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that we have lost the power of self-control, and are at the mercy of every provocation ? We may think it a light matter to violate this law of Christ, but present and future punishment will teach us otherwise.
Peace is the best blessing of heaven ; let us seek after it with all our hearts. God hath called you to peace.
Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
BY REV. THOMAS M. CLARK, D.D.,
RECTOR OF CHRIST CHURCH, HARTFORD, CONN.
LEGAL AND GOSPEL SYSTEMS COMPARED. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of the flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh : that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.-ROMANS viii. 3, 4.
The text may be thus paraphrased : For what the moral law could not do, that is to free man from sin and condemnation,because it was inefficacious, in consequence of the power of sin, - God did, by sending his Son, who took upon himself the likeness of sinful flesh, or the nature of man, and for sin, (literally, by a sacrifice for sin,) condemned sin in the flesh, -condemned it by his death, showed it to be abhorrent to God, condemned it, in that he subdued it, destroyed it. And this was done, that the righteousness required by the law might be made attainable by us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Three things are here declared : 1st. That the law cannot free us from the power or the guilt of sin; 2dly. That, to meet this exigency, God clothed his own Son with the form of humanity, and, through his sacrifice, the dominion of sin was destroyed; and 3dly. That in virtue of this sacrifice, believers, or those who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, are restored to the favor of God.
Nominal Christians all agree that man is in a state of sin, and consequently at alienation from God.
They all agree, that so long as he remains in this condition of alienation, he is in the way to ruin.
They all agree, that he can be restored to God's favor and to the path of true happiness, only through some change of life and character.
But, from this point, their opinions widely diverge. There are those who assert that the sinner is reconciled to God, simply and solely in virtue of his repentance and consequent good works. The law indeed requires implicit and unbroken obedience, upon pain of the severest penalties; but, in view of man's reformation, God in his sovereignty sets aside the demands of the law. And the purpose for which Christ came into the world was to declare this great fact, that God is ready to restore to his favor all who will repent and turn from their sins; and also to disclose a great system of motive, fitted to lead us to this repentance.
On the other hand, it is the faith of the Church that, while repentance is an indispensable condition of salvation, so far as those are concerned who are capable of repentance, it is not the procuring cause, the ground of our salvation. We believe that Christ came into the world to do that for us, without which God would not have accepted our repentance; and that, had Christ not died, let man have done what he might, the law must inevitably have had its course, and every sinner have been utterly and eternally condemned. And, if we can understand the force of language, this must be the doctrine of the text.
But it is not my present purpose to enter upon the exposition or direct proof of the evangelical system of faith: my design is rather to consider it in its practical and personal bearing. Now it is a very common remark : Inasmuch as all recognise the existence of sin and acknowledge its great evil; as all allow the necessity of our being delivered from sin in order to secure the favor of God; as all believe that the truly penitent actually receive forgiveness at his hands; why does it greatly matter what may be our individual opinion as to the ground of our acceptance with God, and as to the precise place which the Saviour holds in the sinner's justification ? The practical duties to wbich we are pointed under both systems are the same; they both teach that only the pure in heart can see God. Is it then vitally important that I should receive, in its full length and breadth, what is called the scheme of grace, the doctrine of salvation through the merits of a crucified Redeemer ? Let us consider this question with candor and seriousness; for a more momentous inquiry was never started.
You will all allow, that, in order to bring any system of motives to bear effectually upon the renewal and sanctification of the sinner, it is, in the first place, indispensable to produce in his mind the conviction of sin. Till this is effected, nothing is effected. We may discourse till the day of doom of the beauty of holiness, of the goodness of God, of the reasonableness of his service, and it will be like pouring water upon the rock, unless we can convince men that they are sipners, and that sin is “that abominable thing which God hateth.” And the great cause of the utter inefficacy of mere moral teaching, is to be found in the my sins.
fact that men do not appreciate the depth of their own corruption.
Now, as it is one great object of the gospel to awaken us to a sense of our sinfulness, it may be fairly inferred that it will reveal a system of truth, peculiarly fitted to give us high notions of the majesty of the divine law, and of God's hatred of sin ; such a system as will be likely to draw forth from the transgressor the earnest cry, "Woe is me, for I am unclean !"
Is such a result to be looked for from the doctrine which teaches that, without an atonement, without the mediation of an Almighty Saviour, God may be propitiated, and all the terrific threatenings of justice be set aside ?
Is it not altogether natural for the sinner to reason thus with himself? "An evil so easily remedied cannot be in itself a very grevious evil. If a few tears of contrition, and such an imperfect obedience as usually follows this penitential sorrow, are all that God reqnires in order to the blotting out the long record of my iniquities-all that he demands, in order to my restoration to his favor-all that he asks, in order to my admission to heaven-surely he cannot look upon me as so deeply criminal. There must be something in my natural infirmity and in my outward condition, which greatly palliates the enormity of
If peace may be had with God on such easy terms, the stability of his government cannot depend upon the holiness of the universe. If the claims of the law may be so readily annulled, that law cannot deserve very profound respect, and I need not be seriously terrified by its penalties.” Whether this reasoning be sound or not, it is precisely such as the sinner would be inclined to adopt. Men always judge of the importance and imperativeness of any command or requisition, by the consequences which follow its neglect. When they are taught to believe that the penalties of disobedience will not take effect, or may be averted upon easy terms, disastrous results will ensue. Where they detect weakness and indecision in the administration of the law, they will soon learn to despise the law. This is true in civil government, and it would prove so in
the case of the Divine government.
