« PreviousContinue »
knowledge, after the image of him that created him.” -Col. iii. 10. A man cannot be too wise, but he may think and speak of his own wisdom more highly than he ought, and that is making himself over-wise. In like mariner righteousness is part of the image of God in the soul : Eph. iv. 24_and that they put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness.” A man cannot possibly be over-righteous, he cannot do more than the law requires, but he may think and speak of his fancied righteousness more highly than he ought, and that is his making himseif over-righteous. It is supposing him to be what he is not, which is self-righteousness. In this sense Theodore Beza, one of the great lights of the reformation, understood the passage; for in his note upon it he says, “boast not too much of thine own righteousness and wisdom.” He supposed a man's boasting of his righteousness was making himself righteous overmuch; and this is really the case. A man cannot possibly have too much righteousness, but he may fancy himself to be righteous when he is not and it he speak and act according to his own fancy, then he is one of the over-righteous. And,
Secondly, the true sense of the words agree with the context. Strictly rendered, they read thus—“ be not thou a great self-justifier :" the original word which is translated righteous, is in the conjugation hiphil, which in the Hebrew tongue signifies to make righteous, or to justify, and being here used personally it stands for a justifier, one who would make himself righteous, and he does it to excess, he justifies himself over-mucli
, pretending to a greater righteousness than he has. This is the meaning of the text, “be not thou a great self-justifier :” for there is not a righteous man upon earth, who doeth good and sinneth not, and consequently there is not one man upon earth righteous enough, much less righteous overmuch, except in his own proud conceit. And against this self-righteousness the text cautions us, advising
us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think.
But granting this to be the meaning of the text, some will say, what necessity was there for this caution ? My answer to this is a
Third argument, by which the meaning of the words may be settled. It was always necessary to give men this caution, because no man can be righteous over-much, and yet men have been always trying to make themselves so. It is impossible to do more than the law requires, and it is impossible for fallen man to do all that it requires, and yet his pride puts him upon trying impossibilities. There is a selfrighteous spirit in him, wbich leads him to hope he can, by his keeping of the law, attain to such a righteousness as God will accept, and for it justify him. This appears from the history of the Jews, in the old testament. Moses often dissuades them from the opinion of their own righteousness, and the prophets enlarge upon this particular. The book of Job treats entirely of it, being written professedly to show, that no man could be justified before God by any righteousness of his own. Job insists
it in his debate with his three friends, that his life and conversation had been such that he could maintain his own ways before God. “ Let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may know mine integrity: for till I dię I will not remove mine integrity from me. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go; my heart shall not reproach me so long as I shall live. I am clean, without transgression: I am innocent, neither is there iniquity in me." But he soon changed his opinion, after Elihu had found a right indictment against him, and charged him with having said that he was righteous, and should be found so, if God was to weigh him in an even balance. Elihu's arguments brought down and humbled his proud self-righteous spirit, and he confessed, “I have uttered what I understood not, things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. Behold I am vile, I abhor myself, and
repent in dust and ashes." The Lord God knew the temper of the Jews, and that they would be always leaning to self-righteousness, and therefore he left this book upon record, to silence all the pleas which they should ever make for the sufficiency of their works, towards their justification at his bar. How necessary this book was we may see clearly from the great degree to which a self-righteous spirit prevailed in our Lord's time; for then the Pharisees, and all that made a great show of religion, knew of no righteousness but what they could attain by their own works, and not so much by the works of the moral, as of the ceremonial law. They supposed the observance of the ceremonies to be meritorious, and hoped to be made righteous by keeping them strictly. In consequence of this opinion the learned doctors, rabbies, and scribes, introduced a vast number of traditions, and thought that by keeping them with the ceremonies, they should be holier than others, and they condemned our Lord, because he would not practise the traditions of the elders, but opposed them, and said that they had made the law of God fect, by their traditions: they had made the moral law of none effect, because they thought to atone for their offences against it by keeping the ceremonial law, which also they rendered of none effect, because it was instituted to point out the Messiah, who was to make an atonement for the sins committed against the moral law. Our Lord often preached against the Scribes and Pharisees, and he never spake such sharp words against any sort of sinners as against them, for he says they were farther from the kingdom of God than publicans and harlots. In all his ministry he never made such a severe discourse as in the twentythird chapter of St. Matthew, where he is exposing the errors of the Scribes and Pharisees, and notwithstanding their many long prayers, and alms, and fastings, and pains to make proselytes, and frequent washings, and many other such like things, which they thought made them righteous, yet he says to
them, “ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell ?” How necessary, then, was the caution in the text to such persons, who thought themselves righteous, and despised others ? and is it not still necessary for those who are seeking righteousness by the works of the law? How many thousands, and tens of thousands, 'are there now in the world, Protestants as well as Papists, who place righteousness in duties, in living up to the law as near as they can, in keeping clear of gross sins, in going to church, and in hearing and reading the scripture, and if they do all this they then ihink themselves safe. But there are some more strict than these, who enjoin themselves a round of duties, set forms of prayers, and times of fasting, and give many alms, and never miss the sacrament once a-month, and perhaps have some family worship, upon which account they think themselves very good, and can thank God ihat they are not like other men. minister dares attack this false righteousness, they cry out agninst him as the Pharisees did against Christ. If he them that he does not speak against what they do, but against the motive upon which they act, not against the thing done, but against the end they propose in doing it, this provokes them more; because it tends to lay open the rottenness of their hearts, which being not cleansed from sin, all their outward and pretended righteousness is only like painting a sepulchre, or washing the outside of a cup, while there is left within all manner of uncleanness.
Since then a self-righteous spirit has prevailed, and still prevails in the world, the wise man's caution has been, and is still, necessary. He calls to persons of this temper, who are seeking righteousness by the works of the law,' and says to them, why will ye try to justify yourselves by your duties? You are attempting an impossibility: for the law requires absolutely perfect obedience, which you have not paid. You have sinned, and you are none of you righteous, no, not one. There is not a righteous man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not, and consequently there is not one who has that unsinning righteousness which the law demands, and without which none can be justified by it. Trust not then to your imperfect obedience : it can only destroy you; but scek a better righteousness, even the righteousness of God.
If these arguments be carefully considered, they will, I hope, lead you to the true meaning of the text. The wise man is not speaking against the righteousDess of the moral law, nor against the righteousness of the law of faith, but he is dissuading sinners from seeking righteousness by the works of that law which they have broken, and which condemns them. By trusting to this false righteousness they must inevitably be destroyed; for it is the righteousness of a sinner; which is a contradiction in terms. It is an unrighteous righteousness. The law knows nothing of it. The righteousness of the law consists in perfect obedience; and one single failing renders the sinner ever after absolutely incapable of being made righteous by his keeping the law. This is the doc. trine of the text, which, because of the great opposition to it, I proceed to defend under my third general head. And I will only mention two arguments, the first taken from the righteousness of the law, and the second from the righteousness of the gospel.
The righteousness of the law consists in paying it its due, and that is unsinning obedience. Whoever is legally righteous must keep the law in its most perfect degree, not offending even in a single thought. He must continue to do all things always and perfectly, as the law requires, and then it will pronounce him righteous, and give him the promised life. But who is thus righteous? Not one: for all have sinned. And how then can any one be righteous over-much? So far from it, no one can be righteous at all by his keeping the law, after he has once broken it; because it immediately brings him in guilty and condemns him. Having offended in one point, he has thereby