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Several Discourses Concerning the Terms of Acceptance with God.
« Prev Sermon XII. Of relying upon the Merits of Christ,… Next »

Of relying upon the Merits of Christ, for Salvation.

SERMON XII.

First Epistle of St JOHN, Ch. II. part of the 1st and 2d Verses.

If any Man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the Propitiation for our Sins.

IN this Passage; the Apostle declares that it is for the sake of Jesus Christ, and on account of his sufferings, that the Sins committed by his Disciples will be forgiven by Almighty God. Now from this, and the like Declarations in the New Testament, many professed Christians have taken occasion to frame to themselves such Notions concerning the Merits of Christ, and the Sacrifice of his Death; and his Intercession with the Father, founded upon these; as may comfort themselves in their Continuance in Sin, and take off from their Minds all that Uneasiness which might otherwise arise from the Reflexion on their own wilful Demerits, and Unworthiness. Which fatal Proceeding of Christians addicted to their Lusts and Passions, makes it necessary particularly to consider this Point; in order to rectify so pernicious a Mistake. And to this End, I propose at this time

I. To lay down the Doctrine of the New Testament, concerning the Merits of Christ, or the Effect of his Sufferings, with respect to the Pardon of our Sins, and our future Happiness.

II. To take more particular notice of that unworthy Abuse of this Doctrine, of which Christians, in these later Ages especially, have been, and are guilty.

III. To shew the Baseness and Absurdity of this Abuse. And,

1V. To point out to you the true, and good Uses that Christians, ought to make of this Doctrine.

I. THE Doctrine it self, concerning the Merits of Christ, or the Effect of his Sufferings towards the Pardon of our Sins, and our eternal Happiness, I have heretofore in effect proposed: when, under the former part of my present Design, I shewed you that, in order to our Acceptance and final Justification, thro’ Jesus Christ, it is absolutely required of us in the Gospel, that we forsake those Sins which we have been guilty of; and practise sincerely an universal Obedience to the whole Will of God, any ways made known to us. This having been plainly made out from the most express Declarations in the New Testament; it is enough to observe from hence, that, in the Words of the Text, Jesus Christ is the Propitiation for those Sins, which we carefully and conscientiously endeavour to avoid, and forsake; not for those which we wilfully continue in: that the Merits of Christ, so much talked of by some, are so great, that, for the sake of his Sufferings, God will accept to his Favour and Mercy, such as lay hold on the Terms offered by the same Jesus Christ; such Christians as relinquish and abandon their Vices; and come up to that Condition of universal Holiness required by Him; but not such as still continue, notwithstanding all his Calls, and all his Denunciations, to prosecute their own vile Lusts, and to oppose and contradict the Will Of God.

THIS, I say, most manifestly follows from the plain Proofs formerly given, out of the New Testament, concerning the indispensable Necessity lying upon Christians to forsake their Sins, in order to their Pardon; and to practise all Virtue, in order to their Happiness. For if these Conditions be plainly and expresly required in the Gospel-Covenant; then it is apparent, beyond Contradiction, that, upon the Gospel-:Covenant, sealed by the Blood of Christ, and entered into for the sake of his Merits, there can be no Pardon, nor Salvation, demanded, or hoped for, but by such as forsake their Sins, and obey the Moral Laws of the Gospel; and, in other Words, that the Sufferings of Christ have actually procured these Conditions to be granted by Almighty God; that so those Sinners who have forsaken their Sins, and entered on a new Course of Action, may obtain Justification from the Guilt of their former Sins, and Eternal Happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven.

AND who will not say that this is sufficient Satisfaction to any well-disposed Mind, to be assured, in such a way, that He is accepted by God, and hath a Title to Happiness? without which Assurance, the Mind of a considering Person must be perpetually disturbed with Fears and Jealousies. And who will not own that this is all that could be expected, or reasonably wished for, from a God of Holiness, and Wisdom, well as of Mercy; to offer Pardon and Salvation upon these Conditions only? since by this Method He gives all the Comfort to Sinners that is possible, without encouraging them to continue in their Sins; and all the Discouragement possible to Vice, without making every Instance of it absolutely unpardonable.

