FIRST, Though faith be a duty, the requirement of it is not to be considered as a mere exercise of AUTHORITY, but of INFINITE GOODNESS, binding us to pursue our best interest. If a message of peace were sent to a company of rebels who had been conquered, and lay at the mercy of their injured sovereign, they must of course be required to repent and embrace it, ere they could be interested in it; yet such a requirement would not be considered, by impartial men, as a mere exercise of authority. It is true the authority of the sovereign would accompany it, and the proceeding would be so conducted as that the honour of his government should be preserved; but the grand character of the message would be mercy. Neither would the goodness of it be diminished by the authority which attended it, nor by the malignant disposition of the parties. Should some of them even prove incorrigible, and be executed as hardened traitors, the mercy of the sovereign in sending the message would be just the same. They might possibly object that the government which they had resisted was hard and rigid; that their parents before them had always disliked it, and had taught them from their childhood to despise it; that to require them to embrace with all their hearts a message the very import of which was that they had transgressed without cause, and deserved to die, was too humiliating for flesh and blood to bear; and that if he would not pardon them without their cordially subscribing such an instrument, he had better have left them to die as they were; for instead of its being good news to them, it would prove the means of aggravating their misery. Every loyal subject, however, would easily perceive that it was good news, and a great instance of mercy, however they might treat it, and of whatever evil, through their perverseness, it might be the occasion.
If faith in Christ be the duty of the ungodly, it must of course follow that every sinner, whatever be his character, is completely warranted to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of his soul. In other words, he has every possible encouragement to relinquish his former attachment and confidences, and to commit his soul into the hands of Jesus to be saved. If believing in Christ be a privilege belonging only to the regenerate, and no sinner while unregenerate be warranted to exercise it, as Mr. Brine maintains,* it will follow either that a sinner may know himself to be regenerate before he believes, or that the first exercise of faith is an act of presumption. That the bias of the heart requires to be turned to God antecedently to believing has been admitted, because the nature of believing is such that it cannot be exercised while the soul is under the dominion of wilful blindness, hardness, and aversion. These dispositions are represented in the Scriptures as a bar in the way of faith, as being inconsistent with it * and which consequently require to be taken out of the way. But whatever necessity there may be for a change of heart in order to believing, it is neither necessary nor possible that the party should be conscious of it till he has believed. It is necessary that the eyes of a blind man should be opened before he can see; but it is neither necessary nor possible for him to know that his eyes are open till he does see. It is only by surrounding objects appearing to his view that he knows the obstructing film to be removed. But if regeneration be necessary to warrant believing, and yet it be impossible to obtain a consciousness of it till we have believed, it follows that the
* Motives, &c., pp. 38, 39.
+ See Prop. IV.
first exercise of faith is without foundation; that is, it is not faith, but presumption.
If believing be the duty of every sinner to whom the gospel is preached, there can be no doubt as to a warrant for it, whatever be his character; and to maintain the latter, without admitting the former, would be reducing it to a mere matter of discretion. It might be inexpedient to reject the way of salvation, but it could not be unlawful.
Secondly, Though believing in Christ is a compliance with a duty, yet it is not as a duty, or by way of reward for a virtuous act, that we are said to be justified by it. It is true God does reward the services of his people, as the Scriptures abundantly teach; but this follows upon justification. We must stand accepted in the Beloved, before our services can be acceptable or rewardable. Moreover, if we were justified by faith as a duty, justification by faith could not be, as it is, opposed to justification by works: "To him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." The Scripture doctrine of justification by faith, in opposition to the works of the law, appears to me as follows: By believing in Jesus Christ, the sinner becomes vitally united to him, or, as the Scriptures express it, "joined to the Lord," and is of "one spirit with him;" and this union, according to the Divine constitution, as revealed in the gospel, is the ground of an interest in his righteousness. Agreeable to this is the following language: "There is now, therefore, no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." -- "Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us righteousness," &c. -- "That I may be found in him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ." As the union which, in the order of nature, precedes a revealed interest in Christ's righteousness, is spoken of in allusion to that of marriage, the one may serve to illustrate the other. A rich and generous character, walking in the fields, espies a forlorn female infant, deserted by some unfeeling parent in the day that it was born, and left to perish. He sees its helpless condition, and resolves to save it. Under his kind patronage the child grows up to maturity. He now resolves to make her his wife; casts his skirt over her, and she becomes his. She is now, according to the public statutes of the realm, interested in all his possessions. Great is the transition! Ask her, in the height of her glory, how she became possessed of all this wealth; and, if she retain a proper spirit, she will answer in some such manner as this: It was not mine, but my deliverer's; his who rescued me from death. It is no reward of any good deeds on my part; it is by marriage; . . . it is "of grace."
