« AnteriorContinuar »
THE ORDENARY MEANS OF GRACE.
WHAT THEY ARE;
WHAT IS THEIR INFLUENCE.
1 Corinthi ANs iv. 15.
For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers : for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel.
In the last discourse, I attempted to prove, that there are Means of Grace and Salvation: the first subject, then proposed for discussion. I shall now endeavour, II. To show What they are ; and, III. To explain their Influence. The Means of Grace may be distributed into a greater or less number of divisions, without any material disadvantage. At the present time, it will, however, be useful to mention only those, which are of peculiar importance. Of these, the Gospel, by which I here intend the Scriptures at large, is ever to be regarded as the sum : for it plainly involves them all. The Gospel is especially to be considered as being efficacious to salvation, when it is preached; this being that institution of God, to which His peculiar blessing, life for evermore, is especially annexed in the Gospel itself. Still, it is ever to be remembered, that in every lawful, serious use of its instructions, precepts, warnings, threatenings, invitations, and promises, it is possessed of the same general nature, and influence. When we speak of the Means of grace, in the plural, we always intend either different modes of applying the Gospel, or some or other of its Precepts, or Ordinances, to the human Understanding, or Affections; or the performance of some act, or series of acts, enjoined in the Scriptures. It will be proper further to observe, that the phrase, which I have here used, is commonly employed to denote, both the Means by which, in the usual course of providence, grace is originally obtained; and the Means of increasing it, when once obtained. Under this head are included, I. The Preaching of the Gospel; II. The Reading of the Scriptures ; III. Prayer; IV. Correspondence with religious men; V. Religious Meditation; particularly Self-Examination; and, VI. The Religious Education of Children. To these may be added, as efficacious to the same end, although differing in several respects from all those already mentioned, the instructive and monitory, the merciful and afflictive, Dispensations of Divine Providence to ourselves and others. It ought to be remembered, that I consider none of these as Means of Grace, in any other sense, than as they display, and impress upon the mind, the Truth of God. In the Scriptures, all these things appear to sustain the character, which I have attributed to them. The Law of the Lord, says David, is perfect; converting the soul: The testimonies of the Lord are sure; making wise the simple. Search the Scriptures, says our Saviour to the Jews, for in them ye think ye have the words of eternal life. How shall they believe, says St. Paul, in him, of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher 2 So then, Faith cometh by hearing ; and hearing by the Word of God. God be merciful to me a sinner, said the Publican, who went up to the temple to pray: and our Saviour informs us, that he went down to his house, justified rather than the Pharisee. He that walketh with wise men, says Solomon, shall be wise. Examine yourselves, says St. Paul, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves : know ye not your own selves; how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobate? This exhortation is obviously given to persons, supposed by the Apostle to be, individually, of different moral characters; and is plainly given to them all, whatever their character might be. Stand in awe, said David to his enemies, and sin not : commune with your own heart upon your bed; and be still. Keep thy heart, said David to Solomon, with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Train up a child in the way he should go; says Solomon, and when he is old, he will not depart from it : and again, The reproofs of instruction are the way of life. Fathers, says St. Paul, Train up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. These and many other passages, of a nature generally similar, I consider as directing, either mediately, or immediately, the conduct of sinners. Most of them are so obviously of this character, as apparently to admit of no dispute. A part of them may, I am aware, admit of objections to this construction. But, if these were to be given up, the rest would, I apprehend, be abundantly sufficient to answer the purpose, for which they have been quoted. That they are directed to such objects, as I have termed Means of Grace, will not be questioned. With the instruction, furnished us concerning this subject by the Word of God, we are bound to unite that also, which is exhibited to us by his Providence. If certain measures have been customarily crowned with success in the pursuit of salvation; and other measures, or the omission of these successful ones, have terminated without that success ; then we are warranted to conclude, that the course, which has been heretofore successful, will be again. We are warranted to conclude, that what God has usually blessed, he may confidently be expected to bless; and that the conduct, which has been regularly followed by impenitence and unbelief, will produce, hereafter, no other consequences. But, so far as man can judge, one general course of conduct has, in fact, been usually crowned with success in this mighty concern, from the beginning. The preaching and hearing of
the Gospel, and the diligent, anxious use of those, which I have styled Means of Grace, have been actually followed by faith, repentance, and holiness, from the promulgation of the Gospel to the present time. The same things may, therefore, be reasonably expected to produce the same consequences hereafter. III. I shall now endeavour to explain the Influence of these Means upon Mankind. Before I begin this explanation, I wish to remark, that, although I should fail of giving a satisfactory account of this subject, the failure would, in no degree, affect the truth of the doctrine. If the evidence alleged has been sufficient, and the conclusions have been fairly drawn; then the doctrine is true. Nor will my ignorance, or that of any other persons, concerning the Manner, in which the event referred to is accomplished, and the doctrine true, make any difference with respect to the principal point. We know, persectly, the Existence of many facts; while of the Manner, in which they are accomplished, we are unable to form any adequate conception. The Influence of the Means of Grace upon mankind may, if I mistake not, be explained under the two general heads of Instruction; and, Impression. These I shall now consider, in the order already specified. 1. The Means of Grace become such by Instruction. It will be universally acknowledged, that men, according to St. Paul's declaration, cannot believe on him, of whom they have not heard; nor call on him, in whom they have not believed. If God, the Father, or the Son, be unknown; it is plain, that He can neither be trusted, invoked, nor obeyed. There can be no known relation, in this case, between the creature and the Creator; and therefore, on the part of the creature, no known, or possible, duty to the Creator. Where there is no law, there is no transgression; and where there is no knowledge, either actual or possible, of a law, there is, in the fullest sense, no law. The knowledge of God, therefore, his Law, and our obligation to obey it, is indispensable even to our possible obedience, or disobedience.
When mankind had fallen, and Christ had made an expiation for their sins; it was equally, and absolutely, necessary, in order to their acceptance of Christ, which then became their duty, that they should know this Glorious Person, in such a sense, as to enable them to exercise faith in him as their Redeemer. Without such knowledge, it is naturally impossible for us to believe in Him at all. The same things are equally true of every religious duty, and subject. We cannot perform any duty, however well disposed, unless it be known to us; nor be required to perform it, unless such knowledge be attainable. Thus it is evident, that the Gospel is indispensable to the very existence of Christianity in the mind of man: and, as the Gospel cannot be of any possible use to man, unless known by him: so the knowledge of the Gospel is indispensable to the existence of faith, repentance, and holiness. It is indeed perfectly obvious, that God can, with infinite ease. reveal the fundamental truths, and all other truths, of the Gospel to any man immediately, as he did to St. Paul. This, however, is not to be expected; as it is certainly no part of his ordinary providence. In the usual course of that providence, men are taught the Gospel by Preaching, Reading, and other modes of instruction. These, or some of these, are therefore indispensable, in the usual course of things, to the existence of Christianity in the minds of men. Hence, in one respect, the Gospel is said to be the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; and hence, in the same respect, it is said, that, when the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. In the same manner Religious Education, JMeditation, Correspondence with religious men, and the Reading of religious Books. become, thus far, Means of salvation to mankind. In all these ways the Word of God is made known to mankind: and all of them have, and were designed by God to have, their peculiar advantages. Among the things, most necessary to be known by us in or. der to our salvation, our own hearts, or moral characters, hold a primary place. I know of no manner, in which he, who feels himself to be whole, can realize, that he needs a physician. To