Jun 13, 2013

1 John 5:20 - William Button

Mr. F. quotes another scripture of the same import with the former, 1 John 5:20, “He that believeth on the Son of God, hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God, hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.” You see the same distinction is here made as in the former passage between believing on Christ and believing Christ and God, though Mr. F. cannot see this distinction. You may here observe, who it is that hath made God a liar. It is not said he who believes not on the Son, but he who believes not the record God hath given of his Son. That is, as one expresses it, practically to slight, contemn, despise, reject or willfully neglect the word of God, and the record therein contained. But for a soul not to enjoy what God has not given, or not to be what God has not made him, does not make God a liar; and the dispute is not, whether that unbelief which is condemned in the scripture, be the work of men, and a wicked work? But whether a person not having a blessing, which never was given him, nor ever was in his power to obtain, be the wicked work intended” (Johnson’s Faith of God’s Elect, p. 171).

Let me now invite your attention to what is said in p. 28. “This view of faith seems to be plain and easy, and does not embarrass our minds with a number of words without ideas.” A handsome compliment to those who do not think Mr. F.’s account of faith so plain and easy as he does! Give me leave just to quote a few definitions others have given, and then to ask your opinion whether his reflection of “embarrassing the mind with a number of words without ideas” be just. Shall I call to your mind Mr. Polhill’s description of it, which I mentioned in my second letter; “precious faith is a grace of the Holy Spirit, whereby the heart supernaturally illuminated, doth so believe the testimony of God in the sacred scriptures, as in a way of trust or dependence to resign and yield up itself unto Jesus Christ as mediator, and in and through him unto God according to his word” (Precious Faith, p. 6). Does he embarrass the mind with a number of words without ideas? Again, let me cite Perkins; “faith is a gift, whereby we apprehend Christ and his benefits” (Perkins’s Works, vol. 2. p. 240). Does this good man embarrass our minds with a number of words without ideas?—Shall here also give you an extract from a confession of faith drawn up and signed by three Protestant bishops, and seven eminent clergymen, who were imprisoned in London for the gospel, shortly after the coronation of Mary. They say thus, Faith is not only an opinion, but a certain persuasion wrought by the Holy Ghost, which doth illuminate the mind, and supple the heart, to submit itself unfeignedly to God.” This was signed by Coverdale, bishop of Exeter, Farrar, bishop of St. David’s, Hooper, bishop of Worcester and Gloucester, with Taylor, Philpot, Bradford, Crome, Sanders, Rogers, and Lawrence (Toplady’s Hist. Proof. v. 1. p. 328, and v. 2., p. 384). Do these excellent men embarrass our minds with a number of words without ideas?—Dr. Gill, speaking of faith, says, “special and spiritual faith, to which salvation is annexed, is not of a man’s self, it does not owe its original to the creature—it is not of the law of works; for as the law is not of faith, so neither is faith of the law;--it is a blessing of the covenant of grace; the operation of the spirit of God; he produces it by his mighty power in the soul; he enlightens the mind, reveals the object, brings near Christ, his righteousness and salvation, and enables the sensible sinner to look to him, lay hold on him, and receive him as his saviour and redeemer” (Gill’s Serm. And Tracts, v. 1. p. 75-76). Does the Doctor here embarrass our minds with a number of words without ideas? I think these definitions are short and full, they are not, it is true, quite so concise as Mr. F.’s, which contains but five words, “the belief of the truth;” but then they are more full, and in my opinion much easier comprehended. Indeed this gentleman himself is obliged to employ several pages to explain his meaning, being sensible, I presume, such a definition could not be readily understood, and that people in common were very likely to remain in the dark about it. The foregoing accounts are self-evident, they are at once, without “embarrassing our minds with a number of words,” convey to us true and beautiful ideas, and, it appears to me, give us such ideas, that clearly demonstrate it cannot be the duty of unregenerate men to believe with a special faith in Christ. If the mind must be supernaturally illuminated—if it is a new covenant blessing—a special gift of God peculiar to the elect—wrought by the power of the Holy Ghost in the heart—consists in an apprehension and reception of Christ, and such an apprehension and reception as transform the soul into his image and likeness, and make him closely adhere to him for ever, and issue in everlasting life—surely it is absurd to the last degree to say it is the duty of all men to have it.

But respecting their duty in this matter, I shall be led more particularly to treat of in my next, when I propose giving you my sentiments of the second part of Mr. F.’s book. I shall now only in the general say, that if this faith be the duty of man, and required by the law, it is then undoubtedly a work; and when the apostle says, Eph. 2:8, By grace ye are saved, through faith, we must consider him as joining grace and works together, contrary to the general tenor of his epistles, which is to set for the freeness and the riches of grace in the salvation of sinners; as in Rom. 4:16 he says, “It is of faith that it might be by grace:” but if faith is a duty (and so a work) the apostle should rather have said, It is of faith that it might be by works; but since faith is a blessing of the covenant of grace, a fruit of electing grace, and the operation of the spirit of grace, there is a propriety and beauty in the apostle’s words.

I shall now conclude this epistle with the just observation of a late writer, “That the religion of Jesus Christ stands eminently distinguished, and essentially differenced, from every other religion that was ever proposed to human reception, by this remarkable peculiarity: that, look abroad in the world, and you will find that every religion, except one, puts you upon doing something in order to recommend yourself to God. A Mahometan expects to be saved by his works. A Papist looks to be justified by his works. A Free-willer hopes for salvation by his works, compliances, endeavours and perseverance. A Pagan, if he believes that there is a future state, expects to be happy hereafter, by virtue of the supposed good he does, and of the evil he leaves undone. A Mystic has the same hope, and stands on the same sad foundation. It is only the religion of Christ which runs counter to all the rest, by affirming that we are saved, and called with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to the Father’s own purpose and grace, which was (not sold to us on certain conditions to be fulfilled by ourselves, but was) given us in Christ before the world began” (Toplady’s Serm. on James 2:19, p. 49-50).

The Lord grant this religion may be more and more precious to both you and me.

I am

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