The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation,
or the Duty of Sinners to Believe in Jesus Christ
By Andrew Fuller, 1786
Arguments to Prove that Faith in Christ is the Duty of All Men who Hear,
or have Opportunity to hear, the Gospel.
WHAT has been already advanced, on the nature of faith in Christ, may contribute to the deciding of the question whether faith be the duty of the ungodly: but, in addition to this, the Scriptures furnish abundance of positive evidence. The principal part of that which has occurred to me may be comprehended under the following propositions:
I. Unconverted Sinners are Commanded, Exhorted, and Invited to Believe in Christ for Salvation.
It is here taken for granted that whatever God commands, exhorts, or invites us to comply with, is the duty of those to whom such language is addressed. If, therefore, saving faith be not the duty of the unconverted, we may expect never to find any addresses of this nature directed to them in the Holy Scriptures. We may expect that God will as soon require them to become angels as Christians, if the one be no more their duty than the other.
There is a phraseology suited to different periods of time. Previously to the coming of Christ, and the preaching of the gospel, we read but little of believing; but other terms, fully expressive of the thing, are found in abundance. I shall select a few examples, and accompany them with such remarks as may show them to be applicable to the subject.
Psalm ii. 11, 12, "Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling: kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little: blessed are all they that put their trust in him." The Psalm is evidently a prophecy of the resurrection and exaltation of the Messiah. Whatever reference may be had to Solomon, there are several things which are not true of either him or his government: and the whole is applicable to Christ, and is plentifully applied to him in the New Testament. The "kings and judges of the earth," who are here admonished to "serve the Lord (Messiah) with fear," and to "kiss the Son lest he be angry," are the same persons mentioned in verse 2, which words we find, in the New Testament, applied to "Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel" (Acts iv. 27): that is, they were the enemies of Christ, unregenerate sinners: and such, for any thing that appears, they lived and died.
The command of God addressed to these rulers is of a spiritual nature, including unfeigned faith in the Messiah, and sincere obedience to his authority. To "kiss the Son" is to be reconciled to him, to embrace his word and ordinances, and bow to his sceptre. To "serve him with fear, and rejoice with trembling," denote that they should not think meanly of him, on the one hand, nor hypocritically cringe to him, from a mere apprehension of his wrath, on the other: but sincerely embrace his government, and even rejoice that they had it to embrace. That which is here required of unbelievers is the very spirit which distinguishes believers, a holy fear of Christ's majesty, and a humble confidence in his mercy: taking his yoke upon them, and wearing it as their highest delight. That the object of the command was spiritual is also manifest from the threatening and the promise annexed to it, "lest ye perish from the way" -- "blessed are all they that put their trust in him." It is here plainly supposed that if they did not embrace the Son, they should perish from the way: and if they did put their trust in him, they
should be blessed. The result is, unconverted sinners are commanded to believe in Christ for salvation: therefore believing in Christ for salvation is their duty. Isaiah lv. 1-7, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money: come ye, buy, and eat: yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live: and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people. Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knewest not: and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee, because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel: for he hath glorified thee. Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him: and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." This is the language of invitation: but Divine invitation implies an obligation to accept it: otherwise the conduct of those who "made light" of the gospel supper, and preferred their farms and merchandise before it, had been guiltless.
The concluding verses of this passage express those things literally, which the foregoing ones described metaphorically: the person invited and the invitation are the same in both. The thirst which they are supposed to possess does not mean a holy desire after spiritual blessings, but the natural desire of happiness which God has implanted in every bosom, and which, in wicked men, is directed not to "the sure mercies of David," but to that which “is not bread,” or which has no solid satisfaction in it. The duty, to a compliance with which they are so pathetically urged, is a relinquishment of every false way, and a returning to God in His name who was given for "a witness, a leader, and a commander to the people;" which is the same thing as "repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ." The encouragements held up to induce a compliance with this duty are the freeness, the substantialness, the durableness, the certainty, and the rich abundance of those blessings which as many as repent and believe the gospel shall receive. The whole passage is exceedingly explicit, as to the duty of the unconverted: neither is it possible to evade the force of it by any just or fair method of interpretation.
Jeremiah vi. 16, "Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein." The persons here addressed are, beyond all doubt, ungodly men. God himself bears witness of them that "their ears were uncircumcised, and they could not hearken: for the word of the Lord was to them a reproach, and they had no delight in it," ver. 10. Yea, so hardened were they, that "they were not ashamed when they had committed abomination," and so impudent that "they could not blush," ver. 15. And such, for any thing that appears, they continued: for when they were exhorted to "walk in the good way," their answer was, "We will not walk therein." Hence the awful threatening which follows: "Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it," ver. 19.
The "good way," in which they were directed to walk, must have been the same as that in which the patriarchs and prophets had walked in former ages: who, we all know, lived and died in the faith of the promised Messiah.
Hence our Lord, with great propriety, applied the passage to himself, Matt. xi. 28. Jeremiah directed to "the old paths," and "the good way," as the only medium of finding rest to the soul: Jesus said, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, and ye shall find rest unto your souls."
We see in this passage also, as in many others, in what manner God requires sinners to use the means of grace not by a mere attendance upon them, (which, while the end is disregarded, and the means rested in instead of it, is not using, but perverting them,) but with a sincere desire to find out the good way, and to walk in it. God requires no natural impossibilities. No man is required to believe in Christ before he has opportunity of examining the evidence attending his gospel: but he ought to search into it like the noble Bereans, immediately, and with a pure intention of finding and following the good way: which, if he do, like them he will soon be found walking in it. If we teach sinners that a mere attendance on the means of grace is that use of them which God requires at their hands, and in which consists the whole of their duty, as to repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be found false witnesses for God, and deceivers of the souls of men.
The New Testament is still more explicit than the Old. Faith in Jesus Christ, even that which is accompanied with salvation, is there constantly held up as the duty of all to whom the gospel is preached.
John xii. 36, "While ye have the light; believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light." The persons to whom this passage was addressed were unbelievers, such as "though Jesus had done so many miracles among them, yet believed not on him" (ver. 37); and it appears that they continued unbelievers, for they are represented as given over to judicial blindness and hardness of heart, ver. 40. The light which they were exhorted to believe in appears to be himself as revealed in the gospel: for thus he speaks in the context, "I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth in me should not abide in darkness." And that the believing which Christ required of them was such as, had it been complied with, would have issued in their salvation, is manifest from its being added, "that ye may be the children of light:" an appellation never bestowed on any but true believers.
John vi. 29, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." These words contain an answer to a question. The persons who asked it were men who "followed Christ for loaves," who "believed not," and who after this "walked no more with him," ver. 26. 36. 66. Christ had been rebuking them for their mercenary principles in thus following him about, and charging them, saying, "Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life," ver. 27. They replied by asking, "What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?" which was saying in effect, We have been very zealous for thee in following thee hither and thither: yet thou dost not allow that we please God: thou directest us "to labour for that which endureth unto everlasting life." What wouldest thou have us to do? what can we do? what must we do, in order to please God? To this question our Lord answers, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent;" which, if it be a proper answer, is the same as saying, This is the first and greatest of all duties, and without is no other duty can be acceptable.
It has been said, in answer to the argument from this passage,"The words contain a declaration that believing in Christ for salvation is necessary to the enjoyment of eternal life, and that faith in him is an act acceptable and pleasing to God: but afford no proof that it is required of men in a state of unregeneracy. To declare to unregenerate persons the necessity of faith in
order to salvation, which is what our blessed Lord here does, falls very far short of asserting it to be their present duty." * We see by this answer that Mr. Brine, who will be allowed to have been one of the most judicious writers on that side the question, was fully convinced of three things. First, That the persons here addressed were unregenerate sinners. Secondly, That the faith recommended is saving. Thirdly, That when faith is here called the work of God, it does not mean the work which God performs, but an act of theirs, which would be acceptable and pleasing to him. Yet we are told that our Lord merely expresses the necessity of it, without asserting it to be their present duty. Was it not the object of their inquiry then, What was their present duty, or what they ought to do in order to please God? What else can be made of it? Further, How can our Lord be supposed in answer to their question to tell them of an act which was necessary, acceptable, and pleasing to God, but which was not their present duty? Is such an answer worthy of him? Nay, how could their believing be an act acceptable and pleasing to God, if it were not their present duty? God is pleased with that only in us which he requires at our hands.
