Orthodoxy and Charity United: An appeal to those debating the role of works in our salvation.

Orthodoxy and Charity United: An appeal to those debating the role of works in our salvation.

There have been many blog posts and articles written recently regarding the role of good works in the Christian’s life, the nature of justification, and the ways in which one should preach the gospel. Lines are quickly drawn and bloggers lay siege to each other from the distance and safety of their fortified desks. The arguments, caricatures, and accusations circulating today are not new. In this case, as in many others, we can learn a valuable lesson from the past in the form of Isaac Watts’ book “Orthodoxy and Charity United” (1745). I would strongly encourage you to read the entirety of what is offered below. The title of Watts’ book is an accurate description of its content. It is both orthodox and charitable.

You can download the content of this post in a PDF file here.

“Now that I may proceed in this reconciling work, I shall follow this method.
1. Represent the different apprehensions and language of men in preaching the gospel.
2. Mention some of the causes or occasions of these different apprehensions.
3. Give a hint or two of the conveniences and inconveniences of each of these ways of preaching.
4. Show the safety and sufficiency of each, with regard to salvation.
5. Conclude with a word or two of request or humble advice.

Let me represent the various apprehensions of men in those matters: But here I would be understood to describe only the moderate men among those who are called Calvinists, and those that are named New Methodists; as for the High Flyers, or extreme and rigid Party Men of either side, I leave them out in my present account, while I mention the little differences among the men of moderation, among whom I reckon far the greatest part of Protestant Dissenters in England, to be at this time, and I hope I am not mistaken in this Opinion.

Some when they read or pronounce the words law or gospel, take them generally in their loosest and largest sense, and so they unite their names, and make them consistent together; others are ready to take those words in their limited and proper sense, and then they divide them into very distinct things, and will not allow their names so promiscuous a use.

Some ministers love to explain the gospel in a more legal way, and describe it as a conditional covenant that requires agreements and restipulations from men; they insist much on vowing and resolving to submit to the commands of Christ, and with a lively zeal and powerful eloquence, they enforce the duties of repentance, sincere obedience, watchfulness, and perseverance; and show how much the promises of life, heaven and glory, peace and daily pardon depend on these qualifications and performances, pronouncing the terrible threatenings of damnation on the impenitent, the unbelieving, and the disobedient, to awaken the secure sinner, and stir up the slothful Christian. Others delight more in representing the gospel as a declaration of grace and free promise of salvation to sinners; a promise of pardoning mercy, sanctifying grace, and everlasting glory to sinful and perishing criminals, and invite sinners to receive all this grace, to accept of this salvation, and to trust in this Savior, according to the offers of the gospel: When its truths are revealed, the first sort choose to say, that the moral law of nature in the hand of Christ, commands us to believe them; when its duties are mentioned, they rather say, the law of nature in the hand of Christ requires obedience to them; and that while the gospel in its proper language promises salvation to believers, the moral law, or law of nature, binds condemnation on the unbeliever, and the impenitent; but the pure gospel is all grace and mercy: And they preach the law of works in the perfection of its demands and terror of its penalties, to drive sinners for refuge to the gospel: And they press the duties of holiness on their hearers from a comfortable sense of their deliverance from hell, and from gratitude to Christ, as evidences of their faith, as preparatives for heaven, and as necessary, both in the nature of things, and by divine appointment in order to our final happiness.

Those that follow the conditional way of preaching the gospel, describe the chief act of faith, as a consent of will to submit themselves to him in all his offices; a consent to take him for their Prophet, and resolution to make all his instructions their rule and guide; a consent to take him for their Priest, to make their peace with God, and obtain their pardon; a consent to own him for their King, and promise sincere obedience to him as their Lord in all his commands; but still with an humble dependence on his Spirit and grace, to enable them to fulfill these resolutions.

Those that preach the gospel in its more free and absolute form describe faith in Christ as the flight of a poor, guilty, perishing sinner to an only refuge; and they make its chief act to consist in a trusting or committing the soul, ignorant, guilty, hardhearted and sinful as it is, into the hand of Christ, with a sincere desire to have it enlightened by him as their Prophet, pardoned and reconciled to God through him as their Priest, and subdued to all willing obedience to him, and by him, as their Lord and King; humbly expecting that he will do all this for them; and this is in their opinion the best way of addressing themselves to poor sinners, who find themselves so dark, so sinful, so feeble, and inconstant in their best obedience and purposes, that they dare not resolve upon any thing, and can hardly say, they heartily vow and promise a submission to Christ in all things; but that they can better apply to him in a way of trust and dependence, humbly desiring and hoping he will work all this in them by his free grace, while they wait upon him in his appointed means.

