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THE CONFESSION OF CHRIST.
REV. T. DALE, A.M.
ST. BRIDE'S CHURCH, FLEET STREET, JUNE 5, 1836.
"Whosoever shall coness that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God."-1 JOHN, iv. 15.
SCRIPTURE is full of conaescersion to human ignorance, and compassion for human weakness. This may be p.oved in many ways, and especially by the plain and explicit nature of those tests by which we are engaged or commanded to "examine ourselves whether we are in the faith," to "prove our own selves;" to determine, at any given period, whether, if we live, our prospect of life will be Christ, and whether, if we die, our expectation in death will be gain.
In order to arrive at a conclusion of such acknowledged and unparalleled importance, there is no need for a long, and painful, and perplexing inquirynone for an exact and nice equipoise of doctrine-nor yet for a comparison of spiritual truth, with spiritual, which minds untaught and unused to reason might find it difficult to institute or to carry on. All is summed up in the briefest possible compass, and pressed home on the heart with the most pointed and inevitable application. The confession, indeed, to which the apostle has referred, may require to be illustrated; and the benefits consequent thereon may require to be presented in detail: but the facts which result, with which we are all primarily, as well as actually, concerned, are at once decisive-decisive alike to him who does, and to him who does not confess that Jesus is the Son of God. The one dwelleth in God, and God in him; the other dwelleth not without the range of God's vision, nor beyond the reach of God's power (which is impossible), but without the limit that encircles God's chosen, and without that atmosphere of purity into which no moral pollution, no moral harm can penetrate.
Let us, then, on the present occasion, instead of disputing or declining the test, apply it candidly and honestly to ourselves. Let us consider what is included under the significant term, "confessing Jesus to be the Son of God," and then define on scriptural, and consequently, sufficient grounds, whether confessing him aright, we are yet partakers of those benefits which arise from God dwelling in us, and we in God.
First, let us consider THE UNIVERSALITY OF THE TEXT: "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God." We have here no vestige of exclusion or limitation; no preference to the Jew on account of his nationa distinction, no prohibition to the Gentile by reason of his past delinquency.
No one can avail himself of the pretext, "This does not apply to me." Exclusion of system may indeed be supposed by some; but they are all man's fabrication: when GOD speaks, there are no limitations of promise, and there are no exemptions from duty. This is the language of God: "Look unto me and be saved, all the ends of the earth :" "Go ye and make disciples of all nations:" "Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely :” « Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
Now obvious as this universality may seem, it is not without a purpose without an advantage, and even without a necessity, that we premise it. It brings all within our range-it ensures the attention of all. If God revealed himself only in a systematic manner-a manner to be understood but by sages, philosophers, and divines; if one link after another had been added to form a continuous chain of reasoning, and we were at liberty to try God in each by the rules to which man is subject, and to apply to the acts and expressions of God the conclusions which may be drawn from similar expressions on the part of man; we might then argue, that the very exercise of his mercy derogated from the perfection of his justice; that if he causes some to be saved, he also causes others to be lost; that by the very act of bringing it to some, he bars it to all besides; that by an election of grace, which appears arbitrary and capricious, he reprobates all who are not called, or all who do not obey the call, which amounts to the same thing, when the power from which it proceeds is that by which alone it can be made effectual.
They who need an apology for continuing in sin, hold back from the influence of the promises, on the ground that the promises were not for them, for that if they were, God would make them willing, and if they were not, all their efforts would be in vain. But the heart that would adopt this sentiment, and the lip that has given utterance to it, is confounded by the explicit and decisive language of the text, declaring God's promise, indeed, but not accounting for God's actions, nor developing the principle on which it acts; nay, and not only so, but the downcast and dejected spirit, it might be, prevented, by the depth of its humility, from availing itself of consolation, is revived and encouraged, and assuredly is with language such as this. There is no limitation which excludes him; there cannot be, for the words are of universal application—" Whosoever confesses:" there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich unto all who call upon him. It is indeed added by Paul, with an emphatical simplicity, "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost:" but is there conveyed in this the slightest doubt that the Holy Ghost will be given to those who desire to make the confession? Is there the slightest qualification of the promise conveyed by Jesus himself in the first of the affecting appeals to the most endeared of earth's relationship, and universal as the rule is that commended it to our hearts-" If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" Ah! brethren, those who are finally shut out (which God grant you may never be!) can never charge their exclusion upon God, so long as it is written, "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.”
