Chapter 8: Faith in the Cross
Unless we adopt the most dangerous error, we cannot deny that the cross saves only those who believe. Until a man believes the gospel, he is under the curse of the law; and if he never believes it, under the curse he must remain. Faith, on his part, is as necessary to his justification, as the righteousness of Christ is necessary, on God’s part, in receiving him into favor. The language of the Scriptures, on this point, is as explicit as it can be. The death of Christ is declared to be a propitiation through "faith in his blood." "Being justified by faith," says the apostle, "we have peace with God." "The righteousness of God "is affirmed to be" by faith of Jesus Christ." It is "unto all, and upon all those who believe." "A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ." "The Scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe."
In speaking, therefore, of the attraction of the cross, we may not overlook the thought, that it is the object of saving faith. What is the faith of the gospel? and why do the Scriptures attach so much importance to this particular grace, rather than any other, as the revealed condition of salvation? These two inquiries present the outline of the present chapter.
What is the faith of the gospel? There are various graces of the Christian character, each of which possesses properties peculiar to itself. The distinctive character of each is decided by the object towards which it is appropriately exercised. None of them exist in the soul until it is converted to God, and acquires that new and spiritual life whereby the mind perceives new truths, and truths formerly perceived with new and holy affections. They are not the production of nature, nor superinduced by any human discipline, or any persuasion or ingenuity of man, but wrought out and perfected by the Spirit of God. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." The elementary principles of faith are the same in all good men, and are found in substance in every regenerated mind. But it does not follow that all the exercises of the renewed mind are of the same specific character. Love to God is not repentance; humility is not submission; nor is submission joy; nor is either of them faith. Love to God is exercised in view of the Divine character; repentance in the more immediate view of sin; humility in view of personal unworthiness and ill-desert; submission in view of those dispensations of the Divine government in which the will of God is opposed to our own; and faith in view of the method of salvation by Christ. The cross is the peculiar and distinctive object of believing. Faith is the act of the mind which "receives and rests upon Christ alone for salvation, as he is freely offered in the gospel." God makes a grant of Jesus Christ in the gospel to men as sinners. It is his own method of mercy, and is proposed to men with all its fullness, simply on the testimony of its Divine author. Jesus Christ complained of the Jews because they "received the testimony of men," but not "the testimony of God, which is greater." It is the peculiar province of faith to receive this testimony, because it is His testimony who "cannot lie." In receiving this testimony, it receives and rests upon Christ for salvation. Impressed with the conviction of his own utter inability to meet the demands of the Divine law; perceiving by the cross where those demands are met; sensible that none but that great Sufferer can deliver him from going down to the pit; and appreciating Christ Jesus as "the end of the law for righteousness," the sinner reposes his confidence on that finished redemption. By this act of the mind he becomes a believer. Christ is his hope, and His cross his refuge. What things were gain to him he now counts loss for Christ; his wisdom, folly; his own righteousness, as filthy rags; his former glory, but his present shame; his former security, but refuges of lies; his former hopes, but a spider’s web:—Yes, doubtless, he counts all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, his Lord. This is the faith of the gospel. It is the combined act of the understanding and the affections. It carries with it the intellect, but much more the heart. It is the assent of the understanding and the consent of the will, uniting in a satisfied and gratified persuasion and confidence of the whole soul to the record which God has given concerning his Son. It is the grace which "sets to his seal that God is true," and by which an apostate sinner has a legitimate title to the name of Christian. Whatever concerns the cross of Christ is a peculiarly interesting topic of thought to such a man. His faith looks to Christ as the God-man Mediator; coming to redeem a ruined world; as making an end of sin, and bringing in everlasting righteousness; as triumphing over death and the grave, ascending into heaven and sitting at the right hand of God, there, by the influence of his character and work, to make intercession for his people. It appropriates this Savior, in all his characters, as prophet, priest, and king, atoning by his death, instructing by his word, and rescuing, defending, and ruling by his power. It apprehends him as a complete and perfect Savior, securing all that the sinner most needs and desires, all that is most valuable to the life that now is and that which is to come. It forms the bond of union between Christ and the soul, as the finisher as well as the author of salvation, as the head of all gracious influences, and as the only way of "increasing in all the increase of God." Such is the faith of the gospel.