It is easy to perceive, in this case, that it was necessary she should be voluntarily married to her husband, before she could, according to the public statutes of the realm, be interested in his possessions; and that she now enjoys those possessions by marriage: yet who would think of asserting that her consenting to be his wife was a meritorious act, and that all his possessions were given her as the reward of it?
Thirdly, From the foregoing view of things, we may perceive the alarming situation of unbelievers. By unbelievers, I mean not only avowed infidels, but all persons who hear, or have opportunity to hear, the gospel, or to come at the knowledge of what is taught in the Holy Scriptures, and do not cordially embrace it. It is an alarming thought to be a sinner against the greatest and best of beings; but to be an unbelieving sinner is much more so. There is deliverance from "the curse of the law," through him who was "made a curse for us." But if, like the barren fig tree, we stand from year to year, under gospel culture, and bear no fruit, we may expect to fall
under the curse of the Saviour; and who is to deliver us from this? "If the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward ; how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?"
We are in the habit of pitying heathens, who are enthralled by abominable superstition, and immersed in the immoralities which accompany it; but to live in the midst of gospel light, and reject it, or even disregard it, is abundantly more criminal, and will be followed with a heavier punishment. We feel for the condition of profligate characters; for swearers, and drunkards, and fornicators, and liars, and thieves, and murderers; but these crimes become tenfold more heinous in being committed under the light of revelation, and in contempt of all the warnings and gracious invitations of the gospel. The most profligate character, who never possessed these advantages, may be far less criminal, in the sight of God, than the most sober and decent who possesses and disregards them. It was on this principle that such a heavy woe was denounced against Chorazin and Bethsaida, and that their sin was represented as exceeding that of Sodom.
The gospel wears an aspect of mercy towards sinners; but towards unbelieving sinners the Scriptures deal wholly in the language of threatening. "I am come," saith our Saviour, "a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. If any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not -- (that is, not at present); for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day." It will be of but small account, in that day, that we have escaped a few of "the lusts of the flesh," if we have been led captive by those of the "mind." If the greatest gift of Heaven be set at nought by us, through the pride of science, or a vain conceit of our own righteousness, how shall we stand when he appeareth?
It will then be found that a price was in our hands to get wisdom, but that we had "no heart to it;" and that herein consists our sin, and hence proceeds our ruin. God called, and we would not hearken; he stretched out his hand, and no man regarded; therefore he will laugh at our calamity, and mock when our fear cometh. It is intimated, both in the Old and New Testament, that the recollection of the means of salvation having been within our reach will be a bitter aggravation to our punishment. "They come unto thee," saith the Lord to Ezekiel, "as the people come, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them." "And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come!) then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them." To the same purpose our Saviour speaks of them who should reject the doctrine of his apostles: "Into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out of the streets of the same, and say, Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding, be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you."
Great as is the sin of unbelief, however, it is not unpardonable; it becomes such only by persisting in it till death. Saul of Tarsus was an unbeliever, yet he "obtained mercy;" and his being an unbeliever, rather than a presumptuous opposer of Christ against conviction, placed him within the pale of forgiveness, and is, therefore, assigned as a reason of it, 1 Tim. i. 13.
This consideration affords a hope even to unbelievers. O ye self-righteous despisers of a free salvation through a Mediator, be it known to you that there is no other name given under heaven, or among men, by which you can be saved. To him whom you have disregarded and despised you must either voluntarily or involuntarily submit. "To him every knee shall bow."
