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SERMON XV.

WRITTEN IN THE YEAR 1800.

Romans iii. 27. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay; but by the law of faith.

THE Apostle Paul does in this epistle particularly state and explain the way in which sinners may obtain the favour of God, and eternal salvation, which is opened by the gospel. There are but two possible ways of obtaining the favour of God and eternal life, which he mentions, viz. by the works of the law, or obedience to the law of God, and by faith in Jesus Christ. The former way he says is impossible to sinners, and if it were possible, it would be highly improper, and attended with evil consequences. Having proved that all men are sinners and guilty before God, he says, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge 247 of sin. Because the law worketh wrath; and the salvation of sinners is not of works, lest any man should boast.” The latter therefore he establishes as the only proper, wise and possible way in which sinners may be justified and saved, and says, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law: and it is of faith, that it might be by grace, by which boasting is wholly excluded.”

In attending to these words of the text, it will be attempted to explain them by showing what is meant by the law of works, and what by the law of faith, and why boasting is excluded, not by the former, but by the latter; and then improve the subject in some useful remarks and inferences from it.

By the law of works is meant the original law or constitution, which requires perfect, persevering obedience, in order to have and continue to enjoy the favour and blessing of God, and which pronounces him accursed who is guilty of disobedience in one and the least possible instance. This law every rational creature is under obligation to obey. The holy angels were made under this law, and, by a sinless, perfect obedience to it, during the whole time of their probation, they have obtained and enjoy the divine approbation, and the reward of eternal life. This is the constitution under which Adam and all his posterity were made; this is the law of works. Had the father of the human race continued perfectly to obey this law to the end of his time of trial, he would by these his works have obtained eternal life for himself and his children too; but, by transgressing this law of works, he fell under the curse of it, and laid the foundation of the ruin of all his children, by their falling into the same state, as their sinning was, by divine constitution, connected with his transgression.

And many of the sinful children of Adam have and do, through their pride and ignorance of themselves, and of the nature, extent and design of the divine law, seek and attempt to become righteous, and obtain pardon and salvation by the works of the law— their own 248obedience. Most of the Jews did so in the days of the Apostles. They. sought righteousness as it were by the works of the law, and went about to establish their own righteousness; and in this way they failed of obtaining righteousness, and remained as much under the curse of this law of works as if they had attempted no obedience to it: for all who in this way are of the works of the law, are under the curse of it; for it is written, Cursed is every one who continueth not in all the things which are written in the book of the law to do them. This way to life is forever shut against all the sons of Adam; for they have all transgressed it, and by this have rendered it forever impossible to obtain the righteousness of it by their own works and obedience. It is natural, however, for fallen man. Gentiles as well as Jews, to seek a righteousness by their obedience to this law, and to gratify their pride and disposition to trust and boast in themselves and their own righteousness; and numbers beyond our calculation in the Christian world have taken and are still taking this sure road to destruction, rather than to give up and renounce that boasting, which must be effectually destroyed in order to embrace the gospel.

By the law of faith, is meant the gospel institution and dispensation, in which provision is made for the pardon, justification and salvation of sinners who are under the condemnation and curse of the law; not by any works of righteousness which they have done or can do, to take off the curse of the law, or to recommend themselves to this favour and blessing, but purely on the account of the atonement, righteousness and worthiness of Christ, in which they become interested so as to avail, on their behalf, to deliver from all the evil they deserve, and procure all the good they want, by faith in him, or believing on his name.

It being of great importance that all should have right and clear conceptions of this subject, it is proper and useful to give a more particular description of these two laws, the law of works and the law of faith. This may 249 be done to the best advantage, perhaps, by considering wherein they agree with each other, and in what respects there is a difference and opposition of one to the other; and how not the former, but the latter, excludes boasting.

First. It is to be considered and shewn wherein there is an agreement between these two laws, and what is as true of one as of the other, and is common to them both.

I. Holiness or obedience is necessarily implied and exercised in compliance with each and either of these laws, and in order to be interested in the promises and blessings which they contain.

The law of works requires perfect and persevering holiness and obedience, in order to enjoy the blessings of it. The least sin cuts a person off from all the promised good of this law, and subjects him to the curse of it, without any possible remedy by that law, as has been before observed.

