Rom_3:31. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
A GENERAL prejudice obtains against the way of salvation by faith: but it prevailed equally even in the apostolic age. Paul himself saw that his statement of the Gospel did not escape censure. He perceived that it was deemed injurious to the interests of morality; he therefore anticipated and answered this objection.
To bring the subject fully before you, I will propose for your consideration three things—the objection made—the objection obviated—the objection retorted.
The objection made—
People suppose we make void the law through faith; but the truth, however clearly we may state it is, for the most part, misapprehended. In explaining salvation by faith we affirm two things concerning the law:
That it has no power either to condemn or to justify a believer—
[It cannot condemn him, because Christ has redeemed him from its curse [Note: Gal_3:13.]. It cannot justify him, because he has transgressed it, and its demands of perfect obedience are unalterably the same. Faith in Christ delivers him from the penal sanctions of the law, but does not in any respect lower its demands.]
That his obedience to it makes no part of his justifying righteousness—
[Faith and works, as grounds of justification, are opposite to each other [Note: Rom_11:6.]. If our works had any share in our justification we should have a ground of boasting; which is utterly to be excluded [Note: Rom_3:27.]. The smallest reliance on our works makes void all hope by the Gospel [Note: Gal_5:2; Gal_5:4.]. All dependence therefore on the works of the law must be entirely renounced.]
These affirmations evidently exclude morality from the office of justifying. They are therefore supposed to discountenance all practical religion; but this mistake originates in the ignorance of the objectors themselves.
This will be seen, whilst we notice,
The objection obviated—
The believer, so far from making void the law, establishes it. The power of the law is twofold; to command obedience, and to condemn for disobedience. The believer establishes the law in each of these respects:
In its commanding power:
[He owns its absolute authority over him as God’s creature; all his hope is in the perfect obedience which Christ paid to it for him; he looks upon his obligations to obey it as increased, rather than vacated, by the death of Christ; he actually desires to obey it as much as if he were to be justified by his obedience to it.]
In its condemning power:
[He acknowledges himself justly condemned by it: he founds his hope in Christ as having borne its curse for him: his own conscience cannot be pacified but by that atonement which satisfied the demands of the law: bereft of a hope in the atonement, he would utterly despair: he flees to Christ continually “to bear the iniquity of his holiest actions.”]
Thus he magnifies the law, while the objector himself, as I will now prove, makes it void.
To see this more fully, consider,
The objection retorted—
The person who objects to salvation by faith alone, is in reality the one who makes void the law. Objections against the doctrine of faith are raised from a pretended regard for the law; but the person who blends faith and works effectually undermines the whole authority of the law. He undermines,
Its commanding power—
[He is striving to do something which may serve in part as a ground of his justification; but he can do nothing which is not imperfect; therefore he shews that he considers the law as less rigorous in its demands than it really is: consequently he robs it in a measure of its commanding power.]
Its condemning power—
[He never thoroughly feels himself a lost sinner; he does not freely acknowledge that he might he justly cursed even for his most holy actions; he even looks for justification on account of that which in itself deserves nothing but condemnation: and what is this but to lower its condemning power?]
Thus the advocates for the law are, in fact, its greatest enemies; whereas the advocates for the Gospel are the truest friends to the law also—
How absurd is it for persons to decide on religion without ever having studied its doctrines!
[In human sciences men forbear to lay down their dogmas without some previous knowledge of the points on which they decide; but in theology, all, however ignorant, think themselves competent to judge. They indeed, who are taught of God, can judge; but unenlightened reason does not qualify us to determine. Let us beware of indulging prejudices against the truth. Let us seek to be “guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit.”]
How excellent is the salvation revealed to us in the Gospel!
[Salvation by faith is exactly suited to man’s necessities. It is also admirably calculated to advance the honour of God. Every man that is saved magnifies the law, and consequently the lawgiver. The commanding and condemning power of the law are equally glorified by the sinner’s dependence on the obedience and sufferings of Christ: but in those who are condemned, its sanctions only are honoured. Thus is the law more honoured in the salvation of one, than in the destruction of the whole human race. Let all then admire and embrace this glorious salvation.]