« ForrigeFortsæt »
holiness in thought, word and deed; because otherwise we cannot yield a perfect obedience. Whereas it is much more glorious to God, the Governor of the world, to suppose his holy law still maintains its own perfect purity, and its original demands of constant universal obedience; and it is more glorious to God our Saviour, to suppose that he has provided an effectual way for the salvation of sinful creatures, who trust in divine mercy, and who love the law of God, though their best obedience to it be very defective.
3. Such a mistake will lead ministers to neglect the mention of the death and sufferings of Christ as a sacrifice for sin, and as the foundation of our pardon and our hope;" it will lead them to omit these important points in their descriptions of the gospel, and in their accounts of faith in Christ; because Christ never spoke so publicly and plainly to the people, of making atonement for sin by his death, &c. And And upon this account we shall be in danger of leaving this doctrine out of our directions of sinners when they seck the way to salvatior, which is now made plainer and more necessary since thedeath and resurrection of Christ are accomplished, since the apostles have particularly explained this doctrine, and the New Testament is complete.
4. "This mistake will tempt us to set Christ and his apostles at variance about the way of salvation." Christ says, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments:" and the apostles say, "The law is the ministration of death, but believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved; and we are justified by faith without the works of the law, &c." And thus we shall make the holy scripture contradict itself: Or if we endeavour to accommodate and reconcile these seeming oppositions, upon a supposition that Christ in the language of my text preached the gospel, it can never be done, with fairness and justness of thought, without straining the words of scripture from their natural sense; and it will ever bring a darkness upon the distinction between the law and gospel, and leave the way of salvation by the gospel under much confusion.
5. "This will tempt and incline us to expound the clear gospel, which we find in the writings and preaching of St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. John, after the death and resurrection of Christ, by one of the legal expressions of our Saviour," when in his own life-time he preached the law for the conviction of sinners: We shall interpret the words and language of the gospel into the sense of the law of works: We shall almost explain away the covenant of grace, and make a covenant of works of it: And thus, perhaps, expose ourselves to the danger of St. Paul's censure and "anathema," by "preaching another gospel, or perverting the gospel of Christ;" Gal. i. 8.
6." This mistake will lead us to slight and despise the writings of the apostles, as though they never did nor could preach the gospel so clearly as Christ himself;" whereas they were really designed and sent forth after the death and resurrection and ascension of Christ, to preach the full gospel to the nations in clearer and stronger language than Jesus himself ever did to the multitude; they were instructed and commissioned to publish the way to salvation by Christ, in a brighter and more explicit manner and expression, than his divine wisdom thought proper to do before he had actually died and rose again, by which transactions he laid the foundation for preaching the gospel more clearly and perfectly.
A mistake about the personal ministry of Christ, in such passages as this in my text, will make us look upon the glorious and evangelical paragraphs in the scrmons and the epistles of Peter, Paul, and John, as mere affectionate and fervent pieces of discourse, according to the warm temper and lively fancies of those honest and zealous men, who in the heat of their spirits spoke many things mystically and unintelligibly. This hath been the professed opinion of some who are called christians concerning the great apostle; and upon this account they think none of his writings are to be read without great caution: But if you will seek the way of salvation aright, say they, you must go to the mount, and hear our Saviour's sermon there, in the v. vi. and vii. chapters of the gospel of St. Matthew, while they neglect the more evangelical speeches even of Christ himself. This has been the language of some men, the leaders of the consciences of the ignoraut multitude, who are by nature inclined enough to a covenant of works, and need not be taught and persuaded to build all their hopes of heaven upon the works of the law, which Christ never designed in that noble and admirable sermon of his on the mountain.
But now if we suppose Christ frequently preaching the law, on purpose to shew the Jews the grossest defects and imPerfection of their obedience, and their need of a Saviour, and giving such hints of the gospel as were suited to that dispensation of his life and personal ministry; and if we suppose the apostles. more fully preaching this gospel, which our Saviour just opened and begun in his life-time, and publishing it in all its glory of righteousness and grace, after the death and resurrection of Christ, because it was not proper to be thus clearly preached before, then we aay well reconcile the different language of St. Paul and of Christ, when one saith, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved; Acts xvi. 31. and the other, If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments; Mat. xix. 17. It is certain that the law is not against
the promises, Gal. iii. 21. but the "law is our school-master," and leader of us as children to Christ: so the Greek word
day means, Gal. iii. 24. Conviction of sin by Christ's preaching of the law, leads men, as in a lower school, as yet, to proceed farther, and to seek for and embrace the grace of Christ in the gospel, as it is preached more fully and clearly by his apostles under the teachings of his Spirit.
This scheme and view of things being well adjusted in the mind, will help us to understand many of those legal expressions in the New Testament, which might seem to lead us to the covenant of works again, or which seem to mingle the law and gospel for salvation, if we will but remember that the Holy Ghost in the Naw Testament sometimes discovers the law in its severity and perfection of demands for the conviction of sin, as well as for the discovery of our duty, and sometimes reveals the gospel in the riches of its grace, for the faith and salvation of awakened sinners.
II. "How firm and durable is the ancient and perfect law of God, which requires perfect, constant and persevering obedience" It is an eternal law: It is not yet abolished, though the gospel be introduced, nor shall it be through all the ages of mankind, and the several dispensations of God toward men. The moral law is sometimes said to be a transcript or copy from the nature and attributes of God; the duties there required bear the more perfect stamp and signature of his essential perfections, and therefore the law must be unchangeable. And not only the requirements of duty, but I think the sanctions of the law also in its promised rewards and threatened penalties are everlasting. "He that doth these commands perfectly shall live in or by them: But cursed is he that continueth not in all the commands of the law to do them," and he must die, Gal. iii. 10, 12. I do not find any scripture that tells me, that the commands, or the sanctions are repealed*, though God hath provided a way to deliver
* If it should be said, that the apostle ic Heb vii. 18. says, "there is verily a disanulling of the commandment for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof, for the law made nothing perfect," &c. I answer, that the context plainly shews that the words "law" and "commandment" here, do not mean the moral law, bat refer either to the Sinai covenant, or the whole scheme of the Jewish economy, and particularly to the levitical priesthood which is abrogated, because it could not make a proper atonement for sin.
