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OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH, WHICH SANCTIFIES, JUSTIFIES, AND SAVES.
But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.—John xx. 31.
IN my former discourse upon these words, I proposed eight observations from them, six of which I have already dispatched, designing to discourse of the remaining two more at large. I proceed therefore to the
Seventh observation which I laid down, viz. That to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is truly and properly Christian faith. This is the description which is here given of Christian faith.
In prosecution of this, I shall do these two things:
First, Shew you what is included in “believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God?”
Secondly, Prove that this is truly and properly Christian faith.
First, What is included in “believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God?” It signifies a firm and effectual persuasion, that Jesus, that is, the person the history of whose life and death is related in the gospel, is the Christ; that is, the true Messias, promised and prophesied of in the Old Testament to be the Saviour of the world; and that he is “the Son of God, (that is,) the only-begotten of the Father,” who was sent by him into the world, and took our nature upon him, that he might purchase eternal happiness for us, and instruct us, and go before us in the way to it. So that faith is a firm and effectual persuasion of, or assent to, the whole gospel. Faith signifies Christian religion, which comprehends an assent to the doctrines of the gospel, and a suitable life and conversation.
I say, a firm persuasion of this; for in the phrase of the New Testament, none are accounted true believers, or said to have a true faith in Christ, who do not firmly continue in this persuasion; and the owning and profession of it, notwithstanding all the sufferings and persecutions it might expose them to. And an effectual persuasion; for none are said truly to believe in Christ, who do not shew forth the proper and genuine effects of this faith; who do not live as they believe, and conform their lives to that doctrine, to the truth whereof they profess an assent.
And hence it is that true Christians, that is, those who did fashion their lives according to the gospel, are called believers, and the sum of all Christianity is usually contained in this word believing, which is the great principle of a Christian life; as in the Old Testament, all religion is expressed by the “faith of God;” so in the New, by “faith in Christ.”
Now whosoever doth firmly and effectually entertain this truth, that Jesus, whom the gospel declares to us is the true Messias, and Saviour of the world, and the very Son of God, sent by him into the world for this purpose, that he might by his doctrine instruct, and by the example of his life go before us in the way to eternal happiness, and by the merit and satisfaction of his death and sufferings, appease and reconcile God to men, and purchase for them the pardon of their sins and eternal life, upon the conditions of faith and repentance, and sincere obedience; I say, whosoever doth firmly and effectually entertain these truths, will consequently endeavour to obey the precepts of his doctrine, and to imitate the example of his life, and will expect salvation, that is, the pardon of his sins, and eternal life, from no other: because he is verily persuaded he is a teacher, and a Saviour sent from God, that his doctrine is true, and his satisfaction available, and that the rewards which he hath promised to those who believe and obey him, and the punishments which he hath threatened to the unbelievers and disobedient, shall all certainly be fulfilled and accomplished. All this is included in “believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” So Christian faith, or the faith of the gospel, contains plainly in it these particulars:
1. An assent of the understanding to this truth, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was a person commissioned from heaven, and employed by God to bring men to eternal happiness. And this fundamental is necessary to all the subsequent acts of faith, and that upon which they depend.
2. An assent of the understanding to the truth of all those things which this person delivered to the world. So that if he tells us, that his death hath made expiation for the sins of men, upon the conditions of faith and repentance and obedience, and that God by him doth command the world to do such and such things, and in case of obedience will confer such and such rewards upon men, but in case of disobedience will inflict such punishments upon them; we are to believe all this to be true; be cause the person who acquainted us with these things was sent by God, and employed from heaven upon this message.
3. And consequently, a relying and depending upon him, and no other, for the conferring of these benefits, and making good these promises to us.
4. Obedience to all his laws and commands; be cause believing them to be from God we cannot but assent to them as good, and as laying an obligation upon us to yield obedience to them: and if we do not obey them, we are presumed to disbelieve them; for if we did truly and heartily believe them to be the commands of God, we would obey them.
