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that you receive not the grace of God in vain."-In discoursing on these words, I would,
I. Shew you what we are to understand by "the grace of God." II. Consider what it is to "receive this grace in vain."
III. Advance some arguments to dissuade you from receiving it thus. I. I am briefly to shew you what we are to understand by "the grace of God."
Grace properly signifies any favour, or benefit, received from another. The grace of God must signify all those favours which we receive from his bountiful hand; including those of a temporal nature, as well as spiritual blessings. In the text it signifies the offers of salvation by Christ, as laid down in the Gospel; and all the means which God has made use of to induce us heartily to accept of them.
1. By the grace of God we are here to understand the offers of salvation by a Redeemer, as proposed in the Gospel. This will appear from considering the context. The Apostle had been telling the Corinthians, that "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself;" and that he had made his Son a sin-offering for our justification" and salvation. Now, says he, "let not this grace," these discoveries and proposals of reconciliation and life, "be received in vain" by you. Now it is evident that the Gospel may very properly be spoken of as "the grace of God;" as it was God's free goodness and mercy, and not the prospect of any valuable return from us, which induced him to contrive a
age of the church, to explain and enforce the doctrine of salvation, as laid down in the word of God. And to this the Apostle seems immediately to refer in the text, when he says a little above, "We, as ambassadors "from Heaven. "pray you, in Christ's stead, to be reconciled to God;" and "as workers together with God, we beseech you that ye would not receive the grace of God in vain." The serious admonitions of parents and Christian friends, also are means which God often makes use of to awaken us to a sense of our duty, and to lead us home to himself. Again, the operations of Divine Providence are adapted to engage us to accept of the Gospel salvation. The prosperity and pleasure that we enjoy in life are intended as a demonstration of God's care over us; and as an intimation of his readiness to bestow still nobler blessings upon us, if we can be persuaded to accept of them. And all the afflictions he exercises us with are to make us sensible of the terrors of his wrath, and of our own incapacity to endure or resist it. The operations of the Holy Spirit of God upon the heart are also very important means, by which he persuades us to accept of the Gospel salvation. He awakens us to a conviction of the guilt and misery of our state by nature, to a solicitous concern for an interest in the righteousness of the great Mediator, and to resolutions of repentance and reformation of life. These means are often expressed in Scripture by the phrase used in the text: they all may be comprehended, where Christians are spoken of under the character of those who had "believed through grace;" that is, through the preaching of the word of God, and the co-operation of his providence and Spirit; but especially the working of the Holy Spirit upon the heart, to form it to a Divine temper, and engage it to an acceptance of the Gospel salvation.
II. I now come to consider what
it is to in vain."
receive the grace of God They "receive the grace of God in vain," who are not at all affected with it; and so do they also, who, though they may be brought under some transient affections, yet do not embrace it with a full consent of heart and obedience of life. 1. Those most evidently receive the grace of God in vain, who are not at all affected with it. If a man hears the message of salvation by a Redeemer, but is not at all sensible that he stands in any need of this Redeemer; nor solicitous to inquire what is this salvation which he proposes, what is the method in which it is offered, or to examine whether he has fallen in with that method; if he hears of the being and government of God, and his obligations to love and serve him, but will yet" live as without God in the world," and cast off fear, and restrain prayer before him; if he hears of eternal happiness and misery, which God will" render to every man according to his works," but utterly disregards the unchangeable world which he is going to, and entertains not any serious thought of the reception which he shall meet with there, but goes on in a course of sin, earnestly pursuing his worldly designs and entertainments; while God, and Christ, and eternity, are forgotten; surely, such a man has "received the grace of God in vain." The grace of God was intended to accomplish some end; but it can have no end at all with a person who will not take any notice of it, but will overlook it as if it were only a" cunningly devised fable."
2. Those do as really "receive the grace of God in vain," who, though they may be in some transient manner affected by it, yet do not embrace it with a full consent of heart, and sincere obedience of life. There are many such persons who have heard the great truths of religion very plainly proposed, and cannot be utterly unaffected by them, who are ready to acknowledge, that they are naturally in a CHRIST. OBSERV. No. 301.
very miserable state; that Christ is a suitable Saviour; and, it may be, to rejoice in the news of salvation by him; who yet, possibly, rest here, and conceive that knowledge, and conviction, and some transient affections, to be sufficient to entitle them to the Gospel salvation; though, while they profess to know or to love Christ, they in works deny him. Or, perhaps, they form some instant purposes and resolutions, that hereafter they will return to God, and break off their sins; though, for the present, the violence of temptation prevails upon them, and their worldly affairs are so urgent as not to allow them sufficient leisure to attempt a change of so great difficulty and importance. These are the persons whom our Lord speaks of under the character of the "stony-ground hearers; who when they had heard the word, received it with joy; but had no root in themselves, and so in a time of temptation fell away." Now, it is very evident, that such persons "receive the grace of God in vain;" and this will appear, if you consider what is the end of the Gospel. It is plainly intended to restore fallen man to the favour of God, and so to everlasting happiness in heaven. Now it is evident from the whole tenor of Scripture, that those who rest in a transient affection, without sincere, constant, practical obedience, will never be accepted by God, and made happy in heaven. Christ is the "author of eternal salvation," but it is only "to all those who obey him." "Not every one who says, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of the Father."
