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Gospel, and should afterwards cease to perform good works, that man, undoubtedly, would never obtain justification. On the contrary, he would become a final apostate, and an outcast from the kingdom of God. Thus have I expressed my own views of the doctrine contained in this discourse of St. James, and shall only add, that this is equally the doctrine of St. Paul, of Christ, and of the whole Bible.
The observations made in this Discourse naturally suggest the following
1. It is evident, from this discourse of St. James, that no attribute or principle is of any value, except as it produces good works.
By good works I intend here, and throughout this Sermon, all acts of piety, benevolence, and self-government. Two of these, faith and benevolence, or things which claim to be faith and benevolence, are examined in form by St. James; viz. the faith of Antinomians, and the philanthrophy of modern infidels ; and both are proved, irresistibly, to be useless, and worthless. What is true of these is true of all other principles and opinions sustaining the same general character. The end of all thinking and feeling is action. Whatever terminates not in this is a mere cheat, a mass of rubbish, a nuisance to ourselves, and to mankind. All the good done in the universe is done by action. The most perfect and glorious principles which belong to the intelligent character, those which constituted the bliss of paradise, those which constitute the superior bliss of heaven, would be shorn of almost all their radiance were they to cease from their activity. There is, I acknowledge, in the reception of truth, and the indulgence of virtuous affections, an inherent value, a delightfulness inwoven in their own nature. The subject of them, if he were prevented by accidental circumstances from doing good, would, I acknowledge, still find real delight in the things themselves. But, were he to cease from doing good when it was in his power, he would be stripped of all his virtue and glory, and of almost all his enjoyment. •To him,' says St. James,' that
knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.' Good actions only are blessings to the kingdom of God, and the only proofs of excellence of character.
In this great particular the Scriptures differ boundlessly from the favourite philosophy of modern times. Philosophy is satisfied with good words, and good wishes. The Scrip tures, while they require these, demand with infinite authority, as indispensably to our acceptance with God, what is inestimably more valuable, good actions. Philosophy is satisfied to say, with coolness and composure, to the naked, starring wretch, · Depart in peace: be thou warmed; and be thou filled. The Scriptures, with a divine compassion for the sufferer, and with an equal concern for the true interest of him who possesses the means of relief, compel us by infinite authority and an infinite example, to clothe, to feed, and to bless, so far as is within our power, all the children of want and woe. Beyond this, they require all useful conduet, whether it immediately respects God, our fellow-creatures, or ourselves; and in this manner provide effectually for the happiness of mankind in the present world, and for their immortal good in the world to come.
2. We here see that the Scriptures, and the Scriptures only, furnish us with an effectual source of good works.
No obedience is of any worth in the sight of God or man, except that which is voluntary. "God loveth the cheerful giver;' and with his views those of mankind perfectly coincide. No obedience of our children or servants, no offices of our friends or neighbours, are of any value in our estimation, besides those which spring from the heart.
Of this obedience the Scriptures inform us, evangelical faith is the genuine spring, and the only spring in the present world. The faith of the Gospel, as I have frequently had occasion to observe, is an affectionate confidence in the character of Christ, in which it surrenders itself to him on his own conditions, to be his, and to be employed wholly and for ever in his service. To the mind, under the influence of this spirit
, Christ, together with all his pleasure, commands, ordinances, and instructions, becomes supremely delightful. Obedience to his commands is to such a mind, of course, voluntary,
cheerful, and perpetual. Its faith is the commencement, and in a fallen creature the only commencement, as well as the future support and soul of the virtuous character.
In the experience of mankind this great truth has been abundantly proved. The faith of the Gospel, and that alone, transformed the first Christians from idolaters into saints; beautified their minds with every grace, and adorned their lives with every amiable action. Faith alone induced them boldly to renounce idols, and to worship the only living and eternal God. Faith withdrew them from impiety, deceit, fraud, cruelty, revenge, intemperance, and impurity, and rendered them pious, sincere, just, kind, forgiving, temperate, and chaste. Faith, finally, enabled them to overcome all worldly considerations, and affections, and to meet the rack, the faggot, and the cross, in the lively hope, the supporting assurance, of being approved by their Maker, and receiving from his hand a crown of immortal glory. In faith and its effects all real goodness of character in the race of man, all that is pleasing in the sight of God, has from that time, nay, from the beginning of the world to the present hour, been found. Nor is there any other entrance upon a life of virtue, nor any other foundation of persevering in real excellence.
