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who bring forth fruit with patience. ^ All these ex-
pressions imply not merely that faith is an exercise
of understanding, but that a certain preparation of
heart is requisite for it ; and hence you will perceive
that, although faith be a reasonable act proceeding
upon evidence, there is room for the influence of the
Spirit in disposing the mind to attend to the evi-
dence, and to see its force, in overcoming prejudice,
and carrying home the truth with power to the
heart. Accordingly the Apostle Paul says express-
ly, that faith is " the gift of God ;" || and this de-
claration is only expressing, in one sentence, the
uniform doctrine of Scripture upon this subject.
Faith, which is thus produced by the influence of

* Matt. xi. 25, 26. f Matt, xviii. 3. + John vii. 17.
§ Luke viii. 1.3. || Eplies. ii. 8,


the Spirit of God upon the mind of man, is the char-
acter with which a participation of the blessings of
the Gospel is always connected in Scripture. These
blessings were acquired, and are dispensed by the
Lord Jesus. But they are applied by his Spirit only
to them who believe. " God so loved the world,
that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever
believeth in him should not perish." " He that be-
lieveth and is baptized shall be saved : he that be-
lieveth not shall be damned." " This is the word
of faith which we preach, that if thou shalt confess
with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe
in thine heart, that God hath raised him from the
dead, thou shalt be saved." We are said to be
"justified by faith :" and the only direction which
Paul gave to the jailer, when he cried out, " What
must I do to be saved ?" was this, " Believe in the
Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."*

Declarations of this kind abound in Scripture.
But there are two mistakes which such declarations
are apt to occasion ; and both are so opposite to the
Scripture system, that they require to be mentioned
in this short account of it.

The first mistake, into which you may be led by
the Scripture declarations concerning faith, is to
imagine that faith is the procuring cause of our sal-
vation ; that because Christ says, " this is the work
of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent,"
any person who does the work receives the blessings
of the Gospel as the wages which he has earned.
But such an opinion contradicts all the views which

* Jojjii jij. IG. Mark xvi. iG. Rom. x. 8, 9 ; v. i. Acts xvi.
30, 31.


we have hitherto deduced from Scripture. For the
Gospel being a salvation from sin, those who are to
be saved are considered as sinners, until they par-
take of the salvation. The investiture with a cer-
tain character is indeed a present, and in some
sense an immediate effect of the salvation, and is so
inseparably connected with it, as to be the Scripture
mark, that a person has " passed from death unto
life." But being an effect, it cannot in the nature
of things be a cause of that from which it proceeds ;
and therefore the Scriptures speak in perfect con-
sistency with themselves, when they declare, " God
hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling,
not according to our works, but according to his own
purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ
Jesus."* " When we were dead in sins, he quick-
ened us together with Christ, for by grace ye are
saved through faith ; and that not of yourselves, it
is the gift of God."f Faith is the instrument by
which the Spirit of God applies to us the blessings
whicli Christ hath accjuired the right of dispensing.
But there is no merit in the instrument. Since all
had sinned, and come short of the glory of God, " we
are justified freely by the grace of God, through the
redemption that is in Christ Jesus ;" and he is " the
Lord our righteousness."

The second mistake into which you may be led
by the Scripture declaration concerning faith is,
that faith is the only thing which is required of a
Christian. If all that Paul said to the jailer was,
" Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt
be saved," it seems to follow that, if he believed,

* 2 Tim. i. (). t F.plies. ii. 1. S.