But the main object of the present chapter is to show why the Scriptures attach so much importance to this particular grace, as the revealed condition of salvation, rather than to any other. That they do so is obvious, and there are not wanting important reasons for this wise and even necessary arrangement.
In adverting to some of these, it must strike every mind, that in the method of salvation by the cross, there is a demand for faith, which the exercise of no other Christian grace can satisfy. There are things to be believed, to be believed with the heart; and they are strange and wonderful things. Some of them constitute the mysteries of godliness. They are not the objects of human reason; they are not the subjects of observation and experiment; they are not capable of that sort of demonstration which is peculiar to those more exact sciences where the human intellect riots and revels in the discovery and enjoyment of its own high faculties. They are God in human nature; they are the infinite Deity, so loving a worm of the dust as to abandon his own Son to the agonies of the cross; they are the substitution of the innocent for the guilty, and the efficacy of that substitution, in defiance of all that is degrading and condemning in human wickedness, all that is imperative in the claims of the Divine law, all that is terrible in death and the grave, and all that is mighty in the powers of darkness. Now, no other grace is fitted to come in the place of faith, when such wonderful proposals as these are made to the human mind. Love cannot reach them; penitence cannot reach them; humility cannot reach them; patience and meekness, patience and self-denial, cannot reach them. They are the peculiar and exclusive objects of faith—of implicit faith in the Divine testimony. They make their appeal, not to sense, not to reason—for they are above and beyond reason—but to faith. So far are they beyond the range of human thoughts, that it is impossible to receive them without an unhesitating confidence in their Divine Author. The gospel is a revelation of wonderful truths and wonderful claims. It sets before us a mighty Savior, and bids us trust in him. It tells us that God is just while he justifies, and calls upon us to believe it. It assures us that he is able to keep that which we have committed to him, and requires us to be satisfied that he is so. It reveals to us the duties of our high calling, the perils of our course, the conflicts with the sin that dwells in us, and with the world and the adversary without us; and while it promises that as our day is, so shall our strength be, directs us to confide in that promise, and go on our way rejoicing. It points to the chamber of death, and bids us to go up to it with peace, because Jesus died. It points to the dark valley, and bids us go down through all its gloomy darkness, with a confidence and peace which the world cannot give, because "he rose again." It tells us to go forward, when, to mere sense and reason, all is midnight darkness. And it calls upon us cheerfully to venture on the ocean of eternity, because the God of truth assures us that all will be well, and that we shall reach the haven at last. Compliance with these high claims is not only the act of faith, but of no other grace. No other grace can confide thus. Reason can discover that a God who is infinitely lovely deserves to be loved; that sin infinitely hateful ought to be hated—and that the word of the God of truth ought to be believed; while to believe such things as these is not the province of reason. "Thomas," said our Divine Lord to one of his own family, "because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed." This is the peculiar and high province of faith. The things which God has revealed by his Spirit, "eye has not seen, nor ear heard," nor have they entered into the mind of man. And though these things constitute no arbitrary demand on human credulity, they constitute a demand upon human confidence that is absolute. Nothing else can be a substitute for faith, while faith itself supplies the place of vision, and is a substitute for all other evidence. Here lies, not only the power, but the indispensable necessity, of this particular act of the soul. It is a source of vision, and comes in place of the evidence of the senses. It is what no other Christian grace can be—"the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." It does what nothing else can do, by uniting the soul to Him who "of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." It meets the Deity in the revelations he has made of himself in the person of his Son, and falls in with the nature and design of this wonderful redemption. It is in the mind and heart of man, what this method of redemption is in the mind and heart of God—its only true and proper counterpart. When brought together, they are like two detached parts of the same machinery, exactly fitted to each other. While this redemption, in all its parts, commends itself to faith, faith, by indissoluble tenons and fastenings, becomes united to this redemption, inwrought in its deep foundations.