And a compliance with the law of faith, or the covenant of grace, which is the same, implies holy exercise or true obedience; and this is absolutely necessary in order to be interested in the promises and blessings of this law and covenant.

That faith from which this law or covenant has its denomination, and in the exercise of which this law is complied with and fulfilled, and to which all the promises it contains are made, implies holiness of heart, and is itself a holy exercise. This being an important point, and denied by many, so much evidence of it from scripture and reason will here be produced, as it is hoped will be sufficient to establish the truth of it to the conviction of every unprejudiced mind.

That faith which discerns and believes the truth of the gospel from a view of the moral excellence and wisdom of it, and sees the character of Christ to be divinely excellent and beautiful, is not a mere speculative faith, confined to the understanding, exclusive of taste and exercise of heart, and cordial approbation. Moral 250excellence and beauty is not, and cannot be, the object of mere intellect, as distinguished from taste and discerning of heart; therefore a real sight of moral excellence and beauty, or loveliness, necessarily implies love of that excellence and beauty, and these cannot be distinguished or separated one from the other; for they are really one. and the same thing. Hence it is demonstrably certain, that the faith which discerns the gospel to be true and excellent, or that internal evidence which renders it most worthy of belief, implies a discerning, taste and relish of divine excellence and beauty, which is a virtuous disposition and exercise of heart; and is real holiness of heart, if there be in nature any such thing.

But that saving faith implies and essentially consists in a holy exercise of heart, in embracing the gospel as excellent and holy, and worthy of all acceptation, a cordial approbation of Christ and his character, and trusting in him, is abundantly evident from the scripture, as well as from the reason and nature of the case.

The following passages, among many others which might be mentioned, afford an undeniable proof of this.

Believing on Christ and receiving him is mentioned as one and the same. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” Coming to Christ and believing on him is mentioned as the same things “Jesus stood and cried, saying. If any man thirst, let him come unto, me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow living waters.” Receiving Christ and coming to him are holy exercises of heart; for the character of Christ is so perfectly holy, that it is impossible that an unholy heart should be pleased with it; and none can cordially come to him and receive him but in the exercise of holy love to him. Christ said to the Jews, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent;” and proceeds to speak of coming to him, and eating his flesh and drinking his blood, as being the same with believing on him: [John vi. 29-58.] He 251said to the Jews, “I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you;” and then proceeds to tell them that this was the only reason why they believed not on him, and did not receive him: “How can ye believe who receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” In these words it is asserted that none can believe on him unless his heart be friendly to God and to him; and that it is impossible that any one should believe on Christ who is an impenitent enemy of God; which could not be true, if faith did not imply holy exercises of heart: [John v. 40, 44.] That faith in, Christ implies holiness of heart, and is a holy exercise, is asserted by Christ in his discourse with Nicodemus; [John iii. 18-21:] “He that believeth on the Son is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men have loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil; for every one that doth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doth truth cometh to the light.” If every one that doth evil, hateth the light, and will not come to it, and loves darkness rather than light, is condemned, and he that believeth on Christ is not condemned; then believing is coming to the light, and loving it, or receiving the truth in the love of it, and doing the truth, or conforming to and practising it, in which holiness consists. Surely nothing can be plainer and more strongly asserted than this is in these words.

Believing on Christ is commanded as a duty, and therefore must be an exercise of the heart, and an holy exercise; for nothing can be the subject of command but the heart or will, and nothing was ever commanded by God but holiness, and nothing else can be duty. Christ preached, saying, “Repent and believe the gospel.” He said to his disciples, “Ye believe in God, believe also in me.” He said to the Jews, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. The apostle 252John says, “This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” Therefore believing on Christ is called “the obedience of faith,” and obeying Christ is the same with believing on him. “And being made perfect he became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him.” The apostle Paul observes, that the just lives by his faith; and says, “I live by the faith of the Son of God.” If faith was that by which he lived, it was his spiritual, Christian life, which certainly is Christian holiness. He therefore says, “Faith worketh by love.” Love is the sum of true holiness, but this is the efficacious, operative nature and life of faith, so that the faith is wholly dead and inactive, the life and active nature of which is not love.

The apostle Paul says, “Abraham was strong in faith, giving glory to God.” If faith be not friendly to God, to the divine character, it does not, it cannot, give any glory to God, however strong it may be; but friendship to God is true love to God, and is a holy exercise of heart. Accordingly the apostle James, speaking of Abraham believing God, says, “By this he obtained the character of the friend of God.” If there were no love or holiness in saving faith, then an impenitent enemy of God might have as much of it, and be as strong in faith, as Abraham or any other man, and that too without any true discerning or sight of the true character of Christ, and spiritual things. “For every one that doth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light;” which is true of every impenitent, unregenerate person. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Therefore, whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, or has saving faith, is born of God; has a new and holy heart given him of God; for with such a heart the spiritual man discerneth spiritual things, and believeth unto righteousness.

Much more evidence might be produced from scripture to prove that saving faith is real gospel holiness; 253but as what has already been said on this point does make it sufficiently clear, it is needless to add any more proof that, according to the law of faith, holiness is as necessary in order to an interest in the promises and blessings of it, as it is according to the law of works; which is the proportion proposed to be proved.

2. The holiness which is necessary in a compliance with the law of works and the law of faith, consists in conformity to the same law or rule of duty. It is therefore the same kind of holiness, as there is but one law and rule of holiness. All holiness consists in love to God and our neighbours, which, though expressed in different words, and exercised in a different manner and circumstances, and to answer different purposes, yet it is essentially one and the same thing, and is conformity and obedience to the same law.

Secondly. It is to be considered wherein these two laws differ, and are opposed to each other.

This may be stated and explained in the following particulars.

1. According to the law of works, the perfectly holy and obedient offer to God their holiness and works of obedience as the price of the favour and acceptance of God, and the reason of their having his approbation and rewards, and God accepts and rewards them out of respect to their obedience and good works, as a testimony of his love of holiness, and pleasure in their obedience to him. Thus the holy angels were justified by their works. Their perfect holiness and obedience was the price of the favour they obtained of God. They trusted in their own righteousness to recommend them to God’s acceptance, and the benefits of justification and eternal life; and, in bestowing these upon them, God testified his approbation of their character and works.

The law of faith is directly the reverse of this. It opens a way for the pardon, justification and eternal life of sinners, who have fallen under the curse of the law, and are forever cut off from a possibility of being justified by the law of works. According to the law of faith, sinners 254 are pardoned and justified by the atonement, righteousness and merit of Jesus Christ, and the holiness which they exercise is so far from recommending them to the least favour On account of their moral worth and excellence, that it wholly consists in what is implied in receiving these blessings and all they want as free gift to the infinitely guilty and ill-deserving, without money or price, from the hands of an infinitely gracious and bountiful benefactor.

By faith the sinner comes to Christ for all he wants, sensible that by sin he has undone himself, and may justly be cast off by God into eternal destruction; he confesses his sins and ill desert, and heartily approves of the law of God, which condemns and curses him, as just, good and excellent, worthy to be maintained and honoured. He highly approves of the character of Christ, in seeking and promoting the honour of God, by vindicating and honouring the law which sinners had transgressed and trampled under foot, by suffering the curse of it himself, in dying on the cross, and obeying it perfectly. He is pleased with the way of salvation by Christ, in which the sinner is humbled and saved by free grace, and not by works of righteousness which he has done or can do; and he is greatly pleased with the deliverance from all sin, and that perfect holiness which Christ will bestow on all who believe in him; and he is satisfied with that heaven and happiness, that glorious immortality, which Christ has brought to light, and will cause all believers fully and eternally to possess, as his purchase and free gift to them, though in themselves infinitely unworthy and ill-deserving. Thus the believer comes to Christ as the apostle Paul did, desiring not to be found in his own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.

This is the great, capital and most striking difference and opposition between the law of works and the law of faith, which, it is presumed, will be clearly understood by every judicious, attentive person, and appear to be of great importance to be made and always kept in mind.