The one are ever persuading their hearers to bind their souls to God, by solemn vows and covenants, even in particular duties, believing this to be the most effectual way to guard against every sin, and best secure their obedience and constancy under every temptation: The other are afraid to urge so much vowing and resolving on the consciences of men, lest they thereby lead them into a legal frame, under a spirit of bondage, and lest their consciences be more troublesomely entangled and ensnared after every broken vow, and their faith and hope be too much discouraged; that faith and hope which ought to be the constant springs of their obedience. They advise their people, therefore, rather to commit their souls afresh continually to the care of Christ, as 2 Tim 1 to believe he accepts them, and to walk watchfully, without any particular, formal, and explicit vows. Though it must be confessed, that with regard to Christians of different tempers and temptations, both these methods have had very good success.

Some are Sons of Thunder, Boanerges, and frighten the profane out of their security, by many terrors that are written against those who obey not the gospel; and they enforce obedience on the consciences of believers chiefly by way of rewards and punishments: The other are like Barnabas’s, Sons of Consolation, and persuade sinners to accept of the offered grace, by all the allurements of the compassion of God, and by the dying love of a redeemer, beseeching them to be reconciled: and they draw out the hearts of believers to repentance, and lead them with the Spirit of power and love to an easy and connatural obedience by the constraints of the love of Christ, and by a humble persuasion of their acceptance in him unto eternal life.

In short, the one dwell most upon the duties of the gospel in their sermons, in order to qualify their hearers for the privileges; the other insist more on the privileges and comforts of the gospel, in order to invite and allure them to fulfill the duties, and to give their hearers strength and delight in the discharge of these duties.

I would not here be understood, as though I supposed either of those ministers never to mingle mercy and terror, precepts, penalties, and promises; for it must be acknowledged, there are some persons of each opinion, in whom all the talents of a preacher happily unite, and they honorably sustain both characters, the Sons of Thunder, and the Sons of Consolation; and all of them make conscience of publishing to men both divine grace and their duty, all of them preach repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; but those who have chosen one scheme or divinity for their own, more generally bend their ministry the one way, and those who have chosen the other preach more usually in the other way.

All our Protestant Confessions of Faith, and I would persuade myself that our Ministers, at least among the Nonconformists, agree that, though Duties are required to be performed by us, yet the Grace that is necessary to perform them is given freely to us; that though Faith and Repentance, and sincere Obedience, are indispensably necessary, in order to our final Salvation, yet they are not the justifying Righteousness upon account of which our Sins are pardoned, and eternal Life is bestowed upon us: That the Obedience and Death and Intercession of Christ, as a proper High-Priest and Sacrifice, are the only Foundation of our Acceptance with God, and ground of all our hopes; and that from him, as a Head of Influence, we must receive all Grace, whereby we are conducted safe to Glory.

Both sides agree that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, but that it is God who works in us to will and to do, Phil 2:12-13. That we are saved by the faith of the Son of God, and not by works, lest any should boast, yet that we must also be created in Christ Jesus unto good works, for God hath appointed that we should walk in them, Eph 2:8-10.

In the next place, that I may make a little further apology for those that are humble, honest, and sincere on both sides, I would consider the various causes or occasions, whence different apprehensions of men about these things may arise: And here we shall find poor frail mankind, almost universally born and brought up in prejudices to some party or other, encompassed with a thousand things that tend to influence the judgment, and incline it insensibly toward some particular opinion; so that a whole scheme of doctrines built upon a pure and zealous and laborious search after truth, without any manner of bias or corruption on any side, is scarce to be found in human nature. There is no man alive free from these weaknesses. Happy the mind that has the fewest of them.

Nam vitiis nemo sine nascitur, optimus ille est qui minimis urgetur. -Horace
(For no one is born without faults, and the best is the one who has the fewest.)

It may be these ministers themselves, who differ in opinion, are of very different natural complexions and tempers, and this hath a secret influence in swaying their mind, their studies, their judgment, and ministry one way or the other; though all those who agree in natural temper, are not always of the same opinion.

Or it may be, they had an education under teachers and tutors of different sentiments, or have met with books of different principles and opinions, which have made a strong and lasting impression upon their minds, and engaged them betimes into one party, before they had the strength of judgment to determine their opinions upon just arguments.

Some persons in order to settle their judgments in these points, have studied more and prayed less, and some have prayed more and studied too little; and some on both sides have studied hard, and prayed much, and sought earnestly the instructions of the blessed Spirit, and yet have fallen into different ways of thinking in those parts of Christianity which are not of necessity to salvation, and have been suffered to follow different forms of speech for wise purposes in the providence of God.

Some little accident or occurrence of life, or some sudden start of thought, while the balance of the judgment was in suspense, has perhaps given it a turn to one side or the other, and perhaps determined it for their whole lives.

Some have happened to form their set of doctrines at first more by their own reasoning powers, and drawn their schemes of religion from what they imagine the most natural connection, the necessity or congruity of things, and they call the Bible only to their assistance, and seek proper texts to confirm their own system: others draw the whole scheme of doctrines from a constant and intent application to the holy Scripture, and call in reason to their assistance, only in order to understand and methodize those doctrines: and though the first way of study in matters of the Christian religion is by no means to be justified, yet too many have unhappily practiced it; and although the latter way is much to be preferred, and most likely to come near the truth, yet it is not followed by all who preach the gospel; and no wonder then that ministers may differ in their thoughts.

Such is the weakness of human nature, that as some of us form and build up our first opinions upon very slight and insufficient grounds, and there are many who persist in them, and strongly maintain them without an honest reexamination, so others of us change our opinions upon reasons as slight and feeble and insufficient. Some persons having been perplexed with one or two great difficulties in that scheme of sentiments which they have professed, and being unable to grapple with them, have by swift or slow degrees, abandoned that whole scheme, and fell in with another, which perhaps hath equal or greater difficulties in it; never considering that the whole system of Christianity, with all its appendices, is so vast, and our view of things is so narrow, and our knowledge so imperfect, that a sharp disputant may push some parts of all our human schemes into great perplexities, even such as human reason can hardly solve; and perhaps God alone knows how to reconcile them, in whose single view all things lie for ever fair and open, perfectly consistent, and are comprehended at once.

Or it may be the way and method of divine grace in the first conversion of the one and the other was very different. Some were wrought upon at first more by legal methods, and the terrors of the law of God, and they find them still to have the greatest and most powerful influence on their consciences; others from their wild wanderings were brought home to Christ by gentle discoveries of divine love in the death of a Savior: Some, like the Jailer, Acts 26:26-30, have had their consciences shaken as with an earthquake, they came in trembling and crying out, what must I do to be saved? Others had their hearts softly opened, as was the heart of Lydia, 14th verse of the same chapter, and they received the word of grace and the gospel; and they find the work of God carried on upon their own souls, still by the most evangelical methods. Now a man’s own early experiences in the things of religion, will naturally have a great influence on his opinions; and God in his infinite wisdom hath ordered it should be so, that persons of every sort and temper, and humor, young and old, sinners and saints, under every kind of temptation, might meet with some ministers of the gospel, and some sermons and writings to suit their taste, to hit their case, and be the most effectual means of their salvation.

The third thing I proposed here was to show briefly, that as each of these ways of preaching have their special advantages, so each of them have their special inconveniences too, if they are perpetually and only insisted on, unless well managed by the extraordinary prudence of the preacher.

The one aims most at the glory of divine equity, in rewards and punishments, and contends much for the sincerity of God in all his transactions with men: the other seems to look most at the honoring the sovereignty, the riches and freedom of divine grace, and God’s infinite condescension and compassion to sinful creatures.

One seems to lead Christians more to a strict scrupulosity in every action, in order to make up the undoubted evidences of a gospel-perfection, which they call sincerity, and thereby to raise their hopes of escaping hell and obtaining heaven; it drives the soul to duties, and maintains a trembling watchfulness; but is in danger of governing it by a spirit of bondage, and of peeking our faith and comfort very low. The other leads to equal holiness, or perhaps to higher degrees of it by the delightful constraints of a filial love, by the sweet influences of divine consolation; but there may be some danger of encouraging negligence and presumption, and that not only in sinners, but even sometimes in believers themselves, if not wisely managed and guarded.

Upon this subject I might here give my pen into the hand of some sprightly advocate of each party, and have forty more pages written for me speedily, without any thought or labor of mine; this would swell my essay up finely, and enlarge it to a volume, with many a name of Arminian and Antinomian dealt about freely on the opposite opinions: for the supposed advantages and disadvantages on both sides, are frequently mentioned as arguments of each party against the other; but I shall not think necessary to insist longer on them here for that very reason: and though these sort of moral arguments drawn from the design and tendency of things, may be justly used on both sides, and on both sides have some degree of truth and force in them, yet both may not have equal force. Nor do I think it inconsistent with my design in this reconciling discourse, to declare my own sentiments: “For a man may be very happy in making peace between two quarreling neighbors, though he is will persuaded that one hath the better side of the cause, and in a friendly manner expresses it, too.”

