Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

religion, no man can be acquitted before God, except on the ground of invincible ignorance. Such ignorance, where there are neither the means nor the power to remove it, is a misfortune and not a crime: but where ignorance proceeds from prejudice, or from evil; or where it is the effect of mental indolence, which will not undergo the labour of examination, it is then a crime, and not a misfortune. And while outward evil meets its punishment, and bodily indolence obtains its merited reward, we cannot suppose that inward evil will be exempted from a like fate, or mental indolence escape a similar punishment.

We therefore conclude, that a proper idea of religion and its doctrines is a necessary condition of salvation, (unless there be no means of acquiring such an idea ;) because without it sal. vation cannot be sought. And further, that for his ideas, as well as for his actions, man is responsible to God; since in most cases, the means of regulating those ideas are afforded him. But it must still be remembered, that all error in religion by no means supposes eternal condemnation; for errors may very properly be divided into two kinds; those which effectually destroy religion; and those which have only a tendency to weaken it. The first are those which affect the existence of God, his unity and his love; the importance of revelation, and the divine authority of the Saviour. The others are mere differences of opinion on the minute parts of doctrine, which requiring abstract reasoning, cannot on that account be so easily comprehended; or which, not being clearly revealed in the word of God, are not therefore essential to the salvation of man. Gross errors in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, by destroying the love of God; by annihilating true worship, and by leading to a rejection of his word, are dangerous in the extreme: but errors in the non-essentials of religion, though still in some degree dangerous, as they may lead to greater deviations from truth, are yet not sufficient to destroy religion, or to ruin the soul. All error is attended by its corresponding evil; but in the former case the evil, if persisted in, is irremediable : in the latter it may be remedied, if not in this life, in that which is to come.

On this subject, therefore, we conclude,-First, That as faith has a great and powerful influence upon the conduct, so a true faith is necessary to salvation. Secondly, That as this faith is the moving principle which actuates the bodily operations ; and as for these operations, without faith man cannot be responsible; so if he is responsible at all, it is for this faith by which his actions are governed. And Thirdly, That the faith referred lo, is a full and complete assent to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. Errors in minor points, though attended by evil, not being sufficient to prevent the salvation of

man.

We now turn to the last-named system, which declares, that faith alone is the condition of salvation; and that provided a man is possessed of this, whatever else he has or has not, his eternal happiness is secure. It is strange that any persons professing to read and believe the Scriptures, should become the advocates of a doctrine like this; and it is not less strange, that some of the most pious among Christians have stood forth to defend it. If, however, the Scriptures are to be received as a revelation of the mind and will of God, nothing is more certain than that faith though a condition, is not the only condition on which salvation depends. It is true, that when the Jailor at Philippi demanded of the Apostles the way of salvation, they replied, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved;" but the reason of this answer is obvious: the enquirer was a heathen: the very first step, therefore, which it was necessary for him to take, was to believe the gospel ; for until he had this belief, it was impossible for him to comply with its dictates. They, therefore, insisted principally upon this faith ; knowing that when his mind was thus far opened, he would be in a state of ability to perform every other condition, But in giving this answer, they never intended to assert, that faith was every thing required. The man was wandering in the desart of ignorance, and they pointed him to faith as the gate which forms the entrance into the path of life; (for the knowledge of God must precede the love of God ;) but they by no means wished him to understand, that on entering this gate he had done all that was necessary. Yet the gate must be entered before the way can be pursued ; and hence they pointed to faith as the first, though not the only thing needful.

Indeed it is plain, even by the acknowledgment of the most strenuous advocates of the system, that faith alone cannot save. None are more strenuous declaimers against inward corruption and outward immorality, as destructive of the spiritual inter

ests of man, than themselves. Yet a man in whose heart dwells enmity against God, may have the truths of the gospel fixed in his understanding, or, in other words, he

may

have faith : if faith then be all that is necessary, the only condition of justification, he is safe, whatever else he has not. But the advocates of " faith alone” declare, that he is not safe. Therefore, against their own doctrine, they prove, that mere faith is not all that is necessary, since inward affection must be joined with it. Again : the man whose outward conduct is utterly at variance with the commands of God, may have just and clear ideas of Christianity- he may have faith. If faith only be necessary, he is safe, however his life may be at variance with his principles. But the advocates of “ faith alonedeclare that he is not safe, unless his life is reformed. Therefore, by their own admission, faith only cannot save; since reformation of life must be added to it. It would be easy to pass through the remainder of the moral duties of Christianity,-repentance, watchfulness, temperance, holiness, &c. and to show, that even in their common discourses, the advocates of this system overturn their own doctrines:

But let us only admit the fact, that whatever God requires of man in the way of Christian duty, is required as a condition of salvation; as something necessary before eternal happiness can be obtained, and the doctrine is at once overthrown. holysays Jehovah," for I am holy.” Now either holiness is necessary to salvation or it is not. If it is not, then a man may live in sin, and yet arrive safely in eternal life! If it is necessary, then salvation cannot be attained without it: and if salvation cannot be obtained without it, it is to all intents and purposes a condition of salvation. Again “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Here again if repentance is not necessary to salvation, then salvation may be obtained without it: but if salvation cannot be obtained unless we repent; if without repentance we must necessarily “perish;" then it is something indisputably essential to salvation, therefore it is a condition of salvation. Once more. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and mind, and soul, and strength and thy neighbour as thyself.” “He that loveth not the Lord Jesus Christ let him be anathema maranatha.” “ He that hateth his brother is a murderer.” Love to God and charity to man are here represented as of so much importance, that they who possess them

« Be ye

not, however pure their faith, are murderers and accursed. And if they are accursed for want of love, though they have ever so much faith, then mere faith never did, and never can procure salvation. With this conclusion the Apostle agrees, “If I had all faith so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity I am nothing :” and thus it appears that repentance, love, and holiness are as absolutely conditions of salvation as faith itself, seeing that without them man must perish for ever. We shall quickly see too that outward duty is equally necessary with these. “This ye know,” says St. Paul, “ that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolator, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God, on the children of disobedience.”

If then man may be eternally condemned (not for want of faith, but) for want of morality; outward purity of conduct is essentially necessary to salvation, and if essentially necessary, it is an absolute condition. So far therefore, is faith from being the “only condition” of eternal life.

It is true St. Paul asserts that faith without the works of the law, is that whereby man is justified ; but this by no means proves the doctrine in question. The point at issue between the Apostle and his antagonists was, the comparative excellence of Judaism and the gospel. The first, with its ceremonies and forms, he calls the law, and these ceremonies themselves, the works of the law. The latter he terms faith; and asserts, that by this faith we are justified, without the performance of the Mosaic ceremonies; and in proof of this, he cites Abraham, who was justified before God, when Judaism, as a compilation of forms, did not exist. The propriety of the term faith, as applied to Christianity, and that of works, as given to the law, will at once be perceived by those who notice the difference of the two systems. The latter commenced with works--mere out. ward forms and ceremonies: the former commences with faithan assent of the understanding to the doctrines of God: and hence the Apostle applies to each system the name of that principle upon which it is founded. But as it by no means follows that a foundation is the only essential part of a building, so it is equally improper to say that faith, which is the first stone in the spiritual building, is the only essential part of it, and the only thing necessary. Indeed, if we make such an assertion, we must (as we have observed above) contradict the far greater portion of the word of God.

There are three things which operate in the justification of a sinner- love, faith, and works : and these must operate together, before justification can be complete. We have already said, that man is a being composed of three principlegin will, understanding, and operation. Now justification properly signifies, to make just : not merely to be accounted so, but really to be just : for God, who is incapable of being deceived, can never view a sinner as a just person, however strong his faith, or high his profession. Before man can be justified, the powers of his mind must be brought into order, and directed toward their proper objects. His will must be cleansed and made just; his understanding enlightened, and his conduct reformed. Now faith, or truth, operates upon the understanding, and as this operation in the understanding is the beginning of justifi. cation, so faith is the first operating power. To illustrate this, let us set before our eyes a man, ignorant, corrupt, and depraved, an enemy to God, and a slave to sin. The affections of such a man are all in opposition to God; his understanding is filled with false ideas of himself and of his Maker; and his conduct, as an effect of inward evil, is depraved and brutish. By some of those means which the mercy of God has provided for our regeneration, light breaks in upon his mind, and for the first time he perceives his danger and the way by which he may escape it. He hears, and he believes, that love to God and charity to man, are necessary to happiness; he hears and believes, that his present feelings are the very reverse of those affections. He reads the word of God, and his mind bears witness to its truth, and to the excellence of its doctrines and precepts. This is faith-the breaking in of light upon the understanding—the unveiling of falsehood and truth : and when the light thus breaks in, the work of justification has commenced, but yet the man is not justified.

The natural effect of this light is, the discovery of evil, in the heart and in the conduct; but before evil can be put away, the will must be renewed. It is not enough that truth is seen, it must also be loved. It is not enough that the precepts of God are assented to, there must, also, be a wish to perform them : and when this desire arises in the heart, and truth is really loved, and obedience really desired -- and when, from these

« ZurückWeiter »