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It may be useful, however, to some, farther to explain and illustrate this interesting and important point by the parable of the elder son and the prodigal. The latter having rendered himself guilty, odious and wretched, by leaving his father’s house, and foolish conduct, when his eyes were opened, and he saw how guilty, wretched and undone he was, and that all he wanted for his relief was to be had in his father’s house, he determined to go and cast himself upon the goodness and mercy of his father, confessing his folly and sin in abusing his father and leaving his house, and his utter unworthiness of the least favour. In this, and in receiving all he wanted from the free, undeserved kindness of his parent, was exercised and expressed as real love to him and his family, as his elder brother had done, if he were as good and obedient as he represented himself to be. The latter recommended himself to his father’s approbation and favour by his constant obedience and good deeds: the prodigal was covered with shameful guilt, unworthiness and ill desert, and humbly and gladly receives all that is bestowed upon him as a free gift to an unworthy creature, who might justly have been left to perish without the least relief, having nothing to recommend him to favour, but every thing to the contrary. The one brings and offers his works of obedience as the reason why he should be favoured and rewarded, or as the price by which he had purchased the blessings he desired and expected; the other has nothing but shame, guilt and wretchedness, and seeks and accepts of his father’s kindness in receiving him to his favour, and all the privileges, enjoyments and honours of his family, as a free gift to a most ill-deserving son, who could make no compensation for the injury he had done. But in his friendly thought he had of his father, in his returning hence to him, confessing his sin and unworthiness of any favour, and cordial acceptance of offered mercy, and gladly coming into his father’s house and family, he exercised as real love and friendship to his parent and his family, and to the laws, business and enjoyments of his house, 256 as did the elder son: and yet their love and friendship was exercised and expressed in very different and opposite ways, according to their different and opposite state and circumstances.

But the difference and opposition between these two laws of works and faith in other respects, which are implied in or do arise from that already mentioned, though not so great and important, yet must be noticed, as necessary in order fully to understand the subject to which we are attending.

2. None can be justified and obtain eternal life by the law of works, unless he is perfectly obedient and holy, without the least sin or defect.

But by the law of faith the least degree of holiness exercised by a sinner, in believing in Christ, and coming to him, and trusting in him for pardon and salvation, obtains justification and the promise of eternal life, while he is yet attended with a great degree of unholiness and sin. The reason of this difference is, because by the law of works a creature is justified by his own works or holiness, which therefore must be perfect; for by the least sin he falls under the curse of the law, and can never after obtain any blessing by it: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all the things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” But by the law of faith the sinner is not justified by his own works or holiness, but wholly by the merit and righteousness of Christ. The least exercise of holiness by which a sinner accepts of Christ offering himself to him, and comes to him for pardon, righteousness and complete redemption, interests him in all the blessings Christ has obtained for sinners, and in all the promises of the covenant of grace. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life. Verily, verily I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him who sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death to life.”

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This leads to observe another difference between these two laws.

3. By the law of works a creature cannot be justified until he has persevered in perfect obedience to the end of the time of his probation: but by the law of faith the sinner is justified, and interested in all the promises of the gospel, and made an heir of eternal life, upon the first act of faith in Christ. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; he shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death to life.” Saving faith is indeed a persevering faith, so that he who once believes will continue to believe to the end of life. His faith shall never fail; not because it is in its own nature a. persevering faith, or from the power and sufficiency of the believer, but because God has promised, in the covenant of grace, that he who once believes, to whom lie has given faith to lay hold of and embrace this covenant by believing on Christ, shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation. The first act of faith being in this sense and manner a persevering faith, the promise is made to believing, even the very first act of it, and it is proper that this should bring into a state of justification, and give a title to eternal life, as the first act: of faith is the beginning of an everlasting union to Christ, in whom the believer has everlasting righteousness and strength.

4. Though the holiness of the law of works and the law of faith be the same in nature and kind, consisting in obedience to the same, and conformable to the revealed will of God; yet, owing to the state and circumstances of the sinner, and the different way and manner of obtaining justification by the exercise of holiness, which has been described, there is a real and great, though circumstantial, difference in the exercise of the same holiness. The sinner, infinitely guilty, ill-deserving and wretched, exercises his love to God and his law, and to Christ the mediator, in coming to and trusting in Christ, and receiving from him deliverance from the infinite evil he deserves, and from all sin, and accepting of all 258 the good he wants and is capable of enjoying to all eternity, as a free, undeserved gift. He has a greater sense of the infinite goodness and free grace of God, and feels more dependent on this, and more indebted to God, and under greater obligations to him, than the holy angels who have never sinned can; and consequently the redeemed exercise a greater degree of humility, and a more ardent and sweet love of gratitude, and render a higher tribute of praise to God, their Redeemer and Saviour, than they are capable of who have never sinned. Therefore the redeemed from among men are represented as singing a new song before the throne of God, which none but they could learn.

