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them an express revelation,] forasmuch as he did good, and gave us rain, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness," chap. xiv. 17.
And it seems to me, that St. Paul often argues the truth and certainty of future recompenses in a rational way, much in the same manner that we have now done, from the consideration of the present state of things, and the perfections of the Divine Being: "Seeing it is a righteous thing with God, to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you, and to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven-to take vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the gospel," 2 Thess. i. 6, 7. This, he says, is a righteous thing with God: that is, it is reasonable, and fit, and becoming the divine perfection.
And in the epistle to the Hebrews it is said: "He that cometh to God, must believe, that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him," Heb. xi. 6. Which is as much as to say, that there can be no religion without believing, that God is, and that he is a rewarder of virtuous and upright, and an avenger of evil men. If therefore the light of nature does not teach these principles, there can be no natural religion: and they who have not the benefit of revelation, are excusable in their irregularities. But that is contrary to the apostle's long and full argument at the beginning of the epistle to the Romans. Where he says: "That which may be known of God is manifest in them:-For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. So that they are without excuse: because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God,' Rom. i. 19-21. And again: "As many as have sinned without law," that is, who have not had the benefit of revelation," shall also perish without law," chap. ii. 12. They shall not be judged by a revealed law, but by the laws and rules of reason only.
3.) In the third place I proposed to take notice of some inquiries relating to this matter. But they shall be these three only, as of special moment.
Question 1. What notion could men form of the future recompenses of good and bad by the light of reason?
I answer: it is highly probable, that their ideas would fall much short of those which revelation is able to afford. But, in general, men might refer themselves to the judgment of God, as equitable and impartial. They would, it is likely, suppose the virtuous to be separated from the wicked and whilst these are punished with a variety of torments, they would conceive the virtuous to be disposed of in some delightful regions, and abodes, enjoying intellectual entertainments, or the pleasures of the mind: improving themselves and one another in agreeable conversation, and contemplating the Deity, the all-perfect mind, and those works of his with which they are acquainted, and continually advancing in the discovery of truth, and the improvement of virtuous habits.
Q. 2. Does reason afford any ground to suppose, that the future state of happiness for good men will be eternal, or of perpetual duration?
I think it does. For life, which is to come to an end, is not a reward for a rational being, who aspires to immortality. The period in view, though at the distance of many years, or ages, as we now compute time, would blast every enjoyment, and reduce the happiness of the most agreeable situation to nothing, and render it mere vanity and emptiness.
Moreover, we suppose, these beings, in a state of recompense, to be past a state of trial, and to be so confirmed in virtue, and to be so much out of the way of temptations, as to be in little or no danger of transgressing any reasonable laws, and of thereby offending God. What reason then can be assigned, why they should be removed, or their condition be altered for the worse? Once more: these virtuous beings, once placed in a state of great advantage, will be continually improving in knowledge and virtue. The temper of the mind, and their adorations, and all their services, will be more and more perfect and delightful; and also more acceptable to the Deity. Their love of God is continually growing more and more ardent, and their desire toward him more strong and vehement. How contrary to reason is it to suppose, that these so improved beings should be at length destroyed or annihilated, with the approbation and by the almighty power of God!
As the learned writer, before cited, says: The longer virtuous men live in such a state, the fitter they must be for life: and therefore we may presume, the less will be the danger of
As before, p. 95.
extinction. Their faculties must grow, their capacities enlarge, and all their improvements increase, through every part of duration. Great advances must be ever made in knowledge, • virtue and happiness. They must be continually more and more capable of contemplating, • admiring and enjoying the Author of all good, and the fountain of all perfection. To imagine, after this progress, and these exaltations of nature, that God should cut the thread of their ⚫ existence, and put an end to their being, is to suppose him acting, so far as we can judge, contrary to the reason of things, and the chief ends of the creation."
Q. 3. Does reason teach us to hope, that good men may pass directly into a state of happiness after death? Or, does it not leave room to apprehend, that imperfectly good men must after this life undergo some farther trial for their purification, before they enter upon a state of unmixed happiness, free from all grief and pain?
