still pretend that the Observation of such Things was necessary to the Favour of God. Add to this, that St. Paul uses the Word Faith for the Gospel-Dispensation preached by Jesus Christ; and is only arguing that That is sufficient without the Observation of thee Mosaical Ceremonies. But He is never arguing with design to make Men believe that a mere empty Faith, void of good Works, the Works of Righteousness, can save any Man at last: but saith much to the contrary in all his Epistles. But with respect to what is said both by Him and St. James, concerning the Faith And Justification of Abraham and of Christians; it may be proper to observe as follows:
1. St. Paul saith that Abraham was justified without, and before, such Works as Circumcision. St. James saith that Abraham was not justified by an empty Faith without Works of Obedience; and would never have been excepted of God, unless He had shewn the reality of his Faith by Obedience to the Call and Command of God. Here is no Contradiction between them. So likewise Christians will be justified by means of believing the Gospel-Dispensation, without any such Works as Circumcision, or any other Works of the Ceremonial Law; as St. Paul argued: But they will never be justified, and finally acquitted by any Belief in Christ, without bringing forth, as they have Opportunity, such good Fruits, and walking in such good Works, as the Gospel of Christ directs, and commands them to practise; as St. James saith. Again,
2. ABRAHAM was, for one signal Act of Faith and Trust in God, called by Him righteous; taken for such, and reputed as a Person free from the Guilt of his past Sins: as saith St. Paul. But it is manifest, saith. St. James, that this Faith of Abraham was not such an empty Faith as some Christians pretend to rely upon: nay, that He would not have been justified finally by God, unless He had, when He was tried by God, shewn by the Obedience of his Life, that his Faith was real, and sincere. Neither in this is there any Contradiction between them. So likewise it is true that a Christian, upon his first believing the Gospel, and receiving Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Saviour of the World, is acquitted from the Guilt of his past Sins; and reputed at this time, and for the sake of this Faith, as a just and righteous Person, clear from all past Guilt: as St. Paul always taught the first Christians, who were converted at ripe Years from a Life of Infidelity and Sin. And so likewise it is true that no Christian who hath Opportunity, after his Conversion, to practise Holiness, and yet continues unfruitful, or wicked; that no such Christian, I say, shall be finally justified and acquitted, at the last Day, for the sake of his believing in Christ; as St. James teacheth: but that the final justification of such Christians depends upon their shewing their Faith by their Works, as St. James expresseth it; and upon their bringing forth good Fruit in their Lives and Conversations.
THUS may it easily be seen that these Two Apostles perfectly agree concerning the Necessity of a good Life, and of every Branch of the Law of Virtue. But St. Paul had to deal with a sort of Jewish Christians, who retained an Affection for the Works of the Law, and Circumcision particularly: and therefore found occasion to tell him that their Father Abraham himself was justified without such Works; that his eminent Faith was one time counted to him for Righteousness, or Justification; that for the sake of that Faith He was esteemed by God free from all the Guilt He had contracted by Sin before that Time; and that therefore it was nothing but what was agreeable to that great Example which they pretended to love and honour; that God should accept such as believed in his Son Jesus Christ, without their adhering to such Works as Circumcision; and for the sake of that Faith in Reward, and for Encouragement, of it; should acquit them from the Guilt of all their Sins committed before that Time. But St. James found that some misunderstood and perverted such Doctrine as this: and that some Christians began to pretend that no Works at all, not those of Piety, and Charity, were necessary to their Justification at the Great Day; and that their believing in Christ would acquit them from the Guilt of all their Sins that they should commit after this Belief, and during the Time of their Christian Profession. And therefore He found it necessary to tell them, that Abraham shewed his Obedience to God’s Will in the highest Instances, and trusted not in an empty Faith; but, tho’ He had been once acquitted from past Sins by an eminent Degree of it, yet that he did not expect to continue in Favour with God, unless by obeying all his Commands, and shewing himself ready to fulfil his whole will; and so likewise that Christians cannot expect to continue in the Favour of God, or that State of Justification and Acceptance which their first believing put them into, without imitating Abraham’s Obedience, and following his Steps in good Works, as well as in Faith; or rather, that there can be no such thing as true Faith without good Works, any more than there can be a good Tree without good Fruit.
THESE were the different Reasons for the different, tho’ not contradictory, Positions of these Two Apostles; and for their different manner of handling this Point. And in this Matter great Account is to be had of the following Distinction; that believing in Jesus Christ acquits from Guilt of Sins committed before such Belief; and this merely in order to a better Life for the future; which was St. Paul’s frequent Affirmation: but that believing in Jesus Christ doth not acquit from the Guilt of any Sins continued in, after this Belief, and during our Christian Profession, but indeed add to it extremely, and as St. James in effect affirms; and as St. Paul often taught. Which will appear more plainly from what will be said under the Third Proposition, viz.