Another reason why the Scriptures give this prominence to faith, rather than to any other grace, is, that it is the most complete and most emphatic expression of the Christian character. The place which the cross occupies in the system of revealed truth, faith in the cross occupies in experimental and spiritual religion. It is that peculiar act of the soul by which it takes hold of evidence that addresses itself to the heart, and by which the heart expands itself to all the affectionate, humbling, submissive, and hallowed influences of the truth of God. The cross as truly discloses the heart of the Deity as his intelligence, and is not more a revelation of the wisdom of God than of his love. While the intellect of the believer, therefore, assents to the great truths that are there revealed, the heart of the believer confides in the heart of the atoning Savior. There are motives and arguments which the heart feels as well as the understanding; nor is unbelief so much an error in judgment, as it is proof that the heart is not right in the sight of God. The faith of the gospel is not that passive conviction that is constrained where there is no willing mind. There are some things which men cannot disbelieve if they were ever so much disposed; but the gospel is not one of them. Or, to express the same thought in a different form, there are some things which men cannot help believing; but there is no moral value in such a faith as this, nor is it at all indicative of the state of the heart. "You believe there is one God; you do well—the devils also believe, and tremble." The faith of devils surely is not the faith of the people of God. They believe in the facts and principles revealed in the Bible, because they cannot help believing them. They are none the better for believing them, because they see them. No man is any the better for believing that the sun shines when he sees it, or for believing that the whole is greater than its parts. No matter how unwilling he is to believe, his reluctance is overcome by evidence, and, just like the devils, he is forced to believe, whether he will or no.
But it is not so with regard to the faith of the gospel. It is a very easy thing for men to reject the testimony which God has given concerning his Son. They are naturally and very strongly inclined to reject it. It contains principles that are at war with all their idolatry of self, with all their pride and love of sinning. Nor do they ever at heart believe it until their selfishness, and pride, and love of sinning have received a deadly wound from the cross. The world around them are unbelievers, and it requires no small degree of moral courage, and self-denial, cheerfully and from the whole soul to receive that system of truth which most men scorn. The Scriptures, therefore, are careful to inform us, that "with the heart, man believes unto righteousness," and that the faith which unites the soul to Christ possesses high and heaven-born properties. There is no atoning virtue in faith, but there is moral virtue in it; and it is the most complete and emphatic expression of the Christian character. It is not by a law of nature that men exercise it, but a law of grace. Unbelief wilfully rejects the testimony of God, and is the damning sin of the soul. Faith receives that testimony, makes it welcome, and cherishes it. It is the ripest and choicest fruit of the Spirit. It is the consenting will; a will that confides in God, a will that God requires; and is, therefore, an act of obedience. It is the love of the truths which it receives; for this is the great distinction between a false and a true faith, the former believing what it hates, and the latter what it loves. God is its ultimate object, and therefore is it an expression of love to God. As the act of a mind that desires to be delivered from the power of sin, and for that purpose repairs to the great Savior, it is a true expression of godly repentance. It is from its very nature, too, the most self-renouncing and humble of all graces. The great sentiment of faith is, that salvation, so far from being of works or any merit in the creature, is all of sovereign mercy—grace, mere grace, the riches of grace. Its prominent and inwrought impulse is, that the sinner has no pretensions to a justifying righteousness of his own; that he is guilty and ill-deserving; that he has no claims, and throws himself wholly upon the righteousness of another. And, therefore, it is not only an humble grace, but a significant expression of deep humility of soul. Nor is it less an expression of that Christian submission which prefers the will of God to its own will; for, in no act is the sovereignty of the great God more distinctly recognized than in the act of faith. God has his proper place then, and the sinner his—God has the throne, and the sinner is in the dust. There are no sorer struggles with the natural man, no severer conflicts with flesh and blood, no fiercer warfare with the proud and self-righteous, the rebellious, obdurate, and obdurately impenitent heart, than that through which it is brought before it exercises the affectionate, the dutiful, the penitent, the humble, the submissive