Edwards presented this lecture/discourse in November 1734, elaborating the doctrine: "We are justified only by faith in Christ, and not by any manner of virtue or goodness of our own." In commenting on the controversial nature of the doctrine, and the length of this message, Edwards said, "Such an assertion as this, I am sensible, many would be ready to cry out of as absurd, betraying a great deal of ignorance, and containing much inconsistence; but I desire everyone's patience till I have done."
It contains a remarkable, insightful, and logically rigid account (systemization really) of the key gospel doctrine. Edward's passion about the subject oozes from his words.
Background information is available at The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University. Edwards' original manuscripts can be seen and studied online at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The first page is pictured here:
PUBLICATION: Justification By Faith Alone was included in Edwards 1738 printed work called Discourses on Various Important Subjects. The title page is pictured here. To read the original preface of this edition, go here.
The entire lecture (the length of a short book) has been reproduced below with minor aesthetic edits for an online environment.
JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH ALONE
Romans 4:5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
The following things may be noted in this verse:
1. That justification respects a man as ungodly: this is evident by those words—"that justifieth the ungodly." Which words can't imply less than that God in the act of justification, has no regard to anything in the person justified, as godliness, or any goodness in him; but that nextly, or immediately before this act, God beholds him only as an ungodly or wicked creature; so that godliness in the person to be justified is not so antecedent to his justification as to be the ground of it. When it is said that God justifies the ungodly, 'tis as absurd to suppose that our godliness, taken as some goodness in us, is the ground of our justification, as when it is said that Christ gave sight to the blind, to suppose that sight was prior to, and the ground of that act of mercy in Christ, or as if it should be said that such an one by his bounty has made a poor man rich, to suppose that it was the wealth of this poor man that was the ground of this bounty towards him, and was the price by which it was procured.
2. It appears that by "him that worketh not" in this verse, is not meant only one that don't conform to the ceremonial law, because "he that worketh not," and "the ungodly" are evidently synonymous expressions, or what signify the same; it appears by the manner of their connection; if it ben't so, to what purpose is the latter expression "the ungodly" brought in? The context gives no other occasion for it, but only to show that the grace of the gospel appears in that God in justification has no regard to any godliness of ours: the foregoing verse is, "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt": in that verse 'tis evident, that gospel grace consists in the rewards being given without works; and in this verse which nextly follows it and in sense is connected with it, 'tis evident that gospel grace consists in a man's being justified that is "ungodly"; by which it is most plain that by "him that worketh not," and him that is "ungodly," are meant the same thing; and that therefore not only works of the ceremonial law are excluded in this business of justification, but works of morality and godliness.
3.'Tis evident in the words, that by the faith that is here spoken of, by which we are justified, is not meant the same thing as a course of obedience, or righteousness, by the expression, by which this faith is here denoted, viz. "believing on him that justifies the ungodly." They that oppose the Solifidians, as they call them, do greatly insist on it, that we should take the words of Scripture concerning this doctrine, in their most natural and obvious meaning; and how do they cry out of our clouding this doctrine with obscure metaphors, and unintelligible figures of speech! But is this to interpret Scripture according to its most obvious meaning, when the Scripture speaks of our "believing on him that justifies the ungodly," or the breakers of his law, to say that the meaning of it is performing a course of obedience to his law, and avoiding the breaches of it? Believing on God as a justifier, certainly is a different thing from submitting to God as a lawgiver; especially a believing on him as a justifier of the ungodly, or rebels against the Lawgiver.
4.'Tis evident that the subject of justification is looked upon as destitute of any righteousness in himself, by that expression, "it is counted," or imputed to him "for righteousness"; the phrase, as the Apostle uses it here, and in the context, manifestly imports, that God of his sovereign grace is pleased in his dealings with the sinner, to take and regard, that which indeed is not righteousness, and in one that has no righteousness, so that the consequence shall be the same as if he had righteousness; (which may be from the respect it bears to something that is indeed righteousness). 'Tis plain that this is the force of the expression in the preceding verses: in the last verse but one, 'tis manifest the Apostle lays the stress of his argument for the free grace of God, from that text he cites out of text of the Old Testament about Abraham, on the word counted or imputed, and that this is the thing that he supposed God to show his grace in, viz. in his counting something for righteousness, in his consequential dealings with Abraham, that was no righteousness in itself. And in the next verse which immediately precedes the text, "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt"; the word there translated reckoned, is the same that in the other verses is rendered imputed, and counted: and 'tis as much as if the Apostle had said, "As to him that works, there is no need of any gracious reckoning, or counting it for righteousness, and causing the reward to follow as if it were a righteousness; for if he has works he has that which is a righteousness in itself, to which the reward properly belongs." This is further evident by the words that follow, Romans 4:6, "Even as David also described the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works"; what can here be meant by imputing righteousness without works, but imputing righteousness to him that has none of his own? Romans 4:7–8, "Saying blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered: Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin." How are these words of David to the Apostle's purpose? Or how do they prove any such thing, as that righteousness is imputed without works, unless it be because the word imputed is used and the subject of the imputation is mentioned, as a sinner, and consequently destitute of a moral righteousness? For David says no such thing, as that he is forgiven without the works of the ceremonial law; there is no hint of the ceremonial law, or reference to it, in the words. I will therefore venture to infer this doctrine from the words, for the subject of my present discourse, viz.
We are justified only by faith in Christ, and not by any manner of virtue or goodness of our own.
Such an assertion as this, I am sensible, many would be ready to cry out of as absurd, betraying a great deal of ignorance, and containing much inconsistence; but I desire everyone's patience till I have done. In handling this doctrine I would,
I. Explain the meaning of it, and show how I would be understood by such an assertion.
II. Proceed to the consideration of the evidence of the truth of it.
III. Show how evangelical obedience is concerned in this affair.
IV. Answer objections.
V. Consider the importance of the doctrine.
I. I would explain the meaning of the doctrine, or show in what sense I assert it, and would endeavor to evince the truth of it:
—which may be done in answer to these two inquiries, viz. first, what is meant by being "justified"; second, what is meant when it is said that this is "by faith alone," without any manner of virtue or goodness of our own?
First. I would show what justification is, or what I suppose is meant in Scripture by being "justified." And here I would not at all enlarge, and therefore to answer in short.
A person is said to be justified when he is approved of God as free from the guilt of sin, and its deserved punishment, and as having that righteousness belonging to him that entitles to the reward of life. That we should take the word in such a sense, and understand it as the judges accepting a person as having both a negative, and positive righteousness belonging to him, and looking on him therefore, as not only quit, or free from any obligation to punishment but also as just and righteous, and so entitled to a positive reward, is not only most agreeable to the etymology, and natural import of the word, which signifies to make righteous, or to pass one for righteous in judgment, but also manifestly agreeable to the force of the word, as used in Scripture.