3. THAT St. Paul doth, in this very Epistle, as well as in many other places, sufficiently declare against any such Pretence as that which I have been now examining: and this in Imitation of his great Master who did the same before him. Our Lord, you cannot but remember, set himself against this very Deceit, by which He foresaw that many of his professed Disciples would endeavour to elude the great Design of his coming into the World. The Words you have often had in your Ears, Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven: but He that doth the Will of my Father which is in Heaven: a Declaration which, in other Words, expresseth this very thing, that it is not believing in Him, or acknowledging him for our Master, or applying his Comforts to our selves, that shall avail us at last; but the doing the Will of his Father; or a constant universal Obedience to the Commands laid upon us in his Gospel. This I repeat to you, under this Head, because it is so express a Declaration against Men’s relying on Faith only for Salvation, or final Justification; that a more express one could no have been made in Words.
AFTER having remarked this, I come to shew that St. Paul himself guards against the same fatal Mistake in this very Epistle, in which He declares that We are saved through Faith. He doth indeed profess to the Ephesians, ch. i. ver. 9. that their being in so happy a State came not of their Works: but that is meant of their Works before their Conversion; that they had no Merit to invite or induce Almighty God to offer them such Salvation. But in the very next Words, ver. 10. He declares that we Christians are God’s Workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good Works; that we are, by Conversion to Christianity, as it were a-new created by the Will of God, calling us to it; and created for this End, that we may perform good Works. So that you see He immediately guards against any such Notion, as they might weakly entertain, of his attributing our final Salvation to Faith separated from good Works, in the Gospel Sense of good Works. And indeed, tho’ in some Places St. Paul doth vilify the Merits of the World and their Behaviour, before the coming of the Gospel; and tho’ in others He vilifies the Works of the Law of Moses, with which some would have burthened the Evangelical Profession: yet no one can shew any one Text, or any one single Passage, in which He vilifies, and sets at nought, the Works of Evangelical Righteousness, or Obedience to the Moral Laws of Virtue.
To vilify and decry the Behaviour and Works both of Jew and Gentile, before the Faith of Christ prevailed, was not to set at nought good Works, but bad ones; and only to observe the corrupt and sad Estate of Mankind. To vilify the Ceremonial Law, after the coming in of Justification by Faith (or the Gospel) was not to vilify such Works as we are speaking of: but indeed to take Men’s Minds off from Shadows and Ceremonies; and to fix them upon good Works that are more substantial. Nay, when He ever toucheth upon the Moral Duties; with how much Vehemence doth He recommend them? When He speaks of the Ephesians; or other Christians, having improved in Virtue, since their Conversion to Christianity; what Commendations doth He give them? And with how much Joy doth He offer up his Thanks to God for it? But we never find him depressing that sort of Works; or setting up Faith against them; or taking off the bent of Men’s minds from them: but pressing them into the love and practice of them with all the Earnestness possible. And then, if He mentions the Sins of any professed Christians; doth He do it, as if He thought their Faith would avail them? Or rather; doth He not do it with such a Spirit and Zeal against them, as if no Words were bad enough for them? And yet they had an easy Reply to make to Him, had He taught them any such Doctrine, as that a strong Faith would save them at last, tho’ separate from good Works.
BUT particularly, in this Epistle, how many Moral Duties and good Works doth He press upon the Ephesians? and how solemnly doth He assure them, ch. v. 5, 6, that the Immoralities there mentioned will exclude all, who are guilty of them, from Heaven? And adds, Let no Man deceive you with vain Words: for because of these Things the Wrath of God cometh upon the Children of Disobedience. He puts them in mind, ver. 8. that they were sometimes Darkness; but now Light in the Lord: walk as Children of the Light. For the Fruit of the Spirit is in all Goodness, and Righteousness, and Truth, ver. 9. and so on. Doth all this, and an hundred times more of the same sort, that might be urged from his Writings: Doth all this look like the Doctrine of a Man who aught them that Faith, without Goodness and Virtue, would save them at last? Or rather, Is not all this plainly inconsistent with that Supposition? And doth it not all shew that it is impossible He should intend to teach any such Doctrine; however his Words may sound at first hearing.
I MENTION not here, what I have often mentioned upon the like Occasion, that it is contradictory to the declared Design of the Christian Religion to suppose any such thing as this. For if the mere believing in Christ shall save us at last; tho’ during that Belief we have wilfully persisted in Disobedience to his Commands: then is it not true that He came to call Sinners to Repentance; then is it not true that the Grace of God hath appeared to Men in the Gospel, teaching us to deny Ungodliness and worldly Lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present World; then is it not true that our Lord expects us to bring forth Fruit; or to be prepared for his coming by good Works; or that He will judge us according to what we have done, whether it be good or evil. But on the contrary, these Things are true; and most expresly, and positively asserted in the New Testament: and consequently it cannot be true that Faith, without good Works, will save us at last: nor can any thing be true, that takes away the absolute Necessity of an holy, and virtuous Conversation.
