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Security of Christ's Sheep

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Security of Christ's Sheep

John 10:27, 28. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.

WHILST we acknowledge with gratitude the powers of reason in investigations of a speculative or temporal nature, we must be very jealous of its conclusions in matters that are purely spiritual or practical. In whatever relates to God and to the soul, its decisions are apt to be biased by prejudice, or interest, or passion; and it yields, or withholds, assent, not so much according to the weight of evidence adduced, as according to the dispositions which are called forth into exercise. This was peculiarly manifest amongst the persons who attended on the ministry of our Lord: some were so wrought upon by the greatness of his miracles, and the impressive wisdom of his discourses, that they could not but receive him as the Messiah; whilst others were always complaining of want of evidence, and always caviling at his words. In the preceding context we are told, that “the Jews came round about him, and said, How long dost thou make us to doubt? if thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you; and ye believed not.” He then informs them what the source was of their unbelief; “Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep:” you are destitute of those gracious qualities which would have fitted you for receiving my word: had you been given to me by the Father, and possessed the dispositions which characterize my sheep, you would have both believed in me, and reaped all the benefits of that faith: “My sheep hear my voice; and I know them, and they follow me,” &c.

In these words, our Lord refers to a conversation which he had recently had with them respecting his sheep; and goes on to declare,

I.    Their character—

This is delineated with great simplicity:

1.   They hear his voice—

Sheep that are well attended, are always observant of the shepherd’s voice: so is the Christian also of the voice of Christ. Christ speaks to us in his word as truly as ever he spake to his Disciples in the days of his flesh: and it is the delight of all his people to hear and obey his word. The inspired volume is to them a source, an inexhaustible source, of comfort: they read it, they meditate upon it, they pray over it, they “esteem it more than their necessary food.” When they open it, they look up to their Divine Master, and say, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth;” “Open thou mine eyes, that I may see wondrous things out of thy law.” Directions, warnings, invitations, promises, are all alike acceptable to them: everything that conveys to them the mind and will of their good Shepherd, is received with implicit faith, and unreserved obedience.

2.   They follow his steps—

In the written word they behold the path their Savior trod; and wherever they see the traces of his feet, they endeavor to follow. They inquire not whether the way be arduous and self-denying, or perilous and beset with enemies; all that they desire is, to ascertain precisely the path of duty; and then to walk in it with steadiness and perseverance. They plainly see that their Shepherd is gone before them towards Zion, regardless of all dangers, indifferent to all the things of this world, and intent only on executing the will of his heavenly Father; and thither they direct their steps, cultivating in everything “the mind that was in him,” and endeavoring “to walk as he walked.”

In proportion as they pursue this path, they augment,

II.   Their happiness—

The Lord Jesus Christ regards them with approbation—

It is true that he “knows them” all by name; nay more, he knows everything relating to them, their wants, their weaknesses, their fears, their trials, their exertions, their desires. But the word in our text is intended to express the approbation with which their Shepherd notices their well-meant endeavors. And what can afford them greater happiness than the enjoyment of his favor? “In his favor is life; and his loving-kindness is better than life itself.” Is it asked, How be conveys to them a sense of his favor? I answer, by “the witness of his Spirit,” by “the testimony of their own conscience,” by “shedding abroad his love in their hearts through the Holy Ghost.” It is a certain truth, that “he will manifest himself to them as he does not unto the world:” and he “will give them the white stone, wherein is a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth itb.” In this sense of his love, they have a “peace that passeth all understanding,” and “a joy with which the stranger intermeddleth not.”

He loads them with his richest benefits—

Whatever he bestows upon them in this world, it is but a taste before the banquet, a drop before the shower, a pledge and earnest of infinitely richer blessings in the world to come. “He gives unto them eternal life:” he has prepared other pastures for them in heaven, where all his sheep from the commencement to the end of time shall be collected, and form “one-fold under one Shepherd.” If their “joys” even here are sometimes “unspeakable,” who shall declare the happiness reserved for them against that day? Never for a moment will they lose sight of their Beloved: they will hear his voice day and night: they will follow him incessantly without any weariness or difficulty: the richest images that can be borrowed from earthly things are incapable of conveying the smallest idea of the felicity that awaits them. And all this is given them; it is given them freely; it is given them now: it is said in our text, not, “I will give them,” but, “I give them:” the very moment that they are brought home to his fold, he bestows it on them: they have instantly a right and title to it; and when they go hence, they go and take possession of it, not as a new gift which shall then be conferred, but as an inheritance, which by the surest of all titles, they have before been enabled to call their own.

Their ultimate possession of these benefits is insured to them in such a manner, as warrants us to affirm and to rejoice in,

III.  Their security—

Nothing shall be permitted to rob them of their inheritance—

Sheep may perish either from internal disorders, or from outward enemies: and it should seem that the sheep of Christ also may fail of attaining eternal blessedness either through the corruptions of their own hearts, or through the assaults of their spiritual enemies. But against both these dangers their Shepherd has engaged to protect them: “they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of his hand.” It is here taken for granted, that they are exposed to things, which, without the intervention of Omnipotence to prevent it, might terminate in their destruction: and every one of them feels that this is really the case. But Jesus guarantees, if I may so say, their safety: he has himself begun the good work in them, and he undertakes to perfect it: he “has laid the foundation in their hearts, and he will finish it, and bring forth the top-stone:” he has reserved heaven for them; and he will keep them for itc.

For this Jesus pledges his own veracity and his Father’s power—

It is not asserted here, that they shall never be tempted: nor is it asserted that they shall never fall: but it is asserted that they shall never perish, nor be plucked out of their Redeemer’s hand. What shall we say then? That they are at liberty to live in sin? No; there is no such license allowed them. The way in which they shall be kept from perishing, is, by giving them “grace sufficient for them,” by enabling them to “mortify the deeds of the body,” and by sanctifying them throughout “in body, soul, and spirit,” and by “bruising Satan under their feet.” In this way they shall be made “more than conquerors through Him that loved them.” And, because Jesus was about to leave his Disciples, and to commit the keeping of them to his heavenly Father, he pledges himself, that his Father also, who was infinitely above all created Powers, yea, and greater than he himself also, as man, and as Mediator, should effectually preserve them; and that no enemy should prevail against them, unless he should first overcome Jehovah himself. This then being secured to them by a promise that cannot fail, and by a power that cannot he overcome, we may congratulate the sheep of Christ in the words of their good Shepherd; “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Now because of the singular importance of this subject, we shall,

1.   Guard it against abuse—

By referring the final issue of our warfare to the veracity and power of God, rather than to the faithfulness and diligence of man, it may be thought that we open a door for licentiousness of manners, or at least for carelessness and indifference in our spiritual concerns. But if it be recollected what has been stated as the character of Christ’s sheep, (that “they hear his voice” and “follow his steps;”) and what has been declared as to the manner of perfecting in them the good work, (that God enables them to mortify sin, and to vanquish Satan;) what room can there be for the objection of its tending to licentiousness? If however there be any man disposed to say, ‘God will not suffer me to perish, therefore I will be careless about my walk and conduct,’ he needs nothing more to prove that he is not one of Christ’s sheep; he has not the smallest resemblance to his sheep; he is altogether deaf to the voice of Christ; he walks in a way directly opposite to his; and, instead of vanquishing sin and Satan, he is overcome by them. Whatever therefore he may call himself, he is no other than a wolf in sheep’s clothing. To imagine that he can attain the end without the means, is absurd; for God has ordained not only the end, but the means, and the end BY the means. See how clearly this is stated by St. Paul: “God,” says he, “hath from, the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truthd.” To what hath God chosen us? to enjoy the means of grace? to possess heaven, if we can earn it by our good works? No; he has chosen us to salvation, even “to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” But has he left it to our choice in what way this end shall be attained? No: he has appointed “sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth,” as the way to it: and if we are not proceeding in that way, it is in vain to think of ever attaining that end. If we choose to walk in sin, we may; but it will infallibly lead us to perdition: holiness is the appointed path to heaven; and “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” To those, therefore, who would take the comfort arising from this subject, we recommend, that they judge of their state by their character and conduct: if they resemble Christ, and are walking truly in his ways, let them confidently trust in Him who “is able to keep them from falling, and to present them faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy:” but let them never entertain the thought of reaching heaven in any other than the appointed way: for, if they resemble “the goats,” it is in vain to hope that they shall have their portion with “the sheep.”