Some suppose that nothing more is intended in Scripture by justification than barely the remission of sins; if it be so it is very strange, if we consider the nature of the case; for 'tis most evident, and none will deny, that it is with respect to the rule, or law of God that we are under, that we are said in Scripture to be either justified or condemned. Now what is it to justify a person, as the subject of a law or rule, but to judge him, or look upon him, and approve him as standing right with respect to that rule? To justify a person in a particular case, is to approve of him as standing right, as subject to the law or rule in that case; and to justify in general, is to pass him in judgment, as standing right, in a state correspondent to the law or rule in general. But certainly in order to a person's being looked on as standing right with respect to the rule in general, or in a state corresponding with the law of God, more is needful than what is negative, or a not having the guilt of sin; for whatever that law is, whether a new one, or an old one, yet doubtless something positive is needed in order to its being answered. We are no more justified by the voice of the law, or of him that judges according to it, by a mere pardon of sin, than Adam our first surety, was justified by the law, at the first point of his existence, before he had done the work, or fulfilled the obedience of the law, or had had so much as any trial whether he would fulfill it or no. If Adam had finished his course of perfect obedience, he would have been justified; and certainly his justification would have implied something more than what is merely negative; he would have been approved of, as having fulfilled the righteousness of the law, and accordingly would have been adjudged to the reward of it: so Christ our second surety (in whose justification all who believe in him, and whose surety he is, are virtually justified), was not justified till he had done the work the Father had appointed him, and kept the Father's commandments, through all trials, and then in his resurrection he was justified: when he that had been put to death in the flesh was quickened by the Spirit (1 Peter 3:18), then he that was manifest in the flesh was justified in the Spirit (1 Timothy 3:16). But God when he justified him in raising him from the dead, did not only release him from his humiliation for sin, and acquit him from any further suffering or abasement for it, but admitted him to that eternal and immortal life, and to the beginning of that exaltation, that was the reward of what he had done. And indeed the justification of a believer is no other than his being admitted to communion in, or participation of the justification of this head and surety of all believers; for as Christ suffered the punishment of sin, not as a private person but as our surety, so when after this suffering he was raised from the dead, he was therein justified, not as a private person, but as the surety and representative of all that should believe in him; so that he was raised again not only for his own, but also for our justification, according to the Apostle. Romans 4:25, "Who was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification." And therefore it is that the Apostle says as he does in Romans 8:34, "Who is he that condemneth? it is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again."
But that a believer's justification implies not only remission of sins, or acquittance from the wrath due to it, but also an admittance to a title to that glory that is the reward of righteousness, is more directly taught in the Scripture, as particularly in Romans 5:1–2, where the Apostle mentions both these, as joint benefits implied in justification, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." So remission of sins, and inheritance among them that are sanctified, are mentioned together as what are jointly obtained by faith in Christ. Acts 26:18, "That they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them that are sanctified, through faith that is in me." Both these are without doubt implied in that passing from death to life, which Christ speaks of as the fruit of faith, and which he opposes to condemnation. John 5:24, "Verily I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death to life." I proceed now,
Second. To show what is meant when it is said that this justification is by faith only, and not by any virtue or goodness of our own.
This inquiry may be subdivided into two, viz. first, how 'tis by faith; second how 'tis by faith alone, without any manner of goodness of ours.
1. How justification is by faith. Here the great difficulty has been about the import and force of the particle by, or what is that influence that faith has in the affair of justification that is expressed in Scripture by being "justified by faith."
Here, if I may humbly express what seems evident to me, though faith be indeed the condition of justification so as nothing else is, yet this matter is not clearly and sufficiently explained by saying that faith is the condition of justification; and that because the word seems ambiguous both in common use, and also as used in divinity: in one sense, Christ alone performs the condition of our justification and salvation; in another sense, faith is the condition of justification; in another sense, other qualifications and acts are conditions of salvation and justification too: there seems to be a great deal of ambiguity in such expressions as are commonly used (which yet we are forced to use), such as "condition of salvation"; "what is required in order to salvation or justification"; "the terms of the covenant," and the like; and I believe they are understood in very different senses by different persons. And besides as the word condition is very often understood in the common use of language, faith is not the only thing, in us, that is the condition of justification; for by the word condition, as 'tis very often (and perhaps most commonly), used; we mean anything that may have the place of a condition in a conditional proposition, and as such is truly connected with the consequent, especially if the proposition holds both in the affirmative and negative, as the condition is either affirmed or denied; if it be that with which, or which being supposed, a thing shall be, and without which, or it being denied, a thing shall not be, we in such a case call it a condition of that thing: but in this sense faith is not the only condition of salvation or justification, for there are many things that accompany and flow from faith, that are things with which justification shall be, and without which it will not be, and therefore are found to be put in Scripture in conditional propositions with justification and salvation in multitudes of places: such are "love to God," and "love to our brethren," "forgiving men their trespasses," and many other good qualifications and acts. And there are many other things besides faith which are directly proposed to us, to be pursued or performed by us, in order to eternal life, as those which, if they are done or obtained, we shall have eternal life, and if not done or not obtained, we shall surely perish. And if it were so, that faith was the only condition of justification in this sense, yet I don't apprehend that to say that faith was the condition of justification, would express the sense of that phrase of Scripture of being "justified by faith": there is a difference between being justified by a thing, and that thing universally, and necessarily, and inseparably attending, or going with justification; for so do a great many things that we ben't said to be justified by: it is not the inseparable connection with justification that the Holy Ghost would signify (or that is naturally signified), by such a phrase, but some particular influence that faith has in the affair, or some certain dependence that that effect has on its influence.
Some that have been aware of this have supposed that the influence or dependence might well be expressed by faith's being the instrument of our justification; which has been misunderstood, and injuriously represented, and ridiculed by those that have denied the doctrine of justification by faith alone, as though they had supposed that faith was used as an instrument in the hand of God, whereby he performed, and brought to pass that act of his, viz. approving and justifying the believer: whereas it was not intended that faith was the instrument wherewith God justifies, but the instrument wherewith we receive justification; not the instrument wherewith the justifier acts in justifying, but wherewith the receiver of justification acts in accepting justification. But yet it must be owned that this is an obscure way of speaking, and there must certainly be some impropriety in calling of it an instrument wherewith we receive or accept justification; for the very persons that thus explain the matter speak of faith as being the reception or acceptance itself; and if so how can it be the instrument of reception or acceptance? Certainly there is a difference between the act and the instrument. And besides by their own descriptions of faith, Christ the Mediator, by whom, and his righteousness, by which we are justified, is more directly the object of this acceptance, and justification which is the benefit arising therefrom, more indirectly: and therefore if faith be an instrument, 'tis more properly the instrument by which we receive Christ, than the instrument by which we receive justification.