IF any reply to this, that the Merits of so divine, and spotless a Being as Jesus Christ are infinite; and therefore every thing may be hoped for from them: I answer, that the Question is not, what the Merits of Christ are in themselves; or what they might possibly have procured; but what the Gospel declareth that they have actually procured for all sincere Believers. Let them be what they will in themselves; They can be no more to us, than what God Almighty thinks fit to make them, agreeably to the eternal Laws of Reason, and Wisdom. The Mercy of God is, in a good Sense, infinite: that is, it is bounded by nothing but his own perfect Wisdom, and Holiness: against the Laws of which Wisdom and Holiness it cannot act; and beyond which, it would not be a Perfection, but a Weakness. So likewise, supposing the Merits and Value of Christ’s Sufferings to be unbounded, and infinite, considered without supposing the Gospel-Covenant actually made: yet, when it pleased God to be moved to make a Covenant by these Sufferings; the Merit of these Sufferings, with respect to such as God enters into this Covenant with, must be bounded, by the plain Terms and Conditions of this Covenant. It depends upon God’s Will, and his Wisdom, what these Conditions shall be: and consequently what is procured for us by these Sufferings can be no more than what God sees fit; and what He declareth, they shall procure for us. And therefore, I say, let the Merits of Christ be never so unbounded, before this Covenant is supposed; let the Value of his Propitiation be infinite; yet it is plain they are bounded, as to us, as soon as God declares what He will do, and what He will not do, for the sake of these Sufferings: which is the Business of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

NOW, when it declared by this very Person, whose Merits are so much pleaded by some, that God will accept returning Sinners, upon their Amendment; and that such as continue in their Sins shall be excluded from his Kingdom: I say, when He himself declareth this; He doth in effect declare to Christians, in other words, that He hath no Merits available for any who are not reformed according to his Moral Laws; that, tho’ He be the Propitiation for their Sins, yet it is for their past, and forsaken Sins; that the Extent and Effect of his Merits, with respect to his Disciples is this, that, for the sake of his Sufferings, G6d will forgive the Sins of such as do at any time so turn to him as heartily to abhor and forsake them; and make happy all such as do sincerely set themselves to the Practice of Righteousness, and make an actual Progress in the Ways of his Commandments. Let any one but read the New Testament with a well-disposed Mind; and He will find that This is the whole Doctrine of Christ and his Apostles, concerning the Merits and Value Of his Sufferings, and their Efficacy towards the Pardon and Salvation of his Followers. But though this be so manifest, yet,

II. IT is as manifest, that there have been, especially in there later Ages, and still are, (in a very vicious Generation of Men) Multitudes of Christians, who are not content with this, that God should pardon the Sins which they have forsaken, for the sake of the Merits of Christ: but profess to believe that He will pardon all the Sins which they can possibly continue in, till Death overtakes them; if so be they can but have Time to declare their Trust in Christ’s Merits to this Purpose; or, in the usual Phrase, to apply to themselves, with abundance of Confidence, the Merits of their Saviour, or the Promises of God made to Christians for the sake of his Son Jesus Christ. They seem to think that Christ’s Merit excuseth them from attempting to have any Merit in themselves: nay, that it would derogate from, and disparage his Merits, if they should pretend to have any thing in themselves so much as agreeable to the Will of God; that it would be a piece of unpardonable Presumption in them, to pretend to imitate the Moral Perfections of God, tho’ they are called to be holy, as He is holy.

