« PreviousContinue »
variance, émulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of the which I tell you before, as I have told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.' No words can be more positive than these, and the last words are the most positive of all; shall not inherit the kingdom of God.' Sinners like these may have been justified in a certain sense ; they may have been saved in a certain sense ; that is, they may have been brought into a state of justification or salvation for the present; but they shall not be finally happy, they shall not inherit the kingdom of God.'
In the epistle to the Ephesians, we acknowledge the same observation, namely, that the apostle hath spoken strong things concerning faith, yet hath at the same time, and in the same writing, most absolutely insisted upon a virtuous life, and most positively declared that a life of sin will end in perdition. Concerning faith, he hath said this ; . By grace are ye saved through faith ; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.' Concerning a life of sin, he makes this declaration. After having enumerated certain species of sins, he adds these cautionary words, which show his opinion as manifestly as words can show it ; 'Let no man deceive you with vain words; for because of these things,' even the sinful practices before recited, cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.
To conclude: What the apostle might particularly mean by the several expressions concerning faith, which have been quoted, is another question ; but that he did not mean to state or teach that a life of endeavour after virtue, if that be what we understand by good works, could be dispensed with; or that a life of continued unrepented sin would end in salvation by means, or for the sake of any belief in Christ's religion, I think most evident, and would be so, although we were not able to settle, to our satisfaction, the first question ; namely, what it was he did mean. I say, the negative proposition is most evident, unless we can be brought to suppose, that St Paul delivered a doctrine contrary to that of our Saviour and of the other apostles, destructive of one declared end of the christian institution itself; and the end and design of any system of laws is to control the interpretation of particular parts; and lastly, what is most improbable of all, at the same time and in the same manner, directly repugnant to what he himself has solemnly asserted and delivered at other times and in other places.
THE EFFICACY OF THE DEATH OF CHRIST CON.
SISTENT WITH THE NECESSITY OF A GOOD LIFE; • THE ONE BEING THE CAUSE, THE OTHER THE
CONDITION, OF SALVATION.
Romans VI. 1.
What shall we say then? shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
That St Paul, in the texts which are usually quoted upon this question from his epistles, did not mean to say, that faith, accompanied with wickedness of life, would end in salvation, may be considered, I think, as proved. The next inquiry is, if he did not mean this, what did he mean? His words we cannot alter; and what other sense can we fairly put upon them, so as to excuse or avoid the sense which we disclaim? Now it is but justice to every writer to suppose, that he writes to be understood by those to whom his writing is immediately addressed, and that he has in view the circumstances and situation of the persons whom he directly accosts, much more than the circumstances and situation of those who may come to read what he has written, in some remote age and distant country. There are no ancient writings in which this allowance is more wanted than in those of St Paul, nor in any part of his writings more than in that which forms the subject of our present discourse. St Paul's writings were addressed to Christians; but who in those days were Christians? They were in general, if not altogether, persons, not as we are, born and bred up in the religion, but they were persons who, having been born and bred up heathens or Jews, when arrived at years of judgment and discretion, and exercising that judgment and discretion, had voluntarily, and from conviction, quitted their native religion, become believers in Jesus Christ, and openly taken upon themselves the profession of this, now a new system of faith and conduct. This conversion had been with them a most momentary change. It was the grand era and event of their lives
as to spiritual matters; and no wonder their teachers should be industrious in pointing out to them the advantages, the effects, and the obligation of this change. Now it appears to have been a doctrine of Christianity taught both by St Paul and the other preachers of the religion, asserted, or rather assumed, in their writings, and frequently referred to therein, that, amongst other effects and advantages of their becoming Christians, this was one; namely, that the sins of which they had been guilty before their conversion were thereupon forgiven ; and which sins being so forgiven, they, by their conversion, and at the time of their conversion, stood in the sight of God, whatever their former lives had been, as just persons, no less so, than if they had led lives of righteousness from their birth; that is, in one word, they were justified.
But the forgiveness here spoken of, namely, the forgiveness of prior sins upon this faith and conversion, and the justification implied in that forgiveness, was undoubtedly an advantage annexed by the mercy of God to their faith and conversion, and not the effect of any pretensions they had, or might suppose themselves to have, from either their situation or behaviour prior to their conversion. Therefore, supposing this to be the sense of the word justification, viz. the remission of all the sins they had committed before their conversion to Christianity, it was literally and strictly true what St Paul tells these Christians, in his epistle to the Romans, that they were justified by faith without the works of the law, even supposing the works of the law' to comprise all the duties of the moral law; and I think it very probable, that this is what St Paul meant by justification in that remarkable text, and which is one of the strongest on that side of the question. And I think so for two reasons. In the fifth chapter of the epistle, and the first verse, which connects itself with the text under consideration, the intermediate chapter being employed in a digressive illustration of the subject, drawn from the history of Abraham ; I say, in the beginning of the fifth chapter, St Paul evidently speaks of their being justified, as of a thing that was past. Whatever it was, it had already taken place; they were already justified ; for he speaks thus of it; Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ. If then their justification had already taken place, when did it take place? What time can be assigned to it but the time of their conversion, according to the sense we contend for?
