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Three things it suggests to us; namely, An answer to those who misrepresent the GospelA reproof to those who would abuse the Gospel—and A direction to those who would adorn the Gospel.
First, we may derive from hence an answer to those who misrepresent the Gospel. It has in all ages been a favourite argument against the Gospel, that it supersedes the necessity of good works, and opens the flood-gates of licentiousness. It was urged repeatedly against St. Paul himself; who on that account set himself to answer it with all imaginable care: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” And again, “Shall we sin because we are not under the law, but under grace ?” To both these questions he answers with holy indignation, “God forbid !" And, when his enemies went so far as to affirm, that he gave men a licence to sin, saying, “ Let us do evil that good may come;" he scorned to return any other answer than this, “ Their damnation is just.” And it were greatly to be wished, that those who now so confidently repeat these accusations against the followers of St. Paul, would reflect on the guilt they incur, and the danger to which, by such calumnies, they expose themselves. To this present hour the same objections are made to all those statements which resemble Paul's. If we deny to good works the office of justifying the soul, we are represented as denying the necessity of them altogether. Though these objections have been refuted a thousand times, and should be refuted ten thousand times more, the enemies of the Gospel will still repeat them with as much confidence as ever. Let them, however, look into our text, and see what David's principles were. Of all the Old Testament saints, there was not one who more determinately sought to be justified by the righteousness of Christ without any works of his own, than he. Hear what is said of him by St. Paul, in confirmation of the very sentiments which Paul himself maintained ; “ To him that worketh not, but believeth in him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness : EVEN AS David describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sinf.” Here we have a full exposition of David's views respecting the Gospel. And how did these views operate on his soul ? Did the idea of being justified by a righteousness not his own, a righteousness without works, a righteousness imputed to him, and apprehended solely by faith, did this, I say, make him regardless of good works ? No: look at the text, thou Objector, and be convinced : look at the text, thou Calumniator, and blush.
Search, next, the writings of St. Paul, and see whether there was any difference in this respect between him and David ? Was there in theory ? No: for St. Paul affirms, that “the grace of God which bringeth salvation teaches us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live righteously, soberly, and godly, in this present world.” Was there in practice? No: neither David nor any other Saint ever made higher attainments in holiness than St. Paul: “ he was not a whit behind the very chiefest Apostles.”
Perhaps it will be said that the professed followers of St. Paul differ from him in this respect; and that, whilst in speculation they adopt his doctrine, in practice they deny.its sanctifying efficacy. That there are Antinomians in the world, we confess: there were in the days of Christ and his Apostles; some who called Christ, “ Lord! Lord! whilst yet they did not the things which he commanded ;" and some, who “professed to know God, but in works denied him." And it must be expected, that, corrupt as human nature is, such characters will be found in every age. But is such conduct the necessary result of these principles ? Was it so in the Apostles' days ? or is it so at this day? If justification by faith alone be necessarily productive of laxness in morals, whence
f Rom. iv. 5–8.
comes it that a higher tone of morality is universally expected from those who maintain that doctrine, than from others ? Whence is it that the smallest evils in such persons are more severely marked, than the most licentious courses of the ungodly world? We appeal to all who hear us, Whether, if a professor, and especially a preacher, of this doctrine were to demean himself in all things for one single day in the way that the generality of his own age and station live all the year round, the mouths of all who beheld him would not be opened against him as a hypocrites? Whence should this be, if those who maintain the doctrine of justification by faith alone, represented it as liberating men from their obligation to good works? And how comes it, that the very persons who are complained of for the licentious tendency of their principles, should at the same time be universally condemned for the over-righteous sanctity of their lives?