SOMETIMES they urge that there is nothing perfect here; and no Man but what sins: and that, if they themselves stand in need of the Merits of Christ to screen them from the Divine Vengeance; so do their Neighbours likewise. As if, because the Value of Christ’s Sufferings will atone for the Failings, and the forsaken Sins, of a sincere Christian; therefore, they must needs atone for the wilful and continued Transgressions of such as go on to disgrace that holy Name by which they are called, by a most unholy Life, and are every Day wilfully affronting their God and Saviour. How unaccountable is this? And yet there is hardly any thing more common, than for the most notorious and wicked Christians to profane his Merits, and his Sufferings, by openly professing their Trust, and entire Confidence in them. And, what is very remarkable, the more unchristian and profligate Men have been in their Lives, the more strong and confident shall you often find them in that which they call Faith, and in their foolish Trust in that which belongs not to them, So that whilst many good Christians, thro’ Excess of Modesty and Humility, or thro’ bodily Indisposition, are almost sunk with the Imagination that they have not done enough to give their Hearts Ground for Confidence in the Merits of God: you shall frequently find many of those, who have stood out against all the Calls of God to Repentance and Amendment, and persevered to the End in Vice and Immorality, as secure of his Favour at last, and as satisfied with their Prospect into another State, by the help of their groundless Confidence in Christ’s Merits, as if the Gospel had been calculated, not to engage Men to deny Ungodliness and worldly Lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly; but merely to speak Peace, and Quiet, and Comfort, to the Minds of the most notorious Sinners, even whilst they know themselves not to be amended in any respect.

But how great must the Power of the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, be upon the Hearts of Men, when they can influence them to believe, (as it hath happened to some) that the way to glorify the Grace and Mercy of God is to multiply their Sins and Vices; that the way most largely and effectually to partake in the Merits of Christ, is to add Sin to Sin, that there may be the more to be pardoned, and the more Thanks due to him who pardons? These, and the like Absurdities, contrary to the whole Tenour of the Gospel, hath a Love to Sin imposed upon some Men; as a Refuge from the Reproaches, and Forebodings, of a guilty Conscience; and these are often found to be fixed, without the least Ground, upon such general Declarations of the Value of the propitiatory Sacrifice of Christ, and the Merits of his Sufferings, as that in the Text

BECAUSE He is declared to be a Propitiation for our Sins; to be our Advocate, by virtue of that Propitiation, with the Father; to have purged our Sins upon the Cross; and to have died for us Sinners; because, in consequence of these Declarations; it lath been delivered and taught by the Churches of Christ, that, by his one Oblation of himself upon the Cross once offered, He hath made a full, perfect, and sufficient Sacrifice, and Satisfaction, for the Sins of the whole World: therefore, they argue that their Sins cannot be too many for such a Sacrifice to atone for; therefore they plead that these Sins, thus atoned for, are of all sorts; as well those which they indulge themselves in, to the last Period of their Lives, as those which have been forsaken, and abandoned; abusing the Mercy of God, and the Merits of their Saviour, to their own eternal Perdition; as will appear, if we consider seriously,

III. THE great Unreasonableness, Baseness, and Absurdity, of this Abuse. That Christians should so far forget the nature of their Religion, which hath, in the plainest Words, made an universal Holiness indispensably necessary; that they should be so far from being led by the Goodness of God to Repentance and Amendment, that they should rather take occasion from his Love to treasure up for themselves Wrath against the Day of Wrath; that those very Sufferings of Christ, which were designed as the greatest Argument to affright them from all Sin, should be made as it were the Incentive and Motive to them to continue in Sin; that the greatest. Instance of Love ever displayed before the Eyes of Men should be returned in Affronts, and Disobedience to God, and to his Son: These are such astonishing Marks of absurd Confidence, and Baseness of Temper, as cannot be parallell’d.

