But no sophistical reasoning, no fine-drawn infidelity, can contravene the fact or release him from the truth that, the creature must be the absolute and sole property of the Creator; that this involves his responsibility; and that as a responsible being “every one of us must give account of himself to God.” Such is the natural debt you owe to God, my reader. You owe to Him as your Maker every member of your body, every faculty of your mind, every power of your soul. To Him you must give account of your body, how you have used it; of your talents, how you have employed them; of your soul, how you have cared for it; of your rank, wealth, influence, time, how you have laid out all for God. Do you acknowledge the debt? Do you recognize the claim by a holy, cheerful, unreserved surrender? God has power to assert His claim, and He will assert it for time and for eternity.
“For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” Rom. 10:3
WHAT is man’s own righteousness, the best that he ever made, but the hewing out of a created cistern, in the place of the infinite fountain? His obedience, at best, must be but a partial and an imperfect one; and, failing in a single point, entails eternal despair. “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”
But not only is it shallow and contracted, it is also a “broken cistern.” It can hold no water of life or of peace, of consolation for of joy. In vain his spirit, tormented with guilt and agitated with fear, repairs to it for satisfaction and repose—it supplies it not. Let a man, for example, who is thus seeking salvation by the law, take the holiest day in the calendar of his life; let it be as free as it is possible for a fallen creature to make it from sin; let it be filled up with religious duties and services—it closes, and the curtains of night have drawn around him. Reposing on his pillow, he throws forward a glance into the eternal world—he thinks of the holy God, of the righteous law, of the solemn judgment, and the question, “What if this night I should be summoned to stand before my Judge!—what if to-morrow’s sun should rise upon my corpse, and I, a departed spirit, should be mingling with the dread realities of an unseen world?”—and he trembles and turns pale. What! has not his best obedience, his holiest day, his strictest observance, brought peace to his conscience and quietness to his soul? What! does no bright hope of glory play around his pillow, and no loving, peaceful view of God cradle him to rest? Ah, no! He has “forsaken the fountain of living waters, and has hewed him out a cistern, a broken cistern, that can hold no water,” and his night closes in upon him with the drapery of hopeless gloom.
To you, reader, is this solemn word now sent. Ah! while your eye has been scanning this page, has there not been in your heart the secret conviction of its truth? You have forsaken the righteousness of God, and for years have you been digging into the law, hoping thus to find in its strictest observance some well-spring of life and peace to your soul. But all your toil has been in vain, and all your time misspent. And why? because “by the works of the law should no man living be justified.” As true peace only flows through the channel of justification by faith, turning your back upon that channel, there is, there can be, no peace for your soul. Oh that this voice, now sounding in faithfulness on your ear, might awaken you to a sense of your delusion and your folly, and win you to the “good and the right way.” Oh that you might be persuaded to abandon the implements of a self-wrought righteousness, with which you have so long fruitlessly labored, and just as you are—poor, guilty, vile, helpless, and hopeless—betake yourself to the “righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ.” The law is a “broken cistern;” it holds no sweet waters of salvation, it gives out no streams of peace. But the Lord Jesus is a living fountain. He is the “end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes.” He has brought in a new and an “everlasting righteousness,” for the full justification of poor sinners, such as you.
Abandon at once and forever the broken cistern of a creature-righteousness—too long has it allured but to deceive you—and repair to the fountain of a Divine righteousness, which never has and never will deceive a believing sinner. Drink, oh drink, from this life-giving fountain. Here are peace, joy, confidence, and hope. Clothed in this righteousness, you can look your sins in the face, and death in the face, and fear nothing.
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:2
The interpretation we propose for the adoption of the reader is that which regards the “law of the Spirit of life,” as describing the gospel of Christ, frequently denominated a “law”—and emphatically so in this instance, because of the emancipation it confers from the Mosaic code, called the “law of sin and death,” as by it the knowledge of sin, and through it death is threatened as the penalty of its transgression. But in what sense is the believer free from this deadly law?
As a covenant he is free from it. The believer’s union to Christ frees him from the condemnatory power of this law. He looks not to it for life; he rests not in it for hope; he renounces it as a saving covenant, and under the influence of another and a higher obligation—his union to Christ—he brings forth fruit unto God. Was ever liberty so glorious as this—a liberty associated with the most loving, cordial, and holy obedience?