it mattered not how far he disregarded every other
precept of the Gospel. But the Scrii:)tures, by all
their descriptions of faith, mean to teach us that it
cannot be alone. It is the principle of a divine
life, by which we are united to Christ and derive
from him grace and strength for the discharge of
every duty. It works by love, and purifies the
heart, and overcomes the world. So we read in
Scripture of a life of faith, of the obedience of faith,
of faith being dead, because it is without works.
" Do we make void the law through faith ? God
forbid: yea, we establish the law.""'=-' Here then
you will mark the place which good works hold in
the Christian system. They are not the ground of
our acceptance with God, for the whole world, ac-
cording to this system, being guilty before God, we
must have remained for ever excluded from his fa-
vour had good works been the condition upon which
our being received into it was suspended. " There-
fore," the Apostle Paul says, " by the deeds of the
law shall no flesh be justified in the sight of God."
Neither are those the good works of a Christian,
which, although fit in themselves, and profitable to
those who do them, and to others, are done merely
upon considerations of reason, honour, and con-
science, which ought to actuate the mind in every
situation. But the good works required in the Gos-
pel flow from faith, i. e. they are performed in the
spirit of a Christian, from the motives suggested by
a firm persuasion of the truth of the Gospel. Good
works, therefore, are stated in Scripture as the fruits
and evidences of faith, the necessary effect of the

* Gal. V. 6 ; ii. 20. Acts xv. 9. 1 John v. 4. Rom. i, 5 ;
iii. 31. James ii. 12.


operation of the Spirit of God. " For we are his
workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good
works, which God hath before ordained that we
should walk in them ;" * and tliere thus appears to
be the most perfect consistency between the doctrine
of Paul and that of James. Paul says, that we are
not justified by any thing that we can do ourselves,
but freely by grace, through faith in tlie blood of
Christ. James says, Show me thy faith by thy
works ; faith without works is dead, as the body
without the spirit. And he concludes, that a man is
justified not by faith only, ?. e. by such a faith as
does not produce what Paul had stated to be the
constant effect of true faith, but by that faith
which by works is made perfect.

As the Gospel calls men, by motives peculiar to
itself, and with an energy which no other system
ever possessed, to the practice of righteousness, so
it is uniformly supposed in Scripture, that the fol-
lowers of Jesus are to be distinguished by the zeal
and constancy with which they abound in the work
of the Lord. The question of our Lord, " What do
ye more than others ?" and such expressions as
these, " being dead to sin," " crucifying the flesh
with the affections and lusts," " being alive unto
God," " putting on the new man,'* " walking after
the Spirit," imply an eminence and uniformity of
virtues, a light which shines before men. That in-
nocence which the laws of our country enjoin, that
measure of virtue which a regard to public opinion
or even the principles of natural religion require,
falls very far short of the evangelical standard. It

* Ephes. ii. 10.


is the duty of a Christian to aspire after perfection,
yet never to count that he has attained it ; to for-
sake the vices of others, and to endeavour to excel
their virtues, yet to be deeply sensible of his own
imperfection, and ready to allow his brethren all the
praise which they deserve ; to fill up his life with
the variovis exertions of active, diffusive, disinterest-
ed benevolence, yet to guard against the emotions
of vanity, and that spirit of ostentation by which a
good deed loses all its value ; and to ascribe the hon-
our of his progress in virtue, not to his natural dis-
position, to his own diligence and watchfulness, or
to any concurrence of favourable circumstances, but
to that God who called him to the knowledge of the
Gospel, to that Saviour by the faith of whom he
lives, and to that Spirit by whose influence he is

The Scriptures assure us that the good works
which thus proceed from faith, although imperfect
in degree, and mingled with many infirmities, are
well pleasing in the sight of God through Jesus
Christ. He, in allusion to the Jewish law, is re-
presented as the high priest over the house of God,
who, having yielded a perfect obedience to the di-
vine law, has no occasion to make any offering for
his own sins, but appears in the presence of God for
his people.* And the good works which they per-
form through the strength which his Spirit imi:>arts,
are styled spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by
him.f The Almighty lifts the light of his counte-
nance upon those who offer this sacrifice ; he admits
them into his family ; he rejoices over them to do

* Heb. vii. 25—28. t 1 Peter ii. 5.