THE Nature, and End of Christian Religion, plainly established, must direct us in all our Interpretations of any of its general Declarations. And this Religion being holy, pure, and spotless; revealed by the Son of God from Heaven for the Conversion and Amendment of the World, and to teach us to forsake all Sin, and to live in all holy Obedience to God; the Wrath of God being often declared in it against all Unrighteousness of Men: it is impossible that any Comfort should be administred in it to such as continue in Sin; because this would be to destroy its own main Design, and to frustrate its own great End. From hence therefore it follows, that it is the highest Absurdity to argue from its general Declarations concerning a Sacrifice for Sins, and a Propitiation of invaluable Merit, that this Sacrifice will be available for those Sins of Christians in which they still wilfully continue: because this is to contradict the great End of their Religion: to make all Virtue unnecessary; and to turn all Christianity into a confident Appeal to the Merits of Christ.

AGAIN, It is the most absurd and unreasonable thing in the World, to fix such a thing as this upon Almighty God: or to suppose that He should send a Person from Heaven to live and dye here on Earth, and to teach Mankind an excellent Doctrine; and at the same time declare, that it is no great Matter, whether they imitate his Example, or obey his Precepts, if so be they do but trust in his Merits, rely upon his Sacrifice and put their Confidence in the infinite Value of his Sufferings; that this shall be their Comfort here, and their Reward hereafter. Who can believe this possible, I say, that knows and considers what God is; an holy, and wise Being; at an infinite distance from all Sin and Iniquity? From what would this be, but to reveal a Religion from Heaven, with the greatest solemnity, on purpose to assure Men that Virtue is of no great Importance; and on purpose to encourage Vice, and Immorality in the World? I say this because, in truth, such Pretences of Christians do manifestly, and effectually, tend to nothing else, but to render vain all the moral Precepts of the Gospel; and to bring a Contempt upon all that is substantially good in Religion.

AND if this be so absurd in any reasonable Creature, to fix such an Absurdity upon God, how much more absurd and intolerable must it be in a Christian, after this Revelation is made, in which the Nature of God, and his Hatred of Sin, are made known to him, to affront Almighty God with a Supposition which a very Heathen would be afraid to make? Nay, it receives a great Aggravation, when it is considered that it is by the Declaration of the Gospel only that we can know what the Merits of Christ’s Sufferings are to us; and that in this they are so plainly limited, as to the Extent, and End of them, that a sincere Mind cannot mistake. I have already observed to you what is declared there; and, with how much Plainness all who continue in their Sins, are debarr’d in that from any Benefit from the Sufferings of Christ, nay, how plainly they are assured that this very Gospel, and the Sufferings of Christ, shall be an aggravation to their Punishment hereafter. And if, notwithstanding all the Limitations which God himself hath set to his Mercy, and to the Merits of his Son; these Persons will make a new Covenant, and a new Compact, for themselves: what must we think of such an egregious and groundless piece of Folly and Absurdity?

BESIDES, how base and ungrateful a Temper must this proceed from; to make use of the Goodness of God, and those Sufferings which were the highest Instance of Christ’s Love to them, as an Encouragement to themselves to take part with the great Enemy of God and of Christ? How would it sound in the Ears of any Man of the meanest Capacity, to hear Christians speaking thus; God so loved the World that He sent his only begotten Son; and this Son of God hath declared his Love in dying for Sinners, after an unparallell’d manner; therefore, let us affront him, and join our selves to his greatest Adversary; still trusting that his Merits, and Sufferings, will make him look upon us, and treat us as his Friends? Yet, after this manner doth every Sinner argue, who resolvedly continues a Sinner; and yet pretends to trust in the Merits of his Saviour, for Pardon, and Salvation.

To make the matter yet more plain; put the Case that any Prince should send his own Son to a Company of professed Rebels; and for the sake of what He should do and suffer amongst them, offer to be reconciled to such of them as should be influenced by this Method to repent, and return to their Obedience: what greater Affront, or Indignity, can one well imagine, than, if these Person, professing to lay hold on his Offers, should yet continue to affront him, and disobey all his just Commands, as much as ever; and yet all the time plead before him the Sufferings of his Son, and argue that his Merit must screen them from Punishment, which was designed merely to make their future Obedience accepted; and which greatly increaseth the Guilt of their continuing such Affronts and Injuries? Would not this Appeal to those Merits appear only a piece of formal Mockery; and justify to all the World the severest Punishment of those who should have nothing else to plead? Let us therefore,

IV. LASTLY, from what hath been said, learn the true and good Uses which Christians ought to make of the Merits of Jesus Christ, and of Value of his Sufferings.