Not a single precept of that law, from whose covenant and curse he is released by this act of freedom, is compromised. All its precepts, embodied and reflected in the life of Christ—whose life is the model of our own—appear infinitely more clear and resplendent than ever they appeared before. The obedience of the Lawgiver infinitely enhanced the luster of the law, presenting the most impressive illustration of its majesty and holiness that it could possibly receive.
The instrument to whose agency this exalted liberty is ascribed is the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” The term law is forensic; though not infrequently used in God’s word to designate the gospel of Christ; indicating it in the text, as the great instrument by which this freedom is obtained. The gospel is the law which reveals the way of salvation by Christ. It is the development of God’s great expedient of saving man. It speaks of pardon and adoption, of acceptance and sanctification, as all flowing to the soul through faith in His dear Son. It represents God as extending His hand of mercy to the vilest sinner; welcoming the penitent wanderer back to His home, and once more taking the contrite rebel to His heart. It is also a quickening law—emphatically the “law of the Spirit of life.” What numbers are seeking sanctification from the “law of sin,” and life from the “law of death”!
But the gospel speaks of life. Its doctrines—its precepts—its promises—its exhortations—its rebukes—its hopes—are all instinct with spiritual life, and come with quickening power to the soul. “The words that I speak unto you,” says Jesus, “they are spirit and they are life.” Oh, there is life in the gospel, because it is the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” It testifies of “Christ who is our life.” It declares that there is no spiritual life but in Him. And although “the letter kills,” working alone, yet in the hands of the Spirit it gives life. Thus clothed with the energy of the Holy Spirit, the gospel proves a “savor of life unto life,” to all who believe in it to the saving of the soul.
Believer; a holy, filial, joyful liberty is your birthright. It is the liberty of a pardoned and justified sinner; of a reconciled, adopted child; of one for whom there is “now no condemnation.” Yet how few of God’s people walk in the full enjoyment of this liberty! How few pray, and love, and confide, as adopted children! Oh, sons of God, rise to this your high and heavenly calling! Your freedom was purchased at a high price—undervalue it not. It is most holy—abuse it not. It binds you by the strongest obligations to yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead. Be these the breathings of our soul: “Lord! my sweetest privilege is obedience to You; my highest freedom wearing Your yoke—my greatest rest bearing Your burden. Oh, how love I Your law after the inward man! I delight to do Your will, O my God!”
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that hears my word, and believes on him that sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” John 5:24
Let us consider what this condition does not imply. It does not include deliverance from the indwelling of sin, nor exemption from Divine correction, nor the absence of self-accusation; still less does it suppose, that there is nothing for which the believer deserves to die. All this exists where yet no condemnation exists. The battle with indwelling evil is still waged, the loving chastisement of a Father is still experienced, the self-condemnation is still felt, and daily in the holiest life there is still transpiring that which, were God strict to mark iniquities, merits and would receive eternal woe; yet the declaration stands untouched and unimpeached—”No condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”
The freedom of the believer is just what it is declared to be—entire exemption from condemnation. From all which that word of significant and solemn import implies he is, by his relation to Christ, delivered. Sin does not condemn him, the law does not condemn him, the curse does not condemn him, hell does not condemn him, God does not condemn him. He is under no power from these, beneath whose accumulated and tremendous woe all others wither.
The pardon of sin necessarily includes the negation of its condemnatory power. There being no sin legally alleged, there can be no condemnation justly pronounced. Now, by the sacrifice of Christ, all the sins of the church are entirely put away. He, the sinless Lamb of God, took them up and bore them away into a land of oblivion, where even the Divine mind fails to recall them. “How forcible are right words!” Listen to those which declare this wondrous fact. “I, even I, am He that blots out your transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember your sins.” “You have cast all my sins behind Your back.” “Having forgiven you all trespasses.” Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.”
