Of that Act on our Part, by which we do actually
and effectually apply Christ to our own Souls.
"But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God; even to them that believe on his Name."
No sooner is the soul quickened by the Spirit of God, but it answers, in some measure, the end of God in that work, by its active reception of Jesus Christ, in the day of believing: What this vital act of faith is upon which so great a weight depends, as our interest in Christ and everlasting blessedness, this scripture before us will give you the best account of; wherein (omitting the consideration of the coherence and context of the words) we have three things to ponder.
First, The high and glorious privilege conferred, viz. "Power to become the sons of God."
Secondly, The subject of this privilege described, "As many as received him."
Thirdly, The description explained, by way of opposition, "Even as many as believe on his name."
First, The privilege conferred is a very high and glorious one, than which no created being is capable of greater; "power to become the sons of God:" this word "eksousian" is of large extent and signification, and is, by some, rendered "this right, by others this dignity, by others this prerogative, this privilege or honour:" It implies a title or right to adoption, not only with respect to the present benefits of it in this life, but also to that blessed inheritance which is laid up in heaven for the sons of God. And so Grotius rightly expounds it of our consummate sonship, consisting in the actual enjoyment of blessedness, as well as that which is inchoate: not only a right to pardon, favour, and acceptance now, but to heaven and the full enjoyment of God hereafter. O what an honour, dignity, and privilege is this!
Secondly, The subjects of this privilege are described; "As many as received him." This text describes them by that very grace, faith, which gives them their title and right to Christ and his benefits; and by that very act of faith, which primarily confers their right to his person, and secondarily to his benefits, viz. receiving him: there be many graces besides faith, but faith only is the grace that gives us right to Christ; and there be many acts of faith besides receiving, but this receiving or embracing of Christ, is the justifying and saving act: "As many as received him," "hosoi de elabon auton", as many, be they of any nation, sex, age, or condition. For "there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision, nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond or free: but Christ is all, and in all," Col. 3: 11.
Nothing but unbelief bars men from Christ and his benefits. As many as [received him;} the word signifies "to accept, take," or, (as we fitly render it), to receive, assume, or take to us; a word most aptly expressing the nature and office of faith, yea, the very justifying and saving act; and we are also heedfully to note its special object, "elabon auton"" The text saith not "auta", his, but "auton", him, i.e. his person, as he is clothed with his offices, and not only his benefits and privileges. These are secondary and consequential things to our receiving him. So that it is a receiving, assuming, or accepting the Lord Jesus Christ, which must have respect to the tenders and proposals of the gospel, "for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith," Rom. 1: 17. therein is Jesus Christ revealed, proposed, and offered unto sinners, as the only way of justification and salvation; which gospel-offer, as before was opened, is therefore ordinarily necessary to believing, Rom. 10: 11,12, 13, &c.
Thirdly, This description is yet further explained by this additional exegetical clause, [even to them that believe on his name;] here the terms are varied, though the things expressed in both be the same; what he called receiving there, is called believing on his name here, to show us that the very essence of saving faith consists in our receiving of Christ. By his name, we are to understand Christ himself: it is usual to take these two, believing in him, and believing in his name, as terms convertible, and of the same importance, "hu hu; shmo ushmo", Ipse est nomen suum, et nomen ejus ipse est: His name is Himself, and Himself is his name. So that here we have the true nature and precious benefits of saving faith excellently expressed in this scripture, the sum of which take in this proposition;Doct. That the receiving of the Lord Jesus Christ is that saving and vital act of faith which gives the soul right both to his person and benefits.We cannot act spiritually till we begin to live spiritually: Therefore the spirit of life must first join himself to us, in his quickening work, (as was shown you in the last sermon), which being done, we begin to act spiritually, by taking hold upon, or receiving Jesus Christ, which is the thing designed to be opened in this sermon.
The soul is the life of the body, faith is the life of the soul, and Christ is the life of faith. There are several sorts of faith besides saving faith, and in saving faith there are several acts, besides the justifying or saving act; but this receiving act, which is to be our subject this day, is that upon which both our righteousness and eternal happiness do depend. "This, as a form, differences saving faith from all other kinds or sorts of faith;" by this it is that we are justified and saved. "To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God:" yet it does not justify and save us by reason of any proper dignity that is found in this act, but by reason of the object it receives or apprehends. The same thing is often expressed in scripture by other terms, as "Coming to Christ," John 6: 35. Trusting or staying upon Christ, Isa. 50: 10. But whatever is found in those expressions, it is all comprehended in this, as will appear hereafter. Now, the method into which I shall cast my discourse on this subject, that I may handle it with as much perspicuity and profit as I can, shall be,
First, To explain and open the nature of this receiving of Christ, and show you what it includes.
Secondly, To prove that this is the justifying and saving act of faith.
Thirdly, To show you the excellency of this act of faith.
Fourthly, To remove some mistakes, and give you the true account of the dignity and excellency of this act.
Fifthly, And then bring home all, in a proper and close application.
First, In the first place then, I will endeavour to explain and open the nature of this receiving of Christ, and show you what is implied in it.
And, indeed, it involves many deep mysteries, and things of greatest weight. People are generally very ignorant and unacquainted with the importance of this expression; they have very slight thoughts of faith who never passed under the illuminating, convincing, and humbling work of the Spirit: but we shall find that saving faith is quite another thing, and differs in its whole kind and nature from that traditional faith, and common assent, which is so fatally mistaken for it in the world.
For, First, It is evident that no man can receive Jesus Christ in the darkness of natural ignorance: we must understand and discern who and what he is, whom we receive to be the Lord our righteousness. If we know not his person, and his offices, we do not take, but mistake Christ. It is a good rule in the civil law, Non consentit qui non sentit. A mistake of the person invalidates the match. He that takes Christ for a mere man, or denies the satisfaction of his blood, or divests him of his human nature, or denies any of his most glorious and necessary offices, let them cry up as high as they will, his spirituality, glory, and exemplary life and death, they can never receive Jesus Christ aright. This is such a crack, such a flaw in the very foundation of faith, as undoes and destroys all. Ignorantis non est consensus: All saving faith is founded in light and knowledge, and therefore it is called knowledge, Isa. 53: 11. and seeing is inseparably connected with believing, John 6: 40. Men must hear and learn of the Father before they can come to Christ, John 6: 45. The receiving act of faith is directed and guided by knowledge. I will not presume to state the degree of knowledge which is absolutely necessary to the reception of Christ; I know the first acting of faith are, in most Christians, accompanied with much darkness and confusion of understanding: but yet we must say in the general, that wherever faith is, there is so much light as is sufficient to discover to the soul its own sins, dangers and wants, and the all-sufficiency, suitableness, and necessity of Christ, for the supply and remedy of all; and without this, Christ cannot be received. "Come unto me, all ye that labour, and I will give you rest," Matt. 11: 28.
Secondly, The receiving of Christ, necessarily implies the assent of the understanding to the truths of Christ revealed in the gospel, viz. his person, natures, offices, his incarnation, death, and satisfaction; which assent, though it be not in itself saving faith, yet is it the foundation and ground work of it; it being impossible the soul should receive, and fiducially embrace, what the mind does not assent unto as true and infallibly certain. Now, there are three degrees of assent; conjecture, opinion, and belief: Conjecture is but a slight and weak inclination to assent to the thing propounded, by reason of the weighty objections that lie against it. Opinion is a more steady and fixed assent, when a man is almost certain, though yet some fear of the contrary remains with him. Belief is a more full and assured assent to the truth; to which the mind may be brought four ways.
First, By the perfect intelligence of sense, not hindered or deceived. So I believe the truth of these propositions, Fire is hot, water is moist, honey is sweet, gall is bitter.
Secondly, By the native clearness of self evident principles. So I believe the truth of these propositions, The whole is more than a part; the cause is before the effect.
Thirdly, By discourse, and rational deduction. so I believe the truth of this proposition, Where all the parts of a thing are, there is the whole.
Fourthly, By infallible testimony, when any thing is witnessed or asserted by one whose truth is unquestionable. And of this sort is the assent of faith, which is therefore called our receiving the witness of God, 1 John 5: 9. our setting to our seal that God is true, John 3: 33. This prima veritas, divine verity, is the very formal object of faith: into this we resolve our faith. Thus saith the Lord, is that firm foundation upon which our assent is built. And thus we see good reason to believe those profound mysteries of the incarnation of Christ; the hypostatical union of the two natures in his wonderful person; the mystical union of Christ and believers; though we cannot understand these things, by reason of the darkness of our minds. It satisfies the soul to find these mysteries in the written word; upon that foundation it firmly builds its assent: and without such an assent of faith, there can be no embracing of Christ: all acts of faith and religion, without assent, are but as so many arrows shot at random into the open air, they signify nothing for want of a fixed determinate object.
It is therefore the policy of Satan, by injecting or fomenting atheistical thoughts, (with which young converts use to find themselves greatly infested) to undermine and destroy the whole work of faith. But God makes his people victorious over them: yea, and even at that time they do assent to the truths of the word, when they think they do not; as appears by their tenderness and fear of sin, their diligence and care of duty. If I discern these things in a Christian's life, he must excuse me if I believe him not, when he saith he does not assent to the truths of the gospel.
