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merits damnation. It may be sufficient, as “sub* mitting to the righteousness of God," in the punishment denounced against every transgressor of his law, to acknowledge that we deserve everlasting punishment for our many and complicated crimes. When, as thus condemning ourselves, we “ have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set “ before us” in Christ, we begin to do real good works, acceptable to God through the Saviour's mediation : yet these are imperfect, and need washing in his blood; they cannot 'endure the
severity of God's judgment;'l there is a mixture of evil in them, which deserves wrath, and needs forgiveness : yet it is of these works that the texts of scripture, adduced in the quotation, manifestly speak. Every action of man is sinful and punishable, and would subject him to punishment, according to the strict and holy law of God: but, according to the gospel, God mercifully forgives what is evil, and graciously accepts and rewards what is good, even the fruits of his Spirit in true believers. “ The fine linen, clean and white, are “ the righteousness of the saints :” yet they - washed their robes and made them white in the “ blood of the Lamb.”2 In discoursing on these subjects, there is certainly a danger of clouding the proper distinction between virtue and vice, and of making all sins equal, like the Stoics of old. Caution is therefore needful, and we must “ ask wisdom of God,” to guide us at a distance from the dangers on either side : for there certainly is also, on the other hand, very great danger, lest,
Comp. Rev. vii. 14. xix. 8.
while palliating some instances of human conduct, in which God is neglected and forgotten, and commending human virtues, we should lead men to entertain slight thoughts of sin, as disobedience to God, when it is not evidently mischievous to man ; lest we should foster a proud self-justifying spirit; and encourage a hope of salvation, without repentance, conversion, and genuine holiness. If the grand truths and encouragements of the gospel be fully set before men, along with the declarations concerning the evil of sin, and the sinfulness of their ordinary, nay, their best actions ; they, who duly attend, will indeed give up a hope of saving themselves by their own virtues, but they will also be led to hope for salvation by Christ Jesus ; and this will induce them to a stricter conscientiousness than they before so much as thought of. But, if any so preach, as not to discriminate between the direct ungodliness, or gross crimes of the wicked, and the lamented deficiencies of true Christians ; or between their sins of surprise and inadvertency, and the premeditated crimes of those who are habitually wicked; he has not at all learned
rightly to divide the word of truth."
If men heartily strive to practise the whole of their duty ; if it be the great object of their lives 'to make the precepts of the gospel the invariable
rule of their conduct, but still from the frailty of their nature, they should sometimes be guilty of sin, or not rise to the standard of purity and • excellence required by our holy religion; we ' have ground to believe, that an imperfect and defective obedience of this kind will be accepted
through faith in the merits of a crucified Re• deemer. If such occasional and involuntary deviation from the path of duty will not be forgiven, who of the sons of men can be saved ? • Men, as they now are, are not capable of perfect
obedience, but they are capable of endeavouring 'to attain it. Such an endeavour is their indis
pensable duty; and, although it may not in all ' instances and upon every occasion be effectual, it • is humbly hoped that it may be sufficient to recommend them to the favour of God, 'forasmuch as what their infirmity lacketh, Christ's justice hath supplied.' In no part of our public formula‘riess any thing like actual perfect obedience supposed; and in the only prayer which our Saviour himself commanded his followers to use, we pray 'God to “ forgive us our trespasses :" all Christians therefore are taught by their Saviour to consider and confess themselves as sinners, that ‘is, at best as yielding an imperfect obedience.'1
They should sometimes be guilty of sin, and not ‘rise to the standard, &c. Contrast with this the apostle's confession, “In many things we offend “ all." ? No mere man ever rose to this standard
of purity, &c.' St. Paul himself was only pressing forward towards it; and what is this but acknowledging that impossibility which was before denied ?3 Our defective obedience, however, will no doubt be accepted through faith in the merits of a crucified Redeemer, but no obedience of unbelievers will be accepted.—What is involuntary,
• Ref. 173, 174.
· Jam. ii. 2. • Book I. sect. 5. On Impossibility.
in the strict sense of the word, cannot be sin ; for the criminality consists in the will. The sins, however, of true believers, are contrary to their habitual purpose and intention.
They desire perfectly to obey : but the will of a creature is changeable, and especially that of a fallen creature; so that often, in the hour of temptation, they do those things against which they were before steadily resolved. Thus Peter in denying his Lord acted contrary to his determined purpose, and inconsistently with his general character ; and, according to the gracious constitution of the gospel, “ It was not he, but sin which dwelt in him." Yet he did not sin “involuntarily, But Judas in betraying Christ acted in character, and consistently with his habitual purpose of rendering his profession subservient to his worldly interest. “ He was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what
was put therein.” The demon of avarice possessed his heart: he robbed the poor, his brethren, and his Lord; and at last bargained, for filthy lucre, to betray Jesus to his enemies. “ It was he, and “ not sin that dwelt in him."-Sufficient to re
commend them to the favour of God.' The good works of believers are sufficient to prove their faith living, and their love sincere. They are “ the “ fruits of the Spirit,” and are presented in humble faith, through the great Intercessor: but he alone recommends both them and their obedience unto God: “acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”. ‘Perfect obedience is not supposed in our public formularies:' but is it here meant that any description of ministers insist upon perfect obedience, as necessary to our acceptance in Christ Jesus by faith? Calvinists in general, and the evangelical clergy in particular, are often charged with conniving at sin in those who embrace their creed ; and with being in many things too lenient as to practical subjects: yet at other times it is intimated that they are as over-rigorously strict in their requirements ! But custom inures us to bear such discordant censures without any great emotion. That perfect obedience is demanded as the condition of justification by works, is manifest. “ Thou hast answered right, “ This do, and thou shalt live:"l that is, “Love “ God with all thy heart, and love thy neighbour " as thyself;” and indeed his Lordship has maintained it. But, when we have been justified by faith, our sincere and unreserved, though very defective obedience, meets with a gracious acceptance from our reconciled God and Father.
* That I may not be accused of not having sufficient ground for what I have said, concern‘ing those who invidiously arrogate to themselves * the exclusive title of evangelical clergy, I will ' refer to some passages in a book written pro' fessedly in vindication of their principles and
practice. We there find one minister of the ' established church blamed for ‘hoping, that his
congregation will recommend themselves to the 'favour of God, by a regular attendance upon divine
ordinances, and an uniform practice of religious precepts;' a second is blamed for saying, “Repen: tance, I doubt not, always avails something in : the sight of God;' a third is blamed for talking
! Luke x. 25-29.
? The True Churchmen ascertained.