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SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE LII.
I TIMOTHY, CHAP. I.-VERSE 15.
THESE words contain the great charter of the Christian church, and are the title by which we claim all the promises of the gospel : if it be asked on what pretence the peace of God is proclaimed to men, and on what confidence pardon is offered to sinners, it is answered in the latter clause of the text; and that in his name is preached salvation, peace, and pardon to offenders. This doctrine, with the principles on which it is founded, and its natural consequences, distinguishes the Christian religion from all others. On this text are built the believer's hopes, and the advantages and favors which we claim beyond the terms of justice and natural religion. Whoever therefore rejects this article, does indeed reject the Christian religion, though not all the religion contained in the gospel, the moral duties of which are those of natural religion carried to perfection: and the man who receives not Christ for his Redeemer, may yet receive these, as being agreeable to his own reason and understanding. The difference between a true Deist and the Christian arises from the doctrine in the text. They both admit the being and providence of God, as well as the obligations of morality, and therefore the necessity of a virtuous life. Thus far the Deist cannot doubt, as his sole hope rests in his obedience to his equitable judge. Should the Christian build so far on other hopes, neglecting the weighty matters of the law, he deceives himself, and abuses the gospel of his Saviour. But the Deist reckons all men, nature of their creation, capable of fulfilling the end designed
from the very for them by God; and as he owns the duty of obeying God, he therefore claims his protection. The Christian knows that man has fallen from his primary state of innocence, and having no claim on God by his obedience, stands in need of pardon, as well as grace and assistance to perform the conditions on which pardon is offered: he believes that pardon and reconciliation has been granted to man through the sufferings of the Son of God; and that grace will be granted. All these points are briefly comprehended in the text. To illustrate and confirm this proposition, it is shown, I. what reason we have to believe that men were sinners, and stood in need of pardon and salvation : II. by what means Christ perfected their redemption and salvation.—I. It is a saying of St. Austin's, if man had not fallen, Christ had not come: our Lord speaks to the same sense, when he tells us, the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost ; and again, when he answered those who reproached him for conversing with publicans and sinners, they that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. Had man continued innocent, natural religion would have answered all the ends of his creation ; he would have wanted no Redeemer; for after the works of the creation were finished, God saw every thing that he had made ; and behold it was very good: in this state therefore no reconciler between God and man was wanted. That actions shall be rewarded or punished, natural sense and reason have always taught the considering part of mankind. The voice of reason and of the law is, this do and thou shalt live : for though man is altered, yet the nature of things is the same; so that the abstract consideration of virtue and vice properly infers the reward of the one and the punishment of the other; it is no wonder then that they who argue on such general views only should imagine that moral virtue may still exalt a man to the highest degree of happiness. In the question concerning the merit of good works, there has been much confusion, for want of distinguishing between good works, considered simply and in their own nature, and as performed by the sons of men : the first is, whether virtue in its own nature is intitled to reward. Now as sure as God is just, and that good differs from evil, God will and must reward the one and punish the other. But the question, whether the good works of men deserve reward, alters the state of the case ; since the nature of good works and of man also must be considered; for in his case you ask whether the man condemned for his evil works may be rewarded for his good works : this point exemplified in the case of a murderer, who has long after his crime led an irreproachable life. Though this instance is not absolutely parallel to our case, yet it shows that virtue and morality, naturally considered, may deserve reward, while the virtue and morality of man may not: and this is the parting point between the patrons of natural and of revealed religion ; the not considering which has made some think, that whilst we defend the authority of revelation, we give up the principles of reason and nature. But, say they, does not vice essentially differ from virtue? True, it does. Is not justice the attribute of God, who must therefore reward virtue and punish vice? True, still. Is not this then a sufficient foundation for religion, without recurring to grace and faith, or miracles, or mysteries ? True, it is; where native innocence is preserved, where religion is res integra: but with respect to those who have already offended, reason and nature declare vice must be punished : and if so, what must sinners expect? Whether such conditions should endear natural religion to sinners, let common sense judge. Were Christianity to be preached to a new race of men without stain of guilt, these doctrines would not apply to them: this point enlarged
Should this race however fall from innocence, and be liable to the punishments of vice, then the application holds good : this point also enlarged on. Some contend that God from his mercy and goodness will forgive sinners : but if the
justice of God must reward virtue and punish vice, and yet his mercy must forgive sinners, then natural religion contradicts itself, in affirming that sin necessarily must and must not be punished ; if it be said, it is probable God, pitying our weakness, will be lenient with us, so say we too; but probability infers not necessity; therefore it must depend on his will whether he will do it or no: all hopes therefore must be resolved into the evidence of free grace, which is no other than revelation. Would you then disprove revelation, and discard the religion of Christ? You must prove mankind to be in a state of innocence and purity; and then it will be senseless to talk of redemption : for what should innocence be redeemed from? This point enlarged on. But whilst you endeavor to prove this, try at least to be an instance of it yourself: this point also enlarged on. Innocence may challenge justice; but sin can only sue for pardon : justice you may have from nature, but pardon you must receive from grace and favor. The apophthegm of one of the wise men, learn to know yourself, is the first requisite in the choice of religion: this point exemplified in the case of a condemned malefactor, who must not sue to his prince in the same terms as a faithful and deserving subject may. Consider then with yourself; can you stand a trial with God ? if so, justice will do you right; but if conscience cries out to you, let us not enter into judgment with God, for in his sight shall no man living be justified, then seek, if happily you may find, his mercy. The Christian religion is throughout adapted to the present nature and circumstances of mankind ; nor can one see the reasonableness and beauty of the gospel, without considering the quality and condition of those for whose use it is designed : bence one great reason why the gospel has been so much undervalued in comparison with natural religion, that its end has been misunderstood. II. It is considered by what means Christ has wrought our redemption, That God is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, that is, without being offended at it, is a truth as discernible by the principles of reason as by the authority of revelation. The world then being in a state of corruption, men were manifestly become the children of wrath. To redeem it therefore, it was necessary that God should be reconciled to sinners, and should pardon the offences which could not be recalled, or through infirmity could not be avoided; to consider redemption otherwise, would be an attempt to rescue sinners from God's anger, whether he would or no. Look now into the gospel, and you will find that the only-begotten Son of God took our nature on him, and by a perfect obedience to his Father, and a voluntary death on the cross, completed this reconciliation, and obtained our pardon, in which properly consists the work of redemption. But to redeem men from God's displeasure, only that they might draw it on themselves afresh every day, would have been useless and unworthy of the Redeemer. To secure therefore the benefits of redemption to men, it was necessary for him to render them such as God might be pleased with; which he did by the powerful methods prescribed in the gospel for rectifying their depraved wills; and to render this effectual, he promised and bestowed on them the aid of his Holy Spirit, by which they might lay hold of eternal life. This is a short account of what Christ has done to save sinners; and in this what has any man to complain of? You have no reason to complain, you say : you are willing to be pardoned, but you cannot see how the death of Christ can reconcile God to sinners. But do you consider that you are the sinner, the person to be pardoned ? Is it your's, or your offended Master's business, to judge of the proper means of reconciliation? Surely it is his: why then debate a point in which you have no farther interest than to accept the blessing granted on any motives? If we cannot fully comprehend the reason of these means, there is but one just consequence, viz. that the counsels of God are unfathomable by human reason: