I shall now enquire, taking up the subject in this sense,
I. What is implied in being saved?
II. How this salvation can be attained?
I shall not occupy any time in giving the various acceptations of the term salvation, or being saved; as I suppose it to apply here simply to the salvation of the soul; and shall only observe generally, that it signifies a being delivered from imminent danger, or impending ruin. The word therefore necessarily implies, 1. Danger, without which there could not be deliverance: and, 2. Salvation or deliverance from that danger.
The danger to which a soul is exposed, is that of dying in a state of sin, falling under the wrath of God, and perishing everlastingly. The cause of this danger is having sinned against God by breaking those laws, on the obedience of which God promises life and blessedness; and on the breach of which He threatens death, temporal and eternal. That all human souls have sinned and come short of the glory of God, I shall not wait here to prove; the Scriptures assert it; and it is incontrovertibly proved by matter of fact. That all come into the world with a disposition that strongly stimulates them to vice, and makes them averse from virtue, is not less evident. Hence it follows, that in consequence of their personal transgressions, they are exposed to endless punishment; and in consequence of their impure and unholy nature they are incapable of the enjoyment of eternal glory: these I judge to be truths, equally asserted by the Scriptures, and strongly corroborated by reason.
To be saved therefore, implies the being delivered from all the guilt of all sin or transgression; from all the power or influence of sin, so that it shall have no more dominion over them; and from all the impurity of all sin, so that the soul shall be a fit habitation of God through the Spirit; and be capable of an eternal union with Him in the realms of glory.
I shall not enter here into a consideration of the question, When are these different degrees of salvation to be attained? but only assume that maxim in which all Christians are agreed, that unless the soul in the day of the Lord be found saved from all the power, guilt, and contamination of sin, it cannot inherit an eternal state of glory.
Therefore the second question, the consideration of which is the chief object of this discourse, presses itself strongly on our notice, viz.
II. How can human beings who have sinned against God, by breaking His laws, and whose nature is depraved and polluted, be thus delivered, and thus saved? or, in other words, “How can a man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?” Job 25:4.
To effect this, five ways have been proposed by men; 1. By the law of works: or the merit of obedience to the law of God. 2. By works of supererogation; including voluntary sufferings, rigid discipline, severe austerities, uncommanded mortifications of the body; together with the patient endurance of the unavoidable miseries attendant on human life. 3. By penal sufferings in the life to come, such as those purgatorial fires, imagined by the church of Rome; and the pretended emendatory infernal punishments, which make a principal part of the doctrine both of the ancient and modern universal Restitutionists. 4. By the metempsychosis or transmigration of souls; as a portion of moral evil is supposed to be detached from them in each of the bodies which they successively animate. 5. By the mere benevolence of God, who may, it is affirmed, without any consideration except that of His own innate eternal goodness, pass by the sins of a transgressor, and bestow on him eternal glory.
These five, as far as I can recollect, include all the schemes of salvation which have been invented by man. Some of these profess to be derived directly from the Sacred Writings; others by implication from those writings; and others from reason, and the opinions of ancient philosophers.
As every thing which concerns the eternal state of the soul must be deemed of infinite importance; it will be necessary to examine the reasons of each of these proposed schemes, in order to see whether any of them be calculated to effect the purpose for which it is adopted; and afford a sure ground to support a sinner’s expectation of pardon and final glory. And if; on examination, these should be found either inefficient or inapplicable; whether the method proposed by St. Paul, in his answer to the jailor, viz.
Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, be free from the objections to which the others are liable; and whether it possesses such evidence of infallible efficiency, as may be justly deemed sufficient to vindicate the ways of God with man, and support the mighty expectations which the Sacred Writings authorize men to build upon it.
As each of these systems has its partisans and supporters, it will be necessary to examine them separately, considering in this examination, the principal reasons by which they appear to be respectively supported.
