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words, whereby he and all his house should be saved,” Acts xi. 14. Our Lord tells the Jews : « These things I say, that ye might be saved,” John v. 34. Zachariah prophesying over John the Baptist says: “ Thou shalt go before the face of the Lord, to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation, by the remission of their sins,” Luke i. 77. And the evangelist Mark assures us, that after his resurrection our Lord said to the Apostles: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved. And he that believeth not shall be damned,” Mark xvi. 15, 16.
III. We should now observe the truth and certainty of this : that he who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, shall have knowledge of the way of salvation : or know what he ought to do in order to be saved. And if he attend to the instructions contained in the doctrine of Christ, he shall be saved.
1. This is evident from the doctrine itself: for it teaches men how they may approve themselves to God, the creator and governor of the world : on whom we depend for all our happiness both here and hereafter.
Men are here taught to repent, and then to bring forth fruits meet for repentance, or to walk becoming the character of Christ's disciples. Upon these conditions they are assured of forgiveness of past sins, and the favour of God.
Men are instructed to love God with all the heart, and their neighbours as themselves : and to do to others as they would that others should do to them. They are required to be holy in all manner of conversation : to abstain not from some sins only, but from all: to perform all the duties of their station and condition. And they are instructed to be careful about the frame of their minds, and to govern their thoughts and affections.
Are not these, and other things contained in the gospel of Christ, excellent rules? Is not this true religion? Does it not appear very likely and reasonable, at first sight, and after mature consideration, that this should be the right way of men's approving themselves to God? and that such should be prepared for a future happiness? They who have this perfection of sincerity, though not the perfection of innocence, cannot be finally rejected of God; but will certainly be accepted and rewarded by him.
2. We know, that this is the way of salvation from many express assurances of Christ and his apostles.
John iii. 16. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him, might not perish, but have everlasting life.” Ver. 24. “He that heareth my words, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation,” ch. viii. 12. “Then spake Jesus unto them again : I am the light of the world. He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness : but shall have the light of life.” And says John the apostle and evangelist, near the conclusion of his gospel : “ These things are written, that ye might believe, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name,” John xx. 21.
Therefore the will of God, taught by Christ and his apostles, is called the “word of life," Philip. ii. 16. And “the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation,” Eph. i. 13. Soon after the ascension of Jesus, the apostles were imprisoned by the Jewish rulers: but were delivered by an angel, who said, “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life,” Acts v. 20. And they who rejected this doctrine are said to “judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life,” ch. xiii. 46.
3. We are farther assured of the truth of what our Lord and his apostles taught from the con. firmation given to their doctrine by the miracles wrought by them: works of divine power, and manifest tokens of the divine presence with them, and concurrence with them in their design.
No men could do such things “if God was not with them,” John iii. 2. Our Lord was a prophet, "mighty in word and deed, before God and all the people,” Luke xxiv. 19. Or, as St. Peter says, at the house of Cornelius, a gentile, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost, and with power: who went about, healing all that were oppressed of the devil. For God was with him," Acts x. 38. He had “the Spirit without measure,” John iji. 34. And from him also the apostles received grace to accomplish the ministry assigned to them. They were enlightened themselves, and they taught the truth to others with perspicuity. “The Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word with signs following,” Mark xvi. 20.
Beside their miraculous works of divine power, we might observe their divine temper : the
spotless innocence of Jesus, and the shining virtue of his apostles : their meekness, patience, indefatigable and disinterested zeal. Whence we may be assured, they thought as they said : and were firmly persuaded, that the word they taught was from heaven, and that whosoever received it and obeyed it would be saved.
4. They who receive this doctrine are in the way of salvation : for it contains motives and considerations of great moment, to induce men to follow and obey its precepts.
Here life and immortality are set in a clear and engaging light. We are mightily animated and encouraged by the perfect example, the willing death, and the triumphant resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. And in the glory set before us, by him and his gospel, there is what may overbalance all the influence of present and sensible things, and assist us in overcoming this world, and all its temptations.
5. To which I may add one consideration more, as an evidence of this truth : this doctrine contains some instructions which must be of singular use to us in our present circumstances.
