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Addressed to the Churches of the Northamptonshire Association.
THE EXCELLENCY AND UTILITY OF THE GRACE OF
Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great
God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.
On this delightful subject, we feel great pleasure in address: ing you. We congratulate you amidst all your sorrows, on your possessing such a hope; a hope which has foundations the most solid, and objects the most substantial. God has not put this jewel into your hands to be made light of. He would have you to up-. derstand it in order to prize it. His bestowing upon you a spiritual illumination is to this very end. He does not open your eyes to present you with mere spectacles of misery, nor call you by his grace as having nothing to bestow upon you : no, blessed be his
name, the eyes of your understandings are enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.
To assisting your meditations on this cheering subject, by show. ing its excellency and pointing out its great utility, wę devote this epistle.
We trust that what we have already communicated to you or various important subjects, has not been received in vain. We would not wish to trifle with you, and we trust our letters to you bave not been trifled with. Having therefore confidence in your readiness to examine and receive what we communicate, we are willing to impart unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye are dear unto 48!
Hope, or an expectation of future good,* is of so extensive an influence, that whether true or false, well or ill founded, it is one of the principal springs that keep all mankind in motion. It is vigorous, bold, and enterprising. It causes men to encounter dangers, endure hardships, and surmount difficulties innumerable, in order to accomplish the desired end. In religion it is of no less consequence. It is claimed by almost all ranks and parties of men. It makes a considerable part of the religion of those that truly fear God : for though in all true religion there is and must be a love to God and divine things for their own excellency ; yet God, who knows our frame, and draws us with the cords of a man, condescends also to excite us with the promise of gracious rewards, and to allure us with the prospect of a crown of glory.
* Hope, as its objects are future, is distinguished from enjoyment. Herein the portion of the saints is unlike that of the worldling, and even that of saints in glory. Also from love, the objects of which are past and present as well as future, whereas hope is confined to the last. As they are good, it is opposed to fear, which is the dread of evil. As they are both future and good, apu merely so, it is distinct from faith. We may be said to believe thing, past, as that the worlds were made ; and things evil, as the wrath to come; but cannot be said to hope in either. As it is an expectation, it is distinguished from desire. We may be said to desire what it is not possible we should ever enjoy; but we cannot hope unless there appear at least a possibility, and generally speaking some probability, of our possessing the object hoped for ; and in proportion as this probability appears to the mind great or mahl, hore or expectatipp is strong or Weat.
We wish you, brethren, seeing God bas given you everlasting consolation, and good hope through grace, to consider well the GOODNESS or EXCELLENCY of that divine gift. On this account it excels every other bope as much as a pearl excels a pebble. A great part of its excellency consists in its being so well-founded. Though our hope should aspire to the highest heavens, and could grasp in all the bliss of an eternal world, alas, what would it avail us if ill founded? The hope that is ill founded, is said to make ashamed, and so terminates in disappointment. It is to be feared thật many, (O that there may be none of us !) who are now towering high in expectation, will one day be ashamed and confounded because they thus had hoped.
The grand foundation of all good hope is the Lord Jesus Christ, God's, revealed Mediator, embraced by faith. On this rock the people of God in all ages bave built their bope, whatever other foundations sinners have devised. Of old God laid this in Zion. This was the subject of apostolic ministrations ; they held forth none other than him whom God had set forth to be a propitiation through faith in kis blood.
That the mediation of Christ is the primary ground of all good bope, will appear evident if we do but recollect (and 0, let us never forget :) the hopeless condition in wbich sin involved us. By our breach of covenant with God, the very idea of future good for us was totally annibilated. Nothing but eternal tribulation and anguish, as the reward of evil doers, was now to be expected. The image of God being totally effaced in us, his favour towards us was absolutely forfeited. Hence the least idea of hope from any other ground than the mediation of Christ is not only declarative of opposition to God's way of salvation, but is altogether a wild chimera. By the state of the fallen angels we may learn what ground is left for hope where no mediator is provided ; and what must have been our state bad we been left in their condition. These, void of all bope whatever, are reserved in everlasting chains under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day.
We are not unacquainted with the many false grounds on which sinners rest their hopes, but we as well know who has said, Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. We doubt not, brethren, but you have perceived the
vanity of a multitude of those things which buoy up the hopes of | a great part of mankind. Yourselves, it may be, were once the subjects of those delusory dreams whereof we trust ye are now ashamed. It yields us great pain to see such numbers of our fel. low-sinners standing on such slippery places! The mere mercy of God to the exclusion of Christ's mediation, not being so bad as some others, common honesty and civility between man and man, descent from pious parents, a place and a name among the godly, suffering much affliction in this life, legal convictious, superior knowledge, superstitious zeal ; these are some of the dangerous foundations, on which vast numbers of deluded mortals build their eternal ALL! But ye, brethren, have not so learned Christ. Be it your and our resolution, with holy Paul, to know nothing in this matter but Christ and him crucified ! · You will remember, dear brethren, it was necessary that this glorious Mediator should be revealed ere he could become a ground of hope. The amazing design of mercy was first laid in the eternal council ; hence the blood of Christ is termed the blood of the covenant through which prisoners in the pit become prisoners of hope : but whatever design of mercy might exist in the mind of God, that could not become a ground of hope till revealed by the word of God. Hence the promise of the woman's seed afforded the first and only dawn of hope to a lost world. Hence also the the word of God is frequently represented in scripture as that whereon our hope resteth.
Equally necessary is it that the mediation of Christ should be embraced by faith. We trust you need not be told that though this mediation be the sole meritorious ground of our hope, yet a special work of the Spirit of God must take place in us, before we can reasonably put in our claim for eternal bliss. The work of Christ gives to the elect sinner a title to its possession ; the work of the Spirit gives a meetness for its enjoyment. If we experience the latter, we may lay claim to a personal interest in the for
mer. These God has joined together, and let no man dare to put them asunder. Christ must be in us, ere he can be to us the hope of glory. The hope that maketh not ashamed is wrought by experience. The graces of the Spirit, however, become a ground of hope, not through any inherent merit, but in virtue of the promise of God; or rather they are the evidence of our interest in the promise. In numerous passages of holy writ, God has promised eternal life to all such as bear certain characters ; namely, to those that are of a broken and contrite spirit, that mourn for sin, believe in Christ, love him in sincerity, deny themselves, take up their cross, follow him, &c. &c. Hence, all who through grace are the subjects of these spiritual dispositions, enjoy a right, founded on such promises, to hope for eternal bliss : and this is another reason, why the word of God is frequently represented in scripture, as that whereon our hope resteth.
It is to be feared that many split upon this rock. We cautioned you against those who professedly build on other foundations than Jesus Christ; but these are not the only self-deceivers. There is a more refined sort, as to their professed principles, who build their hope on something more specious in appearance, but not a whit better in reality. These, brethren, you have more reason to be guarded against, since they are more frequent in your assemblies, and some of them less discernible, though not less dangerous than the former. These will frequently abound with supercilious treatment towards those who profess to build upon their own works—will abundantly exclaim against legal books and legal preaching ; which, by the way, is the name they give, not only to those performances wherein men are taught to expect eternal life as the fruit of their own doings, but as well to all those wherein practical godliness is pressed home. These much value themselves for their supposed orthodoxy, or soundness in the doctrine of grace ; nay, so valiant are they, many of them, for the TRUTH, that they will contend for it even at the tavern or upon the ale bench ! but they seem to have forgotten that part of sound doctrine, that faith without works is dead, being alone. * These talk
* Besides, it would be no great difficulty to prove that these people, withe all their boasted soundness, are unbelievers in the very essentials of the