With A Word Concerning Apparitions
Thou believest that there is one God. Thou doest well. The devils also believe, and tremble. JAMES 2:19
ONE grand motive which induced St. James to write this epistle, was, to stifle and repress a most dangerous error, which, even in the apostolic times, began to gain ground among too many reputed followers of Christ.
This error was, that a mere naked assent to the truths of Christianity, considered as a doctrinal system, without having the heart affected, and without having the life sanctified, would be sufficient evidence of their salvation, and prove them children of God.
Against this most dangerous delusion, the blessed apostle James drew his pen. And the principal drift of this epistle, is, not to counteract St. Paul (for all the divine writers speak one uniform, harmonious language): but, merely to show the delusion which the Gnostics, who were the Antinomians of that age, were under; and to prove, that mere head knowledge, is requisite to stamp us heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.
Hence we find the apostle, at the 14th verse, asking, What does it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and hath not works? Can faith save him? Observe, with what caution St. James expresses himself. He does not say, “what will it profit a man, to have faith without works?” for he knew that to be impossible. But the words are, What will it profit a man, to say that he hath faith, without works? There is a vast difference, between believing, and saying we believe. The man who professes himself a believer, must offer something more solid than his own ipse dixit, than a mere verbal profession, if he wishes to be credited by those to whom that profession is made. Was I to affirm, that I am possessed of a neat hundred thousand per annum, not one of you would believe me. And why? because I have nothing to show for it. I have no writings to produce, as my authentic vouchers.
By the same rule, when a man comes to you or me, and says, I have faith; it is very natural for us to ask, Where are your works? If thou hast faith, thou hast it to thyself before God. Faith is a hidden principle, until rendered visible by a holy life and conversation. What does it profit a man barely to say that he has faith? It profits a man much to have faith; for, if he has faith, he will also have a life correspondent to the holiness of that leading grace. Indeed, a man can never be holy till he has faith. To them, says Christ, who are sanctified by faith that is in me.—There is no such thing as real holiness without faith; and there is no such thing as true faith without holiness. These two always go together; and none, but a visionary self-deceiver, or an intentional hypocrite, would ever wish to put them asunder.
Can faith, that is, can a bare profession of faith, save him, or prove him to be in a saved state? Far from it. Profession will only sink us deeper into condemnation at last, unless God give us to feel and to possess those graces, to which our lips lay claim. Here, a Pharisee may step in, and ask, But will not works save us? Indeed they will not. Will not faith and works together save us? No. Faith is the evidence, not the cause of salvation: just as works are the evidences, not the cause of faith.
I observed, at another end of the town, this morning, and I will repeat the observation here: 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 Socinian thinks to go to heaven by his works. A Papist looks to be justified by his works. A Freewiller 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 out to us on certain conditions to be fulfilled by ourselves, but was] given us, in Christ, before the world began, 2 Tim 2:19.
It was long ago remarked by a good man, that “It is the business of all false religions, to patch up a righteousness, in which the sinner is to stand before God.” But it is the business of the glorious Gospel, to bring near to us, by the hand of the holy Spirit, a righteousness ready wrought; a robe of perfection ready made; wherein God’s people, to all the purposes of justification and happiness, stand perfect and without fault before his throne.
You may object, “if that is the case, if we are saved and justified entirely by a righteousness imputed, to what purpose are those good works, which the Bible every where inculcates, and which the chapter, from whence the text has been read, so particularly enforces the practice of?” I answer, that, as robes and a coronet do not constitute a peer, but are ensigns and appendages of his peerage (for the will of the sovereign is the grand efficient cause, which elevates a commoner to noble rank); and as the very patent of creation is only an authentic manifesto, not casual, but declarative of the king’s pleasure to make his subject a nobleman: just so, good works do not make us alive to God; nor justify us before him; nor exalt us to the dignity and felicity of celestial peerage: they are but the robes, the coronet, and the manifesto, shining in our lives and conversations; and making evident, to all around us, that we are, indeed, and in truth, chosen to salvation, justified through Christ, and renewed by the Holy Ghost.