III. I now proceed to propose some arguments to dissuade you from " receiving the grace of God in vain." And here consider, both the excellency and the freedom of it, your own need of an interest in it, and the consequences of finally rejecting it.
1. Consider the riches and excellency of this grace. The inspired
penmen to whom it was committed say, it is an unspeakable gift, an instance of the great love wherewith God has loved us." "This redemption is given us according to the riches of his grace:"it is "the riches of the glory of his inheritance." And that the grace of God, proposed to mankind in the Gospel, is indeed so exceedingly valuable, and deserves to be spoken of in such exalted language, may be shewn from a great variety of considerations. We may conclude it from the pomp and solemnity with which God introduced the declaration of it. The Apostle argues it to be a "great salvation;" because it was at "first preached by the Lord Jesus Christ, and afterwards confirmed by them who heard him, God also bearing them witness by signs, and wonders, and divers miracles." And to raise your ideas of it, look into the word of God, and see in what exalted language the Holy Ghost speaks of this Gospel salvation; and what contempt it pours on every thing in life that is great and illustrious, when once it comes in competition with it. For this, says an inspired Apostle, "I have already suffered the loss of all things; and for this I count them but loss." And is this " grace to be received in vain ?" Consider also the nature of this salvation, as described in Scripture; and then judge of the excellency of it, and of the manner in which it is to be received. The grace of God, in the Gospel, offers you the pardon of ten thousand aggravated offences, which you have committed against the Majesty of heaven; and for which God may most righteously subject you, not only to some present pain and uneasiness, during your abode in this mortal life, but to everlasting misery. But further, it does not only deliver you from this abyss of misery, into which you were sinking, but it raises you to the hopes of the most solid and substantial felicity. By it we are enabled to lift up our heads to Heaven with hope, and with joy; and to behold that God as our unchange
able Friend, whom our sins had armed with vengeance against us. It has also opened the prospect of a future state, and "brought life and immortality to light." Let us survey the description of heaven, as contained in the word of God; and then say, is it not rich grace that is proposed to us? To be surrounded with all those scenes of beauty, and of glory, which God has prepared for the riches of his magnificence and his love, and for the reception of his most favourite creatures: to have our faculties brightened and enlarged to the capacities of angels; and then, for ever entertained with the contemplation of the most important truths, and the most surprising mysteries: to feel in our breasts an entire conformity to the Divine likeness; the perfection of holiness, without the least interruption of a forbidden thought or irregular desire: to live in the most intimate friendship with the brightest and most glorious creatures; but, above all, to dwell before the throne of our exalted Redeemer, and behold the face of our reconciled Father; for God to shine upon our souls with the mildest beams of his grace and love: to be breathing out our souls in devotion to him, and employing all our enlarged capacities in tendering him the most worthy and excellent service: to be graciously accepted by him, and continually rewarded with new accessions of glory, and new capacities of further service: and to be secure of the enjoyment, and the increase of this happiness, throughout the endless ages of eternity; this is the happiness proposed to us in the Gospel; this is that which is given us by Christ Jesus our Lord.
2. Consider the freedom, as well as the riches of this grace, as a further argument against receiving it in vain. We are told, that we "are justified freely by his grace." All the favours that God bestows upon his creatures must be freely bestowed. The degrees of favour that he bestows on the brightest angels are
free; much more those that are imparted to us "who live in houses of clay, and whose habitations are in the dust." The freedom of this grace will further appear, if we consider that, as we were mean, so we were sinful creatures. We had reason to expect a messenger of vengeance, when God sent his Son as the messenger of grace. And the argument will be further illustrated if we consider the methods in which salvation is imparted by this Redeemer. It is proposed, not only in a possible, but in a most equitable and delightful, way. God does not insist upon a variety of burdensome ceremonies; no, "the yoke of the Redeemer is easy, and his burden is light." In the whole system of the Gospel, nothing is required but what is wholly reasonable, and, to a pious soul, exceedingly delight ful; and nothing forbidden, which is not mean and despicable; and therefore, in its immediate or its remote tendency, pernicious both to ourselves and others.