2.   Defend it against objections—

Many are the objections confidently urged against the doctrines here maintained: and I most willingly acknowledge that these mysterious truths are to be stated with extreme caution, and that they should occupy only such a space in our general ministrations as they appear to occupy in the Holy Scriptures. Yet we must not keep back any part of divine truth; but, when occasion offers, must “declare the whole counsel of God.” It is true, that many pious men cannot receive these doctrines; and therefore we should, as much as possible, avoid such a statement of them as may wound their minds: still, however, we are not called to suppress the mention of them, but only to concede to others what we claim for ourselves, the right of forming our own judgment, and of being treated with respect and candor by those who differ from us.

It is said that the doctrines before stated are contrary to Scripture, to fact, and to the interests of morality.

The Scripture, it is said, abounds with warnings and exhortations to obedience; in many of which our final enjoyment of God’s favor is actually suspended on our perseverance in his ways. All this is true; and we are grieved, when any, from an undue attachment to human systems, attempt to deny it: but is it not also true that the Scriptures abound with passages of like import with the texte? The great fault of those who adopt human systems is, that they will be wise above what is written, and, instead of receiving God’s word as little children, will presume to reject everything which they cannot reconcile with their own favorite opinions. Who could ever reconcile God’s fore-knowledge with the free-will of man? but who will venture to deny either? So, we may not see how to reconcile God’s determination to keep his people, with his cautions against the danger of apostasy; and yet God’s determinations may exist, without superseding the need of fear and caution on our part; nay, I am persuaded, that they are carried into effect by means of that very fear which his warnings inspire. And this is, I apprehend, the true solution of the difficulty, as far as it can be solved by man. God’s precepts teach us what we ought to do: his exhortations put us upon making every exertion in our power: his threatenings humble us for our short-comings and defects: his promises incline us to look to him for strength: and his covenanted engagements encourage us to “hope even against hope,” and to renew our exertions in an assured expectation of ultimate success. View the different portions of Scripture in this way, and, whatever the heat of controversy may lead men to urge against each other, there will be found no real opposition between them, but a perfect harmony in every part.

But, it may be said, it is contrary to fact that the Lord’s people are so preserved; for the inspired records inform us of many who “make shipwreck of their faith,” and “whose end,” in consequence of their apostasy, was “worse than their beginning.” This also is true: but it disproves not one atom of what is asserted in our text.

Hear what St. John says to this very point: he acknowledges that some had apostatized from the truth: but, says he, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest, that they were not all of usf.” To this it may be replied, that, if apostates are disclaimed as having ever really belonged to Christ, it is impossible to tell who do really belong to him. I readily acknowledge, that no man can know either that he himself belongs to Christ, or that any other person does, except by his works, or in any degree further than he is warranted by his life and conversation. If a man have the mark and character of Christ’s sheep, he may have a good hope that he belongs to Christ; but the very moment that he declines from that character, his evidences of relation to Christ decay, and, together with them, his hope of ultimate acceptance with him. “The foundation of God standeth sure; the Lord knoweth them that are his: but let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”

As to the objection that these doctrines are contrary to the interests of morality, it has been already answered, when we were guarding this subject from abuse. The doctrine that asserts that we shall be kept in the way of holiness, can never be inimical to the interests of holiness. But we would further ask, What must be the effect of denying these doctrines? Will not men be tempted to trust in an arm of flesh? and will not that issue in disappointment? and will not repeated disappointments tend to create despondency? People are apt to dread the idea of despondency as connected with the doctrines of grace: but we will venture to affirm, that, for one instance of despondency arising from a view of the sovereignty of God, and of our entire dependence upon his power and grace, a hundred instances arise from want of just views of this subject. What is the answer which we uniformly receive when we exhort men to walk in the steps of Christ? Is it not this! ‘We cannot: You require more of us, than we are able to perform?’ Of course, in these persons exertion is discouraged; and they remain bond-slaves of Satan, because they conceive it impossible that they should be delivered from his power: whereas, the person who believes that God is all-sufficient and faithful to his promises, is encouraged to renew his application to him from day to day, and, even under the most distressing circumstances, to expect a happy termination of his conflicts. A view of God, as “able to keep us from falling,” and as engaged to “perfect that which concerneth us,” will be a cordial to the drooping soul: and will enable us to adopt the triumphant language of Christ himself; “He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? Let us stand together; Who is mine adversary I let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God will help me; who is he that shall condemn meg?” And what the effect will be of such a cheering hope as this, I leave you to judge. Only see it realized in the Apostle Paul, and we have no fear about any conclusions that shall be drawn from ith.

