Tuesday, July 15, 2008

GOSPEL SONNETS – Chapter 3 – Section 3

By Ralph Erskine
Chapter 3

SECTION III. – True saving faith magnifying the law both as a covenant and as a rule. False faith unfruitful and ruining.

PROUD nature may reject this gospel-theme,
And curse it as an Antinomian scheme.
Let slander bark, let envy grin and fight,
The curse that is so causeless shall not light.(1)
If they that fain would make by holy force
‘Twixt sinners and the law a clean divorce,
And court the Lamb a virgin chaste to wife,
Be charged as foes to holiness of life,
Well may they gladly suffer on this score,
Apostles great were so maligned before.
Do we make void the law through faith?(2) Nay; why,
We do it more fulfil and magnify
Than fiery seraphs can with holiest flash.
Avaunt, vain legalists – unworthy trash!
When as a cov’nant stern the law commands,
Faith puts her Lamb’s obedience in its hands;
And when its threats gush out a fiery flood,
Faith stops the current with her victim’s blood.
The law can crave no more, yet craves no less,
Than active, passive, perfect righteousness.
Yet here is all, yea, more than its demand,
All rendered to it by a divine hand.
Mankind is bound law-service still to pay,
Yea, angel-kind is also bound t’obey.
It may by human and angelic blaze
Have honour, but in finite, partial ways.
These natures have its lustre once defaced,
‘Twill be by part of both for aye disgraced,
Yet had they all obsequious stood and true,
They’d given the law no more than homage due.
But faith gives’t honour yet more great, more odd –
The high, the humble service of its God.
Again, to view the holy law’s command,
As lodged in a Mediator’s hand;
Faith gives it honour, as a rule of life,
And makes the bride the Lamb’s obedient wife.
Due homage to the law those never did,
To whom th’obedience pure of faith is hid.
Faith works by love, and purifies the heart,(3)
And truth advances in the inward part;
On carnal hearts impresses divine stamps,
And sully’d lives inverts to shining lamps.
From Abram’s seed that are most strong in faith.
The law most honour, God most glory hath.
But due respect to neither can be found,
Where unbelief ne’er got a mortal wound,
To still the virtue-vaunter’s empty sound.
Good works he boasts, a path he never trod
Who is not yet the workmanship of God,(4)
In Jesus thereunto created new;
Nois’d works that spring not hence are but a shew.
True faith that’s of a noble divine race,
Is still a holy sanctifying grace;
And greater honour to the law does share,
Than boasters all that breathe the vital air.
Ev’n heathen morals vastly may outshine
The works that flow not from a faith divine.
Pretensions high to faith a number have,
But, ah! it is a faith that cannot save:
“We trust,” say they, “in Christ, we hope in God:
Nor blush to blaze their rotten faith abroad.
Nor try the trust of which they make a shew,
If of a saving or a damning hue.
They own their sins are ill; true-but ‘tis sad
They never thought their faith and hope were bad.
How evident’s their home-bred nat’ral blaze,
Who dream they have believ’d well all their days;
Yet never felt their unbelief, nor knew
Their need of pow’r their nature to renew.
Blind souls, who boast of faith, yet live in sin,
May hence conclude their faith is to begin,
Or know they shall, by such an airy faith,
Believe themselves to everlasting wrath.
Faith, that nor leads to good, nor keeps from ill,
Will never lead to heaven, nor keep from hell.
The body without breath is dead;(5) no less
Is faith without the works of holiness.(6)
How rare is saving faith, when earth is cramm’d
With such as we believe, and yet be damn’d;
Believe the gospel, yet with dread and awe
Have never truly first believ’d the law.
That matters shall be well, they hope too soon
Who never yet have seen they were undone.
Can of salvation their belief be true,
Who never yet believ’d damnation due?
Can these of endless life have solid faith
Who never fear’d law threats of endless death?
Nay, sail’d they han’t yet to the healing shore,
Who never felt their sinful, woful sore.
Imaginary faith is but a blind
Which bears no fruit but of a deadly kind:
No can from such a wild unwholesome root
The least production rise of living fruit.
But saving faith can such an offspring breed,
Her native product is a holy seed.
The fairest issues of the vital breath
Spring from the fertile womb of Heav’n-born faith;
Yet boasts she nothing of her own, but brings
Auxiliaries from the King of kings,
Who graves his royal law on rocky hearts,
And gracious aid in soft’ning showers imparts,
This gives prolific virtue to the faith
Inspir’d at first by his almighty breath,
Hence, fetching all her succours from abroad,
She still employes this mighty pow’r of God.
Drain’d clean of native pow’rs and legal aims,
No strength but in and from Jehovah claims;
And thus her service to the law o’ertops
The tow’ring zeal of Pharisaic fops.

(1) Prov. xxvi. 2.
(2) Rom. iii. 21.
(3) Gal. v. 6.
(4) Eph. ii. 10.
(5) James ii. 26.
(6) James ii. 17. 10.

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