The securing of the spiritual comforts of believers in this life is a matter of the highest importance unto the glory of God, and their own advantage by the gospel. For God is abundantly willing that all the heirs of promise should receive strong consolation, and he has provided ways and means for the communication of it to them; and their participation of it is their principal interest in this world, and is so esteemed by them. But their effectual refreshing enjoyment of these comforts is variously opposed by the power of the remainders of sin, in conjunction with other temptations. Hence, notwithstanding their right and title unto them by the gospel, they are ofttimes actually destitute of a gracious sense of them, and, consequently, of that relief which they are suited to afford in all their duties, trials, and afflictions. Now, the root whereon all real comforts do grow, whence they spring and arise, is true and saving faith,–the faith of God’s elect. Wherefore they do ordinarily answer unto, and hold proportion with, the evidences which any have of that faith in themselves; at least, they cannot be maintained without such evidences. Wherefore, that we may be a little useful unto the establishment or recovery of that consolation which God is so abundantly willing that all the heirs of promise should enjoy, I shall inquire,
What are the principal acts and operations of faith, whereby it will evidence its truth and sincerity in the midst of all temptations and storms that may befall believers in this world?
And I shall insist on such alone as will bear the severest scrutiny by Scripture and experience. And,–
The principal genuine acting of saving faith in us, inseparable from it, yea, essential to such acting, consists in the: choosing, embracing, and approbation of God’s way of saving sinners, by the mediation of Jesus Christ, relying thereon, with a renunciation of all other ways and means pretending unto the same end of salvation.
This is that which we are to explain and prove. Saving faith is our ‘believing the record that God has given us of his Son,’ 1 John 5:10, ‘And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son,’ verse 11. This is the testimony which God gives, that great and sacred truth which he himself bears witness unto,–namely, that he has freely prepared eternal life for them that believe, or provided a way of salvation for them. And what God so prepares he is said to give, because of the certainty of its communication. So grace was promised and given to the elect in Christ Jesus before the world began, 2 Tim.1:9; Tit.1:2. And that is so to be communicated unto them, in and by the mediation of his Son Jesus Christ, that it is the only way whereby God will give eternal life unto any; which is therefore wholly in him, and by him to be obtained, and from him to be received. Upon our acquiescence in this testimony, on our approbation of this way of saving sinners, or our refusal of it, our eternal safety or ruin does absolutely depend. And it is reasonable that it should be so: for, in our receiving of this testimony of God, we ‘set to our seal that God is true,’ John 3:33; we ascribe unto him the glory of his truth, and therein of all the other holy properties of his nature,–the most eminent duty whereof we are capable in this world; and by a refusal of it, what lies in us, we make him a liar, as in this place, 1 John 5:10, which is virtually to renounce his being.
And the solemnity wherewith this testimony is entered is very remarkable, verse 7, ‘There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one.’ The trinity of divine persons, acting distinctly in the unity of the same divine nature, do give this testimony: and they do so by those distinct operations whereby they act in this way and work of God’s saving sinners by Jesus Christ; which are at large declared in the gospel. And there is added hereunto a testimony that is immediately applicatory unto the souls of believers, of this sovereign testimony of the holy Trinity; and this is the witness of grace and all sacred ordinances: ‘There are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one,’ verse 8. They are not at essentially the same in one and the same nature, as are the Father, Word, and Holy Ghost, yet they all absolutely agree in the same testimony; and they do it by that especial efficacy which they have on the souls of believer s to assure them of this truth. In this record, so solemnly, so gloriously given and proposed, life and death are set before us. The receiving and embracing of this testimony, with an approbation of the way of salvation testified unto, is that work of faith which secures us of eternal life. On these terms there is reconciliation and agreement made and established between God and men; without which men must perish for ever.
So our blessed Saviour affirms, ‘This is life eternal, that they may know thee’ (the Father) ‘the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent,’ John 17:3. To know the Father as the only true God, to know him as he has sent Jesus Christ to be the only way and means of the salvation of sinners, and to know Jesus Christ as sent by him for that end, is that grace and duty which instates us in a right to eternal life, and initiates us in the possession of it: and this includes that choice and approbation of the way of God for the saving of sinners whereof we speak.
