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and indulgence would be rejected. And that which wants pardon, cannot deserve praise and glory. “ He shows mercy to thousands that love him, and keep his commandments. If obedience were meritorious, it were strict justice to reward them. The apostle prays for Onesiphorus, who had exposed himself to great danger for his love to the gospel ; “ the Lord grant he may find mercy in that day.” The divine mercy gives the crown of life to the faithful in the day of eternal recompence.
ii. The meritorious cause of our obtaining heaven, is the obedience of Jesus Christ, comprehending all that he did and suffered to reconcile God to us. From him as the Eternal Word we have all benefits in the order of nature ; " for all things were made by him," and for him, as the incarnate Word, all good things in the order of grace. What we enjoy in time, and expect in eternity, is by him. To show what influence his mediation has to make us happy, we must consider;
1. Man by his rebellion justly forfeited his happiness, and the law exacts precisely the forfeiture. Pure justice requires the crime should be punished according to its quality, much less will it suffer the guilty to enjoy the favour of God: for sin is not to be considered as an offence and injury to a private person, but the violation of a law, and a disturbance in the order of government: so that to preserve the honour of governing justice, an equivalent reparation was appointed. Till sin was expiated by a proper sacrifice, the divine goodness was a sealed spring, and its blessed effects restrained from the guilty creature. Now the Son of God in our assumed nature offered up himself a sacrifice in our stead, to satisfy divine justice, and removed the bar, that mercy might be glorified in our salvation. The apostle gives this account of it ; we have boldness to enter into the holiest, by the blood of Christ, by a new and living way which he hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh.” Heb. 10. 19, 20.
2. Such were the most precious merits of his obedience, that it was not only sufficient to free the guilty contaminated race of mankind from hell, but to purchase for them the kingdom of heaven. If we consider his human nature, all graces were born with him, as rays with the sun, and shined in the whole course of his life in the excellence of perfection. And the dignity of his divine person derived an immense value to all he performed as Mediator. One act of his obedience was more honourable to God, than all the lives of the saints, the deaths of the martyrs, and the service of the angels. God was more pleased in the obedience of his beloved Son, than he was provoked by the rebellion of his servants. Therefore, as the just recompence of it, he constituted him to be universal Head of the church, supreme Judge of the world; invested him with divine glory, and with power to communicate it to his faithful servants : “he is the Prince of life.” In short, it is as much upon the account of Christ's sufferings that we are glorified, as that we are forgiven. The wounds he received in his body, the characters of ignominy, and footsteps of death, are the fountains of our glory. His abasement is the cause of our exaltation.
If it be said, this seems to lessen the freeness of this gift. The answer is clear:
This was due to Christ, but undeserved by us. Besides, the appointing his Son to be our Mediator in the way of our ransom, was the most glorious work of his goodness.
The gospel requires qualifications in all that shall obtain the kingdom of
heaven. The renovation of man according to the likeness of God, is indispensably requisite for the enjoying of God, Renewing grace described. The wisdom and justice of God require that men be sanctified before they are admitted into heaven. Without sanctification, there is a moral incapacity of enjoying the beatific vision,
THE means of our obtaining heaven are to be considered. Though the divine goodness be free in its acts, and there can be nothing in the creature of merit, or inducement to prevail upon God in the nature of a cause, yet he requires qualifications in all those who shall enjoy that blessed unchangeable kingdom. The apostle expressly declares, “ it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that showeth mercy.” Rom. 9. 16. But we must distinguish the effects of this mercy, which are dispensed in that order the gospel lays down. The first mercy is the powerful calling the sinner from his corrupt and wretched state ; a second mercy is the pardoning his sins; the last and most eminent is the glorifying him in heaven. Now it is clear, that in this place “the showing mercy,” signifies the preventing grace of God in conversion ; for in the 18th verse it is said, God shows mercy to “ whom he will, and whom he will he hardens.” Where it is evident that showing mercy is opposed not to condemning but to hardening; and consequently the intent of the words is this, that divine grace overcomes the rebellious will, softens the stiff and stubborn heart, and makes it pliant to obedience. This flows from his pure good will and pleasure, without the least motive from the inclinations or endeavours of sinful men. But the other effects of God's mercy require conditions in the subjects that receive them : for he pardons only penitent believers, and glorifies none but persevering saints.
To make this clear, it is worthy of observation, the gospel has several denominations. 1. It is called " a law, a covenant,"
a testament.” Rom. 3. 27. It is called “the law of faith," and the law of the spritual life.” As a law, it signifies a new right that God has most freely established in favour of lost man, that commands certain duties, and sets before them eternal life as the reward of obedience, and eternal death the punishment of disobedience. According to this the trial and decision of men's everlasting states shall be, which is the character of a true law. This law of grace is very different from the law of nature, that required entire innocence, and for the least omission, or accusing act, passed an irrevocable doom upon the offenders ; for that strictness and severity is mollified by the gospel, which accepts of sincere persevering obedience though imperfect; accordingly it is called “ the law of liberty.” James 2. But “the law of faith” is unalterable, and admits of no dispensation from the duties required in order to our being everlastingly happy.
2. The gospel is styled “a covenant,” and that imports a reciprocal engagement between parties for the performance of the matter contained in it. The covenant of grace includes the promise of pardoning and rewarding mercy on God's part, and the conditions on man's, with respect to which it is to be performed. There is an inviolable dependance between them. He will be
our God,” to make us happy, “ but we must be his people to yield unreserved obedience to him.” Heb. 9. “ He will be our Father, and we shall be his sons and daughters ;” but it is upon the terms of " purifying ourselves from all pollutions of the flesh and spirit," and unfeigned endeavours to “perfect holiness in his fear.” 2 Cor. 7. It is astonishing goodness, that he is pleased to condescend to such a treaty with fallen creatures : by a voluntary promise he encourages them; but though most free in making, it is conditional in the performance. The constancy of his holy, nature obliges him to fulfil his word, but it is if we do not fail on our part by carelessness of our duty. A presumer may seal assurance to himself, and be deceived in this great matter; but “ God will not be mocked.” If we prove false in the covenant, he will be faithful, and exclude those from heaven that were neglectful of the conditions to which it is promised.
3. The gospel is styled, “ a testament” sealed in the blood of Christ, confirmed by his death. The donation of eternal blessings in it, is not absolute and irrespective, but the heirs are admitted to the possession of the inheritance according to the will of the rich, liberal, and wise Testator. There can be no regular title or claim made out without performing what is required. And this is the will of God and Christ, our sanctification,'' without which we cannot enjoy it.
Now from hence we may see the admirable agreement between these two notions, that heaven is a gift, and a reward. It is a reward in the order of giving it, not due to the work, but from the bounty of the giver. God gives heaven to those that faithfully serve him. But their service was due to God, of no worth in respect of heaven ; so that man's work is no merit, and God's reward is a gift. Our everlasting glory must be ascribed to his most free grace, as much as the pardon of our sins.
I shall now proceed to consider, what the gospel declares to be indispensably requisite in order to our obtaining heaven : this is comprised in the holy change of man's nature, which I will briefly unfold, and show how necessary it is to qualify us for celestial glory • 1. This holy change is expressed in scripture by the new birth. Our Saviour, with a solemn repeated asservation, tells Nicodemus ; " verily, verily, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3.3. Sin is natural to man from his conception and birth, and infects with its contagion all his faculties. This is fomented and cherished by temptations that easily encompass him. The understanding is polluted with evil principles, full of strong prejudices, and lofty imaginations against the supernatural mysteries of salvation. It is full of ignorance and folly, and from hence either rejects them as incredible, or despises them as impertinent or unprofitable. The will is depraved and perverse, full of unruly and unhallowed affections. The senses are luxurious and rebellious. In short, man is so viciously and sensually inclined, so “ alienated from the life of God,” as if he had no diviner part within him, that should aspire to a spiritual blessedness, that should regulate and control the excess of the inferior appetites. This is the unhappy character satan impressed on him in his fall, and without renovation upon an infinite account he is incapable of seeing God. This renovation consists not in the change of his substance, as