them good ; he chastens them with the tenderness
of a father ; he seals them by his Spirit unto the
day of redemption ; and he will receive them here-
after to that incorruptible inheritance, which is not
due to their services, but a reward of grace, pur-
chased by the death of Christ, secured by his inter-
cession, and " reserved in heaven for those who are
kept by the power of God through faith unto salva-

It appears then from the Scriptures, that the
religion of Jesus, having for its ultimate design the
removal of those ^evils which sin had introduced, de-
stroys the present dominion of sin in all true Christ-
ians. Its tendency is to restore upon the soul of
man that image of God after Avhich he was made,
to revive those sentiments and desires which consti-
tute the excellence and dignity of his nature, to ele-
vate his affections from earth to heaven, and, at the
same time, to enforce the discharge of those relative
duties which his present condition renders necessary
to the comfort of society. It is plain that if this
religion were universally acknowledged and obeyed,
the character of every individual would be rescued
from the degradation of vice, and assimilated to the
most exalted beings in the universe ; that the hap-
piness of human life would receive the most substan-
tial and permanent improvement, and that the abode
of the human race upon earth would be a stage in
the progress of their existence to the perfection and
the joys of heaven. It is not possible to conceive
any design more worthy of the Father of mankind,
and more beneficial to his creatures. There is im-
plied in the nature of this design the strongest obli-
gation upon every reasonable being to whom the


knowledge of it is communicated, to co-operate in
its accomplishment : and it is specially to be remark-
ed, in a view of the Scripture system, that this co-
operation is not only required by precept, but is re-
commended by the most illustrious examples. The
Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost condescend to
take part in this scheme ; the angels attend to the
jH'ogress of it, rejoice in the conversion of a sinner,
and are " ministering spirits sent forth to minister
to the heirs of salvation." All the prophets and holy
men in ancient times, of whom the Scriptures speak,
looked forward to it, and contributed in some mea-
sure to its approach. And now that it is manifested,
every one is called upon to be a worker together
with God. The whole Christian world is represented
as one great society, united, by their submission to
the same Master and by the guidance of the same
Spirit, in following " after holiness, without which
no man shall see the Lord ;" and '"• after the things
— wherewith one may edify another."

We are warranted to speak of this co-operation in
accomplishing the great design of the Gospel ; for
although the Scriptures represent the blessings there
revealed as acquired by the interposition of the Son
of God, and the character necessary in order to a
participation of them as originating from the influ-
ence of the Spirit, yet they uniformly address us in
a style which supposes that there is something for
us to do. We are commanded to *' work out our
own salvation," and we are required to help our
brethren in the good ways of the Lord. We soon
bewilder ourselves in our speculations, when we at-
tempt to settle the boundaries between the agency
of God and the agency of man. But the Scriptures,



without condescending to enter into these discus-
sions, abound in exhortations ; and we cannot sup-
pose that our shallow reasonings upon subjects so
infinitely above our comprehension, will be sustain-
ed as an excuse for neglecting to obey precepts so
often repeated and so plainly expressed.

The Scriptures mention various means, which the
Spirit of God employs, in producing that faith which
is the principle of the Christian character, and those
good works which flow from this principle. But
they have nowhere furnished any marks to distin-
guish the natural operation of these means from that
agency of the Spirit, without which they are inef-
fectual. " The wind," says our Lord, " bloweth
where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof,
but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it
goetli ; so is every one that is born of the Spirit."
The Spirit may act as he will, but there is no war-
rant to expect that the conversion of any indivi-
dual will be brought about in a sudden sensible man-
ner. The exercises of a pious education, the habits
of virtuous youth, the impressions fixed upon the
mind by the continued instruction and conversation
of the wise, may have so gradually disposed a per-
son for receiving the Gospel in faith, that he shall
not be able to mark any great change which ever
took place in the state of his soul, or the time when
faith, the gift of God, was imparted to him by the
Spirit. Yet this man may apj)ear to be a Christian
indeed, by bringing forth in his life those fruits of
the Spirit, which are the evidences of faith. The
assurance which arises from these evidences may
give him that " peace of God which passeth under-
standing ;" and the Spirit itself may bear witness


