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of merit. It allows that “ by the works of the law no flesh “can be justified in the sight of God;" it comes to him, not to buy, to earn, or to demand a recompense, but to implore mercy, the “ gift of
righteousness,” and “ the gift of eternal life “ through Jesus Christ,” and in that way by which the desert of sin and the justice of God are most clearly displayed to the universe. So that, in this method of “ justifying the ungodly” by faith alone, the whole glory is secured to the Lord ; and his justice, holiness, truth, and wisdom, as well as his abounding grace, are explicitly acknowledged and honoured. And, as faith itself is “ the gift of “ God;" while the weakest faith justifies as certainly as the strongest ; (though it does not bring such evidence of it to the conscience ;) so“ boasting “ is excluded,”! every ground of self-preference is removed, and a foundation is, as it were, laid in the believer's heart for the constant exercise of humility, dependence, patience, and meekness : and of that love which constrains the redeemed sinner to “live no longer to himself, but to him that died “ for him and rose again.
V. But it may be objected, that the scriptures frequently speak of repentance, conversion, love, obedience, doing the will of God, and forgiveness of enemies,as requisite, in order to our acceptance, and admission to the enjoyment of our heavenly inheritance: and how can this consist with the doctrine of justification by faith alone? No doubt these things are necessary: nay, there is no salvation without them, according to the time and
Rom. iii. 27,
opportunity afforded; nor does any man come short of salvation in whom they are found. These
things which accompany salvation ;"l they either prepare the heart for receiving Christ by faith, or they are evidences that he is thus received: yet Christ himself is our whole salvation, and faith alone receives him and appropriates the blessing ; not by believing without evidence that Christ is ours, but by applying to him, according to the word of God, that he may be ours.
Should it be further objected, that the decision of the day of judgment is always stated to be made “ according to men's works;" it may suffice to answer in this place, that no faith justifies except that " which works by love;" that love uniformly produces obedience; and that the works thus wrought will certainly be adduced as evidences in court, to distinguish between the true believer and all other persons. Finally, the objection, that this doctrine tends to licentiousness, seems to have been already sufficiently answered by the explanation given of the nature and effects of saving faith ; and I shall only add a most earnest exhortation to all, who hold the doctrine, to walk so circumspectly, “ that, whereas men speak evil of them as evil “ doers,” they may be ashamed that falsely accuse “ their good conversation in Christ.”2
Thus having explained the doctrine of justification by faith alone,“ through the righteousness of “ God, even of our Saviour Jesus Christ:"3 and proved it be that of the holy scriptures'; I would
1 Heb. vi. 9. 2 Pet. i. 5-11. ? ] Pet. ii. 12. iii. 16.
3 2 Pet. i. 1.
conclude by reminding the reader of its vast importance." How should man be just with God?” All our eternal interests depend on the answer which, in our creed and experience, we return to this question : for, if God have for the glory of his own name, law, and government, appointed a method of justifying sinners, and revealed it in the gospel ; and they, in the pride of their hearts, refuse to seek the blessing in this way, but will come for it according to their own devices; he may justly, and will certainly, leave them under merited condemnation. May God incline every reader to give this subject a serious consideration, with the day of judgment, and eternity before his eyes !—Nor let it be forgotten, that all the reformers from popery (who were eminent men, however some may affect to despise them,) deemed the prevailing sentiments concerning the way of a sinner's justification before God to be the grand distinction between a standing and a falling church.
Yet we should also observe, that “the truth” itself may be “held in unrighteousness ;” and they who receive this doctrine into a proud and carnal heart, by a dead faith, awfully deceive themselves, and quiet their consciences in an impenitent unjustified state ; and likewise bring a reproach upon the truth, and fatally prejudice the minds of men against it; of which they will have a dreadful account to give at the last day. For, did all who profess, and argue for, this “ doctrine of God our “ Saviour," adorn it by such a conduct, as it is suited to produce; pharisees, sceptics, aud infidels,
would be deprived of their best weapons, and must fight against the gospel at a vast disadvantage. May the Lord give us all that“ faith which work“ eth by love,” that “ by works our faith may be “made perfect;" as the grafted tree is in its most perfect state when every branch is loaded with valuable fruit. 1
When the apostle had reminded the Ephesians, that “ they were saved by grace, through faith ;' he added, " and that not of yourselves; it is the “ gift of God: not of works, lest any man should “ boast.”Hence we learn, that faith itself, the sole recipient of all the blessings of salvation, is the effect of a divine influence upon the soul ; that all real good works are the effect of a new creation ; and that it is the Lord's express design, by these means, effectually to "exclude boasting ;' “ that no flesh should glory in his presence.” This gracious operation of a divine power in changing the heart is represented in scripture under several metaphors; of which that of regeneration (or being" born again,” “ born of God,” and “ born of “ the Spirit,") is the most frequent and remarkable; and the present Essay will be appropriated to the discussion of this interesting subject.
Nicodemus, a pharisee, a scribe, and a member of the Jewish sanhedrim, came to our Lord by night: for, notwithstanding his conviction that Jesus was “a teacher sent from God,” he was probably afraid or ashamed of being known to consult him concerning the doctrine which he came to inculcate. The state of his mind accord
Eph. ii. 8-10.