I need not apprise yon, that the generality of those who are dead to God, either think, or pretend to think, that we who preach, and you who believe, absolute salvation by the finished atonement, and the finished obedience of Jesus Christ, rested on by faith alone; are “opening the floodgates to licentiousness, and annihilating the necessity of good works.”
I would wish you to notice the inconsistency of those objections, with which worldly people assail the gospel of the grace of God, Acts 20:21. One while, they tell us, that we are righteous overmuch, and are more godly than we need to be. At another time, we are for no good works at all, but make void the law through faith. Now, these two cavils, effectually, and primâ facie, demolish each other, like two equal contrary forces in natural philosophy. Would it not be very absurd, if I was to say of a lady, that she is literally, as strait as an arrow, and as crooked as a rainbow?
They who are acquainted with themselves, with the love of Christ, and with the holiness of the moral law, know and feel, that, so far from doing too much, they can never do enough for God. This knowledge and persuasion effectually cut up the two incoherent objections abovementioned. On one hand, we cannot, even in speculation, be negligent of good works; since we consider, and are zealous for them, as the grand visible indications of our appointment to eternal glory.—On the other, a sense of those immense deficiencies which attend our best obedience, operates as a most powerful inducement to the unintermitted performance of as much good as we can. Not that we are hereby justified. For as I have often asked (and I shall continue to reiterate the question, as long as I can speak for God); where is the man that ever fulfilled the law of God? Let us only bring ourselves to the test of the second table, whose precepts are all summed up in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Since the fall, no man ever did this, but Jesus Christ.
As I was going through Holborn, the other day, I saw a house on fire. The mob were assembled, and the engines were playing. I felt, with great tenderness, for the immediate sufferers. Yet it instantly occurred to me, that I was not so deeply concerned, as when I lately saw my own house in a similar danger. What was the reason? Because I do not love my neighbour as myself. And, was there nothing else, to exclude me from justification by my own righteousness, I should know, from this circumstance alone, that it is utterly impossible for me to be accepted of God, and entitled to heaven, through my defective conformity to the moral law.
In the prosecution of his argument, St. James puts a very obvious case: a case, which, I am afraid, happens almost every day. If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace! be ye warmed and filled! notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body: what does it profit? Intimating, that, as a string of smooth, canting words, unaccompanied by substantial relief, conveys no service to a distressed petitioner, and is no decisive proof of benevolence in the speaker; so, an empty, unactive profession of faith, without a heart and life devoted to God, and to the good of mankind, will stand us in no stead at all.
The apostle himself makes the application: even so, faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Are we to infer from this, that works cause us to live, in the sight of God? No. It would sound very odd in your ears, and with very good reason, if I was to affirm, that I am therefore alive, because I have the honour of preaching before you this afternoon: no. My preaching does not make me alive. It only shows that I do live. Since, if I did not live, I could neither move, nor speak, nor act. In like manner, holy works do not endue us with life. —— They only prove us to be spiritually alive, if the Spirit of God has enabled us, from right principles, and to right ends, thus to bring forth fruit to his honour and praise.
The goodness of the fruit does not make, but discover and declare, the goodness of the tree: since, if this were not good, it could not produce good fruit. The purity of a stream does not make the fountain pure, but proves it to be so. All that we can possibly say and do for God, contribute not one jot or tittle to the acquisition either of spiritual or of eternal life, but only make known that he has infused into our souls the breath of supernatural regenerating grace, by the powerful ministration of the Holy Ghost.
A man may say, adds the apostle, thou hast faith and I have works. Show me thy faith without thy works: as much as to say, I defy thee to do it: faith can only be shown by the good works which it produces. Therefore, I will show thee (and every true believer says the same) I will show thee my faith, by my works: I will adduce these, to demonstrate the reality of that.
