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to the Scriptures, which every where attribute our justification to faith, as to allow, that our first justification is by faith alone. But what are we to understand by that faith by which this first justification is obtained ? The Papists tell us, that it is an infusion of a new principle of grace and charity. The Socinians and Arminians (at least some of them) teach, that it is the ro credere, or an assent to the Gospel revelation, which justifies, as it is an act of our own, and an instance of obedience to the divine command. Some of our more modern refiners upon this scheme, choose to define this faith, by which we obtain our first justification, to be a receiving Christ as our Lord and Saviour; and tell us, that a submitting to his government has as great a hand in our justification, as our relying upon his merit, or hoping for salvation on account of what he has done and suffered for us. I think, all of them agree in this, that faith justifies, as it is an assent to the truth of the Gospel, and an entrance upon a life of obedience. None of them suppose this first justification to be our acceptance with God as righteous, by the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.
Now, then, what room is there for this distinction ? Is not faith, in this consideration of it, as much an act of obedience as any other point of conformity to the divine command, which we are capable of ? and is it not supposed to justify us, as it is our subjection to the new law of grace, and as it is our first act of obedience ? What then do they mean, by telling us of a first justification by faith alone, and of a secondary justification by works; when they
really intend, that the beginning, the progress, and the conclusion of our justification is by obedience only? This may easily be brought to a short and determinate issue. Either faith does justify us, as it is a work of ours, and an act of obedience; or it justifies us, as it is the means of our receiving Christ's righteousness, and having the same actually applied to us, for our justification and acceptance with God. There is no other way in which we can be supposed to be justified by faith. All the distinctions that the most exuberant fancies of men can light upon, are reducible to one of these two. Now, if the latter of these be assumed, the controversy is ended; we have a righteousness to plead that is sufficiently perfect, and that will stand us in stead; there is no need of our new obedience, in order to make up its defects, and procure a secondary justification. But if the former of these be assured, then our first justification is as truly by works as the second, and the whole is by obedience only. Much more fair and ingenuous would it therefore be, for the abettors of these principles to speak out, and tell us plainly that we are justified only by works, and that faith has nothing to do in our justification, but as it is our own work, and an act of obedience; than thus to endeavour to hide the deformity of their scheme, as contrary to the whole tenor of the Gospel, by the paint and varnish of this plausible, but groundless distinction.
If we should proceed to consider the nature of their secondary justification, and the obedience by which it is obtained, there will appear to be as little foundation for this new distinction from thence as from the former view. Will every act of our sincere
sons, if our works themselves are justified by faith; but condemned and rejected without it, as the Apostle teaches in the cited text. So we learn from chap. v. 15, 16. that the “effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man,” is “the prayer of faith.”
Moreover, if spiritual wisdom, or practical holiness, be the fruit and effect of faith, (as we are told that it is in the quoted text,) then our justification and acceptance with God (by which we do, and without which we cannot obtain the divine influences to our progressive sanctification) is by faith, and not by works. I think no man will pretend, that we are so acceptable to God, as to obtain his sanctifying influences, in a progress of wisdom and grace, before we are justified ; or that we are sanctified by faith, and justified by works. Whence it follows, that faith is the mean, or term, of our justification, because it is the mean, or term, of our sanctification; and that a holy life cannot be the condition of our acceptance with God, because it is the consequence and fruit of that faith by which we find acceptance with him.
Another text, to the same purpose, we find in chap. ii. 5. “ Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which God hath promised to them that love him ?” It might be read, “ Hath not God chosen the poor to be rich,” (as a similar phrase is translated, Rom. viii. 29.) to be rich “ with, or by faith, and heirs ?” Does it not plainly teach us, as that the end of God's choosing the poor was that they might be spiritually rich, so that it is faith which enriches them, and constitutes them heirs of
some continuing conditions required of us, in order to our complete justification.”
There is no need to debate with you the propriety of the word conditions in this case, because it may be used in a sound sense. But I know nothing in the nature of any covenant, except a covenant of works, that makes such conditions as you speak of necessary to it. Whereas, if you consider the covenant of grace in all the exhibitions of it, it is a covenant of promise, as styled, Eph. ii. 12. Thence those who are interested in this covenant are called “the children of the promise ;” and “ the heirs of the promise.” Thus the tenor of this covenant, when made with Adam, was, that “ the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head." And thus when made with Abraham, it consisted of a promise, that “ in him all the families of the earth should be blessed.” In neither of these cases was there any condition added; it was barely a declaration of mercy to guilty sinners. And yet the Apostle expressly calls this a covenant, which was confirmed of God in Christ, and says “the inheritance God gave to Abraham by promise.” And what is there that should make this inconsistent with the nature of a covenant ? Cannot you, Sir, covenant with a beggar, to bestow upon him what treasure you please, upon the only condition of his thankful acceptance ? Cannot a prince covenant with his rebel subjects to pardon them and receive them into his favour, upon the only condition of their acknowledging his sovereignty, and accepting his pardon ? Would not this be truly and formally a covenant, and a covenant with strongest obligations to the performance;
stopped, who are all become guilty before God, and who have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.” He considers the impossibility, in the nature of the thing, that such as these can be justified by works; because, when they have done all they can do, they yet, in their highest attainments, continue sinners, and remain under guilt. This is the plain and manifest scope of the two first, and part of the third, chapters to the Romans. He thence proceeds to show which way, and which only, they may hope for acceptance with God, in the remaining part of the third, and in the following chapters of that epistle. This cannot be by the deeds of the law. “ Therefore, by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight.” But it must be “by the righteousness of God without the law, by the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ, and by faith without the deeds of the law." This is the subject that the apostle Paul keeps constantly in view, in his Epistles to the Romans and Galatians.
But then, on the contrary, the apostle James designedly handles this question-Whether careless, licentious professors of Christianity, may presume upon their obtaining salvation, from their doctrinal faith, or from their notional and historical assent to the truth of the Gospel ? And thence he takes occasion distinctly to consider which way a Christian's faith may be justified, his profession vindicated and evidenced to be sincere and true. He discourses of a man that saith he hath faith and hath not works, ver. 14.; of one that hath a faith without charity, ver. 15, 16.; of a faith that hath not works, but is dead being alone, ver. 17.; a faith