Thirdly, Our receiving Christ necessarily implies our hearty approbation, liking and estimation; yea, the acquiescence of our very souls in Jesus Christ, as the most excellent, suitable, and complete remedy for all our wants, sins, and dangers, that ever could be prepared by the wisdom and love of God for us: We must receive him with such a frame of heart, as rests upon, and trusts in him, it ever we receive him aright, "To them that believe he is precious," 1 Pet. 2: 7. This is the only sovereign-plaister in all the world that is large enough, and efficacious enough, to cure our wounds: And therefore as Christ is most highly esteemed, and heartily approved, as the only remedy for our souls; so the sovereign grace and wisdom of God are admired, and the way and method he has taken to save poor souls, by Jesus Christ, most heartily approved as the most apt and excellent method, both for his glory and our good, that ever could be taken: for it is a plain case, that none will espouse themselves with conjugal affections, to that person whom they esteem not as the best for them that can be chosen: none will forsake and quit all for his sake, except they account him as the spouse did, "the chiefest of ten thousand."
There are two things in Christ, which must gain the greatest approbation in the soul of a poor convinced sinner, and bring it to rest upon Jesus Christ.
First, That it can find nothing in Christ that is distasteful, or unsuitable to it, as it does experimentally find in the best creatures. In him is no bleakness, but a fulness of all saving abilities; "Able to save to the uttermost:" No pride, causing him to scorn and condemn the most wretched soul that comes to him: No inconstancy or levity, to cause him to cast off the soul whom he has once received: No passion but a Lamb for meekness and patience: There is no spot to be found in him, but "He is altogether lovely," Cant. 5: 16.
Secondly, As the believer can find nothing in Christ that is distasteful, so it finds nothing wanting in Christ that is necessary, or desirable: Such is the fulness of wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption that is in Christ, that nothing is left to desire but the full enjoyment of him. O, saith the soul, how completely happy shall I be, if I can but win Christ! I would not envy the nobles of the earth, were I but in Christ. I am hungry and athirst, and Christ is meat indeed, and drink indeed; this is the best thing in all the world for me, because so necessary and so suitable to the needs of a soul ready to perish. I am a law-condemned and a self-condemned sinner, trembling for fear of the execution of the curse upon me every moment; in Christ is complete righteousness to justify my soul; O there is nothing better for me than Christ. I see myself plunged, both in nature and practice, into the odious pollutions of sin, and in Christ is a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness: His blood is a fountain of merit, his spirit is a fountain of holiness and purity: None but Christ, none but Christ. O the manifold wisdom and unsearchable love of God, to prepare and furnish such a Christ so fully answering all the needs, all the distresses, all the fears and burdens of a poor sinner! Thus the believing soul approves of Christ as best for it. And thus in believing, it gives glory to God, Rom. 4:21.
Fourthly, Receiving Christ consists in the consent and choice of the will; and this is the opening of the heart and stretching forth of he soul to receive him: Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power," Psal. 110:3.
It is the great design and main scope of the gospel, to work over the wills of poor sinners to this: And this was the great complaint of Christ against the incredulous Jews, John 5: 40. "Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life."
It is disputed by some, whether faith can be seated in two distinct faculties, as we seem to place it, when we say it involves both the approbation of the judgement and the consent of the will. I will not here entangle my discourse with that fruitless dispute. I am of the same judgement with those divines, that think faith cannot be expressed fully by any one single habit, or act of the mind or will distinctly, for that (as one well notes) there are such descriptions given of it in scripture, such things are proposed as the object of it, and such is the experience of all that sincerely believe, as no one single act, either of the mind or will, can answer unto: Nor do I see any thing repugnant to scripture or philosophy if we place it in both faculties. Consent (saith Vasquez) seems to denote the concourse at the will with the understanding; but to leave that, it is most certain the saving, justifying act of faith lies principally in the consent of the will, which consent is the effect of the Almighty power of God, Eph. 1: 19. He allures and draws the will to Christ, and he draws with the cords of a man, i.e. he prevails with it by rational arguments: For the soul being prepared by convictions of its lost and miserable estate by sin, and that there is but one door of hope open to it for an escape from the wrath to come, and that is Christ; being also satisfied of the fulness and completeness of his saving ability, and of his willingness to make it over for our salvation, upon such just and equal terms; this cannot but prevail with the will of a poor distressed sinner, to consent and chose him.