Thou believest that there is one God. Thou doeth well: this is very right, so far as it goes: but remember, that the devils also believe this, together with a great deal more, and tremble. The faith of a deist (which is all ultimately resolvable into this solitary article, I believe that there is one God) is, at best, but a small part of the devil’s creed; and, if it proceed no farther will leave the soul infinitely short of everlasting salvation.
In the text, there are three objects of enquiry:
I. Who are the devils here mentioned?
II. What it is that they believe, and how far their faith goes?
III. In what respects their faith differs from the faith of God’s elect, or from that faith which the holy Spirit breathes into every converted heart?
I. By the devils here referred to, we are doubtless to understand that whole body of apostate spirits, whose names were not in the book of life, and who were therefore permitted to fall from that state of holiness, dignity, and happiness, in which they were originally made.
Our text styles them devils, δαιμονια: probably, from their depth of skill, and from the exquisite subtilty of their knowledge.
At what precise point of time the angels, and these among the rest, were created; and whether their creation was successive, or simultaneous; cannot perhaps, be exactly ascertained from scripture: which only informs us, at large, that, within the first six days, the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the hosts of them. St. Austin thinks, that the angels were called into being, when God said, Let there be light.
And it seems extremely certain, from a passage in the book of Job, that the angels were created before our part of the universe, or that terraqueous globe which we inhabit, was completely formed into its present state. For we read, that no sooner was this portion of our own solar system moulded into its present scheme, than angels admired the fabric, and blessed the builder. Whereupon are the foundations of [the earth] fastened? or who laid the corner-stone thereof? When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy, Job 38:6,7. Who were those morning stars? Who were those sons of God? The angels of light; styled morning stars, from their purity, their dignity, their excellency, and glory; and sons of God, because they were of God’s own immediate creation.
It is likewise plain, that the fall of a vast number of these unembodied spirits, was antecedent to the fall at least, if not to the creation of man. For we read, in the only authentic account of the origin of evil, any where extant, that one of these apostate spirits was the being, who, in a borrowed form, seduced the mother of the human race.
Should it be asked, “How came any part of those angels, who were created in such a state of natural and moral excellence, to make shipwreck of their holiness, of their majesty, and of their joy?” I answer, that the origin of evil, whether among angels (with whom evil seems strictly to have originated), or among men, is the most difficult question, perhaps, and the most mysterious part of the divine conduct, that ever yet presented itself to human investigation. Clouds and darkness are the seat of its residence; though wisdom, goodness, and justice, were certainly (in a manner unknown to us) the motives to its permission.
It becomes us, probably, on such an occasion as this, to repress the sallies of imagination, and to clip the wings of idle curiosity. It may be, that we cannot answer the question in better words, than in those of our Lord, Even so, Father! for so it seemed good in thy sight. We may, perhaps, venture to surmise, that, according to our present views and apprehensions of things, the divine perfections could not have been manifested in equal glory and to equal advantage, if nothing but absolute and uniform good had universally and immutably prevailed.
I was greatly pleased, some days ago, with the remark of a pious and learned friend, who, in the course of our free conversation on this subject, observed, that, “Had evil never been permitted, how could the justice of God have been glorified, in punishing it? How could the wisdom of God have been displayed, in overruling it? How could the goodness of God have been manifested, in pardoning and forgiving it? And how could the power of God have been exerted, in subduing it?” Here, probably, is our ne plus ultra, on this subject; until we ripen into that fulness of knowledge, which awaits us at God’s right hand. Until our disimprisoned spirits rise into a superior state, it becomes us to confess our ignorance and incompetency, and to address the uncreated cause of all things, in those words of (I think) good bishop Hooper, a few moments before his martyrdom, “Lord, I am darkness, but thou art light!”
Should it be enquired, What particular crime it was, which drew on the fallen angels that indignation and wrath, that tribulation and anguish, which, we read, will be their portion? we are not, perhaps, altogether in the dark as to that. For where St. Paul observes, that 1Tim 3:6 a bishop should not be a novice, [νεοφυτος, newly converted, or lately implanted into Christ], but a person of gravity, and wisdom, and long experience in the ways of God; the reason assigned, is, lest a raw, unfledged bishop, being lifted up with pride, should fall into the condemnation of the devil. From whence it seems, that pride and self-admiration were the immediate sins, which rendered satan and his angels obnoxious to the vengeance of the Almighty.