But these things must be more distinctly opened:– 1. The great fundamental difference in religion is concerning the way and means whereby sinners may be saved. From men’s different apprehensions hereof arise all other differences about religion; and the first thing that engages men really into any concernment in religion, is an inquiry in their minds how sinners may be saved, or what they shall do themselves to be saved: ‘What shall we do? what shall we do to be saved?’ ‘What is the way of acceptance with God?’ is that inquiry which gives men their first initiation into religion. See Acts 2:37; 16:30; Micah 6:6-8.
This question being once raised in the conscience, an answer must be returned unto it. ‘I will consider,’ says the prophet, ‘what I shall answer when I am reproved,’ Hab.2:1. And there is all the reason in the world that men consider well of a good answer hereunto, without which they must perish for ever; for if they cannot answer themselves here, how do they hope to answer God hereafter? Wherefore, without a sufficient answer always in readiness unto this inquiry, no man can have any hopes of a blessed eternity.
Now, the real answer which men return unto themselves is according to the influence which their minds are under from one or other of the two divine covenants,–that of works or that of grace. And these two covenants, taken absolutely, are inconsistent, and give answers in this case that are directly contradictory to one another: so the apostle declares, Rom.10:5-9. The one says, ‘The man that does the works of the law shall live by them; this is the only way whereby you may be saved:’ the other wholly waives this return, and puts it all on faith in Christ Jesus. Hence there is great difference and great variety in the answers which men return to themselves on this inquiry; for their consciences will neither hear nor speak any thing but what complies with the covenant whereunto they do belong. These things are reconciled only in the blood of Christ; and how, the apostle declared, Rom.8:3. The greatest part of convinced sinners seem to adhere to the testimony of the covenant of works; and so perish for ever. Nothing will stand us in stead in this matter, nothing will save us, ‘but the answer of a good conscience towards God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,’ 1 Pet.3:21.
2. The way that God has prepared for the saving of sinners is a fruit and product of infinite wisdom, and powerfully efficacious unto its end. As such it is to be received, or it is rejected. It is not enough that we admit of the notions of it as declared, unless we are sensible of divine wisdom and power in it, so as that it may be safely trusted unto. Hereon, upon the proposal of it, falls out the eternally distinguishing difference among men. Some look upon it and embrace it as the power and wisdom of God; others really reject it as a thing foolish and weak, not meet to be trusted unto. Hereof the apostle gives an account at large, 1 Cor.1:18-24. And this is mysterious in religion:–the same divine truth is by the same way and means, at the same time, proposed unto sundry persons, all in the same condition, under the same circumstances, all equally concerned in that which is proposed therein: some of them hereon do receive it, embrace it, approve of it, and trust unto it for life and salvation; others despise it, reject it, value it not, trust not unto it. To the one it is the wisdom of God, and the power of God; to the other, weakness and foolishness: as it must of necessity be the one or the other,–it is not capable of a middle state or consideration. It is not a good way unless it be the only way; it is not a safe, it is not the best way, if there be any other; for it is eternally inconsistent with any other. It is the wisdom of God, or it is downright folly. And here, after all our disputes, we must resort unto eternal sovereign grace, making a distinction among them unto whom the gospel is proposed, and the almighty power of actual grace in curing that unbelief which blinds the minds of men, that they can see nothing but folly and weakness in God’s way of the saving of sinners. And this unbelief works yet in the most of them unto whom this way of God is proposed in the gospel; they receive it not as an effect of infinite wisdom, and as powerfully efficacious unto its proper end. Some are profligate in the service of their lusts, and regard it not; unto whom may be applied that [saying] of the prophet, ‘Hear, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish.’ Some are under the power of darkness and ignorance, so as that they apprehend not, they understand not the mystery of it; for ‘the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.’ Some are blinded by Satan, as he is the god of this world, by filling their minds with prejudice, and their hearts with the love of present things, that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, cannot shine into them. Some would mix with it their own works, ways, and duties, as they belong unto the first covenant; which are eternally irreconcilable unto this way of God, as the apostle teaches, Rom.10:3,4. Hereby does unbelief eternally ruin the souls of men. They do not, they cannot, approve of the way of God for saving sinners proposed in the gospel, as an effect of infinite wisdom and power, which they may safely trust unto, in opposition unto all other ways and means, pretending to be useful unto the same end; and this will give us light into the nature and acting of saving faith, which we inquire after.