But I humbly conceive we have been ready to look too far to find out what that influence of faith in our justification is, or what is that dependence of this effect on faith, signified by the expression of being "justified by faith," overlooking that which is most obviously pointed forth in the expression, viz. that, the case being as it is (there being a Mediator that has purchased justification), faith in this Mediator is that which renders it a meet and suitable thing, in the sight of God, that the believer rather than others should have this purchased benefit assigned to him. There is this benefit purchased, which God sees it to be a more meet and suitable thing that it should be assigned to some than others, because he sees 'em differently qualified; that qualification wherein the meetness to this benefit, as the case stands consists, is that, in us, by which we are justified. If
Christ had not come into the world and died, etc. to purchase justification, no qualification whatever, in us, could render it a meet or fit thing that we should be justified; but the case being as it now stands, viz. that Christ has actually purchased justification by his own blood, for infinitely unworthy creatures, there may be some certain qualification found in some persons, that, either from the relation it bears to the Mediator and his merits, or on some other account, is the thing that in the sight of God renders it a meet and condecent4 thing that they should have an interest in this purchased benefit, and of which if any are destitute of, it renders it an unfit and unsuitable thing that they should have it. The wisdom of God in his constitutions, doubtless appears much in the fitness and beauty of them, so that those things are established to be done that are fit to be done, and that these things are connected in his constitution, that are agreeable one to another: so God justifies a believer according to his revealed constitution, without doubt, because he sees something in this qualification, that as the case stands, renders it a fit thing that such should be justified; whether it be because faith is the instrument, or as it were the hand, by which he that has purchased justification is apprehended and accepted, or because it is the acceptance itself, or whatever. To be justified is to be approved of God as a proper subject of pardon, and a right to eternal life; and therefore when it is said that we are justified by faith, what else can be understood by it than that faith is that by which we are rendered approvable, fitly so, and indeed, as the case stands, proper subjects of this benefit?
This is something different from faith's being the condition of justification, only so as to be inseparably connected with justification; so are many other things besides faith, and yet nothing in us, but faith, renders it meet that we should have justification assigned to us; as I shall presently show how, in answer to the next inquiry, viz.
2. How this is said to be by faith alone, without any manner of virtue or goodness of our own. This may seem to some to be attended with two difficulties, viz. how this can be said to be by faith alone, without any virtue or goodness of ours, when faith itself is a virtue, and one part of our goodness, and is not only some manner of goodness of ours, but is a very excellent qualification, and one chief part of the inherent holiness of a Christian? And if it be a part of our inherent goodness or excellency (whether it be this part or any other), that renders it a condecent or congruous thing that we should have this benefit of Christ assigned to us, what this is less than what they mean that talk of a merit of congruity? And moreover, if this part of our Christian holiness qualifies us in the sight of God, for this benefit of Christ, and renders it a fit or meet thing, in his sight, that we should have it, why should not other parts of holiness, and conformity to God, which are also very excellent, and have as much of the image of Christ in them, and are no less lovely in God's eyes, qualify us as much, and have as much influence to render us meet, in God's sight, for such a benefit as this? Therefore I answer,
When it is said that we are not justified by any righteousness or goodness of our own, what is meant is that it is not out of respect to the excellency or goodness of any qualifications, or acts, in us, whatsoever, that God judges it meet that this benefit of Christ should be ours; and it is not, in any wise on account of any excellency, or value that there is in faith, that it appears in the sight of God, a meet thing, that he who believes should have this benefit of Christ assigned to him, but purely from the relation faith has to the person in whom this benefit is to be had, or as it unites to that Mediator, in and by whom we are justified. Here for the greater clearness, I would particularly explain myself under several propositions.
(1) It is certain that there is some union or relation that the people of Christ, stand in to him, that is expressed in Scripture, from time to time, by being in Christ, and is represented frequently by those metaphors of being members of Christ, or being united to him as members to the head, and branches to the stock, and is compared to a marriage union between husband and wife. I don't now pretend to determine of what sort this union is; nor is it necessary to my present purpose to enter into any manner of disputes about it: if any are disgusted at the word union, as obscure and unintelligible, the word relation equally serves my purpose; I don't now desire to determine any more about it, than all, of all sorts, will readily allow, viz. that there is a peculiar relation between true Christians and Christ, or a certain relation between him and them, that there is not between him and others; which is signified by those metaphorical expressions in Scripture, of being in Christ, being members of Christ, etc.
(2) This relation or union to Christ, whereby Christians are said to be in Christ (whatever it be), is the ground of their right to his benefits. This needs no proof; the reason of the thing, at first blush, demonstrates it: but yet 'tis exceeding evident also by Scripture. 1 John 5:12, "He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son hath not life." 1 Corinthians 1:30, "Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us…righteousness." First we must be in him, and then he will be made righteousness, or justification to us. Ephesians 1:6, "Who hath made us accepted in the beloved." Our being in him is the ground of our being accepted. So it is, in those unions which the Holy Ghost has thought fit to compare this union to; the union of the members of the body with the head is the ground of their partaking of the life of the head; 'tis the union of the branches to the stock, which is the ground of their partaking of the sap and life of the stock; 'tis the relation of the wife to the husband, that is the ground of her joint interest in his estate; they are looked upon, in several respects, as one in law: so there is a legal union between Christ and true Christians; so that (as all except Socinians allow), one, in some respects, is accepted for the other, by the Supreme Judge.
(3) And thus it is that faith is that qualification in any person, that renders it meet in the sight of God that he should be looked upon as having Christ's satisfaction and righteousness belonging to him, viz. because it is that in him, which, on his part, makes up this union between him and Christ. By what has been just now observed, 'tis a person's being, according to Scripture phrase, "in Christ," that is the ground of having his satisfaction and merits belonging to him, and a right to the benefits procured thereby: and the reason of it is plain; 'tis easy to see how our having Christ's merits and benefits belonging to us, follows from our having (if I may so speak) Christ himself belonging to us, or a being united to him; and if so it must also be easy to see how, or in what manner, that, in a person, that on his part makes up the union between his soul and Christ, should be the thing on the account of which God looks on it meet that he should have Christ's merits belonging to him; and also that it is a very different thing, for God to assign to a particular person, a right to Christ's merits and benefits, from regard to any qualification in him, in this respect, from his doing it for him, out of respect to the value or loveliness of that qualification, or as a reward of the excellency of it.
As there is nobody but what will allow that there is a peculiar relation between Christ and his true disciples, by which they are in some sense in Scripture said to be one; so I suppose there is nobody but what will allow, that there may be something that the true Christian does on his part, whereby he is active in coming into this relation or union, some act of the soul of the Christian, that is the Christian's uniting act, or that which is done towards this union or relation (or whatever any please to call it), on the Christian's part: now faith I suppose to be this act.
I don't now pretend to define justifying faith, or to determine precisely how much is contained in it, but only to determine thus much concerning it, viz. that it is that by which the soul, that before was separate, and alienated from Christ, unites itself to him, or ceases to be any longer in that state of alienation, and comes into that forementioned union or relation to him, or to use the Scripture phrase, that 'tis that by which the soul comes to Christ, and receives him: and this is evident by the Scriptures using these very expressions to signify faith. John 6:35–38, 6 "He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out; for I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me." John 6:40, "And this is the will of him that sent me, that everyone which seeth the Son and believeth on him, may have everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day." John 5:28–40, "Whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the Scriptures for…they are they which testify of me: And ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life." John 6:43–44, "I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name him ye will receive. How can ye believe which receive honor one of another…?" John 5:12, "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." If it be said that these are obscure figures of speech, that, however they might be well understood of old, among those that commonly used such metaphors, yet they are difficultly understood now. I allow that the expressions of "receiving" Christ and "coming" to Christ, are metaphorical expressions; and if I should allow 'em to be obscure metaphors; yet so much at least, is certainly plain in 'em, viz. that faith is that by which those that before were separated, and at a distance from Christ (that is to say were not so related and united to him as his people are); do cease to be any longer at such a distance, and do come into that relation and nearness; unless they are so unintelligible, that nothing at all can be understood by 'em.
