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ELEVENTH AND TWELFTH VERSES
FIRST CHAPTER OF THE GOSPEL
ACCORDING TO ST. JOHN.
He came to his own, and his own received him
not: but as many as received him, to them gave
power (right or privilege) to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.
1. It is of great importance to have just notions of that faith which God has appointed to be the medium of our acceptance with him ; and this passage of Scripture gives us a very plain and explicit description of it: it is to receive Christ under the various characters which he sustains.
2. This is evidently more than merely to believe that what is written in the Bible is true. The devils believe thus, as St. James assures us, but they do not receive or submit to the Lord Jesus Christ; on the contrary, they oppose his authority and government with the utmost malignity. An assent to the truth of what Christ hath spoken, is undoubtedly included in the notion of true faith ; but it does not fully express what the Scriptures intend by believing on the name of the Son of God. I may believe that the writings of Julius Cæsar, called his “ Commentaries,” are true ; but, as the Church of England justly argues, I have no dependance on Julius Cæsar, nor do I expect any thing from him. I believe Julius Cæsar, but I cannot, with any propriety of language, be said to believe On him.
3. Neither is faith in Christ, as some suppose, a persuasion that my sins are forgiven: for this notion is a manifest absurdity. The Scripture promises that if I believe in Christ my sins shall be forgiven: my faith must therefore precede my forgiveness. But if faith is a persuasion that my sins are forgiven, then my forgiveness is prior to my faith, or. I believe a lie. It would be a dreadful thing indeed to
suppose, that the Most Holy should command me to believe what is not true; and it is adding folly to wickedness to inagine, that my belief of a falsehood should make it true. Far be it from us to attribute such impious absurdity to the Almighty.
4. To conceive rightly of that faith of which so great things are spoken in Scripture, and which is appointed to be the instrument, or condition, of our acceptance with God; let us consider what are the characters which he hears on whom we are to believe; for to believe on him is only to have affections correspondent with those characters. He on whom we are to believe is the Son of God, who is become our Prophet, Priest, and King. To believe on him, is to receive him in these characters; to submit to him in each of these capacities; and to have those sentiments and affections towards him which these characters and offices demand from us. It is heartily to acquiesce in the truth of every thing that he hath spoken, to depend on the merit of his death as the atonement for our sins, and to submit in every thing to his government and authority.
5. To believe in Christ is evidently opposed to rejecting him, in the passage under consideration. And as opposites often illustrate each other, let us consider what they did in rejecting Christ, who are here condemned for not receiving him. Their rejection of Christ plainly consisted in their refusing to believe him to be the Son of God, and to pay that regard to him which the characters he sustained demanded. They did not acquiesce in the truths he delivered; they refused to depend on him as the Lamb of God slain for their sins; and they would not have him to reign over them. This rejection of Christ was their crime, and the ground of their condemnation. The reverse of this is faith in Christ, in that sense of the word in which it is declared to be the condition of our acceptance.
6. This notion of faith is not only natural, simple, and easy to be understood by the meanest capacity ; but it likewise comprehends, and reconciles all the various descriptions of faith which are given in the New Testament. Whether faith be represented as a belief that Jesus is the Christ, (as in 1 John v. 1;) as receiving his testimony, (John iii. 33;) as duly regarding his propitiation, (Romans ii. 25;) or as obeying him, (Hebrews v. 9 ;)
they are all included in the expression receiving him, and are shewn to be parts of that whole whereof the true justifying faith in Christ consists.
7. Would we, therefore, make a rational inquiry into the soundness of our faith, so as to lay a just foundation for assurance of being in the divine favour; we must examine whether we really believe that Jesus is the Son of Gud; whether we firmly assent to the truth of every thing he has revealed in his holy word; whether we depend solely on his death as the propitiation for our sins; and are determined, through his grace, to yield ourselves up to his guidance and direction. If this is our case, we believe in Christ, and have the strongest evidence that can be given, that we are reconciled to God, and that we are heirs of eternal glory.
8. To this account of faith it may be objected, that if obedience to Christ be included in the idea of faith itself, this were to suppose, that we are justified by works, in part at least, whereas the Scripture is very express in asserting that we are not justified by works. But upon maturely considering this matter it will be found, that the notion of faith above