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God; and then very naturally adds, that as such was the state of mankind, they had no chance of being acquitted upon the merits of their case; that the
possession and knowledge of the law, of which the Jews boasted, was indeed a great advantage, but one which they had not chosen to use; and that now, like all other opportunities when neglected, it only made them the more inexcusable, as it had given them a knowledge of right and wrong, and yet they had not become the better for their knowledge.
Again, then, in the twenty-first verse, does St. Paul repeat the Gospel or good tidings, which he was sent everywhere to preach. This Gospel is, that God in His mercy will acquit those who have no right to be acquitted, if they feel that it is a matter of grace, not of right, and are willing to throw themselves before Him, to receive His pardon on His own terms. And here, what he had before described simply as “faith," he now explains further, by calling it “faith in Jesus Christ," or "faith in the blood of Jesus Christ.” “We are acquitted,” he says, “ freely, as a pure mercy, by God's kindness, through the redemption by Christ Jesus," by which redemption God has declared that He is at once a God of justice, and a God of mercy; that He is just, and yet will justify or acquit those who have no right to be acquitted, if they accept of His forgiveness through Jesus Christ. This Gospel, then, at once destroys all boastings, or claim of right in any one. It professes to acquit those who deserve nothing but condemnation; so that in order to avail himself of it, a man must have a quick conscience to know his own sin, and a humble mind to confess and lament it. He must come to God with humility and penitence to
accept a favour, not with confidence and self satisfaction as to claim a right. Those, then, may be acquitted by God's mercy through Christ, who according to the law, or the merits of their case, would have been condemned. But does this weaken or destroy the law? Far otherwise : since it is expressly declared that they are acquitted only out of mercy, and if they receive their acquittal in the proper spirit. Nay, the authority and sacredness of the law is most highly magnified, since those whom it would have condemned are not only acquitted upon their humble submission out of mere grace; but in order to show that their acquittal could not be lightly purchased, nor their breach of the law easily passed over, it is declared that their forfeited souls were ransomed at a price whose value no created being can rightly estimate,—the blood of the Son of God.
Every word here might be the text of a sermon; might lead to thoughts and to prayers such as would most fit us for the kingdom of God. I know that to the most pious minds, this matter of fact statement of truths, on which our state throughout all eternity depends, may seem cold and hard, almost to profaneness. To talk of our sinfulness, of our being condemned according to justice in the sight of God, or our being acquitted only through His grace and mercy, through the redemption by Christ Jesus; to speak of these things merely in the way of explanation, without stopping to dwell more fully on the thoughts and feelings which they ought to awaken, may seem almost to encourage that dangerous habit, of listening unconcernedly and with unmoved consciences to truths which should be most humbling and most awakening. This is not the
least evil of religious controversy; that it accustoms us to consider as a matter of reasoning and an exercise of the understanding, subjects which we ought to think of on our knees, with the deepest sense of their infinite importance, and the sincerest desire to bring them home to our own hearts and lives. But if I could hope that what I have said, or am going to say, may assist any one to understand clearly one of the most important parts of the Scripture, it would then be only furnishing him with the means of reading it for the future with the very benefit that is most desirable. It must be by the very nature of the case, that while we are reading any thing which we do not entirely understand, our minds should be more engaged in it than our hearts : we must be more trying to find out the sense, can have it as yet in our power to profit by it. But let this difficulty be removed, and the sense made plain to us, then we can and often do begin to meditate upon it, and to derive good from it; and thus it is well known that what to some persons are mere difficult passages, incapable of yielding them any advantage, are to others most delightful and most improving, because they fully understand them. Again, therefore, let us proceed to the explanation of this part of the Scripture; and for this purpose, let me go on in the way that I have begun, and endeavour to state simply what it is that St. Paul means to say, well conscious how much there is in his words for the improvement of myself and others, when we have once been enabled to perceive their meaning clearly.
We are now come to the end of the third chapter; and in beginning the fourth, we meet with one of those places in the Epistles which belong rather more to
other times than to ours; and on which, therefore, we need not dwell so fully. Amongst those to whom St. Paul was writing, a great number, probably the largest part of the whole, were Jews by birth or descent, and had very high notions of their privileges as such. It is to them, therefore, in particular, that the fourth chapter is addressed. St. Paul tells them, that the very founder of their nation, Abraham, had received his acquittal and his promises of blessing from God exactly on the same terms that they were now offered to all mankind ; that is, not as a right, but as an act of mercy, shown to those who threw themselves entirely upon God, to do with them whatever He saw best. Abraham was called by God to go out into a strange country, far from his home and kindred, with a promise, if he thus put himself under God's direction, in entire trust and faith in Him, that He would make of him a great nation, that in him should all the families of the earth be blessed; and afterwards that he should have a son to be his heir, when it seemed impossible in the course of nature. Abraham did throw himself entirely upon God; he left his own country, he went to live amongst strangers, leading a roving life like a shepherd, he found himself in his own person by no means bettered by his change-yet still he trusted in God that it would be all right sooner or later, and that what God had told him must be true. And therefore he was acquitted or accepted, not because his life had been perfect in all its parts of duty, but because he put himself in a manner entirely upon God, receiving his promises as a matter of pure grace and favour, and willing to please Him to the best of his knowledge and of his imperfect service. And again, as all these promises were made to him be.
fore he was circumcised, that is, before the particular national covenant of the Jews began, so God's promises now have nothing to do with circumcision, or with any one particular nation. And as Abraham was acquitted before God without circumcision, because of the devotion and resignation of his heart to God; so other men as well as the Jews should be acquitted now, if they, in like manner with Abraham, should give themselves up entirely to God's mercy and guidance, and accept His promises of everlasting life through Christ, as a gift of His love which their lives had been far from good enough to deserve.
But from this turning off from his main subject in the fourth chapter, to speak about Abraham, St. Paul comes back again, in the fifth, to his own case, and that of all other Christians both of those times and of ours. Being thus acquitted, upon our throwing ourselves on God's mercy, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have been allowed, through Him, to draw near unto God, and are standing before Him as creatures cleared of all guilt, restored to His perfect favour, acknowledged as His children, and as such the heirs of all those blessings which flow from Him, in whose presence is the fulness of joy. In this state, says St. Paul, all the crosses and troubles of life are even a matter of rejoicing; and why?-not in themselves, for the present they are not joyous, but grievous, but because they try our patience and stedfastness ; and if we have borne long and patiently, then we may feel to have stood our trial happily, and this gives us a more confident hope for the time to come. The hope is confident, because it judges from the past and from