You cannot go back into a state of non-existence, however desirable it might be to many of you; for God hath stamped immortality upon your natures. You cannot turn to the right hand, or to the left, with any advantage: whether you give a loose to your inclination, or put a force upon it by an assumed devotion, each will lead to the same issue. Neither can you stand still. Like a vessel in a tempestuous ocean, you must go this way or that; and go which way you will, if it be not to Jesus, as utterly unworthy, you are only heaping up wrath against the day of wrath. Whether you sing, or pray, or hear, or preach, or feed the poor, or till the soil, if self be your object, and Christ be disregarded, all is sin* and all will issue in disappointment “the root is rottenness, and the blossom shall go up as the dust." Whither will you go? Jesus invites you to come to him. His servants beseech you, in his name, to be reconciled to God. The Spirit saith, Come; and the bride saith, Come; and "whosoever will, let him come, and take of the water of life freely." An eternal heaven is before you in one direction, and an eternal hell in the other. Your answer is required. Be one thing or another. Choose you, this day, whom ye will serve. For our parts, we will abide by our Lord and Saviour. If you continue to reject him, so it must be: "nevertheless, be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come nigh unto you!"
Finally, From what has been advanced, we may form a judgment of our duty, as ministers of the word, in dealing with the unconverted. The work of the Christian ministry, it has been said, is to preach the gospel, or to hold up the free grace of God through Jesus Christ, as the only way of a sinner's salvation. This is, doubtless, true; and if this be not the leading theme of our ministrations, we had better be any thing than preachers. "Woe unto us, if we preach not the gospel!" The minister who, under a pretence of pressing the practice of religion, neglects its all-important principles, labours in the fire. He may enforce duty till duty freezes upon his lips; neither his auditors nor himself will greatly regard it. But, on the contrary, if by preaching the gospel be meant the insisting solely upon the blessings and privileges of religion, to the neglect of exhortations, calls, and warnings, it is sufficient to say that such was not the practice of Christ and his apostles. It will not be denied that they preached the gospel; yet they warned, admonished, and entreated sinners to "repent and believe;" to "believe while they had the light;" to "labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life;" to "repent, and be converted, that their sins might be blotted out;" to "come to the marriage supper, for that all things were ready;" in fine, to "be reconciled unto God."
If the inability of sinners to perform things spiritually good were natural, or such as existed independently of their present choice, it would be absurd and cruel to address them in such language. No one in his senses would think of calling the blind to look, the deaf to hear, or the dead to rise up and walk; and of threatening them with punishment in case of their refusal. But if the blindness arise from the love of darkness rather than light; if the deafness resemble that of the adder, which stoppeth her ear, and will not hear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely; and if the death consist in alienation of heart from God, and the absence of all desire after him, there is no absurdity or cruelty in such addresses.
But enforcing the duties of religion, either on sinners or saints, is by some called preaching the law. If it were so, it is enough for us that such was the preaching of Christ and his apostles. It is folly and presumption to affect to be more evangelical than they were. All practical preaching, however, is not preaching the law. That only, I apprehend, ought to be censured
* Prov. xv. 8, 9; xxviii.9; xxi. 4.
as preaching the law, in which our acceptance with God is, in some way or other, placed to the account of our obedience to its precepts. When eternal life is represented as the reward of repentance, faith, and sincere obedience, (as it too frequently is, and that under the complaisant form of being "through the merits of Christ,") this is preaching the law, and not the gospel. But the precepts of the law may be illustrated and enforced for evangelical purposes; as tending to vindicate the Divine character and government; to convince of sin; to show the necessity of a Saviour, with the freeness of salvation; to ascertain the nature of true religion; and to point out the rule of Christian conduct. Such a way of introducing the Divine law, in subservience to the gospel, is, properly speaking, preaching the gospel; for the end denominates the action.
If the foregoing principles be just, it is the duty of ministers not only to exhort their carnal auditors to believe in Jesus Christ for the salvation of their souls; but IT IS AT OUR PERIL TO EXHORT THEM TO ANY THING SHORT OF IT, OR WHICH DOES NOT INVOLVE OR IMPLY IT. I am, aware that such an idea may startle many of my readers, and some who are engaged in the Christian ministry. We have sunk into such a compromising way of dealing with the unconverted as to have well nigh lost the spirit of the primitive preachers; and hence it is that sinners of every description can sit so quietly as they do, year after year, in our places of worship. It was not so with the hearers of Peter and Paul. They were either "pricked in the heart" in one way, or "cut to the heart" in another. Their preaching commended itself to "every man's conscience in the sight of God." How shall we account for this difference? Is there not some important error or defect in our ministrations? I have no reference to the preaching of those who disown the Divinity or atonement of Christ, on the one hand, whose sermons are little more than harangues on morality, nor to that of gross Antinomians on the other, whose chief business it is to feed the vanity and malignity of one part of their audience, and the sin-extenuating principles of the other. These are errors the folly of which is "manifest to all men" who pay any serious regard to the religion of the New Testament. I refer to those who are commonly reputed evangelical, and who approve of addresses to the unconverted. I hope no apology is necessary for an attempt to exhibit the Scriptural manner of preaching. If it affects the labours of some of my brethren, I cannot deny but that it may also affect my own. I conceive there is scarcely a minister amongst us whose preaching has not been more or less influenced by the lethargic systems of the age.