I will not be ashamed then to declare, that in my opinion, one method of preaching the gospel hath the greater advantages in it, and fewer inconveniences than the other; supposing still that we guard against extremes: that one seems more connatural to the genius of the gospel, as it is distinct from a covenant of works, and seems to suit better with the most glorious designs of divine grace. My own experience in these things of religion, my observations of some others and my diligent search of the holy Scriptures (I hope not without divine aid) hath led my thoughts rather to savor and practice the more evangelical method of preaching most frequently: But another person who follows a different way may tell me, he came by his turn of thoughts the same way as I did by mine, and my charity demands that I believe it. Yet while both sides maintain those great truths, wherein I mention the general agreement of our Protestant Confessions of Faith, I cannot conceive that either of them can lead sinners astray from salvation.

And that is the fourth proposal I made, (viz.) to show the real safety of each of these methods in ministering the gospel both to saints and sinners, and that is evidence, because they agree in the most necessary and essential parts of it. Both of them preach grace and duty, justification by Christ, and sanctification by the Holy Spirit, and teach men all that is of necessity to be believed and practiced in order to salvation.

If two men sitting under a different ministry are brought sincerely to repent of all sin, and to love God with all their heart, can I imagine that one shall be damned because he tells me he repents in obedience to the commands of the gospel? Or the other, because he does it in obedience to the moral law in the hand of Christ, supposing the pure gospel to have no commands in it? If two sinners are persuaded to accept of Jesus Christ for their Lord and Savior, can I ever believe, that God will condemn one of them, because he first resolved to obey Christ as his Lord, and thereby took encouragement to trust in him as a Savior? Or that God will punish the other forever, because he first trust in Christ as a Savior, and thereby found his will sweetly inclined to submit to him as his Lord? Where all duties required in the gospel are sincerely performed, can I ever be persuaded men shall be ever sent to hell, merely because they do not agree about the logical relations that these duties have to one another, or to their salvation, while both agree to lay the Lord Jesus Christ, and his righteousness, or his obedience and death, as the only foundation of all their hopes?

If either of these ways of preaching the gospel were contrary to Scripture, and such abominable and pernicious errors in the sight of God as angry and quarreling men of both sides represent them, I cannot persuade myself that God would so far have favored both in these instances following, (viz.)

1. If either of these ways of preaching were so criminal and dangerous as some have supposed, I cannot think the Spirit of God would have used those expressions in Scripture, which sometimes seem to represent the covenant of grace in one form and sometimes in another; nor that he would have suffered the pen-men of his holy word to have given occasion to such different sentiments on this subject among his favorites, his holy worshipers, and those who have sought his directions and his grace with much importunity and perseverance.
2. If either of these ways of preaching were so dangerous as some have imagined, I cannot believe that the blessed God would ever have attended both these ways of preaching with his blessing, so far as to convert great numbers of sinners by them, and edify his saints; but it is sufficiently evident that ministers of very different apprehensions in these points have been owned and blessed of God to the conversion, comfort, and salvation of many souls.
3. If either of these representations of the gospel were so very dangerous, I cannot imagine that persons of good understanding, of deep learning, of large knowledge in religion, of long experience, and of great holiness, should maintain their opinions in these things so very different to their lives’ ends, if their salvation were in such extreme hazard thereby, however in the infancy of their Christianity they might have received and embraced these different apprehensions. Surely if these points had been of so dreadful and dangerous importance on either side, God would have granted a greater union in sentiment to so great a number of his children, who labored in sincere inquiry after the truth, constant and fervent prayer for the teaching of the blessed Spirit, and were truly zealous for his honor. Divine goodness surely would not have suffered such multitudes of holy souls on either side to continue always in mistakes of so terrible consequence as some disputers have represented them.

May I be permitted at the end of this discourse to drop a word or two of general advice, or rather of humble request to all, but especially to my younger brethren in the ministry.

1. Pay a constant and sacred reverence to the language of Scripture, and let it appear in these following instances.

First, Let the forms of speech that are used in those scriptures where the doctrines of the gospel are expressly laid down and proved, be the speech in which you commonly teach those doctrines; and let the language wherein warm and pathetical exhortations are given in Scripture, be the language which you generally imitate in your affectionate addresses to the consciences of saints and sinners; the one as well as the other are given for our example. Whereas if we should preach and explain the deepest truths in all the affectionate forms and flourishes of speech and metaphor, ’tis the way to lead the judgments of hearers astray; but while we submit ourselves to the words which the Holy Spirit uses as our pattern, both in teaching, and also in exhorting, we may humbly expect his inward teachings to enlighten our own understandings, and make our labors in the gospel powerful to the salvation of them that hear us.
Second, Let those words which re not used in Scripture never be zealously maintained and insisted on as necessary to salvation, and especially where they give great offence: nor let those terms and ways of expression which Scripture uses but very seldom, and upon particular occasions, be the perpetual or constant language of your ministry, in opposition to those expressions and ways of representation which Scripture most frequently delights to use; and let no authentic systems of divinity, to which you are most inclined, nor the names of great men ever prevail with you to break this rule.
Third, Dare not indulge yourself in a discourse to any Scripture language, or an aversion to those Scriptures which seem to run in a style and expression different from the language which you generally choose; for even those expressions were designed for useful purposes by the Holy Spirit, and doubtless have attained some happy end in the providence of God, in particular cases and persons: If you should once encourage such a vicious humor, it might proceed so far at least, as to render a great part of the Bible the object of your disgust. Be sure therefore always to maintain upon your Spirit such a reverential tenderness for the Holy Scripture, that you may never dare to rail against any expressions that Scripture uses, nor oppose them with violence, without a modest distinction in what sense they are proper, and in what sense they are to be avoided.

