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The expression the Apostle uses, intimates the value and. importance of the doctrine of grace, and implies that it is worthy of all acceptation, and deserves our stedfast adherence to it ; consequently, it is of great importance that our ideas of it should be just and scriptural, so that we may distinguish the true grace of God from all counterfeits, and be well guarded against all defective or erroneous representations of it. The true grace of God is that wherein, and whereby, believers stand. It deserves then to be held fast; because, if we have known it in truth, we find it to be the ground of our noblest hopes, and the sweetest source of motives to evangelical obedience : By the true grace of God, believers are enabled to bear up under the heaviest pressures of trouble, and to overcome the most formidable attacks of their spiritual enemies.
But if it was of such importance to the primitive Christians, to understand the true grace of God; if they needed the Apostle to testify its genuine nature, and to exhort them to continue in the faith once delivered to the saints ; who can think this unnecessary in the present day? Were there many antichrists`tben in the world, and many false gospels, and wrong ideas of the grace of God;, and are there no such corrupt systems of religion now, by which we are in danger of being misled? Do not some, who are forced in words to admit of salvation by grace, when they come to explain themselves, manifest that they mean little else by the term grace, than bare justice? They are ready to intimate that if what they call grace had not been extended to all, God would have been justly liable to reproach; so that they evidently mean by it soniewhat very different from Moses or Paul. Exod. xxxiii. 19. Rom. ix. 15. While others, who would be thought warm advocates for grace, are so unwilling to hear of the justice of God in condemning sin, and so entirely overlook his wisdom, as ever connected with his sovereignty, that they leave room to fear their ideas of grace are little better than the idea of uncontrolable caprice, which is commonly a most predominant feature in their own characters, and, therefore, it is no wonder that they attribute the same quality to their God.
The subject being, therefore, of such evident importance, I would wish to investigate it, as well as I am able; and endeavour in this paper to state my ideas of the Scripture doctrine of grace; briefly assigning my reasons for the views I have of the Gospel, and leaving, or rather charging my readers to examine them closely by the divine word, that
they may, by that unerring standard, determine whether this be the true grace of God, and whether they stand fast therein.
I scarcely need to premise that, though ordinary ministers, or private Christians, cannot pretend to a like infallible certainty with an inspired Apostle, concerning all their views of the Gospel, they may obtain satisfactory evidence, by diligently searching the Scriptures, and examining the effect of the truth upon their own hearts, that they have received the genuine doctrine of grace, at least as toits main essentials.
1. It is a just idea of divine GRACE to consider it as free, undeserved goodness. Grace, as the term is used in Scripture, does not express any disposition in God, or any blessing granted from him, which he was bound to exercise, or bestow, in order to the vindication of his own character, or conduct. He might have withheld grace from the sinner, and have left him destitute of all the benefits that result from thence, without giving cause to any to impeach his equity, or to charge him with cruelty, or with want of goodness.
Hence, then, no one can understand the true grace of God without seeing the equity of his requirements and denunciations. If lie had required more than his due from his Creatures, or threatened Sinners with worse than their due, and then provided means of relief for them, and calier this an act of grace, it would have been adding insult to injury. But far be this from the character of Jehovah. And let us remember, that if we profess to be saved by grace, we must acknowledge we were condemned by justice. We cannot have a true idea of grace, unless we have been brought to a sensible conviction of the righteousness of our condemnation: For it is an axiom almost self-evident, that there can be no more of real grace displayed in our salvation, than there would have been of strict justice in our eternal damnation.
An acquaintance with the extent, the strictness, and the equity of the law, is therefore an indispensable requisite, in order to our truly understanding the Gospel. For by the law is the knowledge of sin. And “ we know that whatsoever the law saith, it saith unto them who are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” He who never had his mouth thus stooped by the law, or who has not been made cordially willing to give up every self-righteous plea, and every sin-extenuating excuse, and to own himself worthy of death, cannot be a friend of grace.
The mind which still retains its enmity to the divine law, is, doubtless, a carnal mind, and has no true relish for the grace of the Gospel,
The grace of the Bible is that which bestows the richest good on such as really deserved the most dreadful evil: And it is essential to a just view of salvation by grace, that we thus realize our demerit as sinners. Grace is favour shewn to those whose desert rendered them rightful heirs of future misery, even of all the misery comprehended in the curse of the divine law.
2. The true idea of the grace of God will lead us to consi. der it as the only source of our wbole salvation.
The contrivance of salvation was of grace. It was not human wisdom which planned it. It was no invention of creatures, nor did God invent it from an idea that sinners could claim it, or would have had hard usage without it. It was all of God, and all of grace; owing to his abundant mercy, and self-moved love. See 1 Pet. i. 2, 3. Eph. i. 4, 5, 6. ii. 4, 8.
The purchase of salvation was owing to grace. Such a gift as God's own Son must surely have been altogether undeserved. I cannot conceive of a greater contradiction than would be implied, in admitting that sinners were so bad as to Deed Christ to die for them, and yet maintaining, that God was bound to provide such a ransom for them. They who were so guilty as to need such a sacrifice, to render their salvation consistent with the divine honour and government, could scarcely never deserve that unspeakable gift, nor indeed any good thing whatever. They who deserved to have their portion with the devil and his angels, could never deserve that God should do more for them than for all the holy angels in heaven; even that he should give up his own Son, to be tormented to death for their benefit.
The application of salvation is no less of grace. It must truly be of grace that the Holy Spirit implants the love of God in the hearts of sinners, who were wicked enough to bate God without a cause ; and who were even unwilling to be reconciled to him, after he had given his Son to die for them. Rooted aversion to God, so strong as to be invincible by the best of external means, is that which renders regenerating grace necessary ; but what can render us more unworthy of his grace, than this very disposition !
Grace reigns, therefore, in our election, redemption, and vocation ; and surely no less in our progressive sanctification, perseverance, and glorification.
3. It is an important property of the true grace of God, implied in what has been said of the purchase of redemption, that all its exercises are in perfc&t consistency with justice.
It reigns througb righteousness; not at all at its expence. Herein “ he hath made us accepted in the beloved, in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace.”.
Nor could our salvation have clearly appeared to be of grace, without the atonement; i. e. not without some thorough exhibition of God's real and utter aversion to sin. Had not God's ab, horrence of sin been strongly notified in the very method of pardon, it might have been suspected that he had never been very averse to it. At least there would have been room to have surmised, that he was not so much displeased with it, as the original threatening of the law appeared to implyBut considering the dignity of the substitute, the punishment of the original offender would not have been half so strong an evidence of the Legislator's hatred of iniquity, as his calling on the sword of vengeance to awake against the surety, and smite the man who justly thought it no robbery to be equal with God. But be it remembered, that if we prétended to admit of an atonement, and yet should derogate from the dignity of the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, we must then detract in proportion from the evil of sin, and from the importance of the law, as well as from the intrinsic worth of the atonement, and the wonderful riches of grace displayed in God's providing for himself a lamb.
4. Respecting the application of redemption, it is a just idea of the true grace of God, to consider the effectual influence of his Holy Spirit, not as the source of obligation itself, much less the prime or only source of it, but merely as the true and only cause of a sinner's compliance with his obligations to obedience.
The former idea is false, unscriptural, and pernicious; and leads tire worst of professors to justify themselves in their carnal-mindedness and sensuality. The laiter is just, scriptural, and advantageous; and leads to a consistent use of the whole Bible: It shews the harmony of doctrines, promises, precepts, invitations, and expostulations ; secures to God the glory of all that is good, and leaves the professor's bosom naked and bare to the sword of the word, to which Antinomians present a breast-plate of sevenfold brass.
5. The true doctrine of grace cannot be embraced, unless we realize its boly tendency, as teaching us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present evil world. Titus, ii, II --- 14. Pet. ii. 11. 21. 24, &c.
All the doctrine of grace, as stated by the Apostles, tend to holiness of heart, and strictness of life; teaching us that we are not our own, but bought with a price, and therefore bound to glorify God with our bodies and our spirits, whicke are God's.
6. The true grace of God is represented in the Scripture, as stedfast and abiding: God's love to his people is unchangeable and everlasting. The special influences of his SPIRIT are as a well of living water, springing ur to eternal life. The genuine work of the Spirit shall never be forsaken by him. But this doctrine, when correctly stated, has no tendency to encourage professors in carelessness or sloth: For no one can prove his interest in divine love, unless he can bring evidence that he is a partaker of renewing grace; and none can demonstrate that he was ever truly regenerated, who is not concerned actually to persevere in the practice of godliness. He who loved his people freely, will assuredly heal their backslidings; if, therefore, our backslidings are not healed, but we are suffered to persist in them, and are not brought to thorough repentance for them, this must be considered as a sign that we are bastards, and not sons.
To avoid being tedious, I have just stated these particuJars, without enlarging upon them; but I intreat the reader carefully to examine if these ideas are not truly scriptural; for it is by the divine word that we must determine whether we maintain the true grace of God.
As I believe these views of divine grace to be scriptural, I am bold to maintain they are also rational, or agreeable to right reason., Reason could not have found out God's design to save sinners, nor the way in which salvation must be effected; but it is highly reasonable to conclude, that, if sinners are saved from that punishment to which they were exposed under the divine government, it must needs be by an act of grace; and it is reasonable that it should be made very evident in the work of salvation, that their salvation is to be attributed to grace alone; and that there should be no room left to suspect, that they had any claim upon God, or that they could, by any means, have brought him under obligation to shew favour to those guilty creatures, whom his holy law bad once condemned: At the same time it is no less reasonable that the rights of the Deity should be secured, the honour of the law provided for, and sin discountenanced to the uttermost. In like manner, the doctrine of efficacious divine influence is most rational: viz, That God should be