Now that obedience of heart and life to the precepts and commands of the gospel, as well as an as sent of the understanding to the truth of the gospel-revelation, and a trusting and relying upon the merits of Christ, is included in the Scripture notion of faith, will evidently appear to any that will consider these texts. (Rom. i. 5.) “By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations for his name;” where the belief of the gospel is called “the obedience of faith.” (Rom. x. 10.) “But they have not all obeyed the gospel: for Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?” But if faith do not include obedience, how could he prove that there were some that did not obey the gospel, because Isaiah said, there were some that did not believe it? And so likewise by comparing 1 Tim. iv. 10. where he is said to be “the Saviour of them that believe,” with Heb. v. 9. where he is said to be the “author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” As also by comparing Gal. v. 6. where it is said, “For in Jesus Christ, neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love,” with 1 Cor. vii. 19. “Circumcision is nothing , and uncircumcision is no thing: but the keeping of the commandments of God.” And so likewise by those texts, where unbelief and disobedience are equivalently used. I will but mention one, (Heb. iii. 12.) The apostle, from the example of the Israelites, cautions Christians against unbelief: “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” And repeating the same caution in the next chapter, at the 11th verse, he varies the phrase a little, “Lest any man fall after the same example of disobedience;” the word is ἀπειθείας, which indeed our translators render unbelief; but that confirms that which I bring it for, that disobedience and unbelief are the same. And so likewise we find faith and disobedience opposed frequently in Scripture. (John iii. 36.) “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life.” In the Greek it is, “He that obeyeth not the Son,” as you will see in the margin of the Bible. (1 Pet. ii. 7.) “Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner.” And this doth likewise appear in all those texts, wherein repentance, and our forgiving of others, and several other acts of obedience, are made the conditions of our justification, or the omission of them, sins, as well as faith. So that we cannot be said to be “justified by faith alone,” unless that faith include in it obedience. I have insisted the longer upon this, because the right understanding the Scripture-notion of faith in Christ, doth very much depend upon this: and if this one thing, that the Scripture-notion of faith doth include in it obedience to the precepts of the gospel, were but well understood and considered, it would silence and put an end to those infinite controversies about faith and justification, which have so much troubled the Christian world, to the great prejudice of practical religion, and holiness of life.
Secondly, That this is truly and properly Christian faith. Which I shall prove by these two arguments.
1. Because it includes a belief of the whole gospel, or of all the revelation which God hath made to the world by Jesus Christ. And certainly, there cannot be a more proper notion of Christian faith, than to believe the revelation which God hath made by Jesus Christ: but to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, doth include this. For who soever believes him to be the Messias, and the Son of God, believes him to have come from God, and to be authorized and commissioned by him to make known his mind to the world, and consequently will believe whatever he delivers. For whoever believes the goodness and veracity of God, as every man does that believes a God, cannot but assent to the truth of every thing which he is satisfied comes from God.
2. That to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” is truly and properly Christian faith, or the faith of the gospel, will appear, by considering how the Scriptures of the New Testament do constantly describe to us the faith of the gospel; and you shall find they do it, either by the very phrase in the text, or other phrases or metaphors equivalent to it, or else by a belief of that which is the great argument and confirmation of Christ’s being the Messias, the Son of God. Very often the faith of the gospel is described by the very phrase in the text, “believing that Jesus is the Christ,” and that “he is the Son of God.” (John iv. 41, 42.) “And many more believed, because of his own word; and said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” (John vi. 69.) “And we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John xi. 27.) Says Martha to Christ, “Yea, Lord, I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” (Acts viii. 37.) “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (1 John iii. 23.) “And this is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment;” that is, that we should believe on him under this name and title of “Jesus Christ the Son of God.” (I John v. 1.) “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.” And, (ver. 5.) “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? And, (ver. 10.) “He that believeth on the Son of God;” that is, believeth Jesus to be the Son of God. And, (ver. 13.) “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”
Sometimes the faith of the gospel is described to us by other phrases that are tantamount to these; such as signify that “he came from God,” and was sent by him into the world, and was the Messias whom they expected. (John iii. 2.) Nicodemus describes his faith in Christ thus; “I know that thou art a teacher come from God.” (John vi. 29.) “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent;” that is, that ye believe me to be sent from God. (John viii. 24.) “For if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins;” that is, if ye believe not that I am the Messias, whom you expect and look for. And so (John xiii. 19.) “That ye may believe that I am he.” And, (John xi. 42.) “That they may believe that thou hast sent me.” And, (John xvi. 30.) “By this we believe that thou earnest forth from God.” And, (John xvii. 8.) “They have believed that thou didst send me.”
