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Finally, it appears from what has been said, that it is of great importance to understand the true scriptural doctrine of justification by faith alone, without the deeds of the law. Luther considered this doctrine as one of the most essential doctrines of the gospel. He wrote as well as preached more upon this than any other doctrine. He called it, articulus stantis, vel cadentis ecclesiæ; the doctrine upon which the church must either stand or fall. It is the only solid ground upon which men can safely build their hopes of escaping the wrath to come, and obtaining eternal life. If the proper distinction between the ground of forgiveness and the ground of rewards was clearly understood and believed, ministers would not direct impenitent, inquiring sinners to go to Christ, as they are, for a new heart, instead of going to him for pardoning mercy; which is contrary to the direction of Christ and the apostles. The inspired writers uniformly direct sinners to repent and believe the gospel, before they can expect to be pardoned and justified through the atonement of Christ.
It is the proper official work of Christ to forgive sins, but not to change the heart; which is the proper office of the Holy Spirit. There is but one proper mode of directing impenitent, inquiring sinners, and that is to direct them to love God, repent of sin, and believe in Christ, in order to be forgiven, pardoned, or justified in the sight of God. God has made no promise to the impenitent and unbelieving, that he will give them a new heart; but he has abundantly promised to forgive all penitent, believing, returning sinners. To exhort sinners to go to Christ for a new heart, has a direct tendency to prevent them from going to him for pardon and justification ; for they will think that their going to Christ for a new heart is doing their duty, for which they ought to be justified, independently of the atonement of Christ. They are naturally self righteous, and self righteousness is incompatible with saving faith. A mistake with respect to the sole foundation of justification before God is not only a common, but a dangerous mistake. There is reason to fear that it has proved the eternal ruin of many, who have had a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.
ETERNAL LIFE PROMISED TO THE OBEDIENT.
And he answering said, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. And he said unto him, thou hast answered
right; this do, and thou shalt live. — LUKR, 1. 27, 28.
Our Saviour was a teacher sent from God, and he improved all proper seasons and opportunities of preaching and discoursing upon religious subjects. As he taught very important and interesting truths, in a very easy, plain and familiar manner, the common people heard him gladly; but the more learned Jewish instructers thought they knew too much about their laws and religion to need any instruction from him, and therefore never sought to hear him preach or converse, in order to learn, but only to raise objections, or put puzzling questions. While he was conversing upon the solemn subject of divine sovereignty, “Behold, a certain lawyer," or Jewish teacher,
, “stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Though Christ knew his sinister motive in asking this question, yet, as it was a serious and interesting question, he gave a direct, plain and serious reply to it. “ He said unto him, what is written in the law? How readest thou ?” This was a proper reply to one who was a professed teacher of the law, and at the same time constrained him to answer his own question. “And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself." Christ then addressed him in the best manner to carry conviction to his conscience. " And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right; this do, and thou shalt live," or have eternal life. This is a plain and positive declaration, which places before us the following sentiment;
That God promises eternal life to all who obey his commands. I shall show,
1. What is implied in obeying God's commands;
II. That God does promise eternal life to all who obey his commands; and,
III. Why he promises eternal life to all who obey his commands.
I. I am to show what is implied in obeying God's commands. It is easy to see in what obedience to the divine commands consists.
It must consist in doing what the commands of God require. The two great commands of the law require love to God and love to man. And to exercise this love is to obey these commands. So Christ asserts in the text.
