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There can be no doubt, I think, that by this phrase is meant the gospel salvation. It is the same thing as the faith once delivered to the saints : the conmon faith, after which Titus is said to have been begotten. In a word, it is that which in the New 'Testament is peculiarly denominated the gospel.
But the question returns : What is the gospel ? Great diversity of opinion prevails on this subject. , One denomination of pro. fessing Christians tells you it is one thing, and another, another; and how shall we judge amidst such discordant accounts ? If I were to tell you that such and such doctrines constitute the gospel, you might answer, This is only your opinion, which is subject to error, equally with that of other people. For this reason I shall not attempt to specify particulars, but mention certain scriptural mediums by which you yourselves may judge of it.
1. We may form a judgment wherein the gospel consists, by the brief descriptions which are given of it. The New Testament abounds with these descriptions ; it delights in epitome. For example: God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. This is the common salvation; and surely I need not ask whether the doctrine wbich denies the perishing condition of sinners by nature, and supposes the unspeakable gift of heaven to be a mere fellow-creature, sent only to instruct us, and to set us a good example, can comport with this representation. Again : The Jews require a sign, or miracle, and the Greeks seek after wisdom : but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. This is the common salvation. We hear of preachers knowing their auditors, and preaching accordingly : but Paul went straight forward, regardless of the desires of men. Again : I determined not to know any thing among you but Jesus Christ and hina crucified. In each of these passages, the gospel is supposed to be summarily comprehended in what relates to the person and work of Christ. This is the foundation which God has laid in Zion : this is the common salvation. Again : I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory, or hold fast, what I preacked unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all, that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures ; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the scriptures. Here also we see what is the gospel, and what that is on which the present standing and final salvation of Christians depend : and I appeal to every thing that is candid and impartial in my hearers, whether such importance can be attached to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, upon any other principle than that of his dying in our stead, and rising again as our forerunner? Finally: This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. This language supposes, that in coming into the world, our Lord was voluntary, or that it was with design, which supposes his pre-existence; and that this design was to save sinners, the chief of sinners. In calling it a faithful, or true saying, it is intimated that it was so much the theme of the apostle's ministry, and so well known amongst Christians, as to become proverbial. A saying grown into credit by experience of its truth, is the definition which has been given of a proverb; and such was the true saying of Paul. This, therefore, must be the gospel-the common salvation.
2. We may judge wherein the common salvation consists, by the brief descriptions which are given of the faith of primitive Christians. This, as well as the gospel, is frequently epitomized in the New Testament; and it may be expected that the one will agree with the other. So we preach, and so ye believed. The : creed of the first believers, it has often been remarked, was very simple. I belieoe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.-Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? Believing is called receiving the witness, or record of God. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and that this life is in his Son. There are many other important truths, no doubt, the belief of which is necessary to salvation ; such as, the being and perfections of God, the evil of sin, &c.;
but they are all involved in the doctrine of Christ and him cruci. fied. This all-important principle is a golden link, which, if laid hold of, draws with it the whole chain of evangelical trutb. Let a man cordially embrace this, and you may trust him for the rest.
There are, I couceive, four things which essentially belong to the common salvation ; its necessity, its vicarious medium, its freeness to the chief of sinners, and its holy efficacy. If we doubt whether we stand in need of salvation, or overlook the atonement, or hope for an interest in it any otherwise than as unworthy, or rest in a mere speculative opinion, which has no effectual infuence on our spirit and conduct, we are at present unbelievers, and have every thing to learn.
II. Let us inquire WHEREFORE IT IS CALLED THE COMMON SALVATION? Three reasons may, perhaps, be assigned for this.
1. It is that in which all the sacred writers, notwithstanding their diversity of ages and gifts, are agreed in teaching. The Old Tes. tament writers understood it much less than the New : but they all died in the faith of it. They testified of the sufferings of Christ, and of the glory that should follow. To him gave all the prophets witness. The New Testament writers differed widely as to talents: Paul reasoned ; but Christ and him crucified was his theme. John had more of the affectionate : he was baptized, as it were, in love ; but the Lamb that was slain was the great object of it. There is no other name, said Peter, given under heaven, or among men, whereby we must be saved ; and John stood by his side and as. sented. If any of the New Testament writers could be supposed to dissent, it would be James, who wrote fully upon the necessity of good works ; but he was of the same faith, and only pleaded for showing it by his works.