3.   Improve it for your encouragement—

What unspeakable encouragement is here afforded to those who are yet ignorant of Christ! Who can hear this saying, and not wish to be numbered amongst his sheep? Methinks the hope of obtaining such security should induce everyone to return from his wanderings, and to put himself under his guidance and protection. Where shall we find any such promise made to those who are at a distance from the fold of Christ? Where has God said to them, “Ye shall never perish?” To them belongs rather that tremendous threatening, “Except ye repent, ye shall all perish.” O that all who are going astray might consider this, and “return immediately to the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls!”

To you who have fled to him for refuge, here is indeed strong consolation. You are sensible of manifold corruptions, any one of which is sufficient to destroy your souls. You feel your weakness too, and your utter inability to withstand that roaring lion that seeketh to devour you. What then would you do, if you were left to preserve yourselves by the unassisted efforts of your own strength and resolution 2 To you it is no little joy to be assured, that you are in the hands of an Omnipotent Being, against whom neither earth nor hell shall ever be able to prevail, and who engages in your behalf, that you shall never perishi. Learn then to “cast your care on Him,” and to commit the keeping of your souls to Him in well-doing, as into the hands of a faithful Creatork.”[1]

 

 

b Rev. 2:17.

c 1 Pet. 1:4, 5.

d 2 Thess. 2:13, 14.

e Job 17:9. Isai. 54:17. Jer. 32:40.

f 1 John 2:19. See this also confirmed by facts, Luke 22:31, 32. John 17:12.

g Isai. 50:8, 9.

h Rom. 8:33–39.

i 1 John 4:4.

k 1 Pet. 4:19.

[1] Simeon, C. (1833). Horae Homileticae: Luke XVII to John XII (Vol. 13, pp. 511–519). London: Holdsworth and Ball. (Public Domain)

Security of Christ's Sheep

John 10:27, 28. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.

WHILST we acknowledge with gratitude the powers of reason in investigations of a speculative or temporal nature, we must be very jealous of its conclusions in matters that are purely spiritual or practical. In whatever relates to God and to the soul, its decisions are apt to be biased by prejudice, or interest, or passion; and it yields, or withholds, assent, not so much according to the weight of evidence adduced, as according to the dispositions which are called forth into exercise. This was peculiarly manifest amongst the persons who attended on the ministry of our Lord: some were so wrought upon by the greatness of his miracles, and the impressive wisdom of his discourses, that they could not but receive him as the Messiah; whilst others were always complaining of want of evidence, and always caviling at his words. In the preceding context we are told, that “the Jews came round about him, and said, How long dost thou make us to doubt? if thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you; and ye believed not.” He then informs them what the source was of their unbelief; “Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep:” you are destitute of those gracious qualities which would have fitted you for receiving my word: had you been given to me by the Father, and possessed the dispositions which characterize my sheep, you would have both believed in me, and reaped all the benefits of that faith: “My sheep hear my voice; and I know them, and they follow me,” &c.

In these words, our Lord refers to a conversation which he had recently had with them respecting his sheep; and goes on to declare,

I.    Their character—

This is delineated with great simplicity:

1.   They hear his voice—

Sheep that are well attended, are always observant of the shepherd’s voice: so is the Christian also of the voice of Christ. Christ speaks to us in his word as truly as ever he spake to his Disciples in the days of his flesh: and it is the delight of all his people to hear and obey his word. The inspired volume is to them a source, an inexhaustible source, of comfort: they read it, they meditate upon it, they pray over it, they “esteem it more than their necessary food.” When they open it, they look up to their Divine Master, and say, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth;” “Open thou mine eyes, that I may see wondrous things out of thy law.” Directions, warnings, invitations, promises, are all alike acceptable to them: everything that conveys to them the mind and will of their good Shepherd, is received with implicit faith, and unreserved obedience.

