The great peace connected with the love of God's law, is at once the fruit of faith, and the motive of obedience. And the enjoyment of it leads the man of God to give renewed expression to his faith and devotedness. "Faith, which works by love," is no less the characteristic of the Old, than of the New Testament, Church. For mark here the principle and the object of faith—I have hoped for Your salvation—and the practical influence of faith—I have done Your commandments. "Walked not believers always in the same spirit? Walked they not in the same steps?"
Faith is the exercise of the soul in a sense of need, in desire, and in trust. Faith goes to God on the ground of the promise; hope in the expectation of the thing promised. Thus hope implies the operation of faith. It appropriates to itself the object of faith. The power to take hold of the promises of faith, and to stay our souls upon their "everlasting consolation," is the energy of "a good hope through grace"—such as "makes not ashamed." Conscious unworthiness may give a trembling feebleness to the hand of faith; but the feeblest apprehension of one of the least of the promises of the gospel assures us of our interest in them all. Why may we not set all the fullness of the covenant before the weakest as well as before the strongest believer, and proclaim to both with equal freedom the triumphant challenge, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? Who is he who condemns?" Every believer is alike interested in the gospel of grace. "There is no difference" in the righteousness of the gospel, which is "the righteousness of God"—nor in the imputation of it, which is "unto all and upon all," nor in the subjects—which is them that believe—nor in the means of its application, which in all cases is "by faith of Jesus Christ,"—nor in the need of the blessing, "All have sinned" without difference. All therefore are justified without difference. The only difference regards the strength or weakness of the faith, by which the righteousness is more or less distinctly appropriated, and its consequent blessings enjoyed. No soul, however, can sink into perdition, that grasps the promise of Christ with the hand of faith, be that hand ever so weak and trembling; though if the promise did not hold us more firmly by its unchangeableness, than we hold it by our faith, who could ever attain the blessing?
Not that our interest in the Gospel is transient or uncertain. For though the perception of it may be often interrupted, yet is it not still in the Bible, in the covenant of God, in the heart of God? And is it not constantly renewed in the exercise of faith? The repetition of the same act of faith is therefore equally necessary every successive moment, as at the first moment of our spiritual life. What ever be our standing in the Gospel, faith will always realize to the end the same hope for God's salvation. Indeed the neglect of the cultivation of its habitual exercise materially weakens its operation in great emergencies. Let it then be regarded as the breathing of the soul. Let it be constantly exercised in the daily occasions of need; and we shall enjoy its clear light and active influence upon occasions, where its special energy is required.
Now is not this sometimes your experience? You are distressed by an unsuccessful struggle with wandering, defiling imaginations. You know the promise, and the remedy. But "the shield of faith" has been laid by. You have therefore to seek it, when you want it at hand for the present moment; and thus you lie powerless, at a distance from the cure, instead of being able to bring your sin at once to Jesus—'Lord, this is my trouble; this is the "plague of my heart;" "but speak the word only, and Your servant shall be healed."' Thus the indolent neglect of the quickening principle greatly impairs its powerful energy, and the "confidence and rejoicing of hope" flowing from it. If "the life in the flesh is" not "a life of faith on the Son of God," no solid rest or acceptance can be known.
But on what ground is this hope for the Lord's salvation built? On His faithfulness, not on our sincerity; on His promises, not on our frames; on His unchangeableness, not on our constancy. It is built, not on the work of grace in us, but on the work of Christ for us; a work which has satisfied every claim, provided every security, and pledged all the Divine perfections on our behalf; a work so finished and complete, that all the difficulties of salvation on the part of God are removed; and the sinner, finding no hindrance in the way but himself, is warranted, though covered with guilt and defilement, to apply for full, immediate, and unconditional forgiveness. What then hinders the instant reception of the privilege, but disbelief of the record? It is this which dares to "make God a liar;" which therefore must not, as is too often the case, be lamented as an infirmity (except indeed in cases of constitutional weakness); but watched, prayed against, and resisted, as a deep and aggravated sin. The present enjoyment of the blessing is indeed often marred by looking at the fruits of faith (contrition, love, diligence, &c.) as prerequisites for believing, instead of looking to the object of faith, to put away our sin, and to produce these fruits in us. This not only binds our sin upon us, but robs God of His honor;—and, while it restrains His blessing on our souls, reflects upon His wisdom and grace, who has laid the foundation of a sinner's hope on His own dear Son, irrespective of any warrant of faith in himself. We want to be enlivened with sensible comfort, as a ground for our believing in Christ; or, if we look for it from faith, it is from faith as an act (in which respect it is no more a proper ground for comfort than any other grace,) instead of looking for it from the object of faith. Thus we not only lose the peace and joy we are seeking, but we lose it by our mistaken way of seeking it.
