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He trembles to reflect, how many have been cut off before him, in a state of guilt and impenitence ; some of them suddenly, and without special warning ; and how justly this might have been his own sad case. He admires the goodness which has made him to differ. One thing which affected the jailor, was his marvellous preservation at a crit. ical moment. He had pointed the sword to his own bosom, God's mercy arrested the stroke. Every awakened sinner sees, that he has destroyed himself, but in God is his help.
It is, with this trembling sense of sin and dan. ger, and with trembling hopes of mercy, that he now makes the enquiry, what God will have hiin to do.
The jailor fell down before the Apostles.
Prostration was sometimes used as a token of religious adoration. But the jailor was too well acquainted with these men to think them entitled to divine honour. And if they had understood the action as thus intended, they, who always disclaimed all tokens of religious reverence, would have told him, as Peter did Cornelius, and as Paul and Barnabas did the Lycaonians in the like case, “ We also are men." This action was therefore only a token of his respect to them, as teachers sent from God, and an expression of his humble disposition to receive and obey their heavenly instructions. With the same meek and teachable spirit should every man enquire after the way of salvation. “ Lay apart all filthiness," says the Apostle, “and all superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. And be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your ownselves.”
We proceed to consider,
II. The matter of the jailor's enquiry ; “ What must I do to be saved ?"
His question implies an apprehension, that something was to be done by him to obtain the salvation, which the Apostles preached : Nor did they rebuke his question as improper ; but returned an immediate answer, directing him, “to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” And then “they spake to him the word of the Lord,” that he might know what he was to believe, and on what ground his faith was to rest.
From his question, and their manner of treating it, we learn, that something is to be done by the sinner, in order to his being saved.
But yet we are told, that men are saved by grace; and not of themselves—by the mercy of God; and not by the works of righteousness, which they have done.
There is then a sense in which their doings have no influence; and yet a sense in which they are of great importance in the affair of salvation.
It is necessary to state this matter clearly.
In the first place: If we consider salvation in ref. erence to the source and origin of that divine scheme, on which it becomes obtainable, it is so absolutely and entirely of grace, as to exclude the influence of every thing else. No foreseen doings of ours could have any hand in moving or pursuading God to contrive and propose a way, in which we inight be saved ; but the plan originated wholly with himself. His wisdom contrived it, and his be. nevolence adopted it. We had no more hand in it, than we had in originating our own existence. In this view, the grace of God is the primary, moving cause of salvation, and nothing else is joined with it. The appointment of a Saviour to carry on this plan, was the effect of that grace, by which God is inclined to save sinners. The atonement of Jesus Christ was the consequence, not the cause, of God's mercy to our sinful race. He so loved the world, as to
give liis only begotten son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” No works of ours, therefore, are to be performed under a notion of inc lining God to be merciful, for he is merciful in his own nature.
Secondly. The meritorious cause and moral reason, why salvation is actually offered to, and bestowed upon sinful men, is the atonement of Jesus Christ, and this alone. "God has set forth his Son a propitiation, to declare his righteousness for the for. giveness of sin, that he might be just, and the just. ifier of them who believe.” And this propitiation, not the worthiness of men, is that, for the sake of which pardon and eternal life are granted. Sinners, therefore, must do nothing with a view to merit salvation, to render themselves worthy of it, or to lay God's justice under an obligation to bestow it on them; " for other foundation can no man lay, than that which is laid, even the righteousness of Jesus Christ."
But then, thirdly, the character, or qualification, to which the promise of salvation is limited in the gospel, is something inherent in the subjects of it; and therefore something is o be done by sinners in order to obtain this character, or qualification. Though salvation is, through the grace of God, offered indiscriminately to all'; and the righteousness of Jesus Christ, by the virtue of which it is purchased, is sufficiently meritorious for all ; yet the actual bestowment of it is confined to persons of a particular description ; namely, to them who repent and believe. All impenitent, unbelieving sinners, dying in this character, are by the gospel, expressly excluded from salvation; and will finally receive no more benefit from the grace of God, and the re. demption of Christ, than if grace had never been revealed, or a Saviour had never been provided. Those on whom this blessing will ultimately be
conferred are only such as possess that faith, which implies a holy temper, and operates to a holy life. What therefore sinners have to du, is reference to their salvation, respects only their obtaining that faith, to which salvation is promised. And, in this view, their doings are of grcat importance,
It is God, who has proposed to us the object, and given to us the means of faith. That wor], by the hearing of which faith cames, is the word of God. It is his Spirit also, which opens the heart to attend to, and receive the things which are spoken. Faith, therefore, is his gift. But then“ we receive the Spirit in the hearing of the word;" not in the ne. glect of it. When the Apostles directed the jailor to believe in Jesus Christ, they, knowing that faith came by hearing, “spake the word of the Lord to him, and to all who were in his house.” If it was necessary that they should speak the word to hini, it was equally necessary that he should hear it.
So when Paul enquired, “Lord, What wilt thon have me do?" The Lord answered, “Go into the city, and it shall be told thee, what thou must do." Paul obeyed; and Ananias was sent to instruct him, and to baptise him for the remission of sins.
Cornelius, the Roman centurion, was command. ed, by a heavenly messenger, to send for the Apostle Peter, “who would tell him words, by which he and his house should be saved.” He obeyed the command, sent for the Apostle, and called together his friends to hear the words which should be spoken. Peter opened to them the gospel plan of salvation ; and,“ while he spake, the Holy Ghost fell on all them who heard the word.” Thus “God gave to them repentance unto life.”
But this leads us to consider, III. The answer which the Apostles returned to the jailor's enquiry: " Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
He already believed, that there was one God, the ruler and judge of the world, to whom he was accountable for his conduct. Otherwise he would have felt no occasion for the enquiry. The Apostles, therefore, do not instruct him in the great principles of natural religion, as they ever did those, whom they found ignorant of them; but they pointed out to him a new object of faith, even the Lord Jesus Christ, who was ordained of God to be the Saviour of men. “ They spoke to him the word of the Lord.” They opened the plan, and state ed the terms of salvation, and urged his compliance.
As Jesus Christ was sent of God to declare di, vine truths to men, and to execute the scheme of re. demption, which divine wisdom had contrived, so he is proposed as the immediate object of faith. “We by him do believe in God.”
Faith in Christ implies a rational assent to this truth, that he is a teacher and Saviour ordained of God for men ; and consequently a belief of all that he has commanded and taught. Thus faith is often described in the gospel. This was the faith of the disciples.-"We believe, and are sure, that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This was Martha's faith.-—"Lord, I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, who should come into the world.” This was the faith of the Ethiopian officer.--" I believe that Christ is the Son of God.” Faith is sometimes expressed by different, but e. quivalent phrases; as a bclick that “God raised Jesus from the dead"_" that God sent him into the world.”_"that he is a teacher come from God.”
This assent must be the result of rational conviction. We are no more to believe without evidence, than to disbelieve against evidence. The latter is obstinacy; the former is rashness. The christian niust be ready to give to every one a reason of the