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of a rational and innocent being be suspended, bui upon his obedience to that system of moral government under which he was placed. It is to obedience, and to that alone, that natural religion looks for bliss. While that obedience continues to be given, natural religion teaches man that he has nothing to fear, and every thing to hope for. But the moment that obedience and innocence are gone, the hopes of nature are fled ; and all that she has to do with the offender is, to condemn him for his transgression. Ask natural religion whether guilt can expect to receive the reward of innocence, and she will tell you, that the wages of guilt is punishment. She will tell you that punishment is as necessary a part of the means by which the government of the universe is supported, as rewards; and that while obedience and rebellion are to be found among moral agents, the consequences of these must be as opposite as the qualities themselves are. He who confesses himself to be a sinner, in that very confession acknowledges his guilt; and it is surely absurd for him who confesses himself to be already condemned for his evil works, to hope that he shall be justified for his good works. Were a man who confessed that he had broken any law of his country, to insist that he was entitled to an acquittal by that very law which he had broken; were he to plead in this manner, at the bar of his country, the absurdity of his conduct would be apparent to every thinking mind. And yet this is precisely the conduct of the man who acknowledges that he has broken the Divine law, and trusts to his works for his justification. The justification of an innocent man is one thing, and the justification of a guilty man is another. The works of the one are sufficient to justify him, and to the condemnation of the other, nothing more than his works are necessary. In the doctrine of justification by works, there is no rest for the sole of a sinner's foot. The law has already condemned him, the Judge stands at the door, and unblushingly to plead his goodness, while he cannot deny his guilt, is to add arrogance to rebellion, and to prepare his soul to answer, in scarlet, for his offences.
When this ground is found to be untenable, men commonly make their retreat to repentance, and to sincere, instead of perfect obedience; and from the combined efficacy of these, they expect their justification. The question here is not, whether under the Gospel, repentance and sincere obedience be not absolutely necessary to the salvation of men; a position which no sober mán will deny, but whether they be sufficient to justify a man, to secure the pardon of his past sins, and to restore him to the favour of God. Some persons have laid it down as a doctrine of natural religion, that repentance is sufficient to insure pardon, and to restore the offender to all the blessings forfeited by disobedience. “ If so,” as Bishop Sherlock very justly observes, “there can be no such thing as natural religion; for it is demonstrable from the justice of God, that he must reward virtue, and punish vice; and if it be demonstrable too from his mercy, that he must forgive sin, then natural religion includes the greatest contradiction in nature, that sin necessarily must, and necessarily must not be punished.” Let us suppose, under any human government, a statute by which punishment was to be awarded to the commission of any crime, to conclude in this manner, that notwithstanding the penalty enacted, whosoever shall commit the crime shall be pardoned, provided he repent of it after he has committed it. It is very evident that in this case the sanction
of the law is gone, and there is nothing to prohibit the offence. Men are rather invited to commit the offence, than deterred from the commission of it, because they are taught they may do it with impunity. No legislator, no legislative body, ever annexed the promise of pardon to a law, or to a system of laws, since the world began; and we may venture to predict, that it will never be done by any man in his senses, to the end of it. How that can comport with the wisdom and dignity of Divine legislation, which even the caprice and folly of human laws have never, in one instance, attempted, those who contend for so absurd a position ought carefully to consider. It may perhaps be argued, that under the Divine government, Omniscience can always determine, in what instances repentanca is genuine, and in what it is not; a point, to the decision of which human legislators are inadequate. But is not the end of all legislation to secure obedience, and is not impunity to crimes, an invitation to commit them, and consequently destructive to every rational object of government ? It is a point which some writers have laboured much to prove, that God bas, in favour of the frail and erring children of men, dispensed with the original requisition of perfect obedience, and condescended to accept of that which is sincere, in its place. In what part of the word of God this indulgence is recorded, they have however never been able to inform
But surely if such a change have taken place in the terms of man's acceptance, the necessity of the alteration must have arisen from some universal change in the condition of men, and this can be nothing but the succession of guilt and depravity, in the place of innocence; a doctrine which these men are careful to keep out of sight, or to throw, as much as possible, into the back ground of the picture. If no alteration have taken place in the nature of man, if no hereditary corruption have afflicted him, why should the nature of his religion he altered? We cannot suppose that the original religion of man required to be corrected. It was a system provided by Omniscience, who could not mistake its relative fitness. There must then, even upon their own principles, some revolution have taken place in the moral character and situation of man, which requires a change in the nature of his religion. How such an act of demoralization can consist with the dignity of the Divine government, and with the honour of the original law, it behoves them well to examine.
It deserves also to be well considered, whether the distinction between perfect and sincere obedience, on which so great dependence is placed, be a distinction known to the law of God. For, if it be not, the whole is a baseless fabric, and must necessarily sink the hopes that are built upon it. The requisition of the law for obedience extends no further, than the powers which the lawgiver has conferred upon man. It demands not from him the obedience, which the sublimer faculties of an angel are capable of performing. It requires only, that his natural powers be employed to their full extent; and he who has thus employed them has done his duty, and his obedience is just as perfect, as it is sincere. What is it that renders obedience defective ? The want of full sincerity, or, in other words, the not employing all the energies of our natural powers in paying that tribute. In the perfection of obedience, therefore, the law sees nothing but perfect sincerity; and in the imperfection of obedience, the want of perfect sincerity. So far as the law of God is concerned, this is, therefore, a distinction without a difference.—It will probably be replied, that, according to this doctrine, there is no such thing as sincerity, and no such person as a sincere man in the world. And, indeed, the consequence of it is, that there is no perfect sincerity, and that no man is perfectly sincere, unless he be without sin. Every Christian, though not in the legal, is yet, in the Gospel sense of the word, sincere. There is, in his heart, a real love to God, and a desire to do His will; but he knows that in so far as he comes short of perfect obedience, it is not ow. ing to the weakness of his natural powers, but to his imperfect sanctification ; or, in other words, to bis imperfect sincerity: Such a conviction teaches him to adopt the prayer of the holy Psalmist, “Enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.”
Some expect justification from the combined efficacy of faith and works. The question here is not, whether faith and works must be united. United they are, in the experience of every Christian. Wheresoever faith exists without good works, it is like a body without the spirit,--altogether dead. Whatever works proceed not from a lively faith, are, in Scripture, represented as dead works.—Heb. vi. 1. The question in dispute is, whether our works contribute any thing to our justification. It is often allowed that they are not sufficient to do it whol. ly; but it is argued that at least they co-operate with our faith, and that these two, as conjoint causes, produce the effect. It cannot be controverted, that works are, of themselves, completely sufficient to justify every man who has perfectly obeyed the law of God. But as all men have, in innumerable instances, violated that law, all men are in a state of guilt and condemnation. If it