« PreviousContinue »
blood, even the forgivenees of sins; Who is the image of the invisible God, the first born of every creature : for by him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him." These passages clearly show, that the work of redemption comprizes all the works of creation, as means or subordinate causes of carrying into effect the supreme purpose of God to save sinners through the death and mediation of Christ. Though God the Father intended to forgive or justify believers only on account of the mere atoning blood of Christ; yet he meant that all his intelligent creatures should partake more or less of the happy consequences of his mediatorial work, which will augment the blessedness of heaven forever. There is an important sense, therefore, in which it is true, that all the temporal, spiritual, and eternal good that mankind have enjoyed and will enjoy, comes to them through the medium of Christ.
2. It appears from what has been said, why God cannot forgive or justify sinners before they become believers. While the elect continue in the state of nature, they continue in the state of condemnation. God cannot become reconciled to them, before they become reconciled to him and the way of salvation through the blood of Christ. For before they do this, they have no interest in his atonement. And it is no more consistent with the vindictive justice of God to pardon sinners before they believe, than to pardon them without an atonement. Hence we find, that love, repentance, and faith are made the conditions of forgiveness throughout the New Testament. To deny all conditions of justification is implicitly to deny, that believers are justified entirely through the atonement of Christ. The foundation of justification is totally distinct from the conditions of it, and is laid in Christ. "Other foundation can no man lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." It is the part of sinners, not to lay the foundation, but only to perform the condi
tions, of justification. These are not arbitrary, but necessary conditions. They must exercise love, repentance, and faith in order to become united to Christ, and to receive pardoning mercy through his atonement. God can grant them every other favour, but forgiveness, before they embrace the gospel and become believers. This he cannot grant, nor they receive, before they become reconciled to God, renounce all selfrighteousness, and are willing to be forgiven through the atonement of Christ alone.
3. It appears from what has been said, that both Antinomians and Arminians have run into equally great, though very different errours, respecting the true scriptural doctrine of justification. The Antinomians have supposed, that believers are justified through the atonement of Christ, by faith alone, without the deeds of the law. From these just and scriptural premises, they have drawn a very unjust and unscriptural conclusion. They suppose, that believers are under no obligation to perform good works, because Christ has both suffered and obeyed in their room and stead, so that their justification and salvation do not in the least depend upon any thing they can do, either before, or after they are justified. They hold, that neither good works nor bad works, can promote, or prevent the salvation of believers. They build this false and dangerous opinion upon what the scripture says concerning justification by faith alone, without the deeds of the law. They suppose, that justification implies not only forgiveness, but a title to eternal life; and that there is no difference between God's forgiving and rewarding believers. This is a great mistake; for though God forgives believers solely on account of the atonement of Christ; yet he does not reward them for his obedience, but for their own. But the Arminians deny the distinction between God's forgiving and rewarding believers, which leads them into an errour concerning justification, that is directly opposite to the Antinomian errour. They suppose, that God justifies, as well as rewards believers, for their good works. They allege in
favour of their opinion, the parable of the talents, the numerous promises which God has given, that he will reward good men for all their good deeds, and the representation which Christ has given of the final rewards of the righteous at the last day. Now, it is easy to see, that both Arminians and Antinomians are really erroneous in their respective opinions concerning the doctrine of justification; and it is no less easy to perceive what has led them into their different errours. They have both overlooked the plain and important distinction between the ground of God's forgiving believers and the ground of his rewarding them. He forgives them solely on the ground of Christ's atonement, but he rewards them solely on the ground of their own good works. It is impossible to maintain the true scriptural doctrine of justification by faith alone, and at the same time, steer clear of the Antinomian errour on the one hand, and the Arminian errour on the other, without making this distinction. Those who have denied, that believers are rewarded for their own good works, have often attempted it, but without success. Some have said, that though believers are forgiven or justified solely on the ground of Christ's atonement, yet they are rewarded solely on the ground of his imputed righteousness or obedience. And it has been said of late, that though believers are forgiven or justified solely on the ground of Christ's atonement, yet they are rewarded solely on the ground of his legal, not imputed righteousness or obedience. But this and every other way, which has been devised to reconcile the justification of believers wholly on account of the atonement of Christ, with the numerous and express promises of God, to reward them entirely on account of their own obedience or good works, is clogged with gravelling difficulties. For, if they are rewarded, as well as pardoned for Christ's sake, why are they not to be rewarded equally? Or if they are to be rewarded for Christ's sake, why are they not promised to be rewarded for Christ's sake, instead of their own, as they are promised to be pardoned for Christ's sake, and not for their own? Or if they are
to be rewarded for Christ's sake, why are they not required to perform certain conditions in order to be rewarded for Christ's sake, as well as required to perform certain conditions in order to be pardoned for Christ's sake? These questions cannot be answered, on the supposition, that they are to be rewarded, as well as pardoned, on Christ's account. But the doctrine of forgiveness and the doctrine of rewards, as stated in the new testament, are perfectly consistent and plainly intelligible, though Antinomians and Arminians, and others have blended, confused, and perplexed them.
Finally, it appears from what has been said, that it is of great importance to understand the true scriptural doctrine of justification, by faith alone without the deeds of the law. Luther considered the doctrine as one of the most essential doctrines of the gospel. He wrote as well as preached more upon this, than any doctrine. He called it, articulus stantis, vel cadentis ecclesice; the doctrine upon which the church must either stand, or fall. It is the only solid ground upon which men can safely build their hopes of escaping the wrath to come, and obtaining eternal life. If the proper distinction between the ground of forgiveness and the ground of rewards were clearly understood and believed, ministers would not direct impenitent, inquiring sinners to go to Christ, as they are, for a new heart, instead of going to him for pardoning mercy, which is contrary to the direction of Christ and the apostles. The inspired writers uniformly direct sinners to repent and believe the gospel, before they can expect to be pardoned and justified through the atonement of Christ.
It is the proper official work of Christ to forgive sins, but not to change the heart; which is the proper office of the Holy Spirit. There is but one proper mode of directing impenitent, inquiring sinners, and that is to direct them to love God, repent of sin, and believe in Christ, in order to be forgiven, pardoned, or justified in the sight of God. God has made no promises to the impenitent and unbelieving, that he will give them a new heart, but he has abundantly promised to forgive
all penitent believing, returning sinners. To exhort sinners to go to Christ for a new heart, has a direct tendency to prevent them from going to him for pardon and justification; for they will think that their going to Christ for a new heart is doing their duty, for which they ought to be justified, independently of the atonement of Christ. They are naturally self-righteous, and self righteousness is incompatible with saving faith. A mistake with respect to the sole foundation of justification before God, is not only a common, but a dangerous mistake. There is reason to fear that it has proved the eternal ruin of many, who have had a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.