3. The whole Scripture, and all divine institutions from the beginning, do testify, in general, that this way of God for the saving of sinners is by commutation, substitution, atonement, satisfaction, and imputation. This is the language of the first promise, and all the sacrifices of the law founded thereon; this is the language of the Scripture: ‘There is a way whereby sinners may be saved,–a way that God has found out and appointed.’ Now, it being the law wherein sinners are concerned, the rule of all things between God and them should seem to be by what they can do or suffer with respect unto that law. ‘No,’ says the Scripture, ‘it cannot be so; ‘for by the deeds of the law no man living shall be justified in the sight of God.” Ps.143:2; Rom.3:20; Gal.2:16. Neither shall it be by their personal answering of the penalty of the law which they have broken; for they cannot do so, but they must perish eternally: for, ‘If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, 0 Lord, who shall stand?’ Ps.130:3. There must therefore be, there is another way, of a different nature and kind from these, for the saving of sinners, or there is no due revelation made of the mind of God in the Scripture. But that there is so, and what it is, is the main design of it to declare: and this is by the substitution of a mediator instead of the sinners that shall be saved, who shall both bear the penalty of the law which they had incurred and fulfill that righteousness which they could not attain unto.
This in general is God’s way of saving sinners, whether men like it or no: ‘For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us,’ Rom.8:3,4. See also Heb.10:5-10. ‘He made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,’ 2 Cor.5:21.
Here unbelief has prevailed with many in this latter age to reject the glory of God herein; but we have vindicated the truth against them sufficiently elsewhere.
4. There are sundry things previously required to give us a clear view of the glory of God in this way of saving sinners: such are, a due consideration of the nature of the fall of our first parents, and of our apostasy from God thereby. I may not stay here to show the nature or aggravations of them; neither can we conceive them aright, much less express them. I only say, that unless we have due apprehensions of the dread and terror of them, of the invasion made on the glory of God, and the confusion brought on the creation by them, we can never discern the reason and glory of rejecting the way of personal righteousness, and the establishing this way of a mediator for the saving of sinners. A due sense of our present infinite distance from God, and the impossibility that there is in ourselves of making any approaches unto him, is of the same consideration; so likewise is that of our utter disability to do any thing that may answer the law, or the holiness and righteousness of God therein,–of our universal unconformity in our natures, hearts, and their acting, unto the nature, holiness, and will of God. Unless, I say, we have a sense of these things in our minds and upon our consciences, we cannot believe aright, we cannot comprehend the glory of this new way of salvation. And whereas mankind has had a general notion, though no distinct apprehension, of these things, or of some of them, many amongst them have apprehended that there is a necessity of some kind of satisfaction or atonement to be made, that sinners may be freed from the displeasure of God; but when God’s way of it was proposed unto them, it was, and is, generally rejected, because ‘the carnal mind is enmity against God.’ But when these things are fixed on the soul by sharp and durable convictions, they will enlighten it with due apprehensions of the glory and beauty of God’s way of saving sinners.
5. This is the gospel, this is the work of it,–namely, a divine declaration of the way of God for the saving of sinners, through the person, mediation, blood, righteousness, and intercession of Christ. This is that which it reveals, declares, proposes, and tenders unto sinners,– there is a way for their salvation. As this is contained in the first promise, so the truth of every word in the Scripture depends on the supposition of it. Without this, there could be no more intercourse between God and us than is between him and devils. Again, it declares that this way is not by the law or its works,–by the first covenant, or its conditions,–by our own doing or suffering; but it is a new way, found out in and proceeding from infinite wisdom, love, grace, and goodness,–namely, by the incarnation of the eternal Son of God, his susception of the office of a mediator, doing and suffering in the discharge of it whatever was needful for the justification and salvation of sinners, unto his own eternal glory. See Rom.3:24-27; 8:3,4; 2 Cor.5:19-21, etc.
Moreover, the gospel adds, that the only way of obtaining an interest in this blessed contrivance of saving sinners by the substitution of Christ, as the surety of the covenant, and thereon the imputation of our sins to him, and of his righteousness unto us, is by faith in him.
Here comes in that trial of faith which we inquire after. This way of saving sinners being proposed, offered, and tendered unto us in the gospel, true and saving faith receives it, approves of it, rests in it, renounces all other hopes and expectations, reposing its whole confidence therein.
For it is not proposed unto us merely as a notion of truth, to be assented to or denied, in which sense all believe the gospel that are called Christians,–they do not esteem it a fable; but it is proposed unto us as that which we ought practically to close withal, for ourselves to trust alone unto it for life and salvation. And I shall speak briefly unto two things:–I. How does saving faith approve of this way? on what accounts, and unto what ends? II. How it does evidence and manifest itself hereby unto the comfort of believers.