John v. 23, "The Father hath committed all judgment unto the Son, that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him." That men are obliged to honour the Father, by a holy hearty love to him, and adoration of him under every character by which he has manifested himself, will be allowed by all except the grossest Antinomians: and if it be the will of the Father that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father, nothing less can be required of them than a holy, hearty love to him, and adoration of him under every character by which he has manifested himself. But such a regard to Christ necessarily supposes faith in him: for it is impossible to honour him, while we reject him in all or any of his offices, and neglect his great salvation. To honour an infallible teacher is to place an implicit and unbounded confidence in all he says: to honour an advocate is to commit our cause to him: to honour a physician is to trust our lives in his hands: and to honour a king is to bow to his sceptre, and cheerfully obey his laws. These are characters under which Christ has manifested himself. To treat him in this manner is to honour him, and to treat him otherwise is to dishonour him.
The Scriptures both of the Old and New Testament abound with exhortations to hear the word of God, to hearken to his counsel, to wait on him, to seek his favour, &c., all which imply saving faith. "Hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord. But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul. All they that hate me love death How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my Spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you." -- "Hear, ye deaf, and look, ye blind, that ye may see. Hearken diligently unto me. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live." -- "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near." -- "This is my beloved Son: hear him." -- "And it shall come to pass that every soul which will not hear that Prophet shall be destroyed from among the people." -- "Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life."
* Mr. Brine's Motives to Love and Unity, &c., p. 42.
It is a grievous misapplication of such language to consider it as expressive of a mere attendance upon the means grace, without any spiritual desire after God: and to allow that unregenerate sinners comply with it. Nothing can be further from the truth. The Scriptures abound in promises of spiritual and eternal blessings to those who thus hearken, hear, and seek after God: such exercises, therefore, must of necessity be spiritual, and require to be understood as including faith in Christ. The Scriptures exhort to no such exercises as may be complied with by a mind at enmity with God: the duties which they inculcate are all spiritual, and no sinner while unregenerate is supposed to comply with them. So far from allowing that ungodly men seek after God, or do any good thing, they expressly declare the contrary. "God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy there is none that doeth good, no, not one." To reduce the exhortations of Scripture to the level of a carnal mind is to betray the authority of God over the human heart: and to allow that unconverted sinners comply with them is to be aiding and abetting in their self-deception. The unconverted who attend the means of grace generally persuade themselves, and wish to persuade others, that they would gladly be converted and be real Christians, if it were but in their power. They imagine themselves to be waiting at the pool for the moving of the water, and therefore feel no guilt on account of their present state of mind. Doubtless, they are willing and desirous to escape the wrath to come: and, under certain convictions, would submit to relinquish many things, and to comply with other things, as the condition of it; but they have no direct desire after spiritual blessings. If they had, they would seek them in the name of Jesus, and, thus seeking, would find them. That preaching, therefore, which exhorts them to mere outward duties, and tells them that their only concern is, in this manner, to wait at the pool, helps forward their delusion, and, should they perish, will prove accessory to their destruction.
Simon the sorcerer was admonished to "repent, and pray to the Lord, if perhaps the thought of his heart might be forgiven him." From this express example many, who are averse from the doctrine here defended, have been so far convinced as to acknowledge that it is the duty of the unconverted to pray, at least for temporal blessings: but Simon was not admonished to pray for temporal blessings, but for the forgiveness of sin. Neither was he to pray in a carnal and heartless manner: but to repent, and pray. And being directed to repent, and pray for the forgiveness of sin, he was, in effect, directed to believe in Jesus: for in what other name could forgiveness be expected? Peter, after having declared to the Jewish rulers that there was none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved, cannot be supposed to have directed Simon to hope for forgiveness in any other way.
To admonish any person to pray, or to seek the Divine favour, in any other way than by faith in Jesus Christ, is the same thing as to admonish him to follow the example of Cain, and of the self-righteous Jews. Cain was not averse from worship. He brought his offering: but having no sense of the evil of sin, and of the need of a Saviour, he had taken no notice of what had been revealed concerning the promised Seed, and paid no regard to the presenting of an expiatory sacrifice. He thanked God for temporal blessings, and might pray for their continuance: but this was not doing well. It was practically saying to his Maker, I have done nothing to deserve being made a sacrifice to thy displeasure: and I see no necessity for any sacrifice being offered up, either now or at the end of the world. In short, it was claiming to approach God merely as a creature, and as though nothing had taken
place which required an atonement. The self-righteous Jews did not live without religion: they followed after the law of righteousness: yet they did not attain it: and wherefore? "Because they sought it not by faith, but, as it were, by the works of the law; for they stumbled at that stumbling-stone." And shall we direct our hearers to follow this example, by exhorting them to pray, and seek the Divine favour, in any other way than by faith in Jesus Christ? If so, how can we deserve the name of Christian ministers?
The Scriptures exhort sinners to put their trust in the Lord, and censure them for placing it in an arm of flesh. Whether trusting in Christ for the salvation of our souls be distinguishable from believing in him or not, it certainly includes it. To trust in Christ is to believe in him; if, therefore, the one be required, the other must be. Those who "loved vanity, and sought after lying," are admonished "to offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and to put their trust in the Lord: and a trust connected with the sacrifices of righteousness must be spiritual." To rely on any other object is to "trust in vanity," against which sinners are repeatedly warned: "Trust not in oppression: become not vain in robbery." "He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool." "Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord."
It is allowed, that if God had never sent his Son into the world to save sinners, or if the invitations of the gospel were not addressed to sinners indefinitely, there would be no warrant for trust in the Divine mercy: and, as it is, there is no warrant for trust beyond what God has promised in his word. He has not promised to save sinners indiscriminately, and therefore it would be presumption in sinners indiscriminately to trust that they shall be saved. But he has promised, and that in great variety of language, that whosoever, relinquishing every false ground of hope, shall come to Jesus as a perishing sinner, and rely on him alone for salvation, shall not be disappointed. For such a reliance, therefore, there is a complete warrant. These promises are true, and will be fulfilled, whether we trust in them or not: and whosoever still continues to trust in his own righteousness, or in the general mercy of his Creator, without respect to the atonement, refusing to build upon the foundation which God has laid in Zion, is guilty of the greatest of all sins: and if God give him not repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth, the stone which he has refused will fall upon him, and grind him to powder.
But "until a man through the law is dead to the law," says Mr. Brine, "he hath no warrant to receive Christ as a Saviour, or to hope for salvation through him."* If, by receiving Christ, were meant the claiming an interest in the blessings of his salvation, this objection would be well-founded. No man, while adhering to his own righteousness as the ground of acceptance with God, has any warrant to conclude himself interested in the righteousness of Jesus. The Scriptures every where assure him of the contrary. But the question is, Does he need any warrant to be dead to the law; or, which is the same thing, to relinquish his vain hopes of acceptance by the works of it, and to choose that Rock for his foundation which is chosen of God, and precious? To "receive" Christ, in the sense of Scripture, stands opposed to rejecting him, or to such a non-reception of him as was practised by the body of the Jewish nation, John i. 11, 12. An interest in spiritual blessings, and, of course, a persuasion of it, is represented as following the reception of Christ, and, consequently, is to be distinguished from it: "To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." The idea that is generally attached to the term, in various cases to which the reception of Christ bears an allusion,
* Motives to Love and Unity, pp. 38, 39.
corresponds with the above statement. To receive a gift is not to believe it to be my own, though, after I have received it, it is so: but to have my pride so far abased as not to be above it, and my heart so much attracted as to be willing to relinquish every thing that stands in competition with it. To receive a guest is not to believe him to be my particular friend, though such he may be: but to open my doors to him, and make him heartily welcome. To receive an instructor is not to believe him to be my instructor any more than another's: but to embrace his instruction, and follow his counsel. For a town, or city, after a long siege, to receive a king, is not to believe him to be their special friend, though such he may be, and in the end they may see it: but to lay down their arms, throw open their gates, and come under his government. These remarks are easily applied: and it is no less easy to perceive that every sinner has not only a warrant thus to receive Christ, but that it is his great sin if he receive him not.