Sometimes the faith of the gospel is expressed by metaphors equivalent to these expressions, as by “coming to Christ,” and “receiving him” as the true Messias, in several places, and sometimes by believing that which is the great argument and confirmation that Christ was the true Messias the Son of God, that is, believing his resurrection from the dead. (Rom. iv. 24.) “To whom it shall be imputed for righteousness, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Rom. x. 9.) “If thou shall confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in thine heart, that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shall be saved.” (Col. ii. 12.) “Through the faith of the operation of God, who raised him up from the dead.” Where faith is described by a belief of the power whereby Christ was raised from the dead. And to mention no more, (1 Pet. i. 21.) “Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead.” Now the reason why the faith of the gospel is described by the belief of Christ’s resurrection, is, because whoever believes that Christ was raised from the dead, can not but be satisfied, that this great miracle was a sufficient attestation that he was no impostor, but that he was what he pretended to be, viz. the Son of God; and consequently that he ought to be believed and obeyed in all things. And thus much may suffice to have been spoken to this seventh observation.
Eighth observation; that to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” is truly and properly sanctifying, and justifying, and saving faith. So the text tells us, that this faith gives us life; “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name,” that is, as I explained this phrase in the opening of the text, that upon these terms and conditions ye might be made partakers of all those blessings and benefits, which Christ the Saviour of the world hath purchased, which are here set forth under the name of life; it being usual in the phrase of Scripture to set forth to us those things which are most excellent and desirable, by life, which men value above all other things. Now the principal benefits which Christ hath purchased, and which we are said to be made partakers of by believing, are,
1. Regeneration; under which I include the continuance and progress of this work, which is sanctification.
2. Justification; by which I cannot find that the Scripture means any more than pardon or remission of sins.
3. Eternal life; and this I think is principally, though not solely intended here in the text, as I have shewn, by comparing the text with other parallel texts in the same evangelist. (John iii. 15.) “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” And, (ver. 36.) “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” I say, I think eternal life is here principally intended, though this supposes the others, regeneration and justification, before we can attain it, which may also very well be included here in the term of life. My reasons are these:
1. Because I find in Scripture, that regeneration and justification are expressed by the name of life. Rom. vi. 4. our regeneration is called newness of life, because before we were “dead in sins and trespasses;” and (Rom. v. 18.) justification is called “justification of life,” because, while our sins are unpardoned, and we are under the sentence of condemnation, we are dead in law; but being justified and pardoned, we are, as it were, restored to life again.
2. Because, in the phrase of Scripture, we are said to be regenerate, and sanctified, and justified by faith, as well as saved. (1 John v. I.) “He that believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.” (Gal. ii. 20.) “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God;” speaking of the new life of sanctification. And (Col. ii.) we are said to be “risen with Christ,” that is, born to anew life, “by the faith of the operation of God, that raised up Jesus from the dead;” and to “be justified by faith,” in innumerable places. So that it is very probable upon these accounts that the evangelist here, when he says, “that believing, you might have life in his name,” doth intend to take in regeneration and justification, as well as eternal life, which is the consummation of all the blessings of the gospel. I come now to the observation, viz.
That this faith of the gospel, which I have described, is truly and properly a sanctifying, and justifying, and saving faith.
