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SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE XLIV.
are offered to us on the terms of the gospel, which calls us to holiness and obedience. What design or contrivance have we to suspect? Even supposing that we are deceived into goodness, would not the advantage be our own, and would not the world be happier thereby? The conclusion is plain: righteousness and holiness are the only certain marks of regeneration. All other distinctions invented by men are marks only of spiritual pride.
JAMES, CHAP. III.-VERSE 17.
The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated: full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
THE gifts of the Holy Spirit are distinguishable into two kinds, being either extraordinary, and peculiar to some times and persons; and given, not for the sanctification of the men on whom they are bestowed, but for the edification of the church, which is the body of Christ: or they are common to all times of the gospel, and necessary to perfect the man of God in every good work; and therefore tendered to all who undertake the conditions of Christianity, according to the promise of God made through Christ Jesus. Of the first sort were those wonderful gifts bestowed on the Apostles, and first planters of Christianity, by which they were enabled to convey the knowlege of the salvation of God to men of all languages, and to convince the world by signs, and wonders, and mighty works, of the truth of their mission; and that the word by them spoken was the word of life, proceeding from him, whose power was made use of in confirmation of it.
That the gifts of this sort conveyed no sanctifying grace to the receiver, is evident from what St. Paul has taught us, 1 Cor. xiii. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowlege; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have no charity, I am nothing.' The supposition here made, that the exercise of these gifts may consist with a want
of charity, that is, with the want of the moral qualifications of a Christian, warrants the conclusion that these gifts do not convey the sanctifying grace of the gospel; and that they are given, not for the sake of the receivers, but for the sake of others, who through their ministry are to be converted to the knowlege of the truth. For this reason they were given, and for some time continued in the primitive church, to make way for the acknowlegement of Christ, and for the conviction of unbelievers; and may be again renewed whenever God shall think fit visibly to interpose in the farther propagation of his gospel in the heathen world.
It is manifest then that the Scripture ascribes to the Spirit of God a twofold operation in the work of the gospel. The first is that already mentioned, and is the supplying and furnishing motives of credibility, and proper means to establish the doctrine of faith. The second is that now to be considered in explaining the words of the text, to wit, the affording assistance and strength to all who undertake the conditions of the gospel, to perform them, and to render a service worthy of the gospel, and acceptable to our God and Saviour.
The wisdom mentioned in the text is described to be the 'wisdom that is from above,' that is, which is given or communicated from above. And in the first chapter the Apostle instructs us how to obtain it : 'If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him: but let him ask in faith.' And soon after he shows us on what grounds his advice stands : Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.'
The instruction given, that we should ask this wisdom 'in faith;' the reason assigned to support this faith, that with God is no variableness, neither shadow of turning;' do sufficiently show that the wisdom which we are encouraged to ask for is no other than the grace promised under the gospel for the declaration of God's purpose to give this wisdom, which is no where declared but in the gospel, must be supposed, before the immutability of his purpose can be alleged as a ground of hope and assurance to obtain the good gift by the prayer of faith.
By the word 'wisdom' then in the text, we must understand the grace of God promised in the gospel, and considered in Scripture as the ruling and governing principle in the disciples of Christ: that principle of holiness by which they are enabled to mortify the deeds of the flesh;' by which they do no sin, and are alive to righteousness;' elsewhere spoken of as 'the Spirit of Christ dwelling in them,' and by which their mortal bodies are quickened;' and described as so necessary to a Christian, that the Apostle to the Romans has affirmed, "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.'
This grace is called' wisdom' on the same account that the 'fear of the Lord' is said to be the beginning of wisdom;' because the wisdom of man consisteth in the obedience of God, in whose hand are the issues of life and death, and not on the account of any degrees of knowlege, either sacred or civil, which it is supposed to convey. The fruits ascribed to this wisdom in the text are all moral qualifications: it is pure, and peaceable, and gentle, full of mercy, and the like; of the learning and knowlege which proceed from it, we read nothing. The knowlege of mysteries, and things sacred, may be reckoned among the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, and are mentioned as such by St. Paul in the passage of his Epistle to the Corinthians already alleged: but he speaks of them as not necessarily inferring charity, and consequently as distinct gifts from that grace or wisdom, which is pure, and peaceable, and full of mercy.'
The gifts of the Spirit, considered with respect to the Author of them, and the motives inducing him to bestow them; are properly styled the grace of God;' for' of his own will begat he us with the word of truth,' and of his own will it is that he enableth us to run the course that is set before us: so that our confidence is, to use the language of St. Paul, 'that he which hath begun a good work in us will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.' But considered with respect to their influence on the receiver, they are, by St. James in the text, styled 'wisdom,' as correcting the depravity of nature, and enabling men to become wise unto salvation.'
The gifts of God are free, and he bestoweth them as seemeth best to his wisdom. If he gives to one more liberally than
to another, yet he who receives least has reason to be thankful, and no reason to demand an account of God of the unequal distribution of his favor. Were the gifts therefore of the Spirit to be considered as special favors only granted to some, we should not be obliged, by the terms of our religion, to render an account of God's proceeding herein. But the promise of the Spirit being general to all Christians, and represented in Scripture as the purchase of Christ's obedience to the will of his Father, and as a principle of new life, by which they who were dead in sin are made alive to righteousness; it is evident that we cannot account for our being Christians, without showing a reason for the necessity of grace to render our hopes and assurances of salvation effectual.
This is a point in which there is an essential difference between the gospel and mere natural religion; and it is consequent to another point of difference relating to the state and condition of mankind before the gospel. If men were in that state of original purity in which God must, in justice to his divine attributes, be supposed to have made them, it will be hard to say what grace was wanting to enable them to attain the end of their creation. If they have fallen from that state, and contracted a corruption not to be cured by natural means, it will be hard for any man to dispute against the grace of God, without having a reason to produce, that shall render it impossible, or proper, for God to redeem the world. For the fall of man supposed, it is more reasonable to think, because it is far more honorable to God, that he should destroy the power of sin by communicating a new principle of holiness, in order to the salvation of the world, than that he should honor sin so far as to render sinners both glorious and immortal. Since then there can be no redemption, but either by destroying sin, or by granting happiness to sinners, unreformed sinners, it is easy to judge which method is most suitable to the wisdom of God, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.
It will be one means of showing the necessity of grace, to show the effects ascribed to it in Scripture. For the Spirit of God is certainly given for the sake of those effects which were to be produced by it in true believers: and he that can prove that the same effects generally are, or may be, attained by the mere