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there has arose much confusion, for want of distinguishing between good works, simply and in their own nature considered, and considered as done or performed by the sons of men. The first is a single question: whether virtue in its own nature has a title to reward? And who will deny it? For as sure as God is just, as sure as there is a difference between good and evil, he will, he must reward the one, and punish the other. But when you ask, whether the good works of men deserve and merit reward? you strangely alter the state of the question; for here not only the nature of good works, but the nature and condition of man must be considered too. If he has already concluded himself, if sentence is gone out against him, and his case be irretrievable, your question must be impertinent; because you ask, whether he who is already under condemnation for his evil works, may be rewarded for his good works?
Put the case, that a man ten years ago committed a secret and barbarous murder: that since he has lived in an unblameable submission and obedience to the government; ask then the question, whether submission and obedience to the government have a right and title to protection and defence in life and fortune? Every man will answer, yes. But ask again, whether this man's obedience and submission have the same right and title? Every man will answer, no: because the villany committed long since puts him out of protection of the government, and justice is still indebted to him for the horrid fact; and whenever it meets him, will execute on him wrath and vengeance.
I intend not to press this instance to a parallel with our case : but thus much at least it shows, that virtue and morality may, in their own nature, and in themselves considered, deserve reward from a just and righteous Being; and yet the virtue and morality of man may not deserve it. And this is the parting point between the patrons of natural and revealed religion; the not considering which has made some imagine that, whilst we defend the authority of revelation, we give up the principles of reason and nature. Is there not, say they, an essential difference between virtue and vice? True, there is. Is not justice the attribute of God? and must not a just God reward virtue and punish vice? True still. Is not this then, say they, a suf
ficient 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 what will you say of those who have already offended? Consult your principles of reason; the voice of nature is, that vice must be punished; if so, all that offenders, all that sinners can expect from natural religion is the just reward of their sins and offences: and whether these are such terms and conditions as should endear natural religion to sinners, common sense shall judge.
Were Christianity to be preached to a new race of men, created without spot of sin, or stain of guilt, they might well wonder at the condition of faith and repentance; at the doctrine of salvation by the righteousness of Christ, and not by their own; and that their happiness should depend not on their own works, but on the free grace and promise of God: they might well ask, why should God make that a matter of free grace and promise, which must be the necessary effect and consequence of his justice? Why may we not be saved by our own righteousness, since righteousness has a natural claim to happiness? What should we repent of, who have done no harm? or what other object have we for faith than the justice of God, which is the foundation on which religion stands? But should this new race fall from innocence, and stand liable to the punishments of vice; should you then ask them where their hopes were, they would not answer, I presume, in the justice of God, or argue on the right that virtue has to reward; but could they express any hope, it would be in the mercy and forgiveness of God. And whence must this forgiveness come? Is it the gift of God, or is it the reward of sin? If it is the gift of God, then it is free grace: if it be the gift of God, then he alone can tell whether he will give it or no; and you cannot know it unless he declares it: what God declares is a revelation; and all the assurance you can have that he will be as good ́as his word is, that you believe and depend on his truth for the performance of what he has promised. From whence it evidently follows, that the religion of a sinner must be a revealed religion, and the principle of it must be faith.
Some, I know, contend that it may be proved, from the
mercies and goodness of God, that he will forgive sinners. If so, there can be no such thing as natural religion: for it is demonstrable, from the justice of God, that he must reward virtue and punish vice; and if it be demonstrable too from his mercy that he must forgive sin, then natural religion includes the greatest contradiction in nature, that sin necessarily must, and necessarily must not, be punished. If you say only that it is probable that a merciful God will pity the folly and weakness of human kind, and recede from the strictness of justice in his dealings with them; so say we too: but probability cannot infer necessity; and if it be not necessary that he should do it, it must then depend on his will whether he will do it or no; and your hopes and your religion must be resolved, not into the evidence of nature, but into the evidence of free grace; which evidence can be no other than revelation; for the Spirit only searcheth the deep things of God, and the Spirit only can bring them to light.
