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FAITH OF GOD'S ELECT.
THE securing of the spiritual comforts of believers in this life, is a matter of the highest importance unto the glory of God, and their own advantage by the gospel. For God is abundantly willing that all the heirs of promise should receive strong consolation, and he hath provided ways and means for the communication of it to them; and their participation of it is their principal interest in this world, and is so esteemed by them. But their effectual refreshing enjoyment of these comforts, is variously opposed by the power of the remainders of sin, in conjunction with other temptations. Hence, notwithstanding their right and title unto them by the gospel, they are ofttimes actually destitute of a gracious sense of them, and consequently of that relief which they are suited to afford in all their duties, trials, and afflictions. Now the root whereon all real comforts do grow, whence they spring and arise, is true and saving faith; the faith of God's elect. Wherefore they do ordinarily answer unto, and hold proportion with, the evidences which any have of that faith in themselves; at least they cannot be maintained without such evidences. Wherefore, that we may be a little useful unto the establishment or recovery of that consolation which God is so abundantly willing that all the heirs of promise should enjoy, I shall inquire, What are the principal acts and operations of faith, whereby it will evidence its truth and sincerity in the midst of all temptations and storms that may befall believers in this world: and I shall insist on such alone as will bear the severest scrutiny by Scripture and experience. And,
The principal genuine acting of saving faith in us, inseparable from it, yea, essential to such acting, consists in the choosing, embracing, and approbation of God's way of
saving sinners, by the mediation of Jesus Christ, relying thereon, with a renunciation of all other ways and means pretending unto the same end of salvation.
This is that which we are to explain and prove.
Saving faith is our believing the record that God hath given us of his Son;' 1 John v. 10. And this is the record that God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son;' ver. 11. This is the testimony which God gives, that great and sacred truth which he himself bears witness unto, namely, that he hath freely prepared eternal life for them that believe, or provided a way of salvation for them. And what God so prepares, he is said to give, because of the certainty of its communication. So grace was promised and given to the elect in Christ Jesus before the world began; 2 Tim. i. 9. Tit. i. 2. And that is so to be communicated unto them, in and by the mediation of his Son Jesus Christ, that it is the only way whereby God will give eternal life unto any, which is therefore wholly in him, and by him to be obtained, and from him to be received. Upon our acquiescency in this testimony, on our approbation of this way of saving sinners, or our refusal of it, our eternal safety or ruin doth absolutely depend. And it is reasonable that it should be so; for in our receiving of this testimony of God, we 'set to our seal that God is true;' John iii. 33. We ascribe unto him the glory of his truth, and therein of all the other holy properties of his nature, the most eminent duty whereof we are capable in this world: and by a refusal of it, what lieth in us, we make him a liar, as in this place, ver. 10. which is virtually to renounce his being.
And the solemnity wherewith this testimony is entered is very remarkable, ver. 7. There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one.' The trinity of divine persons acting distinctly in the unity of the same divine nature, do give this testimony: and they do so by these distinct operations, whereby they act in this way and work of God's saving sinners by Jesus Christ, which are at large declared in the gospel. And there is added hereunto a testimony that is immediately applicatory unto the souls of believers, of this sovereign testimony of the holy Trinity; and this is the witness of grace and all sacred ordinances: 'There are three
that bear witness on earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood and these three agree in one;' ver. 8. They are not all essentially the same in one and the same nature, as are the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost; yet they all absolutely agree in the same testimony; and they do it by that especial efficacy which they have on the souls of believers to assure them of this truth. In this record, so solemnly, so gloriously given and proposed, life and death are set before us. The receiving and embracing of this testimony, with an approbation of the way of salvation testified unto, is that work of faith which secures us of eternal life. On these terms there is reconciliation and agreement made and established between God and men, without which men must perish for ever.
So our blessed Saviour affirms, 'This is life eternal, that we may know thee [Father] the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent;' John xvii. 3. To know the Father as the only true God, to know him as he hath sent Jesus Christ to be the only way and means of the salvation of sinners, and to know Jesus Christ as sent by him for that end, is that grace and duty which enstates us in a right unto eternal life, and initiates us in the possession of it: and this includes that choice and approbation of the way of God for the saving of sinners whereof we speak. But these things must be more distinctly opened.
1. The great fundamental difference in religion is concerning the way and means whereby sinners may be saved. From men's different apprehensions hereof arise all other differences about religion; and the first thing that engageth men really into any concernment in religion, is an inquiry in their minds how sinners may be saved, or what they shall do themselves to be saved: What shall we do? shall we do to be saved?' What is the way of acceptance with God? is that inquiry which gives men their first initiation into religion. See Acts ii. 37. xvi. 30. Micah vi. 6-8.
This question being once raised in the conscience, an answer must be returned unto it. I will consider,' saith the prophet, what I shall answer, when I am reproved;' Hab. ii. 1. And there is all the reason in the world that men consider well of a good answer hereunto, without which
they must perish for ever; for if they cannot answer themselves here, how do they hope to answer God hereafter? Wherefore, without a sufficient answer always in readiness unto this inquiry, no man can have any hopes of a blessed eternity.
Now the real answer which men return unto themselves, is according to the influence which their minds are under from one or other of the two divine covenants, that of works, or that of grace. And these two covenants taken absolutely, are inconsistent, and give answers in this case that are directly contradictory to one another: so the apostle declares, Rom. x. 5-9. The one says, the man that doth the works of the law, shall live by them; this is the only way whereby you may be saved: the other wholly waves this return, and puts it all on faith in Christ Jesus. Hence there is great difference, and great variety in the answers which men return to themselves on this inquiry; for their consciences will neither hear nor speak any thing, but what complies with the covenant whereunto they do belong. These things are reconciled only in the blood of Christ; and how the apostle declared, Rom. viii. 3. The greatest part of convinced sinners seem to adhere to the testimony of the covenant of works, and so perish for ever. Nothing will stand us in stead in this matter, nothing will save us, but the answer of a good conscience towards God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ; 1 Pet. iii. 21.
2. The way that God hath prepared for the saving of sinners, is a fruit and product of infinite wisdom, and powerfully efficacious unto its end. As such it is to be received, or it is rejected. It is not enough that we admit of the notions of it as declared, unless we are sensible of divine wisdom and power in it, so as that it may be safely trusted unto. Hereon upon the proposal of it, falls out the eternally distinguishing difference among men. Some look upon it, and embrace it as the power and wisdom of God: others really reject it, as a thing foolish and weak, not meet to be trusted unto; hereof the apostle gives an account at large, 1 Cor. i. 18-24. And this is mysterious in religion; the same divine truth, is by the same way and means, at the same time, proposed unto sundry persons, all in the same condition, under the same circumstances, all equally
concerned in that which is proposed therein: some of them hereon do receive it, embrace it, approve of it, and trust unto it for life and salvation; others despise it, reject it, value it not, trust not unto it. To the one, it is the wisdom of God, and the power of God; to the other, weakness and foolishness: as it must of necessity be one or the other, it is not capable of a middle state or consideration. It is not a good way, unless it be the only way; it is not a safe, it is not the best way, if there be any other; for it is eternally inconsistent with any other. It is the wisdom of God, or it is downright folly. And here, after all our disputes, we must resort unto eternal sovereign grace, making a distinction among them unto whom the gospel is proposed, and the Almighty power of actual grace in curing that unbelief which blinds the minds of men, that they can see nothing but folly and weakness in God's way of the saving of sinners: and this unbelief worketh yet in the most of them unto whom this way of God is proposed in the gospel; they receive it not as an effect of infinite wisdom, and as powerfully efficacious unto its proper end. Some are profligate in the service of their lusts, and regard it not; unto whom may be applied that of the prophet, Hear, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish,' Some are under the power of darkness and ignorance, so as that they apprehend not, they understand not the mystery of it; for the light shineth into darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.' Some are blinded by Satan, as he is the God of this world, by filling their minds with prejudice, and their hearts with the love of present things, that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, cannot shine into them. Some would mix with it their own works, ways, and duties, as they belong unto the first covenant, which are eternally irreconcilable unto this way of God, as the apostle teacheth, Rom. x. 3, 4. Hereby doth unbelief eternally ruin the souls of men; they do not, they cannot, approve of the way of God for saving sinners, proposed in the gospel, as an effect of infinite wisdom and power, which they may safely trust unto, in opposition unto all other ways and means, pretending to be useful unto the same end: and this will give us light into the nature and actings of saving faith, which we inquire after.