St. Jude likewise, in the 6th verse of his epistle, gives us some insight into the nature of the sin committed by those degenerate spirits. The angels, says he, who kept not their first estate, (τηυ ἑ αυτων αρχην, their own proper and original principality) but left their own habitation; who were not satisfied with that rank in the scale of being, and with that degree of knowledge, dignity, and bliss, assigned them by creating wisdom, but left their own station, and deserted the post in which their Maker placed them; he has reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, to the judgment of the great day. Whence we may soberly conclude, that the original sin of the apostate angels was a compound of pride on one hand; and of murmuring on the other.
Discontent is the daughter of pride. Every discontented heart is a proud heart. Instead of being angry with providence, for not making us greater than we are; the meanest person of us all, if he rightly knew himself and God, would fall low at his footstool, and adore him, for condescending to bestow any thought upon us, or to take any care of us, whatever. As I once heard a valuable person remark, “God is often better to us, than our fears; and always better to us than we deserve.” —— We should be perfectly at ease, under every possible combination of circumstances, if we could but give credit, to infinite wisdom, for doing all things well.
“Presumptuous man! the reason would’st thou find,
Why form’d so weak, so little, and so blind?
First, if thou canst, the harder reason guess,
Why form’d no weaker, blinder, and no less!
Ask, of thy mother earth, why oaks were made
Taller and stronger than the weeds they shade?
Or ask, of yonder argent fields above,
Why Jove’s satellites are less than Jove?”
Some there are in the world, who sagely laugh at the very mention of devils. These illuminated rationalists cannot bring themselves to believe, that there are any such beings.
Let me, therefore, just drop a cursory hint, as to the scriptural evidences, and the philosophic reasonableness of the article now in question.
(1.) There is nothing unscriptural in that doctrine which asserts the real and literal existence of degraded and malevolent unembodied spirits, who retain, amidst all the losses and horrors inseparable from their fallen state, a very extensive portion of knowledge, subtilty, and power. The Bible is so far from denying this, that, from the first to the last of the inspired books, it gives us a large account both of these spirits themselves, and of their various operations. Yea, the Bible is the only source from whence any thing certain can be gathered, concerning their existence, their history, and their activity.
(2.) There is nothing unphilosophical in the scripture account of these nefarious agents. The whole universe consists of matter and spirits. The positive existence of matter (though it be incapable of absolute demonstration, strictly so called, yet) will not admit of a moment’s reasonable doubt: and with regard to spirit, we must commence atheists at once, ere we can deny the real existence of that. God the Father is an unembodied spirit. God the Son, prior to his incarnation, was an unembodied spirit. God the Holy Ghost is an unembodied spirit. Angels are unembodied spirits. The glorified souls of the departed elect are disembodied spirits.
Moreover, by the same rule, that there are good unembodied spirits; why may there not be evil unembodied spirits? Where is the absurdity of this belief? (I now consider it merely in a rational point of view). If it be atheism, to deny the existence of good unembodied spirits; then is it not totally unreasonable, to deny the existence of bad unembodied spirits?
We know that there are good embodied spirits, and bad embodied spirits upon earth, viz. good men and women, and bad men and women. Now, what is a man, or a woman? an immaterial ray, if I may so speak, united to a machine of dust; a deathless spirit, implunged in a mass of dying matter. And why may not that spirit exist, when the matter is dropped? That matter, which is so far from ennobling, that, at the best of times, it hangs as a dead weight upon the incarnated angel within!
I will go still further; and declare it as my stedfast and mature belief, not only that there are unembodied spirits; but also that, upon some special occasions, unembodied spirits and disembodied spirits have been permitted, and may again, to render themselves visible and audible.
