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world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them unto repentance seeing they crucify to themselves the son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth, which drinketh in the rain that cometh upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God; but that which beareth thorns and briers, is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.'
It will be unnecessary for me to determine here, who are the persons meant by the apostle in this passage. He himself has decided, that they are not Christians. Their character is fully expressed in the 8th verse, under the image of the earth which beareth thorns and briers;' while that of Christians is expressed in the 7th verse, under the image of the earth, which bringeth forth herbs, meet for them by whom it is dressed.' These are here studiously contrasted. The character of the former is therefore exhibited by the apostle as a direct contrast to that of Christians; who, it is to be remembered, are represented everywhere in the Scriptures as bringing forth good fruit. This passage then teaches nothing opposed to the doctrine which I am endeavouring to support.
Secondly, It is not asserted by the apostle that those of whom he speaks ever actually fall away. The case is stated only in the form of a supposition; and he declares only that, should they fail away, there is no possibility of renewing them unto repentance. Whether such persons do in fact fall away is therefore left uncertain.
Should it be thought, that the expressions in this passage amount to a description of Christianity; and that therefore Christians are meant in it; I answer, that neither of the expressions taken separately, nor all of them together, involve any necessary description of Christianity. It is true that Christians sustain all these characteristics, except two; viz. partaking of the Holy Ghost, and the powers of the world to come; (μEλortos aiavos, the future age;) that is, the period of the Christian dispensation, thus denominated. These phrases indicate the miraculous powers possessed by many Christians when this passage was written, but never belonging to Christians as such. They therefore denote no part of Christianity. Judas possessed these characteristics. The remaining expressions are all indefinite; and as truly applicable to men who,
still continuing to be sinners, have enjoyed peculiar Christian advantages, as they can be to Christians. The whole drift of this passage therefore, even when construed most favourably for those whom I oppose, is only ambiguously in favour of their doctrine; and is, in my view, decided against them by the apostle himself. But it cannot be rationally believed, that a doctrine of this importance would, in opposition to so many clear, decisive declarations, have been left to expressions merely ambiguous.
Another passage pleaded for the same purpose is the declaration of Christ, John xvii. 12, Those whom thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition.' To discover the true meaning of this passage, we need only recur to other declarations of the same glorious Person. Many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias; but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow.' The widow of Sarepta is here, by the very same phraseology, included among 'the widows of Israel;' as Judas was included among those that were given to Christ.' Yet we know, and this passage declares, that she was not an Israelitish, but a Sidonian widow and we know equally well, that Judas was never given to Christ as a Christian.
Again: There were many lepers in Israel, in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them were cleansed, saving Naaman, the Syrian.' Naaman the Syrian was not an Israelitish leper; though, in the first apparent meaning of the passage, mentioned as such. Judas was not given to Christ, although apparently mentioned as thus given. The whole meaning of this phrase would be completely expressed thus:
Those whom thou gavest me have I kept; and none of them is lost but the son of perdition is lost."
That Judas was never given to Christ we know from his whole history, and the repeated declarations of his Master. This passage therefore has not even a remote reference to the subject in debate.
Another passage of the same nature is 1 Tim. i. 19, ' Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away, concerning faith have made shipwreck.'. The meaning of this passage may be easily learned from a correct translation: "Holding fast faith, (faithfulness or fidelity,) and a
good conscience; which some (that is, some teachers,) having cast away, concerning the faith, (TT, that is, the doctrines of the Gospel,) have made shipwreck.”
Generally, it may be observed, that the doctrine against which I contend is not supported in a single unequivocal declaration of the Scriptures. I know of none in which it is asserted in terms so favourable to it as those which I have considered. Whatever is said concerning the apostasy of any Christian professors is decisively explained by St. John. "They went out from us, but they were not of us for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.'
1. The faithfulness of God is highly conspicuous in the truths which have been now discussed.
Christians provoke God daily, and awaken his anger against themselves more and more continually. By every sin they persuade him, if I may be allowed the expression, to desert them, and to give them up to themselves. Still he preserves them from destruction. He has promised them life. He has established his covenant with them for an everlasting covenant; and it shall never be forgotten. On his immutability their safety stands immoveable. In this manner is it exhibited by himself. For I, (saith he,) am Jehovah: I change not: therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.' This attribute is the seal, the certainty of every promise: and sooner shall heaven and earth pass away, than one jot or one tittle of that which is promised shall fail.'
2. From these observations we learn, that the promises of the Gospel are absolutely necessary for the hope and support of Christians.
Christians in their very best estate possess such a character as, to say the most, furnishes a very feeble and distant hope of their perseverance in holiness, and their final success in obtaining salvation. In better language, if left to themselves, there is no rational hope that they would ever arrive at the kingdom of heaven. If God did not preserve them, they would fall daily, certainly, and finally. Without the promises
of God, prone as Christians are to backslide, they would feel no confidence in their own success; but would sink into despondency and despair. To preserve them from this despondency, and the ruin which would result from it, God has filled his word with promises, which yield solid and sufficient support, consolation, hope, and joy. On these they rest safely, and cannot be moved.
3. We here learn, that the Christian life is a life far removed from gloom.
Many persons, hearing often of the self-denial, repentance, and mortification of sin, connected with Christianity, have supposed a life of religion to be only gloomy and discouraging; and have thus dreaded it, as destitute of all present enjoyment. In this opinion they have been confirmed by the sad countenances, demure behaviour, and cheerless lives of some who have professed themselves Christians. All this, however, is remote from the true character of religion. Real Christianity furnishes the fairest and most abundant enjoyment. It is delightful in itself; and, when not the immediate object of persecution, finds everywhere comforts, friends, and blessings. In God the Christian finds a sure, an ever-present, an everlasting friend; in Christ, a Saviour from sin and sorrow; in the divine promises, an indefeasible inheritance of unceasing and eternal good.
Let none, therefore, particularly let not those who are young, and who are easily deterred from approaching that which wears a forbidding aspect, be hindered from becoming religious by any apprehended gloominess in religion, or any sorrowful deportment of those who profess to be Christians. Christianity is but another name for joy. It can spread a smile even over this melancholy world, and lend delightful consolation to suffering and to sorrow. All its dictates, all its emotions, all its views, are cheerful, serene, and supporting. Here it is safe; hereafter it will triumph. Sin only is misery. Sinners in this world have a thousand sufferings of which the good man is ignorant; and in the world to come will lie down in eternal sorrow.
WHAT ARE NOT EVIDENCES.
EXAMINE YOURSELVES WHETHER YE BE IN THE FAITH PROVE YOUR
HAVING in a long series of Discourses considered the doctrine of regeneration, its antecedents, attendants, and consequents; I shall now proceed to another interesting subject of theology; viz. the evidences of regeneration.
In the text, the apostle commands the Corinthian Christians to' examine and prove themselves;' and states the purpose of this examination to be to determine whether they were in
the faith.' He then inquires of them, Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?' In the original, except ye be adoxo, unapproved; unable to endure the trial of such an examination. From this passage of Scripture it is plain, that it was the duty of the Corinthians to examine themselves concerning their Christian character; and that this examination was to be pursued by them so thoroughly, as to prove, so far as might be, whether they were, or were not, in the faith; whether Christ did or did not dwell in them by his Holy Spirit.