2. When you hear any ministers, in preaching the gospel, use the words “Free and absolute, conditional, unconditional, promises, laws, threatenings, commands, etc.” Exercise so much charity as to believe they use them in such a sense as the Scripture approves of, and as secures the salvation of men, according to their sincerest apprehensions.

If the preacher speaks of the gospel, as a free and absolute promise, always suppose he intends also, that all the duties of repentance and holiness are necessary, in order to salvation, though he does not like to call them conditions. If another should insist much on conditions in the gospel, suppose he means none of them to be performed merely by your own strength, nor to include any thing of merit in them. If he speak of the laws of Christ, understand him concerning all those rules and directions, and command, which Christ has given to his followers, but not in the strict and perfect notion of a law. Even if he calls the gospel a law, believe that he intends it only in the largest sense, and doth not mean that we are justified in the sight of God by our performance of the duties of this law as the proper matter of our righteousness before God. Or if he should happen to mention any such thing as justification by our good works or holiness, etc. take due heed to the connection, and let charity persuade you that he is speaking concerning justification before men, or justification in our own consciences, or in the day of judgment, and not of a sinner’s justifying righteousness in the sight of God, when he is first converted and accepted of him through faith in Jesus Christ.

Suffer not your disgust and anger immediately to be kindled at the sound of any of these words, as though they were at once undermining and perverting the gospel of Christ. Nor ever give yourself leave to reproach ministers, as no preachers of the gospel, merely because they choose other modes of expression than those which you most esteem, and frequently use; for such a conduct will warp and bind down the consciences and spirits of men to a narrow and uncharitable partiality. This will render every sermon offensive to them that is not conceived just in their beloved language, and will utterly prevent their profit by the various gifts Christ has bestowed on his ministers. There are some common Christians in our age, who are most unhappy instances of this unchristian temper; and ’tis to these persons chiefly that I give this advice.

3. Avoid all the high flights and extremes of zealous party men, and which way of preaching soever you approve and pursue, be sure to guard against all extremes, both of notion and language. Let the hopes of exalting free grace never persuade you to neglect to enforce the duties of the gospel, and to press them with zeal on the consciences of all men. Nor let the fear of encouraging licentiousness ever tempt you to turn the gospel of grace into a covenant of works: For God in his gospel of free grace hath sufficiently provided for the honor of his holiness, and the sanctification of his own children.

You will tell me here perhaps, that Scripture itself uses expressions as high upon particular occasions, and as much leaning to extremes as any men of party among us. But remember then, that the Scripture uses such strong and high expressions not on one side only, but on both sides, and infinite wisdom hath done this more forcibly to argue and impress some present truth or duty. But while it is evident the holy writers have used high expressions, strong figures of speech, and vehement turns on both sides, this sufficiently instructs us that we should be moderate in our censures of either side, and that the calm doctrinal truth, stripped of all rhetoric and figures, lies nearer to the middle, or at least that some of these appearing extremes, are more reconcilable than angry men will generally allow. If the Apostle charged the Corinthians, so run that ye may obtain, 1 Cor 9:24, and tells the Romans, it is not of him that willeth or of him that runneth, but of God who sheweth mercy, Rom 4:16, we may plainly infer that our running and his mercy, our diligence and divine grace, are both necessary to our salvation.

4. Let the particular tempers, temptations, and dangers of persons with whom you converse, or with whom you preach, together with the growing errors of the times, have always some weight with you, to bend your ministry a little more the one way or the other. And never affect to preach these matters in a disputative and controversial way, but rather in a plain and practical form, except the temptations of the age and nation, or of particular churches or Christians seem to demand it. And indeed this seems to be one great reason, why Scripture itself in different parts of it sometimes manages the argument in a way of dispute, and at other times gives a different practical turn to the same truth, and uses so different language in the representation of the same doctrines. For the several books of Scripture were written according to the various necessities of the church of God, and to obviate temptations of contrary kinds, and to prevent the danger of errors arising, by running to extremes on either side.

