AN AFFECTIONATE AND EARNEST ADDRESS TO THE MINISTERS AND
CHURCHES OF CHRIST.
WHILE we view the rulers of the nations of this world furiously contending with each other for those things which must all perish in the using, and lavishly sacrificing treasure and blood for the possession of that airy, empty bubble, honour; should not we, the ministers and churches of Jesus; we, who have professed attachment to the pure gospel, and declared ourselves on the Lord's side ; we, who through the constraining power of sovereign matchless grace, have joined. the royal standard of the Prince of Life, have received the gracious bounty of the King of heaven, and put on the whole armour of God; should not we, with undaunted courage, avow our allegiance to our Sovereign, our love to our Prince, and our attachment to the truth by contending, with earnestness, for that faith, which was once delivered unto the saints ? Would it not be criminal in us, either from motives of prudence, false delicacy, or fear, to fold our hands and sit at ease, when gospel truth, infinitely more precious than the most valuable terrestrial possessions, is attacked, most maliciously attacked, with satanic art and infernal rage ?
Ministers are stewards of the mysteries of God; and churches are pillars and grounds of the truth; ministers and churches should be, therefore, found faithful. Both the one, and the other, should hold fast, and hold forth the word, the pure, unmixed, unadulterated word of life ; and never give place to the greatest names that corrupt the truth, and, with cunning craftiness, lie in wait to deceive.
We live in a day, which loudly calls for more than common zeal, integrity, firmness, resolution, and exertion, in the defence of truth; and although we are exhorted to avoid foolish questions, yet we are commanded to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.
In this holy and honourable contention, the apostles of our Lord were engaged against both Jews and Gentiles. In this cause they freely devoted their reputation and their lives to the glory of God and the service of his church.
Had the chaste and holy breast of Paul been defiled by the false candour and the palliating spirit which disgrace the present day, he would not have used that sharpness which appears in his epistle to the Galatians; but would, doubtless, have addressed them and their false teachers, in language similar to the disgusting and pernicious cant of our times. " Brethren, although you and I do not see eye to eye, yet, as we differ in a few non essentials only, it would be a great pity that we should enter into disputes on religious topics, or think the worse of each other on account of the difference of our theological sentiments. It would be glorious, brethren, to meet each other half way ; sing the funeral song of bigotry, and agree never to offend each other's ears by mentioning the things in which we differ." Has not this accommodating, popular language, in the mouths of professors of religion, a tendency to render suspicious their belief of the reality of those things which they profess to believe, and to make it doubtful whether they really love divine truth ? For, did they firmly believe the grand leading truths of the gospel to be more than fiction ; did they regard them as eternal realities, essential to the honour of God, and the salvation of his people ; and did they feel a cordial attachment to them, as the things which are most excellent; could they either relinquish them, or corrupt them, or conceal them ? Would they not rather, regardless of the smiles or frowns of men, recommendand enforce them in the strongest terms, and contend for them, against every opposer, with all their ability, and with the utmost ardour.
Brethren, let us not be deemed void of charity, nor thought censorious, when we say, that multitudes, both in and out of the establishment, are corrupted from the simplicity of Christ, and manifest an awful aversion to the real truth as it is in him. The fact is too notorious to be denied. Many, both episcopalians and dissenters, are departed from the pure gospel, and have introduced theological compositions of their own ; compositions the genuine effects of their own proud rationality, and boasted natural and moral abilities, quite unknown to the plain honest fishermen of Galilee, the learned pupil of Gamaliel, and all the inspired writers. They have learned to trim, to temporize, to conceal, disguise, corrupt, and asperse the truth, in order to escape the censure, and secure the applause of the proud self-adulating professor, who loves to hear his own imaginary native excellences and free-will powers extolled, though it be done at the expence both of the truth and honour of God. Oh popularity ! how many hopeful young men have been ensnared by thy delusive charms ! What multitudes of the sacred order have paid their devotion to thee, and sacrificed at thy enchanting shrine, truth, fidelity, honour, conscience, and the precious bread of the household of God !