Here I apprehend reason to be at a loss: and that it must leave this point undecided. All that can be done is for men, in that case, to resign themselves to God, and refer themselves to his equitable judgment and disposal: hoping, and believing, (if they have here endeavoured to approve themselves to him by an upright conversation) that he will not leave them utterly to perish and that he will some time, either immediately after death, or after some farther trials and purifications, admit and advance them to a condition of much comfort and joy.
I presume, this may be a just solution of this question. We may be confirmed in it by the consideration, that the doctrine of transmigrations has been very common among those who have had no other instruction than the light of nature.
4. I shall now conclude with the four following reflections.
1.) We hence perceive, that we have great reason to be thankful to God for the revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Wherein there is so clear and affecting evidence of another life, suited to the capacities of all men: and also a just and attractive representation of the glory and happiness of it. A future state, as ascertained, and described in the gospel, affords the best support under the afflictions, and the best assistance against the temptations of this world.
2.) This discourse may confirm our faith in the gospel revelation, and the assurances it gives of everlasting happiness for them that walk uprightly, or that believe in Jesus Christ, and obey his commandments.
Christians who exercise their rational powers, and perceive the principles of revelation to be reasonable, cannot but be firmly established in the belief of them. They have the evidence of a two-fold argument: reason, and divine authority. Though the representation, which revelation gives of the future happiness for good men, surpasseth all that mere reason could encourage to hope for, that creates no difficulty. The thing is received with ready assent. God does not appear worse, but better; more gracious, more bountiful, than the reason of men alone pre sumed to think. And the mind being enlarged by the discoveries of revelation, it cheerfully admits the noblest and most delightful idea of the future recompenses.
3.) This argument may deserve the serious consideration of those who reject revelation. For whether there be any revelation from God or not, there will be a reckoning, and suitable retributions after this life. Reason teaches as much beyond the possibility of a fair confutation, or well grounded doubt and question. You will come into judgment after death, and receive according to the things done in the body. Let not then any shyness of that awful proceeding, which the gospel speaks of, in a general day of judgment, form any unhappy prejudice in the minds of any. For reason itself teaches, that the actions of men will pass under a review, either in public, in one general judgment, or in particular: and that a retribution will be made accordingly.
Let all therefore attentively consider the evidences of the gospel revelation. For if it be attested by good evidence, and should be rejected by men, to whom it is proposed, this is one thing of which they will give an account.
4.) Lastly, the argument from reason in behalf of future recompenses, may be made use of as a warning to some weak and inconsiderate Christians: and establish the persuasion, that "without holiness no man shall see God," or attain to happiness in a future state.
The cogent argument for a future state, now proposed, is founded upon the divine perfections. God is not here, in this world, an avenger of evil, or a rewarder of good, so fully as is reasonable to expect. Consequently there will be another state, and farther recompenses for good and bad, according to their works here. No revelation therefore can propose an act of
grace for obstinate and impenitent sinners. Reason and Revelation concur, and are entirely harmonious. Both say: "There is no peace to the wicked." And: "It shall be well with the righteous." But revelation excels in the justness of its descriptions of the misery of the one, and the happiness of the other.
THE GOSPEL THE TRUE WAY OF SALVATION.
And they said: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
THESE Words contain an answer to a very important question: "What must I do to be saved?" And we have reason to think, that it is here rightly answered. It does therefore deserve our serious and attentive observation.
St. Paul was now at Philippi, a Roman colony, and large city in Macedonia; where he preached the gospel, without any very great molestation that we know of, till he healed the indisposition of the maiden said to have a spirit of divination:" by whom some artful men had made profit, pretending to answer the curious inquiries of people concerning divers matters. These, now deprived of farther gain in that way, raised a clamour against the apostle, and those with him, saying, that " they troubled the city, and taught customs contrary to their laws, as Romans." And they so far incensed both the people and the magistrates, that Paul, and Silas one of his fellow-labourers, "were beaten, and thrust into prison." But there being in the night an earthquake, which was plainly miraculous: the prison being shaken, the doors opened, and the fetters of all the prisoners loosed, whilst yet no one escaped: the keeper of the prison, who before had heard somewhat of Paul and Silas, and had some general notion of their doctrine, now terrified, and perceiving this extraordinary event to be a divine interposition in their favour, put to his prisoners, with solicitude, and with respect and esteem, hoping for a full and satisfactory answer, that momentous question: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved ?"
We need not, I think, hesitate to understand this question in the most comprehensive sense. This person could not be ignorant of the general principles of religion, so far as usually known by heathen people, living in the politer cities of Greece, and the Roman empire, who all had some notions of a future state. Moreover, Paul and his fellow-labourers had been some time at Philippi. And the young woman before-mentioned, had followed them in the streets of the city, many, that is, several days, crying aloud: "These men are servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation." When therefore the keeper of the prison says: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" the question cannot be reckoned less important for the meaning, than that put to our Saviour by the young man among the Jews, related in the gospels: "What shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life?" Matt. xix. 16; and Mark x. 17. Änd it is put, as it seems, with a better temper than that was.
The answer to that inquiry is in the text. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved:" that is, Believe in Jesus Christ as a divine teacher, and receive the doctrine taught by him, and you will know how you may be saved. Observe and follow the precepts and rules of that doctrine, and you will obtain salvation.'
The former may be thought the primary and most obvious meaning of the words: but the latter is also implied. The question is: "What must I do to be saved?" The answer is: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ: and thou shalt be saved." That is, you will know what you ought to do in order to obtain salvation; you will have all the means of salvation, every thing requisite for your direction and assistance. Consequently, if you observe and follow the rules contained in the religion of Jesus Christ, you will be saved.
There are therefore three things to be spoken to. First, the direction here given: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." Secondly, the benefit proposed and annexed thereto : " And thou
shalt be saved." Thirdly, the connection between faith in Jesus Christ and salvation, with the evidence of it.
I. In the first place I should shew, what is meant by "believing on the Lord Jesus Christ." One thing plainly implied is, believing him to be a divine teacher sent from God: and that he is the Christ, or the Messiah, the great person spoken of by the prophets, and whom God' ́ had promised to send. This we may learn by comparing some texts in the gospels.
In the sixteenth of St. Matthew is an account, how our Lord asked the disciples concerning the opinions which men had of him, and then their own. And when Peter answered, for himself, and the rest: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God;" he commended him, and declared him blessed.
Again, John vi. 68, 69. "Peter answered, and said: Lord, to whom should we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe, and are sure, that thou art that Christ, the Son, of the living God."
John xi. 37. Martha says: "Yea, Lord, I believe, that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world." And at ver. 41, 42, of the same chapter, our Lord having, at the grave of Lazarus, addressed a particular thanksgiving to the Father, adds: "And I know, that thou hearest me always: but because of the people that stand by, I said it: that they might believe, that thou didst send me."
John xvi. 30, the disciples say: "By this we believe, that thou camest forth from God." And in the following chapter, our Lord, in his prayer and thanksgiving to the Father, says: "This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." And of the disciples he says: ver. 8, " They have surely known, that I came out from thee: and have believed, that thou didst send me.'
John vi. 28, 29. "Then said they unto him: what shall we do, that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered, and said unto them: This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." And it is often taken notice in the gospels, that many believed on Jesus, but the Pharisees believed not: that is, they did not receive him as a prophet, or the great prophet that was to come into the world.
2. Another thing, included in faith in Christ, is believing his words, receiving the doctrine taught by him, or believing the Christian religion.
This is so closely connected with the foregoing particular, that they seem to be both one and the same: and certainly are inseparable. He who believes, that Jesus is sent of God, and the Christ, must believe that his words are true. However, I presume, it is not amiss to observe this distinctly.
Our Lord, who, as before shewn, often speaks of believing in him, "whom God had sent," does also frequently speak of believing, or receiving his words. For he had a doctrine. He was a prophet, or a teacher sent from God. And receiving his doctrine is believing in him. What it was, we perceive from the history of his life, written by the evangelists. In general, it was, Repent. Or, Repent, and believe the gospel. And to such as received, and obeyed that doctrine, he promised everlasting life.
