Page images
PDF
EPUB

the execution of it: and thus it becomes to bim the ministration of death,” (II. Cor. iii. 7,) proving him to be guilty of sin, and to be deserving of death. The apostle's case is very common. I thought myself alive, says he, without the law : he had no doubt but he was alive to God, while he was a strict Pharisee; but when the holy, spiritual vature of the law was made known to him, he found himself to be dead in trespasses and sins. This, then, is the office of the law: it brings transgressors to the knowledge of sin, condemns them for it, and puts them under the sentence of death; and when the law has thus convinced them of their guilt and their danger, then they find their want of a Saviour. But without this work of the law, they would not have been sensible that they stood in any need of him. If they were never sick, they would never send for the physician. If they were never brought to the knowledge of sin, they would never desire the knowledge of a Saviour. If they never found themselves under guilt and condemnation, they would never sue for his pardon, and would never ask life of hin, unless they found that they deserved to die the first and the second death. For these reasons the law must be taught. It is the schoolmaster appointed of God to bring sinners unto Christ; and when the schoolmaster comes in the name and power of the divine Spirit, and convinces them of their distressed state and condition, and makes them sensible of their guilt and misery, then he brings them to Christ, carnestly to ask, and humbly to receive mercy from him, who is the end of the law for righteousness, to every one that believeth.

And now, men and brethren, let us hear this schoolmaster who is sent from heaven to teach us a divine lesson. He speaks to you, yé careless and secure in sin, and denounces the anger of the Almighty Lawgiver against you. Oh, with what a terrible voice does he reveal the wrath of God from heaven against all your ungodliness and unrighteousness! There is nothing dreadful in earth or hell, nothing to be feared in time

ever.

or in eternity, but what is included in this most awful sentence- Cursed be he that continueth not in all the words of this law, to do them.” Déut. xxvii. 26. Have you done them? Have you done all that the law required? and in the perfect manner required ? I dare appeal to your consciences: you may try to stifle their evidence, but they will speak, and do they not at this very time charge you with sin? You know that you have not kept all the law, and what then is the consequence? Why, the law pronounces you cursed; and it would make your ears tingle, and your heart melt within you, if you were to consider what it is to be under the curses of the law, and to have the wrath of God abiding upon you for ever and

Have you no sense of these things, and no fearful apprehensions about your present condition ? Is not conscience alarmed at the greatness of your danger, and do not the terrors of the law stir you up to flee from the wrath to come? If not, if all be quiet within, while you hear the law of the most high God, which ought to convince you of your guilt, and to make you apprehensive of your misery, then you are indeed sleeping the sleep of death. O may the God of all mercy take pity on you and awaken you, lest

you should sleep on, until the curses of the law be actually inflicted, and wrath come upon you to the uttermost!

Some persons may think it happy for them that they are not careless and secure in sin: for they endeavour to keep the law as well as they can, and God is a merciful God, he will forgive them when they do amiss. This is a common, but it is a very dangerous mistake: for it supposes that the law can abate something of its demands, and can accept of an imperfect obedience. Whereas the law is the holy, just, and good will of God, which altereth not. It requires perfect and universal obedience; and in case of the least transgression, condemns the sinner, and passeth sentence. If he plead that he never offended, but in this particular instance, that is pleading guilty. If a man be indicted for murder, and the fact be proved upon him, and he be found guilty, and the judge pass sentence, what would it avail him, if he should make this plea, that he had never been guilty of high treason? The judge would observe to him, that he was not accused of high treason, but of murder, of which he was found guilty and condemned, and his not being a traitor was no reason why he should not be executed for being a murderer. So your not having broken this or that commandment cannot save you from the just sentence of the law, if you have broken any of them. Suppose you are not an adulterer, yet if you are a murderer you deserve to die, and to receive the wages of sin: “ for he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law."-James, ii. 11.

But some will say, shall we not be accepted, if we endeavour to keep the law as well as we can? No; the style of the law is, do. It does not say, endeavour to keep the commandment, but it speaks with authority, do it, and do it perfectly, and in every point, and with all the mind, and with all the soul, and with all the heart, and with all the strength. Here is no room left for good resolutions, or good endeavours, but an actual performance of the whole law is de manded. The least failing or short coming is a transgression, and therefore is an absolute forfeiture of legal righteousness, and of every blessing promised to the perfect keeping of the law.

Some persons go a little farther than good endeavours, and think God will accept them for their sin. cere obedience. Whereas the law has nothing to do with sincerity. When you come to be tried by the law, the only question will be, whether you have broken it, or not? If not, the promised reward is yours. You may claim it as your due: for to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But if you have broken the law, your sincere obe. dience cannot be accepted in the place of perfect obe

dience; because the law has made no provision for your case. It requires a continual performance of all its commands, and in a perfect manner; and if you fail, and then plead your sincerity in your favour, that is owning your guilt, and is a confession of your not having continued in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them; and therefore, as your sincere obedience is not perfect, it leaves you still under the curse of the law, and under the wrath of God.

There are other persons who think that there is some kind of absolute mercy in God, and that although they have sinned, yet he is ready to forgive. But this is not the character of God, as drawn in the law; for the law considers him as the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, having absolute authority to enact laws for the government of his creatures; over whom he presides with unerring justice, to see his laws carried into execution. Justice is the ruling attribute of the supreme Lawgiver. As his law is just, so are its sanctions. It is equally just in him to punish transgressors, as to reward the obedient; for the judge of all the earth cannot but do right, and distribute impartial justice. Whether he can show mercy to the guilty is not the question, but whether he has made any provision in his law for showing them mercy; and he certainly has not. God is not described in the law as a God of mercy, but as a sovereign judge, whose wrath, and not whose mercy is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.

But if the lawgiver has made no promise in his law, that he will show merey to sinners s yet will he not be prevailed on by their sorrow and tears, their repentance and amendment? There is not one word in the law to encourage a sinner to hope for mercy, because he is sorry for his sin. It is full of threatenings against the least offence, and, for the least, cuts the offender off from all claim to legal righteousness. When he is in this state, what merit is there in sor

row, that it should change the laws of the most high God, or what efficacy in tears, that they should cause him to be reputed innocent who is in fact guilty? He has forfeited all right and title to the happiness which the law promised to obedience, and when he sees this he

grows sorry for what he has done amiss. So does a murderer, when found guilty and condemnned to suffer ; but does the judge pardon him because he is sorry for his crime? By no means. But he gives signs of true sorrow; he weeps bitterly. Suppose he does, yet the law demands obedience, and not tears for disobeying. These tears flow from a sense of guilt, and if there were rivers of them, they could not wash the stain of guilt out of the conscience; because the law has not ascribed any such virtue to them, as to accept of many tears for having offended, instead of unsinning obedience. And granting he goes a step farther: he repents and amends. But what becomes of the broken law, and of the deserved penalty ? Can simple repentance undo the sin committed ? or can amendment for the future avert the penalty already deserved ? No; these are things impossible. The law will have obedience or punishment, and justice is engaged to see that the law be obeyed, and the threatened punishment inflicted; and therefore, after you have disobeyed, the law can allow no place for repentance, nor any way to escape punishment, although you seek it carefully with tears.

But if the law cannot show the offender mercy, does it leave him without hope? Yes. It can show him no mercy, nor does it give him any hope. It convinces him of sin, condemns him for it, and sentences him to the first and to the second death.

What, must he despair then? Of being able to attain mercy by any means in his own power he must despair-despair of working out for himself such righteousness as the law demands-despair of escaping, by any sorrow or repentance of his, the punish

« PreviousContinue »