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REMARKS ON ACTS 15:11.

Covington, GA., May 15, 1860.

“But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be saved, even as they.”

These words were spoken under circumstances of peculiar interest, and special importance, relative to the well being, peace and prosperity of the church of God. It appears from the context, that certain men went down from Judea, and taught the Gentile brethren as follows. “Except ye be circumcised, after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” This sentiment was entirely in conflict with the preaching of Paul and Barnabas, who had no small dissension and disputation with those men. The brethren finally determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem unto the Apostles and Elders about this question. As they were brought on their way by the church, they declared the conversion of the Gentiles, which produced great joy to the brethren. They preached salvation by grace, without the works of the law, or any conditions in point of merit and justification before God. Upon their arrival at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the Apostles and Elders, declaring all things that God had done with them. But certain of the Pharisees which believed, contended, “that it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” The question now was sufficiently defined, and the point at issue was made so apparent, that the Apostles and Elders came together to consider of this matter. After there had been much disputing, Peter arose and addressed the people, defended the truth, and the calling of the Gentiles, repudiated the yoke of circumcision, and boldly affirmed the doctrine of our text. Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Paul and Barnabas, while they declared the miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. After they had held their peace, James, one of the twelve Judges, also spoke, referred to the testimony of Simeon, and of the Prophets, relative to the salvation of the Gentiles, and gave his sentence, which was, “that we trouble not them which from among the Gentiles are turned to God. But that we write unto them that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.” His declaration and sentence was in accordance with the mind and views of the Apostles, Elders, and whole church, and they concluded to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch, with Barnabas and Paul, namely Judas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren. They wrote by these messengers, and as the subject contained in the letter, is one of great interest, we will copy it entire. “The Apostles, and Elders, and brethren, send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia. Forasmuch as we have heard that certain which went out from us, have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, ye must be circumcised and keep the law; to whom we gave no such commandment; it seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send men unto you, with our beloved Barnabas and Paul; men who have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.” After they were dismissed, they came to Antioch, and as soon as they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle, which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation. And the messengers themselves being prophets, exhorted the brethren with many words and confirmed them.

In relation to the subject and circumstances we have treated upon in the connection of our text, it devolves upon us to give our views of the Scripture at the head of this article. The line of demarcation so distinctly drawn, relative to eternal salvation from sin, death, hell, and the grave, as expressed in our text, entirely excludes all hope of salvation only by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Peter, and those with him who believed to the saving of the soul, knew that their salvation was not based upon the act of circumcision, or any of the works of the law, but upon the grace of God, therefore Peter could boldly say, But we believe, &c. Some of the Jews asked Jesus the following question on a certain occasion. “What shall we do that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, this is the work of God to believe on him whom he hath sent.” John 6:28,29. Hence to believe on the Son of God is the work of God, and not the work or act of the creature. When Jesus asked his disciples the question, “Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” John 6:68,69. When Jesus propounded the question to his disciples, “But whom say ye that I am?” Peter replied, “Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed art thou Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” Matt. 16:15-17. From these Scriptures it is clear that a genuine, experimental belief in the Son of God is the effect of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in the soul, and not the work of the creature. In Peter’s epistle to the strangers scattered abroad, he says, “Unto you, therefore, which believe he is precious.” Yes, it is a precious truth to the dear saints, that Jesus is their Savior, Redeemer, and only hope of eternal blessedness. A sinner saved by grace, is the language of them all. They have no other hope, no other salvation.