II. Every Man is Bound Cordially to Receive and Approve Whatever God Reveals.
It may be presumed that, if God reveal any thing to men, it will be accompanied with such evidence of its being what it is, that no upright mind can continue to doubt of it. "He that is of God heareth God's words."
It will be allowed, by those with whom I am now reasoning, that no man is justifiable in disbelieving the truth of the gospel, or in positively rejecting it: but then it is supposed that a belief of the gospel is not saving faith: and that, though a positive rejection of Divine truth is sinful, yet a spiritual reception of it is not a duty. I hope it has been made to appear, in the former part of this piece, that a real belief of the doctrine of Christ is saving faith, and includes such a cordial acquiescence in the way of salvation as has the promise of eternal life. But he this as it may, whether the belief of the gospel be allowed to include a cordial acquiescence in God's way of salvation or not, such an acquiescence will be allowed to include saving faith. "Acting faith," says Mr. Brine, "is no other than suitable thoughts of Christ, and a hearty choice of him as God's appointed way of salvation."* If, therefore, it can be proved that a cordial approbation of God's way of saving sinners is the duty of every one, it will amount to proving the same thing of saving faith.
I allow there is a difficulty in this part of the work, but it is that which attends the proof of a truth which is nearly self-evident. Who could suppose that Mr. Brine, after such an acknowledgment concerning faith, could doubt of its being the duty of all mankind? Ought we not, if we think of Christ at all, to think suitably of him? and are we justifiable in entertaining low and unsuitable thoughts of him? Is it not a matter of complaint, that the ungodly Jews saw "no form nor comeliness in him, nor beauty, that they should desire him?" And with respect to a hear choice of him, as God's appointed way of salvation, if it be not the duty of sinners to choose him, it is their duty to refuse him, or to desire to be accepted of God by the works of their hands, in preference to him? Mr. Brine would censure men for this. So does Mr. Wayman. Speaking of self-righteous unbelievers, he says; "They plainly declare that Christ is not all and in all to them, but that he comes in but at second-hand: and their regard is more unto themselves, and their dependence more upon their own doings, than upon the Mighty One upon whom God hath laid our help."+ But why thus complain of sinners for their not choosing Christ, if they be under no obligation to do so? Is there no sin in the invention of the various false schemes of religion, with which the Christian world abounds, to the exclusion of Christ? Why,
* 352 Johnson's Mistakes Noted and Rectified, p. 34.
+ Further Inquiry, p. 160.
then, are heresies reckoned among the works of the flesh? Gal. v. 20. If we are not obliged to think suitably of Christ, and to choose him whom the Lord and all good men have chosen, there can be no evil in these things: for where no law is, there is no transgression.
"A hearty choice of God's appointed way of salvation" is the same thing as falling in with its grand designs. Now the grand designs of the salvation of Christ are the glory of God, the abasement of the sinner, and the destruction of his sins. It is God's manifest purpose, in saving sinners, to save them in this way: and can any sinner be excused from cordially acquiescing in it? If any man properly regard the character of God, he must be willing that he should be glorified: if he knew his own unworthiness, as he ought to know it, he must also be willing to occupy that place which the gospel way of salvation assigns him: and if he be not wickedly wedded to his lusts, he must be willing to sacrifice them at the foot of the cross. He may be averse from each of these, and, while an unbeliever, is so: but he will not be able to acquit himself of guilt: and it is to be lamented that any who sustain the character of Christian ministers should be employed in labouring to acquit him.
If a way of salvation were provided which did not provide for the glory God, which did not abase, but flatter the sinner, and which did not require him to sacrifice his lusts, he would feel no want of power to embrace it. Nominal Christians, and mere professors, in all ages, have shown themselves able to believe any thing but the truth. Thus it was with the carnal Jews: and thus our Lord plainly told them, -- "I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not. If another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive." -- "Because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? He that is of God heareth God's words: ye, therefore, hear them not, because ye are not of God." This is the true source of the innumerable false schemes of religion in the world, and the true reason why the gospel is not universally embraced.
Unbelievers are described as "disallowing" of him who is "chosen of God, and precious." Now either to allow or disallow supposes a claim. Christ claims to be the whole foundation of a sinner's hope: and God claims, on his behalf, that he be treated as "the head of the corner." But the heart of unbelievers cannot allow of the claim. The Jewish builders set him at nought, and every self-righteous heart follows their example. God, to express his displeasure at this conduct, assures them that their unbelief shall affect none but themselves: it shall not deprive the Saviour of his honours: "for the stone which they refuse," notwithstanding their opposition, "shall become the head of the corner." What can be made of all this, but that they ought to have allowed him the place which he so justly claimed, and to have chosen him whom the Lord had chosen? On no other ground could the Scripture censure them as it does, and on no other principle could they be characterized as disobedient; for all disobedience consists in a breach of duty.
Believers, on the other hand, are described as thinking highly of Christ: reckoning themselves unworthy to "unloose the latchet of his shoes," or that he should "come under their roof;" treating his gospel as "worthy of all acceptation," and as counting all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of him." They are of the same mind with the blessed above, who sing his praise, "saying with a loud voice, WORTHY is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing." In fine, they are of the same mind with God himself: him whom God has chosen they choose: and he that is precious
in his sight is precious in theirs, 1 Pet. ii. 4-7. And do they over-estimate his character? Is he not worthy of all the honour they ascribe to him, of all the affection they exercise towards him: and that whether he actually receive it or not? If all the angels had been of the mind of Satan, and all the saints of the spirit of the unbelieving Israelites, who were not gathered: yet would he have been "glorious in the eyes of the Lord." The belief or unbelief of creatures makes no difference as to his worthiness, or their obligation to ascribe it to him.
It is allowed by all, except the grossest Antinomians, that every man is obliged to love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength: and this notwithstanding the depravity of his nature. But to love God with all the heart is to love him in every character in which he has made himself known; and more especially in those wherein his moral excellences appear with the brightest lustre. The same law that obliged Adam in innocence to love God in all his perfections, as displayed in the works of creation, obliged Moses and Israel to love him in all the glorious displays of himself in his wonderful works of providence, of which they were witnesses. And the same law that obliged them to love him in those discoveries of himself obliges us to love him in other discoveries, by which he has since more gloriously appeared, as saving sinners through the death of his Son. To suppose that we are obliged to love God as manifesting himself in the works of creation and providence, but not in the work of redemption, is to suppose that in the highest and most glorious display of himself he deserves no regard. The same perfections which appear in all his other works, and render him lovely, appear in this with a tenfold lustre: to be obliged to love him on account of the one, and not of the other, is not a little extraordinary.
As these things cannot be separated in point of obligation, so neither can they in fact. He that loves God for any excellency, as manifested in one form, must of necessity love him for that excellency, let it be manifested in what form it may: and the brighter the display, the stronger will be his love. This remark is verified in the holy angels. At first they loved their Maker for what they saw in his works of creation. They saw him lay the foundation of the earth, and they "SHOUTED FOR JOY." In process of time they witnessed the glorious displays of his moral character in the government of the world which he had made: and now their love increases. On every new occasion, they cry, "HOLY, HOLY, HOLY IS THE LORD OF HOSTS: THE WHOLE EARTH IS FULL OF HIS GLORY." At length, they beheld an event to the accomplishment of which all former events were subservient: they saw the Messiah born in Bethlehem. And now their love rises still higher. As though heaven could not contain then on such an occasion, they resort to the place, and contemplate the good that should arise to the moral system, bursting forth into a song: "GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST, AND ON EARTH PEACE, GOOD-WILL TOWARDS MEN." All this was but the natural operation of love to God; and, from the same principle, they took delight in attending the Redeemer through his life, strengthening him in his sufferings, watching at his tomb, conducting him to glory, and looking into the mysteries of redemption. With a heart like theirs, is it possible to conceive that we should continue impenitent or unbelieving? If, in our circumstances, we possessed that love to God by which they were influenced, it would melt us into holy lamentation for having sinned against him. If the gospel invitation to partake of the water of life once sounded in our ears, we should instantly imbibe it. Instead of making "light of it," and preferring our "farms" and our "merchandise" before it, we should embrace it with our whole heart. Let any creature be affected towards God as the holy angels are, and if he had a thousand souls to be saved, and the invitation extended to every one
that is willing, he would not hesitate a moment whether he should rely on his salvation. It is owing to a want of love to God that any man continues impenitent or unbelieving. This was plainly intimated by our Lord to the Jews: "I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not." It is impossible to love God, and not to embrace the greatest friend of God that ever existed: or to love his law, and not approve of a system which above all things tends to magnify and make it honourable.