In the last age, in the times of the civil wars, Antinomianism and errors of that nature, were very common in the nation. This turned the labors and study of many pious men to vindicate and preach up the duties of the gospel, and works of holiness, as the proper business of the day. In this present age, the popish and pelagian doctrines of justification by works, and salvation by the power of our own free-will, are publicly maintained and preached abundantly through the land. The Socinian and the Arminian errors are revived and spread exceedingly, whereby Jesus Christ is robbed of his Godhead, or his satisfaction, or both, and the blessed Spirit denied in the glory of his offices. For deism and natural religion, in opposition to Christianity, daily prevail.
Now, perhaps, some may think it the duty and business of the day to temporize, and by preaching the gospel a little more comformably to natural religion, in a mere rational or legal form, to bring it down as near as may be to their scheme, that we may gain them to hear and approve it, or at least, that we may not offend them. But I am rather of opinion, that we should in such a day stand up for the defense of the gospel in the full glory of its most important doctrines, and in the full freedom of its grace; that we should preach it in its divinest and most evangelical form, that the cross of Christ, by the promised power of the Spirit, may vanquish the vain reasonings of men, and that this despised doctrine triumphing in the conversion of souls, may confound the wise and mighty, and silence the disputers of this world. This was the bold and glorious method Paul took at Corinth, where learning and reason and philosophy flourished in pride. But they yielded several trophies of victory to the preaching of the cross. Paul could use the wisdom of words whensoever he had occasion for it, and had the excellency of speech at command when he pleased. This appears in several parts of his writings; yet in his sermons at Corinth, he disclaimed it all, and determined to know nothing among them but Christ, and him crucified. 1 Cor 2:2.

Happy that man who hath attained the holy skill of joining promises and commands, duties and privileges, authority, terror, and grace; and who mingles them all wisely in his ministry; who hath learnt of Paul the divine art of addressing himself to the reason, the consciences, and the passions of men in such variety of expressions, of power, terror, and love, as may most effectually answer the ends of his office. Happy is he that knows how to display the gospel in all forms under which Scripture represents it, to preach to the Jews, and to teach the Gentiles; to talk to the righteous and the wicked in proper language, to the obstinate rebel, to the trembling sinner, and to the mourning saint. Happy is he that becomes all to all that he may gain the more souls, 1 Cor 9:19, sometimes as without the law, yet under a law to Christ; sometimes as with the law, yet free from the bondage of it; that never strives above words to no profit, but knows how to divide the word of truth aright, and to give to every one their portion. This is the workman that needs not to be ashamed, and hath most reason to hope for success. 2 Tim 2:14-15.

To conclude, Let us all apply ourselves with unbiased minds, with new diligence and fervent prayers, to search the word of God, and draw all our notions of the gospel thence. Let us inquire into the spiritual state, the dangers and necessities of the people to whom we minister, and this will be of great use to guide us to proper subjects and methods of discourse.

Let our conversation be such, as becomes the gospel in every form of it, whether absolute or conditional. Let our close walking with God be exemplary and instructive, that men may see our religion as well as hear it, and all may confess, that while we preach the gospel, we are zealous observers of the law. Let us maintain upon our own hearts a sweet and honorable sense of the riches of free grace in Christ, together with a tender sense of the evil of sin, and a lively delight in holiness, that the daily experience of our own souls, and our inward Christianity which is taught us, and wrought in us by the Spirit of God, may instruct us how to preach to others.

Let that gospel which is written in the fleshly tables of our hearts, i.e., in our very souls, by the finger of God, be manifested in every part of our ministrations for the good of men. Thus we shall obtain the approbation of Jesus our Judge, in preaching his gospel of faith and love, and thus shall we have the pleasure of this testimony in our own consciences, that in the general course of our ministry we have sought to save the souls of others in the same way as we ourselves have sought to be saved. And that we have proposed the same truths to them, and recommended the same duties, which we ourselves believe and practice, in order to our own salvation. Amen.”

Read Watts’ work for yourself, and more if you so please, on google books.

The Best Preachers, Sermons, Worship, and Books EVER!

There is nothing new under the sun. The errors of our day are the errors of days gone by because the common thread that runs through every age is the sin of the human heart that lies within us all. Isaac Watts provides some helpful critiques of these common errors.