Grace, is the free eternal love, and unmerited favor, and good will of God to perishing sinners. This is the channel through which salvation flows. It is called the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. “And if by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace; otherwise, work is no more work.” Rom. 11:6. As long as it is clearly established by the Scriptures, that salvation is of grace, upon the principle of the new covenant, how vain, and foolish, besides being absolutely wicked it is for men to teach contrary to revealed truth, and introduce the systems, works, and inventions of men as a substitute for God’s grace in the salvation of sinners. It is not upon the principle of a general atonement for all mankind, and a conditional salvation, the use of means, and the efforts of men, that sinners are saved, for in that case it would be by works, but it is according to the covenant which God has made with his spiritual people, the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah, for saith God, “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people; and they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, know the Lord; for all shall know me from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins, and their iniquities will I remember no more.” Heb. 8:10-12. It is, therefore, vain and absurd for men to look for salvation by their own works, for it is ALONE by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostles, Elders, and the whole church at Jerusalem have so decided, and from their decision there is no appeal. It is confirmed and ratified in heaven, and will never be repeated.

The Scriptures teach, “For by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” Here the distinction between grace through faith, and works in reference to salvation, is clearly expressed. We are aware, however, that many suppose, and teach that salvation is not by works, but faith is given to every person alike, and that every man can exercise faith if he will, and that his salvation depends upon his exercising faith, and yet it is said that it is not by works. This species of self-deception greatly abounds in our day, and many, very many honestly believe that it is the truth. But the truth is, man is a guilty sinner before God, justly condemned, and the wrath of God abideth upon him. Men are already condemned through the violation of God’s holy and righteous law, having sinned in Adam their natural progenitor. The law demands everything of them, and furnishes nothing, affords no relief, brings no salvation to them. It has shut them up in prison, under sentence of death, without the least cheering ray of hope. Involved under the curse of that law there is no way to escape, ONLY upon the principle of free, sovereign, distinguishing grace. And those that are sensible of the condition we are describing by heart-felt experience, are ready to exclaim, and in reality do so express it,

“Should sudden vengeance seize my breath,
I must pronounce thee just in death;
And if my soul were sent to hell,
Thy righteous law approves it well.

Yet save a trembling sinner, Lord,
Whose hope still hovering round thy word,
Would light on some sweet promise there,
Some sure support against despair.”

Where is the sinner’s ability to exercise faith in our Lord Jesus Christ? He would do it if it was in his power, but his strength is gone, and his cries, prayers, and tears afford him no consolation. I am lost and undone – God be merciful to me a sinner, is his cry. He desires an interest in God’s grace; he labors, and is heavy laden, and finds no relief. To illustrate, how can a man who is in debt, and has no money, nor credit, a beggar in a state of starvation, and sick nigh unto death, pay what he owes, and help himself out of his wretched condition, provide for his own necessities, and restore himself to health? We will here remark that dead men in a literal sense have no knowledge of anything, neither do sinners dead in trespasses and sins, have any knowledge of spiritual life, they know not that they are condemned before God. It must be those that are alive, that have a sense of their condition, who realize, and feel what they need. As it is in a literal sense, it is the same in a spiritual sense. To feel the need of a Savior, and also that the only Savior we need, is the Lord Jesus Christ, the only living and true God, is an essential characteristic of saved sinners. The grace of God, which is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, amply provides for the condition of those who are in debt, that have no money, for Jesus has died, yea is risen again, and is ascended on high. He, as the Surety for his people, has paid the debt, for it pleased the Lord Jehovah to bruise him, to make his soul an offering for sin, to redeem them from sin and death, and to save them with an everlasting salvation. His atoning blood is applied, and his righteousness is imputed to them which believe, and they are, therefore experimentally justified by his blood and righteousness. It is called the righteousness of faith. Faith is a spiritual production, the fruit of the Spirit, and those who have the Holy Spirit have faith. Can a dead tree bring forth fruit? Certainly not. Neither can a dead sinner exercise faith. But the saints are trees of righteousness which the Lord has planted, and as Jesus is their Life, their faith is a living faith. This faith exercises them, and John says, “and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” And as it is given to the saints, they receive it as a gift, and consequently it is theirs. It was through faith, or by faith that the “cloud of witnesses,” Paul spoke of “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.” As formerly so now the saints through faith perform prodigies of valor. And a faith’s view of Jesus is salvation; as they are in debt, he has paid that debt, as they have no money, he furnishes them with all spiritual blessings freely; as they are bankrupt, and have no credit, he stands as their Creditor before his Father’s throne and pays all their expenses, to use a figurative mode of expression. They do not pay their passage to the world of immortal glory, but Jesus gives to them a free passage ticket, {to use a figure} and they can say, it is through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are saved. Though they are beggars in a state of starvation, Jesus clothes them with the garments of salvation, and feeds them with the bread of life, with hidden manna, and brings them into his banqueting house, and his banner over them is love. They sit under the droppings of his sanctuary, and his food is sweet to their taste. He leads them into green pastures, and beside the still waters. Notwithstanding they may be sick nigh unto death, he is the great Physician who never lost a patient, and whose medicine always relieves sin-sick souls, and restores them to health. He is always furnished with medicine adapted to their complaints, and is a present help in time of need. We stated that the law demanded everything, or in other words, demands strict love and obedience to God, and furnishes nothing, no deliverance, no consolation to them which are under it. On the contrary, God’s grace in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ demands nothing in a legal manner of sinners, and demands no more than what it furnishes relative to eternal salvation. It meets all the just requisitions of the law, and supplies all of the necessities of penitent sinners, and furnishes or gives repentance and remission of sin with all spiritual blessings to God’s new covenant people.

The name Lord in our text applies to the Lord God of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, the Lord of Sabaoth. The word of the Lord by the prophet addressing the church, is very expressive. “For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of Hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth shall he be called.” Isa. 54:5. This Scripture among many others is sufficient to satisfy every candid inquirer after truth, relative to the Absolute Godhead of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that He is the Savior and Redeemer of his people. The name Jesus signifies Savior, and in reference to his manifestation in the flesh, the angel of the Lord said to Joseph, “And thou shalt call his name JESUS; for he shall save his people from their sins.” Again, “And they shall call his name EMMANUEL, which being interpreted is, God with us.” And the angel said to Mary, “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” The angel said further to Mary, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God.” As the Son of God, He is the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all {whom he represented, and who were chosen in him,} to be testified in due time. As the Anointed One, which the name Christ signifies, Jehovah says, “With my holy oil have I anointed him.” Again, “I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers. He shall cry unto me, thou art my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation. Also, I will make him my first-born, higher than the kings of the earth.” The office of Christ is very clearly expressed by Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek,” &c. We have copied considerable Scripture in reference to the character of our Redeemer, partly to let our readers know by Scripture quotations, our views of the Divinity of Christ, better than by any words we could express on that point, and also to repel the groundless charges of those who represent us, as holding to Arian; or semi-Arian sentiments.

We shall be saved, even as they, is the last clause of our text. Peter was taught a great lesson on a certain occasion when he was on the house-top, and fell into a trance, and saw the heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to earth. In it were four-footed beasts, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. A voice came to him, Rise, Peter; kill and eat. But he replied, not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything common or unclean. But the voice spake again the second time, what God hath cleansed that call not thou common. Peter being a Jew, had only eaten the flesh of animals which parted the hoof, and chewed the cud, and were considered clean by the Levitical law; hence, he refused to eat the flesh of fowls, and animals which were considered unclean by the same law. Peter knew not what to make of the vision, until he went to the house of Cornelius, where he had an opportunity to witness the work of the Lord, in the salvation of Gentile sinners. He saw that God had a people among the Gentiles that he had cleansed, as well as among the Jews. Peter now could say, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation, he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness is accepted with him.” Afterwards when Peter went up to Jerusalem, they of the circumcision contended with him, but he rehearsed the whole matter to the Apostles and brethren, and when they had heard these things, they held their peace and glorified God saying, “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”

In our view this vessel or sheet represents the new and everlasting covenant of peace, and the beasts, creeping things, and fowls of the air represent the gospel church among the Gentiles whom God hath cleansed by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, or in other words, by the blood of Christ, the fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness. Therefore we Jews are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, even as the Gentiles. We stand upon the same level, without the works of the law or of the creature, ascribing salvation to God alone.

J.L. Purington.