To all, then, who misrepresent the Gospel, we would give this reply :-Look at David, and see what the effect of the Gospel had on him: look at Paul, and contemplate its effects on him : look at the uniform declarations of Scripture, and see what was the life of all the primitive Believers : nay, look only at the expectations which you yourselves have formed : for, if you see a professor of the Gospel act unworthy of his profession, you deem him inconsistent; which
6 It having been observed to the author, that the words “age and station" might be mistaken for age and order, and thus be supposed to aim at the Clergy, he judges it right to guard against any such misconception of his meaning. The scope of his observation is this : A Professor, and especially a Preacher, of the doctrines here referred to, is expected to be more strict in his conduct than others who deny those doctrines. And, whether he be young or old, or of the higher or lower orders of society, if he were to manifest the same worldly spirit, to avow the same worldly sentiments, to shew the same indifference to religion, and to indulge in the same latitude of conversation altogether, as the generality of others who are of the same age and rank of life do, he would be accounted most glaringly and grossly inconsistent. Some, notwithstanding their aversion to these doctrines, are more guarded in their spirit and conversation ; but the generality are not : and therefore the author purposely limited his observations to “ the generality.”
is a proof, that both the obligation to holiness is acknowledged on his part, and the performance of it is expected on yours; and consequently, that the Gospel is, by your mutual consent, “a doctrine according to godliness.”
From the passage before us, we may in the next place, offer a reproof to those who would abuse the Gospel. We have already acknowledged, and with deep grief we confess it, that there are some persons professedly of Antinomian principles, who are so occupied with contemplating what Christ has wrought out for them, that they cannot bestow a thought on what he has engaged to work in them. To speak of holiness, or any point of duty, they account low, and legal : yea, they think that Christ has by his own obedience to the law superseded the necessity of holiness in us; and that the whole work of salvation is so finished by him, that there remains nothing to be done by us, nothing of repentance for sin, nothing of obedience to God's commands, but solely to maintain confidence in the provisions of God's everlasting Covenant, and to rejoice in God as our God and portion.
Shocking as these sentiments are, they have been professed of late to a great extent; and many have been deceived by them: but, to show how unscriptural they are, we need only refer to the character of David, as drawn in the words of our text: Does he discard the law as a rule of life? Does he pour contempt upon the precepts of God as unworthy of his notice ? No: throughout all his Psalms he speaks of them as objects of his supreme delight: “O how I love thy law! all the day long is my study in it.” “I love thy precepts above gold ; they are sweeter to me than honey and the honey-comb.” To the same effect St. Paul also speaks : “I consent unto the law that it is good :” and again, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man!” He does, it is true, speak of himself as “ dead to the law;" and of the law as dead with respect to him; and from thence, that the marriage bonds, by which the law and we were formerly united, are for ever dissolved. But what use does he teach us to make of this liberty? Does he speak of it as freeing us from all moral restraints ? No; but as a reason for our giving up ourselves henceforth in a marriage union to Christ as our second husband, that we may bring forth fruit unto Godh. Now then, we would ask, Were David and Paul right? If so, what must we think of the sentiments of these deluded people ? Are they more spiritual than David ? or have they a deeper insight into the Gospel than Paul ? The very circumstance of their discarding all the exhortations of St. Paul, and casting behind them all his practical instructions, demonstrates, that they are, for the present at least, “given up to a delusion, to believe a lie.” Some of them, we trust, do not practically live according to these principles; and, where this is the case, we hope that God, in his mercy, will sooner or later give them to see their errors: but, if they practically carry into effect their principles, they will have reason to curse the day that ever they were born.
To the younger part of our audience we will beg permission to suggest a few hints on this important subject.
You, when you go into the world, will be in danger of being ensnared by people of this stamp. There is something very imposing in the idea of glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ, and of making him “all in all.” The devout mind is delighted with this thought; and is easily induced to regard with jealousy any thing that may be supposed to interfere with it. But be not wise above that which is written; and let nothing tempt you to imagine, that you can honour Christ by setting aside any of his commandments. It is by your love to his commandments that you are to approve yourselves his disciples; and however delighted you may be with the visions of Mount Tabor, you must never forget that you have work also to do in the plain! We are far from wishing any one to be working from self-righteous principles, or in a legal spirit : nor would we utter a word that should
h Rom. vii. 1-4. with Gal. ii. 19. i Luke ix. 33, 37.