In this all-important particular the Scriptures differ infinitely from the efforts of philosophy. Philosophy never made a single man really virtuous, or really amiable in the sight of God. Cicero, who was himself one of the greatest and most learned of the heathen philosophers, declares in an unqualified manner that they, so far as he knew, had never, even in a single instance, reformed either themselves or their disciples, Those who are extensively acquainted with modern infidels, perfectly know that their principles have been equally unproductive of any proofs of a virtuous character.
But the Scriptures in the hands of the Spirit of God have, in an endless multitude of instances, effectuated this glorious reformation of man. Long before the canon was begun by Moses, a vast number of the human race, by embracing the doctrines and precepts now published in the Scriptures, and then communicated by occasional revelations, became the subjects of holiness, and the heirs of endless life. In all these, through every age and every country, the same faith was the sole source of all their excellent and honourable conduct to
wards God, and towards mankind. “By faith,' says St, Paul, • Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain. By faith Enoch was translated, that he should not see death, faith Noah, moved with fear, prepared an ark. By faith Abraham, being called of God to go out into a place, which he should after receive as an inheritance, went out, not knowing whither he went.' This is a testimony of God himself concerning these worthies; and they in this respect are representatives of all the good men whom the world has ever seen. Their faith was the faith of all such men ; and all the virtuous conduct of such men sprang from the same source, whence theirs was derived.
3. From these things it is evident, that no religion except Christianity is of any value.
The end of all doctrines and systems which profess to be useful, is no other than to make men virtuous. This end Christianity accomplishes; but it has been accomplished by no religion beside. While the religion of the Old Testament continued to be the only religion established by God, it was in substance and, as understood by the saints of that period, the same with the religion of the New. The chief difference was, that they believed in a Messiah then future, and Christians believe in a Messiah who has actually appeared. To them • the Gospel was preached, as well as to' Abraham ; and they all believed in the Lord, who appeared unto Abraham ; and it was counted to them for righteousness.' With Abraham, they rejoiced to see the day of Christ afar off ;' and saw it, and were glad.' With Job, they knew, that their · Redeemer lived, and that he would stand at the latter day upon the earth: and that though after their skin, worms would destroy their bodies, yet in their flesh they should see God.' But there is not the least reason to believe, that any
other religion has contributed at all to make men virtuous. Some truths have been found in every religion ; but they have universally so abounded in falsehoods, and those falsehoods have been so absolutely believed and obeyed, that no moral good appears to have been produced by them. On the contrary, they have warranted and effectuated evils which cannot be measured, sins without bounds, and miseries without pumber. Those who believed them most sincerely, and obeyed then
with the greatest zeal, were among the most profligate of their votaries.
4. It is evident from this discourse of St. James, that the religious character of all men is to be estimated by their works.
• Shew me thy faith without thy works, that is, if thou canst; and I will shew thee my faith by my works.' A faith without works is nothing in the Christian scheme, and can be shown neither to ourselvos nor to others. Let us, then, be just to ourselves, and try ourselves as God will try us heroafter. Let us place no confidence, no hope, iu a faith which is without works, nor ever dream that it is the faith of tho Gospel. By our fruits, ho ' who searcheth the hearts and trieth the reins' has declared, our characters are to be known. By this great rule of decision then ought every one to examine himself. If our faith worketh by love ;' if it'hath its fruit
' unto holiness, its end will be cverlasting life :' if not, it will only become the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death.' In what a dreadful manner will the speculative believer be disappointed, to find that the foundation on which he built was nothing but sand; and how will he feel when he sees that building swept away by the final tempest! How will it embitter even perdition itself, to have been in this world secure of eternal life, to have gone to the grave with peace and hope, believing ourselves to be true disciples of Christ, children of the covenant, and heirs of a blessed immortality; and to be first awakened out of this pleasing, flattering, delusive dream by the condemning voice of the Judge! Ob that we were wise, that we understood these things, that we would consider our latter end!