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DXXXIV. THE PRIVILEGE OF TRUE CHRISTIANS.
Rom. viii. 1. There is therefore now no condemnation to them
which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
TO establish that fundamental doctrine of our religion, the doctrine of justification by faith alone, is the main scope of this Epistle. Having argued the point, and shewn that the objection of its encouraging men to sin, was without any real foundation, the apostle sums up the whole in the words before us; and declares, as the just inference from his preceding arguments, that the believer in Christ, who acted agreeably to his profession, had nothing to fear from the condemnation of the law.
In order to confirm this blessed truth, we shall open to you I. The character of Christians
In the text, Christians are described 1. By their state
[The “being in Christ Jesus,” is an expression importing two things, namely, an interest in Christ's merits, and an union with his person. Now it is by this term that Christians are described in the text: nor could they be more justly characterized by any terms whatever.
They are interested in Christ's merits: assured that they neither have, nor ever can have, any thing in themselves whereby they may be justified before God, they desire, with St. Paul, to be found in Christ, not having their own righteousness, but that which is of God by faith in Christ.'
They are also united to Christ's person: they have been cut off from their old stock, and been ingrafted into Christ by faith; and are thus become one body, yea, one spirit, with Christ.d Agreeably to this idea, Christ repeatedly speaks of them as branches of him, the living vine, and as made fruitful solely by their abiding in him.e] 2. By their conduct
[The apostle asserts negatively, that "they do not walk after the flesh.” He does not intend merely to say, that they
b Rom. xi, 17.
a Phil. iii. 9.
ci Cor. xii. 27.
do not indulge themselves in gross wickedness, (for this may be said of many, who are far enough from being Christians,) but that they do not yield to the carnal principle within them, which would stimulate them to seek the ease and interest of the body in preference to the welfare of their souls.
He next affirms positively, that “they do walk after the Spirit.” They have within them a new and spiritual principle, which, in direct opposition to the flesh, instigates them to the pursuit of heavenly objects. This principle is infused into them by the Holy Ghost, whose mind they search into, and whose will they study to obey. They resist the motions of the flesh, however pleasing, and comply with those of the Spirit, however difficult and self-denying.]
Such is their complex character. They seek to be found in Christ, as much as if they were altogether regardless of good works; and yet are as diligent in the pursuit of holiness, as if they expected salvation by their own merits.
It will be proper to pause a while here, and to enquire, Are we such Christians?
It is greatly to be feared that the number of such Christians is very small amongst us. Yet, as we trust there are some, we shall proceed to set forth II. Their privilege “There is no condemnation to them.”
(We know the meaning of condemnation when applied to men under sentence of death. Such is the precise import of the term in this place. The law has passed a sentence of death on every transgressor; and consequently, every sinner that is under the law is doomed to death.& But the Christian is not under the law: the law with respect to him is abrogated and annulled:” he is under another covenant, the covenant of grace:i and therefore there is, not only no death awaiting him, but no sentence of death gone forth against him." There is “ now” at this time no condemnation to him, since “ what the law saith, it saith to those, and to those only, who are under the law.”
We say not, that there is no ground of condemnation to the Christian: for he is a weak and sinful creature; and, if God should enter into judgment with him, he must be condemned every hour, every moment. But God views him as “ in Christ Jesus,"m as washed in his blood, and clothed in his righteousness; and therefore as standing before him without spot or blemish.] How glorious a privilege is this!
f Gal. v. 17.
. Ezek. xviii, 20. Gal. iii. 10.
k John v. 24. Eph. i. 6. Col. ij. 10.
