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our return. For on God's side, all things are ready, and he invites us to come. His oxen and fatlings are killed; the feast is prepared, the doors of his house, the gates of heaven are open, and we, apostate, hell-deserving rebels, have not only free liberty to return to our allegiance, but are urged, are beseeched, and that by God himself and by his Son, to be reconciled. Every beauty meets in the divine character, and every excellency in his government ; our disaffection is not only groundless, but infinitely criminal; and all this is declared, is sealed and confirmed, by the very blood that was shed to make atonement; nothing, therefore, can keep us back but our own hearts, nor can the fault be any where but in ourselves. How inexcusable our guilt, how aggravated our damnation, if, after all, we refuse to return and be reconciled!
Should any say, "I do look upon the divine law, holy, just, and good; and I feel reconciled to God.” Well : but how came this to pass ? “I believed myself delivered from the curse, and that God was reconciled to me."
If this is all, you are still blind and deaf to the import of the cross of Christ, which declares the divine character to be perfect in beauty, and his law to be holy, just, and good, previous to the consideration of our being pardoned; and that our disaffection to the divine character and government was inexcusable and infinitely criminal; and would have remained so, had we never been forgiven. It is not the divine character and government, therefore, you are reconciled to; but the whole of your reconciliation consists in a belief that you are safe. And this is not to be reconciled to God; it is only to love yourself. “But it is impossible I should be reconciled to God on any other ground." That is, impossible you should look on the divine character and government perfect in beauty, without a blemish, although thus declared to be, on the cross of Christ, and the declaration sealed with the blood of God's own Son. Christ died to condemn your sin, to declare your disaffection infinitely vile; you extenuate your sin, and justify your disaffection; and cry, “It is impossible I should do otherwise ; impossible to look upon God as a lovely being, only in belief of his love to you ;” which is implicitly to say, that there is “no loveliness in the divine nature, only on account of his love to you.” And so, if you are damned, God will be no longer God. Language not of a humble penitent, but of a haughty rebel; not harmonizing with the import of the cross of Christ, but exactly the reverse.
For had it not been a becoming, glorious thing in God to punish sin according to its desert, the death of Christ had been entirely needless.
SIN AN INFINITE EVIL,
As to the degree of faultiness there is in sin, or, in other words, as to the degree of blameworthiness, there is in a creature's becoming disaffected to, and rising in rebellion against, the infinitely glorious God that made him, it cannot be determined by the sentiments of the rebels themselves, who will naturally be apt to extenuate their fault, and justify their conduct. There is no so easy and safe a way to determine this point with exactness as to appeal to the judgment of God, who knows what our obligations to obedience precisely are, and with the greatest exactitude balances the degree of our blame. And besides, it is by his judgment this matter is to be finally decided.
But the divine law, which is a transcript of the divine nature, and which expresses the very sentiments of his heart, and by which he will finally judge the world, in the penalty it has threatened to the transgressor, exactly determines what God's judgment is in this case ; in which it is written, “ Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them.”. This curse contains all that evil, which the law threatens, and which Christ came to deliver us from, and which the wicked will be doomed to at the day of judgment. What the wicked will be doomed to at the day of judgment, when God will render to every man according to his works, our Savior has determined in the most express manner. (Matt. xxv. 41, 46.) “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.” It will be more tolerable for some wicked men at the day of judgment than for others, as some are guilty of fewer and less aggravated crimes, (Matt. xi. 20, 24;) but however different the degrees of pain will be to different persons, yet the misery of each one will be eternal; that is, infinite in point of duration. For no one is ever to be released out of hell. For there is a great gulf fixed, (Luke xvi. 26 ;) and the fire is never to be quenched and the worm never to die, (Matt. ix. 44, 46, 48;) for the wicked are to be punished with everlasting destruction. (2 Thess. i. 9.) And as the divine law denounces the curse for the first transgression, for any one sin, so there is consequently no one breach of the divine law, but what in the judgment of God deserves everlasting misery. But
everlasting misery is an infinite punishment; and therefore in the judgment of God there is an infinite evil in sin; yea, there is no one transgression of the divine law, but what is infinitely evil.
And it must be remembered, that this law, in which the Judge of all the earth threatens eternal misery for any one transgression, for not continuing in all things, was in force and binding on all mankind, antecedently to a consideration of the gift of Christ and the work of redemption by him; and was by God esteemed to be holy, just, and good, and the whole world, Jew and Gentile, were by him looked upon as guilty, their mouths stopped without excuse, no objection against his law, no plea in their own behalf to make, not one word to say. And in this view, he gave his only-begotten Son to die in their stead. To deny this, is to renounce the gospel. And all who believe that Christ died to save sinners from the eternal torments of hell, must grant that, antecedent to a consideration of his death, they were justly exposed to such a punishment; as otherwise his death for this end had been needless. But if they were justly exposed to such a punishment antecedently to a consideration of his death, then sin, previous to a consideration of the grace of the gospel, was an infinite evil. But,
I. If sin is an infinite evil, antecedently to a consideration of the gift of Christ, then God is infinitely worthy of supreme love and universal obedience from us, considered merely as being what he is in himself and our Creator; for if he is not infinitely worthy, we cannot be infinitely obliged. And if our obligations are not infinite, we cannot be infinitely to blame. It is, therefore, the plain import of the divine law, that the God who made us, and whose we are, is an absolutely perfect, and so an infinitely glorious and amiable being; and that, on this account, we are under infinite obligations to love and obey him. Therefore, that love to God which arises merely from self-love, in a belief that Christ died for me, that my sins are forgiven, and that I shall be saved, is not that kind of love which the divine law requires, but a love essentially different; for, one wholly blind to the beauty of the divine nature, and at enmity to the divine character as exhibited in the law, and so in the eye of the law, dead in sin, may be full of this kind of love, even as full of it as the carnal Israelites were of joy at the side of the Red Sea.