Christ and his apostles, without any hesitation, called on sinners to "repent, and believe the gospel;” but we, considering them as poor, impotent, and depraved creatures, have been disposed to drop this part of the Christian ministry. Some may have felt afraid of being accounted legal; others have really thought it inconsistent. Considering such things as beyond the power of their hearers, they seem to have contented themselves with pressing on them things which they could perform, still continuing the enemies of Christ; such as behaving decently in society, reading the Scriptures, and attending the means of grace. Thus it is that hearers of this description sit at ease in our congregations. Having done their duty, the minister has nothing more to say to them; unless, indeed, it be to tell them occasionally that something more is necessary to salvation. But as this implies no guilt on their part, they sit unconcerned, conceiving that all that is required of them is "to lie in the way, and to wait the Lord's time." But is this the religion of the Scriptures? Where does it appear that the prophets or apostles ever treated that kind of inability which is merely the effect of reigning aversion as affording any excuse? And where have they descended, in their
exhortations, to things which might be done, and the parties still continue the enemies of God? Instead of leaving out every thing of a spiritual nature, because their hearers could not find in their hearts to comply with it, it may safety be affirmed they exhorted to nothing else; treating such inability not only as of no account, with regard to the lessening of obligation, but as rendering the subjects of it worthy of the severest rebuke. "To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the Lord is unto them a reproach, and they have no delight in it." What then? Did the prophet desist from his work, and exhort them to something to which, in their present state of mind, they could hearken? Far from it. He delivers his message, whether they would hear, or whether they would forbear. "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." And did this induce him to desist? No: he proceeds to read their doom, and calls the world to witness its justice: "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," Jer. vi. 10-19. Many of those who attended the ministry of Christ were of the same spirit. Their eyes were blinded, and their hearts hardened, so that they COULD NOT BELIEVE; yet, paying no manner of regard to this kind of inability, he exhorted them "to believe in the light while they had the light." And when they had heard and believed not, he proceeded, without hesitation, to declare, "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day."
Such also were many of Paul's hearers at Rome. They believed not; but did Paul, seeing they could not receive the gospel, recommend to them something which they could receive? No; he gave them "one word" at parting: "Well spake the Holy Spirit by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive. For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. Be it known therefore unto you that the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles, and that they will hear it."
When did Jesus or his apostles go about merely to form the manners of men? Where do they exhort to duties which a man may comply with and yet miss of the kingdom of heaven? If a man "kept their sayings," he was assured that he "should never see death." In addressing the unconverted, they began by admonishing them to "repent and believe the gospel;" and in the course of their labours exhorted to all manner of duties; but all were to be done spiritually, or they would not have acknowledged them to have been done at all. Carnal duties, or duties to be performed otherwise than "to the glory of God," had no place in their system.
The answer of our Lord to those carnal Jews who inquired of him what they "must do to work the works of God" is worthy of special notice. Did Jesus give them to understand that as to believing in him, however willing they might be, it was a matter entirely beyond their power? that all the directions be had to give were that they should attend the means and wait for the moving of the waters? No: Jesus answered, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." This was the gate at the head of the way, as the author of The Pilgrim's Progress has admirably represented it, to which sinners must be directed. A worldly-
wise instructor may inculcate other duties, but the true evangelist, after the example of his Lord, will point to this as the first concern, and as that upon which every thing else depends.