"The affections included in Divine love," says an able writer, "are founded on those truths for which there is the greatest evidence in the world. Every thing in the world that proves the being of God proves that his creatures should love him with all their hearts. The evidence for these things is in itself very strong, and level to every capacity. Where it does not beget conviction, it is not owing to the weakness of men's capacities: but the strength of their prejudices and prepossessions. Whatever proves that reasonable creatures are obliged to love God and his law, proves that sinners are obliged to exercise a suitable hatred of sin, and abasement for it. A sinner cannot have due prevalent love to God and hatred of sin, without prevalent desire of obtaining deliverance from sin, and the enjoyment of God. A suitable desire of ends so important cannot, be without proportionable desire of the necessary means. If a sinner, therefore, who hears the gospel have these suitable affections of love to God and hatred of sin, to which he is obliged by the laws of natural religion, these things cannot be separated from a real complacency in that redemption and grace which are proposed in revealed religion. This does not suppose that natural religion can discover or prove the peculiar things of the gospel to be true: but when they are discovered, it proves them to be infinitely desirable. A book of laws that are enforced with awful sanctions cannot prove that the sovereign has passed an act of grace or indemnity in favour of transgressors: but it proves that such favour is to them the most desirable and the most necessary thing in the world. It proves that the way of saving us from sin which the gospel reveals is infinitely suitable to the honour of God, to the dignity of his law, and to the exigences of the consciences of sinners."*
"If any man has a taste for moral excellency," says another, "a heart to account God glorious for being what he is, he cannot but see the moral excellency of the law, and love it and conform to it, because it is the image of God: and so he cannot but see the moral excellency of the gospel, and believe it, and love it, and comply with it: for it is also the image of God: he that can see the moral beauty in the original cannot but see the moral beauty of the image drawn to life. He, therefore, that despises the gospel, and is an enemy to the law, even he is at enmity against God himself, Rom. viii. 7. Ignorance of the glory of God, and enmity against him, make men ignorant of the glory of the law and of the gospel, and enemies to both. Did men know and 'love him that begat, they would love that which is begotten of him,' I John v. 1. 'He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God,' John viii. 47."+
III. Though the Gospel, Strictly Speaking, is not A Law, but A Message of Pure Grace; Yet it Virutally Requires Obedience, and such an Obedience as Includes Saving Faith.
It is no uncommon thing to distinguish between a formal requisition and that which affords the ground or reason of that requisition. The goodness of God, for instance, though it is not a law or formal precept, yet virtually requires a return of gratitude. It deserves it: and the law of God formally
* M'Laurin's Essay on Grace, 332
+ Bellamy's True Religion Delineated, p. 332.
requires it on his behalf. Thus it is with respect to the gospel, which is the greatest overflow of Divine goodness that was ever witnessed. A return suitable to its nature is required virtually by the gospel itself, and formally by the Divine precept on its behalf.
I suppose it might be taken for granted that the gospel possesses some degree of virtual authority: as it is generally acknowledged that, by reason of the dignity of its author, and the importance of its subjectmatter, it deserves the audience and attention of all mankind: yea, more, that all mankind who have opportunity of hearing it are obliged to believe it. The only question therefore is whether the faith which it requires be spiritual, or such as has the promise of salvation.
We may form some idea of the manner in which the gospel ought to be received, from its being represented as an embassy. "We are ambassadors for Christ," saith the apostle, "as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you, in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." The object of an embassy, in all cases, is peace. Ambassadors are sometimes employed between friendly powers for the adjustment of their affairs: but the allusion, in this case, is manifestly to a righteous prince, who should condescend to speak peaceably to his rebellious subjects, and, as it were, to entreat them for their own sakes to be reconciled. The language of the apostle supposes that the world is engaged in an unnatural and unprovoked rebellion against its Maker; that it is in his power utterly to destroy sinners: that if he were to deal with them according to their deserts, this must be their portion: but that, through the mediation of his Son, he had, as it were, suspended hostilities, had sent his servants with words of peace, and commissioned them to persuade, to entreat, and even to beseech them to be reconciled. But reconciliation to God includes every thing that belongs to true conversion. It is the opposite of a state of alienation and enmity to him, Col. i. 21. It includes a justification of his government, a condemnation of their own unprovoked rebellion against him, and a thankful reception of the message of peace: which is the same for substance as to repent and believe the gospel. To speak of an embassy from the God of heaven and earth to his rebellious creatures being entitled to nothing more than an audience, or a decent attention, must itself be highly offensive to the honour of his majesty: and that such language should proceed from his professed friends must render it still more so.
"When the apostle beseecheth us to be 'reconciled' to God, I would know," says Dr. Owen, "whether it be not a part of our duty to yield obedience? If not, the exhortation is frivolous and vain."* If sinners are not obliged to be reconciled to God, both as a Lawgiver and a Saviour, and that with all their hearts, it is no sin to be unreconciled. All the enmity of their hearts to God, his law, his gospel, or his Son, must be guiltless. For there can be no neutrality in this case: not to be reconciled is to be unreconciled: not to fall in with the message of peace is to fall out with it: and not to lay down arms and submit to mercy is to maintain the war.
It is in perfect harmony with the foregoing ideas, that those who acquiesce in the way of salvation, in this spiritual manner, are represented, in so doing, as exercising OBEDIENCE: as "obeying the gospel," "obeying the truth," and "obeying Christ," Rom. x. 16; vi. 17. The very end of the gospel being preached is said to be for "obedience to the faith among all nations," Rom. i.5. But obedience supposes previous obligation. If repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, were not duties required of us, even prior to all consideration of their being blessings bestowed upon us, it were incongruous to speak of them as exercises of obedience. Nor
* Display of Arminianism, chap. x.
would it be less so to speak of that impenitence and unbelief which expose men to "eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power," as consisting in their not obeying the gospel, 2 Thess. i. 8, 9. The passage on which the former part of this argument is founded (viz. 2 Cor. v. 19, 20) has been thought inapplicable to the subject, because it is supposed to be an address to the members of the church at Corinth, who were considered by the apostle as believers. On this principle Dr. Gill expounds the reconciliation exhorted to, submission to providence, and obedience to the discipline and ordinances of God. But let it be considered whether the apostle be here immediately addressing the members of the church at Corinth, beseeching them, at that time, to be reconciled to God: or whether he be not rather rehearsing to them what had been his conduct, and that of his brethren in the ministry, in vindication of himself and them from the base insinuations of false teachers; to whom the great evils that had crept into that church had been principally owing. The methods they appear to have taken to supplant the apostles were those of underhand insinuation. By Paul's answers, they appear to have suggested that he and his friends were either subtle men, who, by their soft and beseeching style, ingratiated themselves into the esteem of the simple, catching them, as it were, with guile (2 Cor. i. 12: xii. 16): or weak-headed enthusiasts, "beside themselves," (chap. v. 13,) going up and down "beseeching" people to this and that (chap. xi. 21): and that, as to Paul himself, however great he might appear in his" letters, "he was nothing in company: "His bodily presence, say they, is weak, and his speech contemptible."