If it should be objected yet again, that the same apostle in Rom. vii. 6. declares, that "we are now delivered from the law, that being dead in which we were held ;" and that the law in this place means the ten commandments, because the apostle argues from the tenth command, "Thou shalt not covet :" I an swer, that the apostle there plainly means, that now under the gospel we who are true christians, and are entered into the covenant of grace by faith, are delivered from the bondage and chains of the law, as a covenant of works, whereby our indwelling sins were rather irritated and provoked than subdued: “It is dead," that is, it has lost its unhappy influences on true believers: But not that the law itself is abolished, either as a rule of life to christians, or as a condemning
men who receive the gospel and enter into God's new covenant from the bondage of the law, as a covenant of works, and to release and free repenting sinners from this cursed death, to deliver them from this sentence of condemnation, and to bestow on them the blessings of eternal life.
It is granted indeed, as the apostle confesses; Rom. viii. 3. That through the weakness of our flesh, the law is become weak and unable to save sinners; because their corrupt nature and fleshly inclinations render them unable to keep it perfectly; but, as I intimated before, it is not weak in its own nature to give life. Christ in my text preached the law, and says, "If thou keep the commandments," that is, with a persevering constancy, and a sinless perfection," thou shalt enter into life :" What Christ speaks is true. If any man appear who hath been guilty of no sin, and hath fulfilled the law of God in every tittle of it in thought, word and deed, he shall have eternal happiness. Rom. ii. 7. They who seek for glory, honour and immortality, by patient continuance in well doing, ivy ayat, in one good work, without intermission or interruption by any sin, they shall have eternal life. This is the language of the law of works. But our incapacity to fulfil this law in our fallen state, hath awakened the compassion of God to provide a gospel of grace and pardon, and to send his Son Jesus Christ down from heaven to earth for this very purpose, that humble, repenting, returning sinners, who trust in the mercy of God through a Mediator, might be saved, even while they cannot fulfil the perfect demands of this pure and holy law, though they sincerely endeavoured it.
The great and blessed God maintains his holy law still in its own perfection and glory, though we have lost our practical or moral power of obeying it perfectly: I say, we have lost, by our fall in Adam, our moral or practical power of perfect obedience to the law; but our natural powers of understanding, will and affections remain, and there is no other natural power or faculty required, in order to obey it. And since our natural powers remain, the great God requires perfect obedience of us, and all men, to his holy law, and yet he assures us by his gospel, that he will not inflict the curse of the law on those who heartily repent of their sins, and trust in Christ, though they do not or cannot yield perfect obedience to this law.
covenant of works to those who are not entered into the new covenant or a state of grace, by faith and repentance: For he adds, verse 12. that even now the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good." If this might be explained by a similitude, I think it is much in the same manner as the penal laws against the protestant dissenters in England, are not abolished, but stand in force still: Yet they have no power to hurt any person who accepts of the act of toleration, and qualifies himself accordingly: Though indeed there is this difference, that it can never be said, that those penal laws are now, or ever were, either "holy, just or good," as the law of God is.
He doth not lessen or diminish the demands of his law, which requires perfection still; for his nature is too pure to require only an imperfect obedience. If God under the gospel had quite laid aside or abolished his law, and required or commanded no more than such a sincere imperfect obedience, or such good works which converted and pious men perform, then they would fulfil the requirements or commands of God, and would have no sin, and such persons would need no pardon. But this is contrary to the whole tenor of the New Testament. If we say we have no sin, we make God a liar, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; 1 John i. 10. The law of God is eternal, and demands perfect obedience of every creature: But his grace pardons those who cannot come up to the perfect demands of this law, by reason of the moral impotence contracted by the fall, if they apply to Jesus Christ his Son, according to the rules of the gospel.
The law therefore is holy, and just, and good, and will be so to all generations; Rom. vii. 12. and when our Saviour was beginning his divine and admirable exposition of it on the mount, he warns us in Mat. v. 17, 18. Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets: I am not come to destroy but to fulfil For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfiled;" and our Lord Jesus Christ has put honour upon his Father's law several ways:
1. He preached and explained it in the glorious purity and perfection of it.-2. He fulfilled it all himself in most exact obedience, and thereby set all his followers an admirable example how to fulfil it.-3. He suffered death for the dishonour we had cast upon it by our sins. not to destroy the sanction of it, but to free us from the curse.-4. He hath taken all the rules or commandments of it into the scheme of his gospel, as divine rules and directions for the constant practice of believers, and obliges them to obey it with their utmost care and endeavour, though he hath taken away from them that curse and condemnation, which originally belongs to every degree of disobedience.-5. He sends his own holy Spirit continually to write this law in the hearts of his people, and to form and mould their souls to a delightful con formity to the rules of it.
Thus it appears that Christ Jesus himself and the very scheme of the gospel doth confirm and not abolish the law; Rom. ii. 31. The law is everlasting, and the gospel doth not destroy it, while yet it relieves guilty creatures from the deserv ed penalties.
III. How useful is it to meditate and study, to preach and explain the law of God, and that not only for the direction of our life and actions, but also for the same end that our Saviour