with his spirit that he is a child of God. From
hence we deduce the duty of using the means by
which the influences of the Spirit are ordinarily con-
veyed, and the presumption of all who, undervaluing
the means, say that they wait for an extraordinary
instantaneous illapse of the Spirit. Hence too you
perceive the reason why the Scriptures represent the
earliest Christians, and speak of Christians in all
succeeding ages, as a society distinguished by cer-
tain regulations and outward ordinances. If the
Spirit operated immediately upon every individual,
all these would be a yoke of ceremonies. But if the
heavenly gift, as well as the common bounties of
Providence, is to be dispensed by the instrumentality
of men, the establishment of what we call a church
is necessary for " perfecting the saints, and for edi-
fying the body of Christ." So speaks the apostle
Paul. " How shall they call on him in whom they
have not believed ? And how shall they believe in
him of whom they have not heard ? And how
shall they hear without a preacher ? And how
shall they preach except they be sent ? So faith
Cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of
God." * The promise of our Lord to his apostles,
" Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the
world," seems, by the terms of it, to extend to a
much longer period than their ministry required :
and that it does really imply the presence of Jesus
with his church in all ages, not indeed by extraordi-
nary inspiration, but by his countenance and pro-
tection, is manifest from another declaration of his,

* Horn. X. 14, 15.


" The gates of hell shall not prevail against my
church," and from the practice of his apostles, who
ordained teachers, overseers of the flock, in every
city where they preached, and who made provision
that the instruction which they gave by word or Avrit-
ing should be transmitted to future generations.
" The things," says Paul to Timothy, the minister
of Ephesus, " that thou hast heard of me among
many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful
men, who shall be able to teach others also."* Some
of the epistles of Paul contain a delineation of the
form of those churches to the ministers of which he
writes, and directions concerning the conduct of the
several office-bearers, and concerning the exercise of
discipline. There can be no doubt that this form had
been established by his authority ; and it is natural
for all Christian churches to endeavour to show that
their ecclesiastical institutions do not depart far from
it. Yet it is nowhere said that this ought to be the
form of the church universal : and there are expres-
sions in the epistles of Paul which imply that Christ-
ians are allowed to use a prudent accommodation to
circumstances in matters of external order. The
spirit of Christianity calls our attention to things in-
finitely more important than the varieties of church
government. " The kingdom of God is not meat
and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in
the Holy Ghost :" f and those societies, whose insti-
tutions approach nearest to the apostolical practice,
have no warrant to condemn their brethren, who
have been led by a different progress of society to
establishments farther removed from it.

* 2 Tim. ii. 2. t Rom. xiv. 17-

VOL. I. 2 B


But amidst this difference in matters of order,
which the Scriptures do not condemn, there are
points resulting from the design of their institution
in which all churches ought to agree, otherwise they
are not the churches of Christ. They must acknow-
ledge him as their head and master, teaching no
other doctrine than that form of sound doctrine,
which is to be gathered from the writings of his
apostles. They must maintain that spiritual wor-
ship which he hath substituted in place of the idolatry
of the heathen, and the ceremonies of the Mosaic
dispensation ; and they must observe, according to
his institution, the ordinances which he hath esta-
blished in his church. We apply the word ordi-
nances or sacraments to baptism and the Lord's
Supper ; the first, a rite borrowed from the Jewish
custom of plunging into water the proselytes from
heathenism to the law of Moses, but consecrated by
the words of Jesus, and the universal practice of his
disciples, as the mode of admitting members into the
Christian society ; the second, a rite which origin-
ated in the affectionate leave which our Lord took
of his disciples at the domestic feast that followed
the celebration of the Jewish passover. The words
of the histitution, " As often as ye eat this bread
and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till
he come," imply that the Lord's supper is, by the ap-
pointment of Christ, a perpetual ordinance in the
Christian church, in which there is a thankful com-
memoration of the benefits purchased by his death ;
and the Scriptures lead us to entertain a very high
conception of the spiritual effects of this ordinance
with regard to those who partake of it worthily, by
calling it " the communion of the body and the blood


