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law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I dieda:" that is, before I understood the spirituality of the law, I thought my obedience to it so perfect that I was in no danger of condemnation for my offences against it: but when my eyes were opened to see the extent of its demands and the defects of my obedience, I saw at once that I was deservedly under a sentence of death and condemnation.
Thus it is with multitudes who are exemplary in their moral conduct: in the midst of all their confidence they deceive themselves; and whilst they take credit to themselves for being right in the sight of God, they shew, that they have never yet received “the truth as it is in Jesus," and that, consequently, “ the truth is not in them."]
Let us now turn our attention to, II. The happy condition of the self-condemning
penitentThe “confession” which characterizes a true penitent, of course is not to be understood of a mere acknowledgment, but an acknowledgment accompanied with suitable contrition, and with a humble faith in the Lord Jesus. It imports such a confession as was made by the high-priest on the great day of annual expiation, when he laid his hands on the scape-goat, and confessed over him all the sins of all the children of Israel, whilst all of those whose sins he so transferred were “afflicting their souls before Gode.” I may add, that this confession implies also a forsaking of the sins so confessed; as it is said, “ He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy."
Now respecting all such penitents, I do not hesitate to say, that,
1. Whatsoever they need shall certainly be vouchsafed unto them
[Two things the penitent panteth after ; namely, the forgiveness of his sins, and the renovation of his soul after the Divine image. And, behold, these are the very things promised to him in our text: “ If we confess our sins, God will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." How reviving to the contrite soul is such a declaration as this! Here is no limitation as to the number or heinousness of the
d Rom. vii. 9. e Lev. xvi. 21, 29, 30. f Prov. xxviii. 13.
sins that may have been previously committed ; nor any exception as to the measure of depravity which may have defiled the soul, or the degree of obduracy to which it may have attained. Though our sins may have been as scarlet, or of a crimson dye, they shall all be washed away in the blood of Christ, and the soul become white as the driven snow 8." “ Clean water also shall be sprinkled on us, even the Holy Ghost in his sanctifying operations, to cleanse us from all our filthiness and from all our uncleanness. A new heart shall be given us, and a new spirit be put within us: and God, by the mighty working of his own power, will cause us " to walk in his judgments and to keep his statutesh.” Here is all that the penitent can desire.
The promises are perfectly commensurate with his necessities : and," laying hold on these promises, he shall be able to cleanse himself from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of Godi."]
2. For this, those very perfections of the Deity which are most adverse to them, are pledged
[If the penitent desire mercy, Justice frowns upon him, and demands judgment against him: and Truth requires, that all the threatenings which have been denounced against sin and sinners should be executed upon him. But, through the mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ, these perfections of the Deity are not only satisfied, but are converted into friends, yea, and made the strongest advocates for the penitent's salvation. What a wonderful declaration is this, that, “ if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness!" That mercy should be displayed in forgiveness, we can easily imagine: but how can justice ? and how can truth? when, as has been before observed, both these attributes demand the sinner's condemnation? The Gospel solves this difficulty: it declares to us, tbat the Lord Jesus Christ has undertaken for us, and become our Surety, and by his own obedience unto death has satisfied all the demands of law and justice, and obtained for us the promise of eternal life: so that, if only we believe in him, and come to God through him, we may plead, even upon the very ground of justice and of truth, that God will fulfil to us all that he has promised to the Lord Jesus in our behalf, and impart to us all
the blessings which his only dear Son has purchased for us. Through this mysterious dispensation, the very righteousness of God is magnified in the exercise of niercy; and “God is just, whilst justifying the sinner that believes in Jesusk.” 8 Isai. i. 18.
h Ezek. xxxvi. 25–27. i 2 Cor. vi, 1. k Rom. iii. 26.
How blessed is the condition of the penitent when viewed in this light! Every thing is secured to him that his necessities require! and every thing confirmed to him by the very justice and faithfulness of Jehovah! Wipe away thy tears, thou weeping penitent; and "put off thy sackcloth, and gird thee with gladness:" for God has here“ given thee the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness."] Attend however to a few words of parting ADVICE1. Let your humiliation be deep and abiding
[It can never be too deep: there is no measure of selflothing or self-abhorrence that can exceed what the occasion calls for. Thou mayest heretofore have thought thyself so pure, that “ thou hadst no sin ” which could subject thee to the wrath of God. Now thou knowest, that “the bed was too short for thee to stretch thyself upon, and the covering too narrow for thee to wrap thyself in?.” “ The pillows are plucked from thy arms ;” and “ the untempered mortar with which thou daubedst thy wall, adheres no longerm." You have now learned to estimate your character by another standard. You see now your defects. You compare your obedience, not with the mere letter, but with the spirit of the law: and from this view of your past life you know your just desert, and are convinced that the very best action, word, or thought of your whole life, if tried by the standard of God's holy law, would plunge you into merited and everlasting perdition. And so it is at this very moment, notwithstanding your change of character. You could no more bear the scrutiny of that perfect law, than you could in your days of unregeneracy. Let this thought never be forgotten: let it abide with you day and night. Job, before that God had appeared unto him, said, “ If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me":" and after he had beheld God in his majesty and glory, his humiliation, so far from being removed, was deepened: and he exclaimed, “ Behold, I am vile: I repent therefore, and abhor myself in dust and ashes." So let your increase both in grace and peace be marked by a proportionable increase in humiliation and contrition.] 2. Let your affiance in God be simple and uniform
(Never for a moment entertain a thought of any worthiness in yourself, or suffer any thing to be blended with your faith in Christ. Rely on him as entirely as if your whole life had been a scene of the most enormous wickedness.
1 Isai. xxviii. 20. n Job ix. 20.
m Ezek. xiii. 10—20.
o Job xl. 4. and xlii. 6.
entirely every thing of your own in point of dependence; and seek to “ be found in Christ, not having your own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God through faith in him.” And let this abide with you to your latest hour. Let neither a relapse into sin deter you from coming thus to Christ; nor the most spotless continuance in holiness render such a mode of coming to him unnecessary in your eyes. This is the way in which you may come, however aggravated may have been your guilt; and this is the way in which you must come, however eminent your attainments. It is not possible for you to be too much on your guard against either doubting the sufficiency of Christ to save you, or attempting to unite any thing with him as a joint ground of your hope. To err in either of these respects will be fatal : it will arm both justice and truth against you, and will make void all that the Lord Jesus has done and suffered for you. But rely simply and altogether upon him, and “ you shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end."
THE ADVOCACY AND ATONEMENT OF CHRIST.
1 John ii. 1, 2. If any man sin, we have an advocate with the
Father, Jesus Christ the righteous : and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
THERE are two extremes to which men are apt to incline, namely, presumption and despair; and against both of these the Gospel is designed to guard
The ungodly world at large imagine that God will never execute his threatened judgments: and some will take occasion even from the Gospel itself to expect impunity in the ways of sin. But the rich promises of the Gospel were never given for this end: it was never God's design that his “ 'grace should be turned into licentiousness;" and therefore the Apostle affectionately warns us against such an abuse of it; “ My little children, these things I write
ye sin not.” On the other hand, there are some persons, who, from a sense of their manifold backslidings, are ready to despond. To these the Apostle proceeds to speak: he sets before them the offices which Christ sustains on the behalf of
sinners; and encourages them under every fresh contracted guilt to look unto him as a willing, suitable, and all-sufficient Saviour.
To further this good work in your hearts, we will shew, I. The offices of Christ
It will be proper to notice first that which is last mentioned in the textHe is a “ Propitiation for sin ”—
[To understand what is meant by this, we should consider the state of man. We were fallen creatures, and, in consequence of our fall, obnoxious to the wrath of God. To restore ourselves to the Divine favour was impossible, because we could not offer any atonement for the sins we had committed. God, though ready to forgive, could not exercise mercy towards us in any way which did not accord with his justice, holiness, and truth. Christ therefore undertook to make satisfaction to the Divine justice, so that “mercy and truth might meet together, and righteousness and peace might kiss each other." This he did by substituting himself in our place. “ He bore our sins in his own body on the treea," and "suffered, the just for the unjust b.” Our apprehension of this matter will be greatly assisted, if we consider how it was represented under the Mosaic economy. Bullocks, goats, and lambs were offered in sacrifice to God. The offender, when he brought his sacrifice, laid his hands upon its head, and transferred to it his guilt; and then it was put to death in his stead. This sacrifice God accepted on behalf of the offerer, and, out of respect to it, forgave his iniquities. This indeed was only a type: but it shadowed forth what was really done by Christ, who
came to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself d.” The whole language of Scripture accords with this explanation, and confirms the truth of this stupendous mystery.]
He is also our “ Advocate with the Father"
a 1 Pet. ïi. 24.
b 1 Pet. iii. 18. c Lev. i. 2, 4.
d Heb. ix. 26. Eph. v. 2. Rom. iii. 25. In this latter passage, as also in the text, the word which we translate “propitiation," is the same as is elsewhere translated, “mercy-seat." Compare Heb. ix. 5. But the illustration above given, is that which the scope of the passage evidently requires ; and to explain the word in reference to the mercyseat, would, in this place, only embarrass and obscure the sense.