God don't give those that believe, an union with, or an interest in the Savior, in reward for faith, but only because faith is the soul's active uniting with Christ, or is itself the very act of unition, on their part. God sees it fit, that in order to an union's being established between two intelligent active beings or persons, so as that they should be looked upon as one, there should be the mutual act of both, that each should receive the other, as actively joining themselves one to another. God in requiring this in order to an union with Christ as one of his people, treats men as reasonable creatures, capable of act, and choice; and hence sees it fit that they only, that are one with Christ by their own act, should be looked upon as one in law: what is real in the union between Christ and his people, is the foundation of what is legal; that is, it is something really in them, and between them, uniting them, that is the ground of the suitableness of their being accounted as one by the Judge: and if there is any act, or qualification in believers, that is of that uniting nature, that it is meet on that account that the Judge should look upon 'em, and accept 'em as one, no wonder that upon the account of the same act or qualification, he should accept the satisfaction and merits of the one, for the other, as if it were their satisfaction and merits: it necessarily follows, or rather is implied.
And thus it is that faith justifies, or gives an interest in Christ's satisfaction and merits, and a right to the benefits procured thereby, viz. as it thus makes Christ and the believer one in the acceptance of the Supreme Judge. 'Tis by faith that we have a title to eternal life, because 'tis by faith that we have the Son of God, by whom life is. The apostle John in those words, 1 John 5:12, "He that hath the Son hath life," seems evidently to have respect to those words of Christ that he gives an account in his gospel. John 3:36, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life." And in the same places that the Scripture speaks of faith as the soul's "receiving," or "coming to Christ," it also speaks of this receiving, or coming to, or joining with Christ, as the ground of an interest in his benefits: "To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God"; "Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life." And there is a wide difference between its being looked on suitable that Christ's satisfaction and merits should be theirs that believe, because an interest in that satisfaction and merit is but a fit reward of faith, or a suitable testimony of God's respect to the amiableness and excellency of that grace, and its only being looked on suitable that Christ's satisfaction and merits should be theirs, because Christ and they are so united, that in the eyes of the Judge they may be looked upon, and taken, as one.
Although, on account of faith in the believer, it is, in the sight of God, fit and congruous, both that he who believes should be looked upon as in Christ, and also as having an interest in his merits, in the way that has been now explained, yet it appears that this is very wide from a merit of congruity, or indeed any moral congruity at all to either. There is a two-fold fitness to a state; I know not how to give them distinguishing names otherwise than by calling the one a moral, and the other a natural fitness: a person has a moral fitness for a state, when his moral excellency commends him to it, or when his being put into such a good state, is but a fit or suitable testimony of regard or love to the moral excellency, or value, or amiableness of any of his qualifications or acts. A person has a natural fitness for a state when it appears meet and condecent that he should be in such a state or circumstances, only from the natural concord or agreeableness there is between such qualifications and such circumstances; not because the qualifications are lovely or unlovely, but only because the qualifications, and the circumstances are like one another, or do in their nature suit and agree or unite one to another. And 'Tis on this latter account only that God looks on it fit by a natural fitness, that he whose heart sincerely unites itself to Christ as his Savior, should be looked upon as united to that Savior, and so having an interest in him; and not from any moral fitness there is between the excellency of such a qualification as faith, and such a glorious blessedness as the having an interest in Christ. God's bestowing Christ and his benefits on a soul in consequence of faith, out of regard only to the natural concord there is between such a qualification of a soul, and such an union with Christ, and interest in him, makes the case very widely different from what it would be, if he bestowed this from regard to any moral suitableness; for in the former case, 'tis only from God's love of order that he bestows these things on the account of faith. In the latter God doth it out of love to the grace of faith itself. God will neither look on Christ's merits as ours, nor adjudge his benefits to us, till we be in Christ: nor will he look upon us as being in him, without an active unition of our hearts and souls to him; because he is a wise being, and delights in order, and not in confusion, and that things should be together or asunder according to their nature; and his making such a constitution is a testimony of his love of order: whereas if it were out of regard to any moral fitness or suitableness between faith and such blessedness, it would be a testimony of his love to the act or qualification itself: the one supposes this divine constitution to be a manifestation of God's regard to the beauty of the act of faith, the other only supposes it to be a manifestation of his regard to the beauty of that order that there is in uniting those things that have a natural agreement, and congruity, and unition of the one with the other. Indeed a moral suitableness or fitness to a state includes a natural; for 'tis never so that if there be a moral suitableness that a person should be in such a state, but there is also a natural suitableness, but such a natural suitableness as I have described, by no means necessarily includes a moral.
This is plainly what our divines intend when they say that faith don't justify as a work, or a righteousness, viz. that it don't justify as a part of our moral goodness or excellency, or that it don't justify as a work, in the sense that man was to have been justified by his works by the covenant of works, which was to have a title to eternal life, given him of God in testimony of his pleasedness with his works, or his regard to the inherent excellency and beauty of his obedience. And this is certainly what the apostle Paul means, when he so much insists upon it that we are not justified by works, viz. that we are not justified by them as good works, or by any goodness, value, or excellency of our works. For the proof of this I shall at present mention but one thing (being like to have occasion to say what shall make it more abundantly manifest afterwards), and that is, the Apostle, from time to time, speaking of our not being justified by works, as the thing that excludes all boasting (Ephesians 2:9; Romans 3:27 and Romans 4:2). Now which way do works give occasion for boasting, but as good? What do men use to boast of, but of something they suppose good or excellent? And on what account do they boast of anything, but for the supposed excellency that is in it?
From these things we may learn in what manner faith is the only condition of justification and salvation; for though it be not the only condition, so as alone truly to have the place of a condition in an hypothetical proposition, in which justification and salvation are the consequent, yet it is the condition of justification in a manner peculiar to it, and so that nothing else has a parallel influence with it; because faith includes the whole act of unition to Christ as a Savior: the entire active uniting of the soul, or the whole of what is called "coming to" Christ, and "receiving" of him, is called faith in Scripture; and however other things may be no less excellent than faith, yet 'tis not the nature of any other graces or virtues directly to close with Christ as a Mediator, any further than they enter into the constitution of justifying faith, and do belong to its nature.
Thus I have explained my meaning, in asserting it as a doctrine of the gospel, that we are justified by faith only, without any manner of goodness of our own. I now proceed, in the
II. [Second] place, to the proof of it, which I shall endeavor to produce in the following arguments,
First. Such is our case, and the state of things, that neither faith, nor any other qualification, or act, or course of acts does, or can render it suitable or fit that a person should have an interest in the Savior, and so a title to his benefits, on account of any excellency therein, or any other way than only as something in him may unite him to the Savior. It is not suitable that God should give fallen man an interest in Christ and his merits, as a testimony of his respect to anything whatsoever as a loveliness in him; and that because 'tis not meet till a sinner is actually justified, that anything in him should be accepted of God, as any excellency or amiableness of his person; or that God by any act, should in any manner or degree testify any pleasedness with him, or favor towards him, on the account of anything inherent in him; and that for two reasons: first, because the nature of things will not admit of it; second, because an antecedent divine constitution stands in the way of it.