[We may easily conceive the different feeling of one who has been condemned to die, and another (perhaps the greater criminal of the two) that has been just acquitted. Precisely such a difference, only in an infinitely higher degree, subsists between some and others of this assembly. While there is nothing, either in retrospect or in prospect, which must not fill the unconverted man with terror, the Christian may look back on his past iniquities with an assurance that they are all forgiven; and may look forward to death and judgment with a confident expectation, that his righteous Judge will bestow upon him a.crown of righteousness; and glory. Let this thought be duly pondered; and we shall never rest till we have attained the Christian character.] ADDRESS 1. Those who are merely nominal Christians
[Criminals.commit iniquity in hopes that they shall not be discovered; or, if discovered, not condemned; or, if condemned, not executed. And, though frequently overtaken, they sometimes elude all the means used for their detection. Thus men hope for impunity in a neglect of God, and of their own souls: but their “sin is sure to find them out.” They cannot hope to escape condemnation; for, as the text itself intimates, so it is elsewhere expressly said, “they are condemned already,” and “the wrath of God" at this very moment “abideth on them.". They are like men shut up in prison, and confined there till the time appointed for their execution. Would to God we could all realize this thought! There is indeed yet one way for them to escape: and this is, to cast them. selves upon the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. If only they do this, and prove by their future conduct that they are sincere, they shall assuredly find mercy, and never come into condemnation any more. Let careless sinners consider this, and "flee from the wrath to come."] 2. Those who profess to be Christians indeed
[Some there are, who, while they are panting after loliness, are fearful lest they should perish, because they cannot entirely prevent the workings of corruption within them. But the very passage before us supposes that they still have a carnal principle in their hearts: and that, if they resist its operations so as not to “walk after” it, they are partakers of the
Eph. v. 27.
• 2 Tim. ir. 8.
privilege before mentioned. Let such then take to themselves the comfort that God has designed for them.
But there are others, who are ready to boast of their security in Christ, while they live under the habitual influence of a carnal and worldly spirit. Let such persons know, that God will judge of “the tree by its fruit:” and that, if they thus cause the
of truth to be evil spoken of,” they are in God's sight the worst of criminals, and their doom will be proportionably severe.']
r Matt. xxiv. 51.
DXXXV. GOD'S METHOD OF DEALING WITH HIS
Zech. xiii. 9. I will bring the third part through the fire, and
will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people; and they shall say, The Lord
is my God.
AFFLICTION is the lot of mankind in general, and more especially of those who fear the Lord, who are all, in their measure, “predestinated to be conformed to the image of Christ,” as well in sufferings as in glory—In the context we are told what Christ would have to endure, when once he should become incarnate; “Awake, O my sword, against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts; sinite the shepherd.” It is true that Christ was to make satisfaction for sin by his sufferings and death; and in that view there is no occasion for us to “ drink of his cup:" but it is true also that “he learned obedience, and was made perfect, by the things which he suffered;" and these ends are no less necessary to be accomplished in us; nor can they be effected in any better way-On this account God has determined to “bring the third part through the fire;” that so he may fit them for the fuller enjoyment of himself both in this world, and the world to come
The text informs us how God deals with his people 1. In respect of trials
The people of God are but a small remnant
[Perhaps the text may refer to that period when the Christian church was to be delivered from the destruction which was coming on the Jewish nation-At that time they were very numerous in Judea, and might, in general terms, be represented as a “third part”—But in every age and place they have been comparatively a " little flock," or, as the apostle calls them," a remnant according to the election of grace"-Even in one of the most distinguished churches in the apostolic age we read that there were “ but few who had kept their garments undefiled:” and, if those who bear the Christian name at this day were tried by the standard of God's word, the number of true disciples would be found very disproportioned to the collective body-]
But, whether few or many, they are all“ brought to God through the fire”
[It is no uncommon thing for persons to receive their first serious impressions by means of some afflictive dispensation: many must say with David, “ Before I was afflicted I went astray”—But, in whatever way they are converted to God, they seldom continue long in his service without experiencing some temporal or spiritual affliction-God, who is a wise Physician, knows what is most conducive to the health of our souls—He sees that there is much “ folly bound up in our hearts, and that nothing but the rod of correction can effectually drive it out”-He sees it necessary" to try us, as gold, and to purify us as silver,” that we may both manifest what we are, and become what we should be-If we be only superficial Christians, who, like “ the stony ground hearers, have no root in ourselves,” we shall “ be offended as soon as tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word:” but if we be * Israelites indeed," " the trial of our faith, which is much more precious than of gold, which though it stand the trial of fire, yet perisheth at last, will be found to praise, and honour, and glory in the day of his appearing”.–Besides, the very best have much amiss within them, which escapes their notice, till “ God counsels them in the night season” of affliction, and discovers to them the hidden abominations of their hearts-On this account especially the saints have testified with one consent that they have found it “ good to be afficted;" and have seen reason to bless God more for their heaviest trials, than for their richest comforts-]
That their trials however are not unmixed, will appear by considering how God deals with them