act of faith in the cross. By nothing is the Christian character put to a severer test. The man who is enabled, in the face of this ungodly world, where the cross of Christ is a stumbling-block and foolishness, and in those varied conditions where his faith is tried, so to contend against his spiritual enemies, as to believe, and live by the faith of the Son of God, is, and shows himself to be, what Abraham, the father of the faithful was—"the friend of God." The reason, therefore, is obvious why God has made faith in the cross the condition of salvation. It is a plain and important principle in the Divine government, that he cannot be reconciled to men so long as they remain his enemies. If they remain enemies to him, they are enemies to his kingdom, and enemies to all righteousness; and as such, cannot be treated as his friends. It is a right principle, and for the Deity not to act upon it would be wrong. The Divine nature, the Divine law, and all the sacred designs of the cross, necessarily exclude all such people from the Divine favor. The question, whether or not a man believes in Jesus Christ, is the testing question, and shows whether he is the friend of God, or his enemy. Men who persuade themselves that they love God, and mourn for their sins, and rejoice in his government, are mistaken, unless they believe in Jesus Christ. Men who persuade themselves that they are religious men, and respect the Divine authority, and delight to do God’s will, are grossly deceived, unless from the heart they believe in Jesus Christ. They are not so compliant with their duty as they suppose. They are not such lovers of righteousness, and such respecters of religion and God’s authority, as they profess to be. The proof of their wickedness lies in the fact, that they despise this great Messenger of his truth and grace, and will not honor the God of heaven by "believing on Him whom he has sent." The Bible thinks very little of the religion of those who will not believe in the Son of God. If they were the friends of God, they would receive his Son. "Every man, therefore, that has heard, and has learned of the Father, comes unto me.—I am come in my Father’s name, and you receive me not—if another shall come in his own name, him you will receive.—The Father himself, which has sent me, has borne witness of me.—And you have not his word abiding in you; for whom he has sent, him you believe not.—I know you, that you have not the love of God in you." If there be wisdom and rectitude, therefore, in that great principle of the Divine government which makes a difference between the precious and the vile, there is reason for making faith the condition of salvation; for they, and they alone, are good men who believe.
There is another reason why faith holds this prominent place. Without the faith of the gospel, it is impossible, in the nature of things, that the hopes and blessedness of its redemption should be conveyed to the soul. The cross of Christ was designed to convey pardon, peace, hope, joy, delight in every duty, and the vivid and strong expectation of eternal life. Faith receives these blessings, and faith alone. If it be said that the love of God, and a godly repentance, and a deep humiliation of soul before God, and unconditional submission to his will, constitute a state of mind that brings with it its joys, and that it is impossible to make that man unhappy who is in the exercise of such a state of mind; if it be said, moreover, that there are thousands of instances in which men are conscious of these gracious exercises, who are not conscious of a trusting and peaceful confidence in Jesus Christ as their Savior, and therefore that faith is not necessarily indispensable to the spiritual enjoyment; I beg that these assertions may be examined. And I advert to them the more freely, because, in former years, I have given more weight to them than I now do. We go back to our last thought, and form issue with the objector, and say, that there is no love, no repentance, no submission, and no obedience, where there is not an actual reception of Christ. Nor do we rest this position simply on the truths just now illustrated. There is no medium between accepting and rejecting the offers of God’s mercy through his Son. If men reject him, their supposed graces are but a name; for if they had the love of God in them, and truly humbled themselves before him for their iniquities, and possessed, in fact, a readiness to do his will, they would not reject his well-beloved Son. It is in vain that they profess to love the Father and reject the Son; to turn from their iniquities, and at the same time reject him who alone saves his people from their sins; to profess an humble and contrite spirit, and turn away from him whose salvation is the sweetest expression of that spirit; to be submissive to the will of God, and reject him who comes with a commission from heaven to publish that will to men. They may have a sort of submission, but it is the submission of melancholy despair, and if it find not its way to the cross, will end in conscious rebellion. Men may have a sort of obedience without faith, but it is the obedience of servitude and terror, and will, before long, break its chains. That they have anything of true love of God, is impossible; for the Savior himself being judge, there is no higher proof that they "have not the love of God in them," than that they reject his Son. The truth is, that as there is no faith in Christ where there is no love to God, so there is no love to God where there is no faith in Christ. They spring up in the soul together, and the germinant principle of them is imparted when the soul is created anew in Christ Jesus. I have yet to learn that the love of God is ever shed abroad in the heart save in the view of the cross. The obligation of men to love him, wholly and forever, were there no gospel, and were they always under the curse, may not, most certainly, be called in question; while it is equally true, that it is only under that dispensation of mercy, by our Lord Jesus Christ, that the power of the ever-blessed Spirit is imparted to give birth to the love of God, and that the way of his doing this is through the instrumentality of that truth of which the cross is the most emphatic expression. The true way of loving God is to believe in his Son, and the true way of believing in his Son is to love God. The carnal mind, which is enmity against God, does not believe in Christ; neither does the unbelieving mind, that rejects Christ, dismiss its enmity to God. Those who are under strong convictions of sin, and have recently passed from death unto life, do not stop to analyze their emotions; while older saints, and those who have learned to say, "It is not I that live, but Christ that lives in me," know that they love most, when nearest the cross. All the love to God, and all the obedience to his will, that ever existed in our fallen world, and which now exists, is to be attributed to the revelation of God in the person of his Son, and to a cordial reception of him as thus revealed. Take away the cross of Christ, and you leave men under the curse of abandonment—God hides his face; his throne is covered with darkness; he is a consuming fire, and determined only to destroy. Away from the cross, men are doomed to enmity, and to all the penal consequences of that enmity. While he relaxes not the obligation of loving him, God will not allow them the privilege of loving him, nor permit their woes to be alleviated by one emotion of complacent regard for his character, or benevolence toward himself. The true idea the Scriptures give of love to God is, that it is that affection which makes him the supreme good, and chief happiness and joy of the soul. And do we need proof that men enjoy God, and make him their highest good and portion,
only as he is accessible through Jesus Christ, and as faith fixes her eye upon him in the gospel? Far be it from me to desire to wound the weakest believer, or to discourage and depress those of little faith. I would much rather conclude that those who are thus supposed to have some gracious affections but no faith, take a partial and perverted view of their own case; and that while they themselves may not be conscious of the actings of faith in Christ, and, from a sinful shamefacedness are slow to acknowledge they possess it, lest they should profess more than they feel, they nevertheless possess a faith which is true and genuine, though small, perhaps, as a grain of mustard seed. This is no uncommon state of mind. People of this description are not so reluctant to believe, as they are afraid of believing. They are afraid of a blind credulity and presumption. They are looking for a faith that is strong and enduring, and do not expect to attain to it without darkness, and doubt, and difficulty. They would prescribe their own course, rather than cheerfully walk in that in which God is wisely and gently leading them. They are believers, but their faith lacks the vividness and strength which are fitted to make strong impressions of it on their own minds, and to produce that evidence and consciousness of it which they desire. The little peace and comfort which such people enjoy in their love and their submission, they have actually found at the cross, and only there; and the stronger their faith is, the more will they become partakers of the peace, and hope, and joy, which the gospel imparts. Nor can they enjoy them except as they are thus conveyed. And this is one of the reasons why faith possesses the prominence which the gospel gives to it. There is no principle of the gospel that I would hold more firmly than this. The first duty of the sinner is his highest privilege—it is to go to the cross and be saved by Jesus Christ. In requiring men to become believers, God requires them to become, not merely holy men, but pardoned and happy men. The gospel would put them in possession of this salvation; it would not withhold from them the fullness of its joys; it would shed upon their spirits the fragrance of its blessedness, and cheer them with its early blossomings, as well as the richer fruits of its latter harvest. It would plant in their path all the beauties of holiness, and fill their hearts with the joys of God’s salvation. "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit."
There is still another reason for the high place which the Scriptures assign to faith. It is because faith is the most powerful and energetic principle of action. "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever." This is God’s design in creating, preserving, and blessing him, and giving his Son to die for his redemption. To aim at this great end, is due to God, to ourselves, to the church, and to the world. "You are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s." If it be true that "without faith it is impossible to please God," equally true is it, that faith is the great principle of action which forms the Christian character to well doing, and upon the highest model. Go with me to the Scriptures and see if it be not so. Is the Christian exposed to sin; he has no such security as the "shield of faith," whereby he may "quench all the fiery darts of the wicked." Is he prone to be carried away by the spirit of the world; "this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith." Would he abound in works of righteousness; "faith without works is dead, being alone," and by works is his faith made perfect. Would he cultivate purity of heart; the way to do so is, purifying his heart by faith. Would he be sanctified; he is sanctified by faith that is in Christ. Would he have fellowship with God; he has access by faith to this grace wherein he stands. Would he rise above the disheartening impression of his own insufficiency, and possess a state of mind that gives way to no depression, and has no place for discouragement; his language is, "I can do all things through Christ, which strengthens me." He walks "by faith, and not by sight." He lives by faith; for; "it is not he that lives, but Christ that lives in him." Would he overcome difficulty and conflict; if he have "faith as a grain of mustard seed," he shall say to mountains of difficulty, be rooted up and cast into the sea. The conscience is impressed, the heart influenced, the life controlled by faith. By the power of faith, the Christian becomes another man, has new objects of pursuit, and new aims and ends controlling his whole being. It is only under the influence of faith that men live to any good purpose. Even upon worldly and secular principles, faith, destitute as it is of spirituality, is a most powerful principle of action. Men who, in the common affairs of life, wait for the evidence of their senses or their personal experience before they act, have very little efficiency of character. They must often go forward relying upon the testimony of their fellow men, and in the spirit of confidence. If we analyze the conduct of mankind, or our own, we shall find that even this irreligious faith is the great stimulus to effort, and that where a man is so cautious as to have none of it, he never acts at all. How much rather, then, shall the faith of the Christian, relying as it does, with the most perfect certainty, upon the veracity of God, and the perfect sufficiency of the great redemption, give force and energy to his character. He lives by the "faith of things unseen." His faith has a foreseeing eye, lighting up all his subsequent course, throwing the interest and excitement of the present over the future, and urging him to live well and live for eternity. His faith terminates in great objects, and all is deception to it and a lie, that does not lead him to great pursuits. It is not broken cisterns that he now goes to, nor resources of earthly wisdom and strength to which he repairs. It is not a blind credulity that influences him, nor a vain and rash presumption; but a satisfied faith in the promise of God. He does not throw away his reason when he comes to the cross, but first satisfies his reason with the truth and reality of that great sacrifice, and then subjects it to faith in the Divine testimony. He does not renounce present interests, nor the world, any farther than they countervail the claims of Him who was crucified; and where they do this, faith outweighs and overpowers them all. Other things influence him, but not as faith influences him. Faith extends its influence over his whole character; and in yielding to this influence he forms a character which nothing else can form. Read the eleventh chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews, and there mark the character and achievements of faith, expressing itself, too, only under a dispensation of types and pre-figurations, and "like some sickly plant, nourished only under the shadow of better things to come." Faith was the distinctive characteristic of the sacrifice offered by Abel, the first recorded sacrifice ever offered in this apostate world; "and by it, he being dead, yet speaks." Faith was the heaven descended attendant of Enoch while "he walked with God," and conducted him so gently, and with such invisible power, through the dark valley, that he did not see death. Faith directed Noah to the ark that bore him above the deluge to the shores of a new world. Faith threw her vivid light on the path of Abraham when "he went out, not knowing where he went," and cheered the darkness of the hour when he offered up the child of promise, "accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead." Faith gave reality to the hopes of Joseph, when in his last hours "he made mention of the departing of the children of Israel" for the land given to their fathers. Faith elevated the views of Moses above the honors of the Egyptian court, and enabled him to "endure as seeing Him who is invisible." Well does the apostle say, "time would fail him" to enumerate the achievements of faith. The high and holy character which it is the design of the gospel to impart, cannot be possessed without giving faith preeminence, receiving, as it does, new impulses from every exercise of its power and every view of the cross.
Would you possess this faith, it is to the cross alone that we direct you. There come, and as you look up, say with Job, "I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye sees you; wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes!" Here there is a view of God that wins its way to the heart. Here the entrance of his word gives light, and you may read the record, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." Here you may apprehend the Savior as your Surety and Substitute, and may say, "Though you were angry with me, your anger is turned away, and you comforted me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid—for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation."
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