The revoking of the sentence of the law must equally annihilate its condemnatory force. The obedience and death of Christ met the claims of that law, both in its preceptive and punitive character. A single declaration of God’s word throws a flood of light upon this truth: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” The sentence of the law thus falling upon Surety, who was “made under the law, that He might redeem those who were under the law,” there can be no condemnation from it to those who have taken shelter in Him. Thus, then, it is evident that both sin and the law are utterly powerless to condemn a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The perfection of Christ’s satisfaction supplies the meritorious and procuring cause of our condemnation. No legal obedience—no personal merit or worthiness of the sinner whatever—is taken into the account of His discharge. This exalted position can only be reached by an expedient that harmonizes with the attributes of God, and thus upholds, in undimmed luster, the majesty and honor of the Divine government. God will pardon sin, and justify the sinner, but it must be by a process supremely glorifying to Himself.
How, then, could a creature-satisfaction, the most perfect that man, or the most peerless that angel could offer, secure this result? Impossible! But the case, strange and difficult though it is, is met, fully, adequately met, by the satisfaction of Jesus. The Son of God became the Son of man. He presents Himself to the Father in the character of the church’s substitute. The Father, beholding in Him the Divinity that supplies the merit, and the humanity that yields the obedience and endures the suffering, accepts the Savior, and acquits the sinner.
Hence the freedom of the believer from condemnation: “There is, therefore, now no condemnation.” It is the existence of a present condition. It is the enjoyment of a present immunity. It is the simple belief of this fact that brings instant peace to the bosom. A present discharge from condemnation must produce a present joy. Christian! there is now no condemnation for you. Be yours, then, a present and a full joy.
“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” Psalm 19:7
Emanating from a Being infinitely perfect in every moral perfection, it follows as a natural sequence from this truth, that the law, designed to be a transcript of what God is—a copy of Himself—must be in every respect a most perfect law. How could it be otherwise?
Is it rational to suppose that a Being of infinite holiness, wisdom, and goodness would form a rule for the government of moral creatures, that would fail to place before their eye the loftiest standard of excellence, and that should not demand and secure their supreme obedience and happiness? It follows, then, that the law being essentially and perfectly holy, all its requirements must be equally so. It cannot change, nor compromise, nor soften down either the nature or the outline or the enforcement of a single enactment. It demands of every creature the profoundest homage, the most implicit obedience, and the most perfect love. In requiring this, the creature shall have no ground for impeaching the Divine goodness.
He shall have no reason for alleging of God that He is harsh and austere. As if fearful of perplexing the mind with a multitude of enactments, our Lord has presented one precept of the law, the perfect keeping of which resolves itself into a virtual fulfillment of all—”Jesus said unto him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.”
Who but an infinitely wise Lawgiver could have embodied all the requisitions of an extended code in a single one? What an unfolding of the wisdom of God is here! In securing to Himself the supreme love of His creatures, He wins a willing obedience to every precept of His law.
Such is the all-commanding, all-constraining power of love to God! Employing no other than this gentle and persuasive motive, God asks your intellect—your time—your service—your rank—your substance—your person—your life—your all. In demanding this complete surrender, His law stands forth, in view of all created intelligences, as a rule worthy of Him from whom it emanates. Oh yes! it is a most righteous law.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.” Matthew 22:37-38
Love to God is spoken of in His word as forming the primary and grand requirement of the divine law. Now, it was both infinitely wise and good in God thus to present Himself the proper and lawful object of love. We say it was wise, because, had He placed the object of supreme affection lower than Himself, it had been to have elevated an inferior object above Himself. For whatever other object than God is loved with a sole and supreme affection, it is a deifying of that object, so that it, as God, sits in the temple of God, showing itself that it is God. It was good, because a lesser object of affection could never have met the desires and aspirations of an immortal mind.
God has so constituted man, implanting in him such a capacity for happiness, and such boundless and immortal desires for its possession, as can find their full enjoyment only in infinity itself. He never designed that the intelligent and immortal creature should sip its bliss at a lower fountain than Himself.
Then, it was infinitely wise and good in God that He should have presented Himself as the sole object of supreme love and worship to His intelligent creatures. His wisdom saw the necessity of having one center of supreme and adoring affection, and one object of supreme and spiritual worship, to angels and to men. His goodness suggested that that center and that object should be Himself, the perfection of infinite excellence, the fountain of infinite good. That, as from Him went forth all the streams of life to all creatures, it was but reasonable and just that to Him should return, and in Him should center, all the streams of love and obedience of all intelligent and immortal creatures: that, as He was the most intelligent, wise, glorious, and beneficent object in the universe, it was fit that the first, strongest, and purest love of the creature should soar towards and find its resting-place in Him.