Fifthly, and lastly, The last and principal thing included in our receiving of Christ, is the respect that this act of acceptance has unto the terms upon which Christ is tendered to us in the gospel, to which it is most agreeable, 1 Cor. 15: 11. "So we preach, and so ye believed:" Faith answers the gospel-offer, as the impress upon the zeal does the engraving in the seal; and this is of principal consideration, for there is no receiving Christ upon any other terms but his own, proposed in the gospel to us; He will never come lower, nor make them easier than they are for any man's sake in the world; we must either receive him upon these, or part with him for ever as thousands do, who could not be content to agree to some articles, but rather choose to be damned for ever than submit to all: This is the great controversy betwixt Christ and sinners; upon this, many thousands break off the treaty, and part with Christ, because he will not come to their terms; but every true believer receives him upon his own, i.e. their acceptance of him by faith, is in all things consentaneous to the overtures made of him in the written word. So he tenders himself, and so they receive him, as will be evident in the following particulars.
First, The gospel offers Christ to us sincerely and really, and so the true believer receives and accepts him, even with a faith unfeigned; 1 Tim. 1: 5. If ever the soul be serious and in earnest in any thing, it is so in this: Can we suppose the heart of him that flies for his life to the refuge city, to be serious and in earnest to escape by flight the avenger of blood who pursues him? Then is the heart of a convinced sinner serious in this matter; for under that notion is the work of faith presented to us, Heb. 6: 18.
Secondly, Christ is offered to us in the gospel entirely and undividedly, as clothed with all his offices, priestly, prophetical, and regal; as Christ Jesus the Lord, Acts 16: 31. and so the true believer receives him; The hypocrite, like the harlot, is for dividing, but the sincere believer finds the need he has of every office of Christ, and knows not how to want any thing that is in him.
His ignorance makes him necessary and desirable to him as a prophet: His guilt makes him necessary as a priest: His strong and powerful lusts and corruptions make him necessary as a king: and in truth, he sees not any thing in Christ that he can spare; he needs all that is in Christ, and admires infinite wisdom in nothing more than the investing Christ with all these offices, which are so suited to the poor sinner's wants and miseries. Look, as the three offices are undivided in Christ, so they are in the believer's acceptance; and before this trial no hypocrite can stand; for all hypocrites reject and quarrel with something in Christ; they like his pardon better than his government. They call him indeed, Lord and Master, but it is but an empty title they bestow upon him; for let them ask their own hearts if Christ be Lord over their thoughts, as well as words; over their secret, as well as open actions; over their darling lusts, as well as others; let them ask, who will appear to be Lord and Master over them, when Christ and the world come in competition? When the pleasure of sin shall stand upon one side, and sufferings to death, and deepest points of self denial, upon the other side? Surely it is the greatest affront that can be offered to the Divine Wisdom and Goodness, to separate in our acceptance, what is so united in Christ, for our salvation and happiness. As without any one of these offices, the work of our salvation could not be completed, so without acceptance of Christ in them all, our union with him by faith cannot be completed.
The gospel-offer of Christ includes all his offices, and gospel- faith just so receives him; to submit to him, as well as to be redeemed by him; to imitate him in the holiness of his life, as well as to reap the purchases and fruits of his death. It must be an entire receiving of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, Christ is offered to us in the gospel exclusively, as the alone and only Saviour of sinners; with whose blood and intercession nothing is to be mixed; but the soul of a sinner is singly to rely and depend on him, and no other, Acts 4: 2. 1 Cor. 3: 11 and so faith receives him, Psal. 71: 16 "I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only", Phil 3: 9. "And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ." To depend partly upon Christ's righteousness, and partly upon our own, is to set one foot upon a rock, and the other in a quick sand; either Christ will be to us all in all, or nothing at all, in point of righteousness and salvation; he affects not social honour; as he did the whole work, so he expects the sole praise; if we be not able to save to the uttermost, why do we depend capon him at all? and if he be, why do we lean upon any beside him?
Fourthly, The gospel offers Christ freely to sinners as the gift, not the sale of God, John 4: 10; Isa. 55: 1; Rev 22: 17 and even so faith receives him. The believer comes to Christ with an empty hand, not only as an undeserving, but as an hell-deserving sinner; he comes to Christ as to one that justifies the ungodly, Rom 4: 5. "Unto him that worketh not, but believeth in him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." Where by him that worketh not, he means a convinced, humbled sinner who finds himself utterly unable to do the task the law sets him, i.e. perfectly to obey it; and therefore in a law sense is said not to work; for it is all one as to the intent and purpose of the law, not to work, and not to work perfectly. This is he convinced of; and therefore comes to Christ as one that is in himself ungodly, acknowledging the righteousness, by which alone he can stand before God, is in Christ, and not in himself, in whole, or in part; and by the way, let this encourage poor souls that are scared and daunted for want of due qualifications, for closings with and embracing Christ. There is nothing qualifies a man for Christ more than a sense of his unworthiness of him, and the want of all excellencies or ornaments, that may commend him to divine acceptance.
