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the true meaning of such texts of scripture, so it must be granted that the scripture teaches us elsewhere to add also, that the constant and persevering endeavours of such penitents after obedience and holiness, shall be approved and even rewarded by grace, so far as finally to obtain heaven and complete salvation, through the meritorious undertaking of the Mediator.
X. As this has been a matter of much controversy, let me endeavour to make it yet more plain to every reader. The best of men in this world have not a righteousness of works commensurate to any law of God whatsoever; for their faith and repentance, and even their sincerity are all imperfect, and do not fully answer the demands of God under any dispensation: But we are saved by a humble and hearty acknowledgment of sin, with a perpetual trust or dependence on true grace ; always supposing our faith to be attended with a return to God by repentance and constant endeavours to please him. And though faith or trust in the mercy of God be in itself a work of righteousness, and though it be attended or followed by repentance and love, and worship and holy obedience, yet in the matter of our justification before God, it is not considered as a work of righteousness, or as fully answering the demands of any law of God whatsoever, and thereby claiming justification, by that law; but it is considered only as an act of the soul, whereby it humbles itself, empties itself, renounces itself and its own works as a sufficient ground for justification according to any law, and whereby it depends or trusts merely in the grace of God through a sense of its own guilt and imperfection. As when a son hath grievously offended his father by breaking his righteous laws or commands, and then throws himself down at his father's foot, and waits and hopes for pardon and acceptance, this hoping and waiting doth not justify him as a work of righteousness, but merely as renouncing all self-worthiness, and as a dependence on mercy; it is not considered so much as an obedience to his father's law, but as it is an acknowledgment of guilt, and trust in mere mercy. And this seems to be the true design of St. Paul, in the representation he makes of the matter, throughout the fourth chapter of Romans, which is the chief place in the bible, where this matter is most expressly and directly treated of, and argued.
XI. Thus our acceptance with God arising from faith and not works, none have any reason to glory in the presence of God: Justification by faith cuts off all boasting. And indeed this seems to be one main design of the blessed God, in appointing our justification under all the dispensations of the covenant of grace, to be obtained not by works but by faith, or trust in free mercy, viz. that since pride and self-sufficiency was one great spring of the first sin and ruin of mankind; this pride of man might be humbled, that no flesh should ever have the least ground for boasting; and that the salvation of man might appear to be all from God, and be acknowledged to he a work of mere grace; Rom. iii.27, 28. Rom. iv. 2, IB. Eph. ii. 9. Therefore, it is of faith and not ofmorks that boasting may be excluded. •
XII. And the apostle adds, therefore it is by faith, that it might be all of grace; Rom. iv. 11. Therefore, neither the acts of love or zeal, or repentance, or fear, or worship, or any other actions of obedience are appointed to be the mediums or proper means of our justification, under any dispensation of the covenant of grace, because these actions carry in them an appearance of our own doing something for God, our answering the demands of some law, and this would make it look like justification by a law of works: But faith or trust is that act of the soul, whereby we renounce our own works as the ground of our justification or acceptance ; we acknowledge our own imperfection, unworthincss and insufficiency, and give the entire honour to divine grace by our dependence on it. We arc saved by grace that God may have the glory of all.
XIII. It is worthy of our observation here, that though the violation of the first covenant or law of innocency exposed us to the curse of God, and brought us under many frailties, afflictions, and death itself, which are not cancelled and removed at regeneration or repentance; yet by the covenant of grace all these calamities which continue to attack human nature, lose their sharpest sting, and are sanctified to our advantage; they are made use of to help forward our repentance and sanctification, and our growing fitness, for heaven. Even temporal death itself, which follows all these painful evils or curses, is also turned into a blessing, because it is made a means of delivering our souls from this body of sin and sorrow, and of introducing them into the presence of God, and the commencement of our heaven and happiness.
Thus much shall suffice concerning the covenant of grace in general, and concerning the first edition of it*.
The Noahical Dispensation; or, the Religion of Noah.
I. The second edition of the covenant of grace was the dispensation of Noah after the flood: He was the second father of mankind. It is sufficiently evitlcnt what an universal taint of iniquity had spread over all the race of Adam, when God the governor of the world saw it necessary in his wisdom to destroy mankind from the' earth, for their abominable transgressions: because all flesh had corrupted its way upon earth, so tbat there was not one person, or not one family left who maintained the purity of religion, besides Noah and his house i Gen. vii. 1.
* Since St. Paul in his discourses on the Doctrine of Justification to the christians at Rome and Galalia, males it appear, that the constitution of ih« covenant of grace represents not only christians to be justified by faith, but even Jews and patriarchs, David anil Abraham; I thought it necessary to introduce this doctrine, in my Representation of the First Patriarchal D..pentagon, aod to dwell something longer upon it here, because it runs through all the dispensations of grace and is common to them all, and adue knowledge af Ibis, will render the whole scheme easier to be understood.
II. Therefore, after this universal destruction by the flood, God was pleased to repeat and renew his dispensation of grace in another public edition of it unto Noali. It is (rue, this covenant is said to be made, not only with Noah, but with his sons also, and with every animal\ Gen. ix. 9, 10. thut the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh: But it is sufficiently evident that there was contained in it the covenant of grace or salvation, fortius was the great design of God in all his other covenants with men, since the fall; and if mankind be no more •destroyed by a flood, it is that the covenant of grace may save men in following ages.