There is nothing absurd in the metaphysical theory of apparitions. I do not suppose, that one story, in an hundred of this kind, is true. But I am speaking, as to the naked possibility of such phænomena. And this I am satisfied of, that, if a spirit (like mine or yours for instance), even while shut up in a prison of flesh, can render itself and its operation perceptible to other spirits, through the medium of the senses; and if the bodily powers, quick and acute as they are in some men, be at best but very incommodious engines of mental action, and (on the sum total) rather clog and impede and embarrass both the faculties and the exertions of the soul, which yet can do such great things, even while in connection with so feeble and depressing a vehicle as now hangs about us; where is the unreasonableness of believing (yea, how great is the unreasonableness of not believing) that a soul, disimprisoned and disentangled from this burden of the flesh, is (so far from losing the powers it had) abundantly more at liberty to make itself perceived, than when it was connected into one compositum with a material habitation?
As I have ventured, with that intentional humility which becomes me, to set before you my judgment concerning the doctrine of apparitions; permit me, a moment longer, to digress from the immediate subjects of our text, while I remind you of two very remarkable scripture examples, quite in point to the case in hand.
(1.) Eliphaz, the Temanite, gave the following relation of a spectre, which he himself both saw and heard (a). In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men, fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones to shake. Then a spirit passed before my face. The hair of my flesh stood up. It stood still, but I could not (distinctly and perfectly) discern the form thereof: (I can only say in general terms, that) an image was before mine eyes. There was silence (deep and solemn, all around, while the spirit spake); and I heard a voice, saying, shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his Maker? Or, as others render it, shall mortal man be just before God? shall man be pure in the presence of his Maker? No: nothing can constitute us just in his eyes, but the imputation of Christ’s perfect righteousness. Nor can anything restore us, inchoatively on earth, and completely in heaven, to the purity of God’s image, but the omnipotent agency of God’s sanctifying Spirit.
(2.) Carry back your views to our Lord’s transfiguration on mount Tabor (a), and you will read of, not one only, but two persons, who descended for a while from heaven to earth, appearing visibly to, and conversing audibly with, the Son of God and three of his disciples.—As Jesus prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became white and glittering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, who were Moses and Elijah; who appeared, in glory, and spake of his decease, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.
From such holy, from such happy, from such glorified beings, as Moses and Elias; I revert, for the present, to those malignant spirits, of whom our text speaks; to the devils, who believe and tremble. Spirits of a very different cast from those above! Spirits, who are bound down under the chains of divine providence, and now imprisoned at large, in the atmosphere that surrounds our globe, till the great audit comes, when they shall be turned into hell, together with all who forget God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
II. I now proceed to the second enquiry: viz. What it is that these devils believe? and how far their faith goes?
To which I answer, in general, that the devils are incomparably more orthodox, than 19 in 20 of our modern divines. Do you think there is such a being, as an Arian devil? or a Socinian devil? or a Sabellian? Is there an Anti-Trinitarian among the devils? or an Arminian? or a Pelagian? No. They endeavour to seduce men into those heresies; but they are too well informed, to be speculatively heterodox themselves.
They believe the existence of God, and that God is one. So the text may be rendered: Thou believest, ὁτι ο Θεος εις εστι, that God is one in nature and essence: the devils likewise believe as much; and that in the unity of this Godhead, there is a co-existence of Three distinct, eternal, consubstantial, and equal Persons.
Satan and his angels believe also, and tremble in believing, that the second of the Divine Persons assumed the nature of man; and by the perfection of his obedience and atonement, secured the justification and completed the redemption of every elect sinner.
They know, too, that the covenant-office and business of the Holy Ghost, is, to quicken, to convert, and bring to eternal life, all those who are elected by God the Father, and sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ.
They know that the Bible is the unerring word of God; that every syllable of it is true; and that a time shall come, when they themselves shall be arraigned at the Messiah’s bar, and receive sentence for all the evil they have done, and for the evil which they have prevailed on men to do. They believe this, and tremble: φρισσουσι, they are all in horror, commotion, and confusion. The term is borrowed from that violent, convulsive fermentation, which agitates the ocean, when it is wrought and lashed into all the turbulence and rage of total tempest.
