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3. The same divine disposition executed the work of redemption.
When Christ came to his own, his own received him not.' On the contrary, they hated, opposed, and persecuted him through his life, and, with a spirit still more malignant and furious, put him to death.
The very same spirit is inherent in the nature of all men. We ourselves, who condemn the Jews as murderers, still with the same pertinacity reject the Saviour. We neither believe, nor obey; we neither repent of our sins, por forsake tbom; we neither receive his instructions, nor walk in his ordinances. Opposed to him in our hearts, we are opposed to him also in our lives.
The same opposition prevails in the whole race of Adam. Nor is there recorded on the page of history a single known instance in which it may be believed, even with remote probability, that man, from mere native propensity, or an original goodness of heart, has cordially accepted Christ. Certainly, nothing but the sovereign love of God could accomplish such a work as that of redemption, for beings of this character.
4. The mission and agency of the Divine Spirit were the result of this love only.
In the human character there is nothing to merit the interference of this glorious person on the behalf of mankind. Christ came to seek, and to’ redeem man, because he
was lost.' The Divine Spirit came to sanctify bim, because without sanctification he was undone. This the very fact of his regeneration unanswerably proves. Regeneration is the commencement of virtue in the soul. • Without' evangelical
love,' says St. Paul, *I am nothing :' that is, I am nothing in the kingdom of God; I have no spiritual or virtuous existence. From the necessity of regeneration then to man, and the fact, that he is regenerated, it is certain, that there is nothing in his nature, except bis miserable condition, which could be an inducement to the Spirit of grace to interfere in human concerns.
What is true of this act of the Divine Spirit is equally true of his agency in enlightening, quickening, purifying, and strengthening man in the Christian course, and conducting him finally to heaven.
5. As all these steps, so plainly necessary to the justifica
tion of man, are the result of the unmerited love of God; so his justification itself flows entirely from the same love.
Christ in his sufferings and death made a complete atonement for the sins of mankind. In other words, he rendered to the law, character, and government of God such peculiar honour, as to make it consistent with their unchangeable nature and glory, that sinners should, on the proper conditions, be forgiven. But the atonement inferred no obligation of justice on the part of God to forgive them. They were still sinners after the atonement, in the same sense and in the same degree as before. In no degree were they less guilty, or less deserving of punishment.
The supposition, incautiously admitted by some divines, that Christ satisfied the demands of the law by his active and passive obedience, in the same manner as the payment of a debt satisfies the demands of a creditor, has, if I mistake not, been heretofore proved to be unfounded in the Scriptures. We owed God our obedience, and not our property ; and obedience in its own nature is due from the subject himself, and can never be rendered by another. In refusing to render it, we are criminal ; and for this criminality merit punishment. The guilt thus incurred is inherent in the criminal himself, and cannot in the nature of things be transferred to another. All that in this case can be done by a substitute, of whatever character, is to render it not improper for the lawgiver to pardon the transgressor. No substitute can by any possible effort make him cease to be guilty, or to deserve punishment. This (and I intend to say it with becoming reverence) is beyond the ability of omnipotence itself. The fact, that he is guilty, is past, and can never be recalled.
Thus it is evident, that the sinner, when he comes before God, comes in the character of a sinner only ; and must, if strict justice be done, be therefore condemned. If he escape condemnation, then, he can derive these blessings from mercy only, and in no degree from justice. In other words, every blessing which he receives is a free gift. The pardon of his sins, his acquittal from condemnation, and his admission to the enjoyments of heaven, are all given to him freely and graciously, because God regards him with infinite compassion, and is therefore pleased to communicate to him these unspeakable favours.
Should it be said, that God has promised these blessings to the penitent, in the covenaut of redemption made with Christ, and in the covenant of grace made with the penitent; and has thus brought himself under obligation to bestow them: I answer, that this is indeed true, but that it affects not the doctrine. The promise made in these covenants, is a gracious promise, originated by the divine compassion. Certainly, this procedure on the part of God is not the less free or gracious, because he was pleased to publish his own merciful design of accepting penitent sinners, and to confirm it to them by a voluntary promise. As I have already remarked, every part of the divine conduct towards the sinner, every spiritual blessing which the sinner receives antecedently to his justification, is the result of grace only, or sovereign love. These preceding acts, therefore, being themselves absolutely gracious, can never render the act of justifying the sinuer the less gracious, or render him the meritorious object of that justification, to which he could never have been entitled but by means of these preceding acts of grace. The promise of justification was made, not to a meritorious being, but to a sinner; a guilty, miserable rebel, exposed by his rebellion to final perdition. The fulfilment of this promise is an act equally gracious with that of making the promise itself.