We come next to examine THE CONFESSION ITSELF, in which we are all so intimately concerned, and of which, it may be observed, that while it is a con
fession of words for "with the mouth confession is made to salvation"—it is not a confession of words alone for "with the heart" (adds the apostle) "man believes unto righteousness." and out of the fulness of the heart alone, the utterance of a right confession can proceed, while, further, as the actions are controlled and directed by the heart, the confession will be one also of deeds. "Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I command ?" was the indignant demand of Jesus to those who confessed him but in name: and equally explicit was his solemn determination" Then will he say, I never knew you: depart from me, ye workers of iniquity." We shall therefore determine a true confession to be, that which is not only the utterance of the lip, but which, having its evidence in the actions, has its origin in the heart.
It is true, that in Scripture a bold, and explicit, and resolute avowal of belief in Christ is frequently taken as inclusive of the other two; so that the connexion might appear to a superficial observer more intimate and necessary than we seem disposed to represent it. But this will be sufficiently accounted for when we take into account the difference of circumstances. In the apostolical ages every confession was made, so to speak, within view of the dungeon, and within sound of the scourge: the sword dripping with blood was suspended over the head of every candidate for baptism; and it may be said literally, and without a figure, that he was "baptized by the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” Consequently there was no escape for insincerity here: the heart alone could have prompted a confession, by which every thing as to this world was to be lost, and nothing gained-all perils braved, and no present benefit be secured. It must have learned, under divine teaching, to "count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus the Lord;" while, moreover, the course of action which such a profession instituted, was in perfect accordance with the feeling from which it was understood to proceed. Duties, however painful and self-denying in themselves, were not then considered, as they seem now to be, optional. Religious services, that more especially which signifies the sufferings and death of Christ-did not require to be enforced by stimulants, but were hailed as enjoyments, and were partaken of as a privilege. Strict abstinence and a total separation from all the sensualities of a gorgeous and luxurious idolatry was essential to communion with the church: and so multiplied were the persecutions to which the servants of the Redeemer were exposed, that the apostle Paul does not scruple to declare that "if in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable."
But now the confession of Christ with the lip is not only made without peril, but can scarcely be withheld without detriment. In the great majority of cases, a man without religion is looked on with suspicion and distrust. He is one from whom the husband guards his wife, and against whom the father warns his children, and with whom others shrink from holding intercourse. They look on him with caution and reserve, acting instinctively on the conviction, that he who does not profess to fear God can hardly be expected to regard man. A partial religion, therefore-a religion sufficient to quiet the conscience, without any interference with the maxims and customs of the world, is in repute rather than otherwise. And this does no inconsiderable good to society, because it provides for the incorporation into the putrifying mass around us of a certain measure of that Christian principle which is the salt of the earth. Those who openly avow the Gospel with their lips
cannot openly repudiate it in their lives. There is much they are compelled to do, and much they are willing to do; for they feel in ordinary life there is a benefit in self-restraint, in social obligation, in domestic charity and that all such benefits come by the outward recognition and acknowledgment of the Gospel. In most cases, the happiness, in all, the harmony, in some, even the temporal prosperity, of a family, rests on, and is determined by, the comparative influence of the Gospel principles on its members.
