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feel myself more especially inclined, because I know that this epistle, which ought to be made the only test, and only plan, has been so obscured by the unprofitable comments and vain sophistries of so many, that its grand scope, though as plain as possible, has been understood but by few writers during many ages.
In the first place then, we must examine, and clearly understand, the nature of the terms and figures of speech used by the apostle. And above all, what he would have us to understand by these and the like terms-law, sin, grace, faith, righteousness, flesh, spirit. For, if we understand not what is meant by these, though we read never so diligently, it will be but labour in vain. The term law, is not here to be understood according to the manner of philosophy, or reason, as being a doctrine that teaches what ought to be done, and what ought not to be done. For all human laws are fulfilled by external works, even though those works be done contrary to the desire of the heart. But God, as being the searcher of hearts, judges according to the inward motions of the heart. Wherefore, the law of God requires the obedience of the heart and affections. Nor is it fulfilled by any external works, unless those works be done with all the willingness of the heart, and with the whole flow of the affections. And therefore, there is nothing that the law so vehemently arrests and condemns, as those specious and outside works: that is, hypocrisy, where there is falsehood and any deception designed in the heart. Hence, the prophet saith, "All men are liars," Psalm cxvi. Therefore, nature cannot fulfil the law. For all men are by nature inclined to evil, and hate the law. And, wherever there is not a willing and happy inclination of the heart towards God and his law, there is sin, and the wrath of God; how many and great works soever you may do under such an hypocrisy.
After taking this view of the nature of the law, St. Paul, chap. ii. brings forward all the Jews as sinners and transgressors of the law, notwithstanding all their show of obedience to the law by their external works. "For (saith he) not the hearers of the law are just
before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified." By which he means, that no one can fulfil the law by external works. For he saith to those external workers, "Thou sayest a man should not commit adultery, and thou committest adultery thyself. Therefore, wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself, for thou thyself doest the same things that thou judgest." As though he had said thou, indeed, with a certain specious hypocrisy, walkest in the external works of the law, and judgest others who walk not so. Thou teachest others, and beholdest the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye. For, although, from the fear of punishment or the love of thyself, thou hast a show of obedience to the law, by thy external works, yet, thou doest all these things with an unwilling mind, with a reluctant heart, and without love and affection toward God and the law; and, in thine heart, thou wishest there were neither law nor lawgiver; and that thy desires were not thus restrained. Therefore, although thou hast a show of obedience to the law by these works, yet, in thy heart, thou hatest the law, and art at enmity against it.-The apostle speaks thus. What (saith he) is thy righteousness, if, whilst thou teachest others not to steal, thou thyself, in thy heart, lusteth after theft with a desire that would certainly break out, were it not for the fear of punishment? And we often see, in hypocrites of this kind, the open act, how long soever it may be dissembled, at last follow and break out. Wherefore, (saith he) "Thou that teachest another teachest thou not thyself?" that is, thou thyself knowest not what thou teachest: for thou thyself maintainest not, in thine heart, what the law requires that it cannot be fulfilled without the affection of the heart. For, so far from the law being fulfilled and justifying by external works, it even causes sin to abound; as it is said in the fifth chapter. Therefore, the more you really understand the law, the less you love it: because the more it is found to require and demand that which contrary to your desires and inclinations; that is, contrary to nature.
Wherefore, the apostle saith, chap. vii., "The law is spiritual." As though he had said, if the law had been carnal, or a moral doctrine only, it might have been fulfilled by external works. But since it is spiritual, that is, requiring the affection of the mind, and the obedience of the spirit, no one can fulfil it, unless, with a happy heart, an ardor of mind, and a full flow of affection, he do those things which the law commands. But, such a state of heart, such an ardor of mind, and such an affection, thou wilt never obtain by any powers, or merits of thine own, but only, by the inspiration and operation of the Holy Spirit. He also renews the man, and makes him spiritual: so that, being made spiritual, he might love the spiritual law, and that then he might fulfil it with a happy and willing heart, and might, from a certain holy impulse within, be moved to do freely, willingly, and happily, those things which the law commands. The truth, therefore, is this.-The law is spiritual: that is, the law is not fulfilled but by the Spirit, and the heart renewed by the Spirit. And wherever that Spirit and renewal of heart by the Spirit is not, so far from there being a fulfilling, there will be a soured opposition to, and hatred of the law, which is itself "holy and just and good."
