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make the law instrumental to the conversion of a sinner. In which case, having shaken us out of our self-righteousness, and reduced us to an happy necessity of closing with the righteousness of Christ; the law has still another and a farther use, no less momentous: For, thirdly, it from that moment forward, stands as the great rule of our practical walk and conversation: seeing a true believer is not without law,, (avouos, a lawless person) towards God; but is EVVOOS, within the bond of the law to Christ *; not exempted from its control, as the standard of moral action; though delivered from its power and execration, as a covenant of works.
These are the three grand, lawful uses of the law. On the other hand, if any of us are so deplorably lost to all sense of Christian duty and gospel privilege, as to suppose, that, by our own partial conformity to the law, how sincere soever it be, we can work out, and work up, a righteousness for ourselves, wherein to stand before the tribunal of God, and for which to obtain any favour at his hand; we use the law unlawfully: we sadly mistake the very end for which the law was promulgated, which was, that, under the efficacy of grace, and the teachings of the blessed Spirit, it might bring us to a knowledge of our guilt, and a sense of our ‡ danger; convince us of our § helplessness, and as a schoolmaster, bring us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith, and not by the works of the law: for, by the works of the law, as performed by us, shall no flesh be justified ||.
apostle James compares the law to a looking-glass; and a faculty to represent, is all the law possesseth: But it doth not impart a faculty to see what it represents. It is Christ alone who opens the eyes of men to behold their own vileness and guilt. He opens the eyes, and then, in the law, a man sees what he is."
* 1 Corinthians ix. 21.
+ Romans iii. 20.
Deuteronomy xxxiii. 2. Hebrews xii. 18, 19, 20, 21.
Romans viii. 3..
|| Galatians iii. 24.
and ii. 16.
That grand error of the heart (for it is an heart error, as well as an head error; deeply rooted in our corrupt nature, as well as perniciously pleasing to unassisted reason), which misrepresents justification as at all suspended on causes or conditions of human performance; will, and must, if finally persisted in, transmit the unbeliever, who has opportunities of better information, to that place of torment, where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
The apostle goes on knowing that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the disobedient, &c. The phrase, a righteous man, means, in its strictly evangelical sense, one that is in Christ; or, who is righteous before God in the righteousness of his Son, apprehended by faith. Now, the law, i. e. the damnatory sentence of it, was not designed for such a person. Weak believers have, sometimes, a good deal to do with the law, and are apt to hover about Mount Sinai; but the law has nothing to do with them; any more than a creditor, who has received ample payment from the hand of a surety, can have any remaining claim on the original debtor. The law took, as it were, our heavenly bondsman by the throat, saying, pay me that thou owest. And Jesus acknowledged the demand. He paid the double debt of obedience and suffering, to the utmost farthing. So that, as some render the words under consideration, the law lieth not against a righteous man *; its claims are satisfied; its sentence is superseded; its condemning power is abolished. And whoever have been enabled to fly for refuge to the righteousness of Christ, and to lay hold on the hope set before them, may depend on this as a most certain truth, that Christ hath redeemed them from the curse of the law, having been, himself, made a curse for them t. Such are not
under the law, whether as a covenant of works, to be saved by, or as a denunciation of wrath, to be condemned by, but they are under grace*: under that sweet dispensation of everlasting love, which, when made known to the believing soul, at once ensures the practice of universal godliness, and refers the entire praise of salvation to the unmerited grace of Father, Son, and Spirit. I said, that the dispensation of grace ensures the practice of universal godliness: for, considered as a rule of moral conduct, the law most certainly is designed for believers. And, indeed, only believers can yield real, acceptable obedience to the law: for, without faith, it is impossible to please Godt; and whatever proceedeth not from faith is sint. Therefore, if God hath not wrought living faith in your heart, you have never performed one truly good work in your whole life.
St. Paul next proceeds to draw a catalogue of sins, against which the denunciations of the law are most eminently levelled: closing the list with the words first read, And if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine. A plain intimation, that error, in principles fundamental, has a very unfavourable influence on practicals; and that, in proportion as the doctrines of God are disbelieved, the commandments of God will be disobeyed. Doctrinals, therefore, are not of that small significance, which the injudicious and the heterodox affect to give out. For, though matters of doctrine are, by some, considered merely as the shell of religion, and experience only as the kernel; yet let it be remembered, that there is no coming at the kernel, but through the shell: and, while the kernel gives value to the shell, the shell is the guardian of the kernel. Destroy that, and you injure this.
The apostle, in the words before us, stamps the evangelical doctrines with the seal of dignity, use*Rom. vi. 14. † Heb. xi. 6.
Rom. xiv. 23.
fulness, and importance: as is evident from the epithet he makes use of. He calls the system of gospel truths, sound doctrine: son didasaλia, υγιαίνεση διδασκαλια, salutary, health-giving doctrine; not only right and sound in itself, but conducing to the spiritual strength and health of those that receive it: doctrine, that operates like some efficacious restorative or an exhausted constitution; that renders the sinsick souls of men healthy, vigorous and thriving; that causes them, through the blessing of divine grace, to grow as the lily, and to cast forth the root as Lebanon, to revive as the corn, and to flourish as the vine, to diffuse their branches, and rival the olive-tree*, both in beauty and fruitfulness.
On the other hand, unsound doctrine has the very opposite effects. It impoverishes our views of God; withers our hopes; makes our faith languid; blasts our spiritual enjoyments; and lays the axe to the very root of Christian obedience. We may say of it, as the Jewish students said, on another occasion, there is death in the pot. If you eat it, you are poisoned. With the utmost attention therefore, should we attend to the apostle's caveat, and avoid every thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.
Many such things there are. I have not time even to recite, much less to expatiate on them all. I shall, therefore, only endeavour, as God may enable me, to point out a few very common, but very capital errors, which are totally inconsistent with sound doctrine.
Previous to my entrance on this part of the subject, I would premise two particulars.
1. That what I am going to observe, does not proceed from the least degree of bitterness against the persons of any, from whom I differ; and,
2. That I am infinitely remote even from the slightest wish of erecting myself into a dictator to others.
* Hos. xiv.
The rights of conscience are inviolably sacred, and liberty of private judgment is every man's birthright. If, however, any, like Esau, have sold their birth-right for a mess of pottage, by subscribing to articles they do not believe, merely for the sake of temporal profit or aggrandisement; they have only themselves to thank, for the little ceremony they are entitled to. With regard to myself, as one whom God has been pleased to put into the ministry; above all, into the ministry of the best and purest visible church in the whole world; I should be a traitor to God, to Christ, to the scriptures, and to truth,-unfaithful to souls, and to my own conscience, if I did not, without fear or favour, declare the entire counsel of God, so far as I apprehend myself led into the knowledge of it. Inconsiderable as I am, many of you are, no doubt, acquainted with the variety of reports that have been spread (especially since this time of my being in town), concerning me, and the doctrines by which I hold it my indispensable duty to abide. I deem myself, therefore, happy, in having one more opportunity to testify the little that I know, concerning that mystery of the gospel, which God ordained, before the world, for our glory. And I desire, in the most public manner, to thank the great Author of all consolation, for a very particular instance of his favour, and which I look upon as one of the most felicitating circumstances of my whole life: I mean, my early acquaintance with the doctrines of grace. Many great and good men, who were converted late in life, have had the whole web of their preceding ministry to unravel, and been under a necessity of reversing all they had been delivering for years before. But it is not the smallest of my distinguishing mercies, that, from the very commencement of my unworthy ministrations, I have not had a single doctrine to retract, nor a single word to unsay. I have subscribed to the articles, homilies, and li