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NATURE OF SAVING FAITH.
Acts xvi. 31.
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt
HESE words are an answer to the most important question that a poor sinner can put: “ What must I do to be saved?” In obedience to the heavenly vision, Paul and Silas went unto Macedonia, verse ~12., At the city of Philippi they continued certain days preaching the gospel of salvation. On the Sabbath they went to a river side where prayer was wont to be made; and there they spake. And while the hand of the Lord was with them, Satan's rage was kindled; for a certain damsel, possessed with a spirit of divination, fol. lowed them as they went to prayer, crying, These men are the servants of the most high God, who shew unto us the way of salvation: This she did many days. This testimony though true, was intended by Satan to hurt the apostles' character, and thereby to mar their success in the work of the Lord.
A testimony from such a quarter could not but tend to render them suspected as in collusion with the Pythoness. Therefore as their great Master would not allow the devils to speak, disdaining their infernal testimony, Mark i. 25, 34. so Paul, in his name, commanded the spirit to come out of the damsel, and he came out the same hour, verse 16–18. The masters of the Pythoness seeing that the hope of their gains were lost, were highly enraged at the apostles, laid hold on them, dragged them to the market place, brought them before the magistrates, and accused them as troublers of the city, and teachers of unlawful customs. The mob and the magistrates instigated by these accusers, are hurried on with the most lawless rage against Paul and Silas. Stripped of their clothes, they are mercilessly beaten, and cast into prison, the jailor receiving a charge to keep them safely. In obedience to the odious orders, he thurst them into the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks, verse 19, 24. SO shamefully were they treated at Philippi, 1 Thess. ii. 2. But so far were they from being dispirited, that they despised the shame, yea, rejoiced in it
. Though their feet were fast in the stocks, and their backs furrowed with the lash, they sang praises to their God at midnight: and they sang aloud, for the prisoners heard them. Heaven saw their fervent devotion, and testi. fied applause. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, the foundations of the prison were shaken, its doors thrown open, and every one's bands were loosed.
The jailor awaking, and seeing the doors so lately bolted, standing open, draws his sword, intend. ing to be his own executioner, and thereby to evade the vengeance which he knew would soon overtake him for letting the prisoners go: for he thought they had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying. Do thyself no harm; for we are all here. Then calling for a light, he sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas. He dreads the holy prisoners, and is ready to kiss the feet he so lately put in the stocks. He feels a fearful earthquake of the soul, and terror sounds aloud in its every cor
His prisoners he brings forth, stung with anguish at the thought of his cruelty towards them; and propounds the interesting question, Sirs, what must
I do to be saved? It would seem that he had already heard that they were the servants of the most High God, who shewed unto men the way of salvation, verse 17. and that they were indeed so, he had just now seen attested by the broad seal of Heaven in the earthquake. The apostles rejoicing to find that his conscience was awakened, and that his chief concern turned on the salvation of his soul, readily replied in the words of the text-Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. They are not slow to preach to him who had a few hours ago so cruelly persecuted them. Seeing him a wounded sinner, they readily present the balm of their Master's blood, telling him he had no. thing to do but to apply it, in order to be saved from sin and wrath.
What must I do? says the trembling jailor.
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, say Paul and Silas.
What must I do to be saved? is the great question.
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, is the apostolic answer.
The great doctrine obviously deducible from the text is this,
It is the duty of sinners to believe in Christ for salvation.
In handling of which I purpose, as a gracious God may be pleased to assist,
1. To shew what it is to believe in Christ for salvation.
II. Remove some difficulties attending our doc. trine.
III. Shew what that salvation is for which sinners believe in him.
IV. and Lastly, Apply the subject.
I return to the first of these, viz. To shew what it is to believe in Christ for salvation. And in the
1st place. You will please observe three things in our text, the act, the object, and the end or effect of that act. The act, “believe.” The object, "on the Lord Jesus Christ.” The end or effect, “and thou shalt be saved.” In the act, the agent must have a view to the end: The sinner to the salvation of his soul as the end of his faith, 1 Pet. i. 9. Salvation was the great end the poor jailor had in his eye, and accordingly his question was, What shall I do TO BE SAVED? The apostles are far from condemning his end is too low, or selfish. They knew it was good in itself, and that he as yet could act from no higher motive. They direct him what to do that he might obtain his end. And hence they point out Christ to him, bidding him beheve on him, viz. for that which he wanted, salvation to his sinful soul. This must be granted, else_ the answer would not be proper to the question. His question was, “ What must I do to be saved?” i. e. What must I do for salvation? Therefore the meaning of the answer must be, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation: believe on him for it, and thou shalt not be disappointed: thou shalt be saved. Thus it appears, ,
2dly. That faith in Jesus Christ is a trusting in him for our salvation; or as it is expressed in the 11th verse of the preceding chapter, a believing, that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be saved. To believe in Jesus Christ is to believe that he will save us, or that we shall be saved by him. Thus it is a persuasion, as the original word undeniably signifies, and being a persuasion not simply of a truth, but but of a truth good for us, it is a trusting: a trusting in Christ for salvation. This important doctrine I shall establish and illustrate by some arguments, to which I request your earnest attention.
1st. To believe that we shall be saved by Christ is faith in him: It is faith, and nothing else. Faith whether human or divine is universally acknowledged to be founded on a testimony, and thus it is distinct from
knowledge, and still more so from opinion. In the one of these we usually say, I know such a thing to be true; in the other, I think it is true: but in faith, we say, I believe such a thing to be true, I believe it on the testimony of another. Humán faith rests upon testimony concerning a thing as either already done, or to be done. If already done, the testimony concerning it is an assertion of a fact. If not yet done, but to be so, the testimony is either a promise of something good, or a threatening of some evil. If the promise be believed, there is á motion of the heart towards the good promised: If the threatening, there is an aversion of heart to the evil. If neither be believed, the good and evil are despised as mere chimeras. The promise or the threat is always made by some person or persons: and according to the person's power and veracity his testimony is to be believed, or not. If he cannot perform his word, though willing, his testimony is not to be trusted. If able, but not faithful, his testimony is as little to be relied on. Of such a one we use to say, we can put no trust, we can have no faith, in him. The application of these things to our purpose is obvious. In divine faith we believe, on the footing of the divine testimony, things past and things to come, particularly that we ourselves shall be saved by Jesus Christ. Thus faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, Heb. xi. 1. It is the substance of things hoped for, inasmuch as we believe that we shall in due time be put in the possession of them. It is the evidence of things not seen, inasmuch as thereby we are as fully persuaded of all the unseen things mentioned in scripture, as if we saw them with our eyes. In this sense, faith makes future things present, and unseen things evident. In human faith our trusting a person for a thing, is a believing he will do that thing for us. And in divine faith our trusting Christ for our salvation, is a believe ing that he will save us. And this believing is not simply a persuasion of the thing as true, but also a relish of it as good. It is as impossible not to relish