In the First Epistle to this church, Paul generously waved a defence of himself and his brethren: being more concerned for the recovery of those to Christ who were in danger of being drawn off from the truth as it is in Jesus, than respecting their opinion of him: yet when the one was accomplished, he undertook the other: not only as a justification of himself and his brethren, but as knowing that just sentiments of faithful ministers bore an intimate connexion with the spiritual welfare of their hearers. It is thus that the apostle alludes to their various insinuations, acknowledging that they did indeed beseech, entreat, and persuade men: but affirming that such conduct arose not from the motives of which they were accused, but from the "love of Christ." -- "If we are beside ourselves, it is for your sakes."
If the words in chap. v. 19, 20 be an immediate address to the members of the church at Corinth, those which follow, in chap. vi. 1, must be an address to its ministers: and thus Dr. Gill expounds it. But if so, the apostle in the continuation of that address would not have said, as he does, "In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God:" his language would have been, "In all things approving yourselves," &c. Hence it is manifest that the whole is a vindication of their preaching and manner of life against the insinuations of the Corinthian teachers.
There are two things which may have contributed to the misunderstanding of this passage of Scripture: one is the supplement you, which is unnecessarily introduced three times over in chap. v. 20, and vi. 1. If any supplement had been necessary, the word men, as it is in the text of chap. v. 11, might have better conveyed the apostle's meaning. The other is the division of the fifth and sixth chapters in the midst of the argument.*
IV. The Want of Faith in Christ is Ascribed in the Scriptures to Men's Depravity, and is itself Represented as a Heinous Sin.
It is taken for granted that whatever is not a sinner's duty, the omission of it cannot be charged on him as a sin, nor imputed to any depravity in him. If faith were no more a duty than election or redemption, which are
* See Dr. Guyse on the place.
acts peculiar to God, the want of the one would be no more ascribed to the evil dispositions of the heart than that of the other. Or if the inability of sinners to believe in Christ were of the same nature as that of a dead body in a grave to rise up and walk, it were absurd to suppose that they would on this account fall under the Divine censure. No man is reproved for not doing that which is naturally impossible: but sinners are reproved for not believing, and given to understand that it is solely owing to their criminal ignorance, pride, dishonesty of heart, and aversion from God.
Voluntary ignorance is represented as a reason why sinners believe not. "Being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God." -- "If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." To the same purpose we are taught by our Lord in the parable of the sower, "when any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart;" and this, as Luke expresses it, "lest they should believe and be saved."
If men, even though they were possessed of the same principles as our first father in Paradise, would nevertheless be blind to the glory of the gospel, with what propriety is their blindness attributed to the god of this world? Is he ever represented as employing himself in hindering that which is naturally impossible, or in promoting that which is innocent?
Pride is another cause to which the want of saving faith is ascribed, "The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek." "God is not in all his thoughts." We have seen already that seeking God is a spiritual exercise, which implies faith in the Mediator: and the reason why ungodly men are strangers to it is the haughtiness of their spirits, which makes them scorn to take the place of supplicants before their offended Creator, and labour to put far from their minds every thought of him. 'How can ye believe," said our Lord to the Jews, "who receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?"
If believing were here to be taken for any other faith than that which is spiritual or saving, the suggestion would not hold good: for we are told of some who could and did believe in Christ, in some sense, but who did not confess him: for they "loved the praise of men more than the praise of God," John xii. 43. It was pride that blinded the minds of the "wise and prudent of this world" to the doctrines of Christ: and what is it but this same proud spirit, working in a way of self-conceit and self-righteousness, that still forms the grand objection to the doctrine of salvation by mere grace?
Dishonesty of heart is that on account of which men receive not the word of God, so as to bring forth fruit. This is fully implied in the parable of the sower, recorded in the eighth chapter of Luke. The reason why those hearers represented by the good ground received the word, and brought forth fruit, rather than the others, was that they had "good and honest hearts:" plainly intimating that the reason why the others did not so receive it was that their hearts were not upright before God. Indeed, such is the nature of Divine truth, that every heart which is honest towards God must receive it. An honest heart must needs approve of God's holy law, which requires us to love him with all our powers: and this because it is no more than giving him the glory due to his name. An honest heart will approve of being justified wholly for Christ's sake, and not on account of any of its own works, whether legal or evangelical: for it is no more than relinquishing
a claim which is justly forfeited, and accepting as a free gift that which God was under no obligation to bestow. Further, An honest heart must rejoice in the way of salvation as soon as he understands it, because it provides a way in which mercy can be exercised consistently with righteousness. A right spirit would revolt at the idea of receiving mercy itself in a way that should leave a blot upon the Divine character. It is the glory of Christ that he has not an honest man for an enemy. The upright love him.
We are not ignorant who it is that must now give men honest hearts, and what is the source of every thing in a fallen creature that is truly good: but this does not affect the argument. However far sinners are from it, and whatever Divine agency it may require to produce it, no man who is not disposed to deny the accountableness of creatures to the God that made them will deny that it is their duty: for if we are not obliged to be upright towards God, we are obliged to nothing: and if obliged to nothing, we must be guiltless, and so stand in no need of salvation.
Finally, Aversion of heart is assigned as a reason why sinners do not believe. This truth is strongly expressed in that complaint of our Lord in John v. 40, "Ye will not, or ye are not willing, to come unto me, that ye might have life." Proudly attached to their own righteousness, when Jesus exhibited himself as "the way, the truth, and the life," they were stumbled at it: and thousands in the religious world are the same to this day. They are willing to escape God's wrath, and to gain his favour: yea, and to relinquish many an outward vice in order to it: but to come to Jesus among the chief of sinners, and be indebted wholly to his sacrifice for life, they are not willing. Yet, can any man plead that this their unwillingness is innocent?
Mr. Hussey understands the foregoing passage of barely owning Christ to be the Messiah, which, he says, would have saved them as a nation from temporal ruin and death; or, as he in another place expresses it, "from having their brains dashed out by the battering rams of Titus," the Roman general.* But it ought to be observed that the life for which they were "not willing" to come to him was the same as that which they thought they had in the Scriptures: and this was "eternal" life. -- "Search the Scriptures: for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me:" and, "Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life." This was the same as saying, These very Scriptures, in which ye think ye have eternal life, testify of me, as the only way to it: but such is the pride and aversion of your hearts, that ye will not come to me for it.
Dr. Gill, in general, opposed these principles: yet frequently, when his system was out of sight, he established them. His exposition of this passage is a proof of this remark. He tells us that the "perverseness of their wills was blameworthy, being owing to the corruption and vitiosity of their nature: which being blameworthy in them, that which follows upon it must be so too."
There is no inconsistency between this account of things and that which is given elsewhere, that "no man can come to (Christ) except the Father draw him.” No man can choose that from which his heart is averse. It is common, both in Scripture and in conversation, to speak of a person who is under the influence of an evil bias of heart, as unable to do that which is inconsistent with it. "They have eyes full of adultery, and cannot cease from sin." "The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God."
On account of this different phraseology, some writers have affirmed that
* Glory of Christ Revealed, pp. 527. 615.
men are under both a moral and a natural inability of coming to Christ, or that they neither will nor can come to him: but if there be no other inability than what arises from aversion, this language is not accurate: for it conveys the idea, that if all aversion of heart were removed, there would still be a natural and insurmountable bar in the way. But no such idea as this is conveyed by our Lord's words: the only bar to which he refers lies in that reluctance or aversion which the drawing of the Father implies and removes. Nor will such an idea comport with what he elsewhere teaches. "And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God. Why do ye not understand my speech? Because ye cannot hear my word." These cutting interrogations proceed on the supposition that they could have received the doctrine of Christ, if it had been agreeable to their corrupt hearts; and its being otherwise was the ONLY reason why they could not understand and believe it. If sinners were naturally and absolutely unable to believe in Christ, they would be equally unable to disbelieve: for it requires the same powers to reject as to embrace. And, in this case, there would be no room for an inability of another kind: a dead body is equally unable to do evil as to do good; and a man naturally and absolutely blind could not be guilty of shutting his eyes against the light. "It is indwelling sin," as Dr. Owen says, "that both disenableth men unto, and hinders them from believing, and that alone. Blindness of mind, stubbornness of the will, sensuality of the affections, all concur to keep poor perishing souls at a distance from Christ. Men are made blind by sin, and cannot see his excellency: obstinate, and will not lay hold of his righteousness: senseless, and take no notice of their eternal concernments."*
A voluntary and judicial blindness, obstinacy, and hardness of heart, are represented as the bar to conversion, Acts xxviii. 27. But if that spirit which is exercised in conversion were essentially different from any thing which the subjects of it in any state possessed, or ought to have possessed, it were absurd to ascribe the want of it to such causes.
