« 上一頁繼續 »
is the consequence? We then give to the word of a man a place above the word of God. A good meaning is supposed by weak people to sanctify a bad action : but St. Paul meant well when he persecuted the Christian Church; yet he condemned himself severely for it afterwards. It may be said by some who profess this doctrine, that they take it for their comfort, and mean no harm by it; intending thereby to draw us away from the foundations of truth and the certainty of divine promises, till the whole Christian fabric falls into ruins at once ; as if, when the kingdom of God were departed from amongst us, some other new light should spring up in the world.
Enough has been said to prove the danger of this doctrine; I think it may be shewn as plainly that it is not a doctrine of the scripture. This we freely allow, that the election of Christians out of the world into the Church of Christ is plain and certain : but the election of Christians out of Christians is not so ; if there were such a thing, it is what we cannot know, having no visible sign for it, and therefore we do wrong, and must bring ourselves and the Church into danger if we pretend to know it. The religion of the gospel, by which we are saved, is the religion of faith, hope, and charity ; to this
religion we are called at our baptism ; with that which cannot be reduced to any of these three we have no concern, and such is the knowledge of God's secret decrees. We are not called upon to know what cannot be known, neither are we required to act as if we knew it: we are to trust in God, but always to be in fear for ourselves; and thence the church wisely directs us to pray, that even in our last hour we may not fall from him. To what end is this prayer, if it be determined by our predestination that we shall never fall ? This language of the Church implies, that we may fall even to the last moment, and that we are never safe till death shall put an end to sin and temptation.
The great mistake seems to have consisted in applying to Christians what is said to heathens. The vessel of wrath fitted to destruction was an heathen; a man never taken into the covenant of God, and who had determined that he never would be. It should always be remembered, that in the Epistle to the Romans the Apostle is arguing against the Jews, about the reception of the heathens; a thing they could never bear to hear of, because they confined all grace to themselves. There is not a Christian upon earth who can prove that he is entitled to
any one privilege but what he hath in common with other Christians ; he is therefore to pass the time of his sojourning here in fear ; not to think that he has found out a short way of being saved, a way unknown to other people : not to be high-minded, as the Jews were, who fell, through vain confidence of their own election. Such a sort of election the scriptures do not teach; they shew the vanity of it from the example of the Jews: the text also is expressly against it; for if Christians are called upon to make their election sure, then is that election such as may be not sure. Why else is it said, “ let him " that thinketh he standeth take heed left he “ fall?” He who thinketh he hath got farther can only think so; and in that he may be grossly mistaken. And how doth he stand? not by certain knowledge, as he pretends, but by faith : faith in the promise of God, as his only security. There is no case more to our purpose
than that of the Apostle St. Paul : he was a vessel individually chosen by God: in him we see the election of God's grace falling on a single person : but what does he infer from it? No aba solute exemption from danger : he supposes that he may still be cast away, and lost by his own neglect. He led a severe, watchful,
and mortified life, “ lest, when he had preached “ to others, he himself should be a castaway.” Will any man presume upon privileges higher and surer than those of this great Apostle ? Might St. Paul be cast away? who then shall dare to be secure? He, who can persuade himself that God hath called him to a privilege which St. Paul had not, must be under some
But is there no assurance ? Undoubtedly there is : but it is the assurance of faith, and the assurance of hope : for any thing further we must wait till that judgment for which all men are reserved; which shall detect the secrets of all hearts; laying open to thousands the true nature of those works, that they never understood before, though they imagined they did. How shall God judge every man according to his works, if every man is to judge himself before half his works are done, according to his feelings? Are we to judge first, and is God to judge afterwards ? think such a thing without blasphemy? and can we teach it, without thereby rendering our whole religion of no effect, as the Jews did by a like presumption? Shall we take from the chief Shepherd his office of separating the sheep from the goats in the next life, by.
* See Note 1, p. 23.
doing it for him beforehand in this life? Shall we poor blind sinners dare to say who have made their election sure, and who have not, when probably our first mistake is about ourselves ? All this may be prevented by a single text from St. Paul, “ Judge nothing before the “ time, until the LORD come, who both will
bring to light the hidden things of darkness, o and will make inanifest the counsels of the * hearts, and then shall every man have praise “ of God.” Till we shall obtain that praise, let us forbear to depend upon our own, which will only render us suspected by those who know how to distinguish. In the mean time we may know with absolute certainty, that no election will save us, but that which teaches us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.
Poor self-condemning mourners, who lament their own sins, and those of the church to which they belong*, are in a much safer way, than those who are confident and self-witnessed: and they have a blessing on their side ; “ Blessed are they that mourn (especially “ for sin) for they shall be comforted.”
If, after all I have said, there should still remain in any man a desire to be assured, whether God hath actually adopted him for one of