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most useful. But believing is an act of the heart, which in the Scripture compriseth all the faculties of the soul, as one entire principle of moral and spiritual duties. • With the heart man believeth unto righteousness ;' Rom. x. 10. And it is frequently described by an act of the will, though it be not so alone. But without an act of the will no man can believe as he ought. See John v. 40. i. 12. vi. 35. We come to Christ in an act of the will; and · let whosoever will come." And to be willing is taken for to believe; Psal. cx. 3. and unbelief is disobedience; Heb. iii. 18, 19.
2. All divine truth is equally the object of this assent. It respects not the especial nature or use of any one truth, be it of what kind it will, more than another; nor can it do so, since it regards only divine revelation. Hence that Judas was the traitor, must have as great an influence into our justification, as that Christ died for our sins. But how contrary this is unto the Scripture, the analogy of faith, and the experience of all that believe, needs neither declaration nor confirmation.
3. This assent unto all divine revelation may be true and sincere, where there hath been no previous work of the law, nor any conviction of sin. No such thing is required thereunto, nor are they found in many who yet do so assent unto the truth. But, as we have shewed, this is necessary unto evangelical justifying faith ; and to suppose the contrary is to overthrow the order and use of the law and gospel, with their mutual relation unto one another in subserviency unto the design of God in the salvation of sinners.
4. It is not a way of seeking relief unto a convinced sinner, whose mouth is stopped, in that he is become guilty before God. Such alone are capable subjects of justification, and do or can seek after it in a due manner. A mere assent unto divine revelation is not peculiarly suited to give such persons relief. For it is that which brings them into that condition from whence they are to be relieved. For the knowledge of sin is by the law. But faith is a peculiar acting of the soul for deliverance.
5. It is no more than what the devils themselves may have, and have, as the apostle James affirms. For that instance of their believing one God, proves that they believe also whatever this one God, who is the first essential truth doth reveal, to be true. And it may consist with all manner of wickedness, and without any obedience; and so make God a liar; 1 John ii. 4. And it is no wonder if men deny us to be justified by faith, who know no other faith but this.
6. It no way answers the descriptions that are given of justifying faith in the Scripture. Particularly it is by faith • as it is justifying that we are said to receive Christ; John
i, 12. Col. ii. 6. To receive the promise, the word, the grace of God, the atonement;' James i. 21. John iii. 33. Acts ii. 41. xi. 1. Rom. v. 11. Heb. xi. 17. To'cleave unto God;' Deut. iv. 4. Acts xi. 23. And so in the Old Testament it is generally expressed by trust and hope. Now none of these things are contained in a mere assent unto the truth ; but they require other actings of the soul than what are peculiar unto the understanding only.
7. It answers not the experience of them that truly believe. This all our inquiries and arguments in this matter must have respect unto. For the sum of what we aim at, is only to discover what they do, who really believe unto the justification of life. It is not what notions men may have hereof, nor how they express their conceptions, how defensible they are against objections by accuracy of expressions and subtle distinctions; but only what we ourselves do, if we truly believe, that we inquire after. And although out differences about it, do argue the great imperfection of that state wherein we are, so as that those who truly believe cannot agree what they do in their so doing, which should give us a mutual tenderness and forbearance towards each other; yet if men would attend unto their own experience in the application of their souls unto God, for the pardon of sin and righteousness to life, more than unto the notions which, on various occasions their minds are influenced by, or prepossessed withal, many differences and unnecessary disputations about the nature of justifying faith would be prevented or prescinded. I deny therefore that this general assent unto the truth, how firm soever it be, or what effects in the way of duty or obedience soever it may produce, doth answer the experience of any one true believer, as containing the entire actings of his soul towards God for pardon of sin and justification.
8. That faith alone is justifying, which hath justification actually accompanying of it. For thence alone it hath that denomination. To suppose a man to have justifying faith, and not to be justified is to suppose a contradiction. Nor do we inquire after the nature of any other faith but that whereby a believer is actually justified. But it is not so with all them in whom this assent is found ; nor will those that plead for it, allow that upon it alone any are immediately justified. Wherefore it is sufficiently evident that there is somewhat more required unto justifying faith than a real assent unto all divine revelations, although we do give that assent by the faith whereby we are justified.
