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This is an opinion highly derogatory to the glory of God, and opens a door to licentiousness, in a variety of instances; the contrary to which, is contained in the answer we are now explaining.
For the understanding whereof, let it be considered; that it is one thing for a sin to deserve the wrath and curse of God, and another thing for the sinner to be liable and exposed to it. The former of these arises from the heinous nature of sin, and is inseparable from it; the latter is inconsistent with a justified state. Nothing can take away the guilt of sin, but the atonement made by Christ; and that forgiveness or freedom from condemnation, which God is pleased to bestow as the consequence thereof, Rom. viii. 1, 33. It is this that discharges a believer from a liableness to the wrath and curse of God. Though one sin be greater than another, by reason of various circumstances that attend, or are contained in it, as was observed under the last answer: yet the least sin must be concluded to be objectively infinite, as it is committed against a God of infinite perfection, since all offences are great in proportion to the dignity of the person against whom they are committed. Thus the same sin that is committed against an inferior, or an equal, which deserves a less degree of punishment, if it be committed against a king, may be so circumstanced, as that it will be deemed a capital offence, and render the criminal guilty of high treason; though, at the same time, no real injury is done to, but only attempted against him. In like manner we must conclude, that though it be out of our own power to injure or detract from the essential glory of the great God; yet every offence committed against him is great, in proportion to his infinite excellency; and is therefore said to deserve his wrath and curse. Wrath or anger, when applied to God, is not to be considered as a passion in him, as it is in men ; but denotes his will to punish sin committed, which takes its first rise from the holiness of his nature, which is infinitely opposite to it. And the degree of punishment that he designs to inflict, is contained in his law; which, as it denounces threatnings against those who' violate it, the sinner is hereby said to be exposed to the curse or condemning sentence thereof, agreeably to the rules of justice, and the nature of the offence. This is what we are to understand, in this answer, by sin's deserving the wrath and curse of God.
And this is farther considered, as what extends itself to this life, and that which is to come. Punishments inflicted in this life, are but the beginning of miseries; but they are sometimes inexpressibly great, as the Psalmist says, Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fee,
so is thy wrath, Psal. xc. 11. Sometimes there is but a very short interval between sin and the punishment; as in the case of Nadab and Abihu, Korah, and his company, Achan, and many others; whereas, at other times, it is long deferred; nevertheless, it will fall with great weight, at last, on the offender. Thus God sometimes punishes the sin of youth in old age; and when a greater degree of guilt has been contracted, writes bitter things against them, Job xiii. 26. But the greatest degree of punishment is reserved for sinners in another world; which is styled the wrath to come, 1 Thess. i. 10. But these things having been insisted on in some foregoing answers *, we shall add no more on that head; but proceed to what is farther observed, viz. that this punishment cannot be expiated any otherwise than by the blood of Christ. This is fitly inserted after the account we have had of man's liableness to the wrath of God, by reason of sin: for when we have an afflicting sense of the guilt we have exposed ourselves to, nothing else will afford us relief.
The next thing to be considered is, how it may be removed, or by what means the justice of God may be satisfied, and an atonement made for sin. This is said to be done no other way but by the blood of Christ, as has been considered elsewhere, under a foregoing answer; in which we endeavoured to prove the necessity of Christ's making satisfaction, and the price that he paid in order thereto f. We have also considered the fruits and effects thereof, as it has a tendency to remove the guilt of sin, and procure for us a right to eternal life: Therefore, we shall pass over the consideration thereof in this place; only we may observe, that, since this can be brought about by no other means but Christ's satisfaction; it is not inconsistent with what is contained in the following words, if rightly un derstood by us, to assert that God requires of us, repentance, faith, and a diligent attendance on the outward means of grace; though we must not conclude them to be the procuring cause of our justification, or a means to expiate sin. They are certainly very much unacquainted with the way of salvation by Christ, as well as the great defects of their repentance and faith, who suppose, that God is hereby induced to pardon our sins, or deliver us from the wrath we have deserved thereby ; nevertheless, we are not to think, that impenitent unbelieving sinners have a right to determine that they are in a justified state, or have ground to claim an interest in the benefits of Christ's redemption. Therefore, these graces are necessary to
See Vol. II. Quest. XXVIII, XXIX, and Vol. III. Quest. LXXXIX.
See Vol. II. Quest. XLIV. Page 273–290.
See Quest. Ixx, lexi. Vol. III. p. 66-96. and what was said under those answers, to explain the doctrine of justification.
evince our interest in what he has done and suffered for us, and they are inseparably connected with salvation; though they do not give us a right and title to eternal life, as Christ's righteousness doth. We have, in two foregoing answers, given a particular account of repentance and faith. Concerning repentance, we have observed, that it is a special saving grace, wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, and have shewn in what way he works it; and also the difference between legal and evangelical repentance, as the former is often found in those who are destitute of the latter. We have considered the various acts of repentance unto life; what the objects and acts of saving faith are; and how it differs from that which is not so; and the use of this grace, in the whole conduct of our lives, and how it gives life and vigour to all other graces, and enables us to perform duties in a right manner f. Therefore we shall not insist on this subject at present, but only speak of repentance and faith as means appointed by God, in order to our attaining compleat salvation.
The means conducive hereunto, are either internal or external; the former of these are inseparably connected with salvation; so that none, who repent and believe, shall perish, John iii. 16. These graces, together with all others, that accompany or flow from them, are the fruits and effects of Christ's mediation; and therefore they are sometimes called saving graces. As they are wrought in the hearts of believers, and have a reference to salvation; they may be truly styled internal means of salvation; and, as such, they are distinguished from those outward and ordinary means of grace, by which God is pleased to work them. And these are the ordinances which we are diligently to attend on, in hopes of attaining those graces under them, till God is pleased to give success to our endeavours, and work grace under these means; the efficacy whereof, is wholly owing to his power, and is to be resolved into his sovereign will.
