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my servant shall be healed.- -When Jesus heard it he inarvelled, and said to them that followed, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”
The woman of Canaan is another remarkable instance. She
cried, saying, “ Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David. . He answered, I am not sent, but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel," Matt. xv. 22, 24. But at length her importunity was so great, and the truth of her faith so manifest, that our Lord said to her: “O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt."
Cornelius, after our Lord's ascension, is another Gentile, without the limits of the Jewish church, who performed commendably. . " There was," says St. Luke, “a certain man in Cæsarea, called Cornelius, a centurion of the band, called the Italian band ; a devout man, and one that feared God, with all his house; who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway,” Acts x. 1, 2. An angel appeared to him about the ninth hour of the day, or three in the afternoon, when day-light is clear, who said unto him: “ Cornelius, thy prayers and thy alms are come up for a memorial before God." This person, though still a Gentile, was approved of God. He was sincere and upright, according to the light which he had; and his prayers and alms were good works, which God accepted. And he is pitched upon to be the first Gentile, who, with his family, should have afforded to them the greater advantages of the knowledge of the gospel, or way of salvation through Jesus Christ, and be received into the christian church, or among the disciples of Christ, without subjection to the law of Moses; which had been hitherto the way of admission into the Jewish church, the only people who were professed worshippers of God.
We might further argue from things said by our Lord to the Jews. “ Jesus answered them; My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself," John vii. 16–18. Where our Lord speaks of men doing the will of God before they believe in him. And his intention is, that upright and honest men, who have an unfeigned regard to the will of God, so far as they are acquainted with it, and have an opportunity of knowing it, according to the dispensation they are under, will be disposed to believe in him. They who at that time were free from prejudices would soon discern, that divine attestations were afforded to him ; and would own, that the doctrine taught by him was true, and from heaven.
Prop. 2. I would observe, secondly, that our blessed Lord does not intend to say, that no men, not even his disciples, can do any good thing without immediate and effectual impulses and impressions from him ; but the ability to do good, which he here speaks of, is to be understood as ascribed to his word and doctrine, or the principles taught by him; without a regard to which, he says, men would do nothing.
God may give special aids to men, whenever he thinks fit; but they are not always necessary, nor always to be expected. And that our Lord rather speaks of his word and doctrine, than of himself personally considered, is evident from his manner of speaking in many places.
Our Lord in this context does several times speak of his disciples" abiding in him, and he - in them,” as necessary to their bearing fruit; but he chiefly intends a strict and steady regard to his word, and the influences of that upon their minds. This appears from many texts. Ver. 3, “ Now ye are clean through the word, which I have spoken unto you.” Ver. 7, “ If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."
“ If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you.” This latter expression explains the former ; or it may be taken a little otherwise, as if he had said, “ If you continue to be* lieve in me, and to pay a steady regard to my doctrine, you will be highly acceptable to God.'
Again : “ I have manifested thy name unto the men, which thou gavest me out of the world :—and they have kept thy word,” John xvii. 6. “I have given them thy word. • Sanctify them through thy truth. Thy word is truth,” ver. 14, 17. In the word of God are contained those sanctifying, strengthening influences which are needful for us, and are so powerful and effectual.
To which we might add other texts from the same gospel.
“ Verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation : but is passed from death to life,” John v. 24. “ Then said Jesus unto those Jews which believed on him ; If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples,” ch. viii
. 31. In this chapter, where in the text, be speaks of “ abiding in him." There it is, “ if ye continue," or abide, “ in my word.” They are both one and the same, as is 'manifest; and may also appear further by comparing a place in St. John's first epistle : “ But whoso keepeth bis word, in him, verily, is the love of
God perfected. Hereby know we, that we are in him,”. 1 John ii, 5.
Our Lord having spoken of himself as the living bread that came down from heaven, says, “ He that eateth me, shall live by me,” John vi. 51. But afterwards, for preventing offence, and making himself clear, he explains the meaning of those expressions. " When Jesus knew in himself, that his disciples murmured at it, he saith unto them, the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life,” ver. 61, 63.
This shows, that when our Lord speaks of himself, he often means the word taught by him. And we need not suppose him to say, that no man can do any good thing, without immediate impulses from him. Nor have we reason to think that this is the ordinary way of inducing men to that which is good, or that such impulses are always necessary.
That men may be good and virtuous, it must be their own choice. So far as men are passive, and are acted upon, they are not agents.
Without power to do good or evil, men cannot be moral and accountable beings, and be brought into judgment, or receive according to their works.