But on the other side, it is supposed that by some the object of justifying faith is so much restrained, and the nature of it thereby determined unto such a peculiar acting of the mind, as compriseth not the whole of what is in the Scripture ascribed unto it. So some have said, that it is the pardon of our sins in particular that is the object of justifying faith ; faith therefore they make to be a full persuasion of the forgiveness of our sins through the mediation of Christ; or that what Christ did and suffered as our mediator, he did it for us in particular. And a particular application of especial mercy unto our own souls and consciences is hereby made the essence of faith. Or to believe that our own sins are forgiven, seems hereby to be the first and most proper act of justifying faith. Hence it would follow, that whosoever doth not believe, or hath not a firm persuasion of the forgiveness of his own sins in particular, hath no saving faith, is no true believer; which is by no means to be admitted. And if any have been or are of this opinion, I fear that they were in the asserting of it, neglective of their own experience; or it may be rather, that they knew not how in their experience, all the other actings of of faith, wherein its essence doth consist, were included in this persuasion, which in an especial manner they aimed at; whereof we shall speak afterward. And there is no doubt unto me, but that this which they propose, faith is suited unto, aimeth at, and doth ordinarily effect in true believers, who improve it, and grow in its exercise in a due manner.
Many great divines at the first reformation, did (as the Lutherans generally yet do) thus make the mercy of God
in Christ, and thereby the forgiveness of our own sins, to be the proper object of justifying faith, as such; whose essence therefore they placed in a fiducial trust in the grace of God by Christ declared in the promises, with a certain unwavering application of them unto ourselves. And I say with some confidence, that those who endeavour not to attain hereunto, either understand not the nature of believing, or are very neglective both of the grace of God, and of their own peace.
That which inclined those great and holy persons so to express themselves in this matter, and to place the essence of faith in the highest acting of it (wherein yet they always included and supposed its other acts), was the state of the consciences of men with whom they had to do. Their contest in this article with the Roman church, was about the way and means whereby the consciences of convinced troubled sinners might come to rest and peace with God. For at that time they were no otherwise instructed, but that these things were to be obtained, not only by works of righteousness which men did themselves, in obedience unto the commands of God, but also by the strict observance of many inventions of what they called the church; with an ascription of a strange efficacy to the same ends, unto missatical sacrifices, sacramentals, absolutions, penances, pilgrimages, and other the like superstitions. Hereby they observed that the consciences of men were kept in perpetual disquietments, perplexities, fears and bondage, exclusive of that rest, assurance, and peace with God through the blood of Christ, which the gospel proclaims and tenders. And when the leaders of the people in that church had observed this, that indeed the ways and means which they proposed and presented, would never bring the souls of men to rest, nor give them the least assurance of the pardon of sins, they made it a part of their doctrine, that the belief of the pardon of our own sins, and assurance of the love of God in Christ, were false and pernicious. For what should they else do, when they knew well enough, that in their way, and by their propositions, they were not to be attained ? Hence the principal controversy in this matter, which the reformed divines had with those of the church of Rome was
this, whether there be according unto, and by the gospel, a state of rest and assured peace with God to be attained in this life. And having all advantages imaginable for the proof hereof, from the very nature, use, and end of the gospel, from the grace, love, and design of God in Christ, from the efficacy of his mediation in his oblation and intercession, they assigned these things to be the especial object of justifying faith, and that faith itself to be a fiduciary trust in the especial grace and mercy of God, through the blood of Christ, as proposed in the promises of the gospel. That is, they directed the souls of men to seek for peace with God, the pardon of sin, and a right unto the heavenly inheritance, by placing their sole trust and confidence in the mercy of God by Christ alone. But yet withal I never read any of them (I know not what others have done), who affirmed that every true and sincere believer always had a full assurance of the especial love of God in Christ, or of the pardon of his own sins ; though they plead that this the Scripture requires of them in a way of duty, and that this they ought to aim at the attainment of.
And these things I shall leave as I find them, unto the use of the church. For I shall not contend with any about the way and manner of expressing the truth, where the substance of it is retained. That which in these things is aimed at, is the advancement and glory of the grace of God in Christ, with the conduct of the souls of men unto rest and peace with him. Where this is attained or aimed at, and that in the way of truth for the substance of it, variety of apprehensions and expressions concerning the same things, may tend unto the useful exercise of the faith and edification of the church. Wherefore, neither opposing nor rejecting what hath been delivered by others as their judgments herein, I shall propose my own thoughts concerning it; not without some hopes that they may tend to communicate light in the knowledge of the thing itself inquired into, and the reconciliation of some differences about it amongst learned and holy men. I say, therefore, that the Lord Jesus Christ himself, as the ordinance of God in his work of mediation, for the recovery and salvation of lost sinners, and as unto that end proposed in the promise of the