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Thus you see the dispensation of the law at Sinai had the appearance of a broken covenant of works, and in this view was subservient to the gospel. But this was not all ; 'for, 2. If we consider that covenant as the constitution of the Jewish church and state, and the model by which they were to govern themselves in the land of Canaan, it was properly a covenant of works As a visible national church and civil society, God would reward or punish them in temporal things, according to and for their works. While they continued obedient to the external forms and institutions of this law, they were to hold their possessions in the land of Canaan ; and, when they publicly violated this covenant, they were cast out of their possessions, and brought into slavery. These temporal possessions they held upon the footing of a covenant of works ; though such of them as were good men, were saved by a quite different constitution, even in the way of grace, and faith in Christ, as we are now, as I may have occasion to observe hereafter.
This remark will explain such places in the law and in the prophets, where we meet with such declarations as this, If a man observe my statules, he shall live in them ; of which you have more instances than one in the xvijith chapter of Ezekiel. They are said to be “just," &c. as members of the Jewish church and state, because they had observed the externals of that law, which was the constitution of their republic, and which in that view only required an external obedience, which it was in their power to yield ; and therefore they were entitled to life and its blessings, in the land of Canaan, according to that constitution. Indeed God seems to have governed not only the Jews, but all the kingdoms of the earth, considering them as civil societies, very much in this manner, upon the footing of a covenant of works. Spiritual and immortal blessings are bestowed upon individuals in every age in a way of grace, without regard to their personal works ; and the holiness necessary to the enjoyment of them, is not merely outward, but in the whole soul ; and it is God only that can work in them. But nations, as such, are under a kind of covenant of works, the condition of which is an external observance of the laws of God, which is in their power, without any special, assistance from him ; and as they perform or break this condition, temporal rewards and punishments are distributed to them by divine Providence. This thought brings me in mind of thee, () Virginia ! O my country! for if God deal with thee upon this
plan, how dreadful must be thy doom !-But to return. This suggests to us another reason why the apostle so often speaks of the Mosaic law as a covenant of works ; namely, because, considering it as the constitution of the Jewish republic in temporal respects, it was really such ; but it was never intended that the Jews should seek or obtain spiritual or immortal blessings by it under this notion. I have been so much longer than I expected on this proposition, that I must be the shorter on those that follow. The next proposition is,
IV. That the law of God requires perfect, perpetual, and personal obedience. This holds true with regard to every law of God, whatever it be. If it requires purely moral duties, it requires that they be performed exactly according to its prescriptions. If it requires evangelical duties, as repentance or sincerity, it requires perfect repentance, perfect sincerity. If it requires the observance of any ceremonial or sacramental institutions, as sacrifice, circumcision, baptism, or the Lord's supper, it requires a perfect observance of them. Men have got the notion into their heads of a divine law that does not require perfect obedience, or that makes allowance for imperfection. But this is bad sense, as well as bad divinity. It is the greatest absurdity imaginable ; for to say that a law does not require perfect obedience, is the same thing as to say that it does not require what it does require : to do all that the law requires is perfect obedience ; and since it requires us to do all that it does require, it certainly does require perfect obedience; and if it does not require perfect obedience, it does not require all that it does require : which is a direct contradiction. In short, it is plain to common sense, that there never was, nor never can be, any law, moral or positive, divine or human, that does not require perfect, absolute obedience. Farther, Is not every sin forbidden ? is not every duty enjoined ? Undoubtedly it is : You are not at liberty to commit one sin, or to omit one duty, not even the least. Indeed the very notion of sin and duty, supposes a law forbidding the one, and enjoining the other; and they are just commensurate with the prohibitions and injunctions of the law.-This is also the voice of scripture. That perfect obedience is required, appears from the dreadful curse de. nounced upon every transgressor for the least offence : Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them. Gal. iii. 10. Not some subjects, but every one, of every rank and character, must not only resolve or endeavour, but must do, not some things, or many things, but all things, written in the law; not for a time, or for the most part, but he must always continue to do them. And if he fail in one thing, in one moment of his existence, the penalty of the law is in full force against him, and he falls under the curse. His obedience must be universal, perpetual and uninterrupted. There is the same reason for his obeying all in all things, and at all times, as for his obeying in any thing, or at any time. And all this obedience the law requires of him in his own person : the law allows of no imputation of the righteousness of another; no obedience by proxy or substitute ; it is the covenant of grace alone that allows of this, and the law must be so far dispensed with in order to make room for such a constitution.
This, my brethren, is the nature of the law, of every law that God ever made, under every dispensation of religion, before the fall, and after the fall, before the law of Moses, under it, and under the gospel. In all ages, in all circumstances, and from all persons it requires perfect, perpetual, and personal obedience : to the performance of this, it promises eternal life : but the sinner, by every the least failure, falls under its dreadful curse, and is cut off from all the promised blessings. And hence it most evidently follows
V. That it is absolutely impossible for any of the fallen sons of men to be justified and saved by the constitution of the law. Take what dispensation of the law you please, the law of innocence, the law of Moses, or the moral part of the gospel, it is impossible for one of the fallen posterity of Adam to be saved by it in any of these views ; and the reason is plain, there is not one of them but what has broken it: there is not one of them that has yielded perfect obedience to it; and, therefore, there is not one of them bụt what is condemned by it, to suffer its dreadful penalty. This is so extremely plain from what has been said, that I need not insist upon the proof of it. I shall only subjoin the repeated declaration of the apostle, that by the deeds of the law, no flesh can be justified. Rom. iii. 20. Gal. ii. 16. And that as many as are of the works of the law, are under the
Gal. iii. 10. Come, ye that desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law ? Gal. iv. 2. Hark! how the thunders of Sinai roar against you as guilty sinners. Can you pretend that you have always perfectly obeyed the law? that you have never committed one sin, or neglected one duty ? Alas! you must
hang down the head, and cry, guilty, guilty ; for in many things you have all offended. Then, be it known unto you, there is no hife by the law for you. . Set about obedience with ever so much earnestness ; repent, till you shed rivers of tears ; fast,. till you have reduced yourselves to skeletons ; alas! all this will not do, if you expect life by your own obedience to the law; for all this is not that perfect obedience which it absolutely requires of all the sons of men ; and whatever is short of this is nothing, and leaves you under its curse. You may make excuses to men, and to your own consciences, but the law will admit of none. Perfect obedience! perfect obedience ! is its eternal cry ; and till you can produce that it condemns you to everlasting misery; and all your cries, and tears, and reformation, are to no purpose. Thus you are held in close custody by the law ;- you are shut up under condemnation by it. And is there no way of escape ? No ; there is no possible way of escape-but one; and that shall be the matter of the next proposition,
VI. That God has made another constitution, namely, the gospel or the covenant of grace, by which even guilty sinners, condemned by the law, may be justified and saved by faith, through the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
According to this constitution there is encouragement for sinners to repent, and use the means of grace ;- and all who are saved by it, are not only obliged to yield obedience to the law, but also enabled to do so with sincerity, though not to perfection. They are effectually taught by it to deny ungodliness and woridly lusts, and to live righteously, soberly and godly in the world ; and in short, boliness of heart and life is as effectually secured in this way as in any other. But then, here lies the difference'; that all our obedience to the law, all our endeavours, all our repentance, prayers, and reformation ; in short, all our goodi works, all our virtues and graces are not at all the ground' of our justification ; they do not, in whole or in part, more or less, constitute our juge tifying righteousness ; so that in justification we are considered as guilty, law-condemned sinners, entirely destitute of all personal righteousness; and we are pardoned and accepted, only and entirely upon account of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, imputed to us, and accepted of God for us, as though it were our own. I say, the righteousness of Jesus Christ, or his yielding the most perfect obedience to the precept of the law, and suffering its dreadful penalty for us, or in our stead, is the only ground of eur justification. This is a righteousness as perfect as the law of God requires. And consequently the law is not repealed when we are justified in this way; it is still in full force ; and all its demands are answered by this righteousness, which is equal to the severest requisitions of the covenant of works ; only it is dispensed with in one particular ; namely, that whereas the law properly requires personal obedience from every man for himself, now it accepts of the obedience of Christ as a surety in our stead, and is satisfied by his righteousness imputed to us, as though it were originally our own. But how do we obtain an interest in this righteousness? I answer, it is only obtained by a vigorous pursuit, and in the earnest use of the means of grace ; but then all these endeavours of ours do not in the least entitle us to it, or it is not at all bestowed upon us on account of these endeavours ; but the grand pre-requisite, and that which has a peculiar concurrence in obtaining it, is an humble faith ; that is, when a sinner, deeply sensible of his guilt, of bis condemnation by the law, and of his own utter inability to do any thing at all for his own justification; I say, when such an humble sinner, despairing of relief from himself, renounces all his own righteousness, and trusts only and entirely in the free grace of God in Jesus Christ, when he places all his dependance upon his righteousness only, and most earnestly desires that God would deal with him entirely upon that footing, then he believes ; and then, and thus, this righteousness is made over to him, and accepted for him, and God no more views him as a law condemned sinner, but as one that has a righteousness equal to all the demands of the law, and therefore he deals with him accordingly : he pronounces him just, and gives him a title to life and every blessing, as though he deserved it upon his own account, or had a claim to it upon the footing of his own obedience to the covenant of works.
My brethren, I am bold to pronounce this the gospel-method of salvation; and, whatever scepticism and uncertainty I feel about many other things, I have not the least scruple to venture my soul, with all its guilt, and with all its immortal interest, upon this plan. If I have thoroughly searched the scriptures for myself in any one point, it is in this. And could I but lay before you all the evidence which has occurred to me in the search, I cannot but persuade myself it would be fully satisfactory to you all ; but at present I can only point out to you a few passages. Acts xiii. 39. By Jesus Christ, says St. Paul, all that believe are justified. VOL. II.