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Still the Scriptures abundantly teach us, that what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for a sin-offering,' has, by thus 'condemning sin in the flesh,' accomplished for multitudes of our sinful race. It is however certain, that justification, when extended to returning sinners, must, in some respects, be of course a thing widely different from justification under the law. A subject of law is justified only when he is in the full and strict sense just; that is, when he has completely obeyed all the requisitions of the law. In this case, his obedience is the only ground of his justification, and is all that is necessary to it; because he has done every thing which was required of him, and no act of disobedience can be truly laid to his charge. From this case, that of the penitent under the Gospel differs entirely. He has been guilty of innumerable acts of disobedience, and has not fulfilled the demands of the law even in a single instance. All these acts of disobedience are truly chargeable to him, when he comes before the bar of God at the final trial; nor can he ever be truly said not to have been guilty of them. If, therefore, he be ever justified, it must be in a widely different sense from that which has been already explained. The term is, therefore, not used in the Gospel because its original meaning is intended here, but because this term, figuratively used, better expresses the thing intended than any other. The act of God, denoted by this term as used in the Gospel, so much resembles a forensic justification, or justification by law, that the word is naturally, and by an easy translation, adopted to express this act.
The justification of a sinner under the Gospel consists in the three following things: pardoning his sins ; acquitting him from the punishment which they have deserved ; and entitling him to the rewards or blessings due by law to perfect obedience only.
In order to form clear and satisfactory views of this subject, it will be useful to examine the situation of man, in his progress from apostasy to acceptance, as it is exhibited in the Scriptures.
In the covenant of redemption, the Father promised Christ, that, if he should make his soul a propitiatory sacritice for sin, he should see a seed which should prolong
for, as it is expressed by God in the lxxxixth Psalm, · His seed should endure for ever, and his throne,' that is, his dominion over them, as the days of heaven. In this covenant, three things are promised to Christ, in consequence of his assumption and execution of the mediatorial office; (1.) That a seed shall be given him ; (2.) That they shall endure and be happy for ever; and, (3.) That his dominion over them shall be co-extended with their eternal being. It was then certain, antecedently to Christ's entrance upon the office of Mediator, that he should not assume nor execute it in vain ; but should receive a reward for all his labours and sufferings, such as he thought a sufficient one ; such as induced him to undertake this office, and to accomplish all the arduous duties which it involved. This reward was to be formed of rational and immortal beings originally apostate, but redeemed by him from their apostasy, through the atopement made for their sins by his sufferings, particularly his death ; and the honour which he rendered to the divine law by his personal obedience. All these redeemed apostates were to endure for ever' in a state of perfect holiness and happiness; and both this holiness and happiness were to be for ever progressive, under his perfectly wise and benevolent administration.
In this covenant, then, it is promised, that the persons here spoken of, and elsewhere declared to be a great multitude, which no man can number, of all nations, kindreds, and tongues,' should be the seed,' the children of Christ; his property: and that not only in a peculiar, but in a singular sense ; not only created by him, as all other intelligent beings were, but redeemed by him also, and that at the expense of his own life.
The least consideration, however, will clearly show us, that sinners can never become Christ's in any such sense as to be accepted by him, unless they are delivered from the sentence of condemnation pronounced against them by the law of God. This law, I have formerly had occasion to observe, is upalterable. It is in itself perfect, and cannot be made better. God, the perfect and unchangeable being, cannot, without denying his perfection, consent to make it worse. Besides,
Isaiah liii. 10. Lowth
he has declared, that the universe 'shall sooner pass away, than one jot or one tittle of the law shall pass, until all shall be fulfilled.' Yet if this sentence be universally executed, the reward promised to Christ in the covenant of redemption, viz. the immortal holiness and happiness of those who in that covenant were promised to him as his seed, must of necessity fail. This sentence therefore, will not be universally executed; because such an execution would render the promise of God of none effect.'
Farther : All who are involved in the execution of this sentence will not only suffer, but also sin for ever. words are necessary to prove, that a collection of sinners continuing to sin for ever, could in no sense constitute a reward to Christ, for his labours and sufferings in the work of redemption. From them he could receive neither love, gratitude, nor praise. In their character he could see nothing amiable, nothing to excite his complacency. In his government of them, his goodness and mercy would find no employment, and achieve no glory. Nor could they ever be his, in the sense of the covenant of redemption.