I. The first is, that man by sincere obedience to the law of God, may merit pardon and eternal life. 1. In order that a man may be obedient, or merit by obedience, or by works; there must be some rule of life or law, laid down and prescribed by his Maker, the precepts of which he is to fulfill, in order to claim the salvation referred to in the question. 2. It must appear that this law, or rule of life, has been so strictly, conscientiously, and universally observed, as to justify the claim founded on obedience to its precepts. 1. This law, or rule of life, must be found in the original state of man: or, in other words, that law which we may presume his Maker imposed on him when He gave him his being: for it would be absurd to suppose that God formed any intelligent beings without a law or rule of life, when we know that He formed them to show forth His glory: which they can do no otherwise than by exhibiting in actions, those virtues derived from the perfections of God. And those actions must be founded on some prescription or rule. No creature of God, whether intellectual, animate or inanimate, is without a law, rule of life, or prescribed mode of being, according to which it is governed, influenced, and exists; such laws being the source of harmony, order, and consistency in all the works of God.
What our blessed Lord calls the FIRST and greatest commandment, must be the law in question, viz. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” This law may be thus shortly paraphrased, “Thou shalt love God with all thy HEART;” all thy affections shall be fixed on and concentrated in Him. “Thou shalt love Him with all thy soul;” thy whole heart shall be devoted to Him: thou shalt consider Him the great object and end of thy being. “Thou shalt love Him with all thy MIND;” thy understanding shall be occupied with Him and His attributes: all thy intellectual as well as thy animal powers, shall be employed by Him, and for Him. He shall be the grand subject on which, through which, and in reference to which, all thy rational powers shall be incessantly employed. “Thou shalt love Him with all thy strength;” all these powers, at all times, to the utmost of their respective limits, and with the utmost of their separate energies, shall be employed in doing His will, and promoting His glory. No power or faculty shall ever be unemployed; and none shall ever be exerted but to show forth His excellencies and praise.
The very nature of man’s creation must show that this was the law or rule of life by which he was called to act. This law is suited to the nature of an intelligent being; and as man was made in the image and likeness of God, this law was suitable to his nature; and the principles of it must have been impressed on that nature. It was the law of man, or the rule to regulate his internal and external conduct, when he came from the hands of his Creator; when as yet he had neither associate nor descendant. When he had descendants, and society was formed, a second law, flowing from the first, was given him to regulate his spirit and conduct in reference to that society of which He was a part; and hence our Lord, with the strictest precision, adds, “The second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
There is no greater commandment than these; and on these hang all the law and the prophets;” both the law of Moses afterwards given, and all the declarations of the prophets, being founded on those grand principles, love to God, and love to man. And hence every promise, and every threatening in the whole book of God, relative to the merit and demerit of human actions.
Now, the obedience in question must be obedience to this law; and the salvation in question must be, if it be at all, the result of such an obedience as this law requires.
Let it be observed, that such a law, to such a being, can admit of no deviations; it requires a full, perfect, and universal obedience; and an obedience performed with all the powers and energies of body and soul. I have fixed on this original law, as demonstrably the most proper; and leave out of the consideration the Mosaic law, whether ritual, ceremonial, or moral; as well as all other laws or rules of life, derived or deducible from these. On this part of the question, it is by the law of his creation that man stands or falls. With what was given afterwards, the scheme of salvation, which is now under examination, has nothing to do.
Let it be observed also, that no being is capable of fulfilling such a law, unless its nature be entirely pure and holy; the slightest degree of moral imperfection, the smallest irregularity of passions or appetites, would taint the required sacrifice; and mar and ruin the service. As man came pure and perfect out of the hands of his Creator, he was capable of observing this law; to him, in this state, there was nothing difficult, nothing grievous.
He was made under this law; and He was made equal to it in all its requisitions and demands. Obedience to this was his duty; and we may add it must have been his delight; and that in which his happiness consisted; for no superior state of blessedness can be conceived: for He who loves God with all his powers, and serves him with all his energies, must be unutterably happy.