And to deny that God is to be loved by believers with that kind of love which the divine law requires, is to say, that the law is not a rule of life to believers ; it is to set aside the divine law and real holiness; and to substitute affections merely selfish
and wholly graceless in their room. And this is the essence of Antinomianism.
It is true, the gift of Christ, considered as a benefit done to us, lays us under infinite obligations to love God with a love of gratitude ; but at the same time, the very nature of the gift supposes that we were before under infinite obligations to love God for his own excellency, and infinitely to blame for not loving him; as otherwise the gift of Christ, to be a curse to redeem us from the curse of the law, had been needless. Now, practically to deny the infinite amiableness of the Deity, and our infinite obligations to love him as such, and then to pretend to love God for the gift of his Son, is as though we should say, “God does not deserve the love the law requires; the law was, therefore, an unrighteous law; but Christ has redeemed us from its curse, and we are glad ; " which declaration would be a full proof of our enmity to God and to his Son.
II. If sin is an infinite evil, if not to love the infinitely glorious God our Maker with all our hearts, so as from love to be perfectly obedient to his will in thought, word, and deed, is an infinite evil; then those who are wholly blind to the holy beauty of the divine nature, and consequently entirely destitute of true love and of true obedience, are, in the sight of God, infinitely to blame for every thought, word, and action. The ploughing of the wicked is sin. The prayers of the wicked are sin. The sacrifices of the wicked are abomination to the Lord. They are, in the whole frame of their hearts, and in the whole tenor of their lives, contrary to the divine law. (Rom. viii. 7, 8.) “ The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh, cannot please God.” And, (ver. 9,) this is the character of all who have not the spirit of Christ; and therefore the whole frame of their hearts, and the whole tenor of their lives, is infinitely odious, hateful, and ill-deserving in the sight of God; exactly agreeable to the import of the curse of the divine law. Therefore, when once a sinner's eyes come to be opened really to view things as they in fact are, his false hopes, his self-righteous claims, will be dropped in a moment; and the justice of God in his damnation be clear beyond dispute ; and God's disposition to punish sin according to law, no longer appears as a blemish, but rather as a beauty in the divine character; and “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,” not an ill, but rather a glorious perfection in the Deity. However, these views, and an answerable frame of heart, will not in the least diminish his desert of eternal damnation, any more than the penitence of a wilful murderer will exempt him from the gallows. For,
III. If sin is an infinite evil, then he who is enlightened in the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ, believes the gospel with all his heart, repents, and is converted, still deserves, considered as in himself, and compared with the law of God, that perfect rule of right, eternal damnation as much as ever he did,* because his present goodness does not in the least counterbalance his former badness. Nay, instead of paying past debts, he runs continually deeper into debt; as he still falls short of that perfect love and obedience which he owes to God; and so, instead of deserving pardon for old sins, he merits damnation constantly by his new ones. There is, therefore, absolutely no hope in the case of a true penitent, but from the mere grace of God through Jesus Christ. On the foot of law, there is no more hope in the case of a penitent, than in the case of an impenitent sinner; because, according to law and strict justice, he deserves to be damned now as much as he did before ; for his repentance, which is but of finite worth, when cast into the balance in opposition to his guilt, which is infinite, is lighter than if the smallest atom of matter were flung into one scale, and the whole material system into the other; for there is some proportion between the least atom of matter and the whole material system ; but there is no proportion between finite and infinite. And therefore, as in the eye of law, so in the eye of an enlightened conscience, the most exalted virtue of the most eminent saint stands for nothing; that is, is absolutely of no weight at all in the least conceivable degree, to counterbalance for any one sin ; and so he sensibly needs Christ and free grace along with the chief of sinners.
To deny this, would be, virtually, to give up the whole of divine revelation; for in this view the divine law threatens eternal death for any one transgression, without leaving any
Some late writers, in their zeal against a self-righteous spirit, hardly dare allow faith to be an act, lest it should be made a righteousness of. Just as if a self-righteous heart could not make a righteousness of a passive as well as of an active faith, and be as proud of his passivity as the Pharisee was of his fasting twice in a week. Was this Paul's way to take down a proud, self-righteous heart, who was so skilful and mighty to pull down? No; far from it: he took quite another method, a method in its own nature apparently suited to answer the end. It was to hold forth the divine law in all its strictness, and with all its curses, as holy, just, and good; witness his Epistles to the Romans and Galatians. Not any distinction between active and passive was ever mentioned by him, or has the least tendency to humble a proud heart. But to view ourselves in the light of the divine law, will give us our true character, and let us see just what we deserve at the hands of God our Judge, and our absolute need of Christ and free grace. It was Paul's maxim, “The law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ." Nor can any man possibly see his need of Christ, but by the law; and the law considered as holy, just, and good. For to do honor to the law as such, was the design of Christ's mediation, and that without which his mediation had not been needful for the salvation of sinners; and by the law, the most holy and active saint needs Christ as much as the chief of sinners.