« PreviousContinue »
exercise of genuine faith in him: and doubtless all these are branches of true holiness. The same also may be observed concerning the genuine spirit of prayer, which has properly been considered as the very breath of faith, and one of the first symptoms of spiritual life. A person, at a distance from the means of clear instruction, or perplexed in attempting to distinguish truth from falsehood, may sincerely, pray for divine teaching, and other spiritual blessings, from a general knowledge and feeling of his wants, and å belief of some revealed truths, even previously to erplicit faith in Christ: and thus he may be further enlightened as to the nature and glory of the gospel
, and have the way of God expounded to him more perfectly * But it cannot be conceived, that any one has believed in Christ, and been even justified by faith in him; while he has never yet in his heart presented a single sincere petition for spiritual blessings !- Indeed the application of the soul to Christ for salvation seems to be essentially prayer, mental prayer, and as inseparable from it, as the motion of the lungs from the act of breathing, or that of the heart from pulsation. True christians are frequently in the New Testament distinguished as “ those “ who call on the Lord Jesus Christ;" and it is said, “ 'The same Lord over all is rich unto all " that call upon him : for whosoever shall call on the
name of the Lord shall be saved. How " then shall they call on him, in whom they have “ not believed †?” It is allowed that no one can call on the Lord Jesus, before he has some degree of faith in him: but at the same time, these testimonies of the Scriptures prove, that the spirit of prayer inseparably accompanies every exercise of faith from first to last. Else what is the nature of faith? Is it merely assent
* Acts xviii. 24-28
+ Rom, x. 10-14.
and inactive reliance? Or is it the soul going , forth with fervent desires after the mercy and grace, of which the urgent want is felt, to him whom it believes able and willing to deliver, to help, and to save? If this latter be the acting, of faith in Christ, what is the medium of the soul's application to him, except the lifting up of the heart in desire and expectation ? and this is the essence of prayer. Hence it is that salvation is so closely joined with prayer in many places in Scripture. Thou, Lord, art good, and ready " to forgive, and plenteous in mercy unto all o them that call upon thee *.” " Ask and it “ shall be given you :-Every one that asketh " receiveth." “ Let us come boldly to the 65 throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy, 6 and find grace to help in time of need.” “ All that call on the name of the Lord shall be “ saved.” According to these promises, it is as impossible a man should truly pray, and yet not be saved; as that he should truly believe, and not be saved: because genuine faith and prayer are inseparable.
Men may read, repeat, or even frame, prayers, in a formal manner, without the least degree of real holiness. They may sincerely ask for temporal things," that they may consume them on or their lusts;" or for deliverance from temporal calamities and dangers. They may even pray heartily to be saved from future punishment, and to be made for ever happy, according to their own notions of felicity, without any idea of what happiness consists in. But genuine prayer is the language of humility, and of spiritual desires and expectations : it is the expression of conscious indigence, dependence, and unworthiness; and of hearty longings after those blessings, which
* Ps. lxxvi, 1-7,
God alone can bestow, and which can only be enjoyed in his favour and presence.
“ Lord, 65 thou hast heard the desire of the humble; thou “ wilt prepare their heart; thou wilt cause thine
ear to hear *.”—Hence we read of “ praying “ in," or by, “ the Spirit;" praying in the 6 Holy Ghost," and - worshipping in spirit 66 and truth.” " The sacrifice of the wicked is “ an abomination to the Lord: but the prayer “ of the upright is his delight t.” Saul, when a Pharisee, may be supposed to have made long prayers: but these were doubtless very different from the earnest supplications which he poured out before the Lord at Damascus, and which were thus noticed, “ For behold he prayeth." Can it be conceived, that a holy God delighteth in any prayer, which hath nothing holy in its nature? Yet the humble supplicants, who are most acceptable to him, are most apt to be dissatisfied with themselves, and even to question the sincerity and uprightness of their earnest and fervent prayers.
The case of Manasseh may illustrate this subject: for none of those, who enter into the spirit and importance of this discussion, will deny that he found mercy by faith in the promised Saviour. The first intimation of any thing hopeful in his case is thus given:
66 When he was in " affliction he besought the Lord his God, and « humbled himself greatly before the God of his “ fathers, and prayed unto' him; and he was ( intreated of him, and heard his supplication.' In the subsequent narrative, his prayer is repeatedly mentioned; and his sins before he was humbled are strikingly contrasted with his subsequent conduct f. Hence I apprehend, we may infer with certainty, that acceptable prayer and
* Ps. x. 17.
+ Prov. xv. 8.
# 2 Chron, xxxiji.
genuine humiliation always accompany saving faith. 66 The sacrifices of God are a broken « spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, 6 thou wilt not despise."
If then humility, godly sorrow, hatred of all evil, ingenuous confession, and whatever else belongs to true repentance, with upright desires after salvation from sin, and spiritual prayer, do indeed invariably attend every acting of faith in Christ; that faith must be a holy exercise of a regenerate soul : for surely none will maintain, that there is not the least symptom of spiritual life, the smallest degree of holiness, in any of these, or in all of them united ! On the other hand, it can scarcely be imagined, that any will deliberately persist in maintaining, that justifying faith so precedes all humiliation, and other spiritual affections, as to be wholly unconnected with them; and that a man is actually justified and at peace with God, before he at all begins to humble himself, be sorry for his sins, to confess and hate them, or to pray for spiritual blessings! This would invert the whole order of Scripture; and can never be directly and con sistently avowed by a candid and serious disciple of the Lord Jesus; however he may be led, upon a controversial subject, to drop expressions, make statements, or adopt sentiments, which fairly admit of such an interpretation. But in fact, the grand difficulty consists in prevailing with men, so far to examine their preconceived opinions, and to question the truth of them; as to bestow the pains requisite for duly weighing the force of those arguments, which from Scripture are brought against them; and either solidly to refute them, at least so as to satisfy their own minds, or candidly to acknowledge that they were mistaken.
SECTION IV. The holy Nature of Faith more directly shewn.
The holiness of saving faith may not only be inferred from its Author, its source, and its concomitants; but likewise from a careful consideration of its peculiar nature.
The apostle exhorts Christians to “ bụild up “ themselves in their most holy faith *.” Should it be urged, that he meant the doctrine of faith, and not faith itself; we enquire, how a most holy doctrine can be received in a right manner by a faith not at all holy? We read of those, who “ held” (or imprisoned) “ the truth in unrighteousness;"
;"_" because they liked not to retain “ God in their knowledge t:” and if this were the effect of man's carnal enmity against God, in respect of those truths which are discoverable by reason; what must be the opposition of the same principle to the offensive message of the gospel ? - When the assent of the understanding, is compelled, by invincible evidence, to the real doctrine of the cross, the most determined resistance is excited: but in general men contrive to cast a shade over that part of truth which most offends them; and by an abuse of the other parts, they stifle their convictions, and quiet themselves in a worldly course of life. This is especially effected by partial and unscriptural views of the gospel; and thus may evangelical professors “ hold the truth in unrighteous
ness,” in the most awful sense imaginable.
Christianity, as stated in the Scriptures, displays the glorious justice and holiness of God, in connexion with the odiousness and desert of
of Rom. i. 18-28.