• This do,” says Christ to the lawyer, “and thou shalt live.” Love to God and man comprises all the holy and gracious affections which God requires in any of his holy precepts or commands. So Christ told another lawyer, who endeavored to entangle him in his talk. “ Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commands hang all the law and the prophets." All the divine commands are of the same nature, and require the same thing; that is, love to God and man. And upon this ground the apostle asserts that “love is the fulfilling of the law.” Love is obedience to every command God has given in his word. The reason is, love is the fruit of the Spirit, and comprises every species of holy affections. Hence says the apostle, “ The fruit of the Spirit is love," from which flows “joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness." Love disposes men to repent of sin, to believe in Christ, to submit to providence, to do justly, to love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Or in other words, it disposes men to feel and act in all cases, agreeably to every divine command. The least exercise of true love to God or man is true obedience; and the constant exercise of true love to God or man, is perfect obedience. Though we often speak of internal and external obedience, yet, strictly speaking, there is no ground for this distinction, because all true obedience is internal, and consists in the exercise of love. Mere external conformity to the divine commands is no obedience at all; and has nothing virtuous or praiseworthy in it. There is no virtue or obedience in external conformity to the divine commands, even when it flows from love ; for all the VOL. v.
virtue or obedience, in that case, wholly consists in the love from which it flows. So that it is love, strictly speaking, which fulfils the law, and is the essence of all true obedience to the divine commands. I now proceed to show,
II. That God does promise eternal life to all who obey his commands, or exercise those holy and benevolent affections which his commands require. God has always promised eternal life to those who obey his commands, both in the Old Testament and in the New. In Leviticus, xviii. 5, we read,
, , “ Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments : which if a man do, he shall live in them.” In Deuteronomy, xxxii. 46, 47, we read, “Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day -- for it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life.”' In the thirtieth chapter of this book, Moses says to Israel, “ See, I have set before thee this day, life and good, and death and evil; in that I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments, and his statutes, and his judgments, that thou mayest live.” Nehemiah says to God, in confessing the sins of his people, “ They hearkened not to thy commandments, but sinned against thy judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in them.” God says by his prophet Ezekiel, “ If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.” And again he says, by the same prophet, “I gave them my statutes, and showed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in them.” David says,
David says, “ The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” "A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." God himself says, “ Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me; and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I show the salvation of God." And again he says, “Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live. And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” In the New Testament we find the same promises of eternal life made to all who internally and externally obey the divine commands, from pure and holy exercises of the heart. Christ declared in his sermon on the mount, “ Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God Blessed are the peace makers; for they shall be called the children of
God." Christ promised the amiable young man in the gospel, eternal life, if he would obey the divine commands.
“ Behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” Christ replied, “ If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." And he repeats the declaration, “ If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven." And Christ taught this same truth by the parable of the talents. He said to each of the two faithful and obedient servants, “ Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Thus it clearly appears from both the Old and New Testament, that God has always promised eternal life to all who internally and externally obey his commands. Indeed, the whole Bible is full of promises of eternal life to all who internally exercise, and externally express, that love which the divine law requires.
It now remains to show,
III. Why God promises eternal life to all who sincerely and cordially obey his commands.
Here it may be proper to observe,
1. That God does not promise eternal life to all who obey his commands, because their sincere and cordial obedience atones for their sin, and lays a foundation for pardon, for forgiveness, or justification in his sight. After men have once sinned, their future obedience can make no atonement for past transgression. Perfect obedience is their constant and indispensable duty. So that they can never do any thing more than their duty. If they sincerely repent, and reform, and love God perfectly, after they have sinned, neither their repentance, nor reformation, nor their perfect love to God, can have the least tendency to atone for their past disobedience. They still deserve to be punished with eternal death, which the divine law threatens for the least transgression; and God cannot forgive the least sin consistently with his vindictive justice, without an atonement made for it, by the sufferings of one who is not a transgressor. Accordingly we find that God never has pardoned, forgiven, or justified sinners on account of their own obedience, but only on account of the atonement for sin which Christ made by his sufferings and death on the cross. God did not pardon, forgive, or justify sinners after the first apostacy, on account of their repentance, reformation, or obedience; but only by faith in the Lamb of God, who was typified by the vicarious sacrifices appointed immediately after the first transgression of Adam. Adam offered sacrifices, Abel offered sacrifices, Noah offered sacrifices, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Job offered sacrifices before the Mosaic dispensation ; and after
; that, sacrifices were renewedly enjoined upon all the people of