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the grave; but a perfect complete life, of an eternal duration, after this, was what entered little into their thoughts, and less into their persuasions. And they were so far from being clear herein, that we see no nation of the world publicly professed it, and built upon it: no religion taught it; and it was nowhere made an article of faith and principle of religion until Jesus Christ came; of whom it is truly said, that he, at his appearing, “brought life and immortality to light.” And that not only in the clear revelation of it, and in instances shown of men raised from the dead; but he has given us an unquestionable assurance and pledge of it in his own resurrection and ascension into heaven. How has this one truth changed the nature of things in the world, and given the advantage to piety over all that could tempt or deter men from it! The philosophers, indeed, showed the beauty of virtue; they set her off so, as drew men's eyes and approbation to her; but leaving her unendowed, very few were willing to espouse her. The generality could not refuse her their esteem and commendation, but still turned their backs
1; on her, and forsook her, as a match not for their turn. But now there being put into the scales on her side, “an exceeding and immortal weight of glory;" interest is come about to her, and virtue now is visibly the most enriching purchase, and by much the best bargain. That she is the perfection and excellency of our nature; that she is herself a reward, and will recommend our names to future ages, is not all that can now be said of her. It is not strange that the learned heathens satisfied not many with such airy commendations. It has another relish and efficacy to persuade men, that if they live well here, they shall be happy hereafter. Open their eyes upon the endless, unspeakable joys of another life, and their hearts will find something solid and powerful to move them. The view of heaven and hell will cast a slight upon the short pleasures and pains of this present state, and give attractions and encouragements to virtue, which reason and interest, and the care of ourselves, cannot but allow and prefer. Upon this found. . ation, and upon this only, morality stands firm, and
may defy all competition. This makes it more than a name; a substantial good, worth all our aims and endeavours; and thus the Gospel of Jesus Christ has delivered it to us.
5. To these I must add one advantage more by Jesus Christ, and that is the promise of assistance. If we do what we can, he will give us his Spirit to help us to do what, and how we should. It will be idle for us, who know not how our own spirits move and act us, to ask in what manner the Spirit of God shall work upon us. The wisdom that accompanies that Spirit knows better than we how we are made, and how to work upon us. If a wise man knows how to prevail on his child, to bring him to what he desires ; can we suspect that the spirit and wisdom of God should fail in it; though we perceive or comprehend not the ways of his operation ? Christ has promised it, who is faithful and just; and we cannot doubt of the performance. It is not requisite on this occasion, for the enhancing of this benefit, to enlarge on the frailty of our minds, and weakness of our constitutions; how liable to mistakes, how apt to go astray, and how easily to be turned out of the paths of virtue. If any one needs go beyond himself, and the testimony of his own conscience in this point; if he feels not his own errors and passions always tempting, and often prevailing, against the strict rules of his duty; he need but look abroad into any stage of the world, to be convinced. To a man under the difficulties of his nature, beset with temptations, and hedged in with prevailing custom; it is no small encouragement to set himself seriously on the courses of virtue, and practice of true religion; that he is from a sure hand, and an Almighty arm, promised assistance to support and carry him through.
There remains yet something to be said to those who will be ready to object, “If the belief of Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah, together with those concomitant articles of his resurrection, rule, and coming again to judge the world, be all the faith required, as necessary to justification ; to what purpose were the epistles written ; I say, if the belief of those many
doctrines contained in them be not also necessary to salvation ; and what is there delivered a Christian may believe or disbelieve, and yet, nevertheless, be a member of Christ's Church, and one of the faithful ?”
To this I answer, that the epistles are written upon several occasions: and he that will read them as he ought, must observe what it is in them which is principally aimed at; find what is the argument in hand, and how managed ; if he will understand them right, and profit by them. The observing of this will best help us to the true meaning and mind of the writer: for that is the truth which is to be received and believed; and not scattered sentences in Scripture-language, accommodated to our notions and prejudices.
