Pristine Grace

Robert Sandeman on Faith
Paraphrased in Modern English by David Bishop
by Robert Sandeman
Robert Sandeman on Faith

Robert Sandeman paraphrased and modernized: 

Many popular preachers, mistaking ecumenism for faith, take pleasure in saying things like, 'if we do unto others as we want others to do unto us, then we can hope that God will not condemn us and question the genuineness of our faith.”  

Agreed.  Do this, and you shall live.  If you hope to live by doing your duty, then take care henceforth to do it perfectly. This means that if you have already sinned, then place confidence in your repenting and hope that it will be enough for God to accept you.  Make sure that it’s uniform, effectual, and permanent.  Let your repentance be of such an effectual turning away from all sin that there can be no doubt you can never sin again.  Let it be such a turning to righteousness that there can be no doubt as to its success.   Because if you don’t do this, the moment you fail in any one instance, then all your former righteousness goes for nothing and all your repenting is made worthless.  

Do not imagine that God will accept any righteousness short of perfection, be it called sincerity or any other name.  If you pretend to do anything less or more in order to win acceptance with God, you must do everything, and everything perfectly.  God is not mocked.  Go not about to impose on yourselves by substituting the perfect obedience that God’s Law requires with ambiguous, equivocal acts or motions of your heart.   For you cannot do your duty to purpose, unless in plain terms, and in good earnest, you do it all perfectly, performing everything required, and avoiding everything forbidden by the Divine Law. 

On the other hand, if there be any of you who, after many repeated trials, have found all your most serious attempts to do your duty proven unsuccessful and deceitful, and have thereby been brought to despair of believing it possible to think even one good thought, then you have reason to bless God for His Gospel, because it attests with the highest kind of demonstration that all is already done and accomplished by Christ.  

That which Christ did long before we were born is, by itself, sufficient to justify us as we presently stand.  This is why the Gospel is called the ministration of righteousness, for it brings glad tidings that a perfect righteousness has already been wrought for the ungodly.  The Law came in demanding righteousness, but the Gospel brings the good news that the Law’s demand is fully answered. 

Are you persuaded of this or does this stand true in your conscience?  Then you have found an answer to that most pinching of all questions, “wherewith shall I come before the Lord?”  And now you can understand the nature of the command to believe, that it is not a command calling you to do anything, or to perform any new law of works, but it is rather the gracious voice of God willing you to know that everything required is already done, even a gracious proclamation, stamped with the highest proofs of Divine Authority, approaching you with all the force of a Divine Law, and carrying in itself evidence all sufficient to command the belief in your hearts.  For how vain, how absurd it is to talk of a command to believe that carries not along with it evidence sufficient to command the persuasion, or to produce belief in the heart.

To avoid the absurdity of saying we are not justified by faith alone, the popular preachers commonly divide faith into as many different acts or motions as will serve all their purposes.  Hence, we hear of things like direct faith and reflexive faith.  We hear of things like the faith of reliance, the faith of affiance, the faith of assurance, the act of flying, the act of trusting, the act of appropriation, and even Mr. Boston, I think, divides saving faith into four more acts.  And while others choose to assure us that one single act of faith is sufficient to save our souls forever; nevertheless, that one single act must be properly qualified and multiplied.  

These popular preachers supply us with many epithets to faith; words like true, sincere, lively, manly, generous, triumphant, and so on.  In fact, I stand now expressing my wish that Aspasio had carried his aversion to the terms and phraseology of the popularly doctrine much farther than he has done, because his dialogues are far from being purged of them all.

It would be tedious to examine every one of these forms of expression one at a time, but one thing in the general may be freely said of them all.  Where the faith necessary to justification is described, every epithet, every word, every prefix or suffix that is not meant as descriptive of the truth believed, but rather of some good motion, disposition, or exercise of the human soul about it, is intended, and really serves, instead of clearing our way, to blindfold and decoy us, to impose upon us, and make us take brass for gold and chaff for wheat.  Words like direct and reflexive, trust and appropriation are meant to lead us to establish our own righteousness in opposition to the Divine righteousness, even while our mouths and our ears are filled with high sounding words about the latter. 

In vain shall we consult catechisms, confessions, and other publicly authorized standards of doctrine for direction here.  These are framed by the wisdom of the scribes and philosophers of this world.  We can receive no true light about this matter but from the fountain head of true knowledge, the sacred oracles of Divine revelation.  There it will appear that justification comes by bare faith.  Ask a Christian, what’s his faith, the spring of all his hope?  And he answers you in a word, “The blood of Christ.”  But ask a preacher of the popular doctrine the same question and he immediately begins to tell you a long-winded story of how grace enabled him to become a better man than he was, and this he calls conversion.  Thus, we see what a wide difference there is between the false and true grace of God.