Fifthly, The gospel offers Christ orderly to sinners, first his person, then his privileges. God first gives his Son, and then with him, or as a consequent of that gift, he gives us all things, Rom. 8: 32. In the same order must our faith receive him. The believer does not marry the portion first, and then the person, but to be found in him is the first and great care of a believer.
I deny not but it is lawful for any to have an eye to the benefits of Christ. Salvation from wrath is, and lawfully may be intended and aimed at: "Look unto me, and be saved all ye ends of the earth," Isa. 45: 22. Nor do I deny but there are many poor souls, who being in deep distress and fear, may, and often do, look mostly to their own safety at first, and that there is much confusion, as well in the acting of their faith, as in their condition; but sure I am, it is the proper order in believing, first to accept the person of the Lord Jesus: Heaven is no doubt very desirable, but Christ is more: "Whom have I in heaven but thee?" Psal. 73: 25. Union with Christ is, in order of nature, antecedent to the communication of his privileges, therefore so it ought to be in the order and method of believing.
Sixthly, Christ is advisedly, offered in the gospel to sinners, as the result of God's eternal counsel, a project of grace upon which his heart and thoughts have been much set, Zech. 6: 13. The counsel of peace was betwixt the Father and the Son. And so the believer receives him, most deliberately weighing the matter in his most deep and serious thoughts; for this is a time of much solicitude and thoughtfulness. The soul's espousals are acts of judgement, Hos. 2: 19. on our part, as well as on God's; We are therefore bid to sit down and count the cost, Luke 14: 28. Faith, or the actual receiving of Christ, is the result of many previous debates in the soul; The matter has been pondered over and over: The objections and discouragements, both from the self-denying terms of the gospel, and our own vileness and deep guilt, have been ruminated, and lain upon our hearts day and night, and after all things have been balanced in the most deep consideration, the soul is determined to this conclusion, I must have Christ, be the terms never so hard, be my sins never so great and many, I will yet go to him, and venture my soul upon him; if I perish, I perish. I have thought out all my thoughts, and this is the result, union with Christ here, or separation from God for ever must be my lot.
And thus does the Lord open the hearts of his elect, and win the consent of their wills to receive Jesus Christ upon the deepest consideration and debate of the matter in their own most solemn thoughts: They understand and know, that they must deeply deny themselves, take up his cross and follow him, Matt. 16: 24. renounce not only sinful but religious self; these are hard and difficult things, but yet the necessity and excellency of Christ make them appear eligible and rational: by all which you see faith is another thing than what the sound of that word (as it is generally understood) signifies to the understandings of most men. This is that fiducial receiving of Christ here to be opened.
Secondly, Our next work will be to evince this receiving of Christ as has been opened, to be that special saving faith of God's elect: This is that faith of which such great and glorious things are spoken in the gospel, which, whosoever has shall be saved, and he that has it not shall be damned; and this I shall evidently prove by the following arguments or reasons.
Arg. 1. First, That faith which gives the soul right and title to spiritual adoption, with all the privileges and benefits thereof, is true and saving faith.
But such a receiving of Christ as has been described, gives the soul right and title to spiritual adoption, with all the privileges and benefits thereof.
Therefore such a receiving of Christ as has been described is true and saving faith.
The major proposition is undeniable, for our right and title to spiritual adoption, and the privileges thereof arise from our union with Jesus Christ; we being united to the Son of God, are, by virtue of that union, reckoned or accounted sons, Gal. 3: 26. "You are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ:" The act of saving faith is union with Christ's person, the consequent of that union is adoption, or right to the inheritance.
The minor is most plain in the text: "To as many as received him, to them gave he power or right to become the sons of God:" false faith has no such privilege annexed to it; no unbeliever is thus dignified: No stranger entitled to this inheritance.
Arg. 2. Secondly, That only is saving and justifying faith, which is in all true believers, in none but true believers, and in all true believers at all times.
But such a receiving of Christ as has been described, is in all true believers, in none but true believers, and in all true believers at all times.
Therefore such a receiving of Christ as has been described, is the only saving and justifying faith.
The major is undeniable, that must needs contain the essence of saving faith, which is proper to every true believer at all times, and to no other.
The minor will be as clear, for there is no other act of faith, but this of fiducial receiving Christ as he is offered, that does agree to all true believers, to none but true believers, and to all true believers at all times.
