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they glorified God, saying, Hath God then indeed to the gentiles granted repentance unto life!" (Acts. xi. 18.) granted them the means of recommending themselves to his favour for ever equally with Jews !
And herein consisted that vast power and efficacy of the Gospel of Jesus, which was seen at first in such numbers embracing and being reformed by it, and is now beheld in all who live and die under the happy influences of it, that it brings to perishing mortals an assurance of surviving the shock of death, and of living hereafter in an endless state of virtuous happiness: a hope and expectation, where any are thoroughly persuaded of it and penetrated with it, capable of removing mountains, of working the most extraordinary effects in changing men's dispositions, and turning them from sin and the world to God.
We may now go on further to inquire how it comes that here, and also in the general language of the New Testament, it is sinners whom Christ is said to have come to save.
For it was an objection made very early to the doctrine of the Gospel, and continues still
to be made to it, that it does not so much invite virtuous men, who are conscious of no evil, who live according to the law of righteousness, but addresses itself mainly to sinners.
To this we have to say: that it can be no discredit to any institution of religion, that it lays down rules of pardon for great sins, if at the same time it lay strict injunctions of amendment of life, and of doing so no more. Now nothing is more certain than this, that the Gospel proposes no advantages to those who live in sin, but to those only who forsake it. And though, in its promiscuous call to the world, it addressed all men as sinners, (and by what other juster appellation was the mixed mass of mankind to be denominated ?) its benefits were not offered to sinners as such, but to those only who repented, and brought forth the fruits of repentance in real holiness and virtue.
St. Paul declares that both with Jews and Greeks (Acts xx. 21.) he always insisted on the necessity of repentance toward God, as well as faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
It was necessary that all men should have faith in Christ, should be convinced that he
spoke and acted by authority from God, of which his miraculous works gave sufficient proof, that they might be induced to attend to his words and obey him. For it then followed as the result of such a faith and
persuasion, that he was to be listened to as one speaking immediately from God himself. And in one place he remarks that, not only his own but his apostles' words are thus to be reverenced by us. “ He that receiveth.
you, receiveth me; and he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me.
Also when the world was called to the hope of eternal life by Christ, it was justly and indispensably required of them to repent and renounce every evil way, to fit and qualify them for a happiness with God, into whose presence nothing sinful or unholy, nothing false or unjust can ever enter.
find that almost all our Saviour's instructions were of the practical kind: not so much what men were to believe, as what they were to do to attain eternal life ; and especially that they should bend their whole endeavours to make themselves and their fellow-creatures good and happy, and accepted of God.
The apostle Peter, in his discourse to his countrymen soon after Christ's resurrection, thus closes his exhortation to them ; (Acts iii. 26.)“ Unto you first, God having raised up his servant Jesus, sent him to bless
in turning away every one
your iniquities.” This was the
in which they were to be blessed or saved by Christ, in hearkening to the preaching of his apostles who spoke in his name, and turning every one from his iniquities.
These Jews had expected great temporal blessings from their Messiah. The apostle tells them that the blessings they were to look for from the Gospel, were none other but the means to become holy and good, which would qualify them for an endless happiness in the future world,
Thus then did Christ Jesus save sinners, by bringing them off from their evil courses to walk in the holy ways of God.
The next great point of inquiry, of us who profess ourselves to be his followers, is, how far we ourselves are in the number of those who have hope to be saved by him.
And concerning this we shall not be at a loss to satisfy ourselves.
For if we find that with the apostle we look upon and esteem it our highest felicity, a favour never enough to be valued by us, that we have by the divine goodness been brought to this knowledge of Christ and the method of salvation which he has revealed from almighty God : if, further, we have happily learned of Christ, whose words and example are set before us by his apostles, to prefer virtue and holiness and doing the will of God above all worldly views and enjoyments, and can welcome reproach and suffering for his sake, in the
way of our duty, and to spread the knowledge of God and his truth that many may be saved by it: we have then all reason to think well of our estate, and that, if by the divine assistance we thus persevere unto the end, eternal life will be ours. But many
have not been contented with this plain way of salvation marked out by the Gospel, in which the apostles of Jesus walked before us, and directed us to follow them.
They would willingly be saved without the trouble of forsaking their sins, and amending their crooked tempers and dispositions.