Thus do these once dignified, but now degraded spirits, believe with all the certainty of demonstration, and tremble with all the horrible magnificence of angelic fury and despair. They wait, with anxious dread, the enunciation of that sentence, which they know they must receive, from the lips of that incarnate God, whose crucifixion was brought about through their instigation. They asked him, in the days of his flesh, Art thou come to torment us, before the time Matt 8:29? And they still tremble, at the sure expectation of what they are to suffer, when they have filled up the measure of their iniquities, and the destined season of their torment is come.
What was observed, a few minutes ago, concerning the orthodoxy of devils, holds, I doubt not, equally true, of every human soul now in hell. When the departed spirits, of unregenerate men, do (figuratively speaking) open their eyes in torments; they, at the same time, open their eyes on the truths of God. There is not an Arian, a Socinian, a Sabellian, a Pelagian, or an Arminian, weltering in that lake of fire. As there are no heretics in heaven, so there are none in hell. It is only on earth, that men have the dreadful prerogative of out-sinning the very devils themselves.
Do not, however, mistake me, as though I meant to pass sentence of condemnation on any of my fellow-creatures. Whether the souls of such men as Arius, Socinus, and Arminius, who certainly trampled the gospel system under their feet, and were the artful and indefatigable instruments of disseminating the most pernicious errors; I say, whether the departed souls, of such heresiarchs and heretics as these, are saved or lost (which is among the secret things that belong to God); I will venture to declare, that Arius is not an Arian now. Sabellius is not now a Sabellian. The two Socinus’ are not now Socinians. Pelagius is no longer a Pelagian, nor Manes a Manichean. Arminius is not an Arminian, nor does Roëllus any longer dispute the eternal generation of the Son of God.
III. Let us consider, in what respects does the faith of devils differ from the evangelical faith of the saints, or from that faith which is of the operation of God?
Much, every way: but, chiefly, in these. ——
(1.) The faith of the devils is only a mere assent of the understanding, unaccompanied by any cordial consent of the will and affections to the truth: a faith, without regard to Christ, or any concern for the glory of God. They discern the traces of infinite wisdom, shining in the gospel plan; but they feel nothing of Christ’s suitableness and loveliness. They speculatively see, but it is only to hate and blaspheme (and, if it were possible to counteract) the covenant-designs of the Trinity respecting the salvation of sinners.
Sorry I am, to observe, that we have some professors among ourselves, who are for shutting out all feelings of grace for Christian experience. I dare do no such thing. On the contrary, I am persuaded, that, if a cold, dry, assent to the written word be that faith which is connected with salvation; all the devils in hell, are and must be, children of God. But I cannot bring myself to have so good an opinion of satan and his legions. Nor, consequently, can I suppose that faith to be saving, which has nothing to do with spiritual feelings.
If once the feeling or inward perception of God’s Spirit, as a (John 16:8) convincer of sin, and of righteousness, and of sanctification, were to be excluded from faith, there would presently be an end of all vital religion, and the power of godliness would take its flight, from that day forward. What is conviction of sin? it is no conviction to me, unless I feel myself convinced of my sinfulness and inability. What is conviction of Christ’s righteousness? no conviction at all to me, unless I feel the necessity and value of that righteousness. What are the comforts of the holy Spirit? no comforts at all to me, except I feel them. Unfelt consolation is a contradiction in terms.
Hence our (a) church teaches us to pray, that, by the light of the same holy Spirit, who taught and illumined the disciples in the day of Pentecost, we too may have a right judgment in all things pertaining to God; and be enabled, evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort. But how can we rejoice in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, unless we feel and perceive his visitations? where is the enthusiasm of believing, that the blessed Spirit of God can make my soul feel, no less vividly, than the impressions of outward objects can make my soul perceive, through the organs of sensation? Putting scripture quite out of the question, I am bold to assert, that no churchman can reprobate religious feelings, without reprobating the church at the same time. For, in the 17th article upon election, or predestination unto life, the church roundly affirms, that the godly consideration of our election and predestination in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and to such as feel in themselves the workings of the Spirit of Christ. May we feel these workings, more and more, mortifying the deeds of the flesh, and drawing up our minds to high and heavenly things!
