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bestowed upon us by the gospel, we are what we are. · Eph. ii. 8. “ For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”
The word that doth not refer to faith, as is evident from the original, but to the preceding clause of the sentence," "That ye are saved by grace through: faith,” this “is not of yourselves : it is the gift of God.” He is the sole author of this method of salpation. Ezekiel xxxvi, 25, 26, 27. “ Then will I sprinkle
clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness and from all your idols I will
cleanse you. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit
will I put within you: and I will take away, the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. “And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you
to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgements and do them."
Look into the prophet himself, and I think it will appear, ihat this is a prediction of the restoration of the people of the Jews to their own country at the end of the Babylonish captivity, and that afterwards they should no more return to the practice of idolatry, to which their fathers had been so prone. Now, the history of that people informs us that this prediction was verified in fact. When God promises to give them
a new heart, and to put a new spirit within them, it relates to the particular subject spoken of, viz. idolatry : and, in reality, there was a wonderful change wrought in the dispositions and practice of that people in this respect. This was effected by the deep impressions made upon them by the righteous judgements of God for the idolatries of their forefathers and of themselves. But the new heart and new spirit must not be understood of an universal or general change from evil to good, because the whole subsequent history of the Jews, and particularly in the gospel times, contradicts it. It may, however, refer to some greater change to be produced in the moral character of the Jewish nation, on their return fiom their present dispersion, produced by the consideration of the hand of God in it, as the just punishment of their former vices. But it seems a strange perversion, to make this particular prediction to the returning captives, a general promise to mankind, at least to christians, of producing in them a thorough change of heart and life by the immediate operation of the spirit of God. This may be called, accommodating scripture passages; but it seems taking very bold liberties, of making what we please out of them, very inconsistent with a sincere belief in them, as containing the word of God.
Psalm li. 10.“ Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
We ought not to interpret the figurative expressions of Hebrew poetry too literally, or to expect in
it the rigid accuracy of expression of our western prose. The Psalmist seems to mean no more by create, than to produce, or cause; which does not exclude the instrumentality of ordinary means, any more than the word renew. Nay, the Psalmist seems to expect that the clean heart must be created, and the right spirit renewed, not by an immediate operation of sovereign and almighty grace, but by the instrumentality of those ordinary and usual means of grace which he had long enjoyed, and experienced the good effects of; and therefore he adds in the following words, ver. 11. “ Cast me not away from thy presence," i. e. deprive me not of the ordinances of thy worship in the tabernacle, where thou manifestest thy presence in a glorious manner, “ and take not thy holy spirit. from me,” i. e. that holy spirit . with the illuminations of which he had, as a prophet, been so often favoured, alid from which he had reaped great spiritual improvement.
Luke xxiii.. 43. “ Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.”
Although certain writers and teachers of religion profess not to mention the case of the penitent thief to encourage presumption and carelessness in any one, yet they mention it so often, and insist on it so much, as an instance of a great and sudden change taking place at the last hour of a poor sinner's life, at the same time insinuating that the same change may take place in others. (" for the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, neither his ear beavy,
that it cannot hear,”) that I fear they do, in fact, unhappily encourage presumption and carelessness in many. Let us therefore consider this case with a little attention, .
The above-mentioned writers, &c. take for granted, what is by no means certain, that the penitent thief's knowledge of Christ, and repentance of his own sins, commenced only at the time of bis crucifixion along with Jesus. But is it not possible, that the crime for which he suffered might have been committed a long time before, though he had been apprehended for it only very lately; when, whatever change might in the mean time have been wrought in his character and conversation, the law must take its course, and he must suffer the punishment due to his misdeeds, though he had repented of them very sincerely, and become a new man? The evangelist has said nothing that precludes this supposition; and therefore we are at liberty to make it, especially if it will contribute to render the circumstances of the narrative more consistent and accountable. Let us see then what those circumstances are.
First, Observe that this penitent, in the reproof which he gave to his fellowv-criminal, makes a candid and ingenuous confession of his crimes, and the justice of his punishment, and that grounded upon a just and proper principle, the fear of God. - Dost not thou fear God, seeing that thou also art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds.” This seems
much more like the language of one who had long reflected upon, been seriously affected with, and formed mature conclusions from the sad subject, than of one who was but just now struck with a conviction of his sins, and a sense of his miserable state. ,
Secondly, Observe also the clear and confident declaration which he makes concerning Jesus. “ This man hath done nothing amiss." Can we suppose this declaration made by a man who had not known any thing of the person to whom he bears this testimony before this unhappy occasion ? Doth it not seem rather the attestation of one who had had considerable knowledge of the rectitude of his character and the unblameableness of his conduct ? - .
There are, I 'readily acknowledge, many difficulties attending the history of the penitent thief, which I have no occasion to consider in this place, it being sufficient for my present purpose to show, that the doctrine of the probability of repentance at the article of death proving acceptable will no longer have countenance from it.
John vi. 44. 65. “No man can come to me except it were given bim of my Father. Every man therefore that hath heard and learned of the Father cometh unto me.-----No man can conie to me, except ihe Father who hath sent me draw him.” . Now how is it that God is elsewhere said to draw men, but by the force of motives and instructions, which suppose that men have a p:wer of attending to them and inproving by them? It is also to be observed that, in