But does it follow that man, in this pure and perfect state, fulfilling at all times the sublime duty required by this law, could merit an eternal glory by his obedience? — No. For he is the creature of God; his powers belong to his Maker: He owes him all the services He can perform; and, when He has acted up to the utmost limits of his exalted nature, in obedience to this most pure and holy law, it will appear that he can make no demand on Divine justice for remuneration; he is, as it respects God, an unprofitable servant; he has only done his duty, and he has nothing to claim. In these circumstances, was not only man in Paradise, but also every angel and archangel of God. Throughout eternity, no created being, however pure, holy, submissive, and obedient, can have any demands on its Creator.
From Him its being was originally derived, and by Him that being is sustained; to Him, therefore, by right, it belongs and whatever He has made it capable of He has a right to demand. As well might the cause be supposed to be a debtor to the effect produced by it, as the Creator, in any circumstances, be a debtor to the creature.
To merit salvation, is to give an equivalent for eternal glory: for; if a man can be saved by his works, his claim is on Divine justice; and if justice make a commutation of eternal glory for obedience, then this obedience must be in merit, equal to that glory. Justice demands what is due; it can require no more; it will take no less. Man’s obedience therefore, performed in time, which, however long, is only a moment when compared to eternity, must be considered, on this doctrine, equal in worth to the endless and utmost beatification which God can confer on an intelligent being, which is absurd. Therefore no being, by obedience in time, can merit an eternal glory.
Again, to merit any thing from God, we must act as beings independent of Him, and give Him that on which He has no legal claim; for as we cannot purchase one part of a man’s property, by giving him another part of his own property; so we cannot purchase from God any thing that is His own, by that to which He has an equal claim. To merit glory, therefore, a man must not only act independently of God, but also with powers and energies of which God is neither author nor supporter; for the powers which He has created, and which He upholds, are already His own; and to their utmost use and service He has an indefeasible right. Now, man is a derived and dependent creature; has nothing but what he has received; cannot even live without the supporting energy of God; and can return Him nothing that is not his own; and therefore can merit nothing. On this ground also, the doctrine of salvation by the merit of works, is demonstrably both impossible and absurd.
Once more, to perform acts infinitely meritorious, man must have powers commensurate to such acts: to merit infinitely, requires infinite merit in the acts; and infinite merit in the acts requires unlimited powers in the agent; for no being of limited and finite powers, can perform acts of infinite worth: but man, in his best estate, is a being of limited powers, wholly dependent, even for these, on the energy of another; consequently, cannot perform acts of infinite worth; and therefore can in no way whatever merit, by his obedience or his works, that infinite and eternal weight of glory of which the Scriptures speak. On the ground, therefore, of the dependent and limited powers of man, the doctrine of final glorification, by the merit of works, is self-contradictory, impossible, and absurd.
All the preceding reasoning is founded on the supposition that man is in a state of purity; having never fallen from original righteousness, and never sinned against his Creator: and even in those circumstances we find that his pure and spotless obedience cannot purchase an endless glory.
But, we must now consider him in his present circumstances; fallen from God; destitute of that image of God, righteousness and true holiness, in which he was created; and deeply guilty through innumerable transgressions. To him, in this state, the question, “What must I do to be saved?” is of infinite importance; as, through his sinfulness, he is unfit for heaven: and, through his guilt, exposed to the bitter pains of an eternal death. In his mouth, the question resolves itself into several:
1. How shall I be delivered from the power of sin, that it may no longer have dominion over me? 2. How shall I be delivered from the guilt of sin, that it may no longer oppress my tortured conscience? 3. How shall I be delivered from the pollution of sin, and be prepared for, and entitled to, everlasting glory?
Will any man say to this alarmed and despairing sinner, “Thou must purchase thy pardon, and the kingdom of heaven, by a life of righteousness: God requires obedience to His law; and that, joined to sincere repentance, will induce Him to forgive thy iniquities, and admit thee at last to His eternal glory.” Of what avail are such sayings? can this satisfy his soul, or quiet the clamors of his tormented conscience? He feels himself incapable of any good; his inward parts are very wickedness; and, though he can will that which is right, yet how to perform it, he finds not.
Can even fond hope lay comfortable hold on such directions as these? But, as this question is too important to admit of hasty and unauthorized conclusions; we must examine the ground of the hope which is held out on these terms.