2. It is that which is addressed to sinners in common, without distinction of character or nation. The messages of grace under the Old Testament, were principally addressed to a single nation ; but under the gospel they are addressed to all nations, to every creature. The promises of the gospel are indeed made only to believers; but its invitations are addressed to sinners. The gospel feast is spread, and all are pressed to partake of it, whatever has been their previous character.
3.. It is that in which all believers, notwithstanding their different attainments and advantages, are in substance agreed. It is fitly compared to milk, which is the natural food of children. There may be great darkness, imperfection, and error ; and many prejudices for and against distinctive names : but let the doctrine of the cross be stated simply, and it must approve itself to a renewed heart. A real Christian cannot object to either of those four things which were considered as belonging to the common salvation :-to the necessity of it, the vicarious medium of it, the freeness of it, or its holy efficacy.
III. Let us show THE IMPORTANCE OF ITS BEING THE GRAND THEME OF OUR MINISTRATIONS, AND THE FIRST OBJECT OF OUR ATTACHMENT.
It is that which God has ever blessed to the salvation of sinners, and the edification of believers. The primitive Christians lived upon it. Times of great revival in the church have always been distinguished by a warm adherence to it. In the dark ages of popery, the schoolmen, as they are called, employed themselves in deciding curious points; but at the time of the reformation, the common salvation was the leading theme. Those ministers whose labours have been more abundantly owned for the promotion of true religion, have been distinguished by their attachment to the common truth; and those churches which have abounded the most in vital and practical godliness, are such as have not descended to curious researches, nor confined their approbation to elegant preaching ; but have loved and lived upon the truth, from whomsoever it has proceeded. There are three things in particular, from which we are in danger of neglecting the common salvation, both as preachers and as hearers :
1. A pretended regard to moral and practical preaching, to the disregard of evangelical principle. All preaching, no doubt, ought. to be practical ; and there are no greater enemies to the cross of Christ than men who can bear nothing but what soothes and comforts them : but this is not the only extreme. Almost all the ad versaries of evangelical truth endeavour to cover their dislike to
it under an apparent zeal for morality, the Christian temper, and Christian practice.' If we neglect the common salvation in our ordinary labours, morality will freeze upon our lips, and neither the preacher nor the hearer will be much inclined to practise it. 'fo lose a relish for the common salvation, is the hrst step toward giving it up: and the effects of this we are warned against from the example of the angels who kept not their first estate.
2. The love of novelty. Both preachers and bearers are in danger of making light of common truths, and of indulging in a spirit of curious speculation. This will render preaching rather an entertainment, than a benefit to the soul. We are commanded to feed the church of God-not their fancies, or imaginations ; nor merely their understandings ; but their renewed minds. It indicates a vicious taste, and affords a manifest proof of degeneracy, where the common salvation is slighted, and matters of refinement eagerly pursued. The doctrine of Christ crucified is full of the wisdom of God, and will furnish materials for the strongest powers ; and here we may dig deep in our researches. But if this subject has no charms for us, what are we to do in heaven, where it is the darling theme?
3. A partial attachment to one or two particular truths, to the neglect of the great body of truth. It has frequently been the case, that some one particular topic has formed the character of an age or generation of men; and this topic has been hackneyed in almost every place, till the public mind has become weary of it; while other things of equal importance have been overlooked. Beauty consists of lovely proportion ; and herein consists the holy beauty of religion. When every part of truth bas its due regard, and every part of holiness its share in our affections, then will the beauty of Jehovah our God be upon us, and then will be establish the work of our hands.
Finally: The common salvation, though it affords grounds for a universal application for mercy, yet will be of no essential benefit to us, unless it be especially embraced. Notwithstanding the indefiniteness of gospel invitations, it is nevert hless true, that, he that beleiveth and is baptized, shall be saved, and he that believeth not, shall be damned.