Page images

lost his claim to the righteousness of the law, as much as if he had offended in all, and therefore he cannot be made righteous by the deeds of that law which has passed sentence upon him, and given him up into the hands of justice to suffer the first and second death. While he lies in this miserable, helpless state, he can no more do any act which is good and valid in law, than a malefactor can under sentence of death, and yet he is so proud as to fancy that he can merit heaven by his dead works. Poor vain creature ! he is so full of self as to think he can do all that the law requires, although he has broken it, and although he can do nothing but sin, until he be pardoned, and believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. What great numbers are there among us of this self-righteous spirit! who, because they are somewhat stricter in their lives than others, and are more constant attenders upon ordinances, therefore take state to themselves, and expect you should give them place according to to their own fancied rank or merit. They are still proclaiming, as the Pharisees used to do, "make way there; stand by, I am holier than thou.” Against this mock righteousness the text is levelled. The design of it is to strip the self-righteous of all their borrowed plumes, and to convince then that after they have broken the law they cannot be made righteous by a partial keeping of it. The wise man would lead them to consider what the moral law is, how far short they come of the obedience it requires, and how imperfect, yea, sinful, their works and duties are, and thus he would convince them of their want of a better righteousness than their own. The Jews were exceedingly prone to trust to their own righteousness, and therefore he tried to beat them off from any reliance upon it. When our Lord came, he found them under the influence of the same self-righteous spirit; and in all his preaching he spake with great sharpness against the pretended righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. We have still men of the same spirit among us, whose righteousness does not exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, and yet they hope to enter into the kingdom of heaven. To all such persons the wise man directs his advice, and counsels them not to trust to their own works and duties for a righteousness in which they may be justified before God—“ be not ye great self-justifiers: why will ye destroy yourselves ?”

Your false righteousness will destroy you, if you venture to put your trial upon it at God's bar; for he has already decreed, that since all have sinned, therefore by the deeds of the broken law shall no flesh be justified in his sight.

It is certain then that the text does not speak against the righteousness of the law, nor yet, secondly, against the righteousness of faith. "The law of God is as holy, just and good as he is, and cannot pass by the least sin. It has made no provision for a pardon, nor given any promise to repentance or amendment; but requires absolutely perfect, unsinning obedience, and upon the first offence it puts the sinner under the curse, and leaves him in the hands of justice to inflict upon him the threatened and deserved punishment. In this state the gospel finds him, and offers him the righteousness of the Lord Christ; but the proud sinner will not submit to be justified by it, until the Holy Spirit preach the law to his conscience, and convince him of its holy, spiritual, and perfect nature, upon which he feels guilt, conscience accuses and condemns him, and lie sees no righteousness in his fancied good works to rely upon, but finds he must go out of himself for a righteousness in which he may appear before God. Then the Holy Spirit convinces him of Christ's righteousness, how infinitely perfect it is, and how safely he may trust to it, and gives him faith to apprehend it, and to apply it to himself for his justification. And then he no longer goes about to establish his own rightecusness, but submits to the righteousness of God. Against this the wise man cannot caution us.

We all want it, and over-much of it we cannot have. It

is the righteousness of God, as perfect as God is, and the divine person who wrought it out by his obedience and sufferings, humbled himself to be made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Believers are not only righteous in him, but righteousness, and that the righteousness of God too, against which law and justice cannot make any exception; therefore of this righteousness, though not of their own, may they boast all the day long. The merits of it are their justification, the fruits of it are their sanctification; and when they come to heaven this righteousness will be their everlasting robe of glory, and to sing his praises who clothed them with it will be their employment and happiness for ever and ever. Surely then the wise man's caution in the text was not levelled against this all-perfect and glorious righteousness ? No. He knew the inestimable value

of it, and intended to recommend it, by detecting that false righteousness upon which sinners are apt to rest, and see not their want of a better. This was his design, which having proved and established by several arguments, I shall only add two or three practical observations upon what has been said.

This greatly mistaken text is, I hope, now set right, and the meaning of it is made plain and clear. The wise man did not intend to speak against the righteousness of the law, nor against the righteousness of faith, but against a false righteousness, which was then, and is still, in the world. How many are there, who, after they have broken the law, think of being justified by keeping it better, and hope to make themselves very good and righteous enough by their works and duties? To every such person the wise man says, “ be not a great self-justifier: why shouldst thou destroy thyself?” But very few will take his advice. There is a generation of men, proud and self-righteous, who think their own works can recommend them to God. Although they have sinned, yet they fancy that duties can atone for sins. The

Who are

Jews were much addicted to this error, and the apocryphal books are full of it. In our Lord's time we find the religious among the Jews placing righteousness in works. Our modern Pharisees copy exactly after them, and refuse to attend to the wise man's caution in the text. These over-righteous ones make a Saviour of their duties, and hope to merit heaven by their works; and yet, alas ! their works are but few, and those very imperfect. Their righteousness is chiefly negative, consisting in doing no harm, in not murdering, or stealing, or getting drunk, or breaking the commandments outwardly. Then they are what you call very good sort of people. But if they keep close to their church, and go to prayers on Wednesdays, on Fridays, and on a saint's day, if they have nothing else to do; and will not play at cards, or go to the playhouse on Saturday night before the sacrament, although they have no objection against going on Monday after they receive it-0, these are your mighty good people indeed ! righteous, if they are not? But if they go to the sacrament once a-month, and use the new week's preparation, and follow it strictly; or if they miss any of the prayers, through an engagement in the evening, they will be sure to say them all the next morning; and if they have some new book of devotion, out of which they say their formal task, morning and evening, like the stupid Papists, gabbling over the bead-roll of their ave-Marys and paternosters—these are our great saints! Who shall go to heaven, if they do not? These, like their predecessors of old, think themselves righteous, and despise others. Their pride deceives them, and hinders them fron submitiing to the righteousness, of God. They are too proud to submit. The knowledge of the law and the knowledge of themselves would humble them. But they are so ignorant of the law as to believe, that by doing some of its duties they shall be made righteous enough; and they are so ignorant of the plague of their own hearts as to see no necessity for an inward

change. They cannot he persuaded but they have very good hearts, and therefore they have no reason to pray, with the psalmist, "create in ine a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Without this clean heart and right spirit they have only the form and outside of Christians. The life and power is wanting, and Christ may say to them, as he did to the church of Sardis," I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.

But if this be the case, some will be apt to say, why need we do any good works, if they be not meritorious ? why need we go to church, and pray, and hear and read the word, and go to the sacrament, and do good, if all this be no part of our righteousness before God? It certainly is not : “for by grace are ye saved,” says the apostle, “through faith: 1100 of works, lest any man should boast.” And to this doctrine the whole protestant church subscribes, and all the Papists deny it. The reformers were called Protestants, because they protested chiefly against this blasphemous tenet of popery, namely, that works merit towards a sinner's justification before God. This is the grand distinction between us and the Papists; and yet, alas! this distinction is wearing out. What great numbers have we among ns, who trust to their own fancied good works for acceptance with God? In this point,

and it is a very leading one, they are perfectly agreed with the Papists. They are both great self.justifiers, having at least equal, if not superior merit to Christ, in the matter of their justification. Hear the form of a monkish absolution, in which the doctrine of merit is thus taught:

“God forgive thee, my brother : the merit of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the blessed saint Mary, always a virgin, and of all the saints, the merit of thine order, the strictness of thy religion, the humility of thy confession, and contrition of thy heart, the good works which thou hast done and shalt do for the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, be un

« PreviousContinue »