Though man’s state has changed, his duty is not changed; he is still under the same law; it is as much his duty now to “love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength,” as it was the first moment he came out of the hands of his Creator. What was his duty then, must be his duty through the whole course of his being. To fulfill this original law, required a pure and holy soul, untainted by sin, and unbiased by iniquity. But, instead of a heart filled with holiness and love, he has now that carnal mind which is enmity to God; a mind that is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. To him, therefore, this obedience is utterly impossible; he cannot cleanse his own infected nature; and he cannot undo the criminal acts which he has already committed; and, having broken the Divine law, the wrath of God abideth on him. We have already proved that the most pure and perfect obedience cannot purchase glory; and the same arguments will prove, that the most perfect obedience cannot purchase pardon. Man owes every moment of his existence, and the full and constant exercise of all his powers, unto God. Could he even now live as pure and as perfect as an archangel, this would be no more than his duty; and, in point of duty, it would only be available for the time in which it was done; for, as every creature owes to its Creator the utmost service it can possibly perform through every moment of its being; therefore this obedience does not merit any thing in reference to the future: and if it have sinned, cannot atone for the past: the time in which it has sinned, must stand as an eternal blank, in which all its obedience was due, and in which none was performed. The non-performance of its duty, is such a high degree of criminality, as to obliterate its title to the Divine protection, support, and happiness; and the sins which it has committed, instead of obedience, have exposed it to all the penalties of the laws which it has broken.
It appears, therefore, that even granting this fallen creature could live, from the present, a life of unspotted holiness; yet this could be considered in no other light than merely the obedience due to the Creator, and could have no tendency to blot out past transgressions. There is, therefore, no hope to any sinner from the doctrine of justification, or salvation by works. And, taken in any point of view, it is demonstrable, that no obedience to God, even from the most perfect creature, can merit any thing and that works of merit, and works of supererogation, are equally impossible and absurd: none can do more than he ought; and none, by doing his duty, can have claims upon his Maker.
I need add nothing here, except the testimony of our own church, in her 13th article, where she says, “works done before the grace of Christ, and the inspiration of His Spirit, are not pleasant to God; forasmuch as they are not of faith in Jesus Christ; neither do they make men meet to receive grace; or, (as the school authors say,) deserve grace of congruity: yea, rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.” That this doubt of our pious reformers was legitimately founded, has been sufficiently demonstrated in the preceding reasonings.
II. The second scheme of salvation is founded on works of supererogation, voluntary and involuntary sufferings, etc. By supererogation, I mean doing more than is required; being more obedient than the law of God demands, and thus forming a stock of extra-meritorious acts; so that a man has not only enough for himself, but has a fund of merits, which a certain church professes to have the power to dispense to those who have few or none.
On the preceding point I have proved that it is impossible for any created dependent being to do more than its duty; how pure and holy soever that creature may be: and under the same head, it is proved that no fallen creature, in its lapsed state, can even perform its duty without supernatural and gracious assistance and, consequently, that the doctrine of works of supererogation is chimerical and absurd. On this part of the scheme there is, therefore, no necessity to extend the argument. Another testimony from our church, article 14th, will set this matter in a strong light: “Voluntary works beside, over and above God’s commandments, which they call works of supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety: for, by them men do declare, that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do; but that they do more, for His sake, than of bounden duty is required: whereas Christ saith plainly, ‘ When ye have done all that are commanded of you, say, We are unprofitable servants.’ The arrogancy and impiety, and we may add the ignorance, manifested by this doctrine are truly without parallel.
What remains to be considered, is the merit of sufferings; their capability to atone for sin, and their tendency to purify the soul.
