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a rule of life, derived from their Maker and interwoven in their frame; and that they were capable of obeying it, although in fact their obedience has been very rare, and always imperfect. This has arisen from the extreme difficulty of resisting
another law in their members warring against the law of their minds, and bringing them into captivity to the law of sin, which was in their members (a).” It will scarcely be denied that some acts of mercy, justice, and self-denial are recorded in profane history; and therefore upon these occasions, as far at least as external deeds are concerned, men were able to counteract the depravity introduced into their nature by the Fall of Adam (b). The proneness to sin in every individual of the human race, and the predominance of wickedness at every period and in every country of the heathen world, are most readily granted; and it is only contended, that the teniporary or occasional control of their sinful passions was never physically impossible. The understanding was greatly impaired by the Fall; but no one will maintain that it was utterly destroyed, or that what remains is incapable of improvement: and in like manner, the heart was
(a) Rom. c. 7. v. 23.
b) Nec est quisquain gentis ullius, qui ducem natue ram nactus, ad virtutem venire non possit. Çic. de Leg.
the lowest inhabitant of heaven. It has nevertheless been an invariable property of the humán species, from the first Creation to the present moment, that their propensities, affections, and faculties, have been capable, in different degrees under different circumstances, of control, cultivation, and enlargement. This capacity is manifested in the history of mankind, and is inseparable from a state of probation. We have seen it acknowledged in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and expressly declared by an inspired Apostle when speaking of the Gentiles prior to the coming of Christ; and I shall now proceed to shew, that abundant proof of some discrimination of moral character, and of some power of religious improvement, is found in the parts of the New Testament, which relate to those, who heard the preaching of our Saviour, and to whom the glad tidings of the Gospel were afterwards conveyed.
“ I am not come,” says Christ," to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance: (f);" we may therefore affirm, upon the authority of our Blessed Saviour himself, that there is at least a degree of righteousness in some men. I am aware that Commentators, who wish to reconcile this passage to the Calvinistic system, explain the
word (f) Matt. c. 9. v. 13.
word.“ Righteous” by “ those who consider themselves righteous :” but it is evident from the occasion on which this declaration was made, that the word will not admit of that interpretation; “ And it came to pass as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth
Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye, and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice; for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” “ By the righteous; (says Whitby, very justly,) we are not to understand those who are only righteous in their own conceits, such as the Pharisees were, who justified themselves before men (g), and trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others (h), in comparison of themselves; for such are not whole, but have great need of the spiritual physician; and such especially the Gospel calleth to repentance (i).Moreover, the word sinners here imports such
(8) Luke, c. 16. v. 15. (h) Luke, c. 18. v. 9. (i) Matt. c. 3. v. 8, 9, & 10. Rev. c. 3. v. 19.
persons as live in a customary practice of sin, so that the tenor of their lives is wicked, and who are therefore to be called to that repentance which consists in the change of their lives, from the service of sin to holiness, from slavery to Satan to the fear of God; and therefore, by the righteous who need no repentance, we are not to understand those who are entirely free from sin ; for so, there is not a just man' upon earth, nor any man who is not a sinner (k); but those who are truly and sincerely righteous, have truly reformed their lives, who carefully endeavour to abstain from all known sins, and set themselves sincerely to the performance of their whole duty both to God and man, and so are righteous and acceptable in the sight of God; in which sense Job was righteous and eschewed evil; Zacharias and Elizabeth were righteous, walking in all the commandments of the Lord (1); and Simeon (m); and so they needed not that repentance which consists in the change of the life from a course of sinning to a living unto God.”. By the word “ righteous” then, in this and several other passages of Scripture, we are to understand those who are comparatively righteous, which is fully
(k) Job, c. 9. v. 2. Eccl. c. 7. v. 20. i Kings, c. 8. v. 46. Jas. c. 3. v. 2. 1 John, c. 1. v. 8.
(1) Luke, c. I. v. 6. (m) Luke, c. 2. v. 25.