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A late writer * has collected together several passages out of their writings, with a design to prove, that though they were destitute of gospel.light, yet they might attain salvation; inas. much as they use many expressions that very much resemble the grace of sanctification : as for instance, when one of them speaking concerning contentment in the station of life in which providence had fixed him, says, “ A servant of God should not * be solicitous for the morrow. Can any good man fear that “ he should want food ? Doth God so neglect his servants, and “ his witnesses, as that they should be destitute of his care and ** providence? And he adds, Did I ever, Lord, accuse thee, « or complain of thy government? Was I not always willing < to be sick when it was thy pleasure that I should be so ? Did “ I ever, desire to be what thou wouldest not have me to be? "Am I not always ready to do what thou commandest? Wilt "thou have me to continue here, I will freely do as thou willů est? Or, wouldest thou have me depart hence, I will freely " do it at thy command? I have always had my will subject " to that of God; deal with me according to thy pleasure; I
am always of the same mind with thee; I refuse nothing « which thou art pleased to lay upon me; lead me whither “ thou wilt; clothe me as thou pleasest; I will be a magistrate '" or private person ; continue me in my country, or in exile, I
“ will not only submit to, but defend thy proceedings in all "" things.” We might also produce quotations out of other writings whereby it appears that some of the heathen excelled many Christians in the consistency of their sentiments about religious maiters, with the divine perfections; as when they say, Whatever endowment of the mind has a tendency to make a man truly great and excellent; this is owing to an internal divine influence.f Others, speaking of the natural propensity which there is in man to vice, have maintained, that to fence against it, there is a necessity of their having assistance from God, in order to their leading a virtuous life; and that virtue is not attained by instruction, that is, not only by that means, but that it is from God; and that this is to be sought for at his hands, by faith and prayer: much to this purpose may be seen in the writings of Plato, Maximus Tyrius, Hierocles, and several others.
The principal use that I would make hereof is, to observe that this should humble many Christians, who are far from coming up to the Heathen in the practice of moral virtue. And,
See Whitty's Disc. &c. paze 541, in which he quotes Arrian, as giving the * sense of Ejrictetils, Lib. 1. cap. 9. Lib. 3. cap. 5, 24, 26, 36, &c.
+ vid. Cic. de natura Deorum, Lib. 2. Nullus unquam vir magnus fuit, sine eliquo afflatu divino.
See Gale's court of the Gentiles. Book 3. chap. 1. and chap. 10. and Wits.de Oecon. Fed. 461-463.
is for the sentiments of those who deny the necessity of our having the divine influence in order to our performing the duties which God requires of us, in a right manner; these fall very short of what the light of nature has suggested to those who have duly attended to it, though destitute of divine revelation. When I meet with such expressions, and many other divine things, in the writings of Plato; and what he says of the conversation of his master Socrates, both in his life and death : I cannot but apply in this case, what our Saviour says to the scribe in the gospel, who answered him discreetly, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God, Mark xii. 34. These things, it is true, very much resemble the grace of sanctification; yet in many respects, they fall short of it; inasmuch as they had no acts of faith, in a Mediator, whom they were altogether strangers to, as being destitute of divine revelation.
It is not my design, at present, to enquire, whether they had any hope of salvation? this having been considered under a foregoing answer * All that I shall here observe is, that some of the best of them were charged with notorious crimes, which a Christian would hardly reckon consistent with the truth of grace; as Plato, with flattering of tyrants, and too much indulging pride and luxury t; Socrates, with pleading for fornication and incest, and practising sodomy, if what some have reported concerning them be true 1. But, without laying any stress on the character of particular persons, who, in other respects, have said and done many excellent things; it is evident, that whatever appearance of holiness there may be in the writings or conversation of those that are strangers to Christ and his gospel, this falls short of the grace of sanctification. (a)
* See Vol. II, page 489. & seq. † Vid. G. J. Voss. de Fist. Græc. page 22.
# See Gale's court of the Gentiles, Part III. book 1, chap. 1, 2. which leurned writer having, in some other parts of that work, mentioned several things that were praise worthy, in some of the philosophers, here takes occasion to speak of some other Things, which were great blemishes in them; and, in other paris of this elaborate work, proves that those who lived in the first ages of the church, and were attached to their philosophy, zvere by this means, as he supposes, led aside from many great and important truths of the gospel; of this number Origen, Justin Martyr, and several others. And he farther supposes, that what many of them advanced concerning the liberty of man's will, as to what respects spiritual things, gave occasion to the Pelagiuns to propagate those doctrines that were subversive of the grace of God; and that the Arian and Samosatenan heresies took their rise from hence. See Part III. Book 2. chap. 1.
(a) The natural knowledge of God and his goodness, gives some encouragement to guilty creatures to repent of their sins, and to return to God by a gene. ral hope of acceptance, though they had no promise of pardoning grace. And this was the very principle upon which some of the better sort of the Gentiles set themselves to practisc virtue, to worship God, and endeavour to become like bim.
There is a vast difference between recommending or practising moral virtues, as agreeable to the nature of man, and the dictates of reason; and a person's being led in that way of holiness, which our Saviour has prescribed in the gospel. This takes its rise from a change of nature, wrought in regeneration, is excited by gospel-motives, encouraged by the promises there of, and proceeds from the grace of faith, without which, all pretensions to holiness are vain and defective. What advances soever these may have made in endeavouring to free themselves from the slavery of sin, they have been very deficient, as to the mortification thereof; for being ignorant of that great atonement which is made by Christ, as the only expedient to take away the guilt of sin, they could not, by any method, arrive to a conscience void of offence, or any degree of hope concerning the forgiveness thereof, and the way of acceptance in the sight of God: and their using endeavours to stop the current of vice, and to subdue their inordinate affections, could
I do not say, that natural religion can give sinful men a full and satisfying assurance of pardon upon their repentance; for the deepest degrees of penitence cannot oblige a prince to forgive the criminal: but still the overflowing good. ness of God, his patience and long-suffering, notwithstanding their sins, may evidently and justly excite in their hearts some hope of for giving grace: and I think the words of my text cannot intend less than this, that God has not left them without witness, when he gave them rain from heaven, when he satisfied their appetites with food, and filled their hearts with gladness. What was it that these benefits of their Creator bore witness to? Was it not that there was goodness and mercy to be found with him, if they would return to their duty, and abandon their own ways of idolatry and vice. Surely, it can never be supposed, that the apostle here means no more than to say, that the daily instances of divine bounty in the common comforts of life, assured them, that God had some goodness in him, and blessings to bestow on their bodies; but gave them no hope of his acceptance of their souls, if they should return and repent perer so sincerely. The Ninevites themselves, when threatened with destruction, repented in sackcloth and ashes; for, said they, Who can tell but God will turn and repent, and tuin away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? Nor were they mistaken in their hope, for God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way, and he repeated of the evil that he had threatened, Jonah üi. 510. And there is yet a more express text to this purpose, Rom. ii. 4. Despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? And if God leads us to repentance, by a sense of his goodness, surely he gives hope that our repentance shall not be in vain: and though, perhaps, i could not affirm it with boldness, and certainty by the mere light of reason, yet I may venture to declare, upon the encouragement of these scriptures, that if there should be found any sinner in the heathen world, who should be thus far wrought upon by a sense of the goodness of God, as to be led sincerely to repent of sin, and seek after mercy, God would find a way to make a discovery of so much of the gospel, as was necessary for him to know, rather than such a penitent sinner should be left under condemnation, or that a guilty creature should go on to eternal death in the way of repentance. Cornelius the Centurion, who feared God, who praved to him daily, and wrought righteousness, according to the light of his con science, had both an angel and an apostle sent to him, that he might receive more complete instruction in the matters of his salvation. Acts 3.1-6. and from 30-35."
not be effectual to answer that end, inasmuch as they were destitute of the Spirit of God, who affords his divine assistance, in order thereunto, in no other way than what is prescribed in the gospel ; so that as without holiness no une shall see the Lord, this grace is to be expected in that way which God has prescribed; and every one that is holy is made so by the Spirit, who glorifies himself in rendering men fruitful in every good work, being raised by him, from the death of sin, to the life of faith in Christ; which is a blessing peculiar to the gospel.
[2.] Since holiness is required of all persons, as what is absolutely necessary to salvation, and is also recommended as that which God works, in those in whom the gospel is made effectual thereunto; we may infer, that no gospel-doctrine has the least tendency to lead to licentiousness. The grace of God may indeed be abused; and men, who are strangers to it, take occasion from the abounding thereof, to continue in sin, as some did in the apostle's days, Rom. vi. 1. but this is not the genuine tendency of the gospel, which is to lead men to holiness. Whatever duties it engages to, they are all designed to answer this end; and whatever privileges are contained therein, they are all of them inducements thereunto: are we delivered out of the hands of our spiritual enemies? it is, that we should serve him in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our lives, Luke i. 74, 75. As for the promises, they are an inducement to us, as the apostle expresses it, to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, 2 Cor. vii. 1. and every ordinance and providence should be improved by us, to promote the work of sanctification.
[3.] Let us examine ourselves, whether this work be begun, and the grace of God wrought in us, in truth? and if so, whether it be increasing or declining in our souls?
1st, As to the truth of grace, let us take heed that we do not think that we are something when we are nothing, deceiving our own souls, or rest in a form of godliness, while denying the power thereof, or a name to live, while we are dead; let us think that it is not enough to abstain from grosser enormi. ties, or engage in some external duties of religion, with wrong ends. “And if, upon enquiry into ourselves, we find that we are destitute of a principle of spiritual life and grace, let us not think, that because we have escaped some of the pollutions that are in the world, or do not run with others in all excess of riot, that therefore we lead holy lives; but rather let us enquire, Whether the life we live in the flesh, be by the faith of the Son of God, under the influence of his Spirit, with great diffidence of our own righteousness and strength, and firm dependence upon Christ? and as the result hereof, whether we are found in the practice of universal holiness, and hate and avoid all appearance of evil, using all those endeavours that are prescribed in the gospel, to glorify him in our spirits, souls, and bodies, which are his?
2d, If we have ground to hope that the work of sanctification is begun, let us enquire, whether it be advancing or de-> clining? Whether we go from strength to strength, or make improvements in proportion to the privileges we enjoy? Many have reason to complain that it is not with them as in months past; that grace is languishing, the frame of their spirits in holy duties stupid, and they destitute of that communion with God, which they have once enjoyed; such ought to remember from whence they are failen, and repent, and do their first works; and beg of God, from whom alone our fruit is derived, that he would revive the work, and cause their souls to flourish in the courts of his house, and to bring forth inuch fruit unto holiness, to the glory of his own name, and their spiritual peace and comfort.
As for those who are frequently complaining of, and bewailing their declensions in grace, who scem, to others, to be making a very considerable progress therein ; let them not give way to unbelief so far as to deny or set aside the experiences which they have had of God's presence with them; for sometimes grace grows, though without our own observation. If they are destitute of the comforts thereof, or the fruits of righteousness, which are peace, assurance and joy in the Holy Ghost, let them consider, that the work of sanctification, in this present state, is, at best, but growing up towards that perfection which is not yet arrived to. If it does not spring up and flourish, as to those fruits and effects thereof, which they arc pressing after, but have not attained ; let them bless God, if grace is taking root downward, and is attended with an humble sense of their own weakness and imperfection, and an earnest desire of those spiritual blessings which they are labouring after. This ought to afford matter of thankfulness, rather than have a tendency to weaken their hands, or induce them to conclude that they are in an unsanctified state ; because of the many hindrances and discouragements which attend their progress in holiness.
QUEST. LXXVI. What is repentance unto life?
the heart of a sinner, by the Spirit and word of God; whereby, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filth and odiousners of his sins, and upon the ap