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be considered as properly distinct, because they involve each other. They suppose, that faith implies love, and love implies faith; that faith implies repentance and repentance implies faith; or rather that faith implies all the christian graces. But this seems to be an absurd supposition. For, all holy exercises are really distinct; and though in a certain sense connected, cannot be exercised at one and the same moment. Some who allow, that faith, repentance, and love are really distinct exercises, and take place in succession; yet say it is of no importance to determine in what order they follow one another; because they have no fixt order of succession, but take place sometimes in one order, and sometimes in another. Sometimes the renewed person may exercise love in the first instance; sometimes faith in the first instance; and sometimes repentance in the first instance. The Spirit, they suppose, operates differently upon different persons. In one person, he may first produce faith; in another person, he may first produce repentance; and in another person, he may first produce love. He observes, they imagined, no certain order in his special operations, and consequently those who are the subjects of his special grace, are not conscious of the same order in their first gracious affections. One person may say, that he was first conscious of love; another, that he was first conscious of faith; another, that he was first conscious of repentance; and another, that he was conscious of no distinct order in his new affections, but only that they were new, and different from any that he ever was conscious of before. It is readily granted, that all these subjects of special grace, may speak the truth according to the best knowledge they have of their first gracious exercises; and yet it may be equally true, that the first gracious exercises in each of
them, took place in a certain order, and in the same certain order that we have mentioned. For, no person, perhaps, at the very time of his spiritual change, ever attended to the particular order of his holy affections, because his mind was first fixed upon the great objects of his love, his repentance, and his faith. Besides, though all true believers know that they have had different affections since they became believers from what they had before; yet very few know how to distinguish and describe their holy exercises according to their specifick difference, and proper names. Notwithstanding, therefore, this variety of opinions among real christians, respecting their first christian exercises, it must be certain, that the Spirit of God never acts inconsistently in converting sinners; or in other words, that he never produces repentance towards God, before he produces love to God; nor faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ, before love to Christ. There is no room to doubt but that he always produces love before repentance, and repentance before faith. This is the only order, in which we can conceive it to be possible, for the holy Spirit to produce the first holy affections in the human heart, whether believers are, at the time of their conversion or afterwards, conscious of this order or not. Hence it is of great importance in describing a saving change, that the first exercises of grace should be represented in that very order in which they always take place. For,
1. Unless we place love before faith and repentance, we cannot reconcile regeneration with the divine law, which requires all men to love God immediately and supremely. If we say, that faith is the first gracious exercise, then we virtually say, that men ought to believe the gospel, before they love God; which is the same as to say, that it is not the duty of sinners to obey
the first and great command, until they become true believers in Christ. And this consequence is allowed by those, who place faith before love. They maintain, that no man can or ought to love God, until he believes, that he is freed from the condemning power of the law, and shall escape the everlasting displeasure of a damning God. They suppose, therefore, that faith produces both love and repentance. But this is totally inconsistent with the first precept of the divine law, and virtually dissolves the obligations of sinners to love God, until he gives them faith in Christ. But, on the other hand, if we represent love as the first fruit of the Spirit, then the doctrine of regeneration will appear entirely consistent with the divine law. For the law requires love as the first exercise of holy affection; and this is the first affection, which every renewed person exercises. Such is the consistency between the law of God and the special influences of his holy Spirit in regeneration. And in order to make this consistency appear, it is very important to represent love, as before repentance and faith, and not faith, as before love and repentance in the renewed heart. The experience of christians must be represented according to the doctrines of the gospel, and not the doctrines of the gospel interpreted and represented according to the various and inconsistent experiences of supposed christians.
2. It is of importance to represent love, as before repentance and faith, in order to make it appear, that sanctification is before justification, and the only proper evidence of it. Those, who place faith before love and repentance, suppose that men are justified before they are renewed or sanctified. They suppose, that saving faith consists in a man's believing that he is justified and entitled to eternal life, without any evi
dence from scripture, sense, or reason. It is easy to see, that if faith could be before love and repentance, justification might be before sanctification, and consequently sanctification could be no evidence of justification. But this doctrine, though taught by many noted divines, is contrary to the whole current of scripture, which represents love, as before faith and repentance, and as the best evidence of pardon and justification in the sight of God. Paul says, "If children, then heirs;" and not, "If heirs, then children." John says, "Love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God." The only proper evidence of justification is sanctification. "If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his." If we place love before faith and repentance, we make repentance and faith holy exercises, and holy exercises the evidence of justification and a title to eternal life. The placing of the first exercises of the renewed heart in this order, is of the highest practical importance. It lays the only solid foundation for all real christians to know, that they are born again, and heirs of everlasting life. I must add,
3. It is absolutely necessary to place love before repentance and faith, in order to distinguish true religion from false. All true religion essentially consists in pure, holy, disinterested love; and all false religion essentially consists in interested, mercenary, selfish love. Now, those who place faith before love and repentance, make all religion selfish; because upon their supposition, all religious affections flow from a belief of their being elected and entitled to eternal life. They maintain, that men must first believe, that God through Christ is reconciled to them, and intends to save them from the wrath to come. And who that believes this, in respect to himself, will not love God, and be very
sorry that he has ever offended him, who has always been so partial in his favour. The worst man in the world would be glad to escape endless misery; and if he can make himself believe, that God intends to save him in his sins, he will love and admire him for it. So that this faith, which is before love, and altogether selfish, will produce a false love, a false joy, a false repentance, a false hope, a false submission, a false obedience, and a whole life of false religion. But if we place supreme love to God, for what he is in himself, before faith; then all the gracious exercises, which flow from it, will be holy and disinterested affections. The repentance, the faith, the joy, the hope, the submission, the obedience, and the whole religious life, which flows from such love, will be all holy and acceptable in the sight of God. And such persons as thus love God, before they know that he loves them; that repent, before they know that they shall be forgiven; and that love and believe in Christ, before they know that he died for them in particular, may have clear and satisfactory evidence, that they have experienced a saving change; that they are meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; and that they shall forever love and enjoy God, and be perfectly happy in his favour and service.
1. If the first exercises of renewed sinners always take place in the same order; then all real saints have always had precisely the same kind of religious experiences. They have always been the subjects of the special, renewing, sanctifying influences of the holy Spirit. He has converted all sinners, who have ever been converted in all ages. And though he has not always made use of the same external means in