2.   They follow his steps—

In the written word they behold the path their Savior trod; and wherever they see the traces of his feet, they endeavor to follow. They inquire not whether the way be arduous and self-denying, or perilous and beset with enemies; all that they desire is, to ascertain precisely the path of duty; and then to walk in it with steadiness and perseverance. They plainly see that their Shepherd is gone before them towards Zion, regardless of all dangers, indifferent to all the things of this world, and intent only on executing the will of his heavenly Father; and thither they direct their steps, cultivating in everything “the mind that was in him,” and endeavoring “to walk as he walked.”

In proportion as they pursue this path, they augment,

II.   Their happiness—

The Lord Jesus Christ regards them with approbation—

It is true that he “knows them” all by name; nay more, he knows everything relating to them, their wants, their weaknesses, their fears, their trials, their exertions, their desires. But the word in our text is intended to express the approbation with which their Shepherd notices their well-meant endeavors. And what can afford them greater happiness than the enjoyment of his favor? “In his favor is life; and his loving-kindness is better than life itself.” Is it asked, How be conveys to them a sense of his favor? I answer, by “the witness of his Spirit,” by “the testimony of their own conscience,” by “shedding abroad his love in their hearts through the Holy Ghost.” It is a certain truth, that “he will manifest himself to them as he does not unto the world:” and he “will give them the white stone, wherein is a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth itb.” In this sense of his love, they have a “peace that passeth all understanding,” and “a joy with which the stranger intermeddleth not.”

He loads them with his richest benefits—

Whatever he bestows upon them in this world, it is but a taste before the banquet, a drop before the shower, a pledge and earnest of infinitely richer blessings in the world to come. “He gives unto them eternal life:” he has prepared other pastures for them in heaven, where all his sheep from the commencement to the end of time shall be collected, and form “one-fold under one Shepherd.” If their “joys” even here are sometimes “unspeakable,” who shall declare the happiness reserved for them against that day? Never for a moment will they lose sight of their Beloved: they will hear his voice day and night: they will follow him incessantly without any weariness or difficulty: the richest images that can be borrowed from earthly things are incapable of conveying the smallest idea of the felicity that awaits them. And all this is given them; it is given them freely; it is given them now: it is said in our text, not, “I will give them,” but, “I give them:” the very moment that they are brought home to his fold, he bestows it on them: they have instantly a right and title to it; and when they go hence, they go and take possession of it, not as a new gift which shall then be conferred, but as an inheritance, which by the surest of all titles, they have before been enabled to call their own.

Their ultimate possession of these benefits is insured to them in such a manner, as warrants us to affirm and to rejoice in,

III.  Their security—

Nothing shall be permitted to rob them of their inheritance—

Sheep may perish either from internal disorders, or from outward enemies: and it should seem that the sheep of Christ also may fail of attaining eternal blessedness either through the corruptions of their own hearts, or through the assaults of their spiritual enemies. But against both these dangers their Shepherd has engaged to protect them: “they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of his hand.” It is here taken for granted, that they are exposed to things, which, without the intervention of Omnipotence to prevent it, might terminate in their destruction: and every one of them feels that this is really the case. But Jesus guarantees, if I may so say, their safety: he has himself begun the good work in them, and he undertakes to perfect it: he “has laid the foundation in their hearts, and he will finish it, and bring forth the top-stone:” he has reserved heaven for them; and he will keep them for itc.

For this Jesus pledges his own veracity and his Father’s power—

It is not asserted here, that they shall never be tempted: nor is it asserted that they shall never fall: but it is asserted that they shall never perish, nor be plucked out of their Redeemer’s hand. What shall we say then? That they are at liberty to live in sin? No; there is no such license allowed them. The way in which they shall be kept from perishing, is, by giving them “grace sufficient for them,” by enabling them to “mortify the deeds of the body,” and by sanctifying them throughout “in body, soul, and spirit,” and by “bruising Satan under their feet.” In this way they shall be made “more than conquerors through Him that loved them.” And, because Jesus was about to leave his Disciples, and to commit the keeping of them to his heavenly Father, he pledges himself, that his Father also, who was infinitely above all created Powers, yea, and greater than he himself also, as man, and as Mediator, should effectually preserve them; and that no enemy should prevail against them, unless he should first overcome Jehovah himself. This then being secured to them by a promise that cannot fail, and by a power that cannot he overcome, we may congratulate the sheep of Christ in the words of their good Shepherd; “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Now because of the singular importance of this subject, we shall,

1.   Guard it against abuse—

By referring the final issue of our warfare to the veracity and power of God, rather than to the faithfulness and diligence of man, it may be thought that we open a door for licentiousness of manners, or at least for carelessness and indifference in our spiritual concerns. But if it be recollected what has been stated as the character of Christ’s sheep, (that “they hear his voice” and “follow his steps;”) and what has been declared as to the manner of perfecting in them the good work, (that God enables them to mortify sin, and to vanquish Satan;) what room can there be for the objection of its tending to licentiousness? If however there be any man disposed to say, ‘God will not suffer me to perish, therefore I will be careless about my walk and conduct,’ he needs nothing more to prove that he is not one of Christ’s sheep; he has not the smallest resemblance to his sheep; he is altogether deaf to the voice of Christ; he walks in a way directly opposite to his; and, instead of vanquishing sin and Satan, he is overcome by them. Whatever therefore he may call himself, he is no other than a wolf in sheep’s clothing. To imagine that he can attain the end without the means, is absurd; for God has ordained not only the end, but the means, and the end BY the means. See how clearly this is stated by St. Paul: “God,” says he, “hath from, the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truthd.” To what hath God chosen us? to enjoy the means of grace? to possess heaven, if we can earn it by our good works? No; he has chosen us to salvation, even “to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” But has he left it to our choice in what way this end shall be attained? No: he has appointed “sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth,” as the way to it: and if we are not proceeding in that way, it is in vain to think of ever attaining that end. If we choose to walk in sin, we may; but it will infallibly lead us to perdition: holiness is the appointed path to heaven; and “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” To those, therefore, who would take the comfort arising from this subject, we recommend, that they judge of their state by their character and conduct: if they resemble Christ, and are walking truly in his ways, let them confidently trust in Him who “is able to keep them from falling, and to present them faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy:” but let them never entertain the thought of reaching heaven in any other than the appointed way: for, if they resemble “the goats,” it is in vain to hope that they shall have their portion with “the sheep.”

2.   Defend it against objections—

Many are the objections confidently urged against the doctrines here maintained: and I most willingly acknowledge that these mysterious truths are to be stated with extreme caution, and that they should occupy only such a space in our general ministrations as they appear to occupy in the Holy Scriptures. Yet we must not keep back any part of divine truth; but, when occasion offers, must “declare the whole counsel of God.” It is true, that many pious men cannot receive these doctrines; and therefore we should, as much as possible, avoid such a statement of them as may wound their minds: still, however, we are not called to suppress the mention of them, but only to concede to others what we claim for ourselves, the right of forming our own judgment, and of being treated with respect and candor by those who differ from us.

It is said that the doctrines before stated are contrary to Scripture, to fact, and to the interests of morality.

The Scripture, it is said, abounds with warnings and exhortations to obedience; in many of which our final enjoyment of God’s favor is actually suspended on our perseverance in his ways. All this is true; and we are grieved, when any, from an undue attachment to human systems, attempt to deny it: but is it not also true that the Scriptures abound with passages of like import with the texte? The great fault of those who adopt human systems is, that they will be wise above what is written, and, instead of receiving God’s word as little children, will presume to reject everything which they cannot reconcile with their own favorite opinions. Who could ever reconcile God’s fore-knowledge with the free-will of man? but who will venture to deny either? So, we may not see how to reconcile God’s determination to keep his people, with his cautions against the danger of apostasy; and yet God’s determinations may exist, without superseding the need of fear and caution on our part; nay, I am persuaded, that they are carried into effect by means of that very fear which his warnings inspire. And this is, I apprehend, the true solution of the difficulty, as far as it can be solved by man. God’s precepts teach us what we ought to do: his exhortations put us upon making every exertion in our power: his threatenings humble us for our short-comings and defects: his promises incline us to look to him for strength: and his covenanted engagements encourage us to “hope even against hope,” and to renew our exertions in an assured expectation of ultimate success. View the different portions of Scripture in this way, and, whatever the heat of controversy may lead men to urge against each other, there will be found no real opposition between them, but a perfect harmony in every part.

But, it may be said, it is contrary to fact that the Lord’s people are so preserved; for the inspired records inform us of many who “make shipwreck of their faith,” and “whose end,” in consequence of their apostasy, was “worse than their beginning.” This also is true: but it disproves not one atom of what is asserted in our text.

Hear what St. John says to this very point: he acknowledges that some had apostatized from the truth: but, says he, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest, that they were not all of usf.” To this it may be replied, that, if apostates are disclaimed as having ever really belonged to Christ, it is impossible to tell who do really belong to him. I readily acknowledge, that no man can know either that he himself belongs to Christ, or that any other person does, except by his works, or in any degree further than he is warranted by his life and conversation. If a man have the mark and character of Christ’s sheep, he may have a good hope that he belongs to Christ; but the very moment that he declines from that character, his evidences of relation to Christ decay, and, together with them, his hope of ultimate acceptance with him. “The foundation of God standeth sure; the Lord knoweth them that are his: but let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”

As to the objection that these doctrines are contrary to the interests of morality, it has been already answered, when we were guarding this subject from abuse. The doctrine that asserts that we shall be kept in the way of holiness, can never be inimical to the interests of holiness. But we would further ask, What must be the effect of denying these doctrines? Will not men be tempted to trust in an arm of flesh? and will not that issue in disappointment? and will not repeated disappointments tend to create despondency? People are apt to dread the idea of despondency as connected with the doctrines of grace: but we will venture to affirm, that, for one instance of despondency arising from a view of the sovereignty of God, and of our entire dependence upon his power and grace, a hundred instances arise from want of just views of this subject. What is the answer which we uniformly receive when we exhort men to walk in the steps of Christ? Is it not this! ‘We cannot: You require more of us, than we are able to perform?’ Of course, in these persons exertion is discouraged; and they remain bond-slaves of Satan, because they conceive it impossible that they should be delivered from his power: whereas, the person who believes that God is all-sufficient and faithful to his promises, is encouraged to renew his application to him from day to day, and, even under the most distressing circumstances, to expect a happy termination of his conflicts. A view of God, as “able to keep us from falling,” and as engaged to “perfect that which concerneth us,” will be a cordial to the drooping soul: and will enable us to adopt the triumphant language of Christ himself; “He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? Let us stand together; Who is mine adversary I let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God will help me; who is he that shall condemn meg?” And what the effect will be of such a cheering hope as this, I leave you to judge. Only see it realized in the Apostle Paul, and we have no fear about any conclusions that shall be drawn from ith.

3.   Improve it for your encouragement—

What unspeakable encouragement is here afforded to those who are yet ignorant of Christ! Who can hear this saying, and not wish to be numbered amongst his sheep? Methinks the hope of obtaining such security should induce everyone to return from his wanderings, and to put himself under his guidance and protection. Where shall we find any such promise made to those who are at a distance from the fold of Christ? Where has God said to them, “Ye shall never perish?” To them belongs rather that tremendous threatening, “Except ye repent, ye shall all perish.” O that all who are going astray might consider this, and “return immediately to the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls!”

To you who have fled to him for refuge, here is indeed strong consolation. You are sensible of manifold corruptions, any one of which is sufficient to destroy your souls. You feel your weakness too, and your utter inability to withstand that roaring lion that seeketh to devour you. What then would you do, if you were left to preserve yourselves by the unassisted efforts of your own strength and resolution 2 To you it is no little joy to be assured, that you are in the hands of an Omnipotent Being, against whom neither earth nor hell shall ever be able to prevail, and who engages in your behalf, that you shall never perishi. Learn then to “cast your care on Him,” and to commit the keeping of your souls to Him in well-doing, as into the hands of a faithful Creatork.”[1]

 

 

b Rev. 2:17.

c 1 Pet. 1:4, 5.

d 2 Thess. 2:13, 14.

e Job 17:9. Isai. 54:17. Jer. 32:40.

f 1 John 2:19. See this also confirmed by facts, Luke 22:31, 32. John 17:12.

g Isai. 50:8, 9.

h Rom. 8:33–39.

i 1 John 4:4.

k 1 Pet. 4:19.

[1] Simeon, C. (1833). Horae Homileticae: Luke XVII to John XII (Vol. 13, pp. 511–519). London: Holdsworth and Ball. (Public Domain)



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