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A LETTER TO A YOUNG FRIEND, In consequence of being asked to explain what is meant by believing in the l'ather, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, required of us in Baptism,
as indispensible to Salvation.
I Am not surprised at the request made to me in your last letter. You were baptised, as thousands are, in your infancy, and from that time till now it has never entered into your thoughts to consider what baptism meant, what was there promised on your behalf, or to what you stand pledged by reason of that promise. When I asked you if you believed in the Trinity, you said, “ Of course” - but you were too honest and too sensible to be satisfied with your own reply, and immediately added, “But I do not know what I believe about it.” I asked you if you did not remember it was said, all men should be baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that they who believe should be saved, and they who believe not, should be lost eternally, and I added, how could you believe without knowing what? You answered me that you knew the Bible to be true, and that those things were in the Bible, therefore you believed them of course; but that you did not attach any distinct meaning to the words, nor had ever seriously considered them. You spoke the truth of many besides yourself, who read and read, and bear and hear, and do not consider taking it of course, that as they have been baptized, all is right, and that they are believers. It surprises me not, therefore, that considering what we had spoken of after your return, you found your mind bewildered in endeavouring to form a collected idea of what had been my meaning. Nor am I more surprised, that opening book after book, and reading page after page, you found they all took it for granted that you knew what the religion of the gospel meant, whilst in fact you found yourself at a loss even to understand their terms. This sad result of past inconsideration, I will at your request endeavour to remove, by explaining to you the ideas which I and others, who have thought more than you, attach to these important words. But remember, my Love, that what I think, or what any body thinks, is comparatively of very little consequence. If you would believe aright, the Word of God must be your guide, and you must examine it carefully and with humble prayer, before you receive as truth the words of any man.
Man, created in perfect innocence, living in close communion with his God, the law deeply engraven on his heart, and power given him to fulfil it, transgressed and fell from his allegiance. The sentence of spiritual death affixed to the crime, was immediately executed—God's countenance was withdrawn, his image effaced from the soul, and every propensity to good destroyed. The law of God was still upon the conscience, and its requirements unabrogated—but neither will nor power remained to answer them. Man learned to fear the God he had been formed to love, and hated what he feared. The Creator having at the first ordained that every creature should bring forth its like, was not unjust in condemning all for one-their nature being the same, he knew that what one did, all would have done had they been tried.Gen. i, ii, and iii.
But God's primary sentence could not be recalled the rebellion of the creature could never change the purpose of Omnipotence: therefore the law of perfect obedience and filial love remained, with the awful sentence “Do this and live, transgress and die.”—In such fearful circumstance, from that hour to this, has every child of earth been born into the world.-Rom. iii.; Isaiah lix. Corrupt in nature as the root from which he sprung, he is required to be perfectly righteous-born at enmity with God, he is required to love him with an undivided heart: and misery eternal is the price of disobedience.
What we believe of mankind in general, we believe of ourselves individually. Our hearts are naturally averse to God and holiness-sin is our element, the world our God. The light of conscience is sufficient to make known our Maker's will, and his word has more clearly revealed it, but we have preferred our own. We believe that from our earliest years we have provoked our Maker in thought, in word, and deed. Ungrateful for his benefits and heedless of his threats, we have not even wished the natal curse removed, preferring the service of another Lord. If we have regarded him at all, it was as a rigid Master, whose service was the hard alternative of punishments we never felt that we deserved. So well are we convinced this has been our state, that far from laying any claim to Heaven, or pleading any merit of our own, we know, and feel, and are assured, that God would be perfectly just, would act consistently with his own holiness, were he at any moment to plunge us into everlasting misery: (Ephes. ii.) and we believe this is the state of every one alike from Adam until now.
God could not, consistently with his own immutability, pardon and receive the sinner till the penalty of sin was paid and the law fulfilled. Christ therefore, the second person of the Trinity, and one with the Father, consented to pay the penalty of sin, and work a perfect righteousness, in the stead of those who should confess their lost estate and accept his proffered mercy.—Isaiah liji.
But all will not accept it. Man, spiritually dead, is insensible of his state, is well-pleased with it, does not desire to change it. Ignorant of his own depravity, in love with the things of earth, and as little won by the Redeemer's love as awed by the Creator's vengeance, he treats all alike with careless unconcern or open defiance, lears the tale of mercy with stupid indifference, perhaps professes to believe it, but cares little if it be true or not.
The Saviour therefore would have died in vain, and man had not been saved, but for the further interference of the Deity. With persevering mercy, the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Godhead, one with the Father and the Son, accomplished the work of love.Ezek. XXX. 26. His gracious influence softens the obdurate heart of man, makes us deeply sensible of sin, and teaches us to hate it.---1 Cor. vi. 11. No longer doubtful of our need, no longer careless of the consequence—our Redeemer's sufferings cease to pass by us as an idle tale—they are our only refuge, our only hope. Without an attempt to excuse our guilt, we cast ourselves on his mercy, and consent to accept it on any terms. This is the assent required of us.--Isaiah lv. 1. He bore the punishment our guilt deserved-God is too just to exact it twice-He fulfilled to the utmost the holy law-God consents to take his obedience in the stead of that which we have failed to render.-Rom. v. It is for us to believe, to repent, and to obey.
Thus is the enmity between God and man removedthe offended Lord becomes again the tender Fatherwon by his love and renovated by his grace, we resume the duties and the feelings of a child.--2 Cor. v. His service becomes delightful to us-it is our greatest joy to do his will, our greatest grief that we do it so imperfectly. We do not cease to sin, for nature and habit resist our endeavours and the Spirit's influence-but we cease to love it; it is our heaviest burden.-Rom. vii. As we draw nearer to our God, we the more perceive our delinquency; and in proportion to our sense of guilt, is the love and gratitude we feel.-Luke vü. 42. Our services, imperfect as they are, are graciously accepted of our God; for it is love that offers them, and the Saviour who presents them. Whatever tends to separate us from our Heavenly Father, and withdraw our affections from things divine, wears the character of an enemy: therefore many things we enjoyed before, become necessarily distasteful to us. Our hopes, our views, and purposes are changed-but as we wrought it not for ourselves, we claim no merit for the change. 1 Cor. iv. 7. Depending on our Saviour's promise, not on our own desert, we have confidence, and peace, and joy.-Rom. viii ; Isaiah xlij. And do not the scriptures say that such as do sincerely so believe, and so act on their belief, and they only, will be saved ?--Acts iv. 12. All else, so far