III. This edition of the covenant of grace, contained in it the same blessings, promises, and duties, with that of Adam after his fall, and probably the same sacrifices also: Hare were superadded some further precepts about the distinction of meats, the prohibition of eating blood, the punishment of murder, and the promises of the church of God in the family of Shem, as well as the promise that ths earth should no more be destroyed by tenter. Note, that this promise manifested the grace and longsuffering of God to men, in order to call them to repentance after the flood. 'Of this promise the rainbow was an appointed emblem or pledge, token or sign; and as such it stands round the throne of God, and Jesus the Mediator in Rev. iv. 8.
IV. This dispensation was published, not only to Shem, but to Ham and Japhet also, that is, to all mankind after the flood, by their father Noah, who was a preacher of righte~ onsness', 2 Pet. ii. 5. By this dispensation Job and Melchisedec also were saved, with many others in that early age of the world.
V. Let it be observed here, that though we have a very short account of this dispensation in scripture, yet as Job probably lived under it, there are some bright di.seoveries of the resurrection of the (had, and of future happiness for good men, among ihe speeches of •fob, especially in the xiv. and xv. chapters.
VI. Observe also, that this has been the last dispensation of grace which has been made known, and offered to most of the heathen nations, or their fathers, even to all such as were not descended from Abraham, and have never heard of Jesus Christ. All these therefore abide under Noah's covenant.
Chap. IV.—The Abrahamical Dispensation; or, the Religion of Abraham.
I. When the great God saw that the greatest part of mankind in some generations after the flood, had let go the knowledge and worship of the true God, or mingled it with many superstitions and idolatries, he resolved to chuse out a special family for himself, in which the true religion should be continued through all ages, until the coming of the Messiah, and by that means also to the end of the world. For this purpose he chose the family of Abraham, who was a descendant of Shem, the son of Noah. First, God called him out of his own country, that lie might leave all their superstitions and corruptions behind him, and then he appointed him to live in Canaan, a land overrun with idolatry and iniquity, that his house might be a standing monument for God, and a preservatory of true religion and virtue, in opposition to the degeneracies of the nations who dwelt all round him.
II. The next edition of the covenant of grace was therefore the same covenant of Noah, continued to Abraham and his family, with some clearer promises of the Messiah or Saviour. The gospel was preached to Abraham, viz. that the Messiah should arise from his posterity to bless all nations of the earth indue season; Gal. iii. 8. This was the third edition of it, and was distinguished by the addition of a new blessing, viz. a promised inheritance in the land of Canaan, as an emblem or type of heaven, and future happiness.
III. And here it should be observed that the promises that God would be the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, which are construed by Christ into the resurrection of the dead; Luke xx. 37. as well as the other promises of an inheritance which was typified by Canaan, were understood by Abraham so far as to mean a heavenly country, and a future recompence as St. Paul informs us; Heb. xi. 10—16.
IV. Besides all the duties before required, God was pleased to add another special duty to this dispensation, viz. the peculiar precept of circumcision, which was enjoined to Abraham and his posterity. It was given partly as a seal of his justification by faith; Rom. iv. 11. and partly as a sign or emblem of the mortification of sin, and consequently of true repentance, as the commencement of it. Whence it came to pass in after-times, that the scriptures speak of the circumcision of the heart, to signify saiiclification, and to manifest the internal and spiritual design of this outward emblem or figure. And it should be observed, that while Moses is using this language, in one place he requires of the Jews to circumcise their own hearts; Dent. x. 16. and in another he promises that God would circumcise their hearts, and the heart of their seed to love God, &c. Dent. xxx. 6. whence we mny infer that it is God who promises to enable us by his grace to perform the duties which he requires. This runs through every dispensation.
V. This covenant is usually called the dispensation of Abraham, which in the literal sense, belonged chiefly to his family or posterity by Isaac and Jacob; but in the more spiritual sense, as it is explained by St. Paul in his epistles to the Romans and Galatiaus, it extended to all nations, and included all the good men among the Gentiles, who are the spiritual seed of Abraham, as St. Paul often represents them. See Rom. iv. II—16. Gal. iii. 9, 29. though it was hardly possible they should know this so clearly, till Christ or his apostles explained it.
VI. In this dispensation of Abraham, it is therefore worthy of our observation, that the whole course of his life, from the time he was called from Chaldea to his death, was a continual series of acts of faith, or dependence on the promises and mercy of God, with acts of entire submission to his providence and obedience to his will. This faith and dependence of his, was so exemplary, and so well-pleasing to God, while he constantly acknowledged his own insufficiency, and trusted to the all-sufficiency of God, and to the promises of his grace, that he hereby became as it were a pattern or precedent of the way of man's acceptance with God, or justification by faith: Gen. xv. 6. compared with Rom. iv. 3. We are to be justified as Abraham was, when he believed in the Lord, and it was counted to him for righteousness, that is, he was justified or accepted of God.
His submission also, and his obedience to the will of God in difficult trials was so honourable in that early age of the world, that hereby he was appointed a pattern to all future ages of obedience, as'wellasof faith. And the apostle Paul makes much use of the history of his life, in recommending his faith and obedience to their imitation; and those who practise it are called the seed of Abraham, and are said to be blessed with the blessing of Abraham; Gal. iii. 9.
VII. So great favour did he obtain in the sight of God, that God was pleased to bestow the special blessings of the covenant of grace on his posterity, Isaac and Jacob in the following generations, and to give them the land of Canaan also in possession. In the houshold of Abraham and his posterity, God set up a visible church for himself, which also was continued in their families after them. This church in the days of Moses was formed into a national church, as we shall shew immediately; and thus continued till the coming of the Messiah or Christ, who was born of this race of Abraham, a great ir.au j ages al'tenv aids, according to the ancient promise.