If you should say, that men cannot improve the outward advantages afforded to them, nor hearken to the divine calls, nor act according to the light vouchsafed to them, you would justify them, and lay the blame of their wrong conduct upon God himself,
God, in the prophets, laments the refractory temper of the Jewish people, and reproves them for it: “Now because ye have done all these works, saith the Lord : and I spake unto you, rising up early, and ye heard not; and I called, but ye answered not, therefore I will do unto this house, which is called by my name,
as I have done unto Shiloh,” Jer, v, 13, 14; see also ver. 25, 26.
But if they had no ability to do good, they might have said,. We would have answered thee, when thou calledst, • and would have obeyed thy statutes ; but we had no
power of our own, and thou didst not work effectually in • us, and upon us.'
But that is a vindication which no man can bring to God. For our Lord says to the Jews: “ Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life," John v. 40. And la menting the sad case of the city of Jerusalem, he says, “ How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings? and yé would not !” Matt. xxiii. 37.
*.«« I can do all these things through Christ who strengtheneth me," (Phil. iv. 13.] that is, through directions Christ, and through the arguments and motives of the christian doctrine' Dr. Jer. Hunt's Sermons, Vol. HI. p. 188.
And in this fifteenth chapter of St. John: “ If I had not come, and spoken unto them, they had not had sin, but now they have no cloak” or excuse “ for their sin.” And afterwards: “ If I had not come, and done among them the works that no other man did, they had not had sin,” John xv. 22, 24; that is, no sin in comparison of what they now have; which shows, that men may improve by advantages : and therefore where much is given, there much may be reasonably required.
All which things are so clear, and do so manifestly depend upon the supposition of men having a natural power in them to do good or evil, that it may be wondered it should be questioned; and to contest and deny it, seems to be contrary to all sense and reason; and to overthrow all notion of duty and obligation.
Against so clear texts as have been now produced, and against such cogent arguments, it must be in vain to allege texts, which, probably, in their true meaning, do not at all contradict these things.
Our Lord says, “No man can come unto me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him," John vi. 44. But those words do not import immediate impulses ; the meaning is, ‘ no man will come to me and receive my pure, sublime, • and spiritual doctrine, unless he have first gained some * just apprehensions concerning the general principles of * religion. And if a man have
some good notion of God, and his perfections, and his will, as already revealed, he • will come unto me. If any man be well disposed, if he have a love of truth, and a desire to advance in virtue and religious knowledge, he will readily hearken to me and believe in me.
That this is the meaning, may with high degrees of probability be concluded from other texts, in which our Lord tells the Jews : “ If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself,” John vii. 17. And, “ Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me," ver. 46, and from many other texts to the like purpose. It is also evident from the words next following those which we are considering. “ It is written in the prophets; And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me,” John vi. 45; which is saying, in other words, what was just observed by us; that if any man, by serious consideration, and partioularly by attending to former revelations, has gained just apprebensions of God, he will come unto me, and submit himself to be my disciple, to be farther instructed by me.
Would any say, that the necessity of immediate and particular influences from Christ himself is implied in this context; where he says, that “ he is a vine," and his disciples “ branches,” and that their bearing fruit depends as much upon influences from him, as the life and vigour of branches depend upon
derived from the root of a tree? It would be easy to answer, that the argument in the text is a similitude, not literal truth. Neither is Christ, literally, a vine; nor are his disciples, strictly speaking, branches. Men have a reasonable, intellectual nature, above animals and vegetables. They are not governed by irresistible, and necessary, or mechanical powers. But it is sound doctrine, and right principles, particularly the words of Christ, which are the words of God, that are their life, and may, and will, if attended to, powerfully enable them to practise good works, and to excel, and persevere therein. Which brings me to the third and last observation for illustrating this text and context.
Prop. 3. They who understand, and have a strict regard to the true doctrine of Christ, the principles of the gospel, will be able to practise good works, and abound therein, and be steady under difficulties; whereas, if they should disregard it, or corrupt it, they would perform nothing considerable and excellent.
I think this must be allowed to be the design of this context; and I need not enlarge much farther.
Every considerate person may perceive, that the gospel, as it teaches and inculcates universal holiness and virtue, sobriety, righteousness, and godliness ; so it sets before men the strongest arguments, or affords the best helps for attaining real excellence. True religion and virtue are taught by Jesus Christ in all their sublimity and perfection; the worship of God in spirit and truth; doing good from a principle of love to God, a desire of his favour, and hopes of rewards from him, without views to worldly honours and advantages; resignation to the disposals of Providence; maintaining the truth in all circumstances; of which virtues the Lord Jesus himself was a conspicuous and perfect example; who also, after he had died in testimony to the truths taught by him, was raised from the dead, and exalted