There is another species of preaching which proceeds upon much the same principle. Repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, are allowed to be duties, but not immediate duties. The sinner is considered as unable to comply with them, and therefore they are not urged upon him; but instead of them he is directed to "pray for the Holy Spirit, to enable him to repent and believe;" and this it seems he can do, notwithstanding the aversion of his heart from every thing of the kind. But if any man be required to pray for the Holy Spirit, it must be either sincerely, and in the name of Jesus; or insincerely, and in some other way. The latter, I suppose, will be allowed to be an abomination in the sight of God; be cannot therefore be required to do this; and as to the former, it is just as difficult and as opposite to the carnal heart as repentance and faith themselves. Indeed it amounts to the same thing; for a sincere desire after a spiritual blessing presented in the name of Jesus is no other than "the prayer of faith."
Peter exhorted Simon to pray, not with an impenitent heart that he might obtain repentance, but with a penitent one that he might obtain forgiveness; and this no doubt in the only way in which it was to be obtained, "through Jesus Christ." "Repent," saith he, "and pray to God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee." Our Saviour directed his disciples to pray for the "Holy Spirit;" but surely the prayer which they were encouraged to offer was to be sincere, and with an eye to the Saviour; that is, it was "the prayer of faith," and therefore could not be a duty directed to be performed antecedently and in order to the obtaining of it.
The mischief arising from this way of preaching is considerable. First, It gives up a very important question to the sinner, even that question which is at issue between God and conscience on the one hand, and a self-righteous heart on the other; namely, whether he be obliged immediately to repent and believe the gospel. "I could find nothing in the Scriptures," says he, "that would give me any comfort in my present condition; nothing short of 'repent and believe,' which are things I cannot comply with: but I have gained it from my good minister. Now my heart is at ease. I am not obliged immediately to repent and sue for mercy in the name of Jesus. It is not therefore my sin that I do not. All I am obliged to is to pray God to help me to do so; and that I do." Thus, after a bitter conflict with Scripture and conscience, which have pursued him through all his windings, and pressed upon him the call of the gospel, he finds a shelter in the house of God! Such counsel, instead of aiding the sinner's convictions, (which, as "labourers with God," is our proper business,) has many a time been equal to a victory over them, or at least to the purchase of an armistice. Secondly, It deceives the soul. He understands it as a compromise, and so acts upon it. For though he be in fact as far from sincerely praying for repentance as from repenting, and just as unable to desire faith in Christ as to exercise it, yet he does not think so. He reckons himself very desirous of these things. The reason is, he takes that indirect desire after them, which consists in wishing to be converted (or any thing, however disagreeable in itself) that he may escape the wrath to come, to be the desire of grace; and being conscious of possessing this, he considers himself in a fair way at least of being converted. Thus he deceives his soul; and thus he is helped forward in his delusion! Nor is this all: he feels himself set at liberty from the hard requirement of returning immediately to God by Jesus Christ, as utterly
unworthy; and, being told to pray that he may be enabled to do so, he supposes that such prayer will avail him, or that God will give him the power of repenting and believing in answer to his prayers; prayers, be it observed, which must necessarily be offered up with an impenitent, unbelieving heart. This just suits his self-righteous spirit; but, alas, all is delusion!
"You have no relief then," say some, "for the sinner." I answer, If the gospel or any of its blessings will relieve him, there is no want of relief. But if there be nothing in Christ, or grace, or heaven that will suit his inclination, it is not for me to furnish him with any thing else, or to encourage him to hope that things will come to a good issue. The only possible way of relieving a sinner, while his heart is averse from God, is by lowering the requirements of heaven to meet his inclination, or in some way to model the gospel to his mind. But to relieve him in this manner is at my peril. If I were commissioned to address a company of men who had engaged in an unprovoked rebellion against their king and country, what ought I to say to them? I might make use of authority or entreaty, as occasion might require; I might caution, warn, threaten, or persuade them; but there would be a point from which I must not depart: Be ye reconciled to your rightful sovereign; lay down arms, and submit to mercy! To this I must inviolably adhere. They might allege that they could not comply with such hard terms. Should I admit their plea, and direct them only to such conduct as might consist with a rebellious spirit, instead of recovering them from rebellion, I should go far towards denominating myself a rebel.
And as Christ and his apostles never appear to have exhorted the unconverted to any thing which did not include or imply repentance and faith, so in all their explications of the Divine law, and preaching against particular sins, their object was to bring the sinner to this issue. Though they directed them to no means, in order to get a penitent and believing heart, but to repentance and faith themselves; yet they used means with them for that purpose. Thus our Lord expounded the law in his sermon on the mount, and concluded by enforcing such a "earing of his sayings and doing them" as should be equal to "digging deep, and building one's house upon a rock." And thus the apostle Peter, having charged his countrymen with the murder of the Lord of glory, presently brings it to this issue: "Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out."
Some years ago I met with a passage in Dr. Owen on this subject, which, at that time, sunk deep into my heart; and the more observation I have since made, the more just his remarks appear. "It is the duty of ministers," says he, "to plead with men about their sins; but always remember that it be done with that which is the proper end of law and gospel; that is, that they make use of the sin they speak against to the discovery of the state and condition wherein the sinner is, otherwise, haply, they may work men to formality and hypocrisy, but little of the true end of preaching the gospel will be brought about. It will not avail to beat a man off from his drunkenness into a sober formality. A skilful master of the assemblies lays his axe at the root, drives still at the heart. To inveigh against particular sins of ignorant, unregenerate persons, such as the land is full of, is a good work; but yet, though it may be done with great efficacy, vigour, and success, if this be all the effect of it, that they are set upon the most sedulous endeavours of mortifying their sins preached down, all that is done is but like the beating of an enemy in an open field, and driving him into an impregnable castle not to be prevailed against. Get you, at any time, a sinner at the advantage on the account of any one sin whatever; have you any thing to take hold of him by, bring it to his sate and condition, drive it up to the head, and there
deal with him. To break men off from particular sins, and not to break their hearts, is to deprive ourselves of advantages of dealing with them."*
When a sinner is first seized with conviction, it is natural to suppose that he will abstain from many of his outward vices, though it be only for the quiet of his own mind: but it is not for us to administer comfort to him on this ground; as though, because he had "broken off" a few of "his sins," he must needs have broken them off "by righteousness," and either be in the road to life, or at least in a fair way of getting into it. It is one of the devices of Satan to alarm the sinner, and fill him with anxiety for the healing of outward eruptions of sin; while the inward part is overlooked, though it be nothing but sin. But we must not be aiding and abetting in these deceptions, nor administer any other relief than that which is held out in the gospel to sinners as sinners. And when we see such characters violating their promises, and falling anew into their old sins, (which is frequently the case,) instead of joining with them in lamenting the event, and assisting them in healing the wound by renewed efforts of watchfulness, it becomes us rather to probe the wound; to make use of that which has appeared for the detecting of that which has not appeared; and so to point them to the blood that cleanses from all sin. "Poor soul!" says the eminent writer just quoted, "it is not thy sore finger, but thy hectic fever, from which thy life is in danger!" If the cause be removed, the effects will cease. If the spring be purified, the waters will be healed, and the barren ground become productive.
I conclude with a few remarks on the order of addressing exhortations to the unconverted. There being an established order in the workings of the human mind, it has been made a question whether the same ought not to be preserved in addressing it. As, for instance, we cannot be convinced of sin without previous ideas of God and moral government, nor of the need of a Saviour without being convinced of sin, nor of the importance of salvation without suitable conceptions of its evil nature. Hence, it may be supposed, we ought not to teach any one of these truths till the preceding one is well understood; or, at least, that we ought not to preach the gospel without prefacing it by representing the just requirements of the law, our state as sinners, and the impossibility of being justified by the works of our hands. Doubtless, such representations are proper and necessary, but not so necessary as to render it improper, on any occasion, to introduce the doctrine of the gospel without them, and much less to refrain from teaching it till they are understood and felt. In this case a minister must be reduced to the greatest perplexity; never knowing when it was safe to introduce the salvation of Christ, lest some of his hearers should not be sufficiently prepared to receive it. The truth is, it is never unsafe to introduce this doctrine. There is such a connexion in Divine truth, that if any one part of it reach the mind and find a place in the heart, all others, which may precede it in the order of things, will come in along with it. In receiving a doctrine, we receive not only what is expressed, but what is implied by it; and thus the doctrine of the cross may itself be the means of convincing us of the evil of sin. An example of this lately occurred in the experience of a child of eleven years of age. Her minister, visiting her under a threatening affliction, and perceiving her to be unaffected with her sinful condition, suggested that "It was no small matter that brought down the Lord of glory into this world to suffer and die, there must be something very offensive in the nature of sin against a holy God." This remark appears to have sunk into her heart, and to have issued in a saving change.+ Divine truths are like chain-shot; they
* On the Mortification of Sin, Chap. VII.
