that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin."*-It is impossible that words should more distinctly express the difference between two things:-and it is obvious, that the simpler the conception is which we have of faith or believing, the more fully and clearly will the meaning and the justness appear of the Apostle's proposition in verse f4.-" It is of faith that it might be by grace." Our believing the divine testimony is the simple medium, appointed by God of our interest in Him whom that testimony makes known as "the Lord our Righteousness." It is not on account of our believing that we are justified. Our faith is in no respect the ground or meritorious cause of the blessing. Although a sine qua non to the possession of pardon, it is not the condition of it. The condition or ground of our acceptance is solely the finished work of that Saviour in whom we believe, and who, to every one that believeth, is "the end of the law for righteousness.' Whenever a sinner, with a right understanding of it, believes, as true and divine, the record that "God gives to the guilty eternal life, and that this life is in his Son," he is justified; his belief of this record implying that he humbly accepts his pardon as "the


*The passage is quoted here for the sake of the general principle of the reasoning; and therefore I abstain from any minute criticism on particular parts of the phraseology; because, where this is not necessary for illustration of the point in hand, it only serves to confuse the reader's mind.

gift of God through Jesus Christ;" that he is sensible of his own entire unworthiness, and of his owing this and every other spiritual blessing solely to grace. His faith is then "counted unto him for righteousness.' It is reckoned to him unto righteousness, or justification. It does not become his righteousness. It is true that it brings the sinner into a right state, a state of dependence upon God, and of holy love towards him; but this right state of heart is not perfect, but still accompanied with much sin and with universal deficiency; it can neither cancel past transgression, nor in itself be acceptable to a holy God, apart from the mediation of Christ ;—and it can never therefore be the righteousness on account of which the sinner finds grace in God's sight. It is his sanctification,—not his justification. The former arises from the same faith with the latter, but is quite distinct from it in its nature. When a sinner's believing is reckoned to him unto justification; this result of his faith arises not from any merit or virtue of its own, but solely from its bringing him into connexion with Christ, and to an interest in that perfect righteousness by which he hath "magnified the law and made it honourable." He is "made the righteousness of God in him ;"* the efficacy of faith in the matter of justification arising entirely from the merit of its object. When we use the word imputation; when we speak of our sins being imputed to Christ, and of his righteousness being imputed to us, we do not mean that there is, or can be, any actual transference; as if Christ, by the imputation of our sins, became personally sinful; or we, by the imputation of his righteousness, become personally righteous. No. The sins are still ours, but he endures the

[ocr errors]

2 Cor. v. 21.

penalty on account of them; the righteousness is still his, but we, on account of it, receive the blessing. And we receive the blessing by believing the testimony which reveals the justifying righteousness. We are justified by faith. We may dispute about the propriety of the words impute and imputation; but to deny what is thus intended to be expressed by them, is to subvert the gospel, and to sweep away the sinner's only foundation of hope.

2. We are to consider the connexion of faith with eternal life, as it respects spiritual character.— This connexion is, if possible, still more direct, and clear, and simple. The word of the truth of the gospel" is invariably represented as from the first the means or instrument of that life; as the seed from which it springs, and as the principle by which it is subsequently maintained and promoted. "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth and abideth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you :"*" Of his own will begat he us by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures." And it is the same word of truth, which, under the same figure of seed, John represents as remaining in the heart of the renewed sinner, as a principle of restraint from sin and of progressive purification: "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God:"-that is, not merely, according to the common interpretation of the words, is the child of God kept from sinning wilfully and habitually; but, in as far as the principles of the new nature prevail, he cannot sin at all. From

* 1 Pet. i. 23, 25.

† James i. 18.

1 Joha iii. 9.

the influence of the pure and purifying word of the living God there can arise nothing sinful. Sin is the product not of the holy principles of the new man, but of the remaining corruption of the old. When the latter shall be done away, and the former left to operate without any counteracting influence, and in the full amount of their holy energy, it will be heaven, the perfection of purity, and the perfection of joy.

Now it is, in the nature of things, inconceivable and impossible, that truth should operate effectually on the mind and heart, producing an entire inward change there, from spiritual torpor and death, to spiritual sensibility, and life, and holy activity,-otherwise than as it is discerned and believed. It is the truth believed that instrumentally works the change; nor can it be imagined to work it otherwise than as believed. It is only by being understood and believed, that it is brought into contact with the mind and heart,-with the powers and passions, the appetites, desires, and affections of the soul; and so to operate upon them with its re. newing and purifying energy. There is on this subject, in the divine philosophy of the Bible, a perfect simplicity. It says "purifying their hearts by faith;" but it says also-sanctify them by thy truth; thy word is truth." Faith, as we formerly saw, is the belief of the truth;" and the truth must be present to the mind as the object of it, else it cannot be in exercise, having no possible subsistence apart from an object. And moreover, from the nature of the truth which is the object of it necessarily derives all its virtue. It is the truth that sanctifies, that exerts the rectifying influence upon the heart-but it is of course the truth believed. This is the plain account of the matter in the scripture; an account unembarrassed with any perplexing mysticism :-" For this cause thank we

God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it, not as the word of man, but (as it is in truth) the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe."* It is the word that "worketh;" but it worketh "in them that believe,"-that is, in those who “receive it, not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God."-This is all natural and simple. The word possesses a moral fitness for working a change on the human heart and character: and when by any sinner it is understood and believed, this fitness is made apparent in the actual production of the change.-If the new spiritual life of the soul is by the truth as its principle or germ, it is difficult to imagine how it can be so otherwise than by faith; for if it be by the truth, it must be by the truth understood and believed.

In further illustration of this, let us take the statement of Paul, Rom. v. 1, 2. " therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have had access into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God;" and verse 11," And not only so, but we also joy in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the reconciliation." Now, how is it possible for us to enjoy

* 1 Thess. ii. 13.

† την καταλλαγήν. How our translators should have rendered the word atonemeut in this solitary instance, it is not easy to see. The connexion with the verse preceding so naturally leads to the ordinary sense of the term, that the change in such circumstances is particularly remarkable:-verses 10, 11: "For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled (xarnλλaynus) to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled (xaraλλayevres) we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the reconciliation" (την καταλλαγήν ελαβομεν :)---i. e. by whom we have been thus

reconciled to God.

« VorigeDoorgaan »