There be three acts of faith, assent, acceptance, and assurance: The Papists generally give the essence of saving faith to the first, viz. assent. The Lutherans, and some of our own, give it to the last, viz. assurance: but it can be neither way so. Assent does not agree only to true believers, or justified persons. Assurance agrees to justified persons, and them only, but not to all justified persons, and that at all times.
Assent is too low to contains the essence of saving faith, it is found in the unregenerate as well as the regenerate: yea, in devils as well as men, James 2: 19. it is supposed and included in justifying faith, but it is not the justifying or saving act. Assurance is as much too high, being found only in some eminent believers: and in them too but at some times. There is many a true believer to whom the joy and comfort of assurance is denied; they may say of their union with Christ, as Paul said of his vision; whether in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell; so they, whether in Christ or out of Christ, they cannot tell.
A true believer may "walk in darkness, and see no light," Isa. 50: 10. Nay a man must be a believer before he know himself to be so; the direct act of faith is before the reflex act: so that the justifying act of faith lies neither in assent nor in assurance. Assent saith, I believe that Christ is, and that he is the Saviour of the elect. Assurance saith, I believe and am sure that Christ died for me, and that I shall be saved through him. So that assent widens the nature of faith too much, and assurance upon the other hand straitens it too much; but acceptance, which saith, I take Christ in all his offices to be mine, this fits it exactly, and belongs to all true believers, and to none but true believers; and to all true believers at all times. This therefore must be the justifying and saving act of faith.
Arg. 3. Thirdly, That and no other is the justifying and saving act at faith, to which the properties and effects of saving faith do belong, or in which they are only found.
But in the fiducial receiving of Christ are the properties and effects of saving faith only found.
This therefore must be the justifying and saving act of faith.
First, By saving faith, Christ is said to "dwell in our hearts," Eph. 3: 17. but it is neither by assent, nor assurance, but by acceptance, and receiving him that he dwells in our hearts; not by assent, for then he would dwell in the unregenerate; nor by assurance, for he must dwell in our hearts before we can be assured of it: therefore it is by acceptance.
Secondly, By faith we are justified, Rom. 5: 1. But neither assent nor assurance, for the reasons above, do justify; therefore it must be by the receiving act, and no other.
Thirdly, The scripture ascribes great difficulties to that faith by which we are saved, as being most cross and opposite to the corrupt nature of man; but of all the acts of faith, none is clogged with like difficulties, or conflicts with greater oppositions than the receiving act does; this act is attended with the greatest difficulties, fears, and deepest self-denial. In assent, a man's reason is convinced, and yields to the evidence of truth, so that he can do no other but assent to the truth. In assurance there is nothing against man's will or comfort, but much for it; every one desires it: but it is not so in the acceptance of Christ, upon the self-denying terms of the gospel, as will hereafter be evinced. We conclude there fore, that in this consists the nature and essence of saving faith.
Thirdly, Having seen what the receiving of Jesus Christ is, and that it is the faith by which we are justified and saved, I next come to open the dignity and excellency of this faith, whose praises and encomiums are in all the scriptures; there you find it renowned by the title of precious faith, 2 Pet. 1: 7. enriching faith, Jam. 2: 5. the work of God, John 6: 29. the great mystery of godliness, 1 Tim. 3: 16. With many more rich epithets throughout the scriptures bestowed upon it.
Now faith may be considered two ways, viz. either qualitatively or relatively.
Considered qualitatively, as a saving grace, it has the same excellency that all other precious saving graces have; as it is the fruit of the Spirit, it is more precious than gold, Prov. 8: 11, 19. And so are all other graces as well as faith; in this sense they all shine with equal glory, and that a glory transcending all the glory of this world: but then consider faith relatively, as the instrument by which the righteousness of Christ is apprehended and made ours; and in that consideration it excels all other graces.
This is the grace that is singled out from among all other graces, to receive Christ, by which office it is dignified above all its fellows: as Moses was honoured above the many thousands of Israel, when God took him up into the mount, admitted him nearer to himself than any other of all the tribes might come; for they stood without the rail, while Moses was received into the special presence of God, and was admitted to such views as others must not have: so faith is honoured above all its fellow graces, in being singled out, and solemnly appointed to this high office in our justification: this is that precious eye that looks unto Christ as the stung Israelites did to the brazen serpent, and derives healing virtue from him to the soul. It is the grace which instrumentally saves us, Eph. 2: 8. As it is Christ's glory to be the door of salvation, so it is faith's glory to be the golden key that opens that door.
What shall I say of faith? It is the bond of union; the instrument of justification; the spring of spiritual peace and joy; the means of spiritual life and subsistence; and therefore the great scope and drift of the gospel; which aims at and presseth nothing more than to bring men and women to believe.
First, This is the bond of our union with Christ, that union is begun in our vivification, and completed in our actual receiving of Christ. The first is the bond of union on the Spirit's part, the second a bond of union on our part. "Christ dwelleth in our hearts by faith," Eph. 3: 17. And therein it is a door opened to let in many rich blessings to the soul, for, by uniting us to Christ, it brings us into special favour and acceptation with God, Eph. 1: 6. Makes us the special objects of Christ's conjugal love and delight, Eph. 5: 29. Draws from his heart sympathy and a tender sense of all our miseries and burdens, Heb. 4: 15.
Secondly, It is the instrument of our justification, Rom. 5: 1. Till Christ be received (thus received by us) we are in our sins; under guilt and condemnation; but when faith comes, then comes freedom: "By him all that believe are justified from all things." Acts 13: 38; Rom 8: 1. For it apprehends or receives the pure and perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus, wherein the soul, how guilty and sinful soever it be in itself, stands faultless and spotless before the presence of God; all obligations to punishment are, upon believing, immediately dissolved; a full and final pardon sealed. O precious faith! who can sufficiently value it!
What respect, reader, wouldst thou have to that hand that should bring thee a pardon when on the ladder or block? Why, such a pardon, which thou canst not read without tears of joy, is brought thee by the hand of faith O inestimable grace! This clothes the pure righteousness of Jesus upon our defiled souls, and so causes us to become the "righteousness of God in him," or as it is 1 John 3: 7 "Righteous as he is righteous:" Non formali & intrinsica justitia, sed relativa: Not with a formal inherent righteousness of our own, but with a relative imputed righteousness from another.
I know this most excellent and most comfortable doctrine of imputed righteousness, is not only denied but derided by Papists. Stapleton calls it spectrum cerebri Lutherani: The monstrous birth of Luther's brain! But, blessed be God, this comfortable truth is well secured against all attempts of its adversaries. Let their blasphemous mouths call it in derision, as they do putative righteousness, i.e. a mere fancied or conceited righteousness: Yet we know assuredly Christ's righteousness is imputed to us, and that in the way of faith. If Adam's sin became ours by imputation, then so does Christ's righteousness also become ours by imputation, Rom. 5: 17. If Christ were made a sinner by the imputation of our sins to him, who had no sin of his own, then we are made righteous by the imputations of Christ's righteousness to us, who have no righteousness of our own, according to 2 Cor 5: 21. This was the way in which Abraham, the father of them that believe, was justified; and therefore this is the way in which all believers, the children of Abraham, must, in the like manner, be justified, Rom 4: 22, 23, 24. Who can express the worth of faith in this one respect, were this all it did for our souls?
But, Thirdly, It is the spring of our spiritual peace and joy: and that as it is the instrument of our justification. If it be an instrument of our justification, it cannot but be the spring of our consolation, Rom 5: 1 "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God " In uniting us with Christ, and apprehending; and applying his righteousness to us, it becomes the seed or root of all the peace and joy of a Christian's life. Joy, the child of faith, therefore bears its name, Phil 1 25 "The joy of faith". So 1 Pet 1. 8, 9 "believing we rejoice with joy unspeakable." We cannot forbear rejoicing when by faith we are brought to the sight and knowledge of such a privileged state; when faith has first given and then cleared our title to Christ, joy is no more under the soul's command; we cannot but rejoice, and that with joy unspeakable.
Fourthly, It is the means of our spiritual livelihood and subsistence: all other graces, like birds in the nest, depend upon what faith brings in to them; take away faith, and all the graces languish and die: joy, peace, hope, patience, and all the rest, depend upon faith, as the members of the natural body do upon the vessels by which blood and spirits are conveyed to them. "The life which I now live (saith the apostle) is by the faith of the Son of God," Gal. 2: 20. It provides our ordinary food, and extraordinary cordials, Psal. 27: 13. "I had fainted, unless I had believed." And seeing it is all this to our souls,
Fifthly, In the last place, it is no wonder that it is the main scope and drift of the gospel, to press and bring souls to believing: it is the gospel's grand design to bring up the hearts of men and women to faith. The urgent commands of the gospel aim at this, 1 John 3: 23. Mark 1: 14, 15. John 12: 36. Hither also look the great promises and encouragements of the gospel, John 6: 35, 37. So Mark 16: 16. And the opposite sin of unbelief is every where fearfully aggravated and threatened, John 16: 8, 9. John 3: 18, 35. And this was the third thing promised, namely, a discovery of the transcendent worth and excellency of saving faith.
Fourthly, But lest we commit a mistake here, to the prejudice of Christ's honour and glory, which must not be given to another, no not to faith itself; I promised you in the fourth place, to show you upon what account faith is thus dignified and honoured; that so we may give unto faith the things that are faith's, and to Christ the things that are Christ's.
And I find four opinions about the interest of faith in our justification: some will have it to justify us formally, not relatively: i.e. upon the account of his own intrinsical value and worth; and this is the popish sense of justification by faith. Some affirm, that though faith be not our perfect legal righteousness, considered as a work of ours, yet the act of believing is imputed to us for righteousness, i.e. God graciously accepts it instead of perfect legal righteousness, and so, in his esteem, it is our evangelical righteousness. And this is the Armenian sense of justification by faith.
Some there are also, even among our reformed divines, that contend that faith justifies and saves us, as it is the condition of the new covenant. And lastly, others will have it to justify us as an instrument apprehending, or receiving the righteousness of Christ; with which opinion I must close. When I consider my text calls it a receiving of Christ. Most certain it is,
That, First, It does not justify in the popish sense, upon the account of its own proper worth and dignity; for then,
First, Justification should be of debt, not of grace; contrary to Rom. 3: 23, 24.
Secondly, This would frustrate the very scope and end of the death of Christ; for if righteousness come by the law, i.e. by the way of works and desert, then is Christ dead in vain, Gal. 2: 21.
Thirdly, Then the way of our justification by faith would be so far from excluding, that it would establish boasting, expressly contrary to the apostle, Rom. 3: 26,27.
Fourthly, Then there should be no defects or imperfections in faith, for a defective or imperfect thing can never be the matter of our justification before God: if it justify upon the account of its own worth and proper dignity, it can have no flaw or imperfection in it, contrary to the common sense of all believers. Nay,
Fifthly, Then it is the same thing to be justified by faith, and to be justified by works, which the apostle so carefully distinguisheth and opposeth, Phil. 3: 9. and Rom. 4: 6. So that we conclude it does not justify in the Popish sense, for any worth or proper excellency that is in itself.
Secondly, And it is as evident, it does not justify us in the Arminian sense, viz. as the "to credere", the act of believing is imputed or accepted by God, as our evangelical righteousness, instead of perfect legal righteousness. In the former opinion you have the dregs of Popery, and here you have refined Popery. Let all Armenians know, we have as high an esteem for faith as any men in the world, but yet we will not rob Christ to clothe faith. We cannot embrace their opinion, because,
First, We must then dethrone Christ to exalt faith: we are willing to give it all that is due to it, but we dare not despoil Christ of his glory for faith's sake: "He is the Lord our righteousness," Jer. 23. We dare not set the servant above the master. We acknowledge no righteousness but what the obedience and satisfaction of Christ yields us. His blood, not our faith; his satisfaction, not our believing it, is the matter of our justification be fore God.
Secondly, We dare not yield this point, lest we undermine all the comfort of Christians, by setting their pardon and peace upon a weak imperfect work of their own. Oh how tottering and unstable must their station be, that stand upon such a bottom as this! What alterations are there in our faith, what mixtures of unbelief at all times, and prevalence of unbelief at some times; and is this a foundation to build our justification and hope upon? Debile fundamentum fallit opus: If we lay the stress here, we build upon very loose ground, and must be at a continual loss both as to safety and comfort.
Thirdly, We dare not wrong the justice and truth of God at that rate, as to affirm that he esteems and imputes our poor weak faith for perfect legal righteousness. We know that the judgement of God is always according to truth; if the justice of God require full payment, sure it will not say, it is fully satisfied by any acts of ours, when all that we can do amounts not to one mite of the vast sum we owe to God. So that we deservedly reject this opinion also.
Thirdly, And for the third opinion, That it justifies as the condition of the new covenant; though some of great name and worth among our Protestant divines seem to go that way, yet I cannot see, according to this opinion, any reason why repentance may not as properly be said to justify us as faith, for it is a condition of the new covenant as much as faith; and if faith justify as a condition, then every other grace that is a condition must justify as well as faith. I acknowledge faith to be a condition of the covenant, but cannot allow that it justifies as a condition. And therefore must profess myself best satisfied in the last opinion, which speaks it an instrument in our justification: it is the hand which receives the righteousness of Christ that justifies us, and that gives it its value above all other graces; as when we say a diamond ring is worth one hundred pounds, we mean not the gold that receives, but the stone that is set in it, is worth so much. Faith, considered as an habit, is no more precious than other gracious habits are, but considered as an instrument to receive Christ and his righteousness, so it excels them all; and this instrumentality of faith is noted in these phrases, "epi tei pisei", Rom. 3: 28. and "dia tes pisteos", Rom. 3: 22. By faith, and through faith. And thus much of the nature and excellency of saving faith.
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