. Accustom thyself, therefore, to this phraseology and characteristic mode of expression of the apostle: because, "doing the works of the law," and "fulfilling the law" are two very different things. Doing the works of the law is when, without grace and without Spirit, we begin with zeal to work, and endeavour to fulfil the law by our own strength and free-will. And as, while we are in that state, there remains working in the heart a certain servile fear and soured hatred of the law, all such works are, undoubtedly, sins and vile breaches of the law, and displeasing in the sight of God; as the apostle shews, chap. iii., "By the deeds of the law, there shall no flesh be justified in the sight of God."-Here, therefore, let us take occasion to observe, how glaringly those sophists and doctors of old taught, when they asserted, that we can by the deeds of the law make ourselves meet
to receive grace! For, how can I prepare or make myself meet to receive grace by works which are done with a reluctant heart, and opposing affections! How can that work be pleasing to God, which I do, not willingly, but with soured reluctance, and rooted hatred against the law!
But, to fulfil the law, is to do the things which the law commands with a joyful, glad, and free heart; that is, spontaneously and willingly to live unto God, and do good works, as though there were no law at all. Such a freeness, gladness, willing inclination, and flowing affection, however, is in none, but by the life-giving Spirit, and his vital energy and moving impulse in the heart; as is shewn chap. v. The Spirit is given only by faith in Jesus Christ; as the apostle has said in the beginning of the Epistle. And this faith comes by the hearing of the Gospel, or word of God; by which Christ is preached as having died, having been buried and being risen again, for us; as he shews chapters iii, iv, and x. Therefore the whole of justification is of God. Faith and the Holy Spirit are of God, and not of us.
Hence faith alone justifies, and faith alone fulfils the law. For faith, through the merits of Christ, obtains the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit renews, gladdens, quickens, and kindles such an holy flame in the heart, that it does whatever the law requires. And hence, out of faith thus living within and effectually working, spontaneously flow good works indeed. This is the scope of the apostle in chap. iii. For having therein first utterly condemned all works of the law, lest he should seem to destroy and make void the law by the doctrine of faith, he anticipates the objection. "We do not (says he) make void the law through faith, but we establish the law:" that is, we teach how the law is, by believing or faith, fulfilled indeed.
We now proceed to see what we are to understand by the term Sin.-Sin, as read in the scriptures, signifies, not the outward act only, but all that innate springhead and force of sin, unbelief; or all that in-bred depravity, which we inherit from Adam, and by which we
are naturally drawn and forced into sin: in a word, the corrupt heart itself and the whole of our reason, together with its best and most exalted powers, by which we can do nothing but sin. For we are then said to sin, when by the depraved urging or impulse within, we are moved on, and impelled headlong into that which is evil and no external sin can be committed, but where the man is first urged on by this innate force of depravity, and then driven headlong with all his desire, and, as it were, rolled and dragged away into sin. It is this depravity of heart, this innate propensity to evil, this vice in the grain, this unbelief, (the spring and fountain-head of all sins,) that the scripture and God mean when they speak of sin. And as it is faith alone that justifies, and faith alone that obtains and receives the Spirit and the power of fulfilling the law, and of doing good works indeed; so, it is unbelief alone, that is the spring-head of sin, and that stirs up or inflames the flesh to sin and to evil works; as it was in the cases of Adam and Eve in Paradise, Gen. iii.
Hence Christ in the Gospel makes unbelief the main sin. "The Spirit (says he) shall convince the world of sin, because they believe not on me," John xvi. Wherefore, works truly good, like good fruits, cannot proceed but from a good tree; that is, from faith influencing and working in the heart. Bad works, cannot proceed but from a bad tree; that is, from unbelief in the heart. Hence it is, that this depravity and unbelief in the heart, is called throughout the scriptures the head of the serpent and of the old dragon, which is to be bruised by the blessed seed of the woman, even Christ.
And now, these two terms Grace, and Gift, have this difference. Grace, is the favour, the mercy, the free good-will of God towards us. Gift, is the Holy Spirit itself, which he pours out into the hearts of those on whom he has mercy, and towards whom he has a favour; as appears from chap. v., where the apostle distinguishes gift, from grace. And although we do not enjoy the fulness of the gift, or spirit now in this life, having the remnants of sin still within us which war against the Spirit,