FRAGMENTS ON THE DOCTRINE
A brief, contrasted view of the divine Law, and Gospel.
To form accurate views of the doctrine of justification, it is necessary to understand the distinction between the law and the gospel.
Whereas God had imposed various laws upon the Israelites, I must observe that the law, which I intend to contrast with the gospel, is the moral, called the decalogue, which the Lord had engraven on two tables of stone, and delivered unto Moses. It is called moral, because it is a perfect rule of moral rectitude. Hence, it is not possible to commit a sin; unless it be a deviation from this law: ‘for sin is the transgression of the law.’ 1 John 8, 4.
The sum and substance of this law, is love. ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ Matth. 22, 37-40. And St, Paul— ‘for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.’ Rom. 13, 8-10. This is evident, for he that loved his neighbour as himself, would not seduce his wife; nor kill; nor take from him his property by fraud, or violence; nor bear false witness against him; nor even covet any thing that is his: and if he loved God with all his heart, he would not cherish an idol; nor profane his sacred name. Hence all passages, whether they be in the Old or New Testament, which forbid any vice, or command any virtue ; or, threaten the former with punishment, and promise a reward to the latter, belong to the law ; either as a principal part, or an illustration thereof.
Although, the ceremonial law was abolished under the new dispensation ; yet, the moral law remains undiminished, with respect to all its moral precepts ; for nothing can possibly release any creature, from the obligation of love towards the creator, &e. Love being the fulfilment of this law, is and must be perpetual; for ‘charity never faileth.’ 1 Cor. 13. 8. Our blessed Saviour testifies, ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.’ Matth. 5, 17, 18. Those words sufficiently indicate the perpetuity of the law.
The law is spiritual, Rom. 7, 14 ; hence it does not simply require our external conduct to harmonize with it; but also, that the motives of the heart be unsullied. It is said. ‘That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.’ Matth. 5, 28. Which shews, that the law requires the heart to be in conformity with it; for if the sinful lust were not engendered in the heart, the action would never be committed. Hence, all inordinate desires are prohibited. If man’s heart, and conduct were perfectly conformable to the law, there would not be the least cause for condemnation ; he would have the divine approbation, and a conscience pure, and serene, and thus enjoy the felicity of heaven. Hence, the law has the promise of life annexed. This is evident, from Christ’s reply to the lawyer ‘A certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law ? how readest thou ? And he answering, said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind ; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him. Thou hast answered right: This do, and thou shalt live.’ Luke 10, 25 28. This text does not simply prove, that the doers of the law shall preserve their lives from the execution of the civil magistrate ; but that they shall inherit eternal life: for the question was not, what a man shall do to enjoy civil happiness ; but what he shall do to inherit eternal life. Christ certainly answered, agreeable to the question. St. Paul says, ‘Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth these things shall live by them.’ Rom. 10, 5—comp. Levit. 18, 5 Again—’And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.’ Gal. 3, 12—’And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.’ Run 7, 10. These texts undeniably prove, that the doers of the law shall inherit life.
God did not give his law in vain, for it must be fulfilled. Such as do not obey all its precepts, must fulfil it by suffering its penalty. Hence, it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’ Gal. 3, 10.
The gospel is also the word of God ; yet it is to be distinguished from the law. The word translated gospel, is εὐαγγέλιον, in the original. It is derived from εὐ, happily, and ἀγγελία, a proclaiming. Hence, it signifies good news, or happy tidings. Thus it is said, ‘How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.’ Rom 10, 15—comp. Isa. 52, 7—ch. 61.1. ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people For unto you is born this day, – in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.’ Luke 2, 10, 11.
The gospel as contrasted with the law, implies that joyful proclamation, which is founded on the divine promise of a Saviour. Thus it is said, the gospel was preached unto Abraham. ‘And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith. preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, in thee shall all nations be blessed.’ Gal. 3, 8 Christ according to his human nature, is Abraham’s seed; and from v. 14-16, it appears was the foundation of the gospel, whose day Abraham rejoiced to see, and saw it by faith, and was glad; John 8, 56; and in whom not only the Jews, but also, the Gentiles should be blessed. Thus the gospel was announced before Christ’s incarnation, and the blessings promised, were prefigurated by many types, under the Mosaic dispensation. But under the new, the types have vanished; because the substance appeared: for the Son of God is incarnate, he suffered, and died ; and revived; and was taken up into glory; and now the gospel brings to light, life and immortality. 2 Tim 1,10. To preach the gospel, is to declare pardon, life. and salvation through the merits of Christ, to guilty, and condemned men. Hence all passages, whether in the old, or new testament, which contain a promise of a Saviour, of pardon for sin ; and all concomitant blessings, belong to the gospel.
The sacraments of baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, are appendages of the gospel ; for where in the law, do we find their institution? They are administered by the ministry of the gospel. Hence are not moral duties ; but means of grace.
We do not find a vestige of the gospel, in the works of creation ; whereas the law of nature, does not essentially differ from the one that is written; hence the heathens who have not the scriptures; yet they have the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another. Rom. 2, 15. Had man not fallen, the revelation of nature would have been sufficient. Since the gospel proposes pardon for sin, and a restoration to happiness, guilty, and fallen creatures are presupposed. Now if the gospel, the same as the law, were stamped upon man’s heart, or revealed by the works of nature, it would at once shew, that God had created man sinful and wretched. But as this cannot be supposed, it is evident that neither man in his pristine state of rectitude, nor holy angels knew any thing of the gospel. It was a blessed mystery, enshrined in the bosom of Jehovah, before the foundation of the world ; and since the fall of man, it has been made known by a particular revelation. These are things, which angels desire to look into, 1 Pet. 1, 12. Eph, 3,9-11.
The law requires love; the gospel faith—’The just shall live by faith ; and the law is not of faith’—Gal. 8, 11, 12; hence love, and faith are as different as the law and gospel. They therefore, ought not to be confounded. The law, although it requires love ; yet gives the sinner no inclination to love ; the gospel does not simply require faith; but it also, represents the testimony and promise; and imparts the power to embrace the same : for its ministry is that of the spirit, and of life. By the law sin is revealed, and made exceedingly sinful, Rom. 7, 7, 13 ; the gospel shews, where sin abounds, grace much more abounds. Rom. 5, 20. The law reveals the wrath of God from heaven against all ungodliness of men, it is his hammer to break rocks into pieces, Jer. 28, 29 ; the gospel declares, that ‘God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.’ John 3, 17. The law is the key to bind the culprit; the gospel is the key to loose, and set him at liberty. Matth. 16, 19. The law engenders the spirit of bondage ; the gospel the spirit of adoption, Gal, 4, 21-31. The law roars in the conscience of the sinner, like the thunders on mount Sinai, that he through fear seems to hear nothing else ; the gospel represents the blood of Jesus, as speaking louder ; and brings the spirit of adoption into the heart, crying, Abba, Father, which cry is so emphatical, that it penetrates the heavens ; ‘and God hears it out of his temple.’ Ps. 18,6. The ministration of the law, is that of condemnation; for it is the letter that kills, 2 Cor. 3, 6, 7 ; it shews the sinner the silence and darkness of the grave ; the portals of hell ; and causes painful anticipations of the smoke of his future torments, ascending for ever, and ever : the ministration of the gospel, is that of life ; the power of God unto salvation, Rom. 1, 16; it represents Jesus as the bright, shining herald, risen from the dead ; and having the keys of hell and of death, Rev. 1, 18 ; and declares authoritatively, ‘I will ransom them from the power of the grave ; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction.’ Hos 13, 14. It unlocks the gates of paradise, and exalts the sinner out of hell, into heaven. The ministration of the law is glorious; for it reveals God’s justice; it also, had an external glory on mount Sinai ; for the mount smoked ; the thunders roared ; and the noise of the trumpet was heard ; so that the Israelites trembled, Exod. 19, 16—ch. 20. 18, 19 ; the gospel is more glorious, as it represents the filial God head manifested in the flesh, fulfilling divine justice, and expiring on mount Calvary, amidst a combination of wonders: such as the trembling of the earth, and the bursting of rocks, and the sun’s total eclipse. Not only, did the external glories on Calvary, exceed those on Sinai ; but there was also, a superior display of moral excellence in the sufferings of Jesus, who is not merely a man; but also, Jehovah, an infinite, eternal personage; hence his tears, groans, and prayers circumscribed time, and eternity; and the flowing of his blood, is superior to the legal demands; and causes all heaven to lavish with gifts to man: so that the scenes of the gospel, eclipse the glory of the law, like the brightness of the sun, the mild rays of the moon : or, as the apostle expresses it, ‘even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.’ 2 Cor. 3, 10.
It is a very important blessing to understand the distinction between the law, and the gospel. Without observing it in the perusal of the sacred scriptures, they will appear like a chaos shrouded in darkness. By this blessed clue, they appear full of harmony, and acquire a high degree of elucidation. Not observing it, is the reason, why so many people read, without acquiring knowledge ; and why many preach, without rendering their hearers happy ; as it is necessary rightly to divide the word of truth. 2 Tim. 2, 15. Without observing this distinction, the infidel Jews, and many called Christians, read the scriptures ; yet their minds remain blinded, not knowing that the penal demands of the law received their consummation in Christ ; for they look not beyond it ; and as the apostle says, ‘when they read Moses the vail is upon their heart.’ 2 Cor 3, 13-15. We frequently hear people exclaim, it is almost impossible to be saved ; as no man can live agreeable to all the precepts that are contained in the scriptures. Such mingle the law, with the gospel, and consider them both as the same ; otherwise they would not draw such a groundless conclusion. It is evident, that no sinner can keep the law; hence let him look for its fulfilment in Christ, who is the foundation of the gospel.
The gospel being joyful news ; or, a happy proclamation from heaven of peace on earth, and good-will towards man, Luke 2, 14; hence whatever doctrine may be announced, which is not joyful, nor calculated to console the terrified, cannot be the gospel. It must either be the law ; or, an amalgam of the law and gospel ; or, a doctrine invented by some wild enthusiast.
To preach that Christ has only redeemed the smaller number of mankind, that the majority are predestinated to perish in their sins, without the offer of sufficient grace to prevent it, cannot be the gospel : because it is not a joyful, but the most terrifick annunciation. Upon hearing it, sinners must rationally conclude, that if the majority be reprobated, there is a greater probability of being units of this unhappy number, than of the partially favoured few ; as it is absurd, for every one to hope, when but a few are destined for endless felicity. The intention of the gospel-ministry, is to cause sinners to believe in Christ, and by believing to be saved. Whenever a person is exhorted to believe, he must first have a promise stipulated; as it is nonsense, otherwise to require faith. Now how would it be possible for any sinner to believe, that he is one of the redeemed, if the minister could not testify, that it is the will of God that all should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth? 1 Tim. 2. 4. The scriptures do not contain a catalogue of the names of the elect; hence, how is it possible for any man to find in them a promise of salvation for his person, provided the doctrine of a partial redemption be correct? It is vain to say, that we shall be able to ascertain, that we are of the elect, whenever we have experienced the work of regeneration in our hearts, by the effectual operations of the spirit: for if so, the sinner would be saved before he believed; and the experience of this salvation would become an evidence for him to believe. The scriptures declare, that a man is justified by faith, Rom. 3,28; and that without faith it is impossible to please God, Heb. 11, 6. Now if I must have experienced the work of regeneration, in order to have an internal testimony; so that I may believe, then I must be justified, whilst an unbeliever, and as such please God, which is unscriptural. It would also follow, that the preaching of the gospel is not an effectual means to kindle faith in sinners; that an extraordinary influence of the spirit must be added, of which the word of God is destitute. This is nothing short of fanaticism. How can he be said to preach the gospel, or joyful news to sinners, when he is not able to inform them, whether they are of the number of the redeemed; and even declares, that they never can find it out, until the spirit reveals more to them, than they can ascertain by hearing the mere outward preaching of the gospel? But the gospel is to be preached unto every creature; hence it must contain a promise to all; for Christ gave himself a ransom for all, 1 Tim. 2, 6. Every sinner therefore, when he hears the gospel, may rationally conclude, that if all be redeemed, he must be one of them; for without him, all would not be all. Thus he may by hearing the gospel be enabled to believe.