Thirdly. It is to be considered how and why all boasting is excluded by the law of faith, as it has been explained.

It is not implied in this, that the law of works, when rightly understood and perfectly obeyed, affords any ground of boasting in a bad sense, or of sinful boasting, which is meant here. The holy angels, who are justified, and have obtained the reward of eternal life by the law of works, have no ground for boasting. They have no pride, and do not glory in themselves, in their own obedience and works, but in the Lord, in his munificence and glorious character. But this law of works is not suited to the sinner, to obtain justification and life by it; for he has fallen under the curse of it, and is forever excluded from the righteousness of it in his own person; and to suppose a sinner can be justified by any obedience or works he can perform, is to let him infinitely higher than the place and state he is in, and to dishonour and degrade the law; and for a sinner to attempt this, is a most daring instance of pride and self-confident boasting. And were it possible that a sinner could obtain the favour of God, and justification, by any obedience or holiness of his own, and out of respect: to the worth and amiableness of that, this would please and flatter his pride, and nothing could prevent his haughty boasting of himself and his own good works. 259And this suits the heart of proud man; he naturally seeks to be justified by his own works, if he seeks it at all, that he may have something to boast of, by recommending himself to the favour of God by his own good deeds, being ignorant of himself, of his own character, and of God and his law.

Thus the Jews rejected the law of faith, and followed after righteousness, and obtained it not, because they fought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. They, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, went about, or attempted, to establish their own righteousness. And many thousands and millions of Gentiles in the Christian world have stumbled at that Humbling Hone, the law of faith, which excludes boasting, and have fought and are now seeking to be saved by the law of works; how many millions none can tell! And perhaps there is not, nor ever has been, one of the sons or daughters of Adam who has enjoyed the light of divine revelation, and has in any measure or way sought to be saved, who has not in a greater or less degree made this wicked and dangerous attempt. Happy are they who have been cured of boasting by embracing the law of faith.

What has been said in describing the law of faith is sufficient to show that it excludes all boasting. The sinner in this way is received to favour, is justified and saved, not on account of any works he has done, or ever will do, and is not recommended to favour by any worthiness or holiness he has, but is considered as in himself, as poor and naked, wretched and miserable, infinitely guilty, and deserving to be cast into hell forever, and all the favour he receives is a free, undeserved gift and bounty, yea, bounty to the most ill-deserving. Where is boasting then? What has he to boast of but guilt, ill-desert, poverty and wretchedness?

And all this is not only true, and he is viewed in this light by God, agreeable to his holy law; but the sinner is made to feel and acknowledge this, and cannot believe on Christ and come to him by faith, unless he has a clear 260 conviction of his own vile, odious character, and feels that he has no worthiness to recommend him to the least favour, but is infinitely far from it; that he is so unworthy and infinitely guilty and ill-deserving, that he may be justly hated by God, and cast into endless destruction. Thus the sinner, in complying with the law of faith, even in the first and every act of faith in Christ, humbles himself in the sight of God, while he is made in a sense to annihilate himself before God, yea, to feel that he is infinitely worse than nothing. And all his holiness, and every right exercise of mind, consists in a hearty acknowledgement of this, and thus humbling himself, and approving of the character of Christ, and the way of justification and salvation by him, which is the law of faith, and in views and exercises which are implied in this. Thus all pride and disposition to boast is counteracted and destroyed, the sinner abases himself, and rejoices to exalt free, sovereign grace, when and so far as he believes in Christ, and is pleased with the law of faith: and the more holy and obedient he is, in conforming to this law, the more humble he is, and farther from all disposition to boast. Thus all boasting is entirely and forever excluded by the law of faith.

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