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This gives an alarming view of our condition under sin, immediately exciting this question, How are sinners to be restored to the favour of God? An inquiry, of all others the most important. And you are again desired to keep your eye fixed upon the scripture character of God, his holiness, or hatred of sin, and inflexible will to punish it, remembering, at the same time, that every act of disobedience has the same accursed nature with the first, and as certainly exposes the offender to condemnation.
If you refuse to admit this awful account of the nature of sin, and of God, because contrary to the idea you have framed of him, and derogatory, as you fancy, to his perfections, you are then required to prove under what age of the world, or in what part of scripture you find it recorded, that God has revoked his decree against sin, and made a change in the law given to man at his creation. This was, life upon obedience, and, in case of transgression, death. The scripture, on the contrary, in perfect harmony with itself, acquaints us, that at the second promulgation of the law, God appeared in the same majesty and sovereignty, and with the same denunciation of wrath against sinners, as he did at the beginning. “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” On which we may observe, by the way, that as more than temporal death was necessarily implied in the - threatening and curse to the Jews, because that, they knew, was the unavoidable doom of all mankind, whether they obeyed or not; so it naturally suggests to us, that the first threatening, “ In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” was of the same extent, and its meaning precisely determined by it.
However, in the second there is no relaxation of the first; no contrary declaration concerning the case of offenders, nor the least intimation of any change in the will of God with respect to sin. Indeed, such a variation or inconsistency in the character of God, as given by himself, would be an argument of infinitely greater force than any yet alleged against the truth of the Bible,
The fact then is certain ; the wages of sin is death, and always will be so, while God remains unchangeable. What he published by his first covenant, in the person of Adam given to all mankind, he renewed and confirmed by the delivery of the law of Moses, which, as St Paul observes, Gal. iii. 19, “ was added because of transgressions, that their desert might be known, that the offence might abound,” Rom. v. In its penalty and curse unto death, now once more solemnly awarded against every offender, and every offence.
Besides these two grand manifestations of the nature and will of God, the evil of sin, and the manner in which it is to be treated, we know of no other. And both are exemplified in the judgments recorded throughout scripture, especially in the death of Christ, as so many confirmations of God's unalterable purpose of dealing with sinners according to those declarations. Very striking and awful indeed they are. Yet here we must rest the point for ever, unless we would take upon us, as we do from one age to another, with horrid presumption, to estimate the guilt of sin from our own false notions of it, to prescribe a law to God, to divest him of his supreme dominion, to cavil at his wisdom, and dethronc his justice.
But let the reason of man, short as it is, be judge in this cause. The decree is gone out from the Almighty, and stands unrepealed in the revelation he has made of himself: “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them.” Suppose now, for a moment, we are at liberty to call his decree in question, and make allowance for some sin. What is that sin? And if for one, why not two or more, and where will you stop? If once you take it out of God's hands, there will be no end of pleading for transgression, no dread of it, no sense of good and evil, no submission to God's authority, no obedience upon earth. The conclusion is evident, if all have sinned, all stand condemned by the sentence of a just God.
The covenant of redemption, in which mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other, and God is
both just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus, is not here to be fully opened. We are now to prove the necessity of dependence for salvation on the death and righteousness of Christ, from the preceding account of God's unalterable justice, and from the guilt of sin being in all ages the same. And unless we are declared free from that guilt, and invested with a title to eternal life, how can we be saved? If we have not righteousness in ourselves, where must we look for it, but as existing solely in the person of Jesus Christ ? Dependence, therefore, upon that righteousness as appointed by God for sinners to confide in, is the precious faith of the gospel by which the just live, and live eternally. As no other will reconcile the divine attributes, or answer the exigencies of mankind, concluded under sin, and always sinners, so nothing else must be the ground of our hope towards God.
Not works. Alas! we have none that will bear to be weighed in God's balance, or answer the demands of his justice. Be fair and honcst here, as it is a matter of life and death. Then examine what you think your best action, or the most excellent grace in your soul. Bring it to the touchstone, the straight rule of the commandment, which reaches the heart and all its motions. In the matter or manner, principle or end, be assured, you will find some grievous flaw in it, and condemnation your desert, instead of reward. Let Hooker, whose judgment or picty none ever questioned, who have studied his writings, be heard on this head. “If God, (said he), should make us an offer thus large-Search all the generations of men since the fall of our first father Adam ; find one man that hath done one action which hath passed from him pure, without any stain or blemish at all; and for that one man's only action, neither man nor angel shall feel the torments which are prepared for both. Do you think that this ransom to deliver men and angels could be found among the sons of men ?"-Discourse on Justification.
Not Sincerity. This has been long adopted into our divinity, as if it wore the gracious condition of the new covenant, in
opposition to the law of perfect obedience. But it is no where mentioned in scripture as such. Yet so great a variation, in a matter of vast importance, from every other revelation God has been pleased to make of himself, and the way of acceptance with him, need be very distinctly and strongly marked. But when we call for scripture proof, none is produced. It is indeed altogether a claim of human invention, an acknowledged defect of obedience. Consequently an absolute forfeiture, delivering us up to justice, so long as the law of perfect obedience stands in full force against us. And let the reader determine, after what has been said, whether that law was not designed to be a perpetual standard of the only obedience God will accept from man as his duty, or how and when it was abrogated.
Not Faith and Works, considered as co-operating to our justification, and both together making our claim to acceptance ; for works which have the nature of sin, and are confessed to have it by those who call in the aid of faith to supply their imperfection, must be excluded from any share in our justification, because the grand difficulty still remains. Justice must be satisfied, and the law fulfilled ; with all our duties sin is mixed, and our case desperate as to this remedy, unless the new covenant be supposed a relaxation of every preceding one in respect of God's judgment of sin, and that, now in this last age of the world, he has revealed himself as acting under a dispensing power, and discharging sin of its guilt.
But this is a dangerous expedient without warrant from reason or scripture. By scripture we are taught our whole deliverance from the curse of the law; and the answer of a good conscience to its demands, is the righteousness of Christ, satisfying the divine justice, and to the praise of the glory of his grace imputed to sinners for salvation. This is the anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast, full security, our first and only justification.
The notion of a first and second is the offspring of pride, opposing the truth of God. For surely these justifiers of themselves make no account of the justice of God, as still existing in all its rigonr, but substitute instead of perfection what falls
infinitely short of it. Yet the nature of God, and of sin, remains always the same ; consequently we are as much undone as ever, if gospel grace extends no farther than to the first benefit of forgiveness, when we are admitted into the Christian covenant. This is dropping faith at the beginning of our conversion, as a thing of no farther use. On the contrary, we are assured the just shall live by faith, not once but always, in every step of his progress, at the hour of death, and the day of judgment. It is not meant, that faith has any such effect merely as a work and righteousness of our own. No, it consists in a denial of the merits of all works, qualifications, or habits in man. Its essence is unfeigned submission to the righteousness of God, and entire dependence upon it as freely given to us. ' Which may furnish an answer to those who ask, why may not imperfect works justify, as well as imperfect faith ? supposing truly that one is no more perfect than the other. The reason is, that the sole eternal condition of justification by works is their perfection ; consequently a claim founded on them must cither be made good, or wholly relinquished. Whereas faith, though it may be weak and imperfect, instead of cxalting itself against the justice of God, and standing before him in the confidence of a lie, puts all from itself, giving the whole glory of salvation where it is due.
We shall close this argument with observing, that faith is not understood, much less possessed, if it produce not more holiness than could possibly be any other way attained. The charge of vacating the law, as a rule of life, followed close upon the first preaching of salvation by faith ; and a base suspicion of its being prejudicial to the interests of virtue is hardly ever rooted out of the minds of men, till they themselves experience the power of faith. But this can have no weight with those who remember the decision our Lord has made on this point, in opposition to the conceit of a proud pretending Pharisee ; to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little ; Like vii. 47.