Should it be said, that the sinner is renewed antecedently to his justification ; and, having thus become a holy or virtuous being, has also become, either wholly or partially, a meritorious object of justification; I answer, that the law of God condemns the sinner to death for the first transgression. Now it will not be said, that the sanctified sinner is not chargeable with many transgressions, the guilt of which still lies at his door, and for which he may now be justly condemned, notwithstanding his repentance. This, it is believed, was made abundantly evident in a former Discourse, concerning the impossibility of justification by our own obedience. The sinner therefore, although sanctified, still deserves the wrath of God for all his transgressions; and according to the sentence of the law must, if considered only as he is in himself, be finally punished.
That the penitent is not partially justified on account of his own merit after he is sanctified, must I think, be acknowledged, if we attend to the following consideration :
(1.) It will be admitted, that all those who are sanctified, are also justified.
• Whom he called, them he also justified;' that is, he justified all those whom he called'effectually, or sanctified.' But it will not be denied, that some persons are sanctified on a dying bed, when they have no opportunity to perform any works of righteousness which might be the ground of their justification. The case of the penitent thief will, I suppose, be generally acknowledged to be substantially of this nature. It will not be denied, that some persons are sanctified from the womb, as were Jeremiah and John the Baptist ; nor that of these some die, antecedently to that period of life when they become capable of direct acts of moral good and evil. The children of believing parents, dedicated to God, and dying in their infancy, will, I suppose, be allowed to be universally, instances of this kind. Concerning all the instances which exist of both these classes, it must be acknowledged, that without exception they are the subjects of justification ; and that they are in no sense justified on account of their own righteousness, but solely by the free grace of God, on account of the righteousness of Christ. If, then, others are justified partially, on account of their own righteousness, justification is given to some of mankind on one ground, or procuring cause, and to others on another, and very different ground. But no such doctrine is any where taught, or even hinted at, in the Scriptures; and I presume, that no intelligent man acquainted with them, will pretend that any such diversity exists in the justification of mankind.
(2.) The Scripture nowhere teaches us, that we are justified partly on account of our own righteousness, and partly on account of the righteousness of Christ.
St. Paul, in the 27th verse of the context, pursuing the subject of justification by the free grace of God, says, ' Where is boasting, then ? It is excluded. By what Law? Of works? Nay; but by the law of faith. Here we are taught, that all boasting is absolutely excluded; and that it is excluded, not by the law of works, but by the law of faith. But the same apostle says, that' to him that worketh the reward is reckoned, not of grace, but of debt:' that is, the reward of justification and its consequences would be due to him who received it on account of his works. Ho then certainly might boast : that
is, he might truly say that he had merited justification by his own works. If he had merited justification partly by his own works, he can truly boast of having merited that part of his justification. Boasting,' therefore, cannot, on this plan of justification, be excluded. Yet the apostle elsewhere teaches us, that it was one end of the system of redemption, as established by God, that no flesh should glory in his presence, but that • he who glorieth,' should . glory only in Christ,' 1 Cor. i. 29–31.
Besides, it is incredible, if this doctrine be true, that no mention of it should be made in the Scriptures. I know of no passage in the Scriptures so much relied on by its abettors, as the discourse of St. James, in the second chapter of his Epis tle. In a future Discourse I design to examine the account given of this subject by St. James, and expect to show that he furnishes no support to it. Should I succeed in this expectation, it will probably be admitted by those who hear me, that the doctrine finds no countenance in the Scriptures, and must therefore be given up.
(3.) The works of the best men never fulfil the demands of the law; and therefore cannot be the ground, either wholly or partially, of their justification.
In the conclusion of the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul describes his own state, as it was when he wrote this Epistle ; or generally after his conversion. As this assertion has been doubted; and as respectable divines have supposed this discourse to be an account of St. Paul's state before he was converted, I shall attempt to prove the truth of my assertion. This I shall do very summarily, in the three following remarks :
[1.] St. Paul observes, verse 22d, 'I delight in the law of God, after the inward man.' This assertion was never true of any man, antecedently to his regeneration. St. Paul does not say, that he approves of the law of God. This would have been a declaration concerning his reason, or his conscience. But he says, ' I delight in the law of God.' This is a declaration concerning his feelings, his heart. The heart of an unregenerate man never yet delighted in the divine law.
[2.] In the 24th verse, he exclaims, 0 wretched man, that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?'