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It may here be proper to specify what appear to be the prominent causes of these embarrassments and difficulties. These may be found either in the temper of mind with which the investigation is entered into, or the mode in which it is conducted, or in the union of both. Under the first of these heads we may mention a latent desire in the heart of man to attribute some merit to himself, which the doctrine of a justifying faith excludes,--and also a tendency to deduce from his own unassisted reason every thing which can affect the basis upon which the moral duties rest. Both these mental errors proceed from some insight, but a very partial one, into his own intellectual powers. They would not exist, if either that knowledge had never been acquired, or had been made more complete. This, in a great degree, accounts for the circumstance, that they who know most, and they who know least of the human mind, come to the same conclusion, and experience no difficulty in the doctrine of Justification by Faith. He who is deeply learned is content to accept salvation on the condition of faith, that it may manifestly proceed from God's free grace, because, having attentively studied himself, his propensities, and his powers, he knows himself to be a weak, fallible, and sinful creature. He who is totally ignorant, does the same, because he never could imagine himself to be any thing else. But one who knows something of metaphysics, and has not yet discovered how small that something is, can seldom be convinced of this fact :-neither does he desire con
viction, for to him it would be a very mortifying truth. Under the second head may be ranked an attachment to abtruse reasoning, one which eager disputants seldom fail to acquire, and a practice, much facilitated by the same habit, of a careless and indiscriminate use of language, which always occasions great intricacy. Nothing is more common than to find different words, by no means synonymous, applied to the same thing, -or the same word used to denote things essentially different,or an expression employed in one sense, when another meaning ought to be attached to it. The copiousness of any language only affords greater scope for such verbal transferences; and such is the vagueness of common terms, and our familiarity with them, that a ready detection of these mistakes requires some sagacity and vigilance. To mention a single example. It is a favourite expression of one party, that “ all our good actions are destitute of merit.” This position is resolutely denied by the other, because we are hereafter to be judged according to our deeds done in the flesh; and they allege, that were the doctrine which they oppose universally received, one of the strongest incitements to a virtuous life would be removed. Now, had these well-meaning persons previously decided what they meant by the word “merit,” they would have discovered that there is no true occasion of difference, and that their contest is imaginary. Both positions are true. If by merit we mean, “ą claim of right,” as is intended when we say, that
our good works have not merit,” no person can reasonably doubt the fact, because no human virtues can entitle us to heaven as a debt from the Almighty. But, if we use the term merely with reference to the divine approbation, and the certainty of a future recompenseo, which is meant by those who assert, that " our good works are meritorious," here also the truth for which they combat seems incapable of denial.
Before we proceed further in this important subject, I am anxious to notice some prevalent, though most unfounded opinions with respect to Justification by Faith.
I. One of these consists in an impression, that the doctrine itself was either not in existence, or was not recognized prior to our Lord's Advent.We grant, indeed, that the Christian faith, in its present fulness and clearness, could not have existed prior to that event, because the facts, which
Perhaps this latter sense is the least objectionable, as the following illustration may serve to show. If we suppose an individual to stipulate that he will save another's life, or render him any other essential service, for some specified sum, he certainly has “a claim of right," when he has performed his promise ; but the action for which he is paid, and which he did with the expectation of that payment, cannot well be said to have any 6 merit." If on the other hand an hired servant hazard his own to save his master's life, though in the discharge of his ordinary duty, his fidelity and attachment may deserve, and gratitude would give, as great a recompense as in the former instance; but it is plain that he could advance no “claim of right," however “meritorious" his conduct had been.
form the materials of the Christian faith, had not then taken place : i. e. no one could believe that Christ had expiated our sins upon the cross,-that he had obtained our pardon on certain express conditions,—that he was the Mediator between God and man, or that he supports his Church by his continual presence and Holy Spirit. But the Prophets, who foresaw and foretold all this, with their numerous followers, might, and undoubtedly did, believe the substance of all this. The whole Jewish nation expected the Messiah's advent, some in a more, and others in a less correct manner :-they also trusted in a future Redeemer, the promised seed of the woman, who should bruise the serpent's head, however indistinct might be their notions of the manner in which that deliverance should be accomplished. The whole purpose of the Mosaic ordinances was the preservation of this faith in the future Saviour, and, with the exception that it was less distinct, it differed from ours only in being a prospective instead of a retrospective faith. Accordingly we find that Abraham's justification rested on no other ground than a firm faith in God's promises; and the prophet Habakkuk informs us, plainly, that “ the just shall live by his faith. Our text also unequivocally recognizes the principle : “ I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” Now, if we were to be rewarded or punished according to the intrinsic value of our actions, simply and nakedly considered, the knowledge of what we have done would alone be requisite, without any reference to our thoughts. If God, therefore, searches the heart in order “ to give every man according to his ways,” it is clear that there must be something in the heart, its feelings and affections, some“ mental principle,” that produces acceptance with God, entirely distinct from the actions themselves. The Old Testament is full of passages equally decisive against the doctrine of justification by works.
b Rom. iv. 9. Heb. xi. 8.
e Hab. ii. 4.
II. Another erroneous persuasion, far more common than many among us imagine it to be, is, that Christ himself did not preach the doctrine of justification by faith. Persons who hold this opinion, represent his religion, as preached by himself, to be something widely different from that insisted upon by his Apostles. Confining their admiration of the system almost exclusively to Christian ethics, they regard his teaching in no other light than a most pure body of morality, attaching little weight either to the Old Testament or the Apostolical epistles, and sometimes avowing a belief that, had St. Paul composed none of the latter, we should have heard nothing whatever of justification by faith. Now in reality this principle is very strongly insisted upon in most of our Saviour's discourses; though he does it without a decided reference to the great doctrines of Christianity, because the events which form the ground-work of that belief, were uncompleted, and