+ Dying Exercises of Susannah Wright, of Weekly, near Kettering.
go together, and we need not perplex ourselves which should enter first; if any one enter, it will draw the rest after it.
Remarks nearly similar may be made concerning duties. Though the Scriptures know nothing of duties to be performed without faith, or which do not include or imply it; yet they do not wait for the sinner's being possessed of faith before they exhort him to other spiritual exercises; such as "seeking" the Lord, "loving" him, "serving him," &c., nor need we lay any such restraints upon ourselves. Such is the connexion of the duties as well as the truths of religion, that if one be truly complied with, we need not fear that the others will be wanting. If God be sought, loved, or served, we may be sure that Jesus is embraced; and if Jesus be embraced, that sin is abhorred. Or should things first occur to the mind in another order, should sin be the immediate object of our thoughts, if this be abhorred, the God against whom it is committed must, at the same instant, be loved, and the Saviour who has made a sacrifice to deliver us from it embraced. Let any part of truth or holiness but find place in the heart, and the rest will be with it. Those parts which, in the order of things, are required to precede it, will come in by way of implication, and those which follow it will be produced by it. Thus the primitive preachers seem to have had none of that scrupulosity which appears in the discourses and writings of some modern preachers. Sometimes they exhorted sinners to "believe" in Jesus; but it was such belief as implied repentance for sin: sometimes to "repent and be converted;" but it was such repentance and conversion as included believing: and sometimes to "labour for the meat that endureth unto everlasting life;" but it was such labouring as comprehended both repentance and faith.
Some have inferred from the doctrine of justification by faith in opposition to the works of the law, that sinners ought not to be exhorted to any thing which comprises obedience to the law, either in heart or life, except we should preach the law to them for the purpose of conviction; and this lest we should be found directing them to the works of their own hands as the ground of acceptance with God. From the same principle, it has been concluded that faith itself cannot include any holy disposition of the heart, because all holy disposition contains obedience to the law. If this reasoning be just, all exhorting of sinners to things expressive of a holy exercise of heart is either improper, or requires to be understood as merely preaching the law for the purpose of conviction; as our Saviour directed the young ruler to "keep the commandments, if he would enter into life." Yet the Scriptures abound with such exhortations. Sinners are exhorted to "seek" God, to "serve" him with fear and joy, to "forsake" their wicked way, and "return" to him, to "repent" and "be converted." These are manifestly exercises of the heart, and addressed to the unconverted. Neither are they to be understood as the requirements of a covenant of works. That covenant neither requires repentance nor promises forgiveness. But sinners are directed to these things under a promise of "mercy" and "abundant pardon." There is a wide difference between these addresses and the address of our Lord to the young ruler; that to which he was directed was the producing of a righteousness adequate to the demands of the law, which was naturally impossible; and our Lord's design was to show its impossibility, and thereby to convince him of the need of gospel mercy; but that to which the above directions point is not to any natural impossibility, but to the very way of mercy. The manner in which the primitive preachers guarded against self-righteousness was very different from this. They were not afraid of exhorting either saints or sinners to holy exercises of heart, nor of connecting with them the promises of mercy. But though they exhibited the promises of eternal life to any and every spiritual exercise, yet they never
taught that it was on account of it, but of mere grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ. The ground on which they took their stand was, "Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them." Hence they inferred the impossibility of a sinner being justified in any other way than for the sake of him who was "made a curse for us;" and hence it clearly follows, that whatever holiness any sinner may possess before, in, or after believing, it is of no account whatever as a ground of acceptance with God. If we inculcate this doctrine, we need not fear exhorting sinners to holy exercises of heart, nor holding up the promises of mercy to all who thus return to God by Jesus Christ.
[From Joseph Belcher, editor, The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, Volume II, 1845; rpt. 1988, pp. 383-393. Document provided by David Oldfield, Post Falls, ID. Formatted by Jim Duvall.]
British Baptist Index
Baptist History Homepage