The fullness of Christ, and the promises of God in Him, are the only basis of a full assurance of salvation: and this basis is equally firm at all times, and under all circumstances. "You are complete in Him." Your title at this moment is as perfect, your interest as secure, as ever it will be at the day of "the redemption of the purchased possession." Awakened sinner! let not then a sense of unworthiness paralyze your faith. As a guilty sinner, you are invited. As a willing sinner, you are welcome. As a believing sinner, you are assured. Why hesitate then to "lay hold on eternal life?" Is it presumption in the drowning man to attempt to swim to the rock of safety? Why then should not the sinking soul cast itself upon the "Rock of Ages?" Lord, I have hoped for Your salvation.
Believer! "Behold!" says your Lord, "I come quickly; hold that fast which You have, that no man take your crown." "Hold fast your confidence and the rejoicing of your hope." This is of no trifling importance. An established confidence ought to result from, and to witness to, your interest in the Lord's salvation. For without it, you have no relief from the spirit of bondage; no enlargement in duties; no enjoyment of privileges; no "growth in grace, and in the knowledge of the Savior;" no honored usefulness in the Church of God. "The things which remain will be ready to die." Rest not, then, satisfied with an occasional gleam of light and joy, while your horizon is overcast with doubts and fears. Waste not time in heartless complaints, that would be far better employed in a vigorous habit of faith. Live above frames and feelings, upon this glorious truth—'Christ has undertaken for me.' He lives, and reigns, and pleads for every sinner that trusts in Him. Exercise your dependence upon Him in importunate and persevering supplication. "Give all diligence"—at all times—in all ways, private and public, "instant in season and out of season." Thus "an entrance into" the joy, peace, and glory of "the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior, will be richly ministered unto you." You shall be released from the prison-house of despondency, and shall breathe the free atmosphere of adoption and heavenly love.
But remember, that this "assurance of hope," even in its weakest and lowest influence, is a practical principle—I have done Your commandments. "Every man that has this hope in Him purifies himself, even as He is pure." All obedience that springs not from this source is of a low and legal character; the fruit of self-will, self-righteousness, self-sufficiency. Evangelical obedience can only flow from Evangelical faith and hope. Love to Christ catches fire from the perception of His love to us. Without this perception, all is weariness, toil, and travail of soul in His service; duty, not privilege; constraint, not delight; conscience, not love. Hence the most assured believers will be the most devoted servants of their Master. "The joy of the Lord" "the joy of faith," of acceptance, of communion, "is their strength." They live by faith; and as they believe, they love; they deny themselves; they lay themselves out for their Master's work; they conquer all that opposes their progress.
We cannot, therefore, do His commandments without a hope for His salvation. For only in proportion as we have assured our title to the promises of the Gospel, can we take hold of them, plead them, or experience their support. When therefore our hope is indistinct, we are almost left to our own unassisted resources; and our course will probably end in "perpetual backsliding." Active devotedness flows from assured acceptance. Where there is no certainty, there can be little love, little delight, little diligence. Let us walk in sunshine, and we shall work cheerfully and honorably for God.
Keep then the eye fixed on Christ as the ground, and on obedience as the evidence, of our hope. Thus will our own confidence be more established; and others, beholding in us the power of our Christian hope, will be led to say, "We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you."
Here we have salvation by grace, and the fruits thereof. All David's hope was fixed upon God, he looked to him alone for salvation; and then he endeavored most earnestly to fulfill the commands of his law. Those who place least reliance upon good works are very frequently those who have the most of them: that same divine teaching which delivers us from confidence in our own doings leads us to abound in every good work to the glory of God. In times of trouble there are two things to be done, the first is to hope in God, and the second is to do that which is right. The first without the second would be mere presumption; the second without the first mere formalism. It is well if in looking back we can claim to have acted in the way which is commanded of the Lord. If we have acted rightly towards God we are sure that he will act kindly towards us.