Thus it is beyond a doubt evident that, with regard to all those who are thus promised to Christ, the sentence of the divine law will not, and cannot be executed; and that when they appear at their final trial, they will be acquitted from the punishment due to their sins, and delivered from the moral turpitude of their character. All this is plainly indispensable to the fulfilment of the covenant of redemption. Accordingly, we find it all promised in the most definite manner, wherever the subject is mentioned in the Gospel.
The first step, in the final fulfilment of the promises contained in this covenant, towards those who are the seed of Christ, is the pardon of their sins. Sin, until it is pardoned, is still charged to the sinner's account. Hence, he is in this situation exposed to the punishment which it has deserved. The pardon of sin is, of course, attended by the exemption of the sinner from punishment; so much of course, that these things are usually considered as but one. They are, however, separable, not only in thought, but in fact. We do not always nor necessarily punish offenders, whom we still do not forgive. The offender may have merited, and may continue to merit punishment, and yet sufficient reasons may exist, why he should not be punished, although they are not derived from his moral character. Forgiveness, in the full sense, supposes the offender penitent, and includes an approbation of his character as such, and a reconciliation to him of the person who forgives. But these things are not involved in a mere determination to exempt an offender from punishment. On the part of God, however, in his conduct towards returning sinners, these things are not, I confess, separable in fact.
But the sinner might be forgiven,, and acquitted from the punishment due to his sins, and yet not be rendered the subject of future blessings, much less of the blessings promised in the covenant of redemption. He might be annibilated. He
. might be placed in a state of happiness imperfect and mixed, like that of the present world ; or he might be placed in a state of happiness unmixed and perfect, and yet greatly inferior to that which will be actually enjoyed by the penitent children of Adam. Another step, therefore, indispensable to the complete fulfilment of the covenant of redemption, is entitling them to the very blessings which are here promised; viz. the blessings of heaven ; the first blessings, as I may hereafter have occasioned to show, in the kingdom of God.
These three things, which I have specified as being involved in the justification of mankind, are all clearly included and promised in the covenant of redemption ; and the connection of them, or of our justification with that work, as the only foundation on which our justification can rest, is I think too manifest, from what has been said, to be doubted.
Having thus stated what I intend by justification, under the Gospel, I shall inquire,
II. In what sense we are said to be justified freely by the
grace of God.
From what has been said in a former Discourse, concerning the impossibility of justification by our own obedience, it is, I trust, evident that our justification can in no seuse nor degrec be said, with truth, to be merited by ourselves. In this respect therefore, if it exist at all, it must of necessity be communicated freely. It will, however, be necessary to a satisfactory explanation of this subject, to examine it particularly
, so as to prevent any misconception concerning its nature and so as to obviate any objections which may arise in the minds
of those who hear me. To this examination it will be indispensable that I settle, in the beginning, the meaning which I annex to the term, 'grace,' on which the import of the proposition depends.
The word 'grace' is used by the inspired writers in various senses.
It denotes : (1.) A free gift ; which was, perhaps, its original meaning.
(2.) The free, sovereign love of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the source of every such gift from God.
(3.) The efficacious power of the Holy Ghost on the hearts of mankind; 2 Corinthians xii. 9.
(4.) That state of reconciliation with God, which is enjoyed by Christians ; Romans v. 2.
(5.) Any virtue of the Christian character.
(6.) Any particular favour communicated by God; Eph. iii. s.
Beside these, in common use it denotes gracefulness of person, deportment, or character.
In the text, it is manifestly used in the second sense ; and denotes the free, sovereign love of God; the source of all our benefits.
That we are justified freely by the grace of God, thus understood, I will now attempt to show by the following considerations :
1. Under the influence, or in the indulgence of this love, God formed the original design of saving mankind.
The law of God is a perfectly just law. But by this law man was condemned, and finally cast off. Justice, therefore, in no sense demanded the deliverance of mankind from condemnation. Of course, this deliverance was proposed and planned by the mere sovereign mercy of God.
2. The covenant of redemption was the result of the same mercy.
In this covenant, God promised to Christ the eternal happiness of all his seed; that is, bis followers. Now it is cer
. tain, that no one of these obeyed the law of God. This was certainly foreknown by God; and, with this foreknowledge, he was pleased to promise this glorious blessing concerning creatures who were only rebels and apostates, and who merited nothing but wrath and indignation. Sovereign love only could operate in favour of such beings as these.