Those who embraced the gospel and submitted to the government of the Messiah were baptized with the baptism of John, and are said, in so doing, to have "justified" God: their conduct was an acknowledgment of the justice of the law, and of the wisdom and love of the gospel. On the other hand, those who did not thus submit are said to have "rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized," Luke vii. 29, 30. But no Christian, I suppose, (certainly no Baptist,) thinks it was their sin not to be baptized while they continued enemies to Christ: and probably very few, if any, serious Paedobaptists would contend for its being the duty of adults to be baptized in Christ's name, without first embracing his word. How then can this passage be understood, but by supposing that they ought to have repented of their sins, embraced the Messiah, and submitted to his ordinances? Nor can the force of the argument be evaded by distinguishing between different kinds of repentance and faith: for a profession of true repentance, and of faith unfeigned, was required in order to baptism.
Finally, Unbelief is expressly declared to be a sin of which the Spirit of truth has to convince the world, John xvi. 8, 9. But unbelief cannot be a sin if faith were not a duty. I know of no answer to this argument but what must be drawn from a distinction between believing the report of the gospel and saving faith: allowing the want of the one to be sinful, but not of the other. But it is not of gross unbelief only, or of an open rejection of
* On Indwelling Sin, Chap. XVI.
Jesus as the Messiah, that the Holy Spirit has to convince the world: nor is it to a bare conviction of this truth, like what prevails in all Christian countries, that men are brought by his teaching. When he, the Spirit of truth, cometh, his operations are deeper than this amounts to: it is of an opposition of heart to the way of salvation that he convinces the sinner, and to a cordial acquiescence with it that he brings him. Those who are born in a Christian land, and who never were the subjects of gross infidelity, stand in no less need of being thus convinced than others. Nay, in some respects they need it more. Their unbelieving opposition to Christ is more subtile, refined, and out of sight, than that of open infidels: they are less apt, therefore, to suspect themselves of it: and consequently stand in greater need of the Holy Spirit to search them out, and show them to themselves. Amongst those who constantly sit under the gospel, and who remain in an unconverted state, there are few who think themselves the enemies of Christ. On the contrary, they flatter themselves that they are willing at any time to be converted, if God would but convert them: considering themselves as lying at the pool for the moving of the waters. But "when he, the Spirit of truth, cometh," these coverings will be stripped from off the face, and these refuges of lies will fail.*
V. God has Threatened and Inflicted the Most Awful Punishments on Sinners for their Not Believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is here taken for granted that nothing but sin can be the cause of God's inflicting punishment, and nothing can be sin which is not a breach of duty.
"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be damned." This awful passage appears to be a kind of ultimatum, or last resolve. It is as if our Lord had said, This is your message . . . . go and proclaim it to all nations: whosoever receives it, and submits to my authority, assure him from me that eternal salvation awaits him: but whosoever rejects it, let him see to it . . . . damnation shall be his portion! Believing and not believing, in this passage, serve to explain each other. It is saving faith to which salvation is promised, and to the want of this it is that damnation is threatened.
It has been alleged, that "as it is not inferrible from that declaration that the faith of believers is the procuring cause of their salvation, so it is not to be inferred from thence that the want of that special faith in unbelievers is the procuring cause of their damnation. That declaration contains in it the descriptive characters of those who are saved, and of those who are damned: but it assigns not special faith to be the procuring cause of the salvation of the former, nor the want of it to be the procuring cause of the damnation of the latter."+
But if this mode of reasoning were admitted, we should find it very difficult, if not impossible, to prove any thing to be evil from the threatenings of God against it. A multitude of plain texts of Scripture, wherein sin, as any common reader would suppose, is threatened with punishment, might, in this manner, be made to teach nothing with regard to its being the procuring cause of it. For example, Psal. xxxvii. 18, 20, "The Lord knoweth the days of the upright: and their inheritance shall be for ever. But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume: into smoke shall they consume away." But it might be said, as the uprightness of the upright is not the procuring cause of his enjoying an everlasting inheritance, so neither will this prove that the wickedness
* See Charnock's excellent discourse, on Unbelief the Greatest Sin, from the above passage, Vol. 11. of his Works.
+ Mr. Brine's Motives to Love and Unity, pp. 31, 32
of the wicked, or the enmity of the Lord's enemies, is the procuring cause of their being consumed. Again, Psal. cxlvii. 6, "The Lord lifteth up the meek: he casteth the wicked down to the ground." But it might be alleged, that as the meekness of the former is not the procuring cause of his being lifted up, so it cannot be from hence inferred that the wickedness of the latter is the procuring cause of his being cast down. Again, Psal. cxlv. 20, "The Lord preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy." But it might be said, as the love of the one is not the procuring cause of his preservation, so it cannot he proved from hence that the wickedness of the other is the procuring cause of his destruction: and that these declarations contain only the "descriptive characters" of those who are saved, and of those who perish.
In this manner almost all the threatenings in the book of God might be made to say nothing as threatenings; for the mode in which they are delivered is the same as that in the passage in question. For example, "What shall he given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue? Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper." -- "He that showeth no mercy shall have judgment without mercy." -- "Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge." -- "Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." -- "Behold, the day cometh that shall burn like an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble." -- "Bring hither those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, and slay them before me." -- "The fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their portion in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." But none of these awful threatenings declare that the respective crimes which are mentioned are the procuring cause of the evils denounced. Though it is said concerning the "false tongue," that "sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper," shall be given him; yet it does not say that these shall be given him because of his falsehood; and so on of the rest. And thus they may be only "descriptive characters" of those who shall be damned; and all these things may, for aught these denunciations prove, be blameless. If this reasoning be just, it cannot be inferred, from the laws of England declaring that a murderer shall be put to death, that it is on account of his being a murderer. Neither could our first parents justly infer, from its being told them, "The day ye eat thereof ye shall surely die," that it should be on that account.
The truth is, though eternal life be the gift of God, yet eternal death is the proper WAGES of sin: and though faith is not represented in the above passage as the procuring cause of salvation, yet unbelief is of damnation. It is common for the Scriptures to describe those that shall be saved by something which is pleasing to God, and by which they are made meet for glory: and those that shall be lost by something which is displeasing to God, and by which they are fitted for destruction.
John iii. 18, "He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." Two things are here observable. First, Believing is expressive of saving faith, seeing it exempts from condemnation. Secondly, The want of this faith is a sin on account of which the unbeliever stands condemned. It is true that unbelief is an evidence of our being under the condemnation of God's righteous law for all our other sins; but this is not all: unbelief is itself a sin which greatly aggravates our guilt, and which, if persisted in, gives the finishing stroke to our destruction.
That this idea is taught by the evangelist appears, partly from his dwelling upon the dignity of the character offended, the "only begotten Son of God;" and partly from his expressly adding, "this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."
Luke xix. 27, "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." If Christ, as wearing his mediatorial crown, has not a right to unreserved submission and hearty obedience, he has no right to be angry: and still less to punish men as his enemies for not being willing that he should reign over them. He has no right to reign over them, at least not over their hearts, if it be not their duty to obey him from their hearts. The whole controversy, indeed, might be reduced to an issue on this argument. Every sinner ought to be Christ's friend, or his enemy, or to stand by as neutral. To say he ought to be his enemy is too gross to be defended. To plead for his being neutral is pleading for what our Lord declares to be impossible: "He that is not with me is against me." There is, therefore, no room for any other position than that he ought to be his cordial friend: and this is the plain implication of the passage.