John vii. 16, 17. "Jesus answered them, and said: My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." John xiv. 24. "The word, which you hear, is not mine: but the Father's which sent me." Many of the Jews could not receive his words, because of their prevailing prejudices, and carnal affections. Of the disciples he says: "I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me: and they have received them, and have believed that thou didst send me," John xvii. 8. Again he says: "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life," chap. vi. 63. And because he had the "words of eternal life," ver.. 68, the disciples believed in him, and determined to abide with him. And knowing the truth and importance of the doctrine taught by him, he declares: "Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and my words, [now,] of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels," Mark viii. 30.
Believing in Christ is often expressed by coming to him. John v. 40. "Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life." And Matt. xi. 28, 29. "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden-take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, and ye shall find rest for your
souls." The meaning of which can be no other, than that men should become his disciples submit themselves to his instructions, and embrace the doctrine taught by him with divine authority.
They who believed in Jesus, as sent from God, and received his doctrine as a rule of life, became his disciples: a word that includes all his followers in general, and is equivalent to believers though the twelve, whom he also named apostles, are sometimes called his disciples, by way of eminence and distinction. But in the general, all who owned him for their master in things of religion, are his disciples. As the disciples of Moses, or Plato, or Aristotle, are such as take them for their masters, and receive their scheme of religion, or philosophy, as true: so it is here, as we perceive from the style of the Gospels, in many places. "And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom he named apostles," Luke vi. 13. Joseph of Arimathea, is called a "disciple of Jesus:" Matt. xxvii. 57; John xix. 38; that is, he was one who believed in him as a great prophet, even the Messiah, and received his doctrine as true, and from heaven. In the debate between the Jewish rulers, and the man born blind, whom our Lord had miraculously healed, after many inquiries and answers, they said to him again: "What did he unto thee? how opened he thy eyes? He answered them: I have told you, and ye did not hear. Wherefore would ye hear it again? Will ye also be his disciples? Then they reviled him, and said: Thou art his disciple. But we are Moses's disciples," John ix. 26-28. And long before this: "The disciples of John, and of the Pharisees, fast: but thy disciples fast not," Mark ii. 18.
That word is often used in the Acts as equivalent to believer. "In those days when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them," ch. vi. 1, 2. "And the word of the Lord increased, and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly,' ver. 7. "Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha," ch. ix. 36. Ananias, at Damascus, by whom Paul was baptized, is said to be "a disciple," ch. ix. 10. Mnason is called "an old disciple," ch. xxi. 16. I allege but one place more. "And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples," or believers, "were first called Christians at Antioch," ch. xi. 26.
This then is faith in Jesus Christ. To believe in him is to receive him as a divine teacher, and his doctrine as true: or to embrace the religion of Christ, and become his disciples and followers.
But then two things are here supposed: First. that men be instructed in the things concerning the Lord Jesus, or be taught his doctrine. And secondly, that they attend to it, and understand it. As St Paul says: "How shall they believe in him, of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" Rom. x. 14. So here. They said: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ: and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house." And doubtless he attended diligently. It is true of him, which is said of Lydia. "She heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended to the things that were spoken of Paul," Acts xvi. 14.
For this reason, that men might know the will of God, our Lord went over the "cities” and villages" of the land of Israel, Matt. ix. 35; Mark vi. 6. 56; Luke xiii. 22; preaching the doctrine of the kingdom, laying hold of every opportunity, and affecting occurrence, to excite attention calling to men, to hearken and understand, speaking in a familiar manner, sometimes using well contrived parables and similitudes, teaching the word to all sorts of men, as they were able to bear it, in their synagogues, at the temple, at the houses of Pharisees, when they made entertainments, and much company was present.
For this end he sent forth the twelve, and the seventy, to go over the land of Israel, and prepare men for him: and afterwards he enlarged the commission of the twelve, "to go and teach all nations."
II. In the next place we are to consider the benefit proposed to them who believe in Jesus: "And thou shalt be saved: " or, you shall know, what you ought to do in order to be saved : and if you observe it, you will obtain salvation.
This is evidently the design of the words, as they stand here in connection. And it is confirmed by other texts. Cornelius, at Cesarea, was directed by an angel, "who should tell him