1. The nature of things will not admit of it. And this appears from the infinite guilt that the sinner till justified is under; which arises from the infinite evil or heinousness of sin. But because this is what some deny, I would therefore first establish that point, and show that sin is a thing that is indeed properly of infinite heinousness; and then show the consequence, and show that it being so, and so the sinner under infinite guilt in God's sight, it cannot be suitable, till the sinner is actually justified, that God should by any act testify pleasedness with, or acceptance of, anything as any excellency or amiableness of his person, or indeed have any acceptance of him, or pleasedness with him to testify.
That the evil and demerit of sin is infinitely great, is most demonstrably evident, because what the evil or iniquity of sin consists in, is the violating of an obligation, the doing contrary to what we are obliged to do, or doing what we should not do; and therefore by how much the greater obligation is that is violated, by so much the greater is the iniquity of the violation. But certainly our obligation to love or honor any being is great in proportion to the greatness or excellency of that being, or his worthiness to be loved and honored: we are under greater obligations to love a more lovely being than a less lovely; and if a being be infinitely excellent and lovely, our obligations to love him are therein infinitely great: the matter is so plain it seems needless to say much about it.
Some have argued exceeding strangely against the infinite evil of sin, from its being committed against an infinite object, that if so, then it may as well be argued that there is also an infinite value or worthiness in holiness and love to God, because that also has an infinite object; whereas the argument from parity of reason will carry it in the reverse: the sin of the creature against God is ill-deserving in proportion to the distance there is between God and the creature, the greatness of the object, and the meanness of the subject aggravates it; but 'tis the reverse with regard to the worthiness of the respect of the creature to God, 'tis worthless (and not worthy) in proportion to the meanness of the subject: so much the greater the distance between God and the creature, so much the less is the creature's respect worthy of God's notice or regard. The unworthiness of sin or opposition to God rises, and is great in proportion to the dignity of the object, and inferiority of the subject; but on the contrary the worth or value of respect rises in proportion to the value of the subject; and that for this plain reason, viz. that the evil of disrespect is in proportion to the obligation that lies upon the subject to the object; which obligation is most evidently increased by the excellency and superiority of the object; but on the contrary the worthiness of respect to a being is in proportion to the obligation that lies on him who is the object (or rather the reason he has) to regard the subject, which certainly is in proportion to the subject's value or excellency. Sin or disrespect is evil or heinous in proportion to the degree of what it denies in the object, and as it were takes from it, viz. its excellency and worthiness of respect; on the contrary, respect is valuable in proportion to the value of what is given to the object in that respect, which undoubtedly (other things being equal), is great in proportion to the subject's value, or worthiness of regard; because the subject in giving his respect, can give no more than himself; so far as he gives his respect he gives himself to the object; and therefore his gift is of greater or lesser value in proportion to the value of himself.
Hence (by the way), the love, honor, and obedience of Christ towards God, has infinite value, from the excellency and dignity of the person in whom these qualifications were inherent: and the reason why we needed a person of infinite dignity to obey for us, was because of our infinite comparative meanness, who had disobeyed, whereby our disobedience was infinitely aggravated: we needed one, the worthiness of whose obedience, might be answerable to the unworthiness of our disobedience; and therefore needed one who was as great and worthy, as we were unworthy.
Another objection (that perhaps may be thought hardly worth mentioning), is, that to suppose sin to be infinitely heinous is to make all sins equally heinous; for how can any sin be more than infinitely heinous? But all that can be argued hence is, that no sin can be greater with respect to that aggravation, the worthiness of the object against whom it is committed: one sin can't be more aggravated than another in that respect, because in this respect the aggravation of every sin is infinite; but that don't hinder but that some sins may be more heinous than others in other respects: as if we should suppose a cylinder infinitely long, it can't be greater in that respect, viz. with respect to the length of it; but yet it may be doubled, and trebled, and made a thousand-fold more, by the increase of other dimensions. Of sins that are all infinitely heinous, some may be more heinous than others, as well as of divers punishments that are all infinitely dreadful calamities, or all of them infinitely exceeding all finite calamities, so that there is no finite calamity however great but what is infinitely less dreadful, or more eligible than any of them, yet some of them may be a thousand times more dreadful than others. A punishment may be infinitely dreadful by reason of the infinite duration of it; and therefore can't be greater with respect to that aggravation of it, viz. its length of continuance; but yet may be vastly more terrible on other accounts.
Having thus, as I imagine, made it clear that all sin is infinitely heinous, and consequently that the sinner, before he is justified, is under infinite guilt in God's sight, it now remains that I show the consequence, or how it follows from hence, that it is not suitable that God should give the sinner an interest in Christ's merits, and so a title to his benefits, from regard to any qualification, or act, or course of acts, in him, on the account of any excellency or goodness whatsoever therein, but only as uniting to Christ; or (which fully implies it) that it is not suitable that God by any act, should in any manner or degree, testify any acceptance of, or pleasedness with anything, as any virtue, or excellency, or any part of loveliness, or valuableness, in his person, until he is actually already interested in Christ's merits; which appears by this, that from the premises it follows, that before the sinner is already interested in Christ, and justified, 'tis impossible God should have any acceptance of, or pleasedness with, the person of the sinner, as in any degree lovely in his sight, or indeed less the object of his displeasure and wrath: For, by the supposition, the sinner still remains infinitely guilty in the sight of God; for guilt is not removed but by pardon; but to suppose the sinner already pardoned, is to suppose him already justified; which is contrary to the supposition: but if the sinner still remains infinitely guilty in God's sight, that is the same thing as still to be beheld of God as infinitely the object of his displeasure and wrath, or infinitely hateful in his eyes; and if so, where is any room for anything in him, to be accepted as some valuableness or acceptableness of him in God's sight, or for any act of favor, of any kind towards him, or any gift whatsoever to him, in testimony of God's respect to and acceptance of something of him lovely and pleasing? If we should suppose that it could be so, that a sinner could have faith, or some other grace in his heart, and yet remain separate from Christ; and it should continue still to be so, that he is not looked upon as being in Christ, or having any relation to him it would not be meet that that true grace should be accepted of God as any loveliness of his person in the sight of God: if it should be accepted as the loveliness of the person, that would be to accept the person as in some degree lovely to God, but this can't be consistent with his still remaining under infinite guilt, or infinite unworthiness in God's sight, which that goodness has no worthiness to balance. While God beholds the man as separate from Christ, he must behold him as he is in himself; and so his goodness can't be beheld by God, but as taken with his guilt and hatefulness, and as put in the scales with it; and being beheld so, his goodness is nothing; because there is a finite on the balance against an infinite, whose proportion to it is nothing: in such a case, if the man be looked on as he is in himself, the excess of the weight in one scale above another, must be looked upon as the quality of the man: these contraries being beheld together, one takes from another, as one number is subtracted from another; and the man must be looked upon in God's sight according to the remainder: for here by the supposition all acts of grace or favor, in not imputing the guilt as it is, are excluded, because that supposes a degree of pardon, and that supposes justification, which is contrary to what is supposed, viz. that the sinner i; not already justified: and therefore things must be taken strictly as they are; and so the man is still infinitely unworthy, and hateful in God's sight, as he was before, without diminution, because his goodness bears no proportion to his unworthiness; and therefore when taken together is nothing.