I. I shall shew that it is properly a sanctifying faith.
II. A justifying and saving faith.
I. It is truly sanctifying. I know that this term of a sanctifying faith, is not much in use among divines, and therefore it may seem a little more strange: but they might have used it if they had pleased, for it is every whit as proper to call faith sanctifying, as justifying, or saving. It is true, in deed, this express term of a sanctifying faith is no where in Scripture; no more are the very terms of justifying and saving faith: but we are said to be justified and saved by faith in Scripture, which is as much as if the terms had been used. And we are said also to be sanctified by faith, as well as justified and saved. (Acts xv. 9.) Our hearts are said to be purified by faith. And so likewise, our “victory over the world,” that is, our conquering and subduing of our covetous and ambitious and sensual lusts and desires, is in a peculiar manner ascribed to this faith which I have described. (1 John v. 4, 5.) “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?”
II. That this faith is truly and properly justifying and saving faith. I put these, justification and sanctification, together, partly because they are of the same consideration as to the influence which faith hath upon them; and the latter follows upon the former; for if we be justified by faith, that is, have our sins pardoned, by the same act of faith we are saved from hell, and consequently made capable of eternal life; I say, by the very same act of faith that we obtain the pardon of our sins, we are saved from hell, that is, the punishment due to sin; for pardon removes the guilt, and guilt is nothing else but an obligation to punishment: and partly, be cause I find the Scripture useth them promiscuously. When St. James disputes about justification by faith, he useth the term of being saved by faith; (James ii. 14.) “Can faith save him?” Some times of being justified, (ver. 24.) “So that a man is not justified by faith only.”
In speaking to this proposition, that the faith of the gospel, which I have described, is properly justifying and saving faith, I shall do these six things.
1. Shew that justification in Scripture signifies no more than the pardon and remission of sins.
2. That faith can in no propriety of language be said to be the instrument of our pardon.
3. That the influence that the faith of the gospel, which I have described, hath upon the pardon of sin, is this, that it is the whole and entire condition required on our parts, upon the performance of which God hath promised to pardon our sins, and to save us.
4. That the Scripture, where it treats of justification by faith, speaks of this faith which I have described, and no other.
5. That no metaphorical descriptions of justifying faith are allowable, any farther than as they serve to illustrate and make clear the plain and simple notion of the thing. For if metaphors once come to be insisted on, and strained, and consequences come to be drawn from them, and doctrines founded, and theories built upon them, they are of very ill consequence, and serve to no other purpose but to blind and obscure the plain and simple notions of things, and to seduce and mislead the understandings of men, and to multiply controversies without end.
And I the rather take notice of this abuse of metaphors upon this subject, because I do not know any other head of divinity which hath suffered so much by them as the doctrine of justifying faith; whereby the plain truth hath been very much obscured, and occasion ministered to many endless disputes.
6. That if this plain and simple notion of justifying faith were admitted, it would supersede all those controversies about justification, which have so much troubled the church. These particulars I shall by God’s assistance speak to, not out of a mind to oppose and contradict others; (what a pitiful design is that! and how much below one that is to speak to men in the name and fear of God!) but out of a hearty desire to bring the truth to light, and to contribute something to the clearing of that which is of so great importance and concernment to Christian religion.
1. That justification of a sinner, in Scripture, signifies no more than the pardon of sin. That there are several acceptations of the word justification in the New Testament, I deny not. Sometimes it signifies approbation in general of a thing, or person. So the word is used, Luke vii. 29. “And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.”—“Justified God;” how is that? that is, they approved and followed his counsel, as appears evidently by the opposition in the next words: “but the pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.” Those that “rejected the counsel of God,” are opposed to those that “justified God.” And so at the 35th verse, “But wisdom is justified of her children.” that is, approved. And so, very probably, it may be understood in the parable of the pharisee and the publican, “I tell you this man went down to his house justified rather than the other;” that is, of the two, God did rather approve of his humble carriage, than the pharisee’s proud and insolent behaviour. Sometimes it signifies any proof or declaration of a thing. So, (Rom. iii. 4.) “Let God be true, but every man a liar, as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged;” that is, that all thy words or promises might be proved and declared to be true, and that thou mayest prevail whenever thou art impleaded by men of unfaithfulness and unrighteousness. And so (1 Tim. iii. 16.) Christ is said to be “justified in the Spirit,” that is, by the testimony of the Spirit concerning him; as also by the miracles which he wrought by the Holy Ghost, and the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, which were poured forth on the apostles, he was proved and declared to be the true Messias, and the Son of God. And this phrase of Christ’s “being justified by the Spirit,” seems to be of the same sense with that expression, (Rom. i. 4.) “Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead;” that is, he was evidently proved to be the Son of God, by the great miracle of his resurrection, which was wrought by the power of the Holy Ghost. But most frequently, to justify, in Scripture, signifies to pardon.