Would you then disprove revelation, and discard the religion of Christ? For once 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? You must show that nature is not vitiated or corrupted, that the flesh does not lust against the mind; but that there is a mutual agreement, and the flesh obeys the mind, and the mind obeys God: then may you at once reject the doctrine of repentance, of free grace, of justification through the blood of Christ. But whilst you endeavor to prove this, try at least to be an instance of it yourself; let innocence be your outward garment, and purity your inward let your hands be void of evil: let not your eye glance on the large possessions of your neighbor, nor so much as one thought wander towards his wife or daughter: let your heart be the fountain of unbounded love and good will, and the grave of malice and revenge, where all injuries and affronts, all resentments shall lie buried and ́inactive, and be as though they were not: and when you have gained this experimental evidence from yourself, of the innocence and goodness of Nature, it will then be time enough to set up for a patron of her cause, and to assert her right to heaven on the foot of native righteousness; till then at least, how
innocent soever you may suppose others to be, yet for your own sake wish that there may be redemption for sinners; that God may visit the world, not in justice, but in mercy.
Innocence may challenge justice; but sin can only sue for pardon. Justice you may have from nature; but pardon you must have from grace and favor. It was an apophthegm of one of the wise men, Tvoi σeavròv, Learn to know yourself:' and this is the first thing necessary in order to choose ligion, rightly to know and understand your own condition. A condemned malefactor must not sue to his prince in the same terms that a faithful and deserving subject may: the one may represent his service and obedience; the other has nothing to plead but his misery: one applies to the justice and generosity of the prince; the other to his pity and compassion. Consider then with yourself; can you stand a trial with God? Can you plead your services to him, and say, Behold thy servant; do unto him according to his works? If you can, justice will do you right but if your heart misgives you; if your conscience cries out to you, Let us not enter into judgment with our God, for in his sight shall no man living be justified; what have you to do but to seek, if happily you may find, the mercy of God?
The Christian religion is, in all its parts, adapted to the present nature and circumstances of mankind; and it is not possible to see the reasonableness and beauty of the gospel, without considering the quality and condition of those for whose use and benefit it is designed: and this, I believe, is one great reason why the gospel has been so much undervalued in comparison with natural religion, that the end of it has not been rightly understood. But if we reflect on the dealings of God with mankind from the beginning, and the behavior of men towards God, and from thence deduce the state and condition of mankind before the coming of Christ; this will enable us to judge what was wanting towards making mankind happy; and will show us how proper and reasonable, how perfect and adequate a means the gospel of Christ is.
Secondly, let us consider by what means Christ has wrought this redemption.
What the Scripture tells us of the nature of God, That he
is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity,' i. e. to behold it without being offended at it, is a truth as discernible by the principles of reason as by the authority of revelation. The fact then supposed, which cannot be contested, that the world was in a state of corruption and degeneracy, it is manifest they were fallen under the displeasure of God, or, in the language of Scripture, were become children of wrath.' To redeem the world, therefore, it was necessary that God should be reconciled to sinners, and should pardon the offences which could not be recalled, or which, through infirmity of nature, could not be avoided. To think of a redemption on any other foot would be absolutely absurd; it would be an attempt to rescue sinners from the displeasure and anger of God, whether he would or no.
Look now into the gospel, and see how this case stands there. You will find that the only-begotten Son of God took our nature on him; and that by a perfect obedience to the voice of his Father, and a voluntary resignation of himself to the cross, he made and completed this reconciliation, and proclaimed the pardon of God to the lost sons of Adam. And in this properly consists the work of redemption.
But to redeem men from the displeasure of God, and leave them in a condition to draw it on themselves afresh every day, would have been an useless undertaking, and unworthy of his dignity who was employed in it. To secure therefore the benefit of the redemption which he had purchased with his blood to mankind, it was necessary to restore them to such a state as might render them fit objects for God to take pleasure in. This too he did by the powerful methods prescribed in the gospel for rectifying the corrupt and depraved wills of men, by the many revelations relating to his own spiritual kingdom, given to clear and enlighten their understanding in the things belonging to their salvation; the knowlege of which had been lost, or so darkened and obscured by the fall as to be of no efficacy in reforming the world. And to render these means effectual to the purposes of salvation, he promised and bestowed the assistance of the Holy Spirit, to enable men to receive and to lay hold of eternal life.
This is a short account of what Christ has done to save sin