We must look into the drift of the discourse, observe the coherence and connexion of the parts, and see how it is consistent with itself and other parts of Scripture ; if we will conceive it right. We must not cull out, as best suits our system, here and there a period or verse; as if they were all distinct and independent aphorisms; and make these the fundamental articles of the Christian faith, and necessary to salvation; unless God has made them so. There be many truths in the Bible, which a good Christian may be wholly ignorant of, and so not believe; which, perhaps, some lay great stress on and call fundamental articles, because they are the distinguishing points of their communion.
The epistles, most of them, carry on a thread of argument, which, in the style they are writ, cannot every where be observed without great attention, and to consider the texts as they stand, and bear a part in that, is to view them in their due light, and the way to get the true sense of them. They were writ to those who were in the faith, and true Christians already: and so could not be designed to teach them the fundamental articles and points necessary to salvation. The epistle to the Romans was writ to all “that were at Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints, whose faith was spoken of through the world,” chap. i. 7, 8. To whom St. Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians was, he shows chap. i. 2, 4, &c. “Unto the church of God, which is at Corinth,
to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints ; with all them that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours. I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace
of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; that in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge: even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you. So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." And so likewise the second was, “To the
“ church of God at Corinth, with all the saints in Achaia,” chap. i. 1. His next is to the churches of Galatia. That to the Ephesians was, “To the saints that were at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” So likewise, “ To the saints and faithful bre
. thren in Christ at Colosse, who had faith in Christ Jesus, and love to the saints. To the church of the Thessalonians. To Timothy his son in the faith. To Titus his own son after the common faith. To Philemon his dearly beloved, and fellow labourer.” And the author to the Hebrews calls those he writes to “ Holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling," chap. iii. 1. From whence it is evident, that all those whom St. Paul writ to were brethren, saints, faithful in the church, and so Christians already; and, therefore, wanted not the fundamental articles of the Christian religion, without a belief of which they could not be saved ; nor can it be supposed, that the sending of such fundamentals was the reason of the apostle's writing to any of them. To such also St. Peter writes, as is plain from the first chapter of each of his epistles. Nor is it hard to observe the like in St. James's and St. John's epistles. And St. Jude directs his thus: “To them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called.” The epistles therefore, being all written to those who were already believers and Christians, the occasion and end of writing them could not be to instruct them in that which was necessary to make them Christians. This, it is plain,
, they knew and believed already; or else they could not have been Christians and believers. And they were writ upon particular occasions; and without those occasions had not been writ; and so cannot be thought necessary to salvation : though they resolving doubts, and reforming mistakes, are of great advantage to our know. ledge and practice. I do not deny, but the great doctrines of the Christian faith are dropt here and there, and scattered up and down in most of them. But it is not in the epistles we are to learn what are the fundamental articles of faith, where they are promiscuously and without distinction mixed with other truths, in discourses that were (though for edification, indeed, yet) only occasional. We shall find and discern those great and necessary points best, in the preaching of our Saviour and the apostles, to those who were yet strangers, and ignorant of the faith ; to bring them in, and convert them to it. And what that was, we have seen already out of the history of the evangelists, and the Acts; where they are plainly laid down, so that nobody can mistake them. The epistles to particular churches, besides the main argument of each of them, (which was some present concernment of that particular church, to which they severally were addressed) do in many places explain the fundamentals of the Christian religion, and that wisely; by proper accommodations to the apprehensions of those they were writ to; the better to make them imbibe the Christian doctrine, and the more easily to comprehend the method, reasons, and grounds of the great work of salvation. Thus we see, in the epistle to the Romans, adoption (a custom well known amongst those of Rome) is much made use of, to explain to them the grace and favour of God, in giving them eternal life; to help them to conceive how they became the children of God, and to assure them of a share in the kingdom of heaven, as heirs to an inheritance. Whereas the setting out, and confirming the Christian faith to the Hebrews, in the epistle to them, is by allusions and arguments, from the ceremonies, sacrifices, and economy of the Jews, and references to the records of the Old Testament. And as for the general epistles, they, we may see, regard the state and exigencies, and some peculiarities of those times. These holy writers, in