BUT now, after I have thus guarded against that bad and pernicious Sense in which any Christians may understand some Expressions of Holy Scripture concerning our being saved by, or through, Faith; it is time,
4. To consider, a little in what Sense it is that Christians may be said to be saved by Faith, or by believing in Jesus Christ; And
1. THIS may be well said of Them, because it is their Faith, or believing, which saves them from the Guilt of all their Sins committed before this Faith: a Privilege which peculiarly belonged to the first Christians converted, at Years of Discretion, from a Life of Sin and Impurity. And therefore, this first Justification is often spoken of by St. Paul in his Epistles, and attributed to Faith. But this doth not concern those who have been educated, and instructed, in the Knowledge of the Christian Religion. The guilty Sinner in those Days knew not whither to fly from the Guilt of his Sins, till his Belief entitled him to this Favour; which God had annexed to it, and the Apostles always promised in his name.
2. WE may be well said to be saved through Faith, because it is by believing in Jesus Christ, that we come to know and embrace those Terms which are offered by God for our Salvation and Happiness. He came to save us; and by closing in with his Proposals we must be saved: and this we cannot do, without believing Him to be sent of God, and receiving him as such. This, therefore, being absolutely necessary; we may well find Salvation attributed to this, which is the first moving Principle towards it; and without which we should not go one Step forward in that Way to Salvation which He came to point out to us. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; and without knowing him, and believing in him, how should we know the Way; or the Path, to that Eternal Life which He came to unfold to us; who otherwise might have wandered; every one after the peculiar Imagination, or Inclination, or Humour, of our own Hearts? as Salvation therefore, comes in the Method proposed by Christ: so may it well be attributed to believing in Him; because that alone can put us into the Method proposed by Him.
3. CHRISTIANS are saved by Faith, because it is the Foundation of their Obedience, and of all their good Actions. It is the Tree which bears good Fruit; without which good Fruit there could be no Salvation: and consequently, what is so necessary, and so useful, to the Production of good Works, is it self entitled to those Rewards, and happy Consequences, which follow good Works. This is what St. James seems to think, that the only way of proving that we have Faith, is by our good Actions, Ch. ii. 15. Will any one, saith He, believe that you wish them well, or that you are willing to relieve them, if, when you see Distress, you only tell them so; and at the same time deny them what you can afford them towards their Relief? From hence He argues, As there is no true Sign of this charitable Disposition, but the Fruit of Beneficence which it produceth; and as one who is always hard-hearted hath no Pretence to it: so, is there no Proof of a real Faith, but the Works it produceth: of which Works, therefore a sincere Faith is never destitute. Thus will even He allow that Faith may save us, by influencing our Actions; but no otherwise.
LET any one likewise turn to the xith chap. to the Hebrews, there indeed he will find an Account of the Excellencies and Advantages of Faith; of its Acceptableness to God, and its Efficacy towards our own Happiness: but He will find that the Argument must be resolved into this at last, that without Faith it is impossible to please God, because without Faith it is impossible to live a Life of Virtue, or to do such Actions as are there recorded: and that by Faith is meant a vital active Principle, moving us to behave our selves agreeably to our Faith. And therefore, with respect to Christians, Faith must be an active Principle, influencing and strongly moving them to such a Behaviour, and Conduct; such a Life and Conversation, as their believing in such a Master naturally directs to. If we believe in God truly; we cannot but love and honour him above all things. If we believe in Christ sincerely; we cannot but endeavour to obey his Commands; observe his Precepts; and follow his Example. And thus shall we be saved thro’ Faith or believing in Him; because this Faith, if it be sincere, will be the Foundation of such an universal Obedience as He requires of us.
IN these Senses, therefore, and on these Accounts, great Things might well be said of Faith in the New Testament; and Salvation attributed to it. But the great Point, in which we are concerned, is, not to be deceived in a Matter of such Importance; and to that End, not to interpret any one Expression of the New Testament so as to contradict the plainest and most repeated Declarations of it. Let the Conclusion of the present Subject, therefore, be to this effect, Faith is an Act of the Mind most acceptable to God. Faith in his Son saves us, as it puts us into the secure Way to Salvation, if we be sincere; and as it is the Foundation of all our Christian Practice, and of all our best and most Godlike Behaviour. This Faith alone, that is, the Method proposed in the Gospel, without the Works of the Ceremonial Law of Moses, is sufficient to secure to us our future Happiness: but Faith alone, that is, a Belief in Christ, without Obedience to his Laws; an empty, unfruitful Faith, accompanied with an ungodly Life, will condemn us at last. We are saved thro’ Faith; or by believing in Christ; no otherwise than by being influenced by it: for Faith is required in order to Practice. Faith is indispensably necessary in order to Salvation: and so likewise is a good Life indispensably necessary in order to Salvation. Or, in other Words, a Faith working by Love, and manifesting it self by good Works, is that alone which will be of any Account to us, at last. For as the Body without the Spirit is dead; so Faith without Works is dead also. Now to God, & c.
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