Here are not only the necessary, reasonable precepts of true holiness : but also some excellent directions, yery expedient for us in our state of frailty: whilst we are imperfect, and are surrounded with snares. “Watch and prav, that ye enter not into temptation, and be not overcome of evil. Let your loins be girded, and your lights burning: and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord. Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Be diligent, that ye may be found of him in peace.”
These considerations amount to a full proof of this truth: and shew, that they who attend to this doctrine canot fail of salvation. The rule is right and infallible, if observed. And it is of such a nature, that they who know it, and think of it, must be forcibly engaged to act according to it. As St. Paul says: “ The gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth,” Rom. i. 16.
THE GOSPEL THE TRUE WAY OF SALVATION.
And they said : Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ : and thou shalt be saved,
and thy house. Acts xvi. 31.
Iy discoursing on these words; I have already shewn what is to be understood, both here and elsewhere; by believing in Jesus Christ: or the nature of faith in him. Next, the benefit here proposed and promised, which is salvation. And thirdly, the connection between faith in Jesus Christ, and salvation, with the evidence of it.
IV. I now intend to mention some inferences by way of application.
1. We perceive from the history before us, that affecting awakening occurrences in life are sometimes of great use to men.
The keeper of the prison at Philippi by the shaking of the prison, and the loosening of the bands of all under his charge, was brought into great distress of mind : supposing that the prisoners had escaped, and fearing the displeasure of his superiors. But that distress was useful. He was brought to serious thoughts of religion, and a concern for eternal salvation, and how to obtain it.
The Lord was pleased to render the conversion of Saul very affecting, who was to be an instrument in converting many others, and who was likely to meet with many difficulties in the discharge of the office for which he was designed. As he was journeying to Damascus, Acts ix. in the company of others, with a design to apprehend all whom he should find there, that called upon the name of Jesus: “suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven, insomuch that he fell to the earth : and then heard a voice saying unto him: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said : Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said: I am Jesus whom thou per:
secutest. And he trembling and astonished, said: Lord, what wilt thou have me to do ?” Much after the same manner with the gaoler at Philippi: “Sirs, what shall I do to be saved ? And the Lord said unto him : Arise, go into the city; and it shall be told thee what thou 'must do—” And “Saul arose from the earth-And they led him by the hand, and brought him to Damascus. And he was three days without sight: and neither did eat nor drink.”
Possibly some appearances less awful, some means less awakening than these, inight have been sufficient to work upon Saul, and convince him of his sin. Somewhat less than all this might have sufficed to induce him to become of a persecutor a preacher of the Gospel: nevertheless we may reasonably think, that every part of that remarkable transaction was wisely ordered. It was suited to make deep impressions on Saul, and would be of lasting use to secure his future steadiness, faithfulness, and zeal.
In a like manner, still, remarkable occurrences in life, whether signal deliverances or afflictive events, though not miraculous, may be overruled by Divine Providence for reclaiming men from a sinful course of life, or for alarming good men fallen into negligence and security.
2. We may collect from this history, that the Christian religion does not condemn or forbid the exercise of any employments and offices that are necessary and useful in this world.
This person, after his conversion to Christianity, seems still to have continued in the office of keeper of the prison at Philippi. He believed and had been baptized. And after this, " when it was day, the magistrates sent the serjeants, saying, Let these men go. And the keeper of the prison told this saying to Paul: The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart, and go
peace.” The order of the magistrates was sent to him; and he delivered it to Paul and Silas. He was therefore still in his former office. Nor does it appear that St. Paul had enjoined him to quit it.
Whilst therefore no sinful compliances are insisted upon as qualifications, any useful and necessary office may be discharged by a Christian.
3. We cannot but observe here a just character of the Christian religion. It is the doctrine of salvation : it teaches men what they ought to do to be saved.
We have formerly shewed the connection between faith in Jesus Christ and salvation ; never: theless it is fit to make this remark here. Jesus is eminently the Saviour. He “saves his people from their sins,” Matt. i. 21. He “delivers from the wrath to come,” i Thess. i. 10; and will bestow eternal life upon them that obey him. Says the angel to the shepherds near Bethlehem: • I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people : for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord,” Luke ii. 10, 11; and his gospel is called “ the saving grace of God,” Tit. ii. 11.
Such then is the word taught by Christ. It is the doctrine of salvation. It is not a scheme of natural philosophy, teaching the several orders and powers of invisible beings; or the hidden nature and various properties of material things. It is not a system of civil policy and government. It is not the art of fine speaking and rhetorical discourse. But it teaches men of every sank and condition the duties of their condition, and the several branches of piety : what they ought to do to be saved: how they ought to walk that they may please God. It affords directions and assistances for persevering in virtue: for resisting and overcoming temptations, so as that they may maintain their integrity to the end, and have peace in death, and inherit everlasting life.
4. The Christian doctrine is fitted to awaken, convince, and reform men of every temper, and every station in life.
We have a proof of it in the conversion of this person, who had been employed in an office which is apt to render men rough and untractable ; which is, perhaps, more especially fit for sucli tempers; and is also likely to cherish self-confidence, fierceness, and austerity of behaviour.
Such an one is the convert in the text. We see what he once was ; how he was affected, and how he was changed and reformed. Paul and Silas, having been accused before the rulers of Philippi, were beaten by their order; after which the same rulers cast them into prison, “charging the gaoler to keep them safely. Who having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in stocks.” He readily executed a severe sentence; and possibly, added to the rigour of it. “ And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises to God, and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every mau's
hands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prisox doors open, drew his sword, and would have killed himself.” Here we see the rashness and resolution of a man of strong passions. “But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm; for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, Širs, what must I do to be saved ?" Now he is affected to a great degree, and in good measure humbled and softened. Sensible of his ignorance and guilt, he inquires how he may be saved : and he is open to conviction. When the truth is proposed to him, he embraceth it, and practises compassion and tenderness, to which he had hitherto been a stranger. “ And they said unto him: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes ; and was baptized, he and all his straightway.” How obedient is he to the heavenly, saving doctrine of the gospel! “And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house." How great is this change!
Indeed, the doctrine of the gospel, setting before men the evil of sin, the necessity of holiness, the future misery of the wicked, the glory of heaven for the righteous, and the grace of God to all thai repent: and speaking of these things clearly and strongly, in a manner unknown to reason, and the law of Moses, is adapted to make impressions npon all who are capable of thought and consideration.
And thus, as “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," i Tim. i. 15; and “to call men to repentance,” Matt. ix. 13; he does by his doctrine effectually bring them to repentance, and saves them from their sins.
5. The Christian religion, and they who are animated by its principles, are concerned for the welfare of men of every age and every condition. This
person said to Paul and Silas: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house :” some, very probably, in early age, some of very mean condition, hired servants and bondsmen, slaves for a time, or for life: but all rational, accountable beings, capable of salvation, and formed for everlasting life, if they do not render themselves unworthy of it. And Cornelius, of Cesarea, was directed by an angel to send for Peter: who would tell him words whereby he and all his might be saved.
6. We learn from this history, as well as from divers other things in the book of the Acts, and from other parts of the New Testament, that the Christian doctrine, or the great things of religion, may be taught and understood in a short space of time.
It could be only some general knowledge of the doctrine of Paul, which this person had before. But now upon some short discourses and arguments of the apostle, he becomes a believer, and is baptized. So likewise Lydia “attended to the things that were spoken of Paul :" and she and her household were baptized forthwith. And upon Peter's first sermon at Jerusalem, after our Lord's “ascension, they that gladly received his word, were baptized. And the same day were added to them about three thousand men,” Acts ii. 41. Afterwards, “ Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake; hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. And there was great joy in that city- And when they believed Philip, preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women, ch. viii. 3--12. Not long after this, Philip by divine direction, meets the chamberlain and treasurer of Candace, queen of Ethiopia, a proselyte of the Jewish religion, who had been up at Jerusalem to worship: and Philip preached Jesus unto him. After a short conversation, travelling in the chariot, he is convinced, and proposes to be baptized. Philip said : “If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. He answered, and said: I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Then Philip baptized him,” ver. 26–38.
It seems therefore, that the Christian religion may be so set before men, as that they shall in a short time attain to a competent knowledge of it, and believe upon good grounds. And it must be agreeable to think, that the knowledge of the doctrine of salvation, in which all men are concerned, is not a very abstruse and difficult science, but easy, and upon the level with ordinary capacities.
Indeed, where there are strong prejudices and worldly passions prevailing greatly, as in most of the Jews in our Saviour's time, the best instructions will have little effect. But when men are well disposed, the Christian religion and its evidences may be soon perceived and understood, if rightly proposed. This is manifest from the instances in the Acts, just mentioned: and fro:n many sincere conversions, and numerous churches formed by the apostles in divers places in a short space of time.
However, in such a world as ours, where there are temptations of no small force, and numerous amusements and avocations, it is requisite that we carefully attend to “ the things which we have heard,” Heb. ii. 1, and often meditate upon them. Nor should we forsake the assemblies of Christians, but stir up one another to love and good works, ch, X. 24, 25.
Moreover some will teach things which they ought not, for the sake of private interest : and there is danger, if we are not upon our guard, lest some articles should be mixed with the pure and uncorrupted doctrine of the gospel, that tend to enervate its purifying and sanctifying influences.
And we should go on to perfection, and improve in religious knowledge and useful gifts, that we may be able to instruct and admonish others.
St. Paul, as we all know, cultivated the good principles which he had planted in the minds of men. He was greatly solicitous for their welfare, and apprehensive lest by some means they should be seduced and perverted from the simplicity that is in Christ. He therefore sent to them some of his fellow-labourers, in whom he could confide, to strengthen and comfort them : or by personal visits, or by epistles, reininded them of the truths he had taught : exhorting them to be “ steadfast in the faith,” and to adorn it by a holy conversation : “ Beseeching and exhorting them by the Lord Jesus, that as they had received of him, how they ought to walk and to please God, so they would abound more and more,” i Thess. iv. 1.
7. We are hence enabled to form a just estimate of the conduct of those who receive, and of those who reject the gospel.
For the doctrine of the gospel is a kind proposal and gracious message from God to mankind, by Jesus Christ and his apostles, and others after them, instructing men in the way of salvation, teaching them how they may obtain eternal life, and surmount and overcome every obstacle in the
They therefore who receive and obey it act wisely. They consult their present peace, and secure to themselves the happiness of a better life. What then do they who reject it? As St. Luke
As St. Luke says of some : “ they reject the counsel of God against” or toward “ themselves,” Luke vii. 30. It becomes us to be cautious how we censure particular persons : remembering St. Paul's advice: “ Judge nothing before the time,” 1 Cor. iv.5. God only knows the hearts of men, and all their peculiar circumstances. But where the gospel is proposed in truth and simplicity, men had need to take heed how they reject it: and should at least afford it a serious attention and impartial examination.
8. It follows from what has been said, that we, to whom the doctrine of the gospel has been preached, and who have received it as the word of God, know the way of salvation, and may obtain eternal life if we use due care and diligence.
And, certainly, we ought so to do; and not neglect any of the rules and precepts that have been delivered to us. The profession of Christianity will not save us. Christians, so called, if they are wicked, are not in the way of salvation : for they do not the things which their religion teaches they ought to do in order to be saved. They are condemned, and excluded from happiness by the very rules and laws of that religion which they profess to receive as divine. Such therefore are still in the gall of bitterness, and bond of iniquity. They have no part or lot in this matter. Their heart is not right in the sight of God,” Acts ix. 20—23. And they cannot but know, that they should immediately repent and seek forgiveness of God, or they perish for ever; and their ruin will be great and terrible.
9. We have here a good argument to be stedfast in the truth as it is in Jesus, and to let his word abide in us.
For it is the word of life. It is the doctrine of salvation. Does it want any thing to complete that character? Is there any other word equal to it? Is it not strict to a great degree? Are not its rules and precepts reasonable and excellent? And does it not afford the best arguments that can be devised, to promote and secure that universal holiness which it requires ?
way to it.