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were not diminished, when his sufferings were at the height, and he seemed abandoned to his enemies; and, on the other, the insufficiency of any means to change a sinner's heart without the powerful efficacy of divine grace. The one malefactor, brought at length to deserved punishment, far from repenting of his crimes, regardless of his immediate appearance before God, thought it some relaxation of his torments, to join with the barbarous multitude in reviling Jesus, who hung upon a cross by his side. He was not ignorant that Jesus was put to death, for professing himself the Messiah; but he upbraided him with his character, and treated him as an impostor. In this man we see the progress, wages, and effects of sin. His wickedness brought him to a terrible end, and sealed him up under a fatal hardness of heart, so that he died desperate, though Jesus Christ was* crucified before his eyes. But his companion was impressed by what he saw; his heart relented. He observed the patience of the divine Sufferer; he heard him pray for his murderers; he felt himself miserable, and feared the God with whom he had to do. In this distress he received faith to apply to Jesus, and his prayer was granted and exceeded. He who sent the fair-spoken ruler away sorrowful, answered the first desire of a malefactor at the point of death; "This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise." This certainly was an instance of free distinguishing grace.
* Comp. Matth. xxvii. 39. How can it be expected that no more than a constant repetition of Christ's death, should be an invincible means of changing the heart, when the actual sight of his sufferings was attended with so little effect? Sin must be felt as the disease and ruin of the soul, and the sufferings of Jesus acknowledged as the only possible remedy, before we can truly sympathize with him, and say, I am crucified with Christ.
Here was salvation bestowed upon one of the vilest sinners, through faith in Jesus, without previous works, or a possibility of performing any. And as such, it is recorded for the encouragement of all who see themselves destitute of righteousness and strength, and that like the thief on the cross, they have no refuge or hope, but in the free mercy of God through Christ.
5. The medium, by which the Gospel becomes the power of God unto Salvation, is Faith. By faith we do not mean a bare assent, founded upon testimony and rational evidence, that the facts recorded in the New Testament are true. A faith of this sort experience proves to be consistent with a wicked life; whereas the Gospel-faith purifies the heart, and overcomes the world. Neither do we mean, a confidence of the forgiveness of sin impressed upon the mind in a sudden and instantaneous manner. Faith is indeed, founded upon the strongest evidence, and may often be confirmed by ineffable manifestations from the Fountain of light and comfort; but the discriminating property of true faith, is a reliance upon Jesus Christ, for all the ends and purposes for which the Gospel reveals him; such as the pardon, of sin, peace of conscience, strength for obedience, and eternal life. It is wrought by the operation of the Holy Spirit, and presupposes a knowledge of him and of ourselves; of our indigence, and his fulness; our unworthiness, and his merits; our weakness, and his power. The true believer builds upon the* person and word of Christ as the foundation of his hope; he enters by him as the only† door to the knowledge, communion, and love of God; he feeds upon him by faith in his heart, with thanksgiving, as‡ the bread of life; he em
* Matth. vii. 24.; xvi. 18, † John x. 9. + John vi. 54-57.
braces his righteousness as the wedding garment, whereby alone he expects admission to the marriagefeast of heaven. He derives all his strength and comfort from his influence, as the branch from the root. He intrusts himself to his care, as the wise and good shepherd of his soul. Sensible of his own ignorance, defects, and his many enemies, he receives Christy as his teacher, priest, and king, obeys his preceptor, confides on his mediation, expects and enjoys his powerful protection. In a word, he renounces all confidence|| in the flesh, and rejoices in Christ Jesus as his Saviour; and thus he attains to worship God in spirit and in truth, is supported through all the conflicts and trials of life, possesses a stable peace in the midst of a changing world, goes on from strength to strength, and is, at length, made more than conqueror, through him that has loved him. This is the life of faith. The degree and exercise of it is various in different persons, and in the same person at different times, (as has been already hinted;) but the principle itself is universal, permanent, and efficacious in all that truly believe. And nothing less than this faith is sufficient to give any man a right to the name of a Christian.
6. The final cause, or great ends of the Gospel respecting man, are** holiness and happiness; the complete restoration of the soul to the favour and image of God, or eternal life begun here, to be consummated in glory. What has been already said, renders it heedless to enlarge upon this head. Nor shall we concern ourselves here to vindicate this doctrine we have laid
* Matth. xxii. 11.; Rom. xiii. 14.
† John xv. 4, 5.
|| Phil. iii. 3
down from the charge of licentiousness; because it is our professed design in the progress of this work to prove, from the history of the church, not only that these principles, when rightly understood, will infallibly produce obedience and submission to the whole will of God, but that these only can do it. Wherever and whenever the doctrines of free grace and justification by faith have prevailed in the Christian Church, and according to the degree of clearness with which they have been enforced, the practical duties of Christianity have flourished in the same proportion. Wherever they have declined, or been tempered with the reasonings and expedients of men, either from a well meant, though mistaken fear, lest they should be abused, or from a desire to accommodate the Gospel, and render it more palatable to the depraved taste of the world, the consequence has always been an equal declension in practice. So long as the Gospel of Christ is maintained without adulteration, it is found sufficient for every valuable purpose; but when the wisdom of man is permitted to add to the perfect work of God, a wide door is opened for innumerable mischiefs-the divine commands are made void, new inventions are continually taking place, zeal is diverted into a wrong channel, and the greatest stress laid upon things, either unnecessary or unwarrantable. Hence, perpetual occasion is given for strife, debates, and divisions, till at length the spirit of Christianity is forgot, and the power of godliness lost, amidst fierce contentions for the form.
To sum up this inquiry in few words. The Gospel is a wise and gracious dispensation, equally suited to the necessities of man, and to the perfections of God. It proclaims relief to the miserable, and excludes none but those who exclude themselves. It convinces a sinner
that he is unworthy of the smallest mercy, at the same time that it gives him a confidence to expect the greatest. It cuts off all pretence of glorying in the flesh, but it enables a guilty sinner to glory in God. To them that have no might it increases strength; it gives eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame; subdues the enmity of the heart, shows the nature of sin, the spirituality and sanction of the law with the fullest evidence, and, by exhibiting Jesus as made of God, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption to all who believe, it makes obedience practicable, easy, and delightful. The constraining love of Christ, engages the heart and every faculty in his service. His example illustrates and recommends his precepts, his presence inspires courage and activity under every pressure, and the prospect of the glory to be revealed, is a continual source of joy and peace, which passeth the understanding of the natural man. Thus the Gospel filleth the hungry with good things, but it sendeth the rich and self-sufficient empty away, and leaves the impenitent and unbelieving in a state of aggravated guilt and condemnation,
Concerning the true ground of the opposition our Lord met with in the course of his ministry; and the objections and artifices his enemies employed to prejudice the people against him, and prevent the reception of his doctrine.
IF our knowledge of the history of Jesus was confined
to the excellence of his character, and the diffusive goodness that shone forth in all his actions; we should