Hence may be more clearly seen, the force of that expression in the text, of believing on him that "justifieth the ungodly"; for though there is indeed something in man that is really and spiritually good, that is prior to justification, yet there is nothing that is accepted as any godliness or excellency of the person, till after justification. Goodness or loveliness of the person in the acceptance of God, in any degree, is not to be considered as prior but posterior in the order and method of God's proceeding in this affair: though a respect to the natural suitableness between such a qualification, and such a state, does go before justification, yet the acceptance even of faith as any goodness or loveliness of the believer, follows justification: the goodness is on the forementioned account justly looked upon as nothing, until the man is justified: and therefore the man is respected in justification, as in himself altogether hateful. Thus the nature of things will not admit of a man's having an interest given him in the merits or benefits of a Savior, on the account of anything as a righteousness, or a virtue, or excellency in him.
2. A divine constitution that is antecedent to that which establishes justification by a Savior (and indeed to any need of a Savior), stands in the way of it viz. that original constitution or law which man was put under; by which constitution or law the sinner is condemned, because he is a violator of that law; and stands condemned, till he has actually an interest the Savior, through whom he is set at liberty from that condemnation. But to suppose that God gives a man an interest in Christ in reward for his righteousness or virtue, is inconsistent with his still remaining under condemnation till he has an interest in Christ; because it supposes that the sinner's virtue is accepted, and he accepted for it, before he has an interest in Christ; inasmuch as an interest in Christ is given as a reward of his virtue; but the virtue must first be accepted, before it is rewarded, and the man must first be accepted for his virtue, before he is rewarded for it, with so great and glorious a reward; for the very notion of a reward is some good bestowed in testimony of respect to and acceptance of virtue in the person rewarded. It don't consist with the honor of the majesty of the King of Heaven and Earth, to accept of anything from a condemned malefactor, condemned by the justice of his own holy law, till that condemnation be removed: and then such acceptance is inconsistent with, and contradictory to such remaining condemnation; for the law condemns him that violates it, to be totally rejected and cast off by God; but how can a man continue under this condemnation, i.e. continue utterly rejected and cast off of God, and yet his righteousness or virtue be accepted, and he himself accepted on the account of it, so as to have so glorious [a] reward as an interest in Christ bestowed as a testimony of that acceptance?
I know that the answer that will be ready for this is, that we now are not subject to that constitution that mankind were at first put under; but that God in mercy to mankind has abolished that rigorous constitution or law that they were under originally, and has put us under a new law, and introduced a more mild constitution; and that the constitution or law itself not remaining, there is no need of supposing that the condemnation of it remains, to stand in the way of the acceptance of our virtue. And indeed there is no other way of avoiding this difficulty; the condemnation of the law must stand in force against a man till he is actually interested in the Savior, that has satisfied and answered the law, effectually to prevent any acceptance of his virtue, before, or in order to such an interest, unless the law or constitution itself be abolished. But the scheme of those modern divines by whom this is maintained seems to contain a great deal of absurdity and self-contradiction: they hold that the old law given to Adam which requires perfect obedience is entirely repealed, and that instead of it we are put under a new law, which requires no more than imperfect, sincere obedience, in compliance with our poor, infirm, impotent circumstances since the fall, where by we are unable to perform that perfect obedience that was required by the first law: for they strenuously maintain that it would be unjust in God to require anything of us that is beyond our present power and ability to perform; and yet they hold that Christ died to satisfy for the imperfections of our obedience, that so our imperfect obedience might be accepted instead of perfect. Now how can these things hang together? I would ask what law these imperfections of our obedience are a breach of? if they are a breach of no law, then they ben't sins; and if they ben't sins, what need of Christ's dying to satisfy for them? but if they are sins, and so the breach of some law, what law is it? they can't be a breach of their new law, for that requires no other than imperfect obedience, or obedience with imperfections; and they can't be a breach of the old law, for that they say is entirely abolished, and we never were under it; and we can't break a law that we never were under. They say it would not be just in God to exact of us perfect obedience, because it would not be just in God to require more of us than we can perform in our present state, and to punish us for failing of it; and therefore by their own scheme the imperfections of our obedience don't deserve to be punished: what need therefore of Christ's dying to satisfy for them? What need of Christ's suffering to satisfy for that which is no fault, and in its own nature deserves no suffering? What need of Christ's dying to purchase that our imperfect obedience should be accepted, when according to their scheme it would be unjust in itself that any other obedience than imperfect should be required? What need of Christ's dying to make way for God's accepting such an obedience, as it would in itself be unjust in him not to accept? Is there any need of Christ's dying to persuade God not to do unjustly? If it be said that Christ died to satisfy that law for us, that so we might not be under that law, but might be delivered from it, that so there might be room for us to be under a more mild law; still I would inquire what need of Christ's dying that we might not be under a law, that (according to their scheme) it would in itself be unjust that we should be under, because in our present state we are not able to keep it? What need of Christ's dying that we might not be under a law, that it would be unjust that we should be under, whether Christ died or no?
Thus far I have argued principally from reason, and the nature of things: I proceed now to the
Second argument, which is, that this is a doctrine which the Holy Scripture, he revelation that God has given us of his mind and will, by which along we can never come to know how those who have offended God can come to be accepted of him, and justified in his sight, is exceeding full in: particularly the apostle Paul is abundant in teaching that we are justified by faith alone without the works of the law: there is no one doctrine that he insists so much upon, and is particular in, and that he handles with so much distinctness, explaining, and giving reasons, and answering objections.
Here it is not denied by any, that the Apostle does assert that we are justified by faith, without the works of the law, because the words are express; but only it is said that we take his words wrong, and understand that by 'em that never entered into his heart, in that when he excludes the works of the law, we understand him of the whole law of God, or the rule which he has given to mankind to walk by; whereas all that he intends is the ceremonial law.
Some that oppose this doctrine indeed say, that the Apostle sometimes means that it is by faith, i.e. an hearty embracing the gospel in its first act, only, or without any preceding holy life, that persons are admitted into a justified state; but, say they, 'tis by a persevering obedience that they are continued in a justified state, and it is by this that they are finally justified. But this is the same thing as to say that a man on his first embracing the gospel is conditionally justified and pardoned. To pardon sin, is to free the sinner from the punishment of it, or from that eternal misery that is due to it; and therefore if a person is pardoned, or freed from this misery, on his first embracing the gospel, and yet not finally freed, but his actual freedom still depends on some condition yet to be performed, 'tis inconceivable how he can be pardoned otherwise than conditionally: that is he is not properly actually pardoned, and freed from punishment, but only he has God's promise that he shall be pardoned on future conditions; God promises him that now, if he perseveres in obedience, he shall be finally pardoned, or actually freed from hell; which is to make just nothing at all of the Apostle's great doctrine of justification by faith alone: such a conditional pardon is no pardon or justification at all, any more than all mankind have, whether they embrace the gospel or no; for they all have Promise of final justification on conditions of future sincere obedience, as much as he that embraces the gospel. But not to dispute about this we will suppose that there may be something or other at the sinner's first embracing the gospel, that may properly be called justification or pardon, and yet that final justification, or real freedom from the punishment of sin, is still suspended on conditions hitherto unfulfilled; yet they that hold that sinners are thus justified on embracing the gospel, they suppose that they are justified by this, no otherwise than as it is a leading act of obedience, or at least as virtue and moral goodness in them, and therefore would be excluded by the Apostle as much as any other virtue or obedience; if it be allowed that he means the moral law, when he excludes works of the law. And therefore if that point be yielded that the Apostle means the moral, and not only the ceremonial law, their whole scheme falls to the ground.