On one side, many Christians are content with a “dead orthodoxy” in which all that matters is intellectual accuracy.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 637
For others, all that matters is what feels right.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 637-638
But the reality is that true doctrine will produce true doxology.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 638
What are the dangers of an imbalance in this area? When our emotions are in control, we pursue Christian celebrities.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 684
And this in turn can cause us to identify the worth of a sermon with our emotional loyalty to the preacher. Instead of coming to hear the word of Christ from the ministers of Christ to the people of Christ, we come to hear So-and-so who tickles our fancies.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 684(2)
Our emotions can cause us to think that the right worship is that which makes me feel a certain way. How can it be bad when it feels so good? Ask Uzzah.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 684(3)
We may love the singing more than the song (the words). This is an interesting insight coming from so worthy a hymn-writer.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 691
If that’s the way we operate, we will begin to innovate according to our whims.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 684 (1)
And many, carried away by their emotions, become very poor testimonies for the truth because they are only babies spiritually speaking but they desire to walk and run and talk as adults.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 685
Still others will read anything that pleases them. The internet is very good at satisfying such theological prostitution, but sadly even “christian” bookstores are sources of plentiful emotional fluff.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 686

The moral of the story?
If you give a mouse a cookie
The solution?
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 639

From Isaac Watts’ Discourse of the Love of God and the Use and Abuse of the Passions.

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Isaac Watts’ Rules for Christians on the Internet

This is the 200th post for Particular Voices. That doesn’t mean much, but it sounds nice.

Anyway, recently Tom Chantry has posted some helpful thoughts on the divide between Baptists and Paedobaptists in which he offers not only critiques of the situation but also directives towards a more healthy relationship (especially in our online age). It is sad how the internet, which is neither good nor bad in and of itself, has been abused. We would expect this from natural man who corrupts that which is good and suppresses that which is true, but the extent to which Christians have used the internet as an occasion for their own corruption and suppression is distressing. By way of complement to Tom’s proposals, let me add the voice of Isaac Watts who wrote extensively on Christian Internet Etiquette (well…maybe not).

I strongly recommend reading the entirety of what he says below (click the images if you need to read them at a larger size). If you implemented everything he has to say and put it into practice, what effect would it have on your behavior on the internet? See for yourself.

Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 623-624
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 624
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 625
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 626
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 629-630
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 631-633

From Isaac Watts’ Treatise of the Passions in a collection of his works.

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The Pure Gospel is Foolishly Relevant

Should we “temporize” so as not to offend? Isaac Watts answers that we should “stand up for the defence of the Gospel in the full glory of its most important doctrines, in the full freedom of its grace, and in its divinest and most evangelical form” because “the cross of Christ, by the promised power of the Spirit, may vanquish the vain reasonings of men.”

Isaac Watts, Orthodoxy and Charity United, 96-98

From Isaac Watt’s “Orthodoxy and Charity United.”

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The confessions on preaching the gospel

Isaac Watts, Orthodoxy and Charity United, 79-80

From Isaac Watts’ “Orthodoxy and Charity United.”

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All our Protestant Confessions of Faith, and I would perswade myself that our Ministers, at least among the Nonconformists, agree that, though Duties are required to be performed by us, yet the Grace that is necessary to perform them is given freely to us; that though Faith and Repentance, and sincere Obedience, are indispensably necessary, in order to our final Salvation, yet they are not the justifying Righteousness upon account of which our Sins are pardoned, and eternal Life is bestowed upon us: That the Obedience and Death and Intercession of Christ, as a proper High-Priest and Sacrifice, are the only Foundation of our Acceptance with God, and ground of all our hopes; and that from him, as a Head of Influence, we must receive all Grace, whereby we are conducted safe to Glory.

Even the Deists preached a better gospel than many today

Watts Deism, Orthodoxy and Charity, 9-10

Isaac Watts defends the purity and truth of the gospel against its corruptors. It is sad that what Watts calls a “Deist” gospel is the standard “Christian gospel” of American life today (if that). And it is also sad that what Watts deemed necessary to defend is often given up without a fight or unconsciously accepted as “a simpler message.” At least the Deists had some conception of sin and forgiveness.

As a side note, Watts’ concerns are a strong argument for the use of confessions. “I believe the Bible” and “The Bible is our creed” puts you in a category broad enough to fit the Deists described above. We need to declare what we believe, and why, based on the scriptures. We can’t allow agnostic deism to become “standard Christianity.”

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But there have been some Persons in the last and in the present Age (I chiefly intend the Socinian Writers, and those nominal Christians who are leaning toward Deism) who would impoverish and curtail the Gospel of Christ, and make it to consist in little more than mere natural Religion. Some of these Persons just make a Shift to persuade themselves to believe the Bible, or at least they profess to believe it, because it is the Religion of their Country, but they explain it in so poor, so narrow, so dry, and insipid a Manner as raises it very little above the Light of Nature, viz. “That if we follow the Dictates of our inward Reason and our Consciences, in worshipping God, and in loving our Neighbours, according to the Rules which Scripture hath given us to explain and confirm the Light of Nature, and herein imitate the holy Example of our Lord Jesus Christ, then our Sins shall be forgiven us by the meer Mercy of God, through the Supplication and Intercession of so good a Man as Jesus Christ, and we shall be accepted to eternal Life;” and this without any Dependance on the Death of Christ as a proper Atonement or Satisfaction for Sin, or any Regard to him as a true and real Sacrifice. And as for the Spirit of God, and his Almighty Operation on the Souls of Men, to enlighten and sanctify them, at least in our Age, this is almost banished out of their Gospel, and finds but little room in their Religion.

The revelation and discovery of the covenant of grace

Watts Gospel, Orthodoxy and Charity, 1-5

This practically reads like a commentary on chapter 7 of the Baptist confession. Yet it is from Isaac Watts’ “Orthodoxy and Charity United.”

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The Word, Gospel, is used in more Senses than one. But in the most proper and usual Sense of it in Scripture, it signifies a Discovery of Divine Mercy, through a Mediator, to Mankind fallen into Sin and Misery; Yet it is now peculiarly applied to the Word of his Grace, which reveals Salvation to sinful and miserable Man, and therefore it is often called the Covenant of Grace.
This Salvation is made up of many Benefits or Blessings, Part of which are bestowed in this World, and the rest in the World that is to come. The Revelation of these Benefits, and of the Foundation on which they stand, and of the Way whereby we come to be Partakers of them, is the Matter, Sum, and Substance of the Gospel.
This Gospel was not revealed all at once in its full Glory to Mankind. There have been several Editions of it, or gradual Discoveries of this Grace in all the former Ages of the World.
As soon as ever Adam had sinned, and ruined himself and his Posterity too, by laying the Foundation of their Sin and Misery, it pleased God to publish this Gospel by the Promise of a Saviour, when he told our Mother Eve, that her Seed should bruise the Head of the Serpent that had deceived her, Gen. iii. 15. This, by our Divines, is usually called the first Gospel; for, in the modern Language of the New Testament it signifies, that Jesus Christ should come into this World to destroy the Works of the Devil, I John iii. 8.
Doubtless Noah, the second Father of Mankind, had some farther Discoveries made to him, when the Rainbow was appointed as the Seal of a gracious Covenant betwixt God and Man.
This Gospel was renewed by Revelations made to Abraham, when the Messiah, the Saviour, was promised to spring out of his Family; in thy Seed shall all Nations of the Earth be blessed. Which Promise is expressly called the Gospel, Gal iii. 8. There was also a Type or Pattern of our Justification by Faith in the Way of the Gospel, when Abraham believed God in his Promises, and it was imputed to him for Righteousness, Rom. v. 3.
Moses had a much larger Discovery of the Grace and Mercy of God toward sinful Man made to him, and to the Jews by him, than all the Patriarchs put together: And this was not only done in the Types, and Figures, and Ceremonies, not only in Altars, Sacrifices, Washings, Sprinklings, Purifications, and in their Redemption from Egypt, their miraculous Salvations in the Wilderness, and their safe Conduct to Canaan, the Land of promised Rest; but he had many literal and express Revelations of pardoning and sanctifying Grace, which are scattered up and down in the five Books which he wrote, and which he gave to the Children of Israel to direct their Religion. This is also called the Gospel, Heb iv. 2. To them was the Gospel preached as well as unto us, as those words ought to be translated. This same Gospel was afterward confirmed, illustrated and enlarged by succeeding Prophets in the several Ages of the Jewish Church.
But God, who at sundry Times and in divers Manners spoke this Gospel to our Fathers by the Prophets, has in these later Days published the same to us in a brighter Manner, by his Son Jesus, the promised Saviour, Heb. i. 1. And since the Death and Resurrection of Christ, the Apostles being sent by their exalted Lord, have given yet plainer and fuller Declarations of this Gospel to the Children of Men.
Now, from this last and fullest Revelation of it in the New Testament, we may derive a fuller and more perfect Knowledge of the Gospel than all the former Ages could attain. Hereby we learn, that the Gospel is a Promise of Salvation from Sin and Hell, by the Death, Righteousness and Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to every one that is sincerely willing to accept of it by coming to Christ, or trusting in him; and it includes also the promised Aid of the Holy Spirit to those who seek it, to enable them to receive this Salvation, and to fit them for the final Possession of the promised Glory. It includes also the Revelation of the future Resurrection, the last Judgment and eternal Life. To this End did the Son of God come into the World, that whosoever believes on him should not perish, but have everlasting Life, John iii. 16.