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IN THE PARISH CHURCH OF ST. OLAVE, JEWRY;
ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON, October 29th, 1775.
And the Lord said unto satan, whence comest thou ? Then satan answered the
Lord, and said, From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down in it. --Job i. 7.
My name is legion: for we are many.-MARK v. 9.
James ii. 19.
Thou believest that there is one God. Thou doest
well. The devils also believe, and tremble.
ONE grand motive which induced St. James to write this epistle, was, to stifle and repress a most dangerous error, which, even in the apostolic times, began to gain ground among too many reputed followers of Christ.
This error was, that a mere naked assent to the truths of Christianity, considered as a doctrinal system, without having the heart affected, and without having the life sanctified, would be sufficient evidence of their salvation, and prove them children of God.
Against this most dangerous delusion, the blessed apostle James drew his pen. And the principal drift of this epistle, is, not to counteract St. Paul (for all the divine writers speak one uniform, harmonious language): but, merely to show the delusion which the Gnostics, who were the Antinomi. ans of that age, were under; and to prove, that mere head knowledge, is requisite to stamp us heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.
Hence we find the apostle, at the 14th verse, asking, What does it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and hath not works? Can faith save him? Observe, with what caution St. James expresses himself. He does not say,
" what will it profit a man, to have faith without works ?”
for he knew that to be impossible. But the words are, What will it profit a man, to say that he hath faith, without works? There is a vast difference, between believing, and saying we believe. The man who professes himself a believer, must offer something more solid than his own ipse dixit, than a mere verbal profession, if he wishes to be credited by those to whom that profession is made. Was I to affirm, that I am possessed of a neat hundred thousand per annum, not one of you would believe
And why? because I have nothing to show for it.
I have no writings to produce, as my authentic vouchers. By the same rule, when a man comes to you or me, and says, I have faith; it is very natural for us to ask, Where are your works? If thou hast faith, thou hast it to thyself before God. Faith is a hidden principle, until rendered visible by a holy life and conversation. What does it profit a man barely to say that he has faith? It profits a man much to have faith; for, if he has faith, he will also have a life correspondent to the holiness of that leading grace. Indeed, a man can never be holy till he has faith.
To them, says Christ, who are sanctified by faith that is in me.There is no such thing as real holiness without faith; and there is no such thing as true faith without holiness. These two always go together; and none, but a visionary self-deceiver, or an intentional hypocrite, would ever wish to put them asunder. Can faith, that is, can a bare profession of faith, save him, or prove him to be in a saved state ? Far from it. Profession will only sink us deeper into condemnation at last, unless God give us to feel and to possess those graces, to which our lips lay claim. Here, a Pharisee may step in, and ask, But will not works save us? Indeed they will not. Will not faith and works together save us ? No. Faith is the evidence, not the cause of salvation : just as works are the evidences, not the cause of faith.
I observed, at another end of the town, this morning, and I will repeat the observation here: That the religion of Jesus Christ stands eminently distinguished, and essentially differenced, from every other religion that was ever proposed to human reception, by this remarkable peculiarity : that, look abroad in the world, and you will find, that every religion, except one, puts you upon doing something in order to recommend yourself to God.
A Mahometan expects to be saved by his works. A Socinian thinks to go to heaven by his works. A Papist looks to be justified by his works. A Freewiller hopes for salvation by his works, compliances, endeavours, and perseverance. if he believes that there is a future state, expects to be happy hereafter, by virtue of the supposed good he does, and of the evil he leaves undone. А Mystic has the same hope, and stands on the same sad foundation. It is only the religion of Christ, which runs counter to all the rest, by affirming, that we are saved, and called with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to the Father's own purpose and grace, which was (not sold out to us on certain conditions to be fulfilled by ourselves, but was] given us, in Christ, before the world began (a). It was long ago remarked by a good man, that “ It is the business of all false religions, to patch up a righteousness, in which the sinner is to stand before God.” But it is the business of the glorious Gospel, to bring near to us, by the hand of the holy Spirit, a righteousness ready wrought; a robe of perfection ready made; wherein God's people, to all the purposes of justification and happiness, stand perfect and without fault before his throne.
You may object, if that is the case, if we are saved and justified entirely by a righteousness im
(a) 2 Tim. i. 19.