I HAVE frequently observed to you that when Men are resolved to retain their Sins, and go on in their evil Practices; and yet not to cast away all Hopes of future Happiness; they are ready to lay hold on my obscure, or mistaken, Text of the New Testament: and to draw it to their own Purpose; Without considering the Purpose of the Writer, or laying the whole Tenour of the Gospel together. One of this sort of Passages, relating to Faith, I considered in my last Discourse; and endeavoured to shew that no Encouragement could be designed in it for any to rely on a bare Belief of the Gospel, without the bringing forth those good Fruits, and practising those Moral Duties, which the Gospel it self recommends.
ANOTHER of the like sort, is That which I have now read to you; which some Men of weak Understandings, or strong Passions, may be apt to separate from the rest of this Epistle, and consider it so much by it self, as to imagine that it was the Apostle's Design in it to make the Calling upon the Name of God, or of our Lord Jesus Christ, the whole of the Gospel-Covenant; and to affix Salvation to the mere outward joining in the public Acts of Christian Profession, and Worship. This is a very great Error: and must prove at last a very fatal Mistake. And tho' it be indeed such a Mistake as one would think no one who considers the Nature of God, or all his Declarations in the Gospel, could permit himself to be guilty of; yet we find by Experience that many professed Christians do at least seek for Ease this way; and find as much as any such poor Pretence can give to the Conscience of such a Creature as Man is.
IT cannot therefore be accounted unnecessary or improper; to consider the Case of such professed Christians as allow themselves in the Commission of known Sins: and yet receive Comfort, and entertain Hopes of future Happiness, from their devout, and repeated Performance of some outward Acts of Christian Profession, and Worship. They know that they continue in the Practice of Sin. But because they feel a Warmth of what they imagine to be Devotion in the Worship of God; because they frequent the public Prayers, or Sacrament of the Lord's Supper; because they hear his Word with some Attention and Zeal; upon such Accounts as these, they hope for his Favour at last, and perceive some Satisfaction and Rest in that Hope for the present: imagining, perhaps, that St. Paul is on their side, and hath given it as his Judgment, that whosoever should call upon the Name of the Lord, as they do, should be saved.
ONLY, before I some to speak particularly to the Case of such Christians, I must give you a true Account of St. Paul's Design in this part of this Epistle; which will at the same time lead you to the true meaning of the Words of the Text: viz. that He is here disputing against Two Errors of the Jews. The one is, their seeking Justification by the Law of Moses; and rejecting the Faith of Jesus Christ, and the Gospel preached to them as the only Method of Justification: and the other is, their imagining that the Messiah, whom they had been taught to expect, was to be of Benefit only to themselves; and that the Gentiles were to have no part in his Blessings. There two Errors, you may see, gave St. Paul no occasion of speaking particularly in this place of the Necessity which professed Christians lay under, to practise all Virtue; or any otherwise than in general Terms, of the Christian Faith, in Opposition to these Mistakes. It was enough for his Purpose to put them in mind that, according to the Law it self, they must seek for Justification in another Method, distinct from that of the Works of the Law of Moses; that this Justification had been declared by their own Prophets to be of such a nature, as that it must be effected by means of Faith; and that the same Prophets had enlarged the Bounds of the Kingdom of the Messiah, and had promised this Blessing to all true Believers wheresoever dispersed thro' the World.
THE first of these He doth, ver.4. For Christ is the End of the Law; that is, the Law it self leads to Justification by the Gospel: because, as it follows, ver.5. Moses himself proposeth Justification by the Law upon no other Terms, but that of a perfect fulfilling the whole Law in every Tittle; Now, none of you can pretend to this: and therefore you ought to be willingly led to seek for Justification, or Acquittance from your past Sins and Failings, by believing and embracing the Gospel.
