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reference to all such, the following apostolic warnings seem plainly applicable : Rom. xvi. 17, 18,
Now, I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them. For they that are such, serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly ; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” And 2 John 10, 11, “ If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is a partaker of his evil deeds."
2. We may hence see the importance of not mutilating this doctrine, and should be very careful to maintain it pure and entire.
On no point, perhaps, is there greater need of caution not to put asunder what God hath joined together : the way and end of the righteous. It must not be thought that a righteous man may turn altogether from his righteousness; that those who were once savingly enlightened, may entirely fall away; that true believers, may become unbelievers; that good men may lose all their goodness and still retain their standing in the covenant of grace. If any man, or an angel from heaven, should teach such another gospel than that we have been taught, I will not say, “Let him be accursed :” but I must say, Let him not be believed.
From thinking that there is no sin in the weakness or want of faith, or love, or any other grace that such mere deficiencies are no imperfectionsthat there are no good principles of action in any man—that all holiness, and all unholiness, consists in exercises only; some may be led to conclude, that the imperfection of saints can be no other than the inconstancy of their good exercises; and, therefore, that christians are sometimes perfectly holy, and sometimes totally sinful; though they never lose
their infallible title to eternal life. But if any one should hold thus, and teach men so, however much we may admire his talents, his courage, or his consistency ; I think we ought rather to call in question the soundness of his premises, than to admit the truth.of his consequence
. Certainly, the scripture doctrine of the perseverance of saints, is not that they shall be saved without persevering: or, that they are kept in the grace of God, without being kept by his power, from frequent, total apostacies.
3. Let believers be hence exhorted to improve the doctrine now insisted on, according to its evident design and tendency : to strengthen them in striving against all the enemies of their souls, with the animating hope of certain conquest; and not as any encouragement to remissness in their watch and warfare. That it had the former of these effects upon the apostle Paul, and not the latter, he tells the Corinthians. “I therefore so run," says he,“ not at uncertainty ; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air : but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection ; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a cast away.” Though he was certain of being thus saved, yet he well knew there was no other way for him to obtain everlasting life, or to escape eternal perdition, than by running with patience the race still before him, and fighting as one in earnest, the good fight of faith, And what effect he thought the certainty of efficacious divine influence would naturally have upon the faithful followers of Christ, appears from his exhortation to the Philippians ; an exhortation which ought ever to be kept in remembrance, and with which I shall now conclude. “ Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling : For it is God which worketh in you, to will and to do, of his good pleasure.”
ON OBTAINING ASSURANCE OF ETERNAL SALVA.
HEBREWS VI. 11.
And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence,
to the full assurance of hope unto the end.
WHEN once persons are converted, some seem to imagine that they have no further occasion for striving to enter in at the strait gate, or for working out their salvation. Hence, preaching terror to sinners, and comfort to saints, is supposed to be the whole business of gospel ministers : and, consequently, almost all their preaching, it is thought, should be to the unregenerate. If christians have not just at present all that consolation which might be wished, it is no such great matter, since very soon their joy will be full. Believers are absolutely safe ; whereas unbelievers are in hourly danger of everlasting destruction : shall their case then be unattended to, while the time is spent in building up believers on their most holy faith? Thoughts like these are sometimes suggested, and perhaps oftener secretly entertained. They are specious; and at first view, appear rational. But, my brethren, these things ought not altogether so to be considered. As in
many other instances of superficial attention to subjects, there is a mixture in them of truth and error. Sinners are in awful danger, it is true; and saints are in a happy and safe condition. But that these last are in such a state of safety, that nothing further is necessary to be done by them, or for them, is a false inference. Christians must abide in Christ, or they will wither, become dead branches, and be burned. Believers must still, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honor, and immortality, as ever they would hope to obtain eternal life. The inquiry, “What must I do to be saved ?” is not one which concerns the unconverted only. Those who ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, need directions; and not merely they whose backs are turned upon it, and who will follow no right directions, in a proper manner.
Believers are not so kept by divine power, as renders their own vigilance and exertion to keep themselves in the love of God, unnecessary. As well may it be said, if persons are elected they will be saved, do what they will, as that the converted are in no danger, let them be ever so inattentive and slothful. The salvation of believers is indeed certain : but so is the salvation of the elect, who are yet unbelievers; and so is eve. ry event divinely decreed, or foreknown. Yet, in all cases, things are brought to pass in the way appointed. The means are decreed, as well as the end. Men must enter in at the strait gate, though elected; and they must go on in the narrow way, though effectually called, or they will not receive in the end, the salvation of their souls.
Accordingly, the inspired writers and preachers of the gospel addressed a great part of their discourses and writings, to those whom they considered as being already in a state of grace. And they addressed themselves to these, not in the language of consolation always, but often in that of doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Nor
did they exhort, warn, and admonish them, merely. lest they should be a dishonor to the church, and lay stumbling-blocks in the way of those without; but also lest they should receive the grace of God in vain, and be lost themselves. It is plain they did not think that when they had won and wedded souls to Christ, they might then safely leave them ; or that nothing more need be said to them except to banish their fears, and to confirm their comfort, by assuring them they were out of all danger. Among other proofs of this, of which the Bible is full, we have a very convincing instance in my text and context.
The apostle, in the foregoing verses of this chapter, is exhorting christians to steadfastness and perseverance in religion, and to vigorous endeavors after higher attainments in holiness, and in divine knowledge. See ver. 1, 2, “ Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection ; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God:. Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of the resurrection of the dead." He adds, ver. 3, “ And this will we do if God permit.” That is, he would assist them in making this proficiency, if opportunity should be given him to visit them again ; and if they should be able to receive further instruction. He then warns them of the extreme danger they would be in of remediless destruction, if, after all that had been done for them, they should lose their religion, and prove apostates. Ver. 4-8, “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come; if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance : secing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth, which