2 Thess. ii. 10-12, "Whose coming is with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." From hence we may remark two things: First, That faith is here called a receiving the love of the truth; and that it means saving faith is manifest, seeing it is added, "that they might be saved." Secondly, That their not receiving the love of the truth, or, which is the same thing, not believing with such a faith as that to which salvation is promised, was the "cause" of their being given up of God, and carried away with all deceivableness of unrighteousness. The loose and cold-hearted manner in which merely nominal Christians held the truth would occasion the introduction of the grand papal apostacy, by which great numbers of them would be swept away. And this, assuredly, ought to afford a lesson to nominal Christians of the present day, who, owing to the source cause, are fast approaching to infidelity. But unless we suppose that these professors of religion ought to have "received the love of the truth," there is no accounting for the awful judgments of God upon them for the contrary.
VI. Other Spiritual Exercises, Which Sustain an Inseparable Connexion with Faith in Christ, are Represented as the Duty of Men in General.
Though this controversy has been mostly carried on with respect to the duty of faith, yet it, in reality, extends to the whole of spiritual religion. Those who deny that sinners are obliged to believe in Christ for salvation will not allow that it is their duty to do any thing truly and spiritually good. It is a kind of maxim, with such persons, that 'none can be obliged to act spiritually, but spiritual men.' Spiritual exercises appear to me to mean the same as holy exercises: for the "new man," which is created after God, is said to be "created in righteousness and true holiness;" and as to two kinds of true holiness, the Scriptures, I believe, are silent. But as my opponents affix different ideas to the term spiritual, to prevent all disputes about it, I shall proceed on a ground which they will not refuse. Whatever has the promise of spiritual blessings is considered as a spiritual exercise. With this criterion of spirituality in view, let the following passages of Scripture be carefully considered. "How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity?
and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my Spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you." "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction." "Wisdom crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors. Unto you, O men, I call: and my voice is to the sons of men. O ye simple, understand wisdom: and ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart. Hear, for I will speak of excellent things: and the opening of my lips shall be right things." "Receive my instruction, and not silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold." "Hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord. But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death." "And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul?" "Circumcise, therefore, the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked." "Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God." "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." "Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may he blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord."
We may remark on these passages, First, The persons addressed were unconverted sinners, as appears by their characters: fools -- scorners -- haters of knowledge -- uncircumcised in heart -- impenitent. Secondly, The things to which they were exhorted were things spiritually good. This appears, in part, from the names by which the exercises themselves are distinguished; namely, such understanding as originates in the fear of the Lord -- fearing -- loving -- serving God with all the heart, and with all the soul -- circumcision of the heart -- repentance -- conversion and, partly, from the blessings of salvation being promised to them: these are expressed by the terms, blessedness -- life -- favour of the Lord -- the blotting out of sin.
More particularly, The love of God is a spiritual exercise: for it has the promise of spiritual blessings. "All things work together for good to them that love God." "He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." But the love of God is required of men without distinction. The people of Israel, like all other people, were composed of good and bad men: but they were all required to "love" Jehovah, and to "cleave" to him, and that "with all their heart, and soul, and mind, and strength," Deut. vi. 5: xxx. 20. The moral part of those precepts which God gave to them on tables of stone was binding on all mankind. Even those who had no other means of knowing God than were afforded by the works of nature, with, perhaps, a portion of tradition, were required to glorify him as God, and to be thankful, Rom. i. 21.
The love of God, as is here intimated, is either a holy thankfulness for the innumerable instances of his goodness, or a cordial approbation of his glorious character. It is true there are favours for which the regenerate are obliged to love him, which are not common to the unregenerate: but every one has shared a sufficient portion of his bounty to have incurred a debt of gratitude. It is generally allowed, indeed, by our opponents, that God ought to be loved as our Creator and Benefactor; but this, they suppose, is not a spiritual exercise. There is a kind of gratitude, it is granted, which is not
spiritual, but merely the effect of natural self-love, and in which God is no otherwise regarded than as subservient to our happiness. But this does not always respect the bestowing of temporal mercies: the same feelings which possessed the carnal Israelites, when they felt themselves delivered from Pharaoh's yoke, and saw their oppressors sinking in the sea, are still the feelings of many professors of religion, under a groundless persuasion of their being elected of God, and having their sins forgiven them. Gratitude of this sort has nothing spiritual in it: but then neither is it any part of duty. God no where requires it, either of saints or sinners. That which God requires is a spiritual exercise: whether it be on account of temporal or spiritual mercies is immaterial: the object makes no difference as to the nature of the act: that thanksgiving with which the common mercies of life are received by the godly, and by which they are sanctified to them, (1 Tim. iv. 3-5,) is no less of a spiritual nature, and is no less connected with eternal life, than gratitude for the forgiveness of sin. This thankful spirit, instead of being an operation of self-love, or regarding God merely in subserviency to our own happiness, greatly consists in self-abasement, or in a sense of our own unworthiness. Its language is, "Who am I, O Lord God? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?" "What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits?" This is holy gratitude: and to be destitute of it is to be "unthankful, unholy."
With respect to a cordial approbation of the Divine character, or glorifying God as God, and which enters into the essence of holy love, there can be no reasonable doubt whether it be obligatory on sinners. Such is the glory of God's name, that nothing but the most inexcusable and deep-rooted depravity could render any intelligent creature insensible to it. Those parts of Scripture which describe the devout feelings of godly men, particularly the Psalms of David, abound in expressions of affection to the name of the Lord. "How excellent is thy name in all the earth!" "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory." "O magnify the Lord with me: and let us exalt his name together." "Sing unto God, sing praises to his name; let them that love thy name say continually, The Lord be magnified." "Blessed be his glorious name for ever, and let the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen, and Amen."
This affection to the name of the Lord, as it is revealed in his word and works, and particularly in the work of redemption, lies at the foundation of all true desire after an interest in his mercy. If we seek mercy of any one whose character we disesteem, it is merely for our own sakes: and if he be acquainted with our motives, we cannot hope to succeed. This it is that leads us to mourn for sin as sin, and not merely for the inconvenience to which it exposes us. This it is which renders salvation through the atonement of Christ so acceptable. He that loves only himself, provided he might be saved, would care little or nothing for the honour of the Divine character: but he that loves God will be concerned for his glory. Heaven itself would be no enjoyment to him if his admission must be at the expense of righteousness.
"God is to be loved," says Dr. Gill, "for himself, because of his own nature and the perfections of it, which render him amiable and lovely, and worthy of our strongest love and affection: as these are displayed in the works of creation and providence, and especially of grace, redemption, and salvation, to all which the psalmist has respect, when he says, 'O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name,' nature, and perfections, 'in all the earth!' Psal. viii. 1. As God is great in himself, and greatly to be praised, great and greatly to be feared, so great and greatly to be loved, for what he is in himself. And this is the purest and most perfect love of a creature towards
God: for if we love him only for his goodness towards us, it is loving ourselves rather than him, at least a loving him for ourselves, and so a loving ourselves more than him.* But this "most pure and perfect love” is manifestly the duty of all mankind, however far they are from a compliance with it. "Give unto the Lord, ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before him: worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." -- "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands." -- "Kings of the earth, and all people: princes and all judges of the earth: both young men and maidens, old men and children; let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is excellent: his glory is above the earth and heaven." -- "Let the people praise thee, O God, let all the people praise thee!"
That love to Christ is a spiritual exercise may, I suppose, be taken for granted. The grace or favour of God is with all who possess it in sincerity, Eph. vi. 24. But love to Christ is the duty of every one to whom the gospel is preached. On no other principles could the apostle have written as he did: "If any one love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema, Maran-atha!" It is worthy of notice, that this awful sentence is not denounced against sinners as positively hating Christ, but as not loving him: plainly implying his worthiness of a place in our best affections, and that, were it possible for us to be indifferent towards him, even that indifference would deserve the heavy curse of the Almighty at the last judgment. Paul appears to have felt as a soldier would feel towards the best of princes or commanders. If, after David's return from his engagement with Goliath, when the women of Israel were praising him in their songs, any of the sons of Belial had spoken of him in the language of detraction, it would have been natural for one of a patriotic spirit, deeply impressed with an idea of the hero's worth, and of the service he had rendered to his country, thus to have expressed himself: If any man love not the son of Jesse, let him be banished from among the tribes of Israel. Of this kind were the feelings of the apostle. He had served under his Lord and Saviour for many years: and now, sensible in a high degree of the glory of his character, he scruples not to pronounce that man who loves him not "accursed!"