Numbers of dissenters, of all denominations, are united with clergymen, not a few, in depreciating the Saviour's glory : in defaming his character, and putting him to open shame, and in blasphemously denying, or impiously corrupting the sublime doctrines of sovereign grace. We hear from the pulpits and the press, of both the former and the latter, that he is not the true and living God ; that he is only a mere man like ourselves, or, at most, but a subordinate deity, or a superangelic spirit united to human flesh; that his death did not atone for sin ; that his blood was never intended to cleanse from the pollution of moral evil; that sin is not an infinite evil, and, therefore does not deserve infinite punishment; that the necessity of a satisfaction for guilt, in order that the guilty may escape eternal punishment is nothing more than a dream; that men are not justified, in the sight of God, by the righteousness of Christ, but by their own personal obedience ; that Jesus saves in no other way than as our example. And they who are not advanced quite so far in the knowledge of this refined, rational scheme, as the above, very gravely and sedately tell us, that it is weak to suppose that sinners are saved entirely by the grace of God, independant of their own works ; that the covenant of grace, the promises of God, interest in Christ, justification, pardon of sin, and eternal salvation, are all conditional, and depend upon our faith, repentance and sincere obedience, and that unless we perform our part, we cannot reasonably expect that God will perform his. These, not satisfied with acting the Antinomian, and making void the law, by denying the necessity of Christ's atonement, make void the gospel also, by denying the reality of that atonement; and exclude from salvation the whole human race, by their impossible conditions. Thus, some have joined the standard of Arianism, some that of Socinianism, and others that of gross Arminianism, (all of which are real Antinomianism) while others, in vast crowds, rush, with eagerness, round the ensign of refined Arminianism, artfully covered with calvinistic varnish to deceive. Moderate Calvinism is their motto, and the badge of distinction by which they wish to be known. Of this they are proud, and of this they make their boast.
Let us, however, examine this mark of distinction, and see whether it does honour to the men by whom it is assumed. When they use the word moderate in reference to religion they must connect it either with the doctrines they hold, or with the disposition of their minds towards these doctrines, and the various branches of practical religion. However, connect it with which they will, it does them no credit, as will appear from the following observations.
Moderate is a word expressive of qualities in a middle state, and which places them in opposition to what is great, eminent, and excellent. If therefore, they use it in reference to their doctrine they tell us, that these doctrines are not the gospel ; for that rises infinitely above mediocrity, and boasts, justly boasts, a superlative degree of excellence, in all its qualities and in all its parts.
Does God love his people with moderate love ? Or is it moderate grace which the Almighty has bestowed upon sinners ? Detested be the thought!
His love shines with transcendent lustre, and rises in greatness infinitely beyond the highest language of description, and the most exalted ideas of men and angels; and his grace is described as abundant, exceeding abundant; rich, exceeding rich; as justifying the most ungodly, pardoning the most guilty, and conquering the most rebellious and incorrigible ; as saving the chief of sinners ; as filling him, who filleth all in all; and as reigning over sin, and death, and hell through righteousness, unto life eternal, by Jesus Christ our Lord. Its greatness, glory, freeness, and excellence, are transcendent. What will you say to moderate election, adoption, pardon, and justification ; to moderate regeneration and conversion ; and to a moderate atonement, a moderate salvation, a moderate heaven, and a moderate crown of glory ? Will these meet your approbation ? Will these give you full satisfaction ? Do not your minds recoil at the approach of such a system ? Yet, if the term moderate retains its native meaning, when used in connexion with Calvinism, the above is a summary of the moderate Calvinistic scheme. And is this the gospel ? Do these moderate doctrines raise glory to God in the highest, and pour abundant consolation into the wounded heart ? No : all must be moderate. As is the tree so is the fruit. Moderate glory to God, and moderate comfort to man, both now and hereafter, are the utmost that can be expected from moderate Calvinism.
If they use this modish term in reference to the dispositions of their minds towards the doctrines they hold, and the different branches of practical religion, then they tell us, that they are not excessively attached to either ; that they view them as things indifferent, and, therefore, they do not wish to be very tenacious of either doctrine or practice.
Yet, these are the very men, who are, for ever exclaiming against the doctrines of the gospel ; and who are exceedingly immoderate in aspersing the ministers of those doctrines, as the enemies of holiness, as loose in their conduct, and as the real supporters of the empire of sin.
Sterling divinity is, hated and despised by thousands who profess a love for the gospel. The grand truths and sublime doctrines of grace, when preached incorruptly, when handled without deceit, and when exhibited in their own simplicity and glory, are charged with relaxing the nerves of practical holiness, with strengthening the sinews of licentiousness and stimulating those who believe and receive them to a criminal indulgence in sin. The ministers too, who preach them, and the churches which embrace them, are invidiously stigmatized as Antinomians, despisers of the divine law, enemies of good works, and abettors of ungodliness.
Brethren, let none of these things move you. That the truths of the gospel have been, and are abused, by some of their pretended friends, is a lamentable truth ; but shall we discard them ; or blush to own and vindicate them, because men of corrupt minds have prostituted them to the service of their lusts ? God forbid. Whatever corrupt conduct may be found among ministers, or among churches, in the professing world at large, we are well assured that no blame attaches to the gospel ; and are perfectly satisfied, that all its excellent doctrines are pure, are holy, are according to godliness, and never fail to produce holiness in heart and life, where they are experimentally known.
First, such is the nature, and such are the effects of the doctrine of love, the free, eternal unchangeable love of God to his people. When this doctrine is applied, by the Holy Spirit, to the most passionate lovers of sin, and is written in their inward parts, by the finger of the Almighty, they instantly enjoy the love of God ; and in that very moment sin becomes the object of their hatred and they most ardently long for perfect holiness and exact conformity to the image of Christ ; nor can they be satisfied until they see him as he is, are completely transformed into his likeness, and fully comprehend with all saints what is the length, and breadth, and depth, and height, and know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, and are filled with all the fulness of God.
When the heart is directed into the love of God, it emerges, in triumph, from the love of sin, relinquishes its former pursuits, and says, -what have I to do anymore with idols ?" And when the love of God is shed abroad in the heart, by the Holy Ghost, it ascends the throne, asserts its imperial prerogative, and proclaims its absolute dominion. The love and the power of sin, like Dagon before the ark of God, instantly fall down before it, and lie conquered at its feet, and all the powers of the soul, joyfully dropping the weapons of hostility, bow and welcome the conqueror for ever to the heart.
Secondly, the doctrine of absolute, eternal and personal election to everlasting life and glory, is no less according to godliness, than that of the love of God. The elect were as absolutely chosen to the sanctification of the Spirit, and to obedience, as they were to the enjoyment of heaven. One end of their election was, that they should be holy, and without blame before God in love. He who determined that they should be a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, and a peculiar people, determined also, that they should be a holy nation; nor can any power whatever nullify his determination, or frustrate his gracious design. It is then a fact which defies all the subtlety and power of its proudest opposers, that election has infallibly secured to all the elect, the perfection of holiness. This glorious and immutable decree is the source whence flows all true holiness to the sons of men, and the vital root from which it grows ; but for this the whole world would have been like Sodom and Gomorrah, and all the human race would have been for ever as destitute of holiness as the fallen angels.
Thirdly, the doctrine of eternal indissoluble union with Jesus, is a pure and precious doctrine, graciously designed and admirably calculated to promote the holiness and secure the happiness of all who believe. They who were joined unto the Lord Jesus, in election, before time, are made one spirit with him, in time ; and to all who are in him he is made sanctification. They receive the sanctifying unction from the Holy One, and are partakers of his nature. His holiness is imparted to them in consequence of their relation to him, as branches to a root ; " for if the root be holy, the branches also are holy." All the fruitfulness of the branches both internal and external, is the effect of their union with Jesus the living vine. Nor would there have been found among all the thousands that have sprung from the barren root of the first Adam, one holy, fruitful bough, had not that God who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will, appointed another root, the second Adam, the Lord from heaven ; and in his ancient counsel and eternal decree, united his elect to him and immutably ordained, that, out of the immense fulness which dwelleth in him, they should receive grace for grace.
Fourthly, David, the man after God's own heart, the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Israel, the sweet psalmist of Israel, who had the word of God in his tongue, and by whom the spirit of the Lord spoke, has testified, that the covenant of grace is ordered in all things and sure Ordered in all things; it, therefore, includes in its order the sanctification of all the covenant seed. And sure: therefore, absolutely ensures to them that holiness, without which no man can see the Lord. In this holy covenant the Most High has pledged himself, not only to be the God of his people, to forgive their iniquities, and to acquit them from all condemnation, but likewise to put his holy Spirit within them ; to circumcise their hearts to love him ; to make them a holy people to himself; to make them mourn for their own evil ways and loathe themselves in their own sight for their abominations ; to put his fear into their hearts, that they may never depart from him ; and to guide them in the way of holiness, lead them in a way in which they shall not stumble, and cause them to walk in his statutes, and keep his judgments and do them. All which clearly shews the doctrine of the everlasting covenant to be a doctrine according to godliness, a powerful antidote against every vice, and an effectual incentive to every virtue.
Fifthly, Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, died, as our substitute and sacrifice, that he might, by his blood, atone for our guilt ; expiate our crimes ; remove our transgressions from the view of divine justice and holiness ; deliver us completely from the law's tremendous curse ; and save us eternally from the dreadful vengeance of heaven. And this, all this was done not to obtain for us a licentious liberty; not to dissolve our moral obligations ; but, in order, to set us free from the dominion of sin. The language of inspiration upon this subject is remarkably striking. " Christ gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from the present evil world.. He suffered for us in the flesh, that we should not live the rest of our time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. He died for us, that we should not henceforth live unto ourselves, but unto him who died for us, and rose again.. Being, then made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end' everlasting life."
Sixthly, the redemption of the elect, by the blood of Jesus, from all condemnation, from death, from the grave, and from hell, is declared in the scriptures, in terms the most positive and decisive.. 1, I will ransom them from the power of the grave: I will redeem them from death: 0 death, I will be thy plague : 0 grave, I will be thy destruction : repentance shall be hid from mine eyes," is the language of the gracious Redeemer himself. "We have redemption through his blood," is the declaration of his faithful servant, Paul. "Thou wast slainĄ hast redeemed us unto God, by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation," is the song of the whole church. The doctrine of redemption is a part of the holy gospel a distinguishing part of that truth, by which, according to the Redeemer's prayer, the elect are sanctified, and must therefore be hostile to the dominion of sin and destructive to the throne of iniquity. The holy Redeemer came, not only to turn ungodliness from Jacob, but also to turn Jacob from ungodliness. According to the apostle Paul, the redeemed are not their own, but are bought with a price ; for which reason they should glorify God in their bodies and their spirits which are his. And Peter assures us, that we are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, not from sin and hell only, but likewise from a vain conversation.
Seventhly, the doctrine of absolute adoption is a most holy and wholesome doctrine, as remote from licentiousness as the east is from the west. If an apostle may be credited, the eternal Father sends the Spirit of his beloved Son into the hearts of all whom he predestined to the adoption of sons before the foundation of the world ; that they are led by the Spirit ; and being led by him they live and walk in him, and therefore do not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.
Eighthly, the doctrine of the justification of ungodly men, by the free grace of God, through the imputation of the personal righteousness of Jesus to them, without their own works, is a pure and precious doctrine, not only replete with divine consolation, and designed to pour peace, solid lasting peace, into the conscience stung with remorse, and to diffuse celestial delights through the sorrowful soul, but also, wisely calculated and graciously appointed to produce the precious fruits of righteousness in the conversation and behaviour of all who believe. The propriety of this position is apparent in the following apostolic declaration "that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life; this is a faithful saying ; and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they who have believed in God, might be careful to maintain good works."
Ninthly, the doctrine of the total abolition of the covenant of works, and the perfect deliverance of all true believers from its power and authority, by the substitution, obedience, and atonement of Christ, breaks the arm of ungodliness, demolishes the whole empire of sin, and makes the church of the first-born fruitful to God: fruitful in heart, fruitful in life, fruitful in every good work. The proof which the scriptures afford of the truth of these assertions, mocks all contradiction, and bids defiance to all assault. " Sin shall not have dominion over you ; for ye are not under the law but under grace." "Wherefore, my brethren ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ, that ye should be married to another; even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God; for when we were in the flesh, the motions of sin, which were by the law, did work in our members, to bring forth fruit unto death ; but now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held, that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter."
Tenthly, as the truths of the gospel are too numerous to be particularized and enlarged upon, within the compass of a short address, we shall sum up all that we mean to add, on the present occasion, of the all important part of the gospel. All the ancient thoughts, counsels, and purposes of the holy Trinity; all the lines of grace and providence ; all the truths and promises of the gospel ; all the strokes in the book of life; and those in the volume of revelation, centre and unite in the doctrine of salvation by the sovereign grace of God, displayed in the mission, work, and suffering of the God-man. And what is affirmed of this doctrine, by the great Paul, affords meridian evidence that all the grand, sublime, distinguishing truths of the gospel are according to godliness ; and demonstrates the charge of licentiousness exhibited against them, to be unjust and wicked. Titus 1: 11, 12. " For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men, teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world." Here we might conclude our address, which is, perhaps, already too long, but hope a few observations, upon this important subject, will not be deemed superfluous.
First, brethren, you will find a perpetual need of watchfulness and prayer; that ye enter not into temptation; that you may not fall from your stedfastness ; that Satan may not beguile you as he beguiled Eve ; that you may not be corrupted from the simplicity of Christ : in a word, that you may not be as children "driven to and fro ; and tossed about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive."
Secondly, all the doctrines of the gospel are of infinite importance, and are designed by God to answer the highest ends ; to humble the sinner, to exalt the Saviour, and to promote, constantly and effectually promote, the interests of holiness, amidst all the fiery rage of sin and hell.
Thirdly, our souls prosper, and are happy, in proportion as we spiritually understand, stedfastly believe, and live upon the pure, undefiled truths of the gospel as they are in Jesus.
Fourthly, it is the duty, the privilege, the honour of churches to stand fast in all the counsel of God; to hold fast, and hold forth the word of life, pure and unmixed ; and to contend for sound doctrine, which few can endure, and from which many have most awfully departed : "Judah ruled with God, because he was faithful with his saints."
Fifthly, while we avow our attachment to that doctrine, upon which many fix the hateful sign of Antinomianism, we should be studiously ambitious to adorn it in conversation, in conduct, in all things: that they, who despise it, and reproach us, may be ashamed, while they behold our chaste conversation coupled with fear.