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Romans iii. 19.
Now we know, that what things soever the law saith,
it saith to them who are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world
become guilty before God.
THE great design of this epistle is to lead men to Christ, as the only refuge for perishing sinners: and because none will value a remedy but they who feel their disease, and wish for health, the apostle therefore, in the two foregoing chapters, examines the condition both of Gentiles and Jews; under which denominations, the whole posterity of Adam are included; and proves, by plain, undeniable facts, that all, without exception, are guilty before God, and consequently, that all stand in need of a Saviour. In the verses immediately preceding my text, he brings several quotations from the Old Testament writings, which give a very strong and melancholy representation of the corruption and depravity of the human kind. But lest the Jews should allege that these, and other passages of the like nature, were only descriptive of the Gentile nations, and could not justly be extended to them, whom God had chosen from the rest of the world, and set apart for himself as his peculiar inheritance; he judged it proper to remind them, that the sacred books, from which he had taken the above description, were primarily addressed to the Jews, and designed for their instruction and use: We
know, says he, that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law; consequently these quotations, which are all expressly contained in the law, may and ought to be considered as a just representation of the state of those to whom that law or revelation was given. And he further adds, that they were inserted in Scripture for this very purpose, that the plea of innocence being taken away from the Jews as well as from the Gentiles, every mouth might be stopped, and thus all the world might become guilty before God. From which words, as they stand connected with the apostle's reasoning, we learn, in the
First place, That it is extremely difficult to bring men to a proper sense and acknowledgment of their guilt and misery.
I hope none will be so unreasonable as to require a laboured proof of this observation; for you will easily perceive that I can have no other witnesses to produce but yourselves. I affirm that it is so upon the authority of Scripture; and can only appeal to your own hearts for the truth of it. Besides, none will deny this who are already convinced of their guilt and misery; for this is an essential property of real conviction, that the deeper it is, it renders the person still more sensible of the natural hardness of his heart; so that nothing grieves him so much, as that he cannot grieve more for sinning against God: And they who are of an opposite character, who boast, “That they are rieb, and increased with goods, and standing in need of nothing;" such persons, I say, prove the truth of this observation, by demanding a proof of it, and are themselves examples of the thing they deny.
I know it is an easy matter to bring men to a general acknowledgment that they are sinners. Many are ready epough to consess this much, who, at the same time, have
a very good opinion of their state: for though they cannot lay claim to perfect inpocence, yet they look upon their guilt as a very trivial thing, and imagine that their vices are more than overbalanced by the virtues they are possessed of; and thus,“ being ignorant of God's righteousness," or of that righteousness which is necessary to justify a sinner in the sight of God, they go about to establish their own righteousness, and will not submit themselves unto the righteousness of God."
Pride is the hereditary disease of our natures : we derive it from our first parents; and though it is subdued in all who are sanctified, yet still it lives within them, and is always the last part of the old man that dies. Nay, it is apt to grow upon the ruin of other sins, as we see in that noted instance of the Pharisee, who, under the specious pretext of thanking God for his grace, went up into the temple merely to give vent to his self-admiration: “God," said he, “ I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers; I fast twice a week, I pay tithes of all that I possess." What he said might be true; nay, our Lord seems plainly to admit that it was so : yet he tells us, that this vain-glorious creature carried nothing away with him but his self-conceit: he returned to his own house without the blessing of God; “For every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; wbereas he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
This, my brethren, is one main cause why the preaching of the gospel hath so little effect. Could we bring men to a sense of their guilt and misery, they would gladly listen to the tidings of a Saviour. But this is dif. ficult work indeed. We can scarcely persuade the most profligate wretch to think himself in danger, till God lay his hand upon him, and set death before his eyes.
Judge, then, how hard a task it must be, to convince the more close and reserved sinner! who probably has got beneath him some empty forms of duty, upon wbich he leans, and confidently presumes that all shall be well with him.
I have frequently observed, that no sermons are so tasteless to many hearers as those which treat of the Saviour: they can listen to other subjects; but when we talk of Jesus Christ, and of that great salvation “ which angels desire to look into," they dismiss their attention, and perhaps make a shift to sleep in their seats; when, God knows, were they aware of the thousandth part of their danger, they would find it difficult enough to sleep on their beds. Did we really see ourselves in a just light, could we divest ourselves, for a little, our pride and prejadice, till we got one serious and impartial view of our natural condition, this would render a Saviour so necessary, that we should never be at rest till we had secured his friendship : But as our Lord himself hath told us “ they that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick." I shall therefore proceed to show, in the
Second place, That all men, without exception, are guilty before God; and that whoever attends to the Scriptures of truth, or gives ear to the testimony of his own conscience, may soon discover such plain convincing evidence of guilt, as is sufficient to stop his mouth, and to render him speechless and self-condemned in the presence of a just and holy God. This proposition is persectly consistent with the former; for the difficulty of bringing men to a right sense and acknowledgment of their guilt and misery, doth not arise from any want of evidence, but is purely owing to their own inatten
tion and pride. The sad truth is clear as noon-day; but they shut their eyes, and will not see it.
As the testimony of Scripture is full and explicit, so the short abstract contained in the foregoing verses speaks upon this head with the utmost possible preci. sion. li
There is none righteous, no not one. There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable, there is none that doeth good, no not one. Their throat is an open sepul. chre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace have they not known. There is no fear o? God before their eyes.” And these things, the apostle informs us, were written not merely to stop the mouths of some notorious offenders, who proclaim their sins as Sodom, and hide them not; but that every mouth might be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God. Accordingly, at the 23d verse of this chapter, he concludes upon the whole evidence in the following words : “ For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
This truth hath been attested by the most eminent saints that ever lived upon earth. “ Bebold I was shapen in iniquity," said David, “ and in sin did my mother conceive me;" and therefore he pleads in another place, “ Enter not into judgment with thy servant, o Lord; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” “ We are all as an unclean thing," said the prophet Isaiah, “and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the · wind, have carried us away." Neither have the saints