The fear of God is a spiritual exercise: for it has the promise of spiritual blessings, Psal. xxxiv. 7, 9: ciii. 11, 13, 17. But it is also a duty required of men, and that without the distinction of regenerate or unregenerate. "O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always!" -- "Fear before him all the earth." -- "Let all that be round about him bring presents unto him that ought to be feared." -- "Who would not fear thee, O King of nations!" -- "Fear thou God." -- "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." -- "Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God:" -- "and that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the Lord your God." -- "Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling." -- "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying, -- Fear God, and give glory to him: for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven and earth!" -- "Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy." To say of men, "They have no fear of God before their eyes," is to represent them as under the dominion of depravity.
* Body of Divinity, Vol. III. Chap. IX.
It may be objected that the Scriptures distinguish between that holy fear of offending God which is peculiar to his children, and a mere dread of the misery threatened against sin which is found in the wicked. True: there is a fear of God which is not spiritual: such was that of the slothful servant: and the same is found in hypocrites and devils (Luke xix. 21: James ii. 19): this, however, is no part of duty, but rather of punishment. God does not require this, either of saints or sinners. That which he requires is of a holy nature, such as is expressed in the passages before quoted, which is spiritual, and has the promise of spiritual blessings. It resembles that of a dutiful child to his father, and is therefore properly called filial; and though none are possessed of it but the children of God, yet that is because none else are possessed of a right spirit.
Repentance, or a godly sorrow for sin, is a spiritual exercise: for it abounds with promises of spiritual blessings. But repentance is a duty required of every sinner. "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." "Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out." "Cleanse your hands, ye sinners: and purify your hearts, ye double-minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up." The "hardness of heart" which our Lord found in the Jews, and which is the opposite of repentance, "grieved" him; which it would not, had it not been their sin, Mark iii. 5. Finally, A hard and impenitent heart treasures up wrath against the day of wrath; but impenitence could be no sin if penitence were not a duty, Rom. ii. 5.
Repentance, it is allowed, like all other spiritual exercises, has its counterfeit, and which is not spiritual: but neither is it that which God requires at the hands of either saints or sinners. What is called natural, and sometimes legal, repentance, is merely a sorrow on account of consequences. Such was the repentance of Saul and Judas.
In order to evade the argument arising from the addresses of John the Baptist, of Christ and his apostles, who called upon the Jewish people "to repent and believe the gospel," it has been alleged that it was only an outward repentance and acknowledgment of the truth to which they were exhorted, and not that which is spiritual, or which has the promise of spiritual blessings. But it would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove that such repentance and faith are any where required of sinners, or that it is consistent with the Divine perfections to require them. An outward repentance and reformation of manners, as distinguished from that which consists in godly sorrow, is only repentance in appearance. Whatever sorrow there is in it, it is not on account of sin, but its consequences: and to suppose that Christ or his servants required this would be doing them infinite dishonour. It is no other than supposing them to have betrayed the authority of God over the human heart, to have sanctioned hypocrisy, and to have given counsels to sinners which, if taken, would leave them still exposed to everlasting destruction.
The case of the Ninevites has been alleged as furnishing an example of that repentance which is the duty of men in general, and which Christ and his apostles required of the Jews. I do not know that the repentance of the Ninevites was genuine, or connected with spiritual blessings: neither do my opponents know that it was not. Probably the repentance of some of them was genuine, while that of the greater part might be only put on in conformity to the orders of government: or, at most, merely as the effect of terror. But whatever it was, even though none of it were genuine, the object professed was godly sorrow for sin; and if God treated them upon the supposition of their being sincere, and it repented him of the evil which
he had threatened, it is no more than he did to Pharaoh, Abijah, Ahab, and others.* It is a very unjust conclusion to draw from his conduct, that their repentance was such as he approved, and the whole which he required at their hands. So far from it, there might be nothing in any of them which could approve itself to him as the searcher of hearts: and though for wise reasons he might think it proper, in those instances, to overlook their hypocrisy, and to treat them on the supposition of their repentance being what they professed it to be: yet he might still reserve to himself the power of judging them at the last day according to their works.
The object of John the Baptist was not to effect a mere outward reformation of manners: but to "turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Such was the effect actually produced by his ministry, and by that of Christ and the apostles. The repentance which they called upon sinners to exercise was such as entitled those who possessed it to Christian "baptism," and which had the promise of "the remission of sins," Mark i. 4: Acts ii. 38.
It is plainly intimated by the apostle Paul, that all repentance except that which worketh in a way of godly sorrow, and which he calls repentance to salvation, NEEDS TO BE REPENTED OF. It is the mere sorrow of the world, which worketh death, 2 Cor. vii. 10. But that which requires to be repented of cannot be commanded of God, or constitute any part of a sinner's duty. The duty of every transgressor is to be sorry at heart for having sinned.
Humility, or lowliness of mind, is a spiritual disposition, and has the promise of spiritual blessings. "Though the Lord is high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly." -- "He giveth grace unto the humble." -- "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven:" yet this disposition is required as the duty of all. "Cleanse your hands, ye sinners: and purify your hearts, ye double-minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up." Humility does not consist in thinking less or more meanly of ourselves than is true. The difference between one that is lowly and one that is proud lies in this: the one thinks justly of himself, and the other unjustly. The most humble Christian only thinks of himself "soberly, as he ought to think." All the instances of humility recorded of the godly in the Scriptures are but so many examples of a right spirit, a spirit brought down to their situation. "Carry back the ark of God into the city," says David: "If I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again, and show me both it and his habitation: but if he thus say, I have no delight in thee, behold, here am I; let him do to me as seemeth good unto him." This was very different from the spirit of his predecessor, when he was given to expect the loss of the kingdom: yet it was no more than was the duty of Saul, as well as of David: and all his proud and rebellious opposition served only to increase his guilt and misery. The spirit of the publican was no more than was becoming a sinner, and would have been becoming the Pharisee himself.
Finally, If whatever has the promise of spiritual blessings be a spiritual exercise, every thing that is right, or which accords with the Divine precept, must be so: for the Scriptures uniformly promise eternal life to every such exercise. They that "do good" shall come forth to the resurrection of life. He that "doeth righteousness is righteous." The giving of "a cup of cold water" to a disciple of Christ because he belongs to him will be followed with a disciple's reward. Nay, a "blessing" is pronounced upon
* Exod. viii. 8, 9: 2 Chron. xiii., with 1 Kings xv.; 1 Kings. xxi. 27, 29.
those who are "not offended" in him. But though these things are spiritual and are characteristic of the godly, yet who will say they are not binding on the ungodly? Are they excused from "good," from "doing right," from bestowing "a cup of water" on a disciple of Jesus, because he belongs to him? At least, are they allowed to be "offended" in him?
If God's law be spiritual, and remain in full force as a standard of obligation – if men, while unconverted, have no real conformity to it -- if regeneration be the writing of it upon the heart, or the renewal of the mind to a right spirit -- all these things are clear and consistent. This is for the same thing, in different respects, to be "man's duty and God's gift;" a position which Dr. Owen has fully established;* and some where remarks that he who is ignorant of it has yet to learn one of the first principles of religion. In short, this is rendering the work of the Spirit what the Scriptures denominate it -- "leading us by the way that we should go," Isa. xlviii. 17. But if that which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit be something different in its nature from that which is required in the Divine precepts, I see not what is to be made of the Scriptures, nor how it is that righteousness, goodness, or any thing else which is required of men, should be accompanied, as it is, with the promise of eternal life.
* Display of Arminianism, Chap. X.
[From Joseph Belcher, editor, The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, Volume II, 1845; rpt. 1988, pp. 343-366. Document provided by David Oldfield, Post Falls, ID. -- jrd]
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