1. IN the first place, we may lawfully and justly plead before God the Merits of his Son, and his invaluable Sacrifice, as what He been pleased to declare that He accepts, as an Atonement for those Sins which we forsake, and abandon: and for the sake of this, we may beg, with a well-grounded Assurance, that He will pardon all our past Offences, and whatever is amiss in our whole Frame; and accept of our sincere Endeavours after an universal Conformity to his Will in all Things. This is a sort of Trust; and indeed the only Trust in the Merits of Christ, which we can justify, or from which we can reap any Comfort, or Advantage: because indeed this is the only Trust agreeable to the Nature and Design of the Gospel and to the many plain Declarations of the New Testament.

THERE is nothing in that sacred Book, of the great Efficacy of applying the Merits of Christ to our selves, in all Circumstances, with an undaunted Confidence. This is a new and modern Addition to the Gospel of Christ. But if we look into any Page of it, we cannot but learn from thence, that we have no Encouragement to apply these Merits to our selves, nor any just Ground of Satisfaction from them, unless we find in our selves a persevering Resolution to forsake all Vice; and a constant Endeavour to perfect Holiness, whilst we have Opportunity: and that it is the uniform Doctrine of the same New Testament, that those who have wilfully continued Sinners to the last, have no part in the revealed Promise of God; nor consequently the least Right in the World to apply the Merits of Christ to themselves in particular, which are declared to belong only to such as have forsaken, and renounced their Sins. And if this be not true; then it must be true that the gospel makes no difference between a virtuous, and vicious Life; but makes Eternity depend upon such a Confidence as the best Christians often want, and the worst generally have most of.

2. IN the next place, we ought all to draw a strong Argument against all Sin, and for all holy Obedience, from those very Merits, and Sufferings of Jesus Christ, under which some Christians would hide their continued Iniquities. For if Christ be the Propitiation for our Sins; then what must Sin be to Almighty God, who took so severe a Method to be reconciled to Sinners? and what ought it to be to Christians, who know this? How hateful, and how abominable? If God so loved the World, that He sent his only begotten Son; if this Son voluntarily humbled himself to the vilest Death for us: how ought we to study to do every thing pleasing to him; and to avoid every thing which He hates and abhors? If so invaluable a Price were paid; that we might be reconciled to God upon any Terms: how ought we to be moved, by the Greatness of this Price, to come up to all his Terms, and Conditions and not to think so long upon the Price, as to forget the End for which it was paid?

Ye are bought with a Price; therefore glorify God in your Body, and in your Spirit; which are God’s: saith St. Paul, 1 Cor. vi. 20. The Price paid by Christ to buy Us into his Service, is, in his Account, the greatest Motive why we should serve such a Master faithfully. Pass the Time of your Sojourning here in Fear, saith St. Peter, forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible Things, as Silver, and Gold, but with the precious Blood of Christ, 1 Peter i. 17, 18, 19. This is the Use, which the Apostles earnestly direct Christians to make, of the Merits of their Saviour; but they never once advise, or command, or so much as permit, them to think that they shall be saved by these merits, after a Life spent in continual Disobedience to his Moral Laws.

LET this Doctrine, therefore, be fixed in our Minds. The Merits of Christ’s Sufferings are so great, that they will atone for the longest Course of Sins; provided we have forsaken, and utterly abandoned them: but of such a nature, as terribly to aggravate the Guilt and Punishment of those Christians, who take occasion to continue in their Sins, because Christ is declared to be the Propitiation for them.

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