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them are vain. The question is not, What measure of obedience we are disposed to yield, or what measure we are capable of yielding ? but, What is the obedience which God requires from us? This we learn from his
precepts, fairly and honestly interpreted; and so high is the demand, that every man may justly despair of being able to fulfil it.
But will God be satisfied with nothing less than perfect obedience? Yes, some reply; he has had compassion upon his frail and erring creatures, and is willing to receive them into favour upon easier terms. He has given them a milder law, niore suitable to their present condition, which, through the assistance of his grace, they are enabled to obey. This notion, whieh is exceedmgly prevalent, and by which the scriptural doctrine of justification is subverted, will be examined in the next lecture,
ground of Justification continued ; not Repentance and Sincere Obedience-Righteousness
of Christ, the sole ground—Observations on the Imputation of Christ's Righteousness to Bclievers.
In the preceding lecture, I showed you that justification is a legal term, and denotes the sentence pronounced by a judge upon a person who has been brought before him for judgment. If the person is righteous in himself, the sentence merely ascertains and declares in a judicial manner what he is; but in the case of men who are standing before the tribunal of God, a different process is necessary. As they are unquestionably guilty, an act of grace must be passed in their favour, cancelling the obligation to punishment; and, accordingly, the remission of sins is an essential part of our justification. But this is not all. The acquitted criminal is not necessarily resiored to the favour of his prince, and entitled to the reward which was promised to an obedient subject. Pardon frees the sinner from the pains of hell, but gives him no right to the happiness of heaven. He must somehow be possessed of a complete righteousness, which shall answer all the demands of the law, that he may be accepted by his Maker, and obtain the eternal inheritance.
It may be proper by the way to remark, that our common language on this subject may give rise to misapprehension. We often speak of the pardon of sin, and the possession of a justifying righteousness, as if they were distinct; and hence it may be supposed, that the one might be enjoyed without the other. This is the inference suggested, when it is sometimes inaccurately stated, that justification consists in the forgiveness of sin and the imputation of righteousness. But the truth is, that the imputation of righteousness is the foundation of pardon, as well as of restoration to the favour of God. The righteousness of Christ, although it is strictly one and cannot be divided, is distinguished, for the sake of explanation, into active and passive; the former denoting his obedience to the precepts, and the latter his endurance of the penalty. There is an imputation of his whole righteousness to the believer, and, in the language of scholastic theology, it is the material cause of our justification. These remarks have led me to anticipate a subsequent department of the doctrine ; but I deemed it necessary to make them at this time, to guard against any misapprehension of what I have said, that more than pardon is necessary to the sinner, and that he must be possessed of a complete righteousness, a righteousness corresponding to the precept, as well as to the penalty, in order to his being accepted by his Maker.
It is therefore an important question, how this righteousness may be obtained; and there are only two ways in which it can be conceived to be acquired; by our personal obedience, or by the imputation of the righteousness of another. I have endeavoured to prove, that the attainment of it in the first way is possible, by showing you that the demands of the law are so extensive that no man living can comply with them. It requires obedience to all its precepts, without a single exception; obedience absolutely perfect, a failure in one act, or in the motive from which it is performed, being sufficient to invalidate the whole; and obedience continued to the end of life, because no prior term is fixed, and it is after death that the final judgment will take place. To every person who considers the extent of these demands, it will appear as impossible for the descendants of Adam, in their present state of weakness and depravity, to fulfil them, as it is to remove mountains by a word, or to ascend to heaven by a wish. The notion of sinless perfection as attainable in this life, which has been broached in modern times, could arise only in minds disordered by enthusiasm, or blinded by profound ignorance of human nature, and the Divine law.
I might therefore proceed to show you that we are justified by the righteousness of another, did not a new obstacle present itself, which it is necessary to remove out of the way. The pride of the human heart, unwilling to forego its claims to the favour of God, has exerted iis ingenuity in devising a method of evading the force of the argument founded on the high demands of the law. It is granted, we are told, that we are unable to fulfil them; but it is added, that the original terms upon which eternal life was promised are relaxed. God has been graciously pleased, for the sake of Christ, to make a new covenant with us, in which he promises to pardon our sins upon repentance, and since we cannot perform perfect, to accept of sincere obedience as the ground of our justification. This doctrine is laid down in a variety of terms, and with greater or less degrees of plainness; but I have stated the substance of what is maintained by Divines of a particular class. To give it the more plausibility, it is acknowledged, that still our salvation is of grace, because there is grace displayed in lowering the demands of the law, and grace is communicated to assist us; although it turns out to be such aid as we may use or not as we please, and as will be of little avail without vigorous exertions of our own. It is also acknowledged, that we are under high obligations to our Saviour, in consequence of whose mediation this new law has been given, and what may be wanting in our obedience is supplied by his merit. The scheme, howerer, is manifestly an attempt to establish our own righteousness, from a reluctance to submit to the righteousness of God. It is a miserable mixture of the law and the gospel, an illicit association of the righteousness of Christ and that of the sinner, an abortive effort to defend the doctrine of justification by works against the solemn denunciations of Scripture. Upon this scheme I make the following remarks.