And because the issue of the whole argument from those texts in St. Paul's epistles depends on the determination of this point, I would be particular in the discussion of it.
Some of our opponents in this doctrine of justification, when they deny that by the law, the Apostle means the moral law, or the whole rule of life which God has given to mankind, seem to choose to express themselves thus, that the Apostle only intends the Mosaic dispensation: but this comes to just the same thing as if they said that the Apostle only means to exclude the works of the ceremonial law; for when they say that 'tis intended only that we ben't justified by the works of the Mosaic dispensation, if they mean anything by it, it must be that we ben't justified by attending, and observing what is Mosaic in that dispensation, or by what was peculiar to it, and wherein it differed from the Christian dispensation; which is the same as that which is ceremonial and positive, and not moral, in that administration. So that this is what I have to disprove, viz. that the Apostle when he speaks of works of the law in this affair, means only works of the ceremonial law, or those observances that were peculiar to the Mosaic administration.
And here it must be noted, that nobody controverts it with them, whether the works of the ceremonial law ben't included, or whether the Apostle don't particularly argue against justification by circumcision, and other ceremonial observances; but all that is in question is, whether when he denies justification by works of the law, he is to be understood only of the ceremonial law, or whether the moral law ben't also implied and intended; and therefore those arguments that are brought to prove that the Apostle meant the ceremonial law are nothing to the purpose, unless they prove more than that, viz. that the Apostle meant those only.
What is much insisted on is, that it was the Judaizing Christians being so fond of circumcision, and other ceremonies of the law, and depending so much on them, which was the very occasion of the Apostle's writing as he does against justification by the works of the law. But supposing it were so, that their trusting in works of the ceremonial law, were the sole occasion of the Apostle's writing (which yet there is no reason to allow, as may appear afterwards); if their trusting in a particular work, as a work of righteousness was all that gave occasion to the Apostle to write, how does it follow that therefore the Apostle did not upon that occasion write against trusting in all works of righteousness whatsoever? Where is the absurdity of supposing that the Apostle might take occasion from his observing some to trust in a certain work as a work of righteousness, to write to them against persons trusting in any works of righteousness at all, and that it was a very proper occasion too? yea, it would have been unavoidable for the Apostle to have argued against trusting in a particular work in that quality of a work of righteousness, which quality was general, but he must therein argue against trusting in works of righteousness in general. Supposing it had been some other particular sort of works that was the occasion of the Apostle's writing, as for instance, works of charity, and the Apostle should hence take occasion to write to them not to trust in their works, could the Apostle by that be understood of no other works besides works of charity? Would it have been absurd to understand him as writing against trusting in any work at all, because it was their trusting to a particular work that gave occasion to his writing?
Another thing alleged as an evidence that the Apostle means the ceremonial law, when he says we can not be justified by the works of the law, is that he uses that argument to prove it, viz. that this law he speaks of was given so long after the covenant with Abraham, in Galatians 3:17. "And this I say that the covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law that was four hundred and thirty years after cannot disannul." But say they, it was only the Mosaic administration, and not the covenant of works that was given so long after. But the Apostle's argument seems manifestly to be mistaken by them. The Apostle don't speak of a law that began first to have being four hundred and thirty years after; if he did, there would be some force in their objection; but he has respect to a certain solemn transaction, well known among the Jews, by the phrase of "the giving of the law," which was that great transaction at Mount Sinai, that we have account of in the Exodus 19–20, consisting especially in God's giving the Ten Commandments, which is the moral law, with a terrible voice, which law he afterwards gave in tables of stone. This transaction the Jews in the Apostle's time misinterpreted, they looked upon it as God's establishing that law as a rule of justification. This conceit of theirs the Apostle brings this invincible argument against, viz. that God would never go about to disannul his covenant with Abraham, which was plainly a covenant of grace, by a transaction with his posterity, that was so long after it, and was plainly built upon it: he would not overthrow a covenant of grace that he had long before established with Abraham, for him, and his seed (which is often mentioned as the ground of God's making them his people), by now establishing a covenant of works with them at Mount Sinai, as the Jews and Judaizing Christians supposed.
But that the Apostle don't mean only works of the ceremonial law, when he excludes works of the law in justification, but also of the moral law, and all works of obedience, virtue, and righteousness whatsoever, may appear by the following things.
1. The Apostle don't only say, that we are not justified by the works of the law, but that we are not justified by works, using a general term; as in our text it is said, "unto him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth," etc. and in the Romans 4:6, "God imputeth righteousness without works." And Romans 11:6, "And if by grace, then is it no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace: but if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work." So Ephesians 2:8–9, "For by grace are ye saved, through faith,…not of works." By which, there is no reason in the world to understand the Apostle of any other than works in general, as correlates of a reward, or good works, or works of virtue and righteousness. When the Apostle says we are justified or saved not by works, without any such term annexed as "the law," or any other addition to limit the expression, what warrant have any to confine it to works of a particular law, or institution, excluding others? Are not observances of other divine laws works, as well as of that? It seems to be allowed by the divines in the Arminian scheme, in their interpretation of several of those texts where the Apostle only mentions works, without any addition, that he means our own good works in general; but then they say, he only means to exclude any proper merit in those works. But to say the Apostle means one thing when he says we ben't justified by works, another when he says we ben't justified by the works of the law, when we find the expressions mixed, and used in the same discourse, and when the Apostle is evidently upon the same argument, is very unreasonable, it is to dodge, and fly from Scripture, rather than to open and yield ourselves to its teachings.
2. In the Romans 3, our having been guilty of breaches of the moral law, is an argument that the Apostle uses why we can not be justified by the works of the law; beginning with the Romans 3:9 there he proves out of the Old Testament, that all are under sin; "there is none righteous no, not one": "their throat is an open sepulcher: with their tongues have they used deceit": "their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness"; and "their feet swift to shed blood." And so he goes on mentioning only those things that are breaches of the moral law, and then when he has done, his conclusion is, in the Romans 3:19–20, "Now we know that whatsoever things the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law, shall no flesh be justified in his sight." This is most evidently his argument, because all had sinned (as it was said in the Romans 3:9) and been guilty of those breaches of the moral law, that he had mentioned (and it is repeated over again, afterward Romans 3:23). "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Therefore none at all can be justified by the deeds of the law: now if the Apostle meant only that we are not justified by the deeds of the ceremonial law, what kind of arguing would that be, "Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness, their feet are swift to shed blood," therefore, they can't be justified by the deeds of the Mosaic administration? They are guilty of the breaches of the moral law, and therefore they can't be justified by the deeds of the ceremonial law? Doubtless the Apostle's argument is, that the very same law they have broken and sinned against, can never justify 'em as observers of it, because every law don't justify, but necessarily condemns its violators: and therefore our breaches of the moral law, argue no more, than that we can't be justified by that law that we have broken.