As to the second; He puts them in mind, ver.11. that Isaiah himself, one of their own Prophets, speaking of the Messiah, had declared long ago, that the true Method of obtaining the Assurance of God's Favour was by believing in Him, when He should appear; and by entering into his Religion, And then He argues, from the Latitude of this Declaration, that whosoever, whether Jew or Greek, takes this Method, shall be saved; alledging another of their Prophets, who had likewise, in speaking of the Kingdom of the Messiah; declared that whosoever, without any Exception of Gentile more than Jew, shall call upon the Name of the Lord, that is, truly receive his Religion, let him be of what Nation or Family soever, shall be saved; shall be saved by this from the Guilt of his past Sins; and, if He be sincere in this Profession, will infallibly be put hereby into a State of Salvation, and obtain it most certainly at the great Day of Accounts.
IT very plainly, therefore, appears that St. Paul's Design was not to fix the Terms of final Salvation; or to tell Christians exactly what was required of them: but, in general, to tell the Jews that it was the Voice of their Law, and their Prophets, that Justification could not be by their Law; and that the true Method in which they must come to be acquitted from the Guilt of their past Sins; and made happy at last, is the believing in Jesus Christ, and seeking this Happiness in the Ways proposed in the Gospel; and that in this Method the Gentiles had as real a Right to God's Mercy, as themselves.
HAVING thus given you a View of the Apostle's Design in this part of his Epistle to the Romans; I shall now consider the Pretence of such as are led by this, or any other like Passage in the New Testament, or by any false Motive, to place their Confidence in the external Parts of Religion, whilst they manifestly refuse to permit it to have any vital Influence upon their Minds; and openly allow themselves in an habitual Course of Sin. And,
1. FROM what hath been said already; it cannot but appear absurd to take a general Expression of St Paul's, used upon quite another Occasion; and to apply it to what was not then in his Thoughts, or in his Design. He doth say, indeed, that the true Way to Salvation is the believing in Jesus Christ: and the external Profession of that Belief: in Opposition to such as sought for Justification by Moses's Law. But it is very unfair to argue from hence, that therefore whosoever doth call upon the Name of the Lord Jesus, tho' He live in constant Rebellion to his Laws, shall at last be made happy by Him; and that nothing but this external Act of Religion is required of Christians. So that St. Paul's manifest Design forbids us to apply his Words to what was not at all his Intent in this place.
2. IF the plain Drift of his Argument did not suppose this; that it would be the highest Absurdity to deduce any such Consequence from his general Declaration of God's Favour to such as should come in to the Profession of the Christian Religion. For suppose a Person should be commissioned to assure a Company of Rebels, that whosoever of them should resign themselves up to the Mercy of their rightful Prince; and own him publickly; and call upon his Name in their Petitions, and Submissions; should be saved from Punishment: would it not be the most unfair and absurd Conclusion, if they should argue from hence, that Prince required nothing from them but this external Act of Submission; and that this would be for ever sufficient to secure his Favour; tho' they should after this reassume their former Behaviour; openly violate his just Commands; and affront his Government? Who would not join in condemning such an hypocritical Submission as this? And who would not think it just, that their Punishment should be doubled upon them, even for the sake of this pretended Submission? And yet, Are the Dealings of many Men with God Almighty's Declarations, in the least degree, better, or more justifiable? He sends his Son to entreat those who are Rebels against Him, to be reconciled to Him: and he declareth by Him that whosoever comes in to Him, and believes, and calls upon him, shall be in a safe Condition, and kindly received by him. And they argue from hence, that this external Act of Submission, or Homage, is enough; and that they may safely rebel against Him for the future: so they do but in Words acknowledge Him. Whereas the Submission required, is a sincere, and hearty Submission: which it cannot be, if it be accompanied with Dishonour, Disrespect, and Disobedience, in Actions. In this Case, Men should be convinced by their own Maxims, and Principles. For if they abhor the Man who pretends Friendship, or Submission, whilst he neglects all Opportunities of doing them Service; or perhaps employs his Time in affronting and injuring them: how can they possibly imagine that any such general Declaration of God's Favour to such as call upon his Name, or perform any outward Acts of Religion, was intended to make Men easy under a Course of Sin; or to be applied to any Performances but what proceeded from a sincere and upright Mind, full of a true Sense of Religion, and bringing forth such Fruits as Sincerity cannot be void of? So that were this Declaration in the Text separated from the Design of the Apostle; and taken entirely by it self: it is contrary to all the Maxims, and all the Rules of proceeding amongst Men, to interpret it so, as to take Courage from it to affront Almighty God by the Disobedience of our Lives; and to hope in his Mercy merely on Account of some external Performances of religious Worship. But, to proceed to other Considerations.
3. THIS Pretence, which I am now examining, doth really debase the Value of Virtue, in the Eyes of God, under the Gospel-Dispensation, below what it was under the Influence of the Ceremonial Law it self. When that Law was in force, one would have thought, that Men might then, if ever, have trusted to make themselves acceptable to God by the Externals of Religion; by Rivers Oil, and Thousands of Rams: yet we find even then, the Question asked, What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly; and to love Mercy and to walk humbly with thy God? The Moral Virtues were the Things, even then, insisted on, when the Assistances, and Motives to them were not so great, or not so apparent; and when the Minds of the Jews could not but be more amused, and diverted from them, by their numerous and costly Services. And can any one believe that, under the Gospel, in which God hath declared a Day of Judgment to come, and pronounced his Wrath more openly, than ever, against Sin; and in which He hath promulgated the greatest Motives and most powerful Assistances; that, under this Gospel, I say, God should put such a Value upon the external Performances of Religion, as to make insignificant the more weighty Matters of it? That He, who said under the Law, What doth the Lord require of thee, but to practise the Moral Duties? should, under the Gospel, say, What doth the Lord require of thee, but to call upon his Name, or to hear his Word? That He, who laid such Stress upon Holiness, and Virtue, even when He had consulted Pomp and Ceremony in the Jewish Religion, should now in effect disengage Men from all strict Obligation to that Holiness and Virtue; and turn all their Thoughts upon external Acts of Devotion, and Religion, when He hath called the World to a Spiritual Religion, void, of all that unnecessary Pomp, and Ceremony? Who can believe this? Or who can fix so great an Absurdity upon the Christian Religion? And if we cannot in Words fix such an Absurdity upon it; let us not entertain, even in our most retired Imaginations, any such Opinion, or Notion, as doth effectually lay this Scandal upon the most holy Religion that ever yet appeared in the World.
4. GIVE me leave to put you in mind of those many plain, unexceptionable, Texts of the New Testament, by which I so fully proved, in the former part of my present Design, that the actual Amendment of our bad Lives, and the Practice of all Holiness and Virtue, was indispensably required of us in the Gospel-Dispensation; and to argue from thence that it cannot be the Intent of any Passage, in the same New Testament, to fix Salvation upon any external Acts of Religion unaccompanied with Holiness; or paid to Almighty God in order to appease him for our Continuance in our Sins. Remember particularly Two Passages: the one of our blessed Lord himself; the other of St. Paul, the same Apostle who applies to Christians this general Declaration in the Text.
THE first is that in Matth. vii.22, 23. Verses: where, after our Lord hath declared that it is not the calling upon his Name, without doing his Father's Will, that can save us at last; He goes on farther, Many will say to me in that Day, Have we not prophesied in thy Name and in thy Name have cast out Devils; and in thy Name done many wonderful Works? and then will I profess unto them, never knew you. Depart from me, ye that work Iniquity. So that, supposing Persons can even plead at last that they have not only professed his Religion; but done many Things, beyond the Common Pitch of Believers, by the Power of his Name: yet they are in a desperate Condition, if they be found to be Workers of Iniquity. And if it shall fare thus with Professors of so extraordinary a Rank: what shall we say to Those who trust to be accepted at last for the sake of much more inconsiderable Performances? Must not they expect as certainly to hear the same Sentence; Depart from me, ye that work Iniquity?
THE other Passage is in St. Paul's Second Epistle to Timothy, in the Second Chapter, the 19th Verse: Let every one that nameth the Name of Christ, depart from Iniquity: from whence it is evident that this Apostle could not be of that Opinion that naming the Name of Christ, or calling upon the Name of the Lord, in the Words of the Text, was sufficient for Salvation, without departing from Iniquity. For if He had taught any such Doctrine, it might have been easily retorted upon him by any professed Christian, who had a Resolution of continuing in his Sins. What necessity is there for departing from Iniquity, when it is declared that whosoever calleth upon the Name of the Lord, or nameth the Name of Christ, shall be saved, without this Departure from Iniquity?
MULTITUDES of other Passages might be alleged from the same St. Paul, for the Necessity of Holiness; and the Condemnation of Sinners at last: which all contradict the Pretence of such as would fix the contrary upon some of his Expressions. But I must not be always repeating them. Yet it is worth while to remember that these are the professed Christians, of whom He forewarns Timothy, ch. iii. ver.5. under the Character of those who have a Form of Godliness, but deny the Power thereof: whom he esteems no better than Scandals to the Christian Profession; Enemies to the Truth; Men of corrupt Minds; and reprobate concerning the Faith, ver.8.
.5. IF we consider the Nature, Tendency, and Design, of all those external Acts of Religion and Worship, in which some Christians are inclined to place so great a Confidence; we shall find it a great affront to Almighty God; and the most gross Abuse and utter Perversion of their Design,. to rest in them; to place our Hopes in them; and to make the Performance of them the Ground of our Expectation of the Favour of God, whilst we continue in the Practice of known Sins. For the great End of the Christian Religion is not that Men should pay external Homage to Almighty God, but that their internal Tempers, and the whole Course of their Lives, should be regulated by a deep and constant Sense of God, and of a Judgement to come. To keep up this Sense, and render it effectual; and to encourage others to profess, and carry forward, the same End; public Assemblies of Christians were instituted, and appointed, for the united Acknowledgment of God, and their Saviour; for the more solemn Obligation of themselves to the Duties of their Religion; for the praying to God, the hearing his Word, and the partaking of the Lord's Supper.
Now what is Prayer to God, if it be not a sincere Acknowledgment of his Sovereignty, and our Dependency; of his Authority, and our Duty? And what is this, but an Affront, if we know, and own, our Obligations to serve and obey him; and yet continue wilfully to disobey and dishonour him? Or, if we imagine to put a Cheat upon him, and to satisfy him with the Fruit of our Lips, whilst our Hearts are far from him, and entirely indisposed to render him that Service which our Mouths own to be due to him? What is this Prayer, unless it influence us to Obedience? And why can we be supposed so ask of God his Assistance, and Holy Spirit; if we be resolved not to make use of it, and continue to stand out against all its Motives and Offers?
AGAIN, what can we conceive that hearing God's Word could be intended for; unless for the Practice of what we hear? Now, suppose that a Servant of an Earthly Master should run with Zeal every Day to receive his Commands, and hear his Will; eagerly attending to it, and seeming to imbibe it greedily; whilst all the time He is resolved, not to perform it, or constantly goes away to his former Course of Negligence and Disobedience: would not this be justly esteemed the highest Affront, and greatest Indignity, to his Master; and the utter Abuse of his Master's Design in Calling upon him to hear his Duty? And thus it must be in Religion. Hearing can be only in order to our knowing our Duty; and knowing our Duty can be for no other End, but the doing it: and in all Cases, both of them are so far from excusing any who neglect it, that they are ever esteemed by Men the great Aggravations of that Neglect. To whom much is given, of Him much will be required. He that knows his Master's Will, and doth it not, shall be beaten with many Stripes: proportionable to his Knowledge, shall be his Punishment. How contrary to some of his Disciples, who pretend to screen themselves with their Knowledge? They hear greedily, and know a great deal: and from hence argue that they are what He approves; and that this their Zeal in hearing, than cover their Crime in not doing his Will:
THIS is what St. James warns all Christians against; the resting in the external Action of hearing. Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves, James i. ver.22. and he goes on to compare a Man, who comes to hear his Duty, and goes away and neglects it, to a Man that looks into a Glass; and presently goes away, and forgets his own Countenance, The Man can consult the Glass with no other Design, but to see something relating to his own Face; which he presently forgets, as much as if he had not consulted it. The Christian can hear the Word for no other End, but to know his Duty: and yet, his Behaviour shews that he goes away and immediately forgets it. And thus the End of hearing; the only End to which it can serve; is totally neglected and perverted.
OF such Hearers as these, remember what our Lord himself pronounces, Matth. vii.26. at the end of the longest Discourse, He is recorded to have made; and that, in which it was plainly his Design to preach Morality, and rescue Virtue from the Cloud which had been cast over it. Every one, saith He, that heareth these Sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish Man which built his House upon the Sand; And the Rain descended, and the Floods came, and the Winds blew, and beat upon that House; and it fell, and great was the Fall of it. Such is the Man, we see, who builds his Hope of Salvation upon his bare hearing the Word of God with Greediness, without a conscientious Practice of what he hears. The Woman in the Gospel who heard with Delight the Words of Life, as they proceeded out of our Lord's own Mouth, lift up her Voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the Womb that bare thee. But he said, Yea rather, Blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it, Luke xi.27, 28. So ready was He to lay hold on every Opportunity of assuring his Disciples, that their Happiness depended upon their doing what they heard, and knew, to be their Duty.
THE like may be said of partaking of the Lord's Supper: which was intended for the united Profession of our Faith in Christ; and the open Acknowledgment of our Obligations to live as becomes his Disciples. And what then can it be, to rely for Salvation upon the outward Act of communicating; or the present Fit of Devotion in which we find our selves, separated from, and void of, Influence upon our Lives, and Practice: what can this be, I say, but to mock our blessed Saviour; to celebrate his Sufferings, and join in afflicting him; to own our selves his Disciples, and behave out selves as his Enemies; to contradict the Design of the Duty; and to fly to that Religious Rite for Refuge from the Punishment of Sin, which was instituted for a perpetual Memorial against Sin; and designed as one of the greatest Motives against the Dominion and Power of it?
NOTHING, I think, can be plainer than that thus to depend upon the external Acts of Devotion and Religion, for Salvation; without that Holiness Life which they were designed to further and promote; is one of the greatest Instances of Ingratitude and Presumption that can well be thought of? a formal Mockery of Almighty god and our blessed Saviour; a Contradiction to the End and Design of the external Duties themselves; and a fatal Delusion and Deceit upon our own Souls: it being certain that our Performance of these external Duties is so far from being an Excuse; that it will be the greatest Aggravation of a wicked Life.
AND now, if these Things be so; what must we say of some sort of Christians? They come to these external Parts of Religion for Comfort. With Hands, and Eyes lifted up, and an Air of the highest Devotion, they will call upon the Name of the Lord, perform the publick Acts of Worship; hear his Word with Greediness; and perhaps partake of his Table. But here they rest. The same unmortified Lusts and Passions which they bring with them, they carry back again: and return, day after day, to take their Rounds of what they call Religion; in order to flatter themselves, the more plausibly, into a Fancy that they are not wholly devoted to Sin, and the World. And if they be a little easy themselves in this Method; they are apt to think that Almighty God is easy with them likewise. But it is high time to awake out of this Dream. It is the Paradise of Madmen; and a State of the deepest Folly and Misery. It is high time to consider what Religion is: that it is not the being professed Christians; or Members of the best Church in the World; or Frequenters of the public Worship; or attentive Hearers of God's Word, that can at last avail us; without living as becomes Christians; without adorning the Church we boast of, by an exemplary Holiness; without manifesting a deep Sense of God in all our Conversation; and without doing that Will of our heavenly Father, which we pretend to hear with so much readiness.
AND God grant that all of us may consider these Things, as to let them have their due Influence upon all our future Behaviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen!