Charles Simeon Commentary - Galatians 3:19 - 3:19

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Galatians 3:19 - 3:19

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Gal_3:19. Wherefore the serveth the law?

PERHAPS, of all the subjects connected with religion, there is not one so rarely unfolded to Christian auditories as the law. We are ready to suppose, either that men are sufficiently acquainted with it; or that it is antiquated, and unnecessary to be known. But the law lies at the foundation of all true religion; and it ought to be studied, in the first place, as alone opening the way to the true knowledge of the Gospel. The mistakes which obtain in reference to it are very numerous. In truth, there are but few persons who have just views respecting it: and, on that account, I propose to call your attention to it throughout this series of discourses. I am aware, that persons deeply impressed with any particular subject are apt to magnify its importance beyond due bounds: and, being aware of this, I will endeavour to avoid that error on the present occasion. But I feel that it is scarcely possible to speak too strongly respecting the importance of the law. Those, indeed, who have never considered it, will possibly be somewhat staggered at the positions which I shall be necessitated to maintain in this my introductory discourse: and the rather, because the full proof of my assertions must, of necessity, be deferred to those discourses wherein the several parts will be more largely considered. But should this impression be unfortunately made on any of my hearers, I must request that their ultimate decision be suspended, till the subject has undergone the proposed investigation. As for those who are conversant with the subject, I have no fear but that they will go along with me in my statement, and concur with me in the sentiments which shall be submitted to them.

In the epistle before us, the Apostle Paul is maintaining a controversy with the Judaizing teachers; who wished to combine the Law with the Gospel, as a joint ground of hope before God. In order to rectify their views, he shews, that, if they would make their works, whether ceremonial or moral, in any degree the ground of their hopes, they must stand altogether on the footing of the law, which prescribed perfect obedience as the way to life; and must renounce all interest in the covenant which was made with their father Abraham, and which promised life to men by believing in the Promised Seed. Upon this, they naturally ask, “Wherefore, then, serveth the law?” that is, ‘If we are not to be saved by the law, for what end did Moses give us the law? What end can it answer?’

Now, to this inquiry I purpose to address myself. My first point will be, to shew the incalculable importance of the inquiry itself; and then, in my future discourses, to give what I conceive to be the true answer to it.

To mark the vast importance of the inquiry will sufficiently occupy us at this time. But, really, I scarcely know in what terms to state it, if indeed I would state it with becoming fidelity. I have already said, that the knowledge of the law is at the foundation of all true religion: and I hope to convince all who will candidly investigate the subject, that without a clear, distinct knowledge of the law we can have no just sentiments, no proper feelings, no scriptural hopes. And, whilst I attempt this arduous discussion, may Almighty God pour out upon us his Holy Spirit, to give to every one of us the seeing eye, the hearing ear, the understanding heart, and ultimately to guide our feet into the way of peace!

First, then, let me say, that without a distinct knowledge of the law we can have no just sentiments.Of course, I confine this, and all my observations, to religion; for of things that are merely civil or moral it is beside my purpose to speak at all. And I wish this to be borne in mind, throughout my whole discourse: for otherwise I shall appear to run into a very erroneous excess.

It must be remembered, that I speak only of the moral law; as I shall shew more fully in my next discourse. For with the ceremonial law there is no such connexion as I am about to trace, nor any necessary reference to it in my text.

I say, then, that without a distinct knowledge of the moral law we can have no just sentiments respecting God and his perfections, or Christ and his offices, or the Holy Spirit and his operations.

Let us proceed to illustrate this.

It will be readily acknowledged, that the holiness of the Deity is, and must be, marked in the law, which he has given for the government of his rational creation: and, if we suppose that law to be a perfect transcript of his mind and will; if we suppose it to extend to every action, word, and thought, and to require, that in the habit of our minds we shall retain all that purity in which we were originally created, and preserve to our latest hour God’s perfect image upon our souls; if it admit not of the slightest possible deviation or defect, no, not even through ignorance or inadvertence; if it promise nothing to us but after a spotless adherence to its utmost demands from first to last; it will, of course, be seen that he is indeed a holy Being, that cannot look upon iniquity without the utmost abhorrence. But, if we suppose his law to require any thing less than this, and to admit of any thing short of absolute perfection, we must, of necessity, conceive of him as less abhorrent of sin, in proportion to the degree in which he lowers his own demands, and in which he leaves us at liberty to depart from this high standard, the standard which he proposed to man in Paradise, and which he still ordains for the angels that are around his throne.

In like manner, if we suppose that the sanctions with which he enforces his law are strong and awful; if we suppose that they involve nothing less than the everlasting happiness or misery of every child of man; if we suppose that one single defect, of whatever kind, forfeits all title to happiness, and involves the soul in irremediable guilt and misery; if we suppose that these sanctions can never be set aside, never mitigated, never cease to operate through all eternity; we shall, of necessity, have a high idea of God’s justice, which will never relax the smallest atom of its demands, either in reference to the obedience of man, or the execution of the threatenings denounced against him. But, if we have an idea that God will overlook some slighter imperfections, or punish them only for a time, and that too in a way which may be found supportable by feeble man; we, of course, proportionally lower our ideas of divine justice, and accommodate our views of it to the standard of human imperfection.

Respecting his mercy, also, we may make the same observations. If we suppose the guilt that man has contracted to be beyond all measure and conception great, and the judgments to which he is exposed to be commensurate with his deviations from God’s perfect law; if we suppose his sins to be more in number than the sands upon the sea shore; and every one of those sins to be deserving of God’s eternal wrath and indignation; then we shall indeed stand amazed at the mercy of God, who, instead of executing his threatened vengeance, has provided a remedy for the whole world; a remedy suited to their wants, and sufficient for their necessities; a remedy, whereby he may restore them to his favour, not only without compromising the honour of his other perfections, but to the everlasting advancement of them all. Yes, truly, with such views of his law, we shall magnify his mercy, that can pardon so much guilt, and relieve from so much misery, and exalt to glory such unworthy creatures. But, if we suppose man’s offences to have been comparatively few, and his desert of vengeance to be comparatively light, who does not see that we reduce almost to nothing the mercy of our God, which has been so little needed, and which has effected for us so inconsiderable a deliverance? I think that there is nothing strained in this statement, nothing which must not approve itself to every candid mind: and I am the more concerned that this view should be clearly understood, because it will open the way for a just apprehension of what I have yet further to offer under this head.

I proceed then to observe, that, without a clear knowledge of the law we can have no just views of Christ and his offices. From whence arose a necessity for a Saviour? was it not because we were condemned by the law, and incapable either of atoning for our past sins, or of restoring ourselves to the Divine image? Now, suppose our guilt to have been exceeding great; and that every deviation from God’s perfect law brought upon us a curse, an everlasting curse, under the wrath of Almighty God: suppose, too, that the demands of law and justice could never be satisfied without the punishment of the offender, either in his own person, or in the person of an adequate surety; then, in exact proportion as you magnify our guilt and misery, you magnify the Saviour, who by the sacrifice of himself has restored us to the Divine favour: and in proportion as you diminish our necessities, you depreciate the value of his atonement. Again, conceive of the law as never satisfied without a perfect obedience to its commands, and as requiring every soul to possess, either in himself or in his surety, a righteousness commensurate with its highest demands; then will Christ be proportionably exalted, in that he has wrought out a righteousness for all who shall believe in him, and that, through his righteousness, a way of salvation is opened for every child of man. But reduce that righteousness to any lower standard—say, to sincere, but imperfect, obedience; your need of Christ for this end is proportionably reduced, and your obligation to him almost altogether cancelled.

But take a larger view of his offices: conceive of him as a Prophet, who is to instruct us; a Priest, that is to atone for us; a King, that is to rule over us: what comparative need is there of his instructions, if so defective a knowledge of his religion will suffice? What need of his sacrifice, if repentance and reformation can restore us to God’s favour? And what need of his government, if so little is to be effected in our behalf, either in a way of deliverance from sin, or in a way of effective renovation? The less that is required of man himself, the less must of necessity be required of his Surety: and, consequently, the whole work of Christ, whether for us or in us, must be reduced, in proportion as we reduce the demands of the law, and the necessities of man.

The same reasoning must be applied to the operations of the Holy Spirit: The less is required of us, the less there is for him to do within us. And hence it is, that many deny the necessity of his influences altogether, either for the illumination of our minds, or the sanctification of our souls. The truth is, that the whole denial of the doctrine of the Trinity, and of all the doctrines dependent on it—the doctrine of the atonement, of imputed righteousness, and of divine influences—must be traced to this source. Men feel not their need of a Divine Saviour: they feel not the need of an Almighty Agent, to work in them the whole work of God. Hence their principles of theology are brought down to the low standard of the Pelagian, Arian, and Socinian hypotheses. Let but a person obtain a thorough insight into the spirituality of the law, he will see that their meagre systems can never supply his wants, never afford a remedy suited to his necessities. If any one less than God himself undertake to effect his salvation, he sees that he must inevitably perish: and, if he had none but a creature to rely upon, glad would he be to be permitted to take his portion under rocks and mountains.

Having established, I trust, the truth of my first position, namely, that without a knowledge of the law we can have no just sentiments; I proceed to shew, in the second place,

That neither can we have any proper feelings. Of course, I must make the same limitation as before, and be understood as speaking only of feelings so far as religion is concerned.

Without the knowledge of the law there can be no true humility. This is a matter of vast importance.—What is humility? It is not a mere sense of our weakness as creatures, nor a general acknowledgment that we are sinners; but a deep and abiding consciousness of our guilty and undone state; a consciousness, that darkness itself is not more opposite to light, than we are to the pure and holy law of God. It is a sense of our utter alienation from God, yea, and of enmity against him; insomuch, that “every imagination of the thoughts of our heart is only evil continually:” it is such a sense of this as makes us really to “lothe and abhor ourselves, and to repent before God in dust and ashes.” This is that “broken and contrite heart which God will not despise.” But where do we find persons penetrated with this contrition, and smiting on their breasts, and crying for mercy as sinners deserving of God’s wrath and indignation? Or, if we saw one under such distressing apprehensions, who amongst us would not be ready to think that he carried matters to excess; and that, unless he had been guilty of some sins beyond what were commonly committed, he had no need for such excessive griefs and sorrows? It is well known that such penitents are few; and that such comforters, if indeed disgust did not preclude any attempt to administer comfort, would be found in every company we meet with. But to what is all this owing? It arises from men’s ignorance of the law: they try not either themselves or others by so high a standard: and, being insensible of their departures from it, they see no cause for such humiliation on account of those departures. In fact, the very idea of such humility enters not into the mind of the natural man: and, copious as were the languages of Greece and Rome, they had no word whereby to express it. With the word which they used to express their idea of humility, they associated rather the notion of meanness, than of an exalted virtue: and, though all of us profess to admire humility as a grace, there is not in the universe a man, in his natural state, that either possesses or approves of it, according to its real import.

The same may be said of gratitude.—What is gratitude, but a thankful sense of mercies received? A truly enlightened Christian will view himself as a poor bond-slave redeemed from sin and Satan, death and hell; redeemed, too, by the precious blood of our incarnate God. He will be altogether, in his own apprehension, “a brand plucked out of the burning:” an apostate fiend would not, in his estimation, be a greater monument of grace than he. Hence he blesses his redeeming God, and calls upon all that is within him to bless his holy name. But where do we find this transport? Where do we see persons oppressed under the weight of the obligations conferred upon them? Were we to behold a person so elevated with joy, or so depressed with a sense of his great unworthiness, the generality amongst us would call it extravagance, and perhaps ridicule it as the height of absurdity. To the generality, some faint acknowledgments are quite sufficient to express their sense of redeeming love. But how different is this from the feelings of those around the throne of God! They, angels as well as saints, are penetrated with the devoutest admiration of this stupendous mystery: the one, as viewing its transcendent excellency; the other, as themselves experiencing its richest benefits. They are all prostrating themselves before the throne of God. And wherefore is it that men are so cold and insensible? Is it not because they see not the depths from which they have been redeemed? Did they see in the glass of God’s law the depth of the misery from which they have been delivered, they would have far other thoughts of their Deliverer. But, having reduced to almost nothing their obligations to him, no wonder if their gratitude to him be proportionably weak and vapid.

Of holy zeal, also, I must say the same. Who feels it in any measure corresponding with what the Scriptures require at our hands? We are represented as being “bought with a price;” and therefore are called to “glorify God with our body and our spirit, which are God’s.” To a man sensible of his obligations, no service under heaven would appear too great. All that he can do for the Lord is nothing in his eyes: and all that he can suffer for the Lord is accounted light. His time, his talents, his property, his influence, his whole life, appear of no value, but as they may be made subservient to the advancement of the Divine glory. But how little of this is seen! and how little is it approved, when seen! What names are too harsh, whereby to stigmatize such a life as this? and how infinitely below this is the standard of those who value themselves upon their morality! To the same cause must this also be traced. In fact, humility, and gratitude, and zeal, must of necessity rise and fall together: and according as our views of the law are deep or superficial, will all of these evince themselves to accord or disagree with the standard proposed to us in the Gospel of Christ.

I come now, in the third place, to shew, that without the knowledge of the law we can have no scriptural hopes. The faith which alone justifies the soul, is that which brings us simply to the Lord Jesus Christ as our only hope and refuge. If we attempt, in any measure or degree, to blend with his merits any thing of our own, we make void all that he has done and suffered for us: “Christ himself is from that moment become of no effect unto us.” As far as respects us, “his death is in vain.” But who will exercise this faith? Who will condescend to accept salvation on such terms? Who will bear to renounce his good works in point of dependence on them, and to enter into heaven at the same gate with publicans and harlots? All this is too humiliating for our proud hearts: we will not endure it: we will have something of our own, whereof to boast. If we make not our own works the sole ground of our justification, we will rely on them in part: or, if we be brought to rely solely on the merits of Christ, and to seek salvation by faith alone, we will make our own goodness a warrant for believing in him. We cannot, we will not, suffer ourselves to be stript of all self-preference: we will not glory solely in the cross of Christ. And wherefore is all this reluctance to comply with the terms of the Gospel? It proceeds from our ignorance of the law. We see not, that our very best deeds stand in need of mercy, as much as our vilest sins. We see not, that the smallest defect entails a curse upon us, as truly as our most enormous transgression. When these things are clearly seen, all the difficulty vanishes; and we are contented to be saved altogether by grace. But, till we have obtained this knowledge of the law, nothing under heaven can prevail upon us to exercise faith with becoming simplicity.

As to an entire devotedness of heart to God, as his redeemed people, we shall be equally defective in that also. We shall be contented with a low standard of obedience, and never aspire after a perfect conformity to the Divine image. To “walk altogether as Christ walked,” will appear a bondage. To tread in the steps of the holy Apostles, will be regarded as being “righteous over-much.” To glory in the cross for Christ’s sake, and to “rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer shame” and death for him, will be thought fit only for Apostles, and a culpable excess in us. But nothing less than this will prove us sincere: nothing less than this will be an acceptable sacrifice unto the Lord. If we would be really Christ’s, we must “live, not unto ourselves, but unto him who died for us, and rose again;” “purifying ourselves, even as he is pure;” and being “perfect, even as our Father which is in heaven is perfect.” This, let it be remembered, is inseparable from a scriptural hope: and, inasmuch as nothing but a scriptural hope can constrain us to it, and nothing but the grace of Christ effect it in us, we must remain destitute of it: our ignorance of the law will keep us from Christ; and our want of union with Christ will keep us far lower in our attainments than the Gospel requires, and, consequently, destitute of the hope which the Gospel only can inspire.

I think enough has now been spoken to shew the importance of the inquiry in my text. I am sensible that many strong things have been spoken; and spoken, it may be thought, without sufficient proof: and I candidly acknowledge, that if I had not, in prospect, further opportunities of unfolding the subject, I would gladly have lowered, as far as Christian fidelity would have admitted of it, my statement. But my desire is, to impress your minds with the importance of the subject. I wish, if it may please God, to prepare the way for a careful and impartial investigation of it. I certainly do feel that it is not sufficiently considered by Christians in general; and that, in comparison of other subjects, it is very rarely discussed. And most assuredly do I know, that an ignorance of it is at the root of all those superficial views and statements, with which the Christian world rests satisfied. O, that it might please God to accompany our investigation of it with his Holy Spirit, and to bring home the subject with power to all our hearts! Certainly, if the representation which I have given of it be true, a more important subject cannot occupy our attention. And there is need of much candour in the consideration of it. I wish it to be weighed: I know, that, if not founded in truth, and supported by clear convincing argument, it can have no weight with the audience which I have the honour to address. But I know, at the same time, that if, in some respects, it appear strange, it will not therefore be discarded as unworthy of attention. From the experience of many years do I know, that statements proposed with modesty are in this place heard with candour: and God forbid that I should affect to dogmatize, where it becomes me to speak with deference and humility! Yet I cannot dissemble, that my whole soul goes along with the subject; because I believe that the salvation of all your souls depends upon your acceptance or rejection of the truths essentially connected with it. Let me desire, therefore, that all amongst you, who know what it is to have access to God in prayer, will aid me with their supplications for an out-pouring of his Holy Spirit upon us in all our future discussions. It is but a little time that I have to speak for the Lord, or you to hear. O, that all of us may so improve the present hour, that, in that great day, when we shall stand at the judgment-seat of Christ, we may be accepted of our God; and that I who speak, and you who hear, may rejoice together!



Gal_3:19. Wherefore then serveth the law?

WE now enter upon the second part of our subject. We proposed to inquire into the use of the law. But, without entering distinctly into that point, we endeavoured to call your attention to it by an exposition of its vast importance. We were aware that we should anticipate much which would afterwards be brought forward; and that we should assume, for the present, some things, which, though partially proved, would remain to be afterwards more fully established. Yet we would hope that nothing was adduced without sufficient proof; and nothing asserted, which those who are at all acquainted with the subject would not readily concede. We think it highly probable, that in our subsequent discussions there may also be somewhat of repetition. If we were content to prosecute all the separate parts of the subject without pointing out their bearing upon the heart and conscience, we might easily keep them all distinct, without anticipating any thing, or repeating any thing. But you would, of course, wish me to discharge my high office with a due attention to your eternal interests: and, consequently, you will be prepared to allow me the liberty which is necessary to the attainment of this great object. Of course, I shall not trespass more in this respect than necessity shall require: but, if I be found to need your indulgence in this matter, you are now apprised of the reason of it, and will no doubt readily grant to me the liberty I request.

I am now about to answer the inquiry which I have instituted, and the importance of which I have already shewn. But, previous to my entering upon the distinct answer, there is one point which must, of necessity, be settled. You will ask me, ‘Of what law are you speaking? Let me understand that first; for, otherwise, all that you shall speak about its use will be in vain!’ I am aware that this must be first clearly and distinctly stated. I was constrained, in my former discourse, to pass over this point; and to assume, that the Apostle was speaking of the moral law. But now, as I then gave you reason to expect, I will address myself to that consideration; and will shew,

First, what is that law which the Apostle spake of: and, secondly, what bearing this part of my subject has upon the question before us.

First, what is that law which the Apostle spake of, and respecting which he instituted his inquiry?

The word “Law,” in the New Testament, is used in several different senses. But as in this place it can mean only the law as given to Moses, it must, of necessity, mean the moral, or the ceremonial, or the judicial law; or a compound of them all together. But of the judicial law the Apostle makes no question. He is speaking of a law which appeared to stand in competition with the promise which had been made to Abraham four hundred and thirty years before. But between the promise and the judicial law, which I may call the common law of the land, there could be no such competition: for the promise made to Abraham will be equally in force in every country under heaven, whatever be its code of laws, or the outward form of its administration. Of the ceremonial law he does speak; and that frequently: because it was to that that the Jews adhered with such inveterate pertinacity. But still, if we admit that to be included in the passage, it is only included as being that outward form which the Jews supposed to be inseparable from the moral law; and the performance of which they regarded as an obedience to the moral law. It is of the moral law chiefly, if not exclusively, that the Apostle speaks. The line of his argument is this: God promised to Abraham and his seed, life, by faith in the Messiah, who should spring from his loins. Four hundred and thirty years afterwards he gave to Moses a law of works, which were partly moral, and partly ceremonial. It may be asked, then; In publishing this law, did God intend to set aside the promise? No: he did not; and he could not: he could not, because the promise made to Abraham was made to him and to his believing seed, whether of Jews or Gentiles, to the end of the world: but the law given to Moses was given only to a small portion of Abraham’s seed; and that only for a time: and, consequently, as no covenant can be annulled but by the consent of both the parties interested in it, and only one of those parties was present at the transaction on Mount Sinai, nothing that was done there could supersede what had been done with others four hundred and thirty years before. Then, it would be asked, ‘For what end was this law given?’ The Apostle answers, “It was given because of transgressions, till the seed should come, to whom the promise was made;” that is, it was given to shew to what an extent transgression had abounded; and how greatly they needed the Promised Seed, to recommend them to God. Instead of setting aside the promises, then, as a person unacquainted with its uses might be ready to suppose, it was intended rather to be subservient to them; by shewing to men, that, being condemned by the law, they must seek for life as a free gift of God, through faith in the Promised Seed.

Let it then be observed, that, if we admit the ceremonial law to be in part intended, it is only in part: it is only as shewing that works of every kind, whether ceremonial or moral, are equally excluded from the office of justifying the soul before God. This is the whole scope of the Apostle’s argument, whether in the Epistle to the Galatians, or in that to the Romans: and to say, that, though ceremonial works cannot justify us, moral works may, is to oppose the whole line of his argument throughout both the epistles, and to set it aside altogether. The great question in both is, Whether we are to be justified by works or by faith? And his whole argument, in both, goes to prove this one point, that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth [Note: Rom_10:4.]!”

Further proofs of this point will be adduced in their proper place. What I have here stated is quite sufficient to establish the point proposed; namely, that the moral law is that chiefly respecting which the Apostle’s inquiry is instituted.

Now, then, let me say what I mean by the moral law. It is that law which was given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and was “ordained by angels in the hand of a Mediator.” It was the law of the ten commandments only that God wrote on tables of stone, or that was given to Moses at that time amidst the ministration of angels [Note: Compare Act_7:53. with Deu_5:22.]. All the ceremonial law was revealed to Moses afterwards, and in private, without any of the attendant pomp with which the moral law was given.

But what was this law? and in what light was it to be considered? It was the very law which was originally written upon the heart of man in Paradise; and which, having been effaced in a great measure by the fall, and altogether obliterated from the minds of men through forgetfulness, and the love of sin, needed now to be republished; in order that men might know how transgression had abounded; and how greatly they stood in need of that Promised Seed, whom God had before taught them to expect, and “in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed.” It was intended to shew them on what terms life had been originally promised to man in Paradise; and on what terms alone it could give life to man. But, inasmuch as all had transgressed it, none could obtain life by it now; but all must seek for life in the way which God had provided, even by faith in the Promised Seed; to which way of salvation the law was now intended to shut them up.

Now, then, we come to shew the true nature of this law. We have shewn, that it is of the moral law that we are speaking: and to that we are more especially also directed in the words of my text. The Apostle says in my text, “We know that the law is spiritual.” Now, that is not true respecting either the judicial or ceremonial law: not of the judicial; for that was only a code of laws for the regulation of the state, just like any other code of laws that exists in any other state: nor of the ceremonial; for that the Apostle expressly calls, “a law of a carnal commandment:” and he represents it as consisting altogether of “carnal ordinances [Note: Heb_7:16; Heb_9:10.].” We are arrived, therefore, at the point where we desired to come; namely, to shew the spirituality of this law: and this we will shew by an examination of it in all its parts.

The law, if we merely attend to the words in which it was promulgated, seems to refer only to external acts, whereas, in reality, it was intended to bind us to the performance of every thing connected with those acts, either in word or thought; and to prohibit every thing which could in any way, even by inclination or desire, prove an incentive to transgression. The duties of the first table did not merely forbid outward idolatry, such as the serving of gods of wood and stone; but the inward respect of the soul, as paid to any creature in comparison of the Creator. Nothing, either within us or without us, is to stand in competition with him. Nothing is to be made, in any respect or any degree, an object of our alliance. Our own wisdom, strength, righteousness, must be altogether renounced as objects of dependence; and God alone be acknowledged as the source of all good. So neither must we seek our happiness in any creature, except in entire subserviency to him. For though “he has given us all things richly to enjoy,” our enjoyment must be, not so much of the creature itself, as of God in it; that God may be to us our “all in all.” The reverence of his great name, and the observance of his Sabbaths, come in as component parts of the regard we are to shew towards him. They must not be limited to words or acts, but must extend to the entire habit of our souls: for, as I have said, the prohibition includes an injunction of all that is contrary to the thing prohibited. We must not only have no other gods besides him, but must love him with all the heart, and all the mind, and all the soul, and all the strength: and this frame of mind must pervade our every action, every word, every thought: and, inasmuch as every seventh day is set apart for him, the body, as well as the soul, must on that day be devoted to his service, not only according to the measure prescribed for other days, but exclusively, even as the soul itself.

If we come to the duties of the second table, we shall find them of equal extent, whether as commanding what is good, or as prohibiting what is evil. The fifth command enjoins all that can attach to us, as superiors, equals, or inferiors: it seems, indeed, to comprehend only one relation, and that of the inferior only: but it extends to every relation in which man can stand to his fellow-man; and to every possible expression of mutual love.

The sixth and seventh commandments seem extremely limited; but we are warranted to affirm that they extend as much to the dispositions of the soul as to the actions of the body. Our blessed Lord has explained them to us in his Sermon on the Mount. The Scribes and Pharisees had narrowed their import, and reduced them to mere bodily acts. But our Lord and Saviour shewed, that an angry thought was a transgression of the one, and an impure look a violation of the other. Exceeding thankful should we be for this infallible exposition of their meaning: for this throws the true light upon the whole; and serves as a clew, whereby to find our way through every commandment of the decalogue. If the letter of them only were to be taken, the great mass of us, I would hope, might congratulate ourselves as innocent in relation to them: but if an angry word, even to the saying to a brother, ‘Raca,’ subjects us to the danger of hell-fire; and an impure look, even the looking on a woman to lust after her, is a commission of adultery with her in the heart; who has not need to humble himself before God, and to tremble for the judgment that awaits him?

The eighth and ninth commandments must be understood as reaching, in like manner, to every injury that may be done to our neighbour’s property or reputation; and to every act, or word, or thought, whereby either the one or the other may be endangered.

But the key to the whole is the tenth commandment. That, even in words, goes beyond the mere act, and prohibits the disposition of the mind. It was this which opened the eyes of the Apostle Paul, in reference to his state before God. Having been educated a Pharisee, he rested in the exposition which the Pharisees were wont to give of the commandments; and knowing that, according to their literal import, he was innocent, he thought himself, as “touching the righteousness of the law, blameless.” But, when he came to consider more attentively the tenth commandment, he knew not how to withstand it, or to justify himself any longer as one who had truly observed it. He perceived that an inordinate desire of any kind was an actual violation of it; and he was conscious, that though he had withstood any unlawful desires, he had not been free from the motions of them in his heart. Hence he was constrained to acknowledge, that he had transgressed the law, and was consequently condemned by it; and needed to cry to God for mercy, as much as the vilest sinner upon earth. Hear his own account of this matter: “I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died: and the commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death [Note: Rom_7:9-10.].” The law, as given to man in Paradise, was ordained to life; but as continued to man in his fallen state, it is invariably unto death; and every man upon the face of the whole earth is condemned by it.

Thus I have, as briefly as possible, marked the spirituality of the law: and sure I am, that all who consider it aright must subscribe to that saying of the Psalmist, “I have seen an end of all perfection; but thy commandment is exceeding broad,” far beyond the reach or comprehension of any finite intelligence [Note: Psa_119:96.].

Now, at the hazard of anticipating some future remarks, I propose to shew,

Secondly, What bearing this part of our subject has on the great question before us.

It will be remembered what that question is; namely, What are the uses of the moral law? And had I been content with amplifying my foregoing observations, I should have been under no necessity to trespass at all on the ground which we shall hereafter occupy. But it is not to the understanding alone that I would speak, but to the heart and conscience; humbly imploring of God to clothe his word with power, and to make it the means of everlasting salvation to every soul that hears it.

Now, who that has attended to the foregoing statement does not see, in the first place, What abundant grounds the best amongst us hare for deep humiliation before God.

I will readily admit, that, as to gross outward violations of this law, many amongst us may be blameless. But who amongst us has rendered unto God the honour due unto his name; loving him, serving him, glorifying him, as it became us? Who has despised every thing in comparison of him, and walked as in his immediate presence; reverencing every thing in proportion as it appeared to proceed from him, or to lead to him; and wholly devoting to him the Sabbath-day; and having, on that sacred day especially, the entire rest of his soul in him, as an earnest and foretaste of the eternal Sabbath? Who amongst us will venture to say, that he has so lived, not unto himself, but unto his God; doing his will on earth as it is done in heaven? Nay, who has come near this standard? Who has ever come up to it for so much as one day in his whole life? Again, if we look at the duties of the second table, wherein men are particularly ready to vaunt themselves as innocent, where is there one who has fulfilled all that is required of him, as a husband or wife, as a parent or child, as a master or servant, as a magistrate or subject? Were we to trace the line that is required in all the different relations, and compare our conduct with it, who must not acknowledge that his transgressions have been multiplied, even as the hairs of his head, and as the sands upon the sea-shore? If we come to the tempers and dispositions that we have exercised, and to the thoughts that we have harboured, and consider the interpretation which our Lord himself has put upon them, who amongst us must not blush to lift up his eyes unto heaven, and be ashamed and confounded in the presence of that God who searcheth the heart? We are not sufficiently observant of the desires which break not forth into outward acts: but God notes them all, and imputes them to us as transgressions of his holy law. But, in truth, if we look at our words and actions, we shall not find ourselves so blameless as we are ready to imagine. For, where our own interest has stood in competition with our neighbour’s, who has not felt a leaning to self? Who has, in all things, viewed his neighbour’s claims with the same impartiality that he would a competition between others, in which he had no interest? And, in speaking of our neighbour, especially if he have shewn himself adverse to us, who will venture to say that he has at all times evinced the same candour and charity as, in a change of circumstances, he should have judged due to him? We may not be conscious of having been under an undue influence in these matters: but, when we see how all are affected around us, we may be sure that we have felt the general contagion, and been but too deeply imbued with the spirit of infirmity that pervades our fallen nature. And what shall we say to the last command? If even the Apostle Paul was slain by that, who shall stand before it? Who must not acknowledge, that, times without number, he has been under the influence of irregular and inordinate desires? and who, under a sense of his guilt, must not put his hand on his mouth, and his mouth in the dust, crying, “Unclean, unclean [Note: Lev_13:45. Lam_3:29.]?”

Perhaps you will think that I have borne somewhat hard upon your consciences; and availed myself of the spirituality of the law to inflict, unnecessarily, a wound upon your minds. But the truth is, that I have spoken nothing yet in comparison of what I ought to speak, in order to do justice to my subject. Forgive me, then, if I proceed to put this matter in its true point of view.

To call to mind what we have done, or what we have left undone, will give us a very inadequate view of our sinfulness. If we would estimate ourselves aright, we must take the high standard of God’s holy law, and see how infinitely short of our duty we have come, in every act of our lives, and in every moment of our existence. We must not inquire merely, whether we have loved God at all; but how near we have come to what his law requires, and his perfections demand. We must trace the whole state of our souls from the beginning, and estimate it by this rule. We shall then see that our attainments have been as nothing, in comparison of our shortcomings and defects; literally, I say, as nothing. The poorest bankrupt that ever existed has paid as great a proportion of his debt as we have of our debt to God: yea, he is in a far higher state than we: for he, if he discharge nothing of his debt, adds nothing to it; but we have been augmenting our debt every day, every hour, every moment. The very best deeds of the best of men, whilst in their unconverted state, if weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, have been lighter than vanity; and if tried by the touchstone of God’s perfect law, have been no better than splendid sins; or, rather, they have been one continued accumulation of guilt and misery against the day of wrath. If we try ourselves only by the letter of the law, we shall see nothing of this: but if we enter into the spirit of it, and examine ourselves by that, there will be no terms too humiliating for us whereby to express our sinfulness and our desert of God’s wrath and indignation.

Permit me, then, to call you to this self-abasing state. Permit me to wrest out of your hands that delusive plea, that you have done no harm. I pray you to take judgment as your line, and righteousness as your plummet, and to judge of yourselves as God judgeth. It is by his judgment, and not by your own, that you must stand or fall: and his judgment will be according to truth.

Were the condemnation that awaits men to affect only this present life, we might be contented to leave them under their delusions. But we must shortly appear before the heart-searching God, to receive our final doom. Then the book of his remembrance, wherein all our actions, words, and thoughts, were written, will be opened; then will our own consciences also attest the truth of every accusation that shall be brought against us; and then, above all, shall we see the equity, both of the test whereby we shall be tried, and of the sentence that shall be pronounced against us. And then there will be no respect of persons with God. The learned and the dignified will stand on the same footing with the most illiterate peasant; or rather, will have a severer judgment, in proportion to the advantages which they have neglected to improve. The Lord grant that these considerations may be duly laid to heart; and that all of us, while yet the opportunity is afforded, may abase ourselves before God, with all humility of mind, and with that brokenness of heart which God will not despise!

I must not close this subject without observing, in the second place, What a folly it is ever to think of establishing a righteousness of our own by the works of the law.

If God required only an observance of the letter of his law, then indeed we might entertain a hope of this kind. Yet even then, when we reflected on the tenth commandment, we should see how vain and hopeless would be the attempt. But when we see that there is not so much as one commandment, either of the first or second table, which we have not violated, it seems a perfect infatuation to stand on the ground of our own righteousness. Persons, I know, have an idea that Christ has lowered the terms of the law, and brought down its demands to the standard of human infirmity. But where can they find any thing that sanctions such an idea as this? Which of the commands has the Lord Jesus lowered? The whole decalogue he has summed up in two commands, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength; and thy neighbour as thyself.” Which of these two has he set aside? which has he dispensed with? or what measure of abatement has he made in either of them? If this law, before the coming of Christ, required too much, then was it not “holy, or just, or good:” if, on the contrary, it required only what was really due, then has Christ, if he has at all lowered its demands, robbed God of the obedience due to him, and become himself a minister and patron of sin.

I would speak with reverence on every subject wherein the Deity is concerned: but I must say, that God cannot reduce the demands of his own law: it would be to divest himself of his own glory, and to give liberty to man to violate the obligations which every rational creature must, of necessity, owe to his Creator. His law is as immutable as he himself is: it is a perfect transcript of his mind and will. With the exception of the Sabbath, which is a positive institution, and has no foundation but in the will of God, the law exists of necessity, and independent of any revelation of it whatever. It must, of necessity, be the duty of a creature to love and serve his Creator; and to love, in subordination to him, all the works of his intelligent creation. I must say, then, that this law is unalterable; and that, if any would obtain righteousness by it, they must obey it perfectly, from first to last: and as this is impossible, since we all are transgressors of it, the thought of obtaining righteousness by the law must be relinquished by every soul of man. We must, if ever we would be saved at all, look out for some other righteousness more commensurate with the demands of the law, and more consistent with the honour of the Lawgiver.

But here I must stop, because this would lead me to what must occupy a separate discourse. I conclude, therefore, with commending these thoughts to your attentive consideration; and with entreating, that you would seek to make yourselves acquainted with this all-important subject. The Apostle says, “We know that, the law is spiritual:” would to God that all of us could say the same! But, indeed, it is not generally “known.” On the contrary, a very general and lamentable ignorance of it prevails in the Christian world. Every one is desirous of moderating the demands of the law to his own standard. Every one is desirous of lessening his own criminality before God: and, to effect this, he lowers the standard whereby to try his obedience. But I pray you to settle it in your minds, as an indisputable fact, that the law is, and ever must remain, spiritual. Unless this be thoroughly understood, it will be impossible for you to go along with me in my future discourses: for how can you comprehend the uses of the law, if you know not what the law itself is? Indeed, if you get not a clear insight into this as the first step, I shall appear to you to be bringing forward things strange and unwarrantable. But let the Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians be attentively read with this particular view; and I dare affirm, that the spirituality of the law will be found written in them as with a sun-beam: and, that once seen, you will be prepared to understand the uses of the law, as they shall be more fully developed in my future discourses. You will not then be ready to exclaim, as otherwise you possibly may, “This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” You will see that our future statements necessarily grow out of this: and you will find no difficulty in adopting that sentiment, which is the ultimate drift of my whole argument, namely, that if ever you be saved at all, you must renounce all dependence on your own righteousness, and must possess a righteousness corresponding with the utmost demands of the law, even that righteousness which the Lord Jesus Christ wrought out by his own obedience unto death, and which he confers on all his penitent and believing people.



Gal_3:19. Wherefore then serveth the law?

NOW we begin to enter fully on our subject. Not that we could have omitted our last statement: for it was necessary that the spirituality of the law should be fully known; since, without the knowledge of that, it is impossible for any man to understand the truths that are founded on it. But, having thus prepared the way, we may now state what we conceive to be the chief uses of the law; namely,

1.       As a monitor, to guard us against adhering to the first covenant.

2.       As an instructor, to guide us to a better covenant.

3.       As a rule to govern us, when we have laid hold on that better covenant.

These three uses will form the subject of our present and two future Discourses.

At this time, I am to shew, that the law is intended as a monitor, to guard us against adhering to the former covenant.

The law was originally given to man in Paradise, as a covenant between God and him. It was not, indeed, written in a book; but it was written on his heart. The terms of it were, that man was to obey whatever God should command; and then both he and his posterity should live. But if he transgressed in any particular, he and all his posterity should die. This, indeed, is but obscurely intimated in the history of man’s creation. It was there said to him, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” It is, however, most fully opened in the New Testament. There it is said, “By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners:” and again, “By the offence of one, many died; and judgment came upon all men to condemnation.” Now it is a plain indisputable fact, that death came upon all men from the very moment that Adam sinned: it has come, not on those only who have sinned like him, but on millions who never have committed actual sin; whose sufferings, therefore, must have been the punishment of his transgression. If sin had not been imputed to infants, they could never have been called to bear the penalty of sin. But they do pay that penalty even from the womb; and therefore it is manifest that they are considered as having fallen in Adam, and as being in some way chargeable with his transgression. That is the covenant, under which every child of man is born into the world. The terms of the covenant having been forgotten, God was pleased to publish it by Moses, and with his own hand to write it upon tables of stone. The obligations of it were stated in the Ten Commandments: and the sanctions of it were added, “Do this, and live: Transgress, and die.”

It is true, that to Israel in the Wilderness it was published in somewhat of a mitigated form: because it was introduced by that gracious declaration, “I am the Lord thy God.” But still the terrors, with which the publication of it was accompanied, shewed, that it was “a fiery law,” “a ministration of death,” “a ministration of condemnation.” It is from St. Paul’s reasonings chiefly, that we gain a clear insight into it. Though published in the form of a covenant, it is not really intended to be a covenant of life to man, now in his fallen state: it is intended only to shew him what this covenant is which he is under, and how impossible it is for him to obtain salvation by it. This will appear clearly, if we attend to its requirements and its sanctions, as they are expressed in my text: “Do this,” is the command given: Do it all; all without exception: continue to do it from first to last. On these terms you shall live. But a curse awaits you, even an everlasting curse, if you violate it in any one particular. Plead what you will, its denunciations are inflexible, irreversible. ‘I wish to obey it.’ ‘Tell me not of your wishes; but do it.’—‘I have endeavoured to obey it.’ ‘Tell me not of your endeavours: but do it; or else you are cursed.’—‘I have done it in almost every particular.’ ‘Tell me not of what you have done almost: have you obeyed it altogether? have you obeyed it in all things? If not, you are cursed.’—‘I have for a great number of years obeyed it; and but once only, through inadvertence, transgressed it.’ ‘Then you are cursed. If you have offended in one point, you are, as St. James informs you, guilty of all [Note: Jam_2:10.]. If you have not continued to obey it from the first moment of your existence to the last, you are cursed.’—‘But I am sorry for my transgression.’ ‘I know nothing of your sorrows: you are cursed.’—‘But I will reform; and never transgress again.’ ‘I know nothing of your reformation: you are cursed.’—‘But I will obey it perfectly in future.’ ‘I know nothing of what you may do in future: you are cursed. I cannot alter my terms for any one. My declaration to all, without exception, is, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them.” If you have risen to these terms, I will give you life: if you have fallen short of them, in any one particular, nothing remains for you but “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” ’ [Note: The reason of this being written in the form of a dialogue is assigned in the next Discourse, p. 118 (Note). In Rom_10:5-10. St. Paul, writing on the same subject, uses somewhat of the same form. The precise mode of abrupt dialogue is also used, at some length, in Rom_3:1-8.] This, let it be observed, is no inference of mine; but the deduction of the Apostle Paul: for he says, “As many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse.” And on what does he ground this sweeping sentence of condemnation? He grounds it on the declaration of the law itself: “As many as, &c. &c. For it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them.” There is no human being that ever has obeyed the law thus perfectly: and therefore all, without exception, are obnoxious to the curse; and all, who are yet looking to the law for justification, are actually “under the curse;” and must, if they die in their present state, endure it for evermore.

Such, then, are the terms of the covenant, even of that covenant under which we all are born.

Now let us see how the law, as a monitor, guards us against adhering to this covenant.

It opens to us what that obedience is which the covenant requires. It shews us it, indeed, chiefly in prohibitions, and in prohibitions of gross overt acts: and, if it included no more than these acts, it would rather encourage us to cleave to that covenant, and to hope for salvation by it. But, as I shewed in my last, it comprehends in its requirements perfect love to God in its utmost possible extent, and perfect love to man, even such as a man bears to himself: and it charges us with guilt, not merely on account of open violations of its commands, but on account of the defectiveness of our best actions.—I will suppose, at this moment you are filled with love to God. ‘Tis well: but does your love rise to the full extent that is due to him? I will take you at this, the best moment that you ever lived: Are all the powers of your soul called forth in these acts, so that there is no more defect in you than in Adam before the fall? If this be not the case, you are guilty; and these your most exalted virtues, instead of being meritorious in the sight of God, stand in need of his pardon on account of their defects. The same must be said of the best moment that you ever passed in reference to your fellow-creatures: Did your actions carry with them the whole soul in love to God, and to man for God’s sake? And were they so perfect, that there was not in them the smallest blemish or defect? If not, you stand in need of pardon for your defects; and, consequently, can claim nothing on the score of merit.’ Now, if the law is so rigorous in its demands as this, and admits of no deviation, no weariness, no defect even for a moment, under any circumstances, to the very end of life, what must it, of necessity, be considered as saying unto us? ‘Think not of obtaining life by the covenant of works: you see its demands: you see how impossible it is that they should ever be relaxed: you see how inexorably it denounces its curse against the least transgression: you see, it makes no abatement on account of your weakness: it offers no assistance for the performance of any one duty: it knows nothing of repentance or reformation: it exacts perfect obedience from first to last: and that not paid, even though the failure be only once, and in the smallest point, it does nothing but denounce its curses against you. And will you seek life by such a covenant as this? Oh! flee from it; and dread lest you continue under it one hour longer. The terrors of Mount Sinai did but faintly represent the fearfulness of your state. And the strict injunctions relative to the touching of the mount did but faintly mark the impossibility of your ever gaining access to God by that covenant: and, verily, if Moses himself said on that occasion, “I exceedingly fear and quake,” much more may you in the contemplation of the danger to which you are exposed, and of the judgments that await you.’

I am aware that this counsel of the law appears harsh. But it is not really so: nay, it is a statement in which the Israelites of old were expected cordially to acquiesce. The very passage which, with some slight alterations, the Apostle quotes in Gal_3:10, are contained in the words which the Levites, as God’s representatives, were to deliver to all the people of Israel from Mount Ebal: “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law, to do them: and all the men shall say, Amen [Note: Deu_27:26.].” Let me hope, therefore, that, instead of exclaiming, ‘God forbid!’ as some perhaps would ignorantly be disposed to do, in reply to the statement before given, there shall be but one sentiment pervading this whole assembly; and that all, in a way of cordial approbation, as well as in a way of intellectual acknowledgment, shall with one voice cry, ‘Amen, Amen.’

Now, the Scripture bears ample testimony that this is indeed the first use of the law. “It was not possible that a law should be given to fallen man whereby he should have life: if it had, verily,” says the Apostle, “righteousness should have been by the law [Note: ver. 21.].” The law, therefore, must not be regarded as intended to give life: it was given to shew how sin abounded; as St. Paul says, “The law entered, that the offence might abound [Note: Rom_5:20.];” that is, might appear to abound. And again he says, “By the law is the knowledge of sin [Note: Rom_3:20.].” And this view of the law will-explain what he means, when he says, “I, through the law, am dead to the law [Note: Gal_2:19.].” In fact, this expression comprehends and illustrates this entire part of my subject. The Apostle saw that the law did nothing but condemn him; and therefore he renounced it utterly in point of dependence, and determined to seek salvation in some other way. And the same effect must the knowledge of the law produce on us; it must destroy all our hope by the covenant of works; and lead us to inquire after the way of salvation which God has provided for us in the Gospel of his Son.

Having pointed out this first use of the law, I now come to recommend it in that particular view, and for that express end.

It is well known that men have a great propensity to cleave to the law, and to seek salvation by it. This was the besetting sin of the Pharisees of old: “they had a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge; for, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, they would not submit to the righteousness of God [Note: Rom_10:2-3.].” This was the fault also of the Judaizing teachers: they were always blending the law with the Gospel, as a joint ground of hope before God; not being aware, that, if they relied upon the law at all, they must stand or fall by it altogether. The moment they did any thing with a view to obtain justification by it, they became “debtors to do the whole law [Note: Gal_5:3.];” and, not having discharged their whole debt to that, nothing awaited them but chains of darkness for evermore. The same propensity there is in us, though it is indulged by men in very different degrees. Some look for their justification altogether upon the footing of their good works: these know not for what end good works can be required at all, but with the view of our obtaining justification by them: and, when they are told that they can never be justified by their works, they suppose that we set aside the observance of good works altogether, and encourage all manner of licentiousness. Others see, that some honour is due to Christ; and that if he came to save us, we must, in part at least, stand indebted to him for salvation. Hence they are willing to rely in part on his vicarious sacrifice, and in part on their own obedience to the law. They do not perceive that the one makes void the other; and that salvation must be wholly of works or wholly of grace; and therefore they unite the two as the foundation of their hope. But they see not that their foundation is only like the image of iron and clay in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision; the parts of which could never cohere, nor form any permanent basis for the superincumbent weight. Others rather think to enter into a composition with the Lord, and agree to render him service, if he will impart to them salvation. Thus, though they do not expressly unite their merits with his, they make their obedience the ground on which they hope for an interest in him; and, to a certain degree, a price, which they propose to pay for it. It never occurs to them, that they have nothing but sin and misery to present to him; and that therefore their entire hope must be in his sovereign grace and mercy. They forget that they are to receive all “without money and without price.” Others refine yet more; and, conceiving themselves willing to give to the Lord Jesus all the glory of their salvation, they only look to themselves for their warrant to believe in him: either they dare not go to him, because they are so vile, and therefore they will endeavour to make themselves better, in order that they may venture into his presence, and indulge a hope of acceptance with him; or, they have a good hope that he will apply to them all the benefits of his passion, because they have not transgressed beyond the common bounds of human frailty. But the plain answer to all these delusions is this: Salvation must be wholly of works, or wholly of grace: as the Apostle has said, “If it be of grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work [Note: Rom_11:6.].” You perceive, therefore, that you must not attempt to blend the two covenants in any respect: if you cleave in any degree to the covenant of works, you can have nothing to do with the covenant of grace: if you come not solely, and with your whole hearts, to the Lord Jesus Christ, to be saved by his blood and righteousness, laying aside and renouncing every other hope, you must go back to the covenant of works, and seek for acceptance through it. But do you not hear the law? Do you not hear how inflexible it is in its demands, and how inexorable in its denunciations? Alter it you cannot, in any respect; obey it you must, if you will still found your hopes on it in any measure or degree: and therefore it is your wisdom to adopt the determination of St. Paul, and to seek henceforth to “be found in Christ; not having your own righteousness, which is of the law, but the righteousness which is of God by faith in Christ [Note: Php_3:9.].”

What now becomes us in this view of the law? what, indeed, but humiliation and contrition in the deepest degree? We must see how many curses hang over our devoted heads. We must not merely look at our grosser violations of the law, but at our defects: for “the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men;” and every transgression, whether by commission or omission, whether by excess or defect, will receive its just recompence of reward. Let it be granted, then, that our lives have been blameless, as far as respects outward sin: still, if we judge ourselves by the perfect law of God, our sins will be found more than can be numbered, and greater than can be conceived. When we compare ourselves with some of our fellow-creatures, who trample under foot all the laws of God and man, we appear to be very worthy characters: and such we are in the sight of man; but in the sight of God there is by no means so great a difference between us as we are apt to imagine. In estimating our character, and weighing our comparative worth, God may see less indeed of gross iniquity, but a far more abundant measure of spiritual sins, which are not a whit less hateful in his eyes. Suppose it all true which the self-applauding Pharisee affirmed, that he had been no extortioner, not unjust, and no adulterer; did he not make ample compensation for this, by his pride, his self-complacency, his uncharitableness? Yes, in truth; these weighed as much in the scales of heaven, as the grosser evils from which he was exempt. Had he tried himself by a just standard, he would have found but little reason for his self-preference and self-applause: he would have seen that his boasted righteousness was as defective as that of the poor Publican: and the only difference between the two, supposing the one to have been as good as he imagined, and the other as evil as was supposed, was, that the one was a painted sepulchre, and the other a sepulchre without paint. I must not, indeed, be understood to say, that gross carnal sins do not add to the criminality of the person in whom they are found; but only, that, supposing one person to abound more in carnal filthiness, and another in spiritual, the latter, to say the least, has as little reason to glory in himself, or to trust in his own righteousness, as the former. The point to which we must all look for real humiliation is, the defectiveness of our obedience. Let this be seen, and seen too in all its aggravated character, as against a God of infinite love and mercy; against a Saviour who has assumed our nature, and laid down his life for us; against the Holy Spirit, who, by his gracious influences, has striven with us all our days, to guide us aright, and to bring us to repentance: let it be seen, also, as against light and knowledge, against vows and resolutions, against judgments and mercies; and, further, as continued in, for years, without any shame or remorse: let our impenitence also be marked, and our proud rejection of God’s proffered mercy in Christ Jesus: let all this be viewed; and we shall see little reason to value ourselves on not having committed some of the grossest sins: we shall see that our iniquities have grown up unto heaven; and that they must sink us into everlasting perdition, if God do not, in the multitude of his tender mercies, interpose for our deliverance, and make “his grace to super-abound, where our sins have so greatly abounded,” We shall see, that to call ourselves the chief of sinners, is not merely a kind of modest and becoming saying, which, whilst it sounds well from the lips, needs not be felt in the heart; but that it is a character which belongs to the very best amongst us; since the best man in the universe knows more evil in himself than he can know of others, except where the evils have been made notorious by overt acts. If the law be properly used, the person who thus tries himself by it will see himself exposed to God’s heaviest judgments, no less than the most flagrant transgressor in the world: and he will cry for mercy, precisely in the same manner as Peter did, when sinking in the waves, “Save, Lord, or I perish!” Others, who have not such views of the law, will wonder at him, and say, ‘What can you have done, to call for such remorse and fear?’ But he knows his own desert before God, and will therefore lie low before him, in the deepest self-abasement.

This, then, is what I would wish you to do: it is for this end that I bring the subject before you: it is for this end that I hold up thus the glass of the law before your eyes, that you may know your true character before God. I would not that it should be said of us, as of the Jews of old, that “we seek righteousness, and cannot attain to it, because we seek it not by faith, but, as it were, by the works of the law [Note: Rom_9:31-32.].” I would that it should be a settled principle in all our minds, that “by the works of the law shall no flesh living be justified [Note: Rom_3:20.].” O, if we could but listen to this monitor! If the warnings which he gives us be alarming, they still are salutary: and it were surely better be warned that our house is built on sand, than that we should be left to perish under its ruins. And were a person who perceived our danger to withhold the warning, he would be justly considered by all as accessary to our destruction.

I am aware that there has been an aspect of severity about this part of my subject; of severity, which I would gladly have avoided, if it had been compatible with that fidelity which became me. But I speak to an audience who can distinguish between the harsh anathemas of man, and the authoritative declarations of Almighty God. If, indeed, I have put a harsher sense upon God’s word than it manifestly imports, I will be contented that all the blame, which such an inconsiderate proceeding would deserve, shall attach to me. But, if I have spoken only what God himself has authorized and enjoined, and what will assuredly be found true at the last, then let me hope, that the salutary warning will be kindly received; and that you will be the better prepared for our next subject, wherein a balm will be applied to every wound, and a refuge opened for every one that would flee from the wrath to come. To that I look forward, as to a subject far more congenial with my feelings than the terrors of the law. To bring forward the glad tidings of salvation, and to proclaim mercy through the sufferings of our incarnate God, is, I trust, the joy and delight of my soul. From the first moment that ever a dispensation was committed to me to preach the Gospel, “I have determined to know nothing in my ministrations but Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” O that in my next I may be enabled to commend Him to you, as a suitable and all-sufficient Saviour! And if, through what has been already spoken, any of you be pricked in your hearts, and be stirred up to cry, “What shall we do to be saved?” may the answer, that shall be given you in my next, be accompanied with a blessing from on high, and prove “the power of God unto salvation to every one that hears it [Note: Rom_1:16.]!”



Gal_3:19. Wherefore then serveth the law?

WE are now arrived at the second use of the law, which is very strongly pointed out in the passage before us. The law itself has been explained as spiritual; and as extending to the whole of man’s duty, whether to God or man. This, as you have heard, was originally given to man as a covenant of life: and, if man had obeyed it perfectly, it would have given him a title to life. But to man in his fallen state, “that which was ordained to life is found to be unto death.” The first use, therefore, of the law now is, as a monitor, to guard us against adhering to the first covenant. The second use is as an instructor, to guide us to a better covenant [Note: ver. 24.]. And it is in this view that I am to speak of it at this time.

You will perceive that I exclude from my discussion every thing which does not immediately belong to my argument. The subject itself is exceedingly extensive, and might easily be pursued through a great variety of branches, all useful and important in their place. But to prosecute it to this extent would be to weaken the general impression. I wish the whole of what I shall have to offer to be an answer to the question specified in the words before us, “Wherefore then serveth the law?” To shew what the law is, was necessary of course: so that the exhibition of that was no deviation from my plan, but rather indispensable to the prosecution of it. And my strict adherence to this line, if it appear to leave out much which might enrich the subject, will have this advantage at least, that it will simplify the subject. And, in truth, after having so solemnly prepared your minds for it in the first discourse, I should feel that I were criminally inattentive to your feelings, if I did not labour to the uttermost to keep that alone in view which I then described to be of so much importance.

To open, then, that part of the subject on which I am now entering, I must, shew, in the first place, What we refer to as that better covenant; and then, How the law, as an instructor, guides us to it.

First, What do we mean by that better covenant? What better covenant has God given us? You will naturally say, Let us know, distinctly, what the covenant is? With whom it was made? In what respects it is a better covenant? And, after all, what it has to do with the subject before us?

To these points I will briefly address myself in succession.

What the covenant is, the Prophet Jeremiah will inform us: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: but this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people [Note: Jer_31:31-33.].” But has this anything to do with us under the Christian dispensation? Yes: twice does the Apostle quote that very passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews [Note: Heb_8:8-10; Heb_10:15-17.]; expressly declaring, in both places, that it is that very covenant which we, under the Gospel dispensation, are supposed to have embraced.

But when, and with whom, was this covenant made? It is that covenant which God made with Abraham, when he promised to him, that “in his seed should all the nations of the earth be blessed [Note: Gen_18:18; Gen_22:18; Gen_26:4.].” St. Peter, addressing the Jews of his day, says, “Ye are the children of the Prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed [Note: Act_3:25.].”

But what have we to do with it? St. Paul tells us, it is the Gospel covenant, whereby we, and every one under the Gospel dispensation, must be saved: “The Scripture,” says he, “foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the Gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed [Note: Gal_3:8.].”

But in what respects is this a better covenant? It is by God himself called “a better covenant:” and well does it deserve that name; since, as he tells us, it is “established upon better promises.” The covenant, so far as it was a national covenant, made with the Jewish people, promised nothing but temporal blessings; and, as made with Adam in Paradise, and with all mankind in him, it promised nothing but upon perfect obedience. But the new covenant engages to supply our every want: it points out a Saviour to us; and makes over to us, not pardon only, but purity; assuring us, that God will send to us his Holy Spirit, to renew us after the Divine image; and to give us, not heaven only, but also a meetness for the enjoyment of it. One of its principal provisions is, “A new heart will I give unto you, and a new spirit will I put within you.” In a word, the covenant of works required every tiring, and imparted nothing: whereas the covenant of grace imparts every thing, and requires nothing, except that we should receive thankfully what God offers to us freely, in the Son of his love.(Of course, in the free offers of God I include the new heart, of which I have just spoken, and the entire sanctification of the life as flowing from it.) I may add, too, that the new covenant has a better Mediator. Moses, the mediator of the covenant of works, could do nothing for his people, but make known to them what God had revealed to him: whereas our Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, is ever living to intercede for us with the Father; and has in himself a fulness treasured up for us, a fulness of all that we ever can stand in need of. In fact, he is not a Mediator only of the covenant, but a “Surety of it [Note: Heb_7:22.]” also: and he engages with us for God, and with God for us: with us for God, that “he shall never depart from us to do us good;” and with God for us, that “he will put his fear in our hearts, so that we shall never depart from him [Note: Jer_32:40].” This, I say, is the very covenant which he makes with us: and it is from this that we derive all our hopes both of grace and glory [Note: See Heb_10:14-17.].

You will still ask, What, after all, has this to do with the argument before us? I answer, It is the covenant which St. Paul declares to have been made with Abraham for the benefit of himself and all his believing posterity; and which he therefore calls us to lay hold on, in order that we may be delivered from the curse entailed on us by the first covenant. Hear his own statement, in the passage which on the last occasion we considered: “All,” says he, “are cursed by the law:” but “Christ has redeemed us from that curse, that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles, through Jesus Christ.” Then, lest we should think that the Abrahamic covenant was superseded by that which was afterwards made with Moses, he observes, that it could not be disannulled by any transaction that took place with Moses on Mount Sinai, because only one of the parties that were interested in it was present on that occasion. Then comes his question, “Wherefore, then, serveth the law?” And this he answers by observing, that “it was added because of trangressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made;” or, in other words, that it was to be introductory to a new covenant, and to prepare men for their admission into it. Still, however, as there was, in appearance, an opposition between the two covenants, he asks, “Is the law then against the promises of God? No: God forbid!” says he: “for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the Scripture hath concluded (shut up) all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept (kept in close custody) under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law, so far from keeping us from Christ to be justified by works, was actually our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” Hence he concludes, that, “faith being now come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster, but are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.”

We see, then, what the better covenant is, and wherein its superiority consists; the one being a covenant of works, and the other, of grace. We see, also, that the covenant of works, though re-published four hundred and thirty years after the covenant made with Abraham, was not intended to supersede the covenant of grace, but to be subservient to it, and to shut up men to it, and to constrain them to embrace it.

I am fearful of obscuring the subject by multiplying citations of Holy Writ: I will, therefore, close this part with merely adducing one passage as explanatory of the whole. St. Paul, contrasting the two covenants, represents each of them as declaring to us its own terms, precisely in the way that I have done: “Moses describeth the righteousness of the law, That the man that doeth those things shall live by them. But the righteousness of faith speaketh on this wise: Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is to bring Christ down from above:) or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thine heart; that is, the word of faith which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved: for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation [Note: Rom_10:5-10.].”

Having then shewn what this better covenant is, I now come to shew how the law, as an instructor, guides us to this better covenant; or, as my text expresses it, how it is “a schoolmaster, to bring us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.”

It must ever be borne in mind, that the law can never be set aside: in its requirements, and in its sanctions, it is unalterable, even as God himself is. It is holy, and can never abate of its commands; it is just, and can never mitigate its sanctions; it is good, and must eternally continue so, whatever may become of those who are subject to its dominion. In every thing which it requires, its direct tendency is, to promote the honour of God, and the happiness of man; and, if it become an occasion of unhappiness to any, it is only through their own perverseness in violating its commands. Being, then, thus immutable, what does it say to us? It says, ‘The curse I have denounced, must be inflicted; and the commands I have given must be obeyed. If there be any person found to endure the one for you, and to fulfil the other, and God be pleased to accept him in your be-half, it is well. But without such a deference to my rights, and such a regard to my honour, shall no flesh living be saved. I must “be magnified and made honourable [Note: Isa_42:21.]” in the eyes of the whole creation, before any child of man shall find acceptance with Him from whom I proceeded, and whose authority I maintain [Note: The dialogue form, which the Apostle makes use of in this passage, has been adopted by the Author in this and the preceding Discourse, in order to compress a great mass of materials into the smallest possible space, and to employ them, as lie hopes, to the greatest possible advantage, he is aware that the style is unusual in this species of composition (it is unusual even in his own writings): but if it convey the truth more forcibly, he hopes it may on this occasion be excused. The same form of dialogue, with all its abruptness, is used also by the Apostle, in the third chapter to the Romans.].’

Thus, so to speak, the law puts us upon looking out for a Saviour. But where shall one be found that answers to this character, or can by any means sustain this office? Where shall we find one who is capable of bearing the wrath of Almighty God? Where shall we find one that is capable of obeying in all things the perfect law of God? And, above all, where shall we find one that can do these things for us? A creature must sink under the wrath of God: for that wrath is everlasting. There can never come a period when that curse shall end, and the cup which the sinner is doomed to drink of shall be exhausted. So also, if a creature, even the highest archangel, were to subject himself to the controul of the law, he could obey only for himself. As a creature, he would be bound to fulfil all that the law has enjoined: he could do nothing beyond what was absolutely required; and therefore, after all, he would be only an unprofitable servant. He could not obey for others: he could not exceed what was due from himself. The only thing that could give the slightest hope to man, so far at least as has ever been revealed, would be, for God himself to put himself in the place of sinners, and in their nature to suffer and obey for them. But how could this be hoped? How could such a thought as this be entertained, for a moment, in the bosom of God, or in the mind of any of his creatures? Were this possible, there might indeed be a hope; because the dignity of the sufferer would put a value on his sufferings, sufficient to overbalance the eternal sufferings of the whole world; and the obedience paid by the Lawgiver himself, who could be under no obligation to obey it, till he had assumed our nature for that very end, would be sufficient to form a justifying righteousness for all the sinners of mankind. But how can such a thing be contemplated for a moment? How can it come within the verge of probability—I might almost say, of possibility? But, whatever be thought of this matter, the law says, ‘I can consent to no lower terms than these. Suppose such a plan sanctioned, approved, and executed by the Almighty himself, then I can consent to the salvation of sinners; yea, I can not only consent to it, but highly approve of it; because, by having Jehovah himself enduring my penalties, and executing my commands, I shall be infinitely more glorified than I ever could have been either by the obedience or condemnation of the whole human race. Let but such a covenant as this be made and executed on God’s part, and I consent that you shall be saved by it; yea, and that you shall receive a weight of glory far beyond what you ever could have received, if you had never fallen.’

Such hints we may suppose to be given by the law. And now we look into the Gospel, to find whether such an idea ever was, or could be, realized. And behold, with what amazement must we see that such a plan has actually been devised and executed by Almighty God! Can it be indeed, that God has assumed our nature, and obeyed and suffered in our stead, and wrought out a righteousness for us, that, being clothed in it, we may stand without spot or blemish before him? Yes; it is true: “God has been manifest in the flesh,” and “made in all things like unto us, sin only excepted:” he has also fulfilled the law in its utmost possible extent: he has, moreover, “borne our sins in his own body on the tree,” and for our sakes “become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” “To redeem us from the curse of the law, he has actually become a curse for us:” yes, “He, who knew no sin, has become sin for us; that we, who had, and could have, no righteousness, might be made the righteousness of God in him.” This point, then, being clearly ascertained, let us hear our divine instructor, and sit at the feet of this heavenly “schoolmaster.” Methinks I hear the law saying to me, ‘You have heard the strictness of my demands, and the awfulness of my denunciations: now hear the end for which I have so proclaimed both the one and the other: it has been to shew you your need of a Saviour; it has been to make you welcome this Saviour, and embrace him with your whole hearts. Had I been less strict in my demands, or less awful in my denunciations, you would still have adhered to me, and founded your hopes on me. But I have thundered thus, in order to drive you to despair of ever finding acceptance through me; and to urge you, with all possible speed and earnestness, to lay hold on the hope set before you in the Gospel.’

Let me now suppose one to ask, ‘But how shall I go to the Saviour? How shall I obtain an interest in him? How shall I procure his favour? What would he have me do, in order to recommend myself to him [Note: Joh_6:28.]?’ In reply to all these anxious inquiries, our “schoolmaster” gives us this important information:—‘You must not attempt to recommend yourselves to him by any works whatever: you must go ignorant, that you may be enlightened; guilty, that you may be pardoned; polluted, that you may be purified; enslaved, that you may experience his complete redemption. You must carry nothing to him but your wants and miseries; and expect nothing at his hands but as the fruit of his mediation, and as the free gift of God for his sake. You must renounce every thing of your own; and desire to “have him made all unto you, your wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, that to all eternity you may glory in the Lord alone [Note: 1Co_1:30-31.].” If you entertain the idea of meriting or earning any thing at his hands by your own good works, you will only come back to me, and be dealt with according to the terms proposed by me. You must disclaim all thought of this; and be content to be saved by grace alone, and to receive every thing out of the fulness that is treasured up in Christ. For this end, you must trust in him, and live altogether by faith in him. You well know how a branch receives every thing from the stock into which it has been engrafted: precisely thus must you receive from him all the blessings both of grace and glory. You must by faith abide in him: and, by virtue derived from him, bring forth fruit to the glory of his name. This is a way of salvation both suited to you, and honourable to God: it is suited to you, because it provides every thing for you as a free gift: and it is honourable to God, because, whilst it preserves my honour inviolate, it exalts and glorifies every perfection of the Deity. I charge you, then, embrace the covenant which Christ has ratified with his blood: exercise faith in him: look to him as the procuring cause of all your blessings. And be not discouraged by any sense of your own unworthiness; but go to him as the very chief of sinners, that you may be made the brightest monuments of his grace. “It was for sinners that he came, to call them to repentance:” it was “the lost, and them alone, whom he came to save:” and the more deeply you feel your need of him, the more readily will he receive you to the arms of mercy: for his address to persons in your very state is, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest:” “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool:” “him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out.’ ”

And now, after having heard the advice given by the law, shall 1 go too far, if I entreat you all to sit at the feet of this schoolmaster, as his disciples? I grant, that there is an aspect of severity about him: but he will teach you aright. He is sent by God himself for your instruction: and all who will obey his dictates shall assuredly be guided into the way of peace. Other instructors, beside the law, you will find in great numbers, who will speak to you in milder terms, and accommodate themselves more to your carnal minds. But O! listen not to them. Many pleasing statements they will give, about the value of good works, and the mercy of God, and about the Saviour having lowered the terms of salvation to sincere obedience. But they will only deceive you to your ruin. Take their favourite term, of sincere obedience: no matter whether it be to the moral law, or to a reduced and mitigated law of their own formation: let it be a law of any kind that can possibly be conceived to have proceeded from God; and then suppose yourselves to stand or fall by your sincere obedience to that law: where is there one amongst you that ever could be saved? If this is the standard by which you are to be tried, it has been so from the beginning of your life: and where is there one amongst us that has from the beginning of his life sincerely striven with all his might to mortify every inclination which his judgment condemned; and to fulfil, to the uttermost, every duty, both to God and man, so far as he was acquainted with it, or might have been acquainted with it, if he had sincerely improved every opportunity of gaining instruction? Who has from his earliest youth acted up fully to the light that he has enjoyed, and done every thing which he knew or believed to be required of him? Nay, who would dare to stand upon this ground for any one day of his life, and consent that his everlasting doom should be determined by the issue of such a trial? Know, then, that these blind instructors will, if listened to, betray you to your everlasting ruin. Some there are, who, “unable to endure sound doctrine,” will labour to shew, that all which is spoken in the Gospel about faith in Christ means no more than a general belief of his word; and that, after all, salvation is, and must be, in part at least, by the works of the law. But, if any man will say that Christ hath either repealed or mitigated, let him shew us what law that is which Christ has repealed, or mitigated, and reduced to the standard of human capacity to obey it. But this no man on earth can shew. The law is unalterable, both in its demands and sanctions; and if we will but listen to it as our instructor, it will guide us infallibly to the Saviour of the world. It will tell you plainly, ‘I cannot save you, either in whole or in part: but the Lord Jesus Christ both can, and will, if you will believe in him. And, if you needed an intercessor with the Father to receive you for Christ’s sake, I myself, if permitted to be heard, would become your friend: yes, I, who have denounced so many curses against you, would willingly become your advocate. If suffered to address the Most High, I would say, Thou thyself, O God, didst appoint thy Son Jesus Christ to be their Surety: and He has paid to me the utmost farthing of their debt. Did I demand, that all the curses which the violation of my precepts merited, should be inflicted? they have been borne by him. Did I require that perfect obedience should be rendered to my commands? it has been rendered by him. Only admit Him, therefore, as their Surety, and I have nothing to demand at their hands: or rather my demand must be, that they who plead the obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ for them, may stand accepted through his righteousness; and may be rewarded with eternal life, precisely as they would have been, if they had themselves fulfilled all that I required of them. Nay, I would even go further, and ask, that they may be recompensed with a higher degree of glory than they ever could have attained by their own obedience; because the obedience and sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ their Saviour have done infinitely greater honour to me than ever could have been done either by the obedience or sufferings of the whole world.’

Listen, then, I entreat you, to the counsels of this instructor. They are safe: nor can they be resisted, but at the peril of your souls. Only get a clear understanding of that question, “Wherefore, then, serveth the law?” and then you will be prepared for all the blessings of the Gospel, and find in Christ all that your necessities require.

An illustration of my whole subject shall now place it in a point of view in which it cannot possibly be misapprehended. O that God may be graciously pleased to open all our hearts, to discern, to embrace, to realize the truth as it shall now be exhibited before you! We have supposed you all to be condemned by the law; and to be precisely in the condition of the Israelites when bitten by the fiery serpents; incapable of restoring yourselves to health, or of finding any healing balm in the whole universe. What now shall be done? Death is sweeping you off in quick succession; and, ah! whither is it bearing you? But for you, who are yet alive, can no remedy be found? Yes: Moses shall point out a remedy;—that very Moses, who gave the law, and denounced the curse against all who should transgress it;—that very Moses, I say, shall be your instructor and counsellor: and “if you believe Moses, you shall believe in Christ.” By God’s command he erected a brazen serpent; and proclaimed the joyful tidings, that all who should look unto it should be saved. The opportunity was gladly embraced by the perishing multitudes, and the means were instantly crowned with the desired success. And happy am I to say, that at this very moment is that transaction renewed in the midst of you. You are all dying of the wounds of sin. Not a creature in the universe can render you the least assistance towards a recovery from your perishing condition. But the Lord Jesus Christ is this day “set forth crucified in the midst of you:” and the law itself, yes, the law itself, I say, directs you to Him, as God’s appointed ordinance for your salvation. This day does the law proclaim itself as your instructor, “to bring you to Christ, that you may be justified by faith in him.” And is this an illustration of mine? Is the comparison between the two a mere accidental coincidence? No: the one was intended, by God himself, to be an illustration of the other. Hear the application of this record, as it was made by our Lord Jesus Christ himself: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so shall the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” View, then, the Saviour this day erected on the cross; and hear him addressing you in these gracious terms, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth! for I am God, and there is none else,” “no Saviour beside me [Note: Isa_45:22.].”

Thus, then, you see that both the law and the Gospel, if properly understood, speak the same language. Both the one and the other say, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” “All that believe in him are justified from all things.” “In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.” May God Almighty discover to us all this blessed truth, and give us the sweet experience of it in our own souls! Sure I am, that, if our last discourse placed the law in a terrific view, you cannot now do otherwise than behold it as a most faithful counsellor and friendly instructor: and, if it please God to accompany his word with power to your souls, you will have reason to bless God for every wound that has been inflicted; and will enter fully into our next discourse, with a determination, through grace, that, whilst you flee from the law as a covenant, you will not neglect it as a rule of life; but will rather “delight in it in your inward man,” and aspire after the most perfect conformity to it in the whole of your deportment.



Gal_3:19. Wherefore then serveth the law?

THE last use of the law being now to be contemplated, we shall set before you the law as a rule to govern us, when we have embraced the new covenant. And it is with peculiar pleasure that I enter upon this subject, because there exists at this day, precisely as there did in the apostolic age, a jealousy upon the subject of good works, and a fear lest the free salvation of the Gospel should render men indifferent to them. You will remember, that St. Paul’s statements gave occasion to men to ask, “Shall we, then, continue in sin, that grace may abound [Note: Rom_6:1.]?” And the same thoughts may possibly have arisen in your minds, whilst I have with all the clearness in my power, shewn, that we are not, in any degree whatever, to seek justification by the works of the law, but solely and exclusively by faith in Christ. I did, indeed, endeavour to guard against such thoughts, by intimating, in the very first instance, that there was a third end and use of the law, namely, to be a rule of life to the believer: but had I been less guarded in this respect, and left this point to be developed afterwards, without any previous intimation of my purpose, I fear that the same objections, as were urged against the Apostle’s statements, would have greatly enervated mine, and prevented that favourable reception which I hope, through the tender mercy of God, they have met with in your minds. But I have longed for the present occasion, that I might vindicate the Gospel from the charge of licentiousness; and prove, to the satisfaction of you all, that it is indeed, what the Apostle calls it, “a doctrine according to godliness.”

St. Paul was at all times most anxious to guard against a misconception of his sentiments and conduct on account of his neglect of the ceremonial law. The one great object of his ministry was, to win souls to Christ. For the advancement of this end, he conformed, in all matters of indifference, to the views of those amongst whom he ministered; “to the Jews, becoming a Jew; to those who were under the law, as under the law; and to those who were without law, as without law.” But, fearing lest these compliances of his might be construed as a contempt of the divine authority, he took care to remove all ground for such an idea, by declaring, that he still considered himself as much bound to obey God as ever; or, rather, that he felt himself under additional obligations to fulfil all the divine commands, in consideration of the unbounded mercy that had been vouchsafed to him through Jesus Christ. He had, it is true, neglected the observances of the law: but it had not been from any disrespect to God’s commands, but because that law was in fact abrogated; whereas the moral law was as much in force as ever: and to the latest hour of his life he should look upon himself as “under that law to Christ [Note: 1Co_9:21.].”

This acknowledgment of his comes fully to our point. It shews, that he still regarded the law as a rule of life; and it gives me a fair opportunity,

1st, To establish the perpetuity of the law, as a rule of life; and,

2dly, To enforce its obligations.

I. In order to establish the perpetuity of the law as a rule of life, let it be remembered, that the law is a perfect transcript of the mind and will of God. It arises necessarily out of the relation which we bear to him and to each other. It did not depend on any arbitrary appointment of the Deity, (except, indeed, so far as the Sabbath is concerned,) but would have been equally in force whether it had been the subject of a particular revelation or not. Allowance, indeed, will, as St. Paul informs us, be made for those, who, for want of a revelation, have but very imperfect conceptions respecting the Divine will [Note: Rom_2:14-15.]: but, wherever that is known, it must be a rule of conduct to man, and will be a rule of judgment to God. No change of circumstances whatever can alter its demands. In whatever situation we be, it must be our duty to love God with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourselves: nor can this law by any means be dispensed with. In truth, God cannot dispense with any part of this law; for if he did, he would authorize men to despoil themselves of his image, and to rob him of his glory.

That the law is still a rule of duty to the people of God, appears from that injunction of St. Paul, in the thirteenth chapter to the Romans: “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” Then, specifying the duties contained in the second table of the law as essential constituents of true love, he adds, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law [Note: Rom_13:8-10.].” Consequently, if it is our duty to exercise love, it is our duty to fulfil the law, which is in all respects identified with love.

But to insist on this is needless: for, instead of the law being superseded by the Lord Jesus Christ, it is in his hand more imperative than ever, and comes to us with tenfold obligations to obey it: and this is the point to which I mean to call your particular attention. To say that “we are not without law to God,” is comparatively a small matter: the point I am to establish is, that “we are under the law to Christ.”

In confirmation of this, I assert, that our obedience to the law was contemplated by God himself: first, in all that Christ did and suffered for us; next, in his liberating of us from the law as a covenant of works; and, lastly, in his admission of us into a new covenant, the covenant of grace.

First, I say, our obedience to the law was one great object which our Lord and Saviour had in view, in all that he did and suffered for us. It was not from death only that he came to save us, but from sin. Indeed, he was on that very account “named Jesus, because he was to save his people from their sins [Note: Mat_1:21.].” Hear how plainly this was declared concerning him, even before he came into the world: “Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, when filled with the Holy Ghost, prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us.. to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; the oath which he sware to our father Abraham, that he would grant unto us, that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life [Note: Luk_1:67-75.].” This clearly shews, that, instead of “making void the law, Christ has established” its authority to the very end of time. And to this agrees the testimony of St. Paul: “He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” And again, expressly adverting to the government which Jesus still maintains over his people, he says, “None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself: for whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s: for to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be the Lord both of the dead and living [Note: Rom_14:7-8.].”

Next I say, that our obedience to the law was a most important end, for which we are liberated from the law as a covenant of works. This is repeatedly asserted by St. Paul. In the eighth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, he says, “The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death:” (that is, the Gospel hath freed me from the law:) “for what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, hath condemned sin in the flesh:” (and now observe for what end)—“that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit [Note: Rom_8:2-4.].” The law could neither justify nor sanctify us: the Gospel does both: and the very end for which Christ has liberated us from the law, was, that both these ends might be accomplished in us.

To this I will add a passage, which needs no explanation: it is so clear, so precise, so full to the point, that it leaves no doubt upon the subject. St. Paul, speaking of his own experience, says, “I, through the law, am dead to the law, that I might live unto God [Note: Gal_2:19.].”Here you perceive that it was the law itself which made him dead to the law. It was so rigorous in its demands, and so awful in its sanctions, that he utterly despaired of obtaining salvation by it; and, in this view, became wholly dead to it. But did he therefore neglect it as a rule of life? Quite the reverse: “Through the law, he was dead to the law, that he might live unto God,” and serve him in newness of life.

But there is an illustration of this matter given us by the Apostle, which places it in a still clearer point of view; in a view at once peculiarly beautiful, and unquestionably just. In the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans he compares the law to a man to whom the Church is united, as it were, in the bonds of marriage. He then observes, that, as a wife is bound to her husband by the nuptial contract as long as he lives, and would be justly called an adulteress if she were to connect herself with another man during his life, so are we united in the closest bonds of the law. But, by the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and his satisfying all the demands of that law for us, its power over us is annulled, and it becomes, from the very moment of our believing in him, dead with respect to us; so that we are at liberty to be united to Christ, and to enter into a new covenant with him. This benefit, he observes, we derive from Christ. But for what end? That our obligations to holiness may be vacated? No; by no means; but the very reverse: he conveys this benefit, in order that, in our new-covenant state, we may bring forth that fruit, which we never did, nor could, bring forth in connexion with our former husband. Hear his own words: “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,)” (I beg you to pay particular attention to thin, because it is addressed to those especially who know the law,) “Know ye not how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman who hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then, if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but, if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ” (that is, through the sufferings of Christ, the power of the law over you is cancelled), “that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that ye should bring forth fruit unto God [Note: Rom_7:1-4.].” If there were no other passage in all the Scriptures than this, it would be quite sufficient, not only to establish the point in hand, but to silence, for ever, all jealousies respecting the practical intent and tendency of the Gospel.

But I must go on yet further to observe, in the last place, that our obedience to the law is one of the chief blessings conferred upon us by the new covenant, the covenant of grace. You will remember, that the first covenant merely says, “Do this, and live.” It condemns for disobedience; but never does any thing towards enabling us to obey. But what says God to us in. the new covenant? “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord: I will put my law into their mind, and write it in their hearts [Note: Heb_8:10.].” And again, “A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh: and I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and to keep my judgments and do them [Note: Eze_36:26-27.].” Here, by the very terms of the new covenant, is obedience to the law infallibly secured; because God himself undertakes to work it in us by the influences of his good Spirit. His assured promise to every one that embraces the new covenant is, “Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace [Note: Rom_6:14.].”

Hence, then, you see the perpetuity of the law fully established. It is only in its covenant form that it is cancelled: as a rule of duty, it is, as I have before observed, altogether unchangeable: and its authority, instead of being invalidated by the Gospel, is confirmed and strengthened by it: since our obedience to it was, as I have distinctly shewn, first, the end for which Christ came into the world; next, the end for which he delivered us from the law as a covenant of works; and, lastly, the end for which he has brought us into the new covenant, the covenant of grace. In answer, therefore, to every one who doubts the practical tendency of the Gospel, we are prepared to say, with the Apostle Paul, “Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid [Note: Rom_6:15.].”

Having thus endeavoured, with the utmost plainness, to shew that we are still under the law to Christ, I come,

In the II. place, to enforce its obligations.

Is the law designed to be a rule to govern us after we have laid hold on the covenant of grace? Let us use it for that end, without attempting to lower any one of its demands, and with the utmost cheerfulness and zeal. Let us, first, use it for that end. Doubtless, its primary uses must be carefully kept in remembrance. We must never forget, that its first office is, to convince us of sin, and to shew us our undone state, according to the covenant of works. In this view it must produce in us the deepest humiliation, and an utter renunciation of all dependence on our own works, either in whole or in part, for justification before God. Its next use must be, to drive us to the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, that we may obtain salvation through his meritorious death and passion. There is no righteousness but his, that is commensurate with its demands; and there is no other in which we can ever stand accepted before God. These things, I say, we must ever bear in remembrance; and be careful never to make, in any degree, our obedience to the law a ground of our hope. But, having this well settled in our minds, we must address ourselves to a diligent performance of all that the law enjoins. It is by this that we are to shew ourselves to have experienced a work of grace in our souls: for “we are created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” If we profess to hope that we have been “chosen of God” and “predestinated unto life,” shall we make these mysterious truths an occasion of remissness in the path of duty? God forbid: on the contrary, we must ever bear in mind, that, if we have been chosen of God at all, “we have been chosen that we may be holy, and without blame before him in love;” and if we have been predestinated by God at all, we have been predestinated “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” And if we glory in the finished work of Christ (for you will take notice that I am following the Antinomian into all his strong-holds), we must remember what his end was in accomplishing salvation for us: “We have been bought with a price, that we may glorify him with our body and our spirit, which are his.” There are two great errors from which we must keep equally remote; namely, from legal dependence on our own obedience to the law, and, at the same time, from an Antinomian contempt of its commands. We must distinguish between the motives and principles by which we are actuated, and which determine the true quality of our actions. Whatever we do, in order to earn salvation by it, will be rejected of God, and will disappoint our hopes: but, whatever we do from a sense of duty to God, and with a view to honour the Saviour and evince the sincerity of our love to him, will be accepted for his sake, and will receive a proportionable reward of grace. Only take cave that your obedience be from faith and love, and not from a vain hope to purchase the Divine favour; and then will you answer the true ends of your deliverance from the law as a covenant of works, and of your subjection to it as a rule of life.

In enforcing the obligations of the law, I would next say, Attempt not in any thing to lower its demands. We have before shewn, that, as a covenant, it recedes not from its commands of perfect obedience; no, not in one jot or tittle of its requirements. And, as a rule, its requirements are of equal extent. It enjoins us to love God with all our heart, and all our mind, and all our soul, and all our strength; and to love our neighbour as ourselves: and no lower standard must we propose to ourselves for our daily walk. We must not be satisfied with the world’s standard: we must not be contented with a round of duties, and the performance of a few kind and charitable acts. “We must die unto sin altogether, and live unto righteousness.” We must seek to have “the whole body of sin crucified within us;” and must “delight ourselves in the law after our inward man,” and strive to “perfect holiness in the fear of God.” Nothing must satisfy us, but the attainment of “God’s perfect image in righteousness and true holiness.” If the law is our rule, Christ himself must be our pattern: we must endeavour to “walk in all things as he walked,” and to “purify ourselves even as he is pure.” Nothing short of absolute perfection should satisfy our minds: we should strive to be “holy, as God himself is holy,” and to be “perfect, even as our Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Now, need I say that these efforts are very rarely seen? and that, when seen, they are almost universally discountenanced and discouraged? Cautions in plenty are given, “not to be righteous over-much:” but who ever hears the friendly caution, to “be righteous enough?” If we are outwardly decent and moral, we may be as regardless of the state of our souls before God as we please, and no one will warn us of our danger: but, if the love of Christ constrain us to devote ourselves altogether unto him, there is a general alarm respecting us; and nothing is heard but cautions and warnings on every side.

Let it not be imagined that I would recommend any thing that savours of real enthusiasm or fanaticism: so far from it, I would discourage these evils to the utmost of my power: but, if love to God and love to man be, by common consent, as it were, branded with these names, I say, let not any man be deterred from the performance of his duty by any opprobrious names whatever; but let every one aspire after universal holiness, and seek to “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God [Note: Col_4:12.].”

One thing more would I say; namely this: In your obedience to the law, be willing servants. We are not to serve the Lord “grudgingly, or of necessity,” but “with a willing mind.” What St. Paul has spoken on this head deserves peculiar attention. He says, “now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held: that we should serve God in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter [Note: Rom_7:6.].” Here he refers to the same image as before, the dissolution of marriage by the death of our husband; and the consequent termination of those restraints, in which, during his life, we were held. But what is to be the effect of this liberty? an abandonment of ourselves to sin? No: but an obeying of our new husband, not in the servile way to which we have been accustomed, but with real pleasure and delight, panting after the highest possible perfection both of heart and life. This service we are to account perfect freedom: and we are to live altogether for him, “running the way of his commandments with enlarged hearts.” Now, “whereever the Spirit is, there is this liberty [Note: 2Co_3:17.].” But, alas! how little of this liberty is seen in the Christian world! Instead of panting to attain “the full measure of the stature of Christ,” we are satisfied with our own stinted growth; so that, in the course of several years, scarcely any improvement is visible in us. The little we do for the Lord, is rather “from constraint, than willingly.” Our defects create in us no real humiliation: our weakness stimulates us not to earnest cries for help: our inability to fulfil our duty leads us not to exult and glory in the work of Christ, or to clothe ourselves from day to day with his perfect righteousness. No: of these feelings, respecting which I spoke largely in my first discourse, the generality are wholly destitute; and therefore destitute, because they understand not the law either in its condemning or its commanding power. Ignorant of the law, they are of necessity ignorant of the Gospel also; and, consequently, are strangers to all those high and holy feelings which the Gospel inspires. Be it however remembered, that if, “through the knowledge of the law, we be, as we must be, dead to the law,” we shall account it our first duty, and our truest happiness, to “live unto our God.”

Before I close my subject, I think you will not deem me presumptuous if I venture to address a few words to my brethren who either are already in the ministry, or are preparing to engage in that sacred office. I think it must strike you, that this subject has by no means that prominence in our public addresses which its importance demands. If it be true, that without the knowledge of the law we cannot understand the Gospel, the neglect of opening the law is most injurious to the souls of men. I know, indeed, that God may, by convincing men of sin, supply that defect; and lead them to a simple reliance on the Saviour, even whilst they are ignorant of the spirituality of the law, and of the uses for which it was promulgated: but still they cannot be truly enlightened Christians; nor can their faith be so firm as it would be, if they had more enlarged views of the Gospel. But how can we hope that this work of conviction should prevail amongst our hearers, when we withhold from them God’s appointed means of producing it in their souls? In truth, this accounts, in a great measure, for the inefficiency of our ministrations. In numberless places, during a whole course of years, not so much as a single instance is found of a sinner being “pricked to the heart, and crying out, What must I do to be saved?” or, if such an instance occur, it is found only in some one who is condemned by the mere letter of the law. But it would not be so, if the law were preached by us in all its spirituality and extent, and the Gospel were represented as God’s only remedy for the salvation of men. A simple exhibition of these truths would reach the heart, and would be accompanied with power from on high. Let me then entreat you, for your own sake, and for your people’s sake, to study the law; and to make the use of it which God has especially ordained, even to drive them, like the pursuer of blood, to the refuge that is set before them in the Gospel.

If there be amongst us any who yet cannot understand this subject, let me next, address them, and entreat that they will not too hastily dismiss it from their minds: for verily, it demands from every child of man the most attentive consideration. I know that prejudices do exist, even as they have in all ages existed, against both the Law and the Gospel; against the Law as severe, and against the Gospel as licentious. But, to every one of you I must say, Take heed to this subject: for “it is your life:” and, in unfolding it to you, I have, with all possible fidelity, “set life and death before you.” Let the law, I pray you, have its first work in convincing you of sin. Let it then operate effectually to bring you to Christ. And, lastly, let it serve you as a rule, to which your whole life shall be conformed. Set not yourselves against it in any one of these views: set not yourselves against it, as too harsh in its covenant form, or too lax in its abrogated state, or too strict in its requirements as a rule: but improve it for all the ends for which it has been given; so shall it work its whole work within you, and bring you in safety to God, to holiness, to glory.

But I trust there are amongst us not a few who really “know the law,” and approve of it in all its uses. And to them, lastly, I would address myself. To them, in particular, I would say, Be sure that you unreservedly give yourselves up to God. Those who enter not into your views, will judge both of you and of your principles by the holiness of your lives. Let them see in you what the tendency of the Gospel really is: let them see, that “the grace of God, which brings salvation to you, teaches you to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live righteously, and soberly, and godly, in this present world.” You will forgive me, if I feel a more than ordinary anxiety about you. On you the honour of God and his Gospel pre-eminently depends: and I am earnestly desirous that you should “walk worthy of your high calling; yea, and worthy of the Lord himself also, unto all pleasing.” I would that there should not be a duty either to God or man in which you should be found remiss. Whatever your situation particularly requires, that should be an object of your most diligent attention; that, if a comparison be instituted between you and those who make no profession of religion, you may at least be found to stand on equality with the best amongst them; and be able to say, “Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they exemplary in the whole of their deportment? so am I.” It must never be forgotten, that the duties of the second table are as necessary to be observed as those of the first: and if there be one amongst you who would set the two at variance, I must declare my testimony against him, as greatly dishonouring the Gospel of Christ. But of the great mass of religious characters amongst you, “I am persuaded better things, though I thus speak.” Go on then, I entreat you, and abound more and more in every thing that is excellent and praiseworthy: and, in reference to every duty that is required of you, let it be seen that you are “under the law to Christ.” This is expected at your hands, and may well be expected: for if you are remiss in these things, who will be attentive to them? Remember, it is “by well-doing that you are to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:” and never forget, that there is no other way of proving yourselves Christ’s disciples indeed, but by doing his will, and keeping his Commandments [Note: Joh_14:15. 1Co_7:19. 1Jn_2:3-4.].” [Note: The reader, after reading these on The Law, is recommended to read those on The Gospel, on 1Ti_1:11.]