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Here our blessed Lord not only clears himself of a design to supersede the law, by the promulgation of his gospel ; but also threatens the persons who shall dare to teach such a sentiment.
As to the nature of this law, which we have proved continues, I would observe,
1. That it is holy. This it must be, as it is the law of an infinitely holy God.
2. It is just. If it is the law of God, it must be so ; because he, who ever acts agreeably to the strictest rules of righteousness, would never lay down as the rule of moral action, a law that is unjust in its demands.
3. It is exceedingly broad, reaching even to the thoughts and intents of the heart. Thus Christ explains it; Ye have heard that it was said of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say unta you,
That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. A lustful look is heart adultery. If a man indulges in heart one secret lust, even suppose it is never actually gratified, such is the nature of this law, that he is deemed and treated by it as a transgressor. In this the divine differs from human laws. The latter having nothing to do with thoughts, only condemn for actions : the former condemns for the sins of the heart. And thus it is necessary it should be, because thoughts are as open to the view of Jehovah as actions, and when sinful, are no less abominable. A thorough conviction of the extent of the law, would make a man tremble. Suppose your breasts were transparent, and your thoughts visible; so that he who sits next to you, could observe all that passes within ; who of you would not shudder ?
And would you fear that man should know your secret imaginations ? Tremble then, O sinner for to God, whose eyes are like a flame of fire, all things are naked, and even hell is said to be without a covering! This then is one of the requirements of the law, even truth in the inward parts; a conformity of soul to it in every instance without exception. A want of such conformity is a want of righteousness; on account of which the man is condemned by the law.
The law requires perfect obedience as the condition of life; that is, obedience that is universal and uninterrupted. Universal : for whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of All. Uninterrupted : for it is written, Cursed is. every one that CONTINUETH NOT in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. By this rule our obedience is to be tried, in order to determine, whether we shall stand or fall in consequence of doing some good thing. The inquiry rests entirely on these two particulars : Are we in heart and in life what the law requires we should be? Are we satisfied before God, that we have a perfect conformity of soul to the nature and demands of his law ? Have we never violated the law in heart, by indulging unruly passions; such as covetousness, revenge, pride, &c. ? If we have swerved in heart from this
perfect law, in a single instance, it neither admits repentance, nor accepts sincerity, but condemns us. If so, we are all condemned; for we are all conscious that naturally we are destitute of this conformity.
Again-Let the sinner examine the obedience of his life. Has it been constant, since he became
capable of distinguishing good from evil? Has he always delighted in the divine law, and never turned aside from the path of duty ? Has his obedience been universal to every precept without exception ? Has he not failed in one instance? If he has, the living oracles declare he is guilty of all. But it is unnecessary to enlarge, seeing every mouth is stopped, and all the world become guilty before God. Every man knows, that he falls short of the requirements of the law, both in heart and life ; consequently, his righteousness is essentially deficient.
How unreasonable is it then, for men to introduce works of righteousness done by them, in order to recommend them to God, when his law requires and will dispense with nothing less than perfect obedience as the condition of his fa. vour, and they themselves acknowledge that their obedience is imperfect ? Should they not rather fear and tremble, seeing they fall so far short of what the law requires ?
Objection. Perhaps it will be said, in opposition to the preceding sentiments, that it would be unjust in God to require more of us, than in our present circumstances we are able to perform; that the gospel is a “ remedial law,” designed to soften the rigour of the former constitution, and to render the terms of acceptance more easy, by substituting sincere in the room of perfect obedience; that Jesus Christ died to atone for the imperfections of our obedience, insomuch that we need not doubt of salvation, if we sincerely do as well as we can.
Reply. The law was given to man, while in his state of innocence, at which time his abilities
were equal in every respect to its demands. God required no more of him than he had power to perform. His present incapacity is an effect of his sin, and subsequent to the existence of the law; consequently it cannot be unjust in God to require perfect obedience of him, he being now morally unable to yield it; unless is can be supposed that with the sinner's loss of ability to perform, the Deity has lost his authority to command. A shocking supposition! is not the authority of God over his creatures invariably the same, notwithstanding any alterations that may take place in them? Doubtless. Whose fault is it that we labour under a moral inability to yield perfect obedience to the divine law ? Our own, surely. Shall we then plead that impotence, which is an effect of our wickedness, as a reason why God should be less strict in his demands? Suppose you should lend your friend in good circumstances, a thousand pounds, payable at a certain time ; and he should spend his estate at a gaming table, and thereby become reduced to poverty ; would his inability render it unjust in you to demand your money, or dissolve his obligation to pay it? Verily, whatever might be his condition, your demand would be indisputably just, and his obligation not to be called in question.
Many things might be insisted on, in answer to the objection, viz. that the gospel, instead of being designed to abate the rigour of the law, reveals a righteousness for the justification of the sinner, that is in every respect adequate to its requirements. If so, there is no necessity of a re
laxation of it. This will be the subject of the next discourse.
Again-If the law of God in its original state, was perfect, and in every respect consistent with the perfections of the divine nature, such as became a God to give, and the creature to obey, how can it be relaxed? Can it be altered without in. jury? Is it possible that it should undergo change, and yet retain its perfection?
Farther-If the law admits sincere instead of perfect obedience, in consequence of the introduction of the gospel, how comes it to pass, that Christ and his apostles taught the perpetuity of the law, and assure us that whosoever shall of. fend in one point is guilty of all ? More than this it never required.
The friends of these opinions“ run themselves insensibly,” says à late judicious divine, “ into the grossest inconsistence. They hold that God in mercy to mankind has abolished that rigorous constitution or law, that they were under origin. ally; and instead of it, has introduced a more mild constitution, and put us under a new law, which requires no more than imperfect sincere obedience, in compliance with our poor infirm impotent circumstances, since the fall.
“Now how can these things be made consistent? I would ask, what law these imperfections of our obedience are a breach of? If they are a breach of no law that we were ever under, then they are not sins. And if they be not sins, what need of Christ's dying to satisfy for them ? But if they are sins, and the breach of some law, what law is it? They cannot be a breach of their new law; for that requires no other than imperfect