For these and other reasons, a certain profession of religion, so far from being attended with discredit, is in request among us. The man who attends punctually or frequently on religious worship, acquires thereby an entrance to our confidence; we have another security for his present integrity. The confession with the lip is therefore a benefit to society, as it imposes restraints on those who make it. It is a benefit to them, also, because they gain more in this life, even from restraint in others, than they lose from the temptation imposed on themselves. But whether it is a benefit to the soul, a benefit which shall endure when the body has returned to its dust, is to be tried by another standard, and determined on far other principles. There is confession to man, who judgeth by the outward appearance; there is confession to God, who looketh on the heart There is a general conviction and confession which is good to its extent; but, after all, it is only the body, of which the true, and earnest, and spiritual confession is the soul. The question is not, therefore, Do we outwardly confess Christ to be the Son of God? Our lips have already answered this question, our actions have already attested this fact. The question is really, How do we confess him? Confessing him with the lip to be the Son of God, do we utter the con viction of the heart-a conviction arising out of a right estimate of our own characters, necessities, and requisites, out of a full and fixed persuasion that he is the Saviour ordained of God, who can do for us all that we need? Does the demonstration of a doctrine so explicitly laid down in Scripture, that Christ Jesus, uniting the divine nature and the human nature-the divine, because he is God manifest in the flesh-the human, for seeing that the children were partakers of flesh and blood, he himself also took part of the same-took on him the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross: does the demonstration of this doctrine, I ask, arise out of this experienced adaptation to the circumstances of our own case? Does the examination of ourselves, made with candour and with earnestness, with desire to learn the truth, and determination to profit by it, make us not only to approve and to admire, but to acknowledge and to adore the wisdom and the goodness of God in thus providing for the eternal welfare of a being so overwhelmed with sin, and so compassed with infirmity, as each of us who looks into himself must know himself to be? In those intervals of thought which will thrust themselves on the most unreflecting, but which are sough and embraced, and improved by those who have acquired a knowledge of the chief end of man: in those intervals when weariness is constraining us to solitude, in the silence of the midnight hour, on the restless couch, in anxiety and pain; when we cannot but feel that we are thankful, and remember that we are immortal; do we recognize the sufficiency of the sacrifice which God hath provided, the stability of that foundation on which alone can be based a firm hope of support in death, and of acquittal in judgment, and of admission to everlasting life? Do we then confess God with the heart, when God alone is
witness to the confession, as comprehending in itself all that can be needed and desired by the conscious transgressor, to whom it is appointed once to die, and after death the judgment? Do we then recognize Christ as made unto us, what he alone can be made, "wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption?" We must, brethren, we must at some time feel our own insignificance in relation to that system of things of which we form a part. When we think of the untold, unnumbered millions who have gone before us into that state of existence of which we know nothing but what the Godhead has declared unto us; when we regard ourselves as atoms of intelligence floating as in a sunbeam in the sight of God's countenance, and that for eternity-whether it shall be a light of glory to gladden, or a fire of indignation to consume; how can we but feel that every such atom is to itself a world-that our eternal salvation absorbs every other interest, just as the focus concentrates all the converging rays of light? It profits us nothing though we gain the whole world, and lose our own souls, while there is no means of saving them but the means ordained in God's word, the true confession of Christ, the confession of the heart.
O! surely this is the way to learn what Christ is, and how we ought to prize his great salvation, when we realize by anticipation, how fearful a thing it will be, to be without him in the hour when we shall need him most, in the hour when none but he will answer to our need! Only let us think of prolonged and hopeless trouble, without Christ as a Comforter; of the conflict and agony of death, without Christ as a Conqueror; of appearing at the judgment-seat of God, without Christ as an Advocate; of entrance on the desolation and dreariness of eternity, without Christ for a portion and inheritance! Only let us think of what must be lost leaving out of the reckoning what must be endured; and O! surely, if we do this, the heart will never rest until those personal convictions and impressions be obtained and embodied which shall enable it also, through the utterance of the lips, to acknowledge by the Holy Ghost, under all the vicissitudes of life, and amid the struggles of dissolution, that Jesus is the Son of God, and manifested for their salvation to be the Son of man.
-THE CONFESSION OF THE LIFE.
The confession of the heart necessitates that of which we are lastly to speak "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." The tongue will speak, the members will act, out of the abundance of the heart and Christ once formed therein, the conversation will be as it becometh the Gospel of Christ. This test will extend itself to all duties, apply itself to all relations from God, who claims first, and demands most, and deserves best, down to the casual acquaintance of an hour, whom we never saw till yesterday, and, perhaps, may never see again. Indeed, if we were accumulating evidences of divine revelation, instead of applying a test, whose authority we all acknowledge, I should point to the beneficial influences that follow a confession of Christ-their tendency to develop moral worth, to promote social union, to advance domestic and individual happiness. You have here principles which men, reasoning according to their own judgment, would call inconsistent, and yet tending to their own mark, and leaning to their own practice. For who are the men-I ask without scruple in a mixed congregation-who are the men to whom those around them look for models of righteous dealing, whose word