A second fair ground for believing that this was the apostle's meaning is, that it best suited with his argument. His argu
ment was to prove, that the Gentiles were as properly admissible into the christian dispensation as the Jews; a question at that time hotly contested, though now laid asleep. To make out this point, he shows that the justification, i. e. the pardon of prior sins, which conversion to Christianity brought with it, was neither in Jew nor Gentile attributable to their former behaviour, or to any thing which that behaviour could merit; but was, in both the one and the other, the pure and free effect and gift of God's mercy, was grace, vas favor; and being so, that one sort of men, as well as the other, was capable of receiving it, and of participating in all the fruits and privileges which belonged to it. It was a thing which, upon the ground of prior merit, the Jew could not claim ; v. hich, upon the ground of pure favor, the Gentile might expect as well as he. Therefore, the purpose of the apostle's argument is satisfied, and the argument itself made most clear, by limiting his sense of justification to what passed upon the act of conversion; and it is by this interpretation alone that we can fairly avoid, in this passage, the sense which those put upon it, who contend against the proper necessity of good works; for we cannot, I think, in this passage, understand by faith that operative, productive faith which includes good works. Nor can we understand by the works of the law the rites only, and peculiar ordinances of the Jewish law. We cannot understand by faith that which includes and necessarily supposes works, because then the apostle could not have talked of faith without works; whereas he says, that we are justified by faith without the works of the law. We cannot restrain the expression, the works of the law,' to the positive precepts of the Jewish law, because we must suppose that St Paul's conclusion was coextensive with his reasoning; and his reasoning evidently applies and relates to the Gentiles as well as the Jews, to those who had no proper concern in the Jewish law, as well as those who had. We have before proved,' says he, both of Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.' This was the common situation of both; and to this, their common situation, must be applied what he afterwards says concerning justification. It hath sikewise been truly I think observed, that the laws must here mean the moral law; because only three verses afterwards, and continuing, as must be presumed, the same idea, he adds, Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea, we establish the law. But in no sense, to be sure, could it be said that the ritual or ceremonial law of the Jews, as a distinct and separate thing from the moral law, was established by the preachers of faith, or by this their reasoning upon it.
There is another strong text in St Paul's epistles, which allows of nearly the same exposition. The apostle tells the Ephesians, chap. ii. verse 8, ‘By grace ye are saved through faith.' Being saved' means being put into the way and course of being saved, which was done for them at their conversion, when they became believers in Christ; and therefore it was through faith. The expression, being saved, when applied to those who are yet living, can only mean being put into a way or course of being saved ; final salvation itself, or, in other words, being received into heaven, only taking place after death. Now the being saved in this sense, namely, the being put into a way or course of salvation, by no means dispenses with the necessity of a good life; because the final salvation, the aim and end of the whole, will still of necessity depend upon their keeping in that way, and pursuing that course. By a bad life they go out of the way into which they had been brought, desert the course upon which they had entered, and therefore lose heaven at last ; and all this consistently with St Paul's words to the Ephesians, as thus interpreted.
The third chapter of the Galatians is another scripture which has been much relied upon on the other side of the question. To the apparent difficulties arising out of this chapter, I should be inclined to apply a somewhat different solution from that which we last gave. I think that in this chapter the term faith means a productive faith ; and I think also, that the works of the law mean circumcision and the other rites of the Jewish law. As to the first point, St Paul, in the ninth verse of this chapter, says, “They which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. Now common sense obliges us to suppose, that the faith of those concerning whom he says, “they that be of faith,' was of like kind with the faith of Abraham, so that they might partake of the blessing along with him; but St James, you know, hath asserted, and shown indeed, that the faith of Abraham was faith efficacious to the production of good works. Then, as to the second point, the works of the law, of which St Paul appears in this epistle to lower the value, are explained by him in the ninth and tenth verses of the fourth chapter, and so explained, as to show that they were ritual works which he was thinking of; 'But now after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days and months, and times and years. The truth was, that in St Paul's absence, his Galatian converts had been going fast into Judaism, which he con