Love to God, then, forms the grand requirement and fundamental precept of the divine law. It is binding upon all intelligent beings. From it no consideration can release the creature. No plea of inability, no claim of inferior objects, no opposition of rival interest, can lessen the obligation of every creature that has breath to “love the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind.” It grows out of the relation of the creature to God, as his Creator, moral Governor, and Preserver; and as being in Himself the only object of infinite excellence, wisdom, holiness, majesty, and grace.
This obligation, too, to love God with supreme affection is binding upon the creature, irrespective of any advantage which may result to him from so loving God. It is most true that God has benevolently connected supreme happiness with supreme love, and has threatened supreme misery where supreme affection is withheld; yet, independent of any blessing that may accrue to the creature from its love to God, the infinite excellence of the Divine nature and the eternal relation in which He stands to the intelligent universe, render it irreversibly obligatory on every creature to love Him with a supreme, paramount, holy, and unreserved affection.
And when He (the Comforter) has come, He will reprove (marg. convince) the world of sin.” John 16:8.
This is the great office of the Spirit- this is His first work, prior to His bringing the soul to rest on the great sacrifice for sin. Not a step will the soul take to Christ, until that soul has been brought in guilty and condemned by the law of God. And this is the work of the Spirit. “No man,” says the excellent Newton, “ever did or ever will feel himself to be a lost, miserable, and hateful sinner, unless he is powerfully and supernaturally convinced by the Spirit of God.” And what is the instrument by which the Spirit thus powerfully and supernaturally convinces of sin? We reply, the Law. “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.” The law, brought into the conscience by the Holy Spirit; condemns the man, and leads him to condemn himself; it holds up to view the holiness of God- the purity and inflexibility of every precept- contrasts it with the unrighteousness, guilt, and misery, of the sinner, and thus prostrates the soul in the dust, exclaiming in all the lowliness of self-accusation, “the law is holy, just, and good- I am guilty, guilty, guilty.” Through this instrument- the law of God- and thus effectually, does the Holy Spirit convince the soul of sin, and lay it low before God.
“For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh.” Romans 8:3
What is it that the law cannot do? The law has no power to place the sinner in a justified state. In other words, it cannot fulfill its own righteousness. “By Him all who believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight.” Nor has it power to give life. “For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.”
The law pronounces the unjustified sinner dead- his religion dead- his works dead- his faith dead; but with not one breath of spiritual life has it power to inspire the soul. Oh, the infatuation which prompts men to seek spiritual life from a law powerful only as an instrument of eternal death! Nor has the law power to make anything whatever perfect in the great matter of man’s salvation. “For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw near unto God.” These things the law fails to achieve. And herein is it weak. Holy in its nature, it is yet incapable of making the sinner holy. Righteous in its precepts, it yet cannot justify the ungodly. Respecting the Divine image, it yet has no power to transfer that image to the soul.
But let us trace this failure to its proper cause. From where, then, this weakness of the law of God? We reply, not from any inherent defect in the law. “The law is holy, just, and good,” and of itself powerful enough to take the soul to glory. But the apostle supplies the answer- “weak through the flesh.” It was right that he should thus shield the dignity of the law, and maintain that there belonged to it a native force and capacity worthy of Him from whom it emanated, and equal to the accomplishment of the great end for which it was enacted. The weakness of the law, then, is to be traced, not to any inefficiency of the instrument, but to the sinfulness of man; not to the agent, but to the subject.
What an impressive view does this give us of the deep depravity, the utter sinfulness of our nature! So great is the corruption of the flesh, that it opposes and thwarts the law in its great work of imprinting its image upon the mind of man. Oh, what must be the character and power of that sinfulness which can thus sever the locks of its strength, and divert it from its sacred purpose! Sincerely would the law make us holy, but our depravity foils it. Sincerely would it recall our alienated affections, but our heart is so utterly estranged from God that its generous effort fails. Thus the law is weak, through the corrupt and sinful flesh.
Let us be deeply humbled by this truth. How entirely it stains the pride of all our fleshly glory! Where, now, is our native holiness, our boasted pride, and our vaunted worthiness? The law, always on the side of purity and love, yearned to bring us beneath its holy and beneficent influence, but our carnality interposed, and it became weak.