THE MANNA AND ROCK TYPES OF CHRIST
1 Corinthians 10:3-4. They did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them: and that rock was Christ.
THOUGH it is certain that the covenant of grace is ordered in all things and sure, and that God will fulfil his promises to all who believe, yet there is no man so absolutely assured of his own interest in the Divine favour, as that he can with safety cast off all watchfulness and circumspection. The Corinthians, by going to the utmost verge of their Christian liberty in eating things offered to idols, were in danger of being drawn back into actual idolatry. The Apostle recommends to them therefore to exercise self-denial, as well for their own sake, that they might not be ensnared, as for the sake of others, whose weak consciences might be wounded. He tells them that he himself felt the necessity of mortifying all his appetites, and that he was obliged to “keep his body under, and to bring it into subjection, lest by any means, after having preached to others, he himself should be a cast-away.” He then proceeds to remind them of the Israelites, who, notwithstanding the numberless privileges that they enjoyed, as God’s peculiar people, perished in the wilderness for their manifold provocations. Among the privileges which he specifies, we shall fix our attention upon that referred to in the text; and shall take occasion from it to inquire,
I. What was that spiritual food which the Israelites partook of in the wilderness?
God, having brought his people into the wilderness, sustained them there with miraculous supplies of bread and water—
[About six weeks after their departure out of Egypt [Note: Exodus 16:1.], their provisions were spent, and they began to be in want of bread. God therefore promised them a constant supply from day to day: forbidding them to reserve any for the morrow, except on the day preceding the sabbath, when they were to gather sufficient for two days’ consumption. This food (which for want of any more appropriate name they called manna, i. e. a portion) descended from the clouds every night; and, when the dew that covered it was exhaled by the sun, it appeared on the face of the ground: it was a very small white thing like coriander seed, which they ground in their mills, and baked; and, in taste, it was like wafers made of fresh oil and honey [Note: Exodus 16:13-31. with Numbers 11:8.]. Of this there was a constant and regular supply for forty years; nor did it ever fail, till their want of it was superseded by the corn, of which they got possession in the laud of Canaan. In like manner, water was given them out of a rock in Horeb, by a stroke of that rod, with which Moses had divided the Red Sea [Note: Exodus 17:5-6.]: and it was made to follow them in all their encampments for about thirty-eight years; when, for their further trial, the stream was dried up, and a similar miracle was wrought for them again in Kadesh-barnea [Note: Numbers 20:8-11.].]
This food, though carnal in its nature and use, was truly “spiritual;” inasmuch as it was,
1. A typical representation of Christ—
[Our Lord himself copiously declares this with respect to the manna: He draws a parallel between the bread which Moses gave to the Israelites, and himself as the true bread that was given them from heaven; and shews that, as the manna supported the natural life of that nation for a time, so he would give spiritual and eternal life to the whole believing world [Note: John 6:48-58.]. The same truth he also establishes, in reference to the water that proceeded from the rock. He told the Samaritan woman, that if she would have asked of him he would have given her living water [Note: John 4:10-14.]. And on another occasion he stood in the place of public concourse, and cried, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink [Note: John 7:37-38.];” thereby declaring himself to be the only “well of salvation,” the only rock from whence the living water could proceed. Indeed, the Apostle, in the very words of the text, puts this matter beyond a doubt; “they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them;” and “that Rock was Christ.”]
2. A sacramental pledge of his blessings—
[Under the Gospel dispensation there are two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s supper: and these are not only “outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace,” but they are also “means whereby we receive that grace, and a pledge to assure us thereof.” Thus when the Israelites were “baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea,” they were consecrated unto God; and they received, as it were, an earnest from him, that all the blessings of his covenant should in due time be imparted to them, unless they, by their violation of the covenant, should provoke him to withhold them. In the same manner the bread and water miraculously given and continued to them, were a pledge, that they should one day “eat of the hidden manna,” and “drink of the rivers of pleasure which are at his right hand for evermore,” provided they continued steadfast in the covenant, and walked worthy of their heavenly calling. Thus while their daily food typically represented, and, to those who partook of it in faith, really conveyed, spiritual blessings, it was “an earnest to them of that Spirit,” whom the water typified, and “an earnest of that inheritance,” which Christ should purchase for them by his obedience unto death [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:22. Ephesians 1:14.].]
And that this food was not peculiar to them may be shewn by considering,
II. In what respects it was the same with that which we now partake of—
When the Apostle says, that they all eat the same spiritual meat, he does not mean that all the Israelites subsisted on the same food (for that was obvious enough, and was of no consequence to his subject) but that their spiritual food, represented by the manna and the water, was the same that still nourishes the Church of God. To elucidate this we may observe, it was the same,
1. In its nature and substance—
[As their bodies could not have maintained their vigour without the daily use of bread and water, so neither could their souls flourish, unless they daily fed upon Christ, the living bread, and received from him renewed communications of his Spirit. And are there any other means of subsistence for our souls? Has not our Lord expressly told us, that “except we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we have no life in us?” Has not St. Paul also assured us, that none can belong to Christ unless they be partakers of his Spirit [Note: Romans 8:9.]? We are as destitute of strength in ourselves as the Israelites were; and need the same direction, support, and succour. If any man could be sufficient of himself, surely the great Apostle of the Gentiles was: but he corrects himself instantly when he appeared to have suggested an idea that was capable of that interpretation; “I live,” says he, “yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me [Note: Galatians 2:20.].” This is precisely what the believers in the wilderness did, when they subsisted on their spiritual food; and it is what every believer must do as long as the world shall stand.]
2. In its use and tendency—
[The daily supply of manna, and of the water from the rock, continually reminded them of their dependence upon God, and encouraged them to serve him with a willing mind. But the conveyance of spiritual blessings to them under these symbols would go further still, and actually produce the dispositions, which the outward blessings could only tacitly recommend. And what are the dispositions which the eating of the bread of life, and the drinking of the living water uniformly create? Do they not lead us to a dependence on God’s care, and a devotedness to his service? The very end for which our Saviour died, was, that they who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them: no doubt therefore his love, when shed abroad in the heart, will incline us to do this [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.]; and his grace communicated to the soul, will enable us to do it.]
We may learn from hence,
1. In what spirit we should attend the ordinances of the Gospel—
[The Israelites were left to feel their need of food before the miraculous supplies were given them: and with what avidity would they gather up the new created bread! with what insatiable appetite would they bow down to drink of the flowing stream! Such is the spirit with which we should approach the ordinances of our God. In them the manna is rained round about our tents: in them the rock is struck, and the waters of salvation flow around us: and if we come hungering and thirsting, we shall never be sent empty away. Let none then consider the ordinances as mere occasions for gratifying their curiosity, but as the place where spiritual food is set before them for the support and comfort of their souls. The Israelites would ask but one question: Is this provision suited to my necessities? So neither should we concern ourselves much about the manner in which the ordinances are dispensed, but rather go, that we may receive Christ in them, and have more abundant communications of his Spirit imparted to us.]
2. What should be the habit of our minds when we have partaken of spiritual blessings—
[The particular object of the Apostle in the text is, to inculcate the necessity of fear and caution: and the argument he uses is well calculated to effect his purpose. Two millions of Israelites came out of Egypt: they were brought in safety through the Red Sea, and supported by this miraculous food: yet, of all who had attained the age of twenty, two only were suffered to enter into the promised land. All the rest perished in the wilderness: and the very profession which they made, and the privileges which they enjoyed, served but to enhance, in most instances, it is to be feared, their eternal condemnation. Moreover they were intended by God himself as examples to us [Note: τυποι, ver. 6, 11.]; that we, admonished by their fate, might suppress all irregular desires, and walk more worthy of our high calling. Well therefore does the Apostle add, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” We never are so much in danger as when we think ourselves most secure. Let us then “not be high-minded, but fear:” whatever mercies we have experienced, and whatever enjoyment of spiritual blessings may have been vouchsafed to us, let us remember, that we are not beyond the reach of temptation: we may “have escaped for a while the pollutions of the world, and yet be again entangled therein and overcome [Note: 2 Peter 2:20.]:” it is not sufficient for us to have “tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come:” we may still “fall away, and return to a state from whence we shall never be renewed to repentance [Note: Hebrews 6:5-6.].” “Let all then take heed, lest, a promise being left them of entering into God’s rest, they should by any means come short of it [Note: Hebrews 4:1.].”]
1 CORINTHIANS, X. 3, 4.
See Sermon on 1 Timothy 1:11. where it forms the third Sermon of a series.
THE JUDGMENTS ON THE ISRAELITES TYPICAL
1 Corinthians 10:11. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
THE Holy Scriptures were not given to the world, to amuse us with an account of past occurrences, but to instruct us in the way to eternal life. Nor are the historical parts less conducive to this end, than the preceptive; since they shew us, in a striking view, the characters of them that are saved, and of them that perish. The history of the Israelites would be entertaining as a romance; but, as an exemplification of God’s dealings with his Church, it is inestimable. Hence the Apostle expresses great concern that the Corinthian Church should be acquainted with the things that had happened to the Jewish nation; in order that they themselves might be on their guard, lest, resembling the Jews in their conduct, they should also resemble them in their fate.
Let us consider,
I. The typical events here specified—
The Jews, notwithstanding the mercies vouchsafed to them, perished in the wilderness for their iniquities—
[Great, exceeding great, were the favours conferred upon them: they were brought, under the immediate direction of God, through the Red Sea, and were baptized thereby into the covenant which God made with them by Moses. They were also sustained by food miraculously afforded them, food, not carnal only, but “spiritual,” if spiritually improved [Note: ver. 1–4.].
But, instead of following the Lord fully, “they forgat God their Saviour,” and addicted themselves to idolatry, to fornication, to distrust and murmuring [Note: ver. 7–10.].
For these, and other impieties, the heavy wrath of God came upon them; and two only, of all the adults who had come out of Egypt, were suffered to enter into the promised land.]
In this view they were intended as types and ensamples [Note: τύποι.] to us—
[St. Peter mentions the judgments inflicted on fallen angels, the antediluvian world, and the cities of the plain, as exemplifying those which should come upon all, who at any period, should live and die in an ungodly state [Note: 2 Peter 2:4-6.]. St. Jude, in addition to those instances, mentions also the Israelites, who perished in the wilderness [Note: Jude, ver. 5.]. The former might properly represent the people, who are wholly ignorant of God; the latter may more particularly characterize those who profess religion: and the disappointment which they experienced in consequence of their sins, was typical of that, which all must experience, who profess to have been called with a holy calling, and yet walk unworthy of their profession. In them we see that the greater our privileges, the heavier, if we abuse them, will be our condemnation.]
Being so deeply interested in the events recorded concerning them, we should consider attentively,
II. The admonitions they give us—
The Jewish dispensation closed, and the Christian dispensation commenced, in the apostolic age: and, this being the last that ever shall be given to the world, we who live under it may be said to live in the concluding period of the world.
Now the foregoing events admonish us,
1. Not to rest in a mere profession of religion—
[It was to no purpose that the Israelites called themselves the people of God, while they were unmindful of the obligations which such a profession entailed upon them. While they called God and Abraham their father, they were, like their descendants also, children of the wicked one [Note: John 8:39; John 8:41; John 8:44.]. Thus it will be in vain for us to call ourselves Christians, if we have not the power as well as the form of godliness [Note: Jeremiah 7:4.]. On the contrary, as God disowned the people before referred to, so, however confident our claims to his favour may be, will He disown us in the day of judgment [Note: Compare Deuteronomy 9:12. with Matthew 7:21-23.]. Let us seek then to be Christians, “not in word, and in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” Let us not only unite ourselves to the church of God, but also devote ourselves to God in body, soul, and spirit.]
2. Not to indulge any evil desires—
[This is particularly specified by the Apostle as a principal end for which these events were recorded [Note: ver. 6]. Had the Israelites watched against the first risings of sensuality and lewdness, they had not fallen into those numerous sins which brought upon them God’s heavy displeasure. And, if we would be preserved from spiritual idolatry, or even from the grossest acts of uncleanness, we must avoid all needless connexion with an idolatrous world, and labour to suppress the first motions of sin which work in our members. “God requires truth in our inward parts;” nor shall any but the pure in heart ever behold his face in peace [Note: Matthew 5:8.]. An “hypocrite in heart only treasures up wrath against the day of wrath.”]
3. Not so to presume on any past mercies, as to forget that we have need of continual watchfulness and circumspection—
[The Israelites thought, that, after so many signal manifestations of God’s favour towards them, they could never be cast off. But, like Lot’s wife, they stand as a pillar of salt to us [Note: Luke 17:32.]. Let not us then forget, that we may have “escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust, and yet be entangled again with it and overcome [Note: 2 Peter 2:20.];” and that “we may have been enlightened by the word of God, and have tasted of the powers of the world to come, and yet so apostatize, as never to be renewed unto repentance [Note: Hebrews 6:4-6.].” The Apostle himself felt the necessity of “keeping his body under, lest, after having preached to others, he himself should be a cast-away [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:27.]:” much more therefore should we, however confident we may be of our own steadfastness, “take heed lest we fall [Note: ver. 12.].” Let us then not be satisfied with having come out of Egypt, or having put ourselves under the Divine guidance, or having lived hitherto on Christ, the living bread and living water: but let us go on in dependence on his grace, and in obedience to his will. Let us combine a consciousness of our proneness to fall, with an humble affiance in him, “who alone is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy [Note: Jude, ver. 24.].”]
Be admonished then, every one of you, my beloved brethren—
1. Ye who are resting in outward forms—
[See how earnest the Apostle Paul was in impressing these facts on the minds of his Corinthian converts: “I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of these things [Note: ver. 1.].” So say I to you: “I would not have you ignorant of them.” Indeed, indeed, they are too little considered. If you had asked all the six hundred thousand men after they had passed the Red Sea, and beheld all their enemies dead upon the seashore, Whither are you going? They would all have confidently replied, “We are going to Canaan, and doubt not but that we shall in due time possess it.” And this is what all say respecting heaven. But of them only two ever arrived in safety at that good land. And I tremble to think how many of you will in all probability fall short of the promised rest in heaven. You are all Christians in name: but are you all such in truth? Would to God ye were! Would to God that ye were all living by faith on the Lord Jesus, and altogether devoted to his service! — — — But I must tell you, that “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent must take it by force:” for neither can a race be won, nor a battle gained, without very different exertions from what we behold in the Christian world at large.]
2. Ye who make a profession of vital godliness—
[This was the state of the Corinthian Church, on whose minds St. Paul laboured so earnestly to impress these known and acknowledged facts. Think not then, my brethren, that it is superfluous for me to inculcate the consideration of them upon you, and such an improvement of them as your state demands. Think not that ye have attained such stability as to render these admonitions unnecessary: but know, that the more you possess of holy fear, the more certain will you be of God’s effectual aid. It is only when you are weak in yourselves, that you are really strong; and, when in a simple dependence upon God you are “following the Lord fully,” then only can you hope, with Caleb and Joshua, to possess that good land that floweth with milk and honey.]
1 Corinthians 10:12. Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.
THE things which are recorded in the Holy Scriptures are written, not for the entertainment, but for the real improvement, of our minds. Doubtless, as gratifying our curiosity, there is no book under heaven so interesting as the Bible: but as exhibiting what must be realized in our own experience, as shewing us our duties and our difficulties, our helps and our remedies, our punishments and our rewards, it claims, infinitely beyond all other books, our unremitting attention. In this view the Apostle, having mentioned the misconduct of the Israelites in the wilderness, and the destruction which they brought upon themselves by means of it, founds upon their history this solemn admonition; “therefore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.”
From these words we may learn,
I. That all, even the most eminent, are liable to fall—
[The most distinguished characters of antiquity have fallen [Note: Noah, Genesis 6:9. with 9:21. Lot, 2 Peter 2:7-8. with Genesis 19:33-36. David, Acts 13:22, with 2 Samuel 11:4-5; 2 Samuel 11:15. Solomon (who was called Jedediah, the beloved of the Lord, 2 Samuel 12:24-25.) 1 Kings 11:1-9.] — — — They have betrayed their weakness in those very points, wherein their eminence chiefly consisted [Note: Abraham, Romans 4:20. with Genesis 12:12-13; Genesis 20:2; Genesis 20:11. Job, James 5:11. with Job 3:3. Moses, Numbers 12:3. with 20:10, 11. Jeremiah, Jeremiah 9:1. with 20:8, 9. Paul Acts 20:24. with 18:9, 10. when he seems to have been struck with a panic.] — — — Who then amongst us will presume to say, “I am in no danger of falling [Note: John 4:14 and 1 Peter 1:23. shew the proper qualities and tendency of grace; but do not at all affect what the Scriptures elsewhere affirm to be the tendency of our inherent corruption.]?” — — —]
II. That the more self-confident we are, the more likely we are to fall—
[Self-confidence naturally emboldens us to rush into temptation — — — And necessarily provokes God to leave us to ourselves — — — By means of the former, our occasions of falling are greatly multiplied: by means of the latter, our ability to stand is utterly withdrawn [Note: We have a striking example of this in Peter, who to gratify his curiosity went into the midst of his enemies, and was then left to experience his own weakness. Matthew 26:58; Matthew 26:74.] — — — God, for his own honour’s sake, is concerned to let us fall, in order that we may know and confess, that our sufficiency for any good thing is derived from him alone [Note: Thus he acted towards the Israelites, Deuteronomy 1:42-44.] — — —]
III. That, if we would be kept from falling, we must look well to our steps—
[As in a slippery path peculiar caution is required, and an inattention to our steps will probably issue in some painful accident, so more especially is it necessary to use circumspection in the path of duty. Who can tell the snares and temptations that beset us? Who can tell what may be the consequences of any step we take? Who can reflect on all the circumstances that arose from one single glance of David’s eye, and not feel himself exposed to continual danger? The most important events of our lives may be traced to some trivial cause, some matter of pure indifference: and events, equally or more important, perhaps no less than the everlasting salvation of our souls, may depend on the very next step we take. Surely then we should in “all things be circumspect [Note: Exodus 23:13.]:” we should “take heed to our ways;” we should walk in an humble dependence on God for direction and support; we should cry to him continually, “Hold thou up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not [Note: Psalms 17:5.].”]
We shall conclude this subject with a few words of advice:
1. To those who are offended at the falls of others—
[Many, when they see a professor of religion act amiss, are ready to impute his misconduct to the Gospel itself, as though Christianity were only a cloak for hypocrites. But, considering the temptations that surround us, and the corruptions that are within us, it is rather a wonder that any stand, than that some should fall. We mean not to justify, or to extenuate, the sins of any: but we desire that religion should not be represented as promoting that, which it utterly condemns. Let the blame fall on those who merit it, and not be cast indiscriminately on all who profess godliness. Let Judas be branded as a traitor; but let not the odium of his offence attach to all the other Apostles, and to their Divine Master.]
2. To those who are endeavouring to walk uprightly before God—
[It is of considerable use to persons when walking on slippery ground, to have hold of each other, that if one slip, the other may afford him immediate assistance. Many falls and bruises have been escaped by these means. Thus it is of great importance to Christians to walk together in love, each helping to support his neighbour, and receiving help from others in the time of need [Note: Ecclesiastes 4:9-10.]. Let all then watch over one another with a godly jealousy. If one fall, let others endeavour instantly, in meekness, to raise him up [Note: Galatians 6:1.]. Above all, let every one know in whom his strength is; and pray continually, “Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe [Note: Psalms 119:117.].”
“Now to him who is able to keep us from falling, &c. be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen [Note: Jude, ver. 24, 25.].”]
THE SECURITY OF GOD’S TEMPTED PEOPLE
1 Corinthians 10:13. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
WE are ever prone to run into the opposite extremes of presumption and despair. To check the former, we should reflect upon the manifestations of God’s wrath; and to avoid the latter, we should bear in mind the promises of his mercy. With this view St. Paul sets before the Corinthian Church the judgments that had been executed on the Israelites in the wilderness; but lest they should turn his warnings into an occasion of despondency, he assures them, that God himself had engaged to keep all who diligently sought him, and humbly relied upon him.
His words naturally lead us to point out,
I. The temptations of God’s people—
Many, doubtless, are the temptations with which the godly are beset—
[It seems from the preceding context that the word “temptation” is to be understood in its most extended sense, as comprehending every thing which might endanger their steadfastness in the ways of God. The world strives to ensnare them both by terrors and allurements — — — The flesh strongly inclines them to gratify its appetites — — — and Satan labours incessantly to beguile them by his wiles and devices [Note: Satan can easily assume the appearance of “an angel of light:” and he does so especially when he stirs up religious professors to distract the minds of the simple with matters of doubtful disputation, and thus to turn the weak, and the conceited, and the vain, “from the simplicity that is in Christ.”] — — —]
But the temptations of all are such only as others experience in common with themselves [Note: ἀνθρώπινος may signify also proportionable to human strength; but the common translation seems perfectly just.]—
[All are ready to suppose that there are none tempted like them: but if we knew the experience of others, we should find that, “as face answereth to face in a glass, so does the heart of man to man” — — — All indeed are not tempted exactly in the same manner or the same degree (for there are temptations peculiar to men’s age and condition in life) but there are none so singularly tried, but that there are many others in similar circumstances with themselves; and the ascertaining of this point often affords much consolation and encouragement to tempted souls.]
Nor are there any trials so great but that believers may be confident of,
II. Their security in the midst of them—
God himself is interested in their behalf; and they may safely rely on,
1. His power—
[“That they may not be tempted above that they are able,” he will proportion their trials to their strength. Are they at present too weak to endure hardship? He will delay its approach [Note: Exodus 13:17.]: or, if he permit it to come upon them, he will weaken its force [Note: Psalms 76:10 and Isaiah 27:8.]: and, if they be likely to faint under it, he will shorten its duration [Note: Psalms 125:3 and Isaiah 57:16.] — — — If he do not see fit m any of these ways to lighten the temptation, he will proportion their strength to their trials, so that, if there be not a way to escape, they at least “may be able to bear them.” This he effects sometimes by communicating more abundant grace [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.], and sometimes by filling them with the consolations [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:4-5.] of his Spirit, and giving them near prospects of the glory that awaits them [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:16-17. Romans 8:18.]. Thus will he “keep them by his power unto everlasting salvation.”]
2. His faithfulness—
[No man, however eminent, could stand, if left to himself: Satan would sift us as wheat, and scatter us as chaff [Note: Luke 22:31.]; but God has promised that “he will keep the feet of his saints;” that “sin shall not have dominion over them;” that “none shall pluck them out of his hands;” that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.” “Nor shall one jot or tittle of his word ever fail:” “He is not a man that he should lie, or the son of man that he should repent.” He has exhausted all the powers of language in labouring to persuade us of this truth, that he will never forsake his people [Note: Hebrews 13:5. Here are no less than five negatives in the Greek.]; and they may safely rest on him “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”]
1. Those who are conflicting with temptation—
[What a blessed promise is that before us! What can God himself say more for your encouragement? Dry up your tears: know that “as your day is, so shall also your strength be:” “there are more for you than against you:” trust therefore in Him who “knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation,” and “is able both to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy [Note: 2 Peter 2:9 and Jude, ver. 24.].” But do not say, “God will keep me, and therefore I will rush into temptation:” such an abuse of his mercy as this would surely bring with it the most tremendous evils. We are to trust God when in trouble; but not to tempt God by exposing ourselves to danger without a cause.]
2. Those who are yielding to temptation—
[The generality complain, “That they cannot resist temptation,” and yet they venture continually into those very scenes which most endanger their virtue. What hypocrisy is this! If flesh and blood be, as they justly acknowledge, so weak and frail, why do they not flee from the occasions of sin? and why do they not cry unto God for help? Let all know that their impotency is no just excuse; that all shall receive succour if they will but seek it; and that “God’s strength shall be perfected in their weakness [Note: Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15-16.].” But if we will not repent of our sins and turn unto God, the power and faithfulness of God are engaged against us, and will be glorified in our everlasting destruction.]
ON JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
1 Corinthians 10:15. I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say.
IF there be any one question of more importance than all others, it is this, “How shall a man be just with God?” Many errors in relation to other points may be entertained in the mind, and yet our final salvation not be affected by them: but an error in reference to this undermines the foundation of our hopes, and will involve our souls in everlasting ruin. We are anxious therefore to state, with all the precision in our power, what we apprehend to be the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures respecting the grounds of a sinner’s acceptance before God. And here we are peculiarly solicitous to bespeak your candour; because there are in the world so many misconceptions, not to say, misrepresentations also, of the views of those who maintain the doctrine of justification by faith only.
It is thought by some, that we make faith to consist in a strong persuasion of the mind that we are in the favour of God: but we are far from entertaining any such opinion. Whatever is founded on a mere persuasion of our own minds, is a baseless fabric, a fatal delusion. The only warrant for a sinner’s hope, is the written word of God: and that word is the same, whether it come suddenly to our minds, and excite in us an assurance of our interest in it, or be brought more gradually to our view, and be received with fear and trembling. The promises made to repenting and believing sinners are, I say, independent of any frames or feelings of ours; and are the only legitimate ground of our hope in God: and a simple reliance on them, and on Christ as revealed in them, we call faith.
What we mean by being justified by faith, we shall also explain in few words.
We all, as sinners, are obnoxious to the wrath of God: but the Lord Jesus Christ is set forth in the Gospel, as having by his own obedience unto death obtained eternal redemption for us. To him we are commanded to look as to the propitiation offered for the sins of the whole world: and we are assured, that, on our doing this with penitence and faith, “we shall be justified from all things, from which we could not be justified by the law of Moses.” With this command we comply: we look to God as reconciled to us in the Son of his love; and in the exercise of this faith we become interested in all that Christ has done and suffered for us. Our iniquities are blotted out as a morning cloud; the righteousness of Christ is given to us, and put upon us; and, arrayed in that spotless robe, we stand before God without spot or blemish. Thus are we accepted in the beloved, or, in other words, are justified by faith.
We will also add a few words, to declare what we mean when we say, that we are justified by faith without works. We do not mean that a justified person is at liberty to neglect good works; but that the person who seeks for acceptance through Christ must not bring with him any works whatever, either ceremonial or moral, as a joint ground of his hope, or as a price which he is to pay for an interest in Christ. He must, in point of dependence, renounce his best works as much as the greatest sins he ever committed: his trust must be altogether in the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here it will be proper just to mention a mistake which some have fallen into, respecting the works which are so carefully excluded by St. Paul from the office of justifying: It is said, that wherever works are mentioned as not justifying the sinner, the expression used is, “The works of the law:” and that therefore we may conclude, that not works in general are excluded from this office, but only the works of the ceremonial law. But the truth is, that “works” are often mentioned in this view, without any notice of the law; and the inference drawn from this unfounded assertion only shews, how hard the adversaries of the doctrine we are insisting upon find it to reconcile their opinions, in any plausible manner, with the statements of St. Paul. Let one passage suffice to settle this point. It is said (where the point in question is expressly debated), “If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory.” But what works could the Apostle mean? Those of the ceremonial law? The ceremonial law was not promulgated till four hundred and thirty years after the time that Abraham was justified; and, consequently, the works which are spoken of as incapable of justifying him, were not those of the ceremonial law, but works generally, of any kind whatever.
To make known our views, then, in few words: We consider justification as an act of sovereign grace and mercy, vouchsafed to sinners, on account of what the Lord Jesus Christ has done and suffered for them, and in no respect on account of their own merits or deserts: and it is solely through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, that we do, or ever can, obtain this mercy at God’s hands.
Now, then, the question is, whether this be the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures, or not.
Let us then address ourselves to this important subject, and make our appeal to you, as men of wisdom and judgment, to determine, whether or not our statements be right, and whether they be of such fundamental importance as we profess them to be.
But here it may be thought that we shall merely bring forward some passages of St. Paul’s writings, which may be differently interpreted; and that, after all, the question will remain where we found it. But this shall not be our mode of proceeding. If the point be as we maintain, we may expect that it will run, like the warp, throughout the whole Scriptures, and not depend upon any particular expressions that may here and there be interwoven with it by one favourite author. We will take then, but with all possible brevity, a comprehensive view of the subject; and will inquire—
I. What is the true way of our salvation? and
II. What evidence we have that this is the only true way?
Under the former of these heads we will distinctly examine, What was the way of salvation dictated by the moral law 1 what by the ceremonial law I what was proclaimed by the prophets? what by our Lord Jesus Christ himself? and what was maintained by his Apostles? what was the way in which the most eminent saints of old were justified? and what is the way marked out in the authentic records of our Church? Of course, on these several points we must be very concise; but we hope, nevertheless, to be clear and satisfactory.
What, then, was the way of salvation to which the moral law directed us? Our adversary will here exultingly reply, “by works.” True, as given unto man in innocence, it did say, “Do this, and live.” But what does it say to fallen man? Does it encourage him to hope for salvation by his obedience to it? Hear what it says to all who are under it: “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.” Does this afford us any encouragement to seek salvation by our works? Our obedience must have been absolutely perfect from the first moment to the latest hour of our lives, or else the law, instead of promising any reward, denounces a curse against us; and on this account it is said by infallible authority, that “as many as are under the law, are under the curse.” Is it asked, Why then was it promulgated in so solemn a manner on Mount Sinai? I answer, To shew us how awfully sin abounded in the world, and how much we stood in need of a Saviour; and thus to “shut us up to the faith that should afterwards be revealed,” and to constrain us to seek for salvation by faith alone. This is what we are expressly told by an inspired Apostle: “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added, because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made. Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid! for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law: but the Scripture hath concluded (hath shut up) all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to all that believe. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith [Note: Galatians 3:19-24.].”
Next, let us hear the ceremonial law. In all the burnt-offerings, and the peace-offerings, and the sin-offerings, a fundamental part of the institution was, that the person who brought the offering should put his hand on the head of the victim, in token that he transferred all his sins to it; and then, when the sacrifice was slain, and its blood sprinkled according to the commandment, the offender was liberated from the sin that he had committed [Note: Lev. 1. 2. 3.]. But we will direct your attention to the offerings which were annually made for the sins of all Israel, on the great day of atonement. Two goats were taken: one was to be slain for a sin-offering for the whole people of Israel, and its blood was to be carried within the vail, and sprinkled upon the mercy-seat, and before the mercy-seat. Then the live goat was brought forth, and the high-priest was to lay both his hands upon his head, and to confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat: and then the goat was to be led away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness, bearing upon him all their iniquities, unto a land not inhabited [Note: Leviticus 16:15; Leviticus 16:21-22.]. Can any thing be conceived more plain and simple than this? Who does not see that the sins of the people were expiated by the blood of the one, and carried away in consequence of their having been transferred to the other? Who does not here see written, as with a sun-beam, the truth it typified; namely, that “Christ died for our offences, and was raised again for our justification;” and that we are saved entirely by the exercise of faith in him, or, in other words, by transferring our guilt to him, and looking for mercy through his all-atoning sacrifice? Verily, if we make no better use of the explanations given us in the New Testament than to refine, and cavil, and obscure the truth, we had better go at once, and learn of a poor ignorant Jew: for there was no Jew so ignorant, but, when he saw that rite performed, could tell you in what way his iniquities were to be forgiven. And, if only we will bear in mind that ordinance, we may defy all the sophists upon earth: for it speaks the truth so plainly, that “he who runs may read it.”
Turn we to the prophets: They bear one uniform testimony to the truth we are proclaiming. Through fear of detaining you too long, we will wave the mention of any particular passages; because, if we believe the declaration of God himself, their testimony is all summed up in one infallible declaration: “To him give all the prophets witness, that, through his name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins [Note: Acts 10:43.].”
Our blessed Lord invariably declared, that his blood should be shed for the remission of sins, and that in no other way than by faith in him could any child of man be saved. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me [Note: John 14:6.].” “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so shall the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “He that believeth on him, is not condemned; but he that believeth not, is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God [Note: John 3:14-16; John 3:18.].” If it be said, that, in answer to one who inquired, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” he replied, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments;” we answer, he did so: and we highly disapprove of that mode which some take of evading the force of his words, by saying that he spoke them ironically. We are persuaded that our Lord would not have indulged in irony or sarcasm on such an occasion, and least of all towards one whom “he loved [Note: Compare Matthew 19:16-17. with Mark 10:18; Mark 10:21].” The meaning of his answer was; “Come, and follow me in all that I command you, and you shall gradually be guided into all truth.” And the command which he immediately gave the Youth, to go and sell all that he had, and to look for treasure in heaven, put his sincerity to the trial, and shewed him, that, notwithstanding the anxiety he professed to learn the way to life, he was more attached to his wealth than to his Saviour and his God. When our blessed Lord more explicitly declared the way of salvation, he spoke of himself as having come into the world for the express purpose of giving up his life “a ransom for many [Note: Mark 10:45.],” and of giving men his own flesh to eat, and his blood to drink, for the life of their souls [Note: John 6:52-58.].
Of the views given by the Apostles, our opponents themselves have but little doubt; and hence, for the most part, the Epistles are no very favourite part of Scripture with them: and some will go so far as to say, that they think it would have been better if the Epistles of St. Paul had never been written.
But let us hear St. Peter on the day of Pentecost. When three thousand persons at once were crying out with great agony of mind, “Men, and brethren, what shall we do?” his answer to them is, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins [Note: Acts 2:38.];” that is, ‘Change your minds with respect to Him whom you have crucified as a malefactor; and, with deep contrition of heart for your rejection of him, look to him now as the only Saviour of your souls, and become his open followers in token of your faith in him.’ The same Apostle, addressing the whole Jewish Sanhedrim, speaks thus of that Jesus whom they had crucified: “This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner: neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved [Note: Acts 4:10-12.].” Of St. Paul it is scarcely needful to speak. Only let a man, desirous of knowing the truth of God, read with an unprejudiced mind the Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians, and he could no more doubt what were St. Paul’s sentiments, than he could doubt whether the sun shines at noonday. That a learned and ingenious man may involve the plainest subjects in obscurity, and may maintain even the most palpable absurdities with somewhat like a plausible course of argument, is well known to this audience, who are habituated to investigate theories of every kind. But the Scriptures are written for the poor: and it is a fact, that the poor do understand them; whilst the vain disputers of this world are bewildered in their own mazes, and by the just judgment of God are “taken in their own craftiness [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:18-29; 1 Corinthians 3:18-19.].” But, that we may not seem as if we took St. Paul’s testimony for granted, we will bring to your remembrance that answer which he gave to the jailor, when inquiring, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” He replied to the same effect as Peter had done on the day of Pentecost, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved [Note: Acts 16:30-31.].”
We will mention also that striking reproof which he gave to Peter, for countenancing, by his dissimulation, the idea, that something besides faith in Christ was necessary to salvation: “We (we Jews, we Apostles,) knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ; even we have believed in Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified [Note: Galatians 2:16.].”
Here perhaps it will be urged, that the testimony of St. James is altogether on the opposite side; for that he says, “We are justified by works, and not by faith only [Note: James 2:24.].” But if only we attend to the scope of St. James’s argument, we shall see that he does not at all contradict St. Paul. St. James is writing to some who were disposed to abuse St. Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith only; who “said that they had faith [Note: James 2:14-26.],” but had no works to support their claim. These he tells that their faith was dead, and no better than the faith of devils. He declares to them, that, as it would be to no purpose to profess compassion for a fellow-creature, when at the same time we made no effort to relieve his distress; so it is in vain to profess faith in Christ, if we shew not forth our faith by our works. Abraham and Rahab were believers; but they evinced by their conduct, of what kind their faith was; namely, that it was not a dead and barren, but a lively and operative, faith. And we in like manner must give, by our works, an evidence that our faith is genuine: for in any pretensions which we make to a saving faith, it is by our works that we must be justified (or proved upright), and not by faith only. St. Paul, on the other hand, is arguing expressly on the subject of a sinner’s justification before God; and he maintains that no man is, or can be, justified in any other way than by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Next, let us see what the most eminent saints of old found effectual for their salvation. And here the path is prepared for us by St. Paul, so that we need little more than quote his words. In the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, where he is arguing this very point, he asks, “What shall we then say, that Abraham, our father as pertaining to the flesh, hath found (i. e. hath found effectual for his justification)? for if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God (i. e. he has nothing whereof to glory before God). For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt: but to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness: even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works; saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered: blessed is the man, to whom the Lord will not impute sin [Note: Romans 4:1-8.].” We regret that we have not time to make any observations upon this passage: but whoever will read it attentively will find, that every word we have uttered is confirmed by it, beyond the power of sophistry to set aside.
To Abraham and David under the Old Testament, we will add St. Paul under the New; and methinks, if he had no righteousness of his own wherein to trust, we cannot pretend to any. Hear, then, what he says respecting the grounds of his hope: “We desire to win Christ, and to be found in him, not having our own righteousness, which is of the law, but the righteousness which is by the faith of Christ, even the righteousness which is of God by faith [Note: Philippians 3:8-9.].” Are we so much holier than he, that when he renounced all trust in his righteousness, we should make ours, either in whole or in part, the ground of our dependence? After all this, it is scarcely needful to refer to the avowed sentiments of our reformers: indeed we have no time to do it at any length: we will content ourselves therefore with reciting to you the eleventh article of our Church: “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith; and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.”
II. We now come, in the second place, to shew, that this alone is the appointed way of acceptance with God—
This part of our subject being of such vast importance, we must beg leave to enter into it somewhat minutely; and to shew, first, that this alone accords with the character given of the true Gospel; and, next, that this alone is suited to our condition as fallen sinners.
As to the marks which characterize the Gospel, one of peculiar importance is, that it magnifies the grace of God. We are told by St. Paul, that God gave his Gospel to us, “that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness towards us through Christ Jesus.” And if we consider salvation as entirely by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the grace of God is indeed magnified beyond all the powers of language to express. The gift of God’s only dear Son to die for us, the laying of all our iniquities on him, the accepting of his vicarious sacrifice in our behalf, the offering of a full salvation to all the sinners of mankind, on account of what he has done and suffered for us; a bestowing of this salvation freely, without money and without price, even upon the very chief of sinners;—all this is such a stupendous work of grace, that it fills even heaven itself with wonder. But let man be required to purchase this salvation, either in whole or in part, by any works of his own; and who does not see how the grace of God is lowered? We will grant, for argument’s sake, that the giving of salvation on any terms, would have been a wonderful display of grace; but, as compared with that which is revealed, it would have been no grace. As the Apostle says of the Mosaic dispensation, that “notwithstanding it was made glorious, it had no glory, by reason of the glory that excelleth;” so we may say of such a mutilated Gospel as we are speaking of; it might be glorious, inasmuch as it would be an exercise of mercy; but it would have had no glory, by reason of the infinitely brighter display of Divine grace in the Gospel, as it is revealed to us. Indeed, St. Paul tells us, that if any thing were required on our part towards purchasing of salvation, salvation could be no longer of grace; because the two are contrary to, and absolutely inconsistent with, each other. “If,” says he, “salvation be by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace: but if it be of works, then it is no more of grace; otherwise work is no more work [Note: Romans 11:6.].” Hence he elsewhere says, “It is of faith, that it may be by grace:” and again, “Christ is become of no effect unto you; whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace [Note: Galatians 5:4.].” This, then, is one evidence, that salvation must be by faith alone, without works.
Another most important mark of the true Gospel is, that it cuts off all occasion for boasting. God has said, that he has made Christ the great depository of all spiritual blessings, in order “that no flesh should glory in his presence, but that all might glory in the Lord alone [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:29; 1 Corinthians 1:31.].” And it is evident, that by the Gospel, as Paul preached it, all boasting is excluded.
But suppose that our works in any measure whatever formed a ground of justification before God; should we have no occasion for boasting then? Assuredly we should: for in proportion as we had procured it by our works, we might claim it as a debt, and say, “I have procured this unto myself.” It matters not in what degree this exists: if it exist in any degree whatever, boasting is not excluded. Even in heaven itself we might say, “I owe it not entirely to the free grace of God that I am here, but partly to my own superior merit.” This is declared by St. Paul in very express terms: “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay: but by the law of faith [Note: Romans 3:27.]:” that is, if it were in any degree, even the smallest that can be imagined, by works, there would be room for boasting; but seeing it is solely by faith in the Lord Jesus, all boasting is, and must for ever be, excluded. Hence, in giving an account of the Gospel salvation, he says, “By grace ye are saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast [Note: Ephesians 2:8-9.].” Let these words be remembered, “Not of works, lest any man should boast;” and there will be an end of all further argument on this subject.
One more mark of the Gospel salvation is, that it secures the performance of good works [Note: Had there been a fifth Sunday in the month, this would have been made a distinct subject: but the whole being to be comprised in four Sermons, this part could not possibly he extended or be rendered so prominent, as the Author wished. But what is here spoken is the most decided sentiment of his heart.
This want has since been supplied in a Sermon, on Psalms 119:128. entitled, “The true Test of Religion in the Soul.” ]. The grace of God, that bringeth salvation, teaches us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world [Note: Titus 2:11-12.]. Many are apt to imagine, that the doctrine of salvation by faith alone destroys all incentive to holiness, and tends to encourage all manner of licentiousness: this was the very objection which was urged against the Gospel in the Apostle’s days, and which he set himself strongly to refute. Anticipating the objection, he says, “Shall we then continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid! How shall we, who are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” And again; “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid! yea, we establish the law [Note: Romans 6:1-2; Romans 3:31.].” The fact is, that there is nothing so operative as a lively faith. What was the spring of all those glorious actions that were performed by the long catalogue of worthies mentioned in the 11th chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews? From beginning to the end, we are told that faith was the principle by which they were actuated, and the root from which all their obedience sprang. Of the New Testament saints, none exceeded, or even equalled, Paul: and what was it that actuated him? He tells us: “The love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if One died for all, then were all dead; and that he died for all, that they who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him that died for them and rose again.” This is the effect which faith will, according to its measure, produce in all. It will “work by love,” and “overcome the world,” and “purify the heart.” What if the works it produces be not to be relied on for our justification before God? Is it nothing that they will be adduced in the day of judgment as the evidences of our love to Christ, and as the measure of our everlasting reward? Is it nothing that God is glorified by them, and that the dispositions from whence they spring constitute our meetness for the heavenly inheritance? Surely these are motives enough for the performance of them, without making them the meritorious cause of our salvation; and, if we look to fact and experience, who are the persons at this day that are accounted righteous overmuch, and are represented as making the way to heaven so strait that none but themselves can walk in it? Is it among the declaimers about good works, that we must look for these persons? No; but among those who renounce all dependence on their own works, and seek for salvation by Christ alone: a sure proof, that they who look for redemption solely through the blood of Christ, are by that very principle made “a peculiar people zealous of good works.”
These, then, are clear evidences that the way of salvation is precisely such as we have declared it to be: for there is no other doctrine under heaven that has these marks connected with it, or these effects proceeding from it.
The second thing we mentioned as establishing our doctrine, was, that there is no other way of salvation suited to our condition as fallen sinners.
Take the way of salvation by our own works: who will venture to build his hopes on such a foundation as that? Who is not sensible that in many things he has offended God? For those offences he must answer at the judgment-seat of Christ. If throughout a great part of our life we had done all that was commanded us, we should still be unprofitable servants: our obedience to some commandments would make no atonement for our violation of others: for the sins that we had committed, we must die. But it may be said, that of those offences we repent. Be it so: still our tears can never wash out the guilt we have already contracted. Even in human governments, a criminal that is under sentence of death may be truly sorry that he has transgressed the laws, and may determine never to repeat his crimes any more; but these sorrows and resolutions will not avail to rescue him from death, or to repeal the sentence that is gone forth against him: much less can any repentance of ours remove the curses of God’s holy law, or avert the judgments which our sins have merited.
But it may be said, we rely not on our works alone, nor on our repentance alone, but on these things and Christ’s merits united. Go, then, and search the records of your life, and see what works you will bring forth in order to eke out the insufficient merits of your Saviour; bring forth one single work; one only out of your whole life; one that has no defect, and that does not in any respect need the mercy of God to pardon its imperfection: then carry it to God, and say, ‘Here, Lord, is a work in which thou thyself canst not find a flaw; it is as perfect as any that my Lord and Saviour himself ever performed, and is therefore worthy to be united to his infinitely meritorious obedience, as a joint ground of all my hopes: I am content to stand or fall by this one work: I am aware, that if it is imperfect, it stands in need of mercy for its own imperfection, and consequently can never purchase pardon for all my other offences; but I ask no mercy for that, yea, rather, I claim on account of it all the glory of heaven [Note: Let not the reader suppose that any one is exhorted to go thus to Almighty God: the whole passage is intended to shew the horrible impiety of even entertaining such a thought. The Scriptures frequently put such language into the lips of sinners, in order to shew what is the real language of their hearts. See Romans 3:5; Romans 3:7; Romans 9:19.].’ You who will dispute against salvation by faith only, and who wish to have something of your own to found your hopes upon, do this: bring forth some work, some one work at least, that shall stand the test of the divine law, and defy the scrutiny of the heart-searching God. But if you cannot find one such work, then see how unsuitable to your state is the doctrine for which you contend.
Perhaps it will be said, that God does not require of us imperfect creatures any thing that is perfect, but only that we be sincere. But who will venture to make his own sincerity the ground of his salvation? If this be the law by which we are to be tried, who shall stand? Who shall say, that from the earliest period of his life he has sincerely striven in every thing to please God, and to approve himself to God? Alas! those who stand upon their own sincerity are little aware of the deceitfulness and wickedness of their own hearts; and if they would but look back throughout their whole lives, they would find, that their sincerity, like that of Saul of Tarsus, has only stimulated them to a greater measure of inveteracy against the Gospel of Christ.
We will mention only one more refuge to which these persons will be disposed to flee, and that is, their having done as well as they could: ‘I have done as well as I could, and therefore I doubt not but that God will have mercy upon me.’ But in this we shall all fail, as much as in all the fallacious hopes that have preceded it. For, who has done as well as he could throughout his own life? Who will dare to appeal to God even respecting the best day in his life, that there was no one thing omitted which he might have done for him, nor any one thing done in a less perfect manner than it might have been done?
It is clear, that in all the ways of salvation which men devise for themselves, whether by good works, or repentance, or faith and works united, or sincerity, or doing as well as we can, there is not a spot of ground whereon to place our foot: we must go to the ark of God, and there only can we find rest for our weary souls.
Permit me, then, to address you as dying persons, and to ask, What you will think of these things when standing on the brink and precipice of eternity? Now you can speculate, and dispute, and speak with confidence about the justness of your views: now you can discuss these matters as if it were of little moment what your sentiments are, or what is the ground of your affiance. But if you hold fast any of the foregoing delusions, you will not find them so satisfactory in a dying hour as you now imagine. Doubts like these will arise in your mind; ‘What if my works should be found at last, either in number or quality, insufficient? What if my fancied goodness, which I am blending with my Redeemer’s righteousness, should prove a refuge of lies?’ Amongst the numberless evils to which this fatal error will expose you, is, that in that hour, when you will most need divine and heavenly consolation, your soul will be trembling with uncertainty as to the ground of your hopes, of those hopes which will in a little time be blasted or realized for ever. For, who shall tell you whether you have attained that precise measure of righteousness which God will accept? And what a fearful thing will it be to be going into the presence of your Judge, uncertain what shall be his sentence upon you, and whether heaven or hell shall be your everlasting portion! Would you but place yourselves, where you must all very shortly be, on a dying bed, we should not find it so difficult to convince you, that it is better to trust in the righteousness of Christ, which is commensurate with all the demands of law and justice, and adequate to the wants of the whole world, than to be trusting in any respect to any poor defective righteousness of your own. Methinks this argument alone were sufficient to convince any considerate man: supposing that your own righteousness were sufficient, your Lord would not condemn you for thinking too humbly of it, and for relying solely on his all-atoning sacrifice: but supposing it insufficient, will he not condemn you for your pride and arrogance in trusting to it, and for your ingratitude in rejecting his salvation? Here all the declarations of his word are as pointed and clear as words can make them: “He that believeth on the Son hath life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him [Note: John 3:36.].” “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned [Note: Mark 16:16.].” Both of these declarations were uttered by our blessed Lord himself when on earth; and he will not forget them, when he shall come again to judge the world.
May I not, then, make my appeal to you? “I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say.” Is it wise to turn your back upon righteousness, which, as a rock, is able to sustain a ruined world; and to be trusting in one that is no better than a foundation of sand? Know ye that your God is a jealous God: he will not give his glory to another: if ye will seek acceptance with him, through his only-begotten Son, “no one of you shall ever be cast out:” your sins shall be washed away in his blood; and your souls be clothed with the unspotted robe of his righteousness. Being justified by faith in him, you shall have peace with God: you shall “be kept also from falling,” whilst in this ensnaring world; and in due time you shall be “presented faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.”
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for every one of you is, that you may be saved: but know assuredly, that there is no salvation for you but by faith in Christ: for “other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:11.].” To whom with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, be glory in the Church throughout all ages, world without end: Amen [Note: The Discourse on Psalms 119:128. may be referred to as completing this series.].
TRUE WISDOM AND CHARITY
1 Corinthians 10:32-33; 1 Corinthians 11:1. Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God: even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
CHRISTIAN morals, in their sublimer parts, are far from being fully understood, or duly appreciated, even by those who are most zealous in the profession of Christian principles. The duties of Christian forbearance, and Christian forgiveness, and Christian liberality, are but very imperfectly discerned, and, consequently, but very imperfectly practised, in the religious world. Nor are the limits of true Christian charity by any means clearly ascertained. On this subject, in particular, I must say, that I think there is scarcely a Christian upon earth that would have made the distinctions contained in this chapter; and not many that would approve of them, now they are made, if they were not forced to yield to apostolic authority. It is an easy thing to lay down broad principles; as, that “We must not do evil that good may come:” and it is easy to decry “expediency,” as the refuge of time-serving and dishonest men. But it is not easy to see the different modifications of a good principle, as affected by different circumstances; or the different situations under which expediency alone can guide us. And even the discussion of such a subject as this, however carefully conducted, would be condemned at once by many, as no better than Jesuistical sophistry and refinement. But we must not, therefore, be deterred from treading in the Apostle’s steps, and marking what we believe to be the true boundaries of Christian liberty and Christian duty.
I shall take occasion, from the passage before us, to shew,
I. Our duty in reference to things which are indifferent—
There are many things on which different parties lay a great stress; which yet, in the sight of God, are altogether indifferent—
[In the apostolic age, the observance of the Jewish ritual was regarded by some as of primary and indispensable importance. The keeping of certain days, and the abstaining from certain meats, and the practice of circumcision, were by many insisted on as of continued obligation; notwithstanding they were never intended but as types and shadows, which were to vanish when the substance should appear. There were not in those rites any essential qualities, either of good or evil. They derived all their force from their having been divinely appointed; and, of course, they lost all their force when that appointment was withdrawn. If any chose to observe them, they were at liberty to do so, without any offence to God: and if any were disinclined to observe them, they were equally at liberty to follow the dictates of their own judgment. If any man thought them still obligatory, he of course was bound by them: but all who saw that they were no longer required, were free to neglect and discard them.
The same might be said of many things at this day, respecting which different parties form different opinions, according to the degree of their information, or to the particular prejudices which they have imbibed. I refer to certain rites and ceremonies in religion, on which some place an undue stress; whilst others, with equal vehemence, decry them. I must say the same, also, in reference to some habits of the world, respecting which men may speak in too unqualified terms; whether they justify them, or whether they condemn.]
But our great duty, in reference to all such things, is, to guard against giving needless offence to any party—
[In reference to Jewish or Gentile observances, the Apostle says, “Give no offence either to the Jews, or to the Gentiles, or to the Church of God.” The things about which the parties differed were really non-essential: and there was danger of giving offence to either side by a contemptuous disregard of their prejudices. It was not right to wound the feelings of a Jew, by doing in his presence what was contrary to the law, which he regarded as still in force: nor was it right, by a free and indiscriminate use of meats offered to idols, to hurt the feelings of a Gentile brother; who, having been accustomed to feast on these meats as a religious act, would be ready to think that the person eating them did not indeed abhor idolatry in the way that he professed. At the same time, offence might easily be given to the Church of God, by producing disunion and division amongst her members, whom we should rather have laboured to “edify in faith and love.”
The same may be said in reference to all matters of indifference, in every age and in every place. There should be a tender regard to the feelings and infirmities of others; and a determination never to please ourselves at the expense of others. Self-denial, rather, should be the disposition of our minds, and the habit of our lives: and rather than wound the consciences of others, and lead them by our example to do what their own consciences condemned, we should abstain from the most innocent indulgence, as long as the world shall stand [Note: 1 Corinthians 8:13.]. The rule given in relation to all such matters is, “We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves [Note: Romans 15:1.].”]
In my text, the Apostle marks,
II. The object which we should keep in view, for the regulation of our conduct—
The salvation of our fellow-men should be an object of the deepest interest to our minds—
[Doubtless the salvation of a man’s own soul should be his first concern. But no man should be indifferent to the eternal welfare of others; much less should he think himself at liberty to do any thing which may put a stumbling-block in their way. “We are all, in fact, one body in Christ;” and are bound, every one of us, to consult the welfare of the whole. No member is authorized to act independently, and for itself alone. None but a wicked Cain would ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” For we are his keeper, as he also is ours: and we are neither at liberty to injure each other, nor to neglect any opportunity of advancing each other’s welfare. The duty of mutual love and mutual aid is unalterable and universal.]
With a reference to that, therefore, should we act to the utmost extent of our power—
[We may either benefit our fellow-creatures, or injure them, according as we demean ourselves in reference to things which are in themselves indifferent. We may disgust some, by our unhallowed boldness; or grieve others, by passing an uncharitable judgment upon them; or ensnare others, by inducing them to follow our example, contrary to the convictions of their own conscience. We may, by our uncharitable disregard of the feelings and sentiments of others, produce the most fatal effects that can be imagined; not only offending many, but actually “destroying our weak brethren, for whom Christ died [Note: 1 Corinthians 8:9-11.].” What a fearful thought! Can any man, who calls himself a Christian, feel himself at liberty to act without any reference to such a result as that? Can any pleasure, or any “profit” arising to himself, compensate for such a calamity as that? Methinks, on any question arising in our minds, we should instantly ask ourselves, not, What will please or profit myself? but, What will please or profit others? What will have a tendency to promote the salvation of others? If any self-denial or forbearance on my part can advance, in the remotest degree, the salvation of a weak brother, I will die rather than gratify myself at his expense.]
That this is no extravagant requirement, will appear if we consult,
III. The examples which Christ and his Apostles have set us in reference to this very thing—
St. Paul calls us to “be followers of him, even as he was of Christ.”
Consider how our blessed Saviour acted under circumstances of this kind—
[He was called upon to pay a tribute levied for the support and service of the temple. From this, as being the Son of God, he might have pleaded an exemption: because it is an acknowledged fact, that kings receive tribute from strangers only, and not from their own children. But he knew that the Jews would not be able to see the truth and justice of his plea, and that his acting upon it would give serious offence: he therefore waved his right; and chose rather to work a miracle for the satisfying of their demands, than give offence to them by an assertion of his rights. Nor did he only wave his right in this particular, but gave occasion to all present to deny that he possessed any such right, or stood in any such relation to Jehovah as would have authorized him to assert it. Yet he considered not himself, but others only; and chose to submit to any thing, however humiliating, rather than, by maintaining his right, to put a stumbling-block in their way [Note: Matthew 17:24-27.]. Thus, by his example, he taught all his followers, not to please themselves, but “to please every man his neighbour for good to edification [Note: Romans 15:2-3.].”]
Observe, also, how St. Paul acted—
[It was not on any particular occasion that he conformed to this rule, but constantly, and in circumstances of continual occurrence. Hear his own account of his daily practice: “Though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews: to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law: to the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:19-22.].” Here you see, not only what his constant habit of life was, but the principle by which he was actuated throughout the whole; preferring the “winning” of men to Christ, and the “saving” of their souls, to any personal consideration whatever. In all this he was an example to us; and therefore says, in reference to this very thing, “Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ.”]
In accordance with this was the conduct also of all the Apostles—
[The last time that St. Paul came to Jerusalem, the whole college of Apostles, fearing that the Jews had a wrong impression of his principles, and that, because he had represented a conformity to Jewish ceremonies as unnecessary, they would imagine he had decried them as sinful, besought him to unite himself to some persons who were about to perform their vows as Nazarites, and purify himself, according to the Mosaic law, with them. And this he did, in conformity with their advice [Note: Acts 21:20-26.]: thus not only illustrating the principle by which he was habitually actuated, but setting, as it were, the seal of all the Apostles to this line of conduct, as sanctioned and approved by them.
After all this evidence, nothing further need be added to confirm the statement we have made respecting the Christian’s duty, or to enforce the advice which, in conformity with our text, we have presumed to give.]
On the ground therefore which has been established, I beg you to bear in mind,
1. What is the principle by which you are to be actuated, in all your intercourse with mankind—
[Love to their souls must animate you at all times: and by that must you be determined, in every thing where the path of duty is not clearly determined for you. By that must you be regulated, whether in acceding to their wishes, or in resisting their solicitations. There are certainly occasions whereon a compliance with them will produce a good effect; and there are occasions whereon it will be your duty rather to withstand the importunity even of your dearest friends. But you must be careful to distinguish aright the principle from which you act. You must not give way to fear: nor must you comply from a feeling of personal friendship or regard: and, least of all, must you conform to the world, to please yourselves. You must consider, under all circumstances, how you may best advance the welfare of men’s souls; and then act as in the sight of God, so as most to promote that great object. That is what Christ did, when he left the bosom of his Father, and died upon the cross: and in so doing you will fulfil those injunctions which he has given you; “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others [Note: Philippians 2:4.]:” and that also, in a few verses before the text, “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:24.].”]
2. How you may best approve yourselves to the heart-searching God—
[The mode of conduct which we have recommended will, to superficial observers, lay you open to the charge of inconsistency: for, if you will observe rites, or not observe them, according as others may stand affected towards them, you must of necessity appear to many to be destitute of any fixed principle. But God sees the fixed principle which men cannot see; and he will approve that which perhaps your fellow-creatures will condemn. But, for your conduct in circumstances of more than ordinary difficulty, I would suggest three rules; which, though, when separately taken, they may be insufficient for your direction, will, when taken together, effectually preserve you from any material error. Ask yourselves three questions: What would an ungodly man do in my circumstances? That I will not do. Next, What would be agreeable to my own corrupt heart? That I will not do. Lastly, What would my Lord or the Apostle Paul do, in my circumstances? That I will do. Now I say again, that though no one of these, separately, will suffice, all of them together will prove an easy and a safe directory. It will be impossible for you greatly to err, if these questions be sincerely asked, and faithfully answered by you. If, in prosecuting this line of conduct, you be misunderstood and blamed, then say, with the Apostle, “It is a small matter to me to be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self; but he that judgeth me is the Lord [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:3-4.].” Thus will you ensure the approbation of your God, and enjoy the testimony of your own conscience that you have pleased him.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 10". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter