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There is none at this day unto whom the gospel hath appeared, that can boast of having attained it by their own works; for those which are counted the best works, and most excellent studies, are disallowed and overthrown. This therefore is certain, that all we have, cometh by the mere grace and goodness of God. This is that which Zacharias saith was foretold by the prophets, and promised and confirmed by an oath to the fathers, that he would perform unto us the . covenant made to Abraham. By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, that in blessing, I will bless thee, and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. Gen. xxii. And now the time is present, the hour is come, wherein he hath sworn that salvation should come unto us; as it is declared, Mark xvi. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved ; but he that believeth not, shall be damned."
Abraham died long before the fulfilment of the promise; but in spirit and in faith, he was partaker of it. The promise was made unto him, although he looked not for the accomplishment thereof in this life: that is, his life was not prolonged until the preaching of the gospel. The fulfilment of the promise was after his death; we therefore perceive that the promise was not made to Abraham because of his merit. God chasteneth, reproveth, rebuketh, stirreth, allureth, and doth whatsoever is to be done; but the worldlings rob him of his honour, and attribute it to themselves: that is, they will not acknowledge whatsoever they receive to come by his grace. When we glory of good things, and do not acknowledge God to be the author and giver of them, we make ourselves as God, and treat him as our servant: he being dishonoured, and the honour attributed to us.
Zacharias saith, moreover, That he would grant
unto us, that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. (verses 74 and 75.) He hath defined the nature and properties of this kingdom; that is, the covenant made with Abraham, that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed, &c. These words of blessing, saith he, I will interpret to you: "That we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life."
This, to the world and flesh, savoureth not well: for the world murmureth, and saith, "We thought that he would have given us some precious thing; as a purse of gold, a rich wife, fair and beautiful children, goodly houses, and whatsoever things we are delighted in ; but now we perceive it to be otherwise ; we hear that we must serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness, and thus endeavour to please him. We must have spiritual eyes and ears, that we may rightly consider and understand the word. It is said, he will deliver us from all our enemies: by this we understand, that this kingdom is placed in the midst of enemies; and when we are delivered from them, we should always obey him that delivered us, without fear. For God hath bestowed this blessing upon us, that we might hereafter serve him alone.
The words without fear, inferreth that we shall quietly enjoy the good things of this present world, and of the world to come. For a christian is sure of the forgiveness of his sins, although he may yet be troubled with them. He is sensible that death hath no power over him; that Satan will not overcome him, and that the world cannot prevail against him. Such a heart is freed from fear. It must not be understood that we do not feel sin at all, but that we are greatly grieved and troubled with it. When we
are terrified by death, when we are reproached and slandered by the world, we may be grieved, but they do not prevail, nor overcome us; for the heart, notwithstanding, remaineth safe and quiet in God.
What care I, if the world hate me, if I displease not him that dwelleth in heaven 1 If this hatred continue daily, if sin rage, if the world talk and prate about me, I will pass over these things as though I heard them not. Thisis, indeed, to forsake the world; to die unto it, and to live without fear. We must be occupied about no other thing, but that which is according to the will of God; we must speak nothing but what will please him, and which we know to be agreeable to his word. We must do those works which we know to be acceptable before him; whatsoever we do In our whole life, whether outwardly or inwardly, we must have his glory in view, and endeavour to fulfil his will. Then we shall be separated from the world, notwithstanding we may still live in it. If the Lord be on our side, we shall j be in safety, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the clays of our life.
Wc find that even Peter, Paul, and John, lived not without sin. When we desire to be holy before God, we must not trust to our own life and works, but to his mere mercy and grace. We must be so affected that we can say, Lord, if thou shouldest call me to an account, I should be unable by my own works to stand in thy sight: nevertheless, I glory that I am thy servant, for thou dost give me continually; and that thou hast promised to Abraham, that thou wilt for Christ's sake vouchsafe to show thy mercy unto me. If I of myself be not godly and righteous, Christ is godly and righteous; if I be profane, he is holy; if I be not without fear, he is void of all fear: thus I may, as it were, transfer myself to Christ. He will therefore have us to glory that we are godly and holy, but not by our own works.
When we teach in our sermons that salvation consisteth not in our works or life, but in the gift of God, men are slow to do good ; they will not live an honest life, but will be disobedient, and falsely affirm that good works are prohibited. Nevertheless, God requireth us to lead an honest life outwardly ; and he that doth not, shall at length receive due punishment. If we preach of an honest and godly life, the world will furiously attempt to build ladders to get to heaven; which God will by no means approve: again, a dishonest and ignominious life doth not become christians. What, therefore, must we do 1
Those who have respect to an honest and fair life only, it were better for them to be swallowed up in wickedness : yet notwithstanding, God will not have us to lead a filthy and dishonest life. If we lead an honest and upright life, we are apt to arrogate to ourselves that which belongs to God. We must therefore lead a quiet and peaceable life before the world, which may also be acceptable to God: but we must not esteem it so highly as to think that we thereby merit any thing from God. Thus, a christian continueth the holy servant of God without fear, not by his good works and holy life, but by the grace of Christ. But he that affirm'eth that he is holy by his works, is blasphemous against God, robbeth him of his honour, and denieth Christ. Wherefore it would be better for him, (as hath been observed,) to be swallowed up in wickedness, than to declare himself to be a christian, yea, godly and holy; for in this he dishondureth Christ in such a manner, that it is as much as if he declared that there was no Christ. If we do not acknowledge that God saveth us by his divine mercy, is it not as much as to say he is neither holy nor blessed? Therefore, if I be a christian, I must confess that I am one because Christ himself is holy. And although my conscience doth reprove me of sin, I must still persevere in this, that his holiness
is greater than my sins; thus, I must live honestly outwardly, and inwardly rest and trust in Christ alone.
Zacharias turneth his speech to the child, and saith, And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest, for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways, (verse 76.) This shall be thy office: thou shalt be the first, and shalt first begin: that is, thou shalt be the prophet of the Highest. But what manner of prophesy shall this be 1 Thou shalt be the forerunner of the Lord, and shalt prepare his way. When any prince cometh, some one goeth before him to prepare the way. John doing the like, goeth before Christ, saying, "I am the Voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord."
Such things hath no prophet at any time spoken; but they have prophesied of these things, that a prophet should come, who would establish a kingdom that should remain forever. This prophet doth live, even at the time when our Lord maketh his appearance. The gospel was preached, and baptism administered, by the coming and ministry of John; Christ also began, nearly at the same time. Thus we see that the office of John was, to prepare a way for the Lord. Which preparation is, to bring people to the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: for he is the grace, gift, king, and horn of our salvation.
No man can come unto Christ, except in the spirit of humility. John therefore teacheth men that they are sinners; he that acknowledgeth himself to be a sinner, and feeleth that he hath nothing whereof to boast, understandeth the voice of John ; when he saith, prepare ye the way of the Lord, for he is at hand that followeth me, who is greater than I; him ye shall hear and obey. Thus John pointeth out the