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CANNOT BE JUSTIFIED BY WORKS OF LAW,
THEREFORE, BY THE DEEDS OF THE LAW THERE SHALL
NO FLESH BE JUSTIFIED IN HIS SIGHT.
ROMANS III. 20.
In several preceding Discourses I have considered the universality and Degree of human corruption, and its existence in consequence of the apostasy of Adam ; and have also derived from the observations made in them concerning these subjects, several inferences, which I supposed to be of serious importance to mankind. The next object of inquiry in a System of Theology is the situation in which mankind are by means of their corruption. It is impossible for a rational being to know that he has offended God, and is now the object of his displeasure, without being, if he is not absolutely stupid, deeply alarmed by a sense of his danger at least, if not of his guilt.
All creatures are absolutely in the hands of God, and must be disposed of according to his pleasure. If he wills it, they are happy; if he wills it, they are miserable. He speaks, and it is done; he commands, and it stands fast. From his
eye there is no concealment ; from his hand there is no escape ; from his anger there is no refuge. What, then, will become of those, who are found guilty at the final trial ; who can plead no excuse for their sins, and offer no expiation for their
souls? • He is not a man,' as we are,' that we should answer bim ;' and that we should come together in judgment. Neither is there any day's. man (any mediator) betwixt us, who might lay his hand upon us both,' and make reconciliation between us. When I that there is no day's man between us and him, you will undoubtedly understand that I intend this as our situation while under law, and independently of the redemption of Christ. Of this situation it is immensely important for us to form clear and just views. False opinions here may easily be fatal to any man. If he feels safe while he is really in danger, as his danger, if it exists, must be immensely great, and threaten his whole well-being, his sense of .safety must of course be ruinous. Whatever is to be done for his future good must be done in this world, since he is to be judged' and rewarded according to the deeds done in the body.'
The text is the close of a long discourse concerning the depravity of both Jews and Gentiles, or, in other words, of all mankind; and contains the great and affecting inference, drawn by St. Paul himself, or rather given by the Spirit of God, from this humiliating doctrine: • Therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight.'
In order to understand the import of this interesting declaration, it is necessary to form distinct and correct views of the meaning of the term justify. This word is a term of law, in the judicial proceedings of which it denotes a sentence of acquittal passed upon a person who has been tried, concerning his obedience or disobedience. The person tried, being found to have obeyed the law in the manner required, is declared by the judge to be guiltless of any disobedience. In the language of the text, he is ‘ justified ;' that is, declared to be just, or blameless, in the sight of the law. With exactly this meaning the word is here used by St. Paul.
There have been frequent disputes concerning the law here specified. Some commentators have insisted that the moral, some that the ceremonial, and some that the whole law given by Moses, is here intended. That neither the ceremonial nor political law of the Jews is here designed by the Apostle is, I think, completely evident from a bare consideration of the passage itself; the language is, that` NO FLESH shall be justified' by means of the law intended. It can hardly be supposed that St. Paul meant to say this with reference to the ceremonial or political law of the Jews; because, except the Jews themselves, none of the human race can be either acquitted or condemned, or even tried, by those laws; since the rest of mankind not only have never known them, but have in almost all instances been absolutely unable to come to any knowledge of them.
The truth, I apprehend, is, that this difference of opinion has arisen only from the translation of the text. The words in the original are Διοτι, εξ εργων νομα και δικαιωθησεται πασα σαρξ
• Wherefore, by works of law no flesh,' that is, no man, shall be justified in his sight,' 'hat is, in the sight of God. By works of law in the absolute sense : that is, no man shall be justified by any works whatever of any law, whether natural or revealed.
