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belonging to every sinner who is saved by Jesus Christ, viz, his state of unregeneracy-of begun recovery from sin-and of perfect holiness in heaven. I shall now endeavor to show, that he is not justified by the merit of the good works he does in any one of these three states.
1. It is perfectly clear, he can not be justified for good works done in his state of unregeneracy. What are done in this period are all no. thing but “dead works.' There is no moral excellence, nothing of the nature of holiness in one of them. The carnal mind, which is enmity against God, and not subject to his law, prevents the unregen. erate from doing anything that is pleasing to God. Their sacrifices are an abomination to the Lord, and their ploughing is sin. most liberal offerings to the poor, and even their martyrdom, fail of meeting the divine approbation. See 1 Cor. xiii. 3.
Their doings, including those which are most specious, are not only destitute of any. thing meritorious, but also of anything acceptable. God is angry with the wicked every day-every moment. Let them be doing what they will, so long as they retain a heart of enmity, they are children of wrath, having the wrath of God abiding on them continually.
By the account which Paul gives of himself, we learn that he once relied on the specious works of his unregenerate state, to procure his justification. But what he then counted gain, he afterwards counted loss ; that is, the works on which he had entirely relied for justification, he now saw stood justly charged against him, as so many transgressions of the law, crying for vengeance on his guilty head. It is these specious works of our unregenerate state, works that are entirely destitute of moral worth, (since they are all the result of selfish motives) which are most commonly relied on as being meritorious. These were the works on which the Pharisees made their whole dependence. They were ignorant of God's righteousness, and went about to establish their own. Their ignorance of the spirituality of the divine law, led them to think highly of a mere outside cleansing, which left their hearts unholy, selfish, and proud. In this frame of mind they scorned to be saved by the righteousness of another.
2. The works which are subsequent to regeneration, before the believer enters the world of glory, do nothing to merit his acceptance with God. These, though radically different from those which preceded his renovation, are nevertheless so sinfully defective that they can nei. ther make amends for the dead works of his unregenerate state, nor deserve a reward for themselves; for there is not one of all these good works that can sustain itself. Christians are not lessening their debt to divine justice, but continually augmenting it, so as to stand in need · of more forgiveness than when they first believed. Perfect obedience does not rise above the reasonable claims which the Creator has on all his intelligent creatures—not only on such as have continued in their allegiance, but also on such as have revolted. Those revolters, there. fore, who still, though renovated in mind, remain in some degree disaf. fected towards his charaeter and government, must be continually increasing their desert of punishment. When they have a discovery
. of the holiness of God, and of their obligation to be in perfect conform. ity to his will, they are impelled to make this humiliating confession, “ We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Isa. Ixiv. 6.
Paul renounced all his own righteousness, (as far as merit was res. pected,) not only that which belonged to him as a Pharisee, but also as a Christian : “That I may be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law.” Phil. iii. 9.
This holy man made no more dependence on the merit of his faith, or any of those gracious affections which the Spirit of God had wrought upon his heart, than on the merit of his prayers and sermons, or any other ex. ternal service he had performed. If the chief of the apostles, and the holiest of the saints, renounced all meritorious claims, then such claims must be renounced by all the redeemed family upon the earth.
3. The perfect obedience of the saints in heaven, will produce no change as to the ground of their justification; it will then, and forever be by grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ. proper understanding of the gracious justification of the saints in heaven will reflect much light on the whole subject, you will bear with me, should I detain you somewhat longer on this than on the other particulars.
Though holiness and sin are moral opposites, the one being as lovely as the other is hateful; yet the one does not merit as much as the other demerits. A child who is blessed with the best of fathers, ought not to think highly of himself for rendering a cheerful and undeviating obedience to such a parent; as though he had done some work of supererrogation : but to disesteem and disregard such a parent must be an aggravated crime. That weight of parental character which seems to make it so peculiarly easy to render filial respect and obedience, should make it as peculiarly hard to be disrespectful and disobedient. Let this illustrate the matter which is now before us. Grant, it is as lovely to be grateful to the infinite Benefactor, as it is unlovely to be ungrateful ; still the one is not as well-deserving as the other is ill-deserving. We know it is a very amiable thing to love such a great and good Being as God is ; but to love him with all the heart and soul, is nothing more than our duty. His greatness and goodness increase the obligation to love, and, of course, the obligation to refrain from hating and despising him. The most perfect love and obedience do not there. fore furnish the least cause for pride; but a single transgression fur. nishes matter for everlasting humiliation.