Thus the word justify, doth signify variously, according to the subject or matter it is applied to; but when it is applied to a sinner, it signifies nothing else but pardon of his sin. Nor can I possibly apprehend what other notion men can frame to themselves of a sinner’s being justified, distinct from pardon and remission. Indeed, if a person be not really guilty, that is, unjustly accused of a crime, he may be said to be justified, when he is cleared from the charge and accusation which is brought against him: but if a man be guilty, he cannot otherwise be said to be justified, than by having the guilt removed; that is, by being pardoned. And that the Scripture understands the same thing by justification, and pardon, or remission of sins, is, I think, very evident from these two texts: (Acts xiii. 38, 39.) “That through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins;” that is, in and through Jesus Christ, the way of pardon and forgiveness is declared; “and by him, all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses;” that is, according to this declaration, all that do believe, are by him, that is, by the virtue of his sacrifice, acquitted and cleared from the guilt of all those sins, for which there was no way of expiation provided by the law of Moses, that is, of presumptuous sins, for which there was no sacrifice, but the man was to be cut off. Now if the meaning of this text be this, that in and through Christ the way of pardon and forgiveness is declared, and accordingly all that do believe in him are pardoned, then to be justified and pardoned are all one in this place; but this is the meaning of the text, if by the phrase of being “justified from all things, from which we could not be justified by the law of Moses,” be meant the pardoning of such sins and transgressions, for which, by the law of Moses, there was no way of expiation: but this must of necessity be the meaning of this phrase; for what are those things, from which it is said, “we could not be justified by the law of Moses,” but sinful transgressions and violations of the law? and how can a man be said to be justified from any sin and transgression, otherwise than by the pardon and forgiveness of it? The other text is, (Rom. iv. 6-8.) “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered: blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” “The man unto whom God imputeth righteousness,” is the man whom God justifies. Now, how does David describe the blessedness of the man whom God justifies? Thus, “Blessed is the man whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered,” which is a metaphorical expression of the same thing, covering of sin being the pardoning of it. From hence I reason, if according to the apostle those propositions be equivalent, “Blessed is the man whose iniquities are forgiven,” and “Blessed is the man whom God justifies,” then, according to the apostle, justification and forgiveness of sins are all one: but those propositions are equivalent, if the apostle cite the text out of the Psalms pertinently.
2. That faith can, in no tolerable propriety of language, be said to be the instrument of our pardon, and consequently not of our justification. An instrument is something subordinate to the principal efficient cause, and made use of by it to produce the effect; and this, in natural and artificial causes, may be understood, but what notion to have of a moral instrument, I confess I am at a loss. But, to bring the business out of the clouds, we may thus conceive of the pardon of sin. God, in the gospel, hath entered into a covenant of grace and mercy with sinners; one of the benefits promised by God in the covenant, is pardon of sin. The conditions upon which we shall be made partakers of the benefit, are comprehended in this one word, faith, which signifies the whole of Christian religion, viz. such an effectual assent to the revelation of the gospel, as doth produce repentance, and sincere obedience, and a trust and confidence in Christ alone for salvation. The procuring or meritorious cause of this benefit, viz. the pardon of our sins, is the death of Christ, which is called his blood or sacrifice. The principal efficient cause of our pardon is God in the sentence of the law, or, which is all one, in the tenor of this covenant, declaring us pardoned upon these terms and conditions. Now how can faith, which is an act on our parts, and the condition to be performed by us, be said to be an instrument, in the hand of God, of our pardon; unless men will think fit to call a condition an instrument, which I think no propriety of language will allow?
I shall now proceed to the third particular which I proposed, but shall refer that to my next discourse on this argument.
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