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puted, to what purpose are those good works, which the Bible every where inculcates, and which the chapter, from whence the text has been read, so particularly enforces the practice of?” I answer, that, as robes and a coronet do not constitute a peer, but are ensigns and appendages of his peerage (for the will of the sovereign is the grand efficient cause, which elevates a commoner to noble rank); and as the very patent of creation is only an authentic manifesto, not casual, but declarative of the king's pleasure to make his subject a nobleman: just so, good works do not make us alive to God; nor justify us before him; nor exalt us to the dignity and felicity of celestial peerage: they are but the robes, the coronet, and the manifesto, shining in our lives and conversations; and making evident, to all around us, that we are, indeed, and in truth, chosen to salvation, justified through Christ, and renewed by the Holy Ghost.
I need not apprise you, that the generality of those who are dead to God, either think, or pretend to think, that we who preach, and you who believe, absolute salvation by the finished atonement, and the finished obedience of Jesus Christ, rested on by faith alone; are “ opening the floodgates to licentiousness, and annihilating the necessity of good works.”
I would wish you to notice the inconsistency of those objections, with which worldly people assail the gospel of the grace of God (a). One while, they tell us, that we are righteous overmuch, and are more godly than we need to be. At another time, we are for no good works at all, but make void the law through faith. Now, these two cavils, effectually, and primâ facie, demolish each other, like two equal contrary forces in natural philosophy. Would it not be very absurd, if I was to say
(a) Acts xx. 24.
of a lady, that she is literally, as strait as an arrow, and as crooked as a rainbow ?
They who are acquainted with themselves, with the love of Christ, and with the holiness of the moral law, know and feel, that, so far from doing too much, they can never do enough for God. This knowledge and persuasion effectually cut up the two incoherent objections abovementioned. hand, we cannot, even in speculation, be negligent of good works ; since we consider, and are zealous for them, as the grand visible indications of our appointment to eternal glory.—On the other, a sense of those immense deficiencies which attend our best obedience, operates as a most powerful inducement to the unintermitted performance of as much good as we can. Not that we are hereby justified. For as I have often asked (and I shall continue to reiterate the question, as long as I can speak for God); where is the man that ever fulfilled the law of God? Let us only bring ourselves to the test of the second table, whose precepts are all summed up in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Since the fall, no man ever did this, but Jesus Christ.
As I was going through Holborn, the other day, I saw a house on fire. The mob were assembled, and the engines were playing. I felt, with great tenderness, for the immediate sufferers. Yet it instantly occurred to me, that I was not so deeply concerned, as when I lately saw my own house in a similar danger. What was the reason ? Because I do not love my neighbour as myself. And, was there nothing else, to exclude me from justification by my own righteousness, I should know, from this circumstance alone, that it is utterly impossible for me to be accepted of God, and entitled to heaven, through my defective conformity to the moral law.
In the prosecution of his argument, St. James puts a very obvious case: a case, which, I am afraid,
happens almost every day. If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace! be ye warmed and filled! notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body: what does it profit? Intimating, that, as a string of smooth, canting words, unaccompanied by substantial relief, conveys no service to a distressed petitioner, and is no decisive proof of benevolence in the speaker; so, an empty, unactive profession of faith, without a heart and life devoted to God, and to the good of mankind, will stand us in no stead at all. The apostle himself makes the application: even so, faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Are we to infer from this, that works cause us to live, in the sight of God? No. It would sound very odd in your ears, and with very good reason, if I was to affirm, that I am therefore alive, because I have the honour of preaching before you this afternoon: no. My preaching does not make me alive. It only shows that I do live. Since, if I did not live, I could neither move, nor speak, nor act. In like manner, holy works do not endue us with life.They only prove us to be spiritually alive, if the Spirit of God has enabled us, from right principles, and to right ends, thus to bring forth fruit to his honour and praise.
The goodness of the fruit does not make, but discover and declare, the goodness of the tree: since, if this were not good, it could not produce good fruit. The purity of a stream does not make the fountain pure, but proves it to be so.
All that we can possibly say and do for God, contribute not one jot or tittle to the acquisition either of spiritual or of eternal life, but only make known that he has infused into our souls the breath of supernatural regenerating grace, by the powerful ministration of the Holy Ghost.
A man may say, adds the apostle, thou hast faith and I have works. Show me thy faith without thy works : as much as to say, I defy thee to do it : faith can only be shown by the good works which it produces. Therefore, I will show thee (and every true believer says the same) I will show thee my faith, by my works: I will adduce these, to demonstrate the reality of that.
Thou believest that there is one God. Thou doeth well: this is very right, so far as it goes : but remember, that the devils also believe this, together with a great deal more, and tremble. The faith of a deist (which is all ultimately resolvable into this solitary article, I believe that there is one God) is, at best, but a small part of the devil's creed; and, if it proceed no farther will leave the soul infinitely short of everlasting salvation.
In the text, there are three objects of enquiry :
II. What it is that they believe, and how far their faith goes ?
III. In what respects their faith differs from the faith of God's elect, or from that faith which the holy Spirit breathes into every converted heart?
I. By the devils here referred to, we are doubtless to understand that whole body of apostate spirits, whose names were not in the book of life, and who were therefore permitted to fall from that state of holiness, dignity, and happiness, in which they were originally made.
Our text styles them devils, darpova : probably, from their depth of skill, and from the exquisite subtilty of their knowledge. At what precise point of time the angels, and these among the rest, were created; and whether their creation was successive, or simultaneous; cannot perhaps, be exactly ascertained from scripture: which only informs us, at large, that, within the first six days, the heavens
and the earth were finished, and all the hosts of them. St. Austin thinks, that the angels were called into being, when God said, Let there be light. And it seems extremely certain, from a passage in the book of Job, that the angels were created before our part of the universe, or that terraqueous globe which we inhabit,_was completely formed into its present state. For we read, that no sooner was this portion of our own solar system moulded into its present scheme, than angels admired the fabric, and blessed the builder. Whereupon are the foundations of [the earth] fastened ? or who laid the corner-stone thereof? When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy (a). Who were those morning stars ? Who were those sons of God? The angels of light; styled morning stars, from their purity, their dignity, their excellency, and glory; and sons of God, because they were of God's own immediate creation.
It is likewise plain, that the fall of a vast number of these unembodied spirits, was antecedent to the fall at least, if not to the creation of man. read, in the only authentic account of the origin of evil, any where extant, that one of these apostate spirits was the being, who, in a borrowed form, seduced the mother of the human race.
Should it be asked, “How came any part of those angels, who were created in such a state of natural and moral excellence, to make shipwreck of their holiness, of their majesty, and of their joy.?" I answer, that the origin of evil, whether among angels (with whom evil seems strictly to have originated), or among men, is the most difficult question, perhaps, and the most mysterious part of the divine conduct, that ever yet presented itself to human investigation. Clouds and darkness are the seat of its
(a) Job xxxviii. 6, 7.