The case of the servant, which is stated by our divine Teacher, in the seventeenth of Luke, will help us to understand the subject now before us. After representing him as serving his master faithfully, in the field and in the house, he puts this question : “ Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him ?” To which he makes the following reply and application : “ I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do.” In the case supposed, the servant, being the property of his master, his most faithful and unremitted services are considered to be nothing more than what is the master's due. And whatever opinion we may entertain concerning servitude, as existing among men, it is certain that, in the most absolute sense, intelligent creatures are the servants of God. Those who have rendered perfect and unin. terrupted obedience, as in the case of the angels of light, have not
made him in the least degree their debtor. He is under no obligation to thank them for their obedience. In the sense of the passage refer: red to, they are unprofitable servants, having done no more than was their duty to do. They are good servants, and are treated as such; but all they have done, and are still doing, is nothing beyond their most imperious obligation; and is merely rendering to their infinitely glorious Sovereign his just dues. The apostle intimates, that if Abraham had been justified by works, he would have had no real cause for glo. rying before God. Rom. iv. 1.
Wherever God has connected the promise of everlasting blessedness with the temporary obedience of innocent creatures, it has been a favor altogether beyond their deserts, though not always of the nature of mercy; for its being mercy supposes the favor is not only beyond, but contrary to the deserts of those on whom it is conferred. Such a promise of durable felicity must necessarily imply, that an obedient character is also secured to those who are to enjoy it. It is a principle essential to the law system, that when the righteous man (or holy creature) turneth away from his righteousness, he shall thenceforth be treated according to his apostate character, as much as if he had never possessed any other; so that all his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned. And it is wholly on the plan of grace, through an infinite atonement, that the wicked man who turns to God, has the promise that the transgressions he hath committed shall not be men. tioned to him. Ezek. xviii. 21–24. While a creature's desert of God's favor extends not a moment beyond the continuance of his sinless obedience, the desert of his displeasure remains after he has broken off from his sins ; and even after his freedom from the pollution of sin has been perfected. If we can feel guilty for the sins which were committed long ago, and for those sins of which we have already repented, (and the experience of every Christian will prove the possibility of this,) we can, no doubt, feel that we deserve punishment for the sins committed on earth, after we shall become confirmed in all the holiness of the heavenly state. It is true, after the saints are admitted to heaven, they will cease to augment their ill-desert; but that desert of punishment which they had incurred, during the period of their entire rebellion, and afterwards when their reconciliation was imperfect, will remain forever. Hence we conclude, their justification will never change its character; it will through eternal ages be of grace, not of works. As our guilt can not be diminished by our good doings, so neither can it be effected by our sufferings. He, who deserves an eternal punishment, can not lessen that desert by the endurance of sufferings which are temporary.
The ill-desert of their sin has never been destroyed, nor diminished, by the severest sufferings which the children of God have endured in their own persons; nor was it destroyed or diminished by the sufferings of the Redeemer himself. It was far from being the object of His sufferings, to make the sins of his redeemed people appear less odious, or less deserving of the penalty of the law. Neither their good works, nor their sufferings; nor anything done or suffered by their Substitute, will ever efface from their minds a con. viction of the demerit of their sin. David, in advanced life, prays, “ Remember not the sins of my youth.” On this petition the pious Henry
notes, “ Our youthful faults and follies should be matter of our repentance and humiliation long after, because time does not wear out the guilt of sin.” To this we may add, Nor will eternity wear it out.
“ But do not the services of the redeemed in heaven, when these services are viewed by themselves, actually deserve to be accepted of God, as much as those of the angels who never sinned ?” To this it may be replied ; that the services of the redeemed, though not in themselves any more ill-deserving than those of the angels, are nevertheless to be considered as the services of ill-deserving creatures. It is true, they are now pardoned and perfectly sanctified; but they are not on that account any less deserving of punishment for the sins that have been already committed. Were they now to become disconnected from the Redeemer, and divested of his righteousness, the law would demand that they should be removed from their seats of bliss to the prison of bell. "No man,” said the Son of God, “ cometh unto the Father but by me." This will apply to the future as well as to the present world. The holy priesthood, in offering up their spiritual sacrifices, are ac. cepted with God only through Jesus Christ. 1 Pet. ii. 5. Can creatures, concerning whom it will always be true, that they deserve the damnation of hell, ever have intercourse with a sin-hating and sin-punishing God, except through a Mediator?
The covenant, into which regeneration translates the elect, is wholly founded upon grace; and is, in the most unlimited sense, an everlasting covenant. They, who are once embraced within its promises, never revert to the covenant of works. The transition from works to grace is practicable ; but from grace back to works is impossible. Nor does the covenant of grace change its nature, even when it has purged its subjects from the pollutions of sin, and placed them faultless and blame. less before the throne of God in heaven. It is still sealed with blood, and is a mediatorial covenant, having a High Priest who ever liveth to make intercession.. Heb. vii. 24-28. Though at the last day, Christ will surrender up that dominion over the universe at large, with which he was invested for the purpose of enabling him the more advantageously to prosecute the work of redemption, he will still remain the Head of the Church, reigning over the house of Jacob forever. Luke i. 33. The redeemed will always rest on Him, as the foundation of all their blessedness. Him they will praise for washing them from their sins in his own blood, and for making them kings and priests unto God. Nor will they ever cease to rely on his mediatorial merits and grace, in all their intercourse with God, through the ages of eternity. Rev. i. 5,6.
The most important ingredient in justification, is the remission of deserved punishment. To remit a deserved punishment, is sometimes practised in human governments ; but since gospel justification differs very materially from the dispensation of pardons among men, it may be useful to take notice of this difference.
1st. The dispensation of pardon in human governments has a tendency to endanger their stability; since it must of necessity be done without any proper atonement for the crimes that are pardoned. But under the divine government no pardons are dispensed in this absolute manner. Here it is an established maxim, that “ Without shedding of
blood there is no remission.” “ God hath set forth his Son to be a propitiation to declare his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.” Such an infinite propitiation for sin declares the righteousness of God, as the moral Governor of the world, with as much clearness and effect as is done by its punishment; so that he will appear to the whole intelligent creation a just God, at the same time that he is a Savior. Isa. xlv. 21. The examples of a
a free justification, comprehending the forgiveness of sins, are restricted to the children of Adam, for whose sin an atonement has been provid. ed. What the law could not do, in that it had become weak, through man's apostacy, God has effected by sending his own Son in the like. ness of sinful flesh, not to make light of sin, but to condemn it in language as emphatic as God could utter. See Rom. viii. 3.
2dly. They who dispense pardons in human governments, can have no assurance, that the men whom they send back upon the community will not repeat their crimes, and even do worse than before. They can never know that their reformation is sincere, and therefore can not vouch for its permanency,
But under the divine government, none are pardoned and accepted but such as have a radical change of char. acter. 6 Whom he called, them he also justified.” None except the regenerated are justified. While we remain in hostility against this government, we are always in a state of condemnation. unbeliever the wrath of God abides continually. John iii. 18. Until we return to him, he can not return to us. Mal. üi. 7.
3dly. Justification under the government of God differs from a par. don under the governments of men, in this respect; that it extends to all our misdemeanors, and excludes all future condemnation. He who receives a pardon from a ruler of this world, is forgiven some particular offense of which he is proved guilty; but this does not secure him against suffering death for other crimes; either such as have not yet been exposed, or such as he may hereafter commit. But the Su. preme Ruler, who remembers all our wickedness, never forgives one of our sins, unless he forgives them all. And when he once forgives them, there is no more condemnation. It is his own promise, “'Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” Justification is unto life, i. e. life eternal. Heb. viii. 12; Rom. viii. 1, and v. 18. The justification of the gospel is something more than mere forgiveness, as this term is understood among men; it is the permanent reinstatement of a condemned rebel in the favor of his holy Sovereign, and in all the privileges of his great and everlasting kingdom.
A pardon dispensed under human governments, is, I believe, never called a justification ; nor would there be the same propriety, as under the divine government, in giving it this name. Such an exercise of sovereignty among men is not termed righteousness. They who dispense pardons on earth may tell of their clemency and mercy; but they will not pretend that these are displays of righteousness. But while the pardons dispensed by the Supreme Ruler are merciful beyond all others; yet, in view of such extraordinary precautions as he has taken to prevent injury from accruing to his holy government, by their being dispensed, the terms justification and righteousness, in application to them, have great significancy.
What Christ has done and suffered