of Christ." * Baptism and the Lord's supper are the
external badges of the Christian profession, the rites
by which the author of the Gospel meant that the
society which he was to found should be distinguish-
ed from every other. They are most apposite to the
peculiar doctrines of his religion ; there is a simpli-
city and significancy in them which accords with the
whole character of the Gospel ; and, as they were
appointed by Jesus himself, no human authority is
entitled to add to their number, or to make any ma-
terial alteration upon the manner of their being ob-

Upon this account, we rank the right administra-
tion of Baptism and of the Lord's Supper, the preach-
ing the " faith once delivered to the saints," and the
maintenance of spiritual worship, as the marks of a
Christian church. We gather all the three marks
from the nature of such a society, and from several
places of Scripture ; and we find the three brouglit
into one view in the description, given in the book
of Acts, of the 3000 who were added to the number
of the disciples by the sermon, which Peter preach-
ed ten days after the ascension of Jesus. " Then
they that gladly received his word were baptized.
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doc-
trine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and
in prayers. "f

The Church of Christ, separated from the rest of
the world by these marks of distinction, is not set in
opposition to human government. But the Gospel,
without entering into any discussion of the claims

* 1 Cor. X. 16. t Acts ii. 41, 42.


made by subjects and their rulers, enforces obedi-
ence by the example of Jesus and of his apostles, and
by various precepts such as these, " Render unto
Caesar the things that are Caesar's." "Let every
soul be subject to the higher powers." *' Submit
yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's
sake." * The ministers of this religion, although
invested with a sacred character, and constitvited by
their master the spiritual rulers of that society, for
whose good they labour, are not entitled to assume,
in virtue of their office, any measure of civil power.
They are not the arbiters between the parties who
contend for dominion. But they co-operate with the
authority of government, by their prayers, by their
exhortations, and by the natural tendency of dis-
courses composed upon the true principles of Christ-
ianity, to diffuse a general spirit of industry, sobrie-
ty, and order. Upon this account they have receiv-
ed, in every Christian country, the protection of the
state ; and in these happy lands where we live, the
establishment of that form of Church government,
which was supposed to be most agreeable to the
inclinations of the people, is incorporated with the
civil constitution. The ministers of the establish-
ment have legal security for their livings. They
have, in critical times, by their influence over public
opinion, rendered very important services to their
country ; and, although that unwillingness to part
with any portion of their property, which is felt by
all the orders of the state, and which grows with
the progress of luxury, may prevent any great aug-

* Matt. xxii. 21. Rom. xiii. 1. 1 Pet. ii. 13.


mentation of the moderate provision which is made
for the ministers of our church, they cannot fail,
while they discharge their duty, to continue to re-
ceive the countenance, the support, and the indul-
gence of the legislature.




Out of the preceding view of the Scripture system,
there arise some general observations upon which I
wish to fix your attention, because I think they may
be of use in preparing your minds for the more par-
ticular discussions upon which we are to enter.

The first observation respects the importance of

This is a subject upon which, for the reason which
I mentioned in the outset, I have hitherto hardly
said any thing. The common method is, to place
what is called the necessity of revelation before the
evidences of it, and to argue from the necessity to
the probability of its having been given. But I
have always thought this an unfair and a presump-
tuous mode of arguing. It ajjpears to me, that we
are so little qualified to judge what is necessary, and
so little entitled to build our expectation of heavenly
gifts upon our own reasonings, that the only method
becoming our distance, and our ignorance of the di-
vine counsels, is first to establish the fact that a re-
velation has been given, and then to learn its im-
portance by examining its contents. Agreeably to

Online LibraryGeorge HillLectures in divinity (Volume 1) → online text (page 26 of 32)