First, There is not the slightest vestige of it to be found in the Scriptures. I challenge any man to point out a passage in which it is declared, that Christ merited that we might merit; that since we cannot be justified by perfect, we shall be justified by imperfect obedience; or that God has given an easier law, adapted to the present condition of human nature. These are dogmas of very great importance, as they relate to our everlasting concerns, and they would need to be supported by evidence perfectly satisfactory; but when we call for it, we are put off with bold assertions and sophistical arguments. We read of our being constituted righteous, but it is by a righteousness which is not our
own, nor of the law, but the righteousness of another, namely Christ. “By the obedience of one shall many be made righteous."'* We read of a new covenant which God has made with men, but it is truly a covenant of grace, for it is a covenant of promise. “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”+ Where do we read of a new covenant of works, in which sincere obedience is the condition, and eternal life is the recompence? It exists only in the writings of some men, who cannot or will not understand the gospel of Christ.
Secondly, The idea of such a new law as has been described, is fraught with absurd and impious consequences. It reflects the greatest dishonour upon the law which was originally given to man. It sets aside its demands, although they were not arbitrary, but were founded on the nature of God and man, and the relations subsisting between them; it pronounces them to be unreasonable in the present circumstances of human nature, and makes the authority of the law give way for the accommodation of the criminal. It is in fact an abrogation of the law, than which a greater dishonour cannot be conceived; for the new law of which we speak is totally different from the original law, no two things being more different than a law which requires perfect, and a law which is fully satisfied with sincere obedience. The supposed change implies a reflection not only upon the law, but upon the Lawgiver. When first delivered to man, the law was a representation of the holiness of his Maker, a glass which brightly reflected the infinite purity of his nature; and his language by it was, “Be thou holy, for I am holy." How can we conceive a change to have taken place in its requisitions, and at the same time believe that its Author continues the same? Must we not conclude, that if he demands less holiness from his creatures he is himself less holy? He can bear now certain imperfections which he formerly condemned; he is pleased if we love him in some degree, although we do not love him with all our strength and soul; he is content if we have some portion of good-will to our neighbour, although we do not love him exactly as ourselves. If we really wish to do our duty, it is enough; we shall obtain his approbation should we fail in the performance, and the intention will be accepted for the deed. That strictness which called for “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over,". no longer exists; that opposition to sin which rejected an action upon which the slightest stain was found, has given place to a more accomodating temper. In short, we do not recognise in the Author of this milder law, the Being who published the decalogue from Sinai. Besides, the doctrine which we are con sidering, gives a false and unfavourable view of the mediation of Christ. “ Think not,” he said, “ that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil."That it was not the ceremonial law which he meant, or the ceremonial law alone, is evident from his subsequent vindication of the moral precepts from the corruptions of tradition.
“ Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.”'S But notwithstanding this solemn admonition, we must conclude that he did come to destroy the law, if we give credit to those who affirm, that in consequence of his mediation, a lower degree of obedience is accepted. The first law would not be pleased with our obedience unless it were absolutely perfect; the second is satisfied if it is simply sincere. The first therefore has been set aside to make room for the second, as the edict of an absolute prince claiming the whole property of his subjects, would be repealed by the publication of another, in which he asserted his right only to the half. Jesus Christ, according to this hypothesis, has made that which was once duty to be no longer duty, and that which was once sin to be no longer sin. What is this in the opinion of every man, who believes that the law of God, being founded in the nature of things, is immutable, but to represent Jesus Christ as the minister of unrighteousness? We may conclude from these reflections, that the doctrine of a new law, which accepts of sincere obedience as the ground of our justification, is a vain and unhallowed attempt to build again what the gospel had destroyed.
* Rom, v. 19.
† Heb. viii, 10–12.
| Matt. v. 17.
$ Ib. 19.
In the last place, The sincere obedience of believers is expressly excluded from being the ground of their justification. If all works are rejected, sincere but imperfect works must share the common fate; for we are not at liberty to make a distinction in their favour. When the Apostle Paul rejects the works of the law without limitation, he certainly rejects sincere obedience, which consists in works of the law, or it would not be obedience at all. This argument is decisive till it be proved that there are two laws, the one requiring perfect, and the other imperfect obedience, and that only the works of the former are discarded. But the truth is, that the works, concerning which the Scripture affirms that a man cannot be justified by them, are the very works for which some men so strenuously contend. It is a palpable absurdity to suppose that they are perfect works, for these are the works which were originally required, and they would now undoubtedly be as acceptable to God and beneficial to the performer as ever. Unless we conceive them to be such works as man may be supposed able to perform, all the elaborate reasoning on the subject is a mere waste of time and labour. Now, no man expects to be justified by perfect obedience to the law, for no man in his senses imagines himself to be capable of such obedience. It is what is called sincere obedience, which Paul had in view in the declaration so often repeated, that “by the works of the law shall no flesh living be justified.” Such was the obedience in which the Galatians trusted. Imperfectly as they understood the dispensation of grace, they were not so ignorant as to dream that they could fulfil the high demands of the law: and they must have rested their hope upon such works as were understood to be within the compass of their ability, upon their honest and persevering endeavours to do their duty. What were the works which Paul renounced, when, in reference to his present as well as his past attainments, he said, “ Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith?"* And what were the works to which he referred when he said, for I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified ?" They were manifestly all his works without exception, and consequently works performed in faith and love, works performed with the assistance of grace; or in other words, that sincere obedience which some men would obtrude upon us as our justifying righteousness, but in which he was so far from confiding, that he utterly disclaimed it, and earnestly desired to be found in the righteousness of Christ.
We see, then, that the notion of a new law, which requires only sincere obedience as the ground of our acceptance with God, is utterly untenable. It would have been long since exploded, if the Scriptures had been understood. and admitted as the supreme judge of religious controversies; and its prevalence is owing to the ignorance of those who teach, and those who receive it, and to the strong disposition, which only almighty grace can subdue, to arrogate to ourselves the glory of our salvation.
* Philip. iii. 8, 9.
+ 1 Cor. iv. 4.
I shall subjoin two or three general remarks in corroboration of the preceding reasoning, before I leave this part of the subject.
First, If men are justified by works, no adequate reason can be assigned for the mission of Christ. It is acknowledged that we are indebted to him for paving the way for our acceptance with our Maker, and facilitating the attainment of his favour; but surely some less costly expedient might have been devised to give efficacy to our repentance and our duties, if this was all that was wanted. If man could have fulfilled the demands of the law, Christ would not have been sent to yield obedience to its precepts; and to suppose it to have been his design to lower its terms, and to render a less degree of holiness sufficient, as the condition of future happiness, is to represent the effect of his mission to have been the virtual subversion of the moral government of God. Was this the purpose for which he descended to the earth? The doctrine which lessens the necessity of the mediation of Christ, or would lead us to consider it as only supplementary to human exertions, is manifestly contrary to the Scriptures, in which his mediation is represented as the foundation that supports the whole superstructure of the religion of sinners. This argument is employed by Paul—" If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.'
In the second place, The doctrine of justification by works, in any form, obscures the glory of the grace of God. This argument also is used by the Apostle—“If it be of works, then it is no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.”+ It is strange that some men should labour, with so much ingenuity and perseverance, to reconcile two things which are declared to be irreconcileable, and destructive of each other. The glory of grace consists in giving freely, or, as it is expressed in the prophet—"without money and without price;" what is obtained by works, is granted in consideration of previous service, and is the payment of a debt. According to the doctrine of justification by the old or the new law, the question which Paul presumed would put all men to silence, may be answered by thousands: “Who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again ?"| 'I have given to God,' every justified person might say, “and I am entitled to the reward which I enjoy. Few, perhaps, would venture to express themselves in a manner so ill befitting creatures and sinners; but this is the language of the system. How contrary are the sentiments and feelings of which it is a faithful interpreter to the design of God in our redemption, “ that he might show the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness towards us through Christ Jesus !''S
In the last place, Justification by works lays the foundation of boasting. “If Abraham,” says Paul, “were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory;" and although he adds, “but not before God,”'ll yet the human heart does not stop at this limit, but proceeds to glory even in his presence. We have an example in the self-righteous Pharisee, who, standing by himself, had the presumption to say, “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men;" and followed this boast with a catalogue of his good deeds. He who had been justified by works, might say, “My own arm has achieved my salvation.' He might, indeed, with the Pharisee, thank God, acknowledging in words that he was indebted to his assistance for his virtuous actions, but we know that, when man atttempts to divide the honour with his Maker, he always takes the larger share to himself. To suppose that, in delivering us from the misery in which pride had involved us, God would adopt a method calculated to foster
* Gal. ii. 21.
+ Rom. xi. 6.
# Ib. 35.
$ Eph. ii. 7
|| Rom. iv. 2.