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17 August, 2013

Faith - Spiritual Knowledge - Part 2

......You sent me a sermon upon the new birth, or regeneration, and you have several of mine on the same subject. I wish you to compare them with each other, and with the Scripture; and I pray God to show you wherein the difference consists, and on which side the truth lies.

When you desire me to reconcile God's being the author of sin with His justice, you show that you misunderstand the whole strain of my sentiments; for I am persuaded you would not misrepresent them. It is easy to charge harsh consequences, which I neither allow, nor, indeed, do they follow from my sentiments. God cannot be the author of sin in that sense you would fix upon me: but is it possible that, upon your plan, you find no difficulty in what the Scripture teaches us upon this subject? 

I conceive that those who were concerned in the death of Christ were very great sinners; and that, in nailing Him to the cross, they committed atrocious wickedness: yet, if the apostle may be believed, all this was according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, Acts ii. 28; and they did no more than what His hand and purpose had determined should be done, chap. iv. 28. And, you will observe, that this wicked act (wicked with respect to the perpetrators) was not only permitted, but foreordained in the strongest and most absolute sense of the word: the glory of God, and the salvation of men depended upon its being done, and just in that manner, and with all those circumstances, which actually took place; and yet Judas and the rest acted freely, and their wickedness was properly their own.

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Now, my friend, the arguments which satisfy you, that the Scripture does not present God as the author of this sin, in this appointment, will plead for me at the same time; and when you think you easily overcome me by asking, "Can God be the author of sin?" your imputation falls as directly upon the Word of God Himself. God is no more the author of sin, than the sun is the cause of ice; but it is in the nature of water to congeal into ice, when the sun's influence is suspended to a certain degree. So there is sin enough in the hearts of men to make the earth the very image of hell, and to prove that men are no better than incarnate devils were He to suspend His influence and restraint. Sometimes, and, in some instances, He is pleased to suspend it considerably; and, so far as He does, human nature quickly appears in its true colours. Objections of this kind have been repeated and refuted before either you or I were born; and the apostle evidently supposes they would be urged against His doctrine, when he obviates the question, Why doth He yet find fault? Who hath resisted His will? To which he gives no other answer than by referring it to God's sovereignty and the power which a potter has over the clay.

I think I have, in a former letter, made some reply to the charge of positiveness in my own opinion. I acknowledge that I am fallible; yet I must again lay claim to a certainty about the way of salvation. I am as sure of some things as of my own existence; I should be so, if there was no human creature upon earth but myself. However, my sentiments are confirmed by the suffrages of thousands who have lived before me, of many with whom I have personally conversed in different places and circumstances, unknown to each other; yet all have received the same views, because taught by the same Spirit. And I have, likewise, been greatly confirmed by the testimony of many with whom I have conversed in their dying hours.

 I have seen them rejoicing in the prospect of death, free from fears, breathing the air of immortality: heartily disclaiming their duties and performances acknowledging that their best actions were attended with evil sufficient to condemn them: renouncing every shadow of hope, but what they derived from the blood of Christ, as the sole cause of their acceptance; yet triumphing in Him over every enemy and fear, and as sure of Heaven as if they were already there. And such were the apostle's hopes, wholly founded on knowing whom He had believed, and his persuasion of His ability to keep that which he had committed unto Him. 

This is faith; a renouncing of every thing we are apt to call our own, and relying wholly upon the blood, righteousness, and intercession of Jesus. However, I cannot communicate this my certainty to you; I only tell you there is such a thing, in hopes, if you do not think I willfully lie both to God and man, you will be earnest to seek it from Him, who bestowed it on me, and who will bestow it upon all who will sincerely apply to Him, and patiently wait upon Him for it.

I cannot but wonder, that while you profess to believe the depravity of human nature, you should speak of good qualities inherent in it. The word of God describes it as evil, only evil, and that continually. That there are such qualities as stoics and infidels call virtue, I allow. God has not left man destitute of such dispositions as are necessary to the peace of society; but I deny there is any moral goodness in them, unless they are founded in a supreme love to God, have His glory for their aim, and are produced by faith in Jesus Christ. A man may give all his goods to feed the poor, and his body to be burned, in zeal for the truth, and yet be a mere nothing, a tinkling cymbal, in the sight of Him who seeth, not as man seeth, but judgeth the heart. 

Many infidels and avowed enemies to the grace and Gospel of Christ, have made a fair show of what the world calls virtue, but Christian virtue is grace, the effect of a new nature and new life; and works thus wrought in God, are as different from the faint partial imitations of them which fallen nature is capable of producing, as a living man is from a statue. A statue may express the features and lineaments of the person whom it represents, but there is no life.