We assert, then, that the system which declares that “without the shedding of blood” there may be “remission of sin," is not likely to lead man to feel the exceeding guilt and the imminent peril of his condition as a sinner. So far as his iniquity causes him present discomfort, interferes with his present well-being, or occasions confusion and mischief in society, he may apprehend and feel its evil. But as an offence against God, as exposing
. him to the terrors of a violated law, he perceives neither its malignity nor his personal danger. He cannot understand why one should cry out of the depths of a broken spirit, “O wretched man that I am, who sball deliver me from the body of this death !” He does not feel that “there is no soundness in his
flesh," that he was "conceived in sin," and that “all the imaginations of his heart are only evil, and that continually!” To bim, all this has the air of exaggeration ; it awakens no corresponding consciousness in his heart : he acknowledges indeed that he is a sinner, that he has broken the law of God, that he has neither loved nor served his Maker, but all this gives him little anxiety. God is merciful and easily propitiated, and will be loth to cast off the creature he has made.
This, my hearers, is the precise operation of that system from which Christ is excluded. And so the sinner, having no just convictions of the evil of sin, of his own guilt and peril, hears the threatenings of the law and the pleadings of the gospel with the same indifference; and every effort to lead him to the Saviour, as a poor, helpless and ruined transgressor, comes to naught.
But what is gained, in this respect, by setting forth the doctrine of the text that God, by the sacrifice of his Son, condemned sin in the flesh ?
I. God's opinion of sin is illustrated in thạt sacrifice. That in. deed might be inferred from his own holiness-from the temporal evils which he has made to follow in the train of sin; but if, without any such exhibition as was made on Calvary, he had opened his arms to the sinper, and received him back to his favor, it might have been doubted whether, after all, he regarded sin with that infinite abhorrence which he is said to feel towards all forms and degrees of iniquity. It might at least have been thought that the attribute of justice is subordinate to that of mercy. But the sacrifice of his Son has put all such questions for ever to rest. This was the costliest offering that could have been laid at the feet of justice. It was the highest possible exhibition of God's hatred of sin, and of the inflexibility of his law. It was the most striking demonstration of his ineffable holiness of which it is possible to conceive.
If then a man doubts his own guiltiness, or is disposed to look lightly upon the fact of his sin, I would take him to the cross, and show him the terrific consequences of sin, as exhibited there. Amid the cries, and curses, and jeerings of an infuriated rabble, hanging between two thieves, while rocks are rending and graves opening, and the noonday sun withdraws his light, I would point him to the Son of God, before whom angels had for ages rejoiced to cast their crowns, now bathed in blood, and in agonies unutterable, bearing the curse of a violated law. And while that mighty sacrifice proclaimed in his ears the astounding love of God, I would remind him how it also declares his opinion of the evil of sin-an evil so great, that, even in the exercise of his Almighty sovereignty, he will not venture to offer pardon to a single transgressor, till, with tears and groans, his only Son has made expiation for human guilt.
And, my friends, it is the fact, that no man ever comprehended the true nature of sin, ever appreciated his own personal guilt, until he had been brought near to the cross and stood by the side of of Christ in his dying agonies. To that position he must come before he can really feel his actual exposure to the wrath of a holy God, his need of forgiveness, and the deep malignancy of his own depravity. There the conviction will fasten upon his soul. If God spared not his own Son, what have I to hope for ? If the innocent is thus made to suffer, upon the mere assumption of another's guilt, what vengeance must be in store for me, stained and blackened as I am with the defilement of actual corruption !
II. In the second place, what is the practical operation of the two systems under consideration, as it respects the nature of the change which we need to experience, in order to our salvation ? Where there is no just and adequate view of the evil of sin,
can be no proper understanding of the character and extent of the change which man needs to experience. we find it is thought by those who reject the doctrines of grace, that there is no such “weakness of the flesh" as to prevent us from fulfilling the law, so far as is necessary in order to our final safety. They assume a low standard of obedience, and a high standard of human ability. They are thus led to dispense with the agency of the Holy Spirit in effecting the sinner's conversion, and trust to their own might in producing this great change They recognize the necessity of no radical transformation of their nature, of no renovation of the soul, and so they fail to take that initiatory step from which all true spiritual life must date its commencement. And this is like the endeavour to cause a perpetual stream to flow where there is no fountain, rain to descend where there are no clouds, foliage and fruit to grow where there, is no root. They may become men of reputable morals, and unexceptionable outward' demeanor, but they do not become the children of God and heirs of eternal life. They are not “ born again," and therefore they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." This is conclusive against their system. They build upon their own good works, when, in fact, they do nothing which is really acceptable in the sight of God. Their faithfulness, in respect of their social and human relations, only serves to quiet their conscience in view of their neglect of weightier and more imperative obligations. There is no man so entirely unapproachable as one who meets the solemn call of the gospel by pointing to his charities and honorable character, as though the law were thus fulfilled.
How one who knows any thing of his own heart can be content to build upon such a foundation, we find it hard to conceive; but it cannot be doubted that there are multitudes who feel that the threatenings of the Scripture are not meant for them, and & Saviour is not needed by them, simply because their fellow-men can bring no charge against their reputation.
But there is a system of truth which leads to far different conclusions. It begins with revealing to man his true charac