And it may be noted, that the Apostle's argument here is the same that I have already used, viz. that as we are in ourselves, and out of Christ, we are under the condemnation of that original law, or constitution that God established with mankind; and therefore 'tis no way fit that anything we do, any virtue or obedience of ours, should be accepted, or we accepted on the account of it.
3. The Apostle, in all the preceding part of this epistle, wherever he has the phrase, "the law," evidently intends the moral law principally: as in the Romans 2:12. "For as many as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law." 'Tis evidently the written moral law, the Apostle means, by the next verse but one. "For when the Gentiles which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law…," that is, the moral law that the Gentiles have by nature: and so the next verse, "Which show the work of the law written in their hearts." 'Tis the moral law, and not the ceremonial that is written in the hearts of those who are destitute of divine revelation. And so in the Romans 2:18 "Thou approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law." 'Tis the moral law, that shows us the nature of things, and teaches us what is excellent. [The] Romans 2:20, "Thou hast a form of knowledge, and truth in the law." 'Tis the moral law, as is evident by what follows, Romans 2:22–23, "Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery dost thou commit adultery? Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonorest thou God?" Adultery, idolatry, and sacrilege, surely are the breaking of the moral, and not the ceremonial law. So in the Romans 2:27, "And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfill the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law," i.e. the Gentiles, that you despise because uncircumcised, if they live moral and holy lives, in obedience to the moral law, shall condemn you though circumcised. And so there is not one place in all the preceding part of the epistle, where the Apostle speaks of the law, but that he most apparently intends principally the moral law: and yet when the Apostle, in continuance of the same discourse, comes to tell us that we can't be justified by the works of the law, then they will needs have it, that he means only the ceremonial law; yea though all this discourse about the moral law, showing how the Jews as well as Gentiles have violated it, is evidently preparatory, and introductory to that doctrine, Romans 3:20, that "no flesh," that is none of mankind, neither Jews nor Gentiles, can be justified by the works of the law.
4. 'Tis evident that when the Apostle says, we can't be justified by the works of the law, he means the moral as well as ceremonial law, by his giving this reason for it, that "by the law is the knowledge of sin," as Romans 3:20. "By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin." Now that law by which we come to the knowledge of sin, is the moral law chiefly and primarily. If this argument of the Apostle be good, that we can't be justified by the deeds of the law, because it is by the law that we come to the knowledge of sin, then it proves that we can't be justified by the deeds of the moral law, nor by the precepts of Christianity; for by them is the knowledge of sin. If the reason be good, then where the reason holds, the truth holds. 'Tis a miserable shift, and a violent force put upon the words, to say that the meaning is, that by the law of circumcision is the knowledge of sin, because circumcision signifying the taking way of sin, puts men in mind of sin. The plain meaning of the Apostle is that as the law most strictly forbids sin, it tends to convince us of sin, and bring our own consciences to condemn us, instead of justifying of us; that the use of it is to declare to us our own guilt and unworthiness, which is the reverse of justifying and approving of us as virtuous or worthy. This is the Apostle's meaning, if we will allow him to be his own expositor; for he himself in this very epistle explains to us how it is that by the law we have the knowledge of sin, and that 'tis by the law's forbidding sin. Romans 7:7, "I had not known sin, but by the law, for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." There the Apostle determines two things, first, that, the way in which, "by the law is the knowledge of sin," is by the law's forbidding sin: and secondly, which is more directly till to the purpose; he determines that 'tis the moral law by which we cone to the knowledge of sin; for says he, "I had not known lust, except the aw had said, Thou shalt not covet": now 'tis the moral, and not the ceremonial law, that says thou shalt not covet: therefore when the Apostle argues that by the deeds of the law no flesh living shall be justified, because the law is the knowledge of sin, his argument proves (unless he was mistaken as to the force of his argument), that we can't be justified by the deeds of the moral law.
5. 'Tis evident that the Apostle don't mean only the ceremonial law, because he gives this reason why we have righteousness, and a title to the privilege of Gods children, not by the law, but by faith, "that the law worketh wrath." Romans 4:13–16, "For the promise that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith: for if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and he promise made of none effect: because the law worketh wrath; for where no law is there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith that it might be by grace." Now the way in which the law works wrath, by the Apostle' shown account, in the reason he himself annexes, is by forbidding sin, and aggravating the guilt of the transgression; "for," says he, "where no law in here is no transgression": and so, Romans 7:13, "That sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful." If therefore this reason of the Apostle be good, it is much stronger against justification by the moral law, than the ceremonial law; for 'tis by transgressions of the moral law chiefly that there comes wrath; for they are most strictly forbidden, and met terribly threatened.
6. 'Tis evident that when the Apostle says, we ben't justified by the works of the law, that he excludes all our own virtue, goodness, or excellency by that reason he gives for it, viz. that boasting might be excluded. Romans 3:26–28, "To declare I say at this time his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believes in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay; but by the law of faith. Therefore, we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." Ephesians 2:8–9, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast." Now what are men wont to boast of, but what they esteem their own goodness, or excellency? If we are not justified by works of the ceremonial law, yet how does that exclude boasting, as long as we are justified by our own excellency, or virtue and goodness of our own, or works of righteousness which we have done?
But it is said that boasting is excluded, as circumcision was excluded, which was what the Jews especially used to glory in, and value themselves upon, above other nations.
To this I answer, that the Jews were not only used to boast of circumcision, but were notorious for boasting of their moral righteousness. The Jews of those days were generally admirers, and followers of the Pharisees, who were full of their boasts of their moral righteousness, as we may see by the example of the Pharisee mentioned in the eighteenth of Luke, which Christ mentions as describing the general temper of that sect; "Lord," says he, "I thank thee, that I am not as other men, an extortioner, nor unjust, nor an adulterer." The works that he boasts of were chiefly moral works: he depended on the works of the law for justification; and therefore Christ tells us that the publican, that renounced all his own righteousness, "went down to his house justified rather than he." And elsewhere [Matthew 6:2] we read of the Pharisees praying in the corners of the streets and sounding a trumpet before 'em when they did alms: but those works which they so vainly boasted of were moral works. And not only so, but what the Apostle, in this very epistle, is condemning the Jews for, is their boasting of the moral law. Romans 2:22–23, "Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonorest thou God?" The law here mentioned that they made their boast of, was that of which adultery, idolatry, and sacrilege, were the breaches, which is the moral law: so that this is the boasting which the Apostle condemns them for; and therefore if they were justified by the works of this law, then how comes he to say that their boasting is excluded? And besides, when they boasted of the rites of the ceremonial law, it was under a notion of its being a part of their own goodness or excellency, or what made them holier and more lovely in the sight of God than other people; and if they were not justified by this part of their own supposed goodness, or holiness, yet if they were by another, how did that exclude boasting? How was their boasting excluded, unless all goodness or excellency of their own was excluded?
7. The reason given by the Apostle why we can be justified only by faith, and not by the works of the law, in the Galatians 3, viz. that they that are under the law are under the curse, makes it evident that he don't mean only the ceremonial law. In that chapter the Apostle had particularly insisted upon it that Abraham was justified by faith, and that it is by faith only, and not by the works of the law, that we can be justified and become the children of Abraham, and be made partakers of the blessing of Abