The impossibility of a sinner being justified by the deeds of the law, argued from his depraved nature. Also from a few other testimonies. Sundry objections answered.
By the deeds of the law such are meant, which are performed agreeable to it. They are also-called good works. There are some who believe, that although a sinner may not merit any thing by the deeds of the law; yet that such are conditions by which the grace of justification is granted. Hence it is frequently affirmed, that sinners ought to endeavour to keep the law; and though not any thing should thereby be merited; yet that such is the condition of our justification. But that such is erroneous, will appear when we view the depravity of man’s nature.
Man was created in God’s own image. Gen. 1, 27 An image must in some respect resemble its original. Of this image, God himself is the original. But this image in man, was not substantial like the original; otherwise it could never have been effaced. Christ only, is this substantial image — ‘he is the image of the invisible God’; Col. 1, 15 — ‘the brightness of the father’s glory, and the express image of his person.’ Heb. 1. 3. Nevertheless, man mast have resembled God in some of his moral perfections. ‘God is light,’ 1 John 1, 5; hence his understanding is pure, and unclouded. Man’s understanding, though limited; yet it had no erroneous views, and possessed such knowledge which was an element of felicity. This may be concluded from Col. 3, 10: — ‘And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.’ To be renewed in knowledge after the image of God, implies a former image endued with knowledge: for what did not once exist before, cannot be renewed. Again — ‘And be renewed in the Spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,’ Eph. 4, 23, 24. To be renewed in the Spirit of the mind, presupposes such once to have been in man; and the new man created in righteousness, and holiness is nothing else than a restoration of a former image. From this it may be concluded, that the image of the first man, resembled God’s moral perfections; hence an intellectual ornament. But as the soul was united to the body, it also possessed a proportionate beauty, and was in a state of immortality.
But when man transgressed, he was bereft of this image; hence it was impossible for him to communicate it to his posterity. This loss, is the cause of the depravity of all men. Thus the want of knowledge, is the cause of ignorance; of righteousness, unrighteousness; and of holiness, pollution. The scriptures. represent man after the fall, as ‘dead in trespasses and sins;’ Eph. 2, 1 — as ‘having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness 0f their heart.’ ch 4, 18. The prophet also says ‘Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart.’ Jer. 4, 4. As this text represents the heart as having a foreskin, it is evident that the same covers the intellectual powers of the mind with darkness. Thus we did not get to be sinners by our own practices, but by the disobedience of one man the divine image was lost; hence we are sinners by inheritance. Rom. 5, 12.
This inherited depravity does not simply consist in bodily infirmities, or such properties which are essential to constitute man’s limited nature: as if that was the cause of his lusts, and inordinate desires; but in an intellectual ignorance with respect to spiritual things, and an enmity against God; and it is the source from whence flow all actual transgressions. Perhaps, because this sin is called the flesh, and its works the works of the flesh, some may conclude that it is merely a physical defect; which therefore, cannot be so criminal as to deserve eternal condemnation. Though it be true that the word flesh in sundry sacred texts denotes the human body; yet is it also evident, especially where it is opposed to the Spirit, that it signifies the depraved heart. We read of the ‘carnal mind that is enmity against God, and not subject to his law;’ Rom. 8, 7 — and of ‘the fleshly mind.’ Col. 2, 18. To this flesh, there appears to be a mind ascribed. The works of the flesh are ‘adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.’ Gal, 5, 19-21. Now sundry of these works of the flesh: such as idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, &c. do not originate in the body, but in the soul; hence it is evident that the flesh denotes the depraved heart.
Our Saviour said unto Nicodemus ‘that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’ John 3, 6. In the 3d v. he insists upon the necessity of regeneration. Because man is born of the flesh, he is flesh; hence he must be born again of the Spirit, before he can enter into the kingdom of God. Now the soul is the particular object of renovation: for the body as such cannot perceive the operations of the Spirit; hence as the soul is the particular object of renovation, it is evident that Christ means it, in so far as it is depraved, when he speaks of the flesh. Children do not only derive their bodies, but also their souls from their parents; because that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and the flesh, as is already shewn, is the depraved soul; consequently this corruption is propagated by natural generation. ‘Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me;’ Ps, 51, 5 — ‘and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others’ Eph. 2, 3.
The word nature is sometimes used to denote the essence, or substance; and also sometimes the disposition of, or the condition in which a thing may be. In so far as man’s nature denotes a substance consisting of a body, and soul, it cannot be original sin itself, nor any part thereof. God may be called a substance, and so may all his creatures; yet it cannot be supposed that sin is a substance. What may it otherwise be called, but a transgression of the law; or an opposition to the divine order; or a contingency arising from the illegal conduct of creatures? God is good, and holy; hence it would be a blasphemy to suppose that he was the creator of sin. Nevertheless, he is man’s creator, and preserver, since as well as before the fall. See Job 10, 8-11. Ps. 189 14, 15. Acts 17, 28. Now if man’s nature itself was sin, God would be its creator. But as this is out of the question, sin cannot be nature itself. The Son of God, by the supernatural energy of the Holy Ghost, assumed human nature. Heb. 2, 14-16. But he even according to this nature, was in all respects holy, and immaculate. Hence if he could assume the nature of man without being sinful, it is evident, that sin cannot be nature itself. Again—’The blood of Jesus Christ’ his (God’s) Son cleanseth us from all sin.’ 1 John 1, 7. If we were sin itself, it would be the same as if the apostle had said the blood of Christ cleansed sin from all sin, which would be extremely absurd.
Although sin be not a substance, but a contingency; yet it has so depraved human nature, that the understanding is darkened, as not to be able to discern spiritual things; the will is licentious, and filled with animosity against the law of God. Wherein this baneful contingency in all respects consists, I do not venture fully to describe; it is incomprehensible to man’s reason, and we can only acquire some knowledge of its turpitude by the divine revelation.
The actions of men, if it were possible to view them without a motive, would be neither virtuous, nor vicious. To render them so, requires a choice, and a choice presupposes reason. If not, vice, or virtue might be ascribed to an irrational animal. Thus we might say the friendly spaniel, in shewing his fidelity, was virtuous; whereas the surly mastiff, in assailing his master’s friend was vicious. But who would conclude that the pleasant, or unpleasant actions of an animal were either virtuous, or vicious. The same actions of men, may either be virtuous, or vicious according to the motive. As for instance: the act of killing a man, may either be vicious, or virtuous. He that kills an other through enmity is a murderer; whereas if the civil officer execute him agreeable to the judicial sentence, does not only no wrong, but fulfils an important duty. Although the principal design of a civil government in punishing, is to preserve external order, and to protect the citizens against the injuries of base libertines; yet it does hot merely aim to punish an injurious action, but the motive from whence it proceeded. Thus if a man killed another through an accident, the action indeed, would be injurious; yet would he not be adjudged as a murderer, because there was no vicious motive. Now if even in a temporal judgment, a particular attention is paid to the motive, how much, more when God judges, who is omniscient, and is acquainted with every secret?
Since the actions of men, only are good, or evil according to the motive, it is wrong, always to conclude, that when a man performs such works as would be laudable, if they proceeded from a right motive, that therefore he is doing good works. Hence we are not to conclude in every instance, that when men utter nicely polished words and phrases, which they call praying; give alms to the poor; and perform other acts which appear laudable, that therefore they are works, which are good, or well-pleasing to God. They are so far from being good, that they become sinful in consequence of the base motive, from whence they proceed. What are the prayers of an unbeliever? They are a profanation of God’s name: because he is wicked, so must be his motive; hence his prayers cannot be otherwise. The apostle concludes, that ‘what, soever is not of faith is sin.’ Rom. 14, 23. This conclusion is rational, because as man in his fallen state is bereft of God’s image, his motives must be wicked; hence all his actions proceeding from the same are equally wicked; as it is out of the question to suppose a good effect to be produced by an evil cause. Whilst a man is destitute of faith, he is unrenewed; hence can have nothing but wicked motives for all his actions. Not only such works which are directly forbidden by the law, but also all such as would otherwise be commendable are sinful, when performed by an unbeliever. When I say the unregenerated man can do no good works, I do not mean that he cannot do all the acts which a saint can do; as for instance: if he be a man of education, he may form a prayer; and if he be wealthy, he can give of his substance to the poor; and if he possess the love of fame, he may apparently live a moral life; but I mean, when he does all this, it is nothing but sin; because he as an unbeliever can have no right motives. Thus it was, that the offering of Cain was rejected. Gen. 4 5. It cannot be supposed that his offering, when externally considered should not have been of as good a quality as Abel’s. Neither was that the reason why it was rejected; but because he was wicked. See v. 7. When the Pharisees prayed, fasted, and gave alms; yet were they pronounced by Christ workers of iniquity. The manifest reason is, because their motives were corrupted. He justly said ‘a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.’ Matth. 7, 18 As the tree is, so must be its fruits; because the fruits partake of the nature of the tree; hence if a man be wicked, how can his works be otherwise, though they should appear ever so laudable? A man endued with natural reason, acts from certain motives; hence as they may be, so must also be his actions. Now as man is a sinner by nature, it is out of the question that he, before he is regenerated, could have any motives, but such as were sinful; hence no other actions.
As it has been shewn that men are sinners by nature, it is impossible for them to keep the law, how then can they thereby be saved, even as a condition? He that would be saved by good works, must also not merely endeavour, but also perform such legally perfect. But this no man can do. As even such works: as praying, giving alms, &c. when performed by an unbeliever are sinful, how can we conclude that any one should thereby be justified? It is impossible unless we could conclude, that a man might be justified by sinning! What an absurdity this would be!
All men are not only sinners by nature, but they are equally depraved: ‘for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.’ Rom. 3, 22, 23. Where there is no difference, one sinner is not preferable to another. However it might be objected, that some men commit more, and greater crimes than others, that therefore, they must be more deeply depraved. But to this I answer, that a vicious man, for various reasons may be prevented from committing immoral actions; as for instance: the want of opportunities, of ingenuity; the love of popularity; the dread of punishments. Some are prevented by a superintending, gracious providence. The serpent that does not wound us, we trust as little, as one of the same kind that does; because it possesses the same venomous nature. Does it make the man preferable to an other, because he is prevented by some means from committing the same crime? Does it constitute a better nature? By no means.
The apostle does not simply declare that all men are sinners without any difference; but also that they came short of the glory of God. What glory is it, of which we came short? It is the glory, which the Lord would have given us: provided we had been righteous and holy; hence not that glory which we could give him. This is evident, because that glory is hereby indicated, which is not to be found in us. The glory which God receives from us, may always be found, whether we be innocent, or guilty: for he is glorified, either in our salvation, or condemnation. That glory is indicated which is opposed to the unmerited grace of God, which may be seen from the context. But there is nothing opposed to this unmerited grace; except a perfect righteousness and holiness, with which God would be pleased, for the sake of which he would give us a glory. The expression ‘glory of God,’ is peculiar to the apostle’s phraseology: for in like manner he speaks of the righteousness of God, ch 3, 22; which does not denote that divine attribute; but such a righteousness, which he grants unto us. The glory is the testimony, which he would give the man that had his image. Comp. 1 Cor. 11, 7. Thus if all men be sinners alike, and if they came short of the glory of God; it is impossible that they should be justified by works of righteousness.
We are justified without the deeds of the law, that all boasting may be excluded. ‘Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay; but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.’ Rom. 3, 27, 28. As the law of works does not exclude boasting, nothing remains but that of faith. The law of faith, does not signify a new law given by Christ under the gospel dispensation, similar to the decalogue, but not quite so rigorous. For such a law, like the one to which it would be similar, would also be a law of works; hence would not exclude boasting. The phrase law of faith, is a Hebrewism. A doctrine was called a law by the Hebrews. As for instance: ‘out of Zion shall go forth the law, an I the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.’ lsa. 2, 3. It is known that the moral law proceeded from mount Sinai. Mount Zion is opposed to Sinai, the same as the law is to the gospel. See Heb, 12, 18-24. comp. Gal. 4, 22-26. Thus. it may properly be concluded that the law which goes forth out of Zion, is the doctrine of the gospel. Neither can it properly be supposed, that when he excludes works, that his alusion is to those of the ceremonial law. All boasting is excluded. But there would be a greater reason for boasting, in consequence of performing the deeds of the moral, than of the ceremonial law, because it is superior. The deeds of that law are excluded by which ‘every mouth may be stopped, and all the world made guilty before God.’ v. 19. By the ceremonial law every mouth may not be stopped, nor all the world made guilty before God; as it was not imposed upon all nations, but only upon the Israelites. It is therefore evident, that all the deeds of the moral law are excluded. See Rom. 11,6. Tit 3.5.
If it were possible for any man to be justified by the deeds of the law, beyond all dispute St. Paul, whilst a Pharisee would have been justified. Whilst he was an enemy to the Christian Religion, his zeal for maintaining the righteousness of the law, was unrivalled. This he himself testifies — Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the flock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee: concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.’ Phil. 3, 4-6. Notwithstanding, by all this he could not he justified; and after he got acquainted with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, he loathed this legal righteousness, and viewed it like a filthy garment. He says ‘But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.’ v. 7-9.
St. Paul also bore the testimony of the Jews, ‘that they had a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge — that they were going about to establish their own righteousness.’ Rom. 10, 2, 3, But what did it avail that they did their utmost to keep the law ? — for they were not justified. Hence if the popular doctrine was true, that it is sufficient if men did as well as they knew, and use their sincere endeavours; there is not a doubt, but what the Jews would have been saved. But as they failed, it must be concluded that this opinion is erroneous. Not all who sincerely endeavour, shall therefore be saved. Our blessed Saviour said ‘strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.’ Luke 13, 24. All the laborious seeking in the improper depository, will not discover the desired object. Many men have sought a long time, and toiled very hard, to enter into the kingdom of God; and yet, they failed in their design. The reason is, because they attempted to enter in by the deeds of the law. But such as counted all their deeds as sinful, dispaired of their own righteousness, and embraced Christ as their righteousness, were immediately clothed with the garment of salvation. No man ever failed, who persevered in faith. Now every man may judge, whether he seeks salvation by the law, or in Christ. If he seek it in Christ, he needs not to be at it many years: for Christ is not only very ready to be found; but, he himself diligently seeks the sinner.
That a sinner is justified without the deeds of the law, is a doctrine that is clearly revealed in the scriptures; nevertheless, there are sundry objections alleged against it. Some of those objections, I shall here state, together with my answers :—
Objection 1. If sinners are to be saved without the deeds of the law, or good works, then it is in vain to exhort them to attend to the preaching of the gospel, and the use of the sacraments; baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.
Answer. This objection principally arises from not understanding the difference between the law, and the gospel. There are many who suppose that hearing the gospel preached, and using the sacraments, is performing legal duties. Whilst men view those blessed institutions in this legal manner, they must either conclude that in the use of them, they are saved by good works; or that they are not essential to salvation; and that when a sinner is saved, it is by an absolute, unconditional decree.
The moral law existed before those institutions, I mean the preaching of the gospel, and the administration of the sacraments. The law was perfect from the beginning; hence admits of no additional commandments. The sacraments are appendages of the gospel. In using them, it cannot be said that we either serve God, or our neighbour; but God serves us; because they are administered by a ministry, by which the Lord grants the Spirit, and life. 2 Cor. 3, 6. The law is not of faith, but by hearing the gospel preached we get faith; and without faith, the sacraments are not profitable. Now that which requires faith, is not the law, but the gospel. Even by hearing the law preached, we do not keep it, but only get convinced of our depravity. Hearing the gospel, and using the sacraments, requires no ability to do good works. There is a difference between doing good works, and believing. A sinner before he is renewed, can do no good works; yet he may believe. And though he cannot believe without the agency of the Holy Spirit; yet who would deny, but what he could hear the gospel, and pay so much attention to it, as to compare its truths as far as his rational faculties extend? Though his reason be darkened by the fall, so as not to be able to discern spiritual things; yet when he attends to the gospel, which is administered in a human language, which is adapted to his capacity; by this means the Spirit will effect faith in him. If men in this age, did not like the blinded Jews, confound the law with the gospel, they would not conclude that hearing the gospel preached, and using the sacraments, was performing legal duties.
Objection 2. If sinners were not able to keep the law, why did God impose it upon them? There would be no justice in giving a law, which they could not keep.
Answer. Had God created man wicked, and then given him a holy law, which he could not keep, it indeed might be considered as unjust. But God created man in his own image; and had man persevered in his loyalty, his posterity would have retained the ability of yielding an uninterrupted obedience. That man lost this blessed image, by which he rendered all his posterity delinquents, is no reason that they should be absolved from legal obligations. Does a just debt, therefore become unjust, because the debtor by some mismanagement, has rendered himself unable to make payment?
Let no one suppose, that because we nowhere read that the moral law was given to Adam in a formal manner, the same as it was to Moses on mount Sinai; that therefore, he was not under its obligations. Or, that when he did eat of the fruit of the forbidden tree, that he did not also thereby transgress the moral law. The moral law is founded upon the immutable principles of justice, and holiness, from which no rational creature can be exempted. All the various parts of the law concentrate in LOVE. Had Adam complied with that particular command which God gave him, it would have been a manifestation of his love, and fidelity. But what did he, by eating of the forbidden tree otherwise, than act contrary to the principles of Love?
The apostle says ‘For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.’ Rom. 5, 13 — ‘But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.’ ch. 7, 13 — ‘For by the law is the knowledge of sin.’ ch 3, 20. These texts shew that sin was in the world, before the law; or before it was given in a formal manner to Moses; and yet that by this law sin is revealed, and condemned. If the sin, that was in the world prior to Moses, was not a transgression of the moral law, how could it reveal, and condemn it? When a law is opposed to a particular sin, it is evident that the same sin, must also be opposed to the law. Now as the moral law reveals, and condemns the sin, that was in the world prior to Moses, which is the original transgression of Adam, it is evident the same is a transgression of the moral law. In Adam all men transgressed this law. In him they once had the ability of keeping it. That they by the fall lost this ability, is no reason that they should be absolved from their obligation to it.
Objection 3. St. Paul says ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.’ Phil 2, 12. And St. Peter ‘If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?’ 1st Epist. ch 4, 18. Now if we must workout our own salvation with fear, and trembling, does it not follow that we must do all the good we can, if we would be saved? And if a righteous man scarcely shall be saved, it requires all our diligence in doing good to render ourselve acceptable.
Answer. The Philippians whom the apostle exhorted to work out their own salvation, were already regenerated. In the clause before of this same verse, the apostle bears them the testimony, that they always were obedient, not only in his presence, but much more in his absence. And in v. 15, he calls them shining lights in the world. Hence they that are obedient, and shine as lights in the world, must certainly be God’s children; and as such they are already in a state of salvation; therefore they have no need to do good works, to render themselves acceptable to God. But if the reason be asked, why should they work? the answer follows from the succeeding verses ;— ‘For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputings: that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, &c’ v. 13-16. One thing is to work, in order to be justified before God: but another is to work, in order to appear, and be blameless, and harmless, without rebuke in the midst of a crooked, and perverse nation. Not the former, but the latter, is the reason, why the apostle exhorted the Philippians to work out their own salvation.
Notwithstanding, a Christian may be fully persuaded that he is one of the favourites of the Almighty Father; but as he lives in a wicked world, and is surrounded by false prophets, who come to him in sheep’s clothing; and who perhaps guide many of his family connexion, he must always fear, and watch, lest he be drawn aside, and participate in their false doctrines, which they exhibit under the disguise of truth. Thus on the day of Pentecost, St Peter exhorted the converts: ‘Save yourselves from this untoward generation.’ Acts 2, 40. There is no doubt, but what those Jewish converts were connected with the Scribes and Pharisees, the foes of the truth under the disguise of virtue; hence it was necessary that they should separate themselves from their pernicious errors; or to cease all ecclesiastical connexion. Sec 2 Cor. 6, 14-18.
The context will shew, why the apostle Peter said ‘if the righteous scarcely be saved &c.’ ‘For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful creator.’ v 17-19. This plainly shews, that the apostle spake of a persecution that was coming on the church. In the time of a persecution, the professors of Christianity are severely tried: and as those that are genuine hold out with difficulty, the conclusion must be, the ungodly will be unmasked, and join the company of infidels
Objection 4. Our Saviour says ‘Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.’ Luke 13, 24. Matth. 7, 13, 14. Now if one is to strive, if the gate be strait, the way narrow; and if but few will find it, does it not become necessary to do good works? to use all diligence?
Answer. These texts are so far from proving, that any person is to be justified by good works, that they prove the contrary. Many of the Jews strove very hard by their works to enter into the kingdom; and yet they failed in their attempt. They indeed strove to enter in, but not at the gate and the way. If the law was the gate to heaven, then it would be necessary, to strive in this manner. But the law is not the gate which opens into paradise. It is the key to bind the culprit over to damnation. Jesus Christ is the gate that opens into heaven, and the way that leads thither. He says ‘I am the door; by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.’ John 10, 9. A door is the same as a gate. And ch. 14, 6, he calls Himself the way. Christ is not apprehended by the deeds of the law, but by faith; hence to strive to enter in at the gate, which is Christ himself, can imply nothing else than to believe. All such as strive to enter in by the deeds of the law, do not enter by the door: for that is Christ, but they seek to climb up some other way; hence they are thieves, and robbers. They by their supposed good works arrogate the honour of justification unto themselves, and rob Jesus of his mediatorial diadems.
Whereas it might be asked, why Christ exhorted his hearers to strive? and why but few enter in at the strait gate? I would observe that the believing in Christ is not difficult in itself. But the reason seems to be stated in the next verse — ‘Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing; but inwardly they are raving wolves’ (Matth. 7, 15.) Such therefore, who do not valiantly hold fast to the truth, will easily be led captive by false prophets. Christ is so clearly revealed in the scriptures, that if sinners were not interrupted by false teachers, they would get to believe without much difficulty. In our Saviour’s days of humiliation, there were many false teachers: such as the Scribes, and Pharisees. They were the teachers, and leaders of the people, who held them in great veneration. They were the most inveterate enemies to Christ, and his doctrines. Now because they rejected Christ, many of the people merely depending upon their judgment, without examining the truth, would not receive Jesus as the promised messiah. Such in all probability said within themselves; if Jesus of Nazareth was the Saviour of the world, certainly such pious, well meaning, and learned men as the Scribes, and Pharisees would believe in him. Whilst others to avoid their indignation rejected Christ. See Matth. 23, 13. John 12, 42. ch. 7, 48.
Objection 5. If sinners be taught that they are to be saved without good works, they will the more be indulged in their wicked practices. In short it is a doctrine which will lead to licentiousness.
Answer. Such as allege this objection, are the true successors of the ancient calumniators of St. Paul. Sec Rom. 3, 8.
A work cannot be considered either as good, or laudable, unless it proceeds from a proper and free choice. If good works were a condition of eternal life, then the sinner would know if he did not perform them, he would be eternally damned. The dread of eternal damnation would compel him to do works, in which he would not otherwise delight. Now if this dread compels him to do those works, they cannot proceed from a free choice; hence they cannot be good works. Such as allege the above objection, might as well at once say, if it was not for the dread of eternal punishments, they would do no good works — if not, why do they conclude, that the doctrine of justification without works, would lead others to licentiousness? In this they show themselves like incarnate devils. For devils would do more harm if they were not restrained.
It has already been shewn, that when the sinner is justified, God renews his heart; so that it becomes a pleasure to him to do good works. They flow from a voluntary principle. When he is justified, he realizes the previous superabundant love of God. Love begets love. ‘We love him, because he first loved us.’ 1 John 4, 19. Where there is love, no compulsion is necessary to produce good works.
It is necessary to obtain accurate views of our original depravity. Without such, we cannot understand the doctrine of justification.
Indeed the most who profess Christianity, acknowledge that our nature got corrupted through the fall of Adam; so that we now have many evil desires, and physical infirmities. Or rather, we only share some of the consequences of his transgression. But many will by no means admit, that Adam’s sin was brought upon us; so as to render us criminal, and worthy of eternal damnation. This I conceive to be a radical error. They attempt to maintain it by what the prophet says: ‘the son shall not bear the iniquity of his father.’ Ezek. 18, 20. From which they conclude, we are not to bear the transgression of Adam.
To this I answer, when the prophet says that the son shall not bear the iniquity of his father, he has no allusion to the sin committed by Adam. A man’s father is not the first cause, why he is a sinner. Our fathers as well as we, inherited sin from Adam. Not by the disobedience of our fathers, but only by that of one man sin entered into the world. The succession of so many generations from Adam to us, is only the channel in which this original depravity has reached us. There is a difference between asserting, that the sins of a man’s father should not be visited on him; and that by the disobedience of one man, sin came upon all men. The prophet asserted the former, but not the latter.
If only by the fall of Adam, sundry sinful desires have been implanted in us, and some physical infirmities resulted, but not that we are such partakers of his sin, as to render us criminal, and worthy of condemnation, then there is no propriety in saying that we inherit Adam’s sin: for it would be only some of its consequences. To inherit a sin, and not to be criminal it contradicts itself. A sin necessarily involves the idea of being criminal. To say a man may be possessed of a sin, and yet not be criminal, is a glaring absurdity.
The apostle says ‘Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.’ Rom. 5, 12. This text does not say, that the effects of sin entered into the world by one man, but Sin. And further, that death entered by sin. He positively declares, that because all have sinned, death passed upon all. Now if by one man sin entered into the world, if death by it came upon all men; and if it can be said that all men have sinned; it is evident that all men may, and are justly viewed, not only as partakers of the consequences, but of the original transgression itself.
In various ways the will and conduct of one person, may be imputed to another. As for instance: if the superintendence of a man’s affairs be committed to an agent; the agent’s choice, and conduct must be considered as his own, whether it be proper, or improper. Or, a child may be represented by a guardian: his will, and management must be considered the same as if it were that of the child.
In either of these cases, if the choice, and management should be improper, it would be just that the persons, who are represented should be considered as if they had committed the error; and in consequence thereof share the ill effects. The reason is obvious: because the same would apply, if the choice, and management had been proper.
All men descend from one man: Adam, Acts 17, 26; and even the first woman was bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh. Gen. 2, 23. As he is the progenitor of all men, the prerogatives, commands, and institutions given to him by his creator did not merely concern himself, but also all his posterity. ‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” Gen. 1, 27-29. Adam and Eve, in their own persons could not have exercised this dominion: for it was not possible for them to have subdued the fish of the sea, the fowl of the air, and to have ruled over every beast of the earth, as this requires a numerous society. Thus it is evident, when God granted his image, and the prerogative of being a ruler over this lower creation unto Adam, that the same in his person, was granted to his posterity.
The first institution of marriage concerns Adam’s posterity. ‘Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.’ Gen, 2, 24. In the beginning Adam, and Eve were no parents; they only got to be such after they had children. But by these words Moses indicates, that among Adam’s posterity marriage should be the same; so that every man should consider his wife as his own flesh. This interpretation is established by St. Paul — ‘He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nurisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.’ Eph. 5, 28-31.
Since it is evident that God acted with Adam in behalf of his posterity, it is very congenial to the analogy of things, to conclude that the prohibition of the tree, called the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Gen. 2, 17 ; also concerned his posterity. God crowned man as the monarch of the earth. His dominion as it respects this globe, was almost unlimited. Had God not excepted one tree, over which man should have no dominion, he might have been led to forget that God was his Sovereign. Since man received so great a dominion, it was necessary that this one tree should be excepted, to keep him in mind that he was not the proprietor of the world, but only God’s vicegerent. As the same dominion was granted to his posterity, it also became necessary that they should live under the same prohibition: that is, they should not eat of this one tree: because the conferring of the same privilege, necessarily includes all things that are excepted in the original grant, also to be excepted, when conferred to another one.
Now if God gave these prerogatives, commands, and institutions to Adam as a guardian, his conduct in regard to the same, is with propriety imputed to his posterity. Although it be proper to impute the conduct of an agent, or a guardian to the persons whom they represent; yet as all men sustained nearer relation to Adam, his conduct is imputed to them with more propriety. In Adam, before and after the fall, all men according to their nature were concealed, which by natural generation manifested itself in many persons. By generation human nature is brought into personalities. It is like a lump of clay formed into many vessels. Though every man constitutes a separate person; yet none has any other nature than that of Adam. Whereas all men were concealed in Adam, there can be but one nature; hence when he fell, it was not simply his person that fell, but human nature. All men must therefore, be as closely connected with the fall, as they are with nature itself; or more properly, as they are with themselves. Thus if Adam’s fall was criminal, and deserved everlasting punishments with respect to himself, the very same applies to his posterity.
That Adam managed in such a manner as to render us guilty, and to cause us to share the baneful consequences, is by no means an unjust permission: because if he had managed well, we should have been righteous, and enjoyed the concomitant blessings
That this original sin is not merely a physical defect, or an imperfection as a consequence; but also criminal, is evident: because we by reason thereof, are obnoxious to eternal damnation. The apostle says ‘Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.’ Rom. 5, 18. Here we see, how that by the offence of one judgment unto condemnation came upon all men, is contrasted with the justification of life, which is by Jesus Christ. As the justification of life is an eternal blessing, even so the condemnation which came by the offence of one, i.e. Adam must also be eternal. From hence it may be concluded, that because we are under condemnation in consequence of this original sin, that there must be a sufficient ground for imputing the same to us as criminal. Hence let no one conclude that we have only inherited the effects of this sin, but also the sin itself.
Such as deny original sin in us to be criminal, and worthy of a legal malediction, necessarily view infants as innocent. But if they be innocent, how comes it that all as soon as they can exercise their reason, choose, and do that which is evil? It is in vain to say that they learn it from the bad examples of others. For if this should be the case, why do they all without any exception sin? — why are there none so wise, as to avoid those pernicious examples? The various nations of the world are vastly different in their customs, and languages. The most polished nation, could never as yet, by their example influence the whole world to adopt their customs, and language. But is it not strange, that all nations are prone to evil, that there is such a striking similarity between their vices; so that they in this respect answer to each other, like the accurate portrait to its original? What example had Cain to imitate, when he murdered his brother Abel? He was the first, who committed murder. Or what examples of imitation had the first thief, adulterer, or any other immoral character. It was impossible for the first to have learned those wicked deeds from examples. It can therefore, not be otherwise than that every child possesses a wicked heart, which manifests itself by evil deeds, (if not prevented by grace) as the body grows, and as the faculties of the mind get expanded.
Such as deny that infants are guilty, and under the curse, must if they argue consistently, also deny that they are redeemed by Christ; or that they ever can be saved. What an absurdity it would be to suppose that Christ suffered, and died, to redeem innocent creatures! None but the guilty, and lost can be redeemed. But who can believe that Christ did not also, come to save all infants? If he did, it is evident that they must be guilty: for only such can be saved.
There are many men, who would rather be saved in any other way, than by faith without the deeds of the law. Though they confess that they are to be saved by faith in Christ; yet how they labour to join with it their supposed well meaning legal deeds! Could they be justified by any laudable work, how freely they would undertake it; though it should be ever so arduous! Under the pretext of love for holiness, they allege many objections against the doctrine of justification without good works. Sometimes they misrepresent certain texts, which speak of the fruits of justification; and at other times they contend that it leads to licentiousness, but the true cause why they hate it, is their diabolical pride, and their enmity against the crucified Jesus. If they could be saved by doing some good work, they could take it for granted that they were not so far depraved, as to deserve eternal damnation; they would only view themselves as somewhat naturally deficient in consequence of the fall; so that by the help of God with their own sincerity, they might achieve their salvation. Whereas such an one when he is told that all his deeds avail nothing; he knows if he should believe it, that he must rank himself with the vilest of culprits, against which his proud heart revolts. Now whilst a man imagines that his works are good; so that they contribute something towards his salvation, he is upheld in his pride, and is well contented to do all works, which have a good external appearance. Hence as the doctrine of justification without works, strikes at the root of his pride; contradicts his own righteousness; condemns all his works, even such as by the world are esteemed good, and laudable; and ranks him with malefactors; and gives all glory to Jesus the crucified Lord: he hates it; employs all his ingenuity to render it infamous; and though he knows of no founded reason for persecuting the ministers who preach it; yet he does it with delight.