I presume it will he taken for granted that there was no suffering in the world previously to the introduction of sin: suffering is an imperfection in nature; and a creature, in a state of suffering, is imperfect because a miserable creature. If an intelligent creature be found in a state of suffering, and of suffering evidently proceeding from the abuse of its powers; it necessarily supposes that such creature has offended God, and that its sufferings are the consequence of its offense, whether springing immediately from the crime itself, or whether inflicted by Divine justice as a punishment for that crime. As sufferings in the animal being are the consequence of derangement or disease in the bodily organs, they argue a state of mortality; and experience shows that they are the predisposing causes of death and dissolution. Derangement and disease, by which the regular performance of natural functions is prevented, and the destruction of those functions ultimately effected, never could have existed in animal beings, as they proceeded from the hand of an all-perfect and intelligent Creator. They are, therefore, something that has taken place since creation; and are demonstrably contrary to the order, perfection, and harmony of that creation; and consequently did not spring from God. As it would be unkind, if not unjust, to bring innumerable multitudes of innocent beings into a state of suffering or wretchedness; hence the sufferings that are in the world, must have arisen from the offenses of the sufferers. Now, if sin have produced suffering, is it possible that suffering can destroy sin? We may answer this question by asking another: Is it possible that the stream produced from a fountain can destroy the fountain from which it springs?
Or, is it possible that any effect can destroy the cause of which it is an effect? Reason has already decided these questions in the negative. Ergo, suffering, which is the effect of sin, cannot possibly destroy that sin of which it is the effect. To suppose the contrary, is to suppose the grossest absurdity that can possibly disgrace the understanding of man.
Whether these sufferings be such as spring necessarily out of the present constitution of nature; and the morbid alterations to which the constitution of the human body is liable from morbidly increased or decreased action: or whether they spring, in part, from a voluntary assumption of a greater share of natural evil than ordinarily falls to the lot of the individual, the case is not altered; still they are the offspring and fruit of sin; and, as its effects, they cannot destroy the cause that gave them birth.
It is essential, in the nature of all effects, to depend on their causes; they have neither being nor operation but what they derive from those causes; and, in respect to their causes, they are absolutely passive. The cause may exist without the effect; but the effect cannot subsist without the cause: to act against its cause is impossible, because it has no independent being, nor operation; by it, therefore, the being or state of the cause can never be affected. Just so sufferings, whether voluntary or involuntary, cannot affect the being or nature of sin, from which they proceed. And, could we for a moment entertain the absurdity, that they could atone for, correct, or destroy the cause that gave them being, then we must conceive an effect wholly dependent on its cause for its being, rise up against that cause, destroy it, and yet still continue to be an effect, when its cause is no more!
The sun, at a particular angle, by shining against a pyramid, projects a shadow, according to that angle, and the height of the pyramid. The shadow, therefore, is the effect of the interception of the sun’s rays, by the mass of the pyramid. Can any man suppose that this shadow would continue well defined, and discernible, though the pyramid were annihilated, and the sun extinct? — No. For the effect would necessarily perish with its cause. So, sin and suffering; the latter springs from the former: sin cannot destroy suffering, which is its necessary effect; and suffering cannot destroy sin which is its producing cause: Ergo, salvation by suffering is absurd, contradictory, and impossible.
III. Penal sufferings, in a future state, are supposed by many to be sufficiently efficacious to purge the soul from the moral stains contracted in this life; and to make an atonement for the offenses committed in time.
This system is liable to all the objections urged against the preceding, and to several others peculiar to itself: for, if there had not been sin, there had not been punishment. Penal sufferings, inflicted by Divine justice, are the desert of the crimes which require justice to inflict such punishments. If the sufferings inflicted by this Divine justice be supposed to be capable of annihilating the cause for which they are inflicted; if they annihilate the cause, they must be greater than that cause, and consequently unjust; because, in that case, the punishment would be greater than the offense.
Such penal inflictions could not proceed from a righteous God.
But the ground of this system is absurd: we have no evidence from Scripture or reason, that there are any emendatory punishments in the eternal world.
The state of probation certainly extends only to the ultimate term of human life. We have no evidence, either from Scripture or reason, that it extends to another state. There is not only a deep silence on this, in the Divine records; but, there are the most positive declarations against it. In time and life, the great business relative to eternity is to be transacted. On passing the limits of time, we enter into eternity; this is the unchangeable state. In that awful and indescribable infinitude of incomprehensible duration, we read of but two places or states; Heaven and Hell; glory and misery: endless suffering, and endless enjoyment. In these two places, or states, we read of but two descriptions of human beings: the saved and the lost; between whom there is that immeasurable gulf, over which neither can pass. In the one state we read of no sin, no imperfection, no curse: there, all tears are for ever wiped away from off all faces; and the righteous shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” In the other, we read of nothing but “weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth;” of “the worm that dieth not;” and of “the fire which is not quenched.” Here, the effects and consequences of sin appear in all their colorings, and in all their consequences. Here, no dispensation of grace is published; no offers of mercy made; the unholy are unholy still; nor can the circumstances of their case afford any means by which their state can be meliorated; and we have already seen, that it is impossible that sufferings, whether penal or incidental, can destroy that cause, (sin,) by which they were produced.
Besides, could it be even supposed that moral purgation could be effected by penal sufferings, which is already proved to be absurd, we have no evidence of any such place as purgatory, in which this purgation can be effected: it is a mere fable, either collected from spurious and apocryphal writings, canonized by superstition and ignorance; or it is the offspring of the deliriums of pious visionaries, early converts from heathenism, from which they imported this part of their creed: there is not one text of Scripture, legitimately interpreted, that gives the least countenance to a doctrine, as dangerous to the souls of men, as it has been gainful to its inventors: so that, if such purgation were possible, the place where it is to be effected cannot be proved to exist. Before, therefore, any dependance can be placed on the doctrine raised on this supposition, the existence of the place must be proved; and the possibility of purgation in that place demonstrated. The opinion of our own church on this, and its kindred doctrines, should be heard with respect: “The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardons, worshipping, and adoration, as well of images as of reliques, and also invocation of saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture; but rather repugnant to the word of God.” — Article xxii.
As to the atonement which is to be made to Divine justice, by enduring the torments of the damned, for ages numerable or innumerable, it is not found in the letter of the Divine oracles, nor by any fair critical deduction from that letter. Purgatory, professing to be an intermediate place, previously to its examination, has a sort of claim on our attention; but when this profession is examined, it is found to be as unreal a mockery, as the limbus [border, hem] of vanity, from which its ideal existence has sprung. But the doctrine of the final extinction of the fire that is not quenched, and the final restoration of all lapsed intelligences, has no such claims; it appears before us as a formal contradiction of every scripture which relates to that awful subject; founding itself on meanings which have been extracted from Greek and Syriac words, by critical torture; and which others, as wise as the appellants, have proved these words, in such connections, cannot bear.
But we must take up, and view this subject in another light. We have already seen that every intelligent being owes the full exercise of all its powers to its Creator, through the whole extent of its being: and if such creature do not love and serve God with all its heart, soul, mind, and strength, through the whole compass of its existence, it fails in its duty, and sins against the law of its creation. Now, it cannot be said, that beings, in a state of penal sufferings, under the wrath and displeasure of God, (for, if they suffer penally, they must be under that displeasure,) can either love or serve Him. Their sufferings are the consequences of their crimes, and can form no part or their obedience. Therefore, all the ages in which they suffer, are ages spent in sinning against this first and essential law of their creation; and must necessarily increase the aggregate of their demerit, and lay the eternally successive necessity of continuance in that place and state of torment. Thus it is evident, that t his doctrine, so specious and promising at its first appearance, is essentially defective; and contains in itself the seeds of its own destruction. Besides, if the fire of hell could purify from sin, all the dispensations of God’s grace and justice among men must have been useless; and the mission of Jesus Christ most palpably unnecessary; as all that is proposed to be effected by His grace and Spirit might be, (on this doctrine,) effected by a proportionate continuance in hell-fire: and there, innumerable ages are but a point in reference to eternity; and any conceivable or inconceivable duration of these torments, is of no consequence in this argument, as long as, at their termination, an eternity still remains.
This system, therefore, can give no consolatory answer to the question, “What shall I do to be saved?” as it is itself essentially destitute of evidence; deficient in the validity of its adduced proofs; and, consequently, incapable of affording conviction to the enquiring mind.