This may be fitly illustrated by what is said concerning the poor, impotent, blind, halt, and withered persons, waiting at the pool of Bethesda, for the angels troubling the water; after which, he that first stepped in, was made whole, John v. 2-4. Nevertheless, we do not find that every one who waited there embraced the first opportunity, and received a cure; for some were obliged to wait many years; and if they were made whole at last, they had no reason to think their labour iost. This may be applied to those who have the means of grace. Many sit under them who receive no saving advantage thereby, till God is pleased, in his accepted time, to work those
* See Quest. lxxvi. Vol. III. p. 166.
See Quest. Ixxii. lxxiii. Vol. II p. 98.
graces which render these ordinances effectual to salvation. This blessed success attending them, is from God; he could, indeed, save his people without them, as he converted Paul, when going to Damascus, with a design to persecute the church there; being not only unacquainted with, but prejudiced against the means of grace. But this is not God's 01dinary method. He has put an honour on his own institutions, so as to render it necessary for us to pray, wait and hope for saving blessings, in attending on them. Thus when he promises to put his Spirit within his people, and cause them to walk in his statutes, he adds; yet for this will I be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them, Ezek. xxxvi. 27, 37. accordingly we are commanded to seek the Lord while he may be found, and to call upon him while he is near, Isa. lv. 6. Hereby we testify our approbation of that method which he has ordained for the application of redemption; and by our perseverance therein, as determining not to leave off waiting till we have obtained the blessing expected, we proclaim the valuableness thereof, and subscribe to the sovereignty of God, in dispensing those blessings to his people, which they stand in need of, as well as pray and hope for them in his own time and way. Thus we are to wait on the means of grace.
And it is farther observed, that this is to be done with diligence; not in a careless and indifferent manner, as though we neither expected nor desired much advantage from them. This implies in it an embracing every opportunity, and observing. those special seasons, in which God is pleased, in his gospel, to hold forth the golden sceptre of grace; as also our having earnest desires and raised expectations of obtaining that grace from him which he encourages us to wait and hope for (a).
(a) To affect to honour the mercy of God, by supposing this is sufficient for all our sins, however persevered in, is to disparage his truth which has proposed terms of mercy, connected our salvation with them, and pronounced them exclusive. It is to imagine that Deity shall change his purposes; it is an affront to his wisdom to suppose that after he has placed us in a state of probation and made us accountabic, no retribution should be made. It indicates insincerity, and not a real regard for the divine glory, to set up such a substitute for the gospel scheme of salvation.
To excuse sin by alleging our impotency to good, is disingenuous; because the party can be coaseious of no obstacle, unless his own inclinations to evil can ne so denominated. This excuse casts the blame on God. To persist in sin inder such pretences, is to do evil that good may come, which, the Apostle of the Gentiles declares renders condemnation just; it is to sin that grace may abound. To defer the acceptation of offered mercy, and put off the work of repentance, is unwise, as it is heaping sorrows against the day of bitterness; it is imprudent, because it is to remain at enmity with Him upon whom we depend, and to be liable at every moment of this uncertain life to be involved in everlasting despair. It is evidence of a very sordid mind to prefer the base gratifications of the senses, to the refined pleasures of virtue, and the beauty, peace, and comforts of boliness.
Which leads us to speak particularly concerning those outward means, as contained in the following answer.
QUEST. CLIV. What are the outward means whereby Christ. communicates to us the benefits of his mediation?
ANSW. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are, all his ordinances; especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
IN explaining this answer, we shall consider,
I. What we are to understand by the ordinances, which are here styled outward and ordinary means of grace. The first idea contained in them is, that they are religious duties, prescribed by God, as an instituted method, in which he will be worshipped by his creatures; but that which more especially denominates them to be ordinances, is, the promise which he has annexed to them of his special presence, and the encouragement that he has given to his people in attending on them, to hope for those blessings that accompany salvation. As God works grace by, and under them, they are called means of grace; and because he seldom works grace without first inclining persons to attend on him therein, and wait for
If the procrastination proceed from a dread of the labour of acquiring the knowledge of the truth, this will be increased by every hour's delay, as the mind becomes thereby the less susceptible of religious impressions. The time in which the work should be accomplished also becomes the shorter; like a traveller, who has mistaken his course, the impenitent has every step to tread back again, and his time is proportionally curtailed. The truths of natural science flatter our pride and ambition, but those of religion humble and crucify them; the fatter, being opposed to the carnal mind, disgust; if such disgust produce a delay of conversion, the truths which have once excited such aversion will be more likely afterwards to do it, because the mind by once having rejected them has become more sensual, and opposed to moral good.
The cares and business of life not merely pre-occupy the mind, and exclude the thoughts of religion, but augment our addictedness to earthly objects, and render progressively the mind more insensible to lessons of piety. In old age avarice or sensuality are often at the highest pitch; the man has become more impatient and irritable, tenacious even of his errours, and averse to changes, ro change can be looked for but the great one, when the messenger arrives, who brings a scythe in his hand.
To defer conversion till death, that its terrors may dissolve the charms of the world, besides the hazard of surprise, is unreasonable, as it supposes mercy when we have persisted in rebellion as long as we can; it is to expect that God's Spirit shall always strive with man; it is highly presumptuous; and it exposes also to self-deception, as religion in that late hour must be the effect of necessity. and destitute of the fruits and proof of holiness.