3. Consider the need you have of this grace, as an important argument against receiving it in vain. When Christ speaks of his being sent into the world, as the minister of it, he represents the world as in a wretched condition. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Consider your own circumstances, and you will see the propriety of that representation. You are poor, indigent creatures, entirely at the disposal of God; and sink into nothing, if you are left destitute of his grace. You are also guilty creatures, who are justly obnoxious to his displeasure. By your own confession, then, you need this grace, and are undone without it. And will you yet receive it in vain? Shall it be in vain that mercy and everlasting salvation were offered to guilty creatures, who are about to leave this world, and to enter helpless upon another; where, without this mercy which is
now offered, inflexible justice will seize and destroy them?
4. Consider the dreadful consequences of your refusal of this Gospel grace. You see the time will come when you will need it. But if you will go on to neglect it, you will then be excluded from all benefit by it. Nay, it will serve to aggravate your condemnation and misery. For, says our Redeemer, he who knoweth his Master's will, and does it not, shall be beaten with many stripes."
I conclude with a few words of application. And here I would advise,
1. That we every one seriously inquire, whether we have received the grace of God, or not. And, considering the infinite importance of the question, we should prosecute it with serious, diligent examination. If we have been hitherto utterly unaffected with the Gospel, the answer will be sufficiently plain and obvious. But we must remember, that we are not to rest in any transient impressions that have been made now upon our minds; but are to judge of the safety of our state, by the resolution of our hearts for God; and to judge of the sincerity of that resolution, by the prevalency of it in the general course of our lives.
2. If, upon an inquiry, you find you have received the grace of God in vain, consider your guilt and danger, as it has now been represented. Urge the arguments that have been pleaded with you; and, knowing on the one hand the terrors of the Lord, and on the other the mercy of our God, be prevailed upon no longer to trifle; but, in the strength of that grace which God is already communicating to you, seek him for further degrees of it, till you are led on to a saving conversion, and so entitled to everlasting happiness.
3. If we have received the grace of God to saving purposes, let us admire the goodness of God, who has so happily distinguished us from
many others, and made that grace salvation to us, which to many others proves but "a savour of death unto death." Let us be humbled, that though we have not been entirely neglecting the grace of God, it has been no better improved by us. And let us be excited, in the Divine strength, to endeavour to correct what has been amiss, and to supply what has hitherto been defective. Let us labour after greater degrees of holiness and of usefulness than we have ever attained to. Let us prize the grace of God more highly; and let us use our utmost endeavour with others, to awaken them to a sense of their duty and interest, after the example of the blessed Apostle in the text. And having found grace ourselves, let us each, in our respective stations, be entreating and beseeching others, that "they receive not the grace of God in vain."
Tothe Editorofthe Christian Observer.
DURING the last few years several articles have appeared in your miscellany, which throw light on the interpretation of the rubrical directions in our common prayer-book. As it is incumbent on those who profess to belong to our church to understand and conform to its rules, I presume that a collection of some of these scattered notices may not be without its use. I have therefore looked through several of your former Numbers with the view of bringing into one article the result of many discussions.
The first subject to which I shall advert, is that of the postures directed to be used during Divine service both by the minister and by the people. It is obvious, that these directions are in many instances loose and general, being in some places defective, and in others redundant. In ambiguous cases, therefore, we must determine by analogy rather than by the mere exactness of literal construction,
One rule of construction, which has been brought forward in your pages, is this,-That the officiating minister is always supposed to stand, except in those cases in which he is specially directed to kneel; and another, That the rubrical words, "all kneeling," do not in general include the officiating minister. Neither of these rules appears to rest on a solid foundation.
Let us briefly examine the actual state of the case. To the introductory sentences and general exhortation no posture is appropriated. The custom of standing, which seems to be universal, appears to be a reverential practice, acquiesced in from traditionary habit and common sense of propriety. Before the general confession the first direction of the kind occurs; and it is this"To be said of the whole congregation after the minister, all kneeling." In this case (it is admitted) the words, all kneeling, include the minister; for in the following rubric he alone is directed to change his posture thus: "The absolution or remission of sins to be pronounced by the priest alone, standing, the people still kneeling." Next follows a rubric, which is plainly intended to apply comprehensively. "Then the minister shall kneel, and say the Lord's Prayer with an audible voice; the people also kneeling and repeating it with him, both here and wheresoever else it is used in Divine service." It follows from this, that, both in the commencement of the communion-service and before the sermon, the people ought to repeat the Lord's Prayer after the minister without any special direction for that purpose. After the few sentences which then follow, comes the direction-" Here, all standing up, the priest shall say:" where again the word, all, clearly includes the minister. The next place where a similar direction occurs, is after the Apostles' Creed; and there again the words, "all devoutly kneeling," include the minister; so that this particular rule, though supported