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JUDE 3. BELOVED, WHEN I GAVE ALL DILIGENCE TO WRITE UNTO YOU OF THE COMMON SALVATION, IT WAS NEEDFUL FOR ME TO WRITE UNTO YOU, AND EXHORT YOU THAT YE SHOULD EARNESTLY CONTEND FOR THE FAITH, WHICH WAS ONCE DELIVERED TO THE SAINTS.
By the faith once delivered to the saints, is to be understood the doctrines of the gospel. These were delivered to the saints by holy men, who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. The saints to whom they were delivered, were those who constituted the church under the Old dispensation, and the New.
The exhortation to contend for them earnestly, supposes that they would be powerfully assailed; and, yet, that they might be known and defended.
It is proposed, in this discourse, to give an epitome of what is supposed to be the faith delivered to the saints;—to state the reasons for believing it such;—and to point out the manner, in which it becomes the churches of our Lord to contend for it.
The faith once delivered to the saints included, it is believed, among other doctrines, the following:
That men are free agents; in the possession of such faculties, and placed in such circumstances, as render it practicable for them to do whatever God requires; reasonable that he should require it; and fit that he should inflict, literally, the entire penalty of disobedience—such ability is here intended, as lays a perfect foundation for government by law, and for rewards and punishments according to deeds.
That the law of God requires love to God with all the heart, and impartial love for men; together with certain overt duties to God and men, by which this love is to be expressed; and that this law is supported by the sanctions of eternal life and eternal death.
That the ancestors of our race violated this law; that, in some way, as a consequence of their apostacy, all men, as soon as they become capable of accountable action, do, of their own accord, most freely, and most wickedly, withhold from God the supreme love and from man the impartial love which the law requires, beside violating many of its practical precepts: and that the obedience of the heart, which the law requires, has ceased entirely from the whole race of man.
That, according to the principles of moral government, obedience, either antecedent to transgression or subsequent, cannot avert the penalty of law; and that pardon, upon condition of repentance merely, would destroy the efficacy of moral government.
That an atonement has been made for sin by Jesus Christ; with reference to which God can maintain the influence of his law and forgive sin, upon condition of repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ:—that all men are invited sincerely, in this way to return to God, with an assurance of pardon and eternal life if they comply.
That a compliance with these conditions, is practicable, in the regular exercise of the powers and faculties given to man as an accountable creature; and is prevented only by the exercise of a voluntary, criminal aversion to God so inflexibly obstinate, that by motives merely men are never persuaded to repent and believe.
That God is able, by his Spirit, to make to the mind of man such an exhibition of the truth, as shall unfailingly convince him of sin, render him willing to obey the gospel, and actually and joyfully obedient.
That this special influence of the Holy Spirit is given according to the supreme discretion or good pleasure of God; and yet, ordinarily, is so inseparably associated with the use
of means by the sinner, as to create ample encouragement to attend upon them, and to render all hopes of conversion while neglecting or rejecting the truth, or while living in open sin, eminently presumptuous.
That believers are justified by the merits of Christ through faith; and are received into a covenant with God, which secures their continuance in holiness forever;—while those, who die in their sins, will continue to sin wilfully, and to be punished justly for ever.
That God exercises a providential government; which extends to all events in such a manner, as to lay a just foundation for resignation to him in afflictions brought upon us by the wickedness of men, and for gratitude in the reception of good in all the various modes of human instrumentality—that all events shall illustrate his glory and be made subservient to the good of his kingdom—and that this government is administered, in accordance with a purpose or plan, known and approved of by him from the beginning.
Finally, that the God of the universe has revealed himself to us as existing in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; possessing distinct and equal attributes, and in some unrevealed manner so united as to constitute one God.
These are the doctrines, which, it is believed, were delivered to the saints, and which have been held substantially, though with some variety of modification, by the true church of God in all ages. To prevent circumlocution, I shall, in this discourse, call them the Evangelical System, and for the same reason, I shall call the opposite the Liberal System. *
It has been common to support these doctrines by the quotation of proof texts. But to these a different exposition is given more reasonable, it is said, and carrying with it a higher probability of truth; which leads to critical exposition, and opens a wide field for evasion and creates perplexity and indecision.'
* I choose to call these doctrines the evangelical system, not only because I believe them to be the Gospel; but because no man, or denomination, has held them so exclusively, as to render it proper to designate them by the name of an individual or a sect. It is a select system, which some of almost every denomination hold, and some reject; and which ought to be characterised by some general term indicative of the system as held in all ages and among all denominations of Christians.
My design at present is to avail myself of collateral evidence only, with the view of attempting to decide in this way which is the correct exposition of the proof texts the evangelical or the liberal exposition.
For the sake of argument, we shall suppose the evidence from exposition to be on each side exactly balanced, and proceed to lay into the scale of evangelical exposition those arguments which seem to furnish evidence of its correctness. I observe, then,
I. That the doctrines of the evangelical system are in accordance with the most direct and obvious meaning of the sacred text. By obvious meaning, I intend that, which is actually suggested, without note or comment to the minds of honest and unlettered men. That the proof texts teach the doctrines of the evangelical system in this manner, is alleged by learned infidels as a reason for rejecting the inspiration of the Bible; by Unitarian commentators and writers, as a reason for restraining, modifying and turning aside the text; and by Critics, who translate or expound without reference to theological opinions. No translators have been able to maintain a reputation for classical literature, and to sink in a translation the obvious meaning below, and bring up the philosophical meaning upon the surface. * The editors of the “Improved Version” have manifested as much good will, with as little conscience, in the attempt, as has ever appeared; and yet have been compelled to allow the proof texts, in most instances, to speak the offensive doctrines, and to content themselves with a simple contradiction of them in notes and comments. Interpretation according to the obvious import has resulted always in the evangelical system; while expositors according to the supposed rational and philosophical mode of exposition have differed indefinitely. It is not the evangelical, but the liberal rule of interpretation, which has
* This fact shows, that these remarks are as applicable to the original text, as to the translation, for surely, if the evangelical were not the obvious import in the original, nothing would be easier than to give a literal translation, which should leave them out of sight entirely.