The doctrine contained in the text is, therefore, That no man can be justified on the ground of his obedience to the Law
This doctrine is so absolutely asserted in the text, that a plain man in the exercise of sober common sense, would naturally conclude all attempts to prove it to be misplaced and superfluous. “Whom,” he would instinctively say, “ shall we believe, if we do not believe God; and what declaration of God can be believed, if this, so plain, so unambiguous, is not to be believed? The efforts of reason to make it more certain or more evident are merely holding a rushlight to the sun.” So much has, however, been written and said to explain away even this declaration, and to avoid the truth which it contains, and the same truth as expressed in all other similar passages of the Scriptures, that, notwithstanding these decisions of common sense, it has become really necessary to examine this doctrine, as well as others. Nor is it only necessary to examine this doctrine as contained in the Scriptures. It is also of importance to consider the manner in which it is regarded by reason; and to show that here as well as elsewhere, notwithstanding several objections suggested against the doctrine, reason still entirely harmonizes with Revelation.
In pursuance of the scheme which I have thus proposed, I observe,
I. That the Law of God demands perfect obedience to all its requisitions.
This is indeed true of every law; for it is no more than saying that the law demands what it demands. Yet it is true, in a peculiar sense, of the divine law. The requisitions of this law are two : Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thine understanding; and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself:' that is, Thou shalt devote, with supreme affection, all thy powers to the service of the Lord thy God, throughout the continuance of thy being; and thou shalt do unto others, who are included under the word ' neighbour,' that is, all intelligent creatures, whatsoever thou wouldest that they in the like circumstances should do unto thee; and this also thou shalt do throughout the continuance of thy being. The peculiar perfection of the obedience here required is the universality of it. No other law requires the absolute consecration of all our powers to the obedience of its precepts, or extends its demands to every moment of our existence.
That, which is commonly called the law of nature, viz. that part of the law, which is discoverable by unbiassed reason, without the aid of Revelation, requires that we render continual reverence and gratitude to God, and that we invariably do justice, speak truth, and show kindness to our fellow-men. All these things are required by the law of nature, because all men either do or may see them to be certainly
Without inquiring at this time, whether any man in a state of nature ever did any one of these duties in the manner commanded, I shall consider it as sufficient for the present purpose to observe, that no man ever performed them universally, as they are here enjoined. No man, to whom the law of God was revealed, ever loved God, uniformly, with all the heart: or rendered, uniformly, to his neighbour what he would that his neighbour in the like circumstances should render to him: neither did any man in a state of nature ever uninterruptedly render to God the reverence and gratitude, or to his neighbour the truth, justice, and kindness, which it required. Of this obedience every man has plainly fallen short; and very few can be found who will not in this view of the subject, confess themselves to be sinners.
II. The only condition of justification known by law is complete obedience to its precepts.
The language of the divine law, generally resembling that of every other, is, ' Do these things, and thou shalt live;' and • Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law, to do them. The soul that sinneth shall die : for not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
This condition of justification is inherent in the very nature of law. The law of God, for example, requires certain things of mankind, and promises that those who do them shall be rewarded. But the reward is promised to no others. On the contrary, those who do them not it declares shall be punished. The former it pronounces just, or guiltless, the latter it pronounces guilty. Obedience and disobedience are plainly the only conditions by which creatures subject to this law can be justified, condemned, or even tried. The same things, substantially, are true of every other law. It is presumed no law was ever promulged by any authority whatever, which specified any other condition.
III. It is impossible for mankind, or any other rational beings, to do more than the law of God requires.
This law requires that we love him with all the heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. Higher love than this cannot possibly be rendered by any creature. It requires that we love him thus at all times. There is no time, therefore, in which such love is not our duty. Supererogatory love or obedience of course cannot possibly be rendered by man. Hence, if man ever fails of obeying, he cannot atone for the sin by any future obedience, because all his future obedience is demanded for the time being. If, then, he is ever guilty of disobedience, his future obedience, however perfect, cannot contribute at all to his justification.
But all men have disobeyed; nay, all are disobedient every day and every hour; and never render complete obedience, even in a single instance. No man, therefore, is justified even for the time being.
IV. The authority of the law is great in proportion to its importance to the universe, and to the greatness and dignity of the lawgiver.