(2.) The faith of the devils is a faith without repentance. Though they saw something of the glory of God before they fell; yet, they do not repent of having fallen. My meaning is, they do not repent of having offended God; though the fear of punishment, resulting from self-love, may make them wish they had not sinned.
(3.) Theirs is a faith without love. Their language to the Almighty, is, Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. Whereas the cry of those who are endued with the faith of God’s elect (Titus 1:1) is, Like as the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God (Psalm 42:1).
(4.) The diabolic faith is an Antinomian faith: a faith without holiness, a faith without good works. Whereas the faith of God’s people is a faith inseparably connected with holiness, and infallibly productive of practical obedience. Whoever has St. Paul’s faith, will and must have St. James’ works.
(5.) The faith of devils, is a faith without desire. But that faith, which the Holy Ghost works in the hearts of his people, causes them earnestly to desire the favour, the presence, and the image of God in Christ. Nothing will satisfy a renewed soul, but communion with God, and conformity to him.
(6.) The faith of devils is a faith without reliance. Though they know the mercy of God to be immense, and though they see the merits of Jesus Christ to be all-sufficient; yet they have not one grain of reliance, nor wish they to rely, either upon the one or upon the other. Whereas they who (c) believe through grace, are enabled, in some degree, to trust the goodness, the covenant, and the promise of God; to trust the blood, and obedience, and mediation of Christ; to trust the grace, the power, and faithfulness of the Holy Ghost. They trust a little, and wish they could trust more. They build a little, and wish they could build higher and deeper, on the merits of Christ. They not only give their assent to the history of his obedience and sufferings; but rely upon them, and take shelter under them, as the sole procuring cause of pardon and salvation.
(7.) While the devils believe against their wills, and wish they were not forced to believe so much; the saints believe with their hearts unto justification, and are ever crying, Lord, increase our faith!
(8.) The faith of the infernal spirits does not look to the influences of the Holy Ghost. Whereas that faith, which the Holy Ghost inspires, as it comes from him, so it leads to him; and causes the soul to see, and to feel, and to rejoice, that all its strength, all its holiness, and all its happiness, are treasured up in the faithful hands of that holy, blessed, and adorable comforter.
To conclude. What learn we from the whole subject?
1. That those objections, which are commonly brought against the doctrines of grace, and against the good old church of England doctrine of predestination in particular; as if those doctrines carried an implication of arbitrariness and cruelty, and injustice in God; all fall to the ground, when we consider how vast a body of apostate spirits, much our superiors in natural excellency, and of an incomparably higher order than ourselves, were permitted to fall still lower than we, and are all absolutely passed by, or reprobated, without the election of so much as one of them to eternal blessedness. Thus God spared not the angels that sinned. No sooner did they transgress, than their punishment commenced; and satan, with his rebellious hosts, fell like lightning, from heaven (Luke 10:18). Now, if God could pass by millions and millions of angels, sparing not one of the whole number; who dares take divine sovereignty by the throat, and say, concerning its dealings with men, “What doest thou?” Has not the potter power over the clay, to make of the same lump, one vessel unto honour, and another to dishonour (Romans 9:21)? certainly he has. I hope, and believe, that thousands of those, who at present are not enlightened into the Bible and church of England doctrine of predestination; nay, who look upon it as if it was a Jezebel, fit only to be thrown out of window and trampled under foot; I hope the time will come, when even these shall experience the blessings with which God’s electing love is fraught.
2. Bless the Trinity for distinguishing grace, astonishing it is, that he, who is God by nature, as being the everlasting Son of the Father, should, by consent of the two other divine persons, vouchsafe to take our nature upon him, when he passed by the non-elect angels, and left their nature alone. Well might those of the elect, unfallen angels, who announced the Messiah’s birth, sing, Glory to God in the highest, and on the earth peace, good-will towards men: lost, guilty, feeble, hell-deserving men, to the exclusion of revolted seraphs! O sinner, sinner, who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou, which thou didst not receive (1 Cor 4:7) from the sovereign, discriminating bounty of free-grace? Men are taken, and angels left! Nor does the Father of spirits incur the least shadow of injustice, by doing what he wills with his own; or by withholding, from any of his creatures, whether angelic or human, that grace, holiness, and happiness, which he owes to none. Are you or I unjust, in not giving to a person, what we do not owe him? Surely, not. And is God unjust who taketh vengeance? God forbid (Romans 3:5,6). O ye potsherds of the earth, who presume to cavil at the divine decrees, strive no longer against your maker, nor madly run on the thick bosses of his buckler! Remember, that you are no more qualified to arraign the glorious mystery of predestination, and to comprehend the whole of God’s designs, than the purblind mole, peeping from the top of its little cavern, can survey, judge, and pronounce of, the universe at large. Fall down, therefore, at the footstool of the Omnipotent; and acknowledge, without limitation or reserve (what thou wilt surely and clearly discern in a future state), that God is holy in all his ways, and righteous in all his works. Be content to know no more of his motives and purposes, than himself has condescended to reveal.
“—— With trembling pinions soar:
Wait the great teacher, death: and God adore,
Aspiring to be gods, if angels fell;
Aspiring to be angels, men rebel.”
3. If the faith of the devils is a faith without works; it follows, that such faith is unprofitable and dead, being fruitless and alone. For, as the body without the soul is dead; so faith without works is dead also. Where there is life, there will always be some degree of motion. And the believer who is truly such, cannot help showing that he believes, by living unto God, and by doing the works which he enjoins.
On the contrary, as a body literally dead, is totally motionless and incapable of transacting any worldly business; and its being in such a state of absolute inactivity, convinces us that its death is real, though it may still retain the shape and form of a man: so we may pronounce that person to be spiritually and religiously dead, who is motionless and unactive in the ways and works of God; notwithstanding such person may profess to be alive, and among some may even have a name to live. Faith without holiness, is no more gospel-faith, than an image of wood or stone deserves to be termed a man.
4. I need not apprise you, that you are called upon, by the voice of providence, to perform a good work this afternoon. The barren faith of devils, I am persuaded, will not satisfy you and me. We are for proving, by the good works we do, that grace is a lively, benevolent, operative principle.
Since the first institution of that parochial school, for which your bounty is now solicited, no fewer than five hundred and twenty-seven young persons have been admitted. Of those, one hundred and sixty have been apprenticed; fourteen fitted for the sea service; and upwards of three hundred have gone to domestic services, or been otherwise decently provided for. On the present establishment, there are now sixty children, of both sexes, who are maintained and taught, chiefly by means of those voluntary contributions, which are raised by good people, from time to time.
Such of you as are alive unto God through Jesus Christ, need no arguments from the pulpit, to stir up your pure minds, even by way of remembrance. You do not, you will not, you cannot forget, that Christ has made the poor his own receivers general. I should, therefore, be guilty of offering an insult to all your fine feelings as men and Christians, should I press this matter farther, by detaining you with petitions and remonstrances. They, who possess a better faith, than that of which the text speaks, will, as lovers and imitators of Christ, rejoice, while, and as often as they have opportunity, to do good unto all men; and especially, unto them, who are of the household of faith.
You know not, but many of these young people, whom you are now going to assist (nay all of them, for any thing we can tell to the contrary), may have their names in the Lamb’s book of life; may be useful members of society, through the support afforded them; and, in the world to come, through the free grace of God, reign in life everlasting.
That they, and you their benefactors, may, to all eternity, sing and rejoice together, ascribing the whole of your salvation to the covenant mercy of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is my heart’s desire, and my prayer to the triune God.
Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, (London: Richard Baynes, 1825), 3:267–290.