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let them suffer or be oppressed in vain. But no enemy can deprive us of the love with which God favours us, or the grace which he has given us, or the glory which he has prepared for us. Now what shall we say to these things?'
Alas! there are too many who say, at least in their hearts, (for their conduct bewrays their secret thoughts,') we care but little about them. If they were to speak out, they might adopt the language of the rebellious Jews to the prophet. As to the word which thou hast spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee; but will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth.** And there are others who plainly say, Let us then continue in sin that grace may abound.' They do not so expressly reject the Gospel, as to take encouragement from it to go on in their wickedness. The case of the former is very dangerous, that of the latter is still worse. But grace, though long slighted, though often abused, is once more proclaimed in your hearing. The Lord forbid that you should perish with the sound of salvation in your ears!
At present, and while you persist in your impenitence and unbelief, 1 may reverse the words of my text. Oh! consider, I beseech you, before it be too late, If God be against you, who can be for you? Will your companions comfort you in a dying hour? Will your riches profit you in the day of wrath? Will the recollection of your sinful pleasures give you confidence to stand before this great and glorious Lord God, when you shall be summoned to appear at his tribunal? May you be timely wise, and 'flee for refuge to the hope set before you!
ROMANS, viii. 33.
Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth.
THOUGH the collating of manuscripts and various readings, has undoubtedly been of use in rectifying some mistakes which, through the inadvertency of transcribers, had crept into different
* Jerem. xliv. 16, 17.
copies of the New Testament; yet such supposed corrections of the text ought to be admitted with caution, and not unless supported by strong reasons and authorities. The whole Scripture is given by inspiration of God: and they who thankfully receive it as his book, will not trifle with it by substituting bold conjectural alterations, which, though they may deem them to be amendments, may possibly disguise or alter the genuine sense of the passage. Some fancied emendations might be pointed out, suggested by very learned men, which do not seem to afford so strong a proof of the sound judgment of the proposers, as of their vanity and rashness. Let the learned men be as ingenious as they please in correcting and amending the text of Horace or Virgil, for it is of little importance to us whether their criticisms be well founded or not, but let them treat the pages of divine revelation with reverence.
But the pointing of the New Testament, though it has a considerable influence upon the sense, is of inferior authority. It is a human invention, very helpful, and for the most part, I suppose, well executed. But in some places it may admit of real amendment. The most ancient manuscripts are without points, and some of them are even without a distinction of the words. With the pointing, therefore, we may take more liberty than with the text: though even this liberty should be used soberly. A change in the pointing of this verse and the following, will not alter the received sense, but, as some critics judge, will make it more striking and emphatical. If two clauses should be read with an interrogation instead of a period, the apostle's triumphant challenge may be expressed in the following brief paraphrase :
'Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? Shall God himself? So far from it, it is he who justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? Shall Christ? Nay, he loves them, and accepts them. Shall he who died for them, yea, rather who is risen again, is even at the right hand of God,' on their behalf, 'who also maketh intercession for them?' There is not the least ground to fear that he who has promised to justify them will lay any thing to their charge; or that he will condemn them who died to deliver them from condemnation. Nor can any charge of their enemies prevail to the condemnation of those whom God is pleased to justify, and for whom Christ died, and now intercedes before the throne.
The death, the resurrection, and ascension of MESSIAH, we have already considered: I shall speak only to two points from this verse.
I. The title here given to believers, ' God's elect.'
II. Their great privilege, they are justified: It is God who justifieth' them.
I. The persons who will be finally justified by God are here styled his elect.' Very near and strong is the connexion between peace and truth. Yet a mistaken zeal for truth has produced many controversies, which have hurt the peace of the people of God among themselves; and at the same time have exposed them to the scorn and derision of the world. On the other hand, a pretended or improper regard for peace has often been prejudicial to the truth. But that peace which is procured at the expense of truth, is too dearly purchased. Every branch of doctrine, belonging to the faith once delivered to the saints, is not equally plain to every believer. Some of these doctrines the apostle compares to milk, the proper and necessary food for babes; others to strong meat, adapted to a more advanced state in the spiritual life, when experience is more enlarged, and the judgment more established.* The Lord, the great teacher, leads his children on gradually, from the plainer to the more difficult truths, as they are able to bear them. But human teachers are often too hasty; they do not attend sufficiently to the weakness of young converts, but expect them to learn and receive every thing at once; they are not even content with offering strong meat prematurely to babes, but force upon them the bones of subtilties, distinctions, and disputations. But, though a judicious minister will endeavour to accommodate himself to the state of his hearers, no Gospel truth is to be tamely and voluntarily suppressed from a fear of displeasing men. In fact, however, the controversies which have obtained among real Christians, have not so much affected the truth as it lies in the Scripture, as the different explanations, which fallible men of warm passions, and too full of their own sense, have given of it. They who professedly hold and avow the doctrine of an election of grace, are now called Calvinists; and the name is used by some persons as a term of reproach. They would insinuate that Calvin invented the doctrine; or, at least, that he borrowed it from Austin, who, according to them, was the first of the fathers that held it. It is enough for me that I find it in the New Testament. But many things advanced upon the subject by later writers, I confess I do not find there. If any persons advance harsh assertions, not warranted by the word of God, I am not bound to defend them. But as the doctrine itself is plainly taught, both by our Lord and his apostles, and is of great importance, when rightly understood, to promote the humiliation, gratitude, and comfort of believers, I
*Heb. v. 13, 14.
think it my duty to state it as plainly as I can. I shall offer my view of it in a series of propositions so evidently founded (as I conceive) on acknowledged principles of Scripture, that they cannot be easily controverted by any persons who have a real reverence for the word of God, and any due acquaintance with their own hearts.
I. All mankind are sinners* by nature and practice. Their lives are stained with transgressions, their hearts are depraved, their minds blinded, and alienated from God. So that they are not sensible either of their guilt or their misery; nor so much as desirous of returning to God, till he prevents them with his mercy and begins to draw their hearts towards himself. Were I to prove this at large, I might transcribe one half of the Bible. Nay, it is fully proved by experience and observation. The Heathens felt and confessed it. My present subject does not require me to account for it, or to reason upon it. That it is so, I appeal to fact.
II. The inestimable gift of a Saviour, to atone for sin, and to mediate between God and man;t that there might be a way opened for the communication of mercy to sinners, without prejudice to the honour of the perfections and government of Godthis gift was the effect of his own rich grace and love, no less unthought of and undesired, than undeserved, by fallen man.
III. Wherever this love of God to man is made known by the Gospel, there is encouragement, and a command given to all men every where to repent.' The manifestation of the eternal Word in the human nature, and his death upon the cross, are spoken of as the highest display of the wisdom and goodness of God; designed to give us, in one and the same transaction, the most affecting sense of the evil of sin, and the strongest assurance imaginable, that there is forgiveness with God.
IV. Men, while blinded by pride and prejudice, enslaved to sinful passions, and under the influence of this present evil world, neither can nor will receive the truth in the love of it. T They are prepossessed, and pre-engaged. This, at least, is evidently the case with many people in this favoured nation, who, when the Gospel is proposed to them in the most unexceptionable manner, not only disregard, but treat it with a pointed contempt and indignation. Such was its reception at the beginning,** and we are not to wonder, therefore, that it is so at this day.
V. As all mankind spring from one stock, there are not two different sorts of men by nature; consequently they who receive
*Rom. iii. 23. Rom. iii. 24, 25. Acts, xvii. 18.
† John, iii. 16.
¶ 2 Cor. iv. 4.
Rom. v. 6. 8.
Acts, xvii. 30, 31. ** Luke, iv. 20, 29.
the Gospel are no better in themselves than they are who reject it.* The apostle, writing to the believers at Corinth, having enumerated a catalogue, in which he comprises some of the most flagitious and infamous characters,† and allowed to be so by the common consent of mankind, adds, Such were some of you.' Surely it cannot be said that they who had degraded themselves below the brutes, by their abominable practices, were better disposed than others to receive that Gospel which is not more distinguished by the sublimity of its doctrine, than by the purity and holiness of conversation which it enjoins!
VI. It seems, therefore, at least highly probable, that all men universally, if left to themselves, who act as the majority do to whom the word of salvation is sent; that is, they would reject and despise it. And it is undeniable, that some, who in the day of God's power have cordially received the Gospel, did for a season oppose it with no less pertinacity than any of those who have continued to hate and resist it to the end of life. Saul of Tarsus was an eminent instance. He did not merely slight the doctrine of a crucified Saviour; but, according to his mistaken views, thought himself bound in conscience to suppress those who embraced it. He breathed out threatenings and slaughter, and, as he expresses it himself, was exceedingly mad against them,' and made havoc of them. His mind was filled with this bitter and insatiable rage, at the moment when the Lord Jesus appeared to him in his way to Damascus. Is it possible that a man thus disposed should suddenly become a preacher of the faith which he had long laboured to destroy, if his heart and views had not been changed by a supernatural agency? or that the like prejudices in any other persons can be removed in any other manner?
VII. If all men had heard the Gospel in vain, then Christ would have died in vain.' But this is prevented by the covenanted office and influence of the Holy Spirit,|| who accompanies the word with his energy, and makes it the power of God to the salvation of those who believe. He prepares the minds of sinners, and, as in the case of Lydia, T opens their hearts to understand and receive the truth, in the love of it.
VIII. But who will presume to say, that when God was pleased to make a proposal of mercy to a race of rebels, he was likewise bound to overcome the obstinacy of men, in every case, and to compel them to accept it by an act of his invincible power? If he does thus interpose in favour of some, it is an act of free mercy to which they have no claim. For if we had a
* Eph. ii. 3. John, xvi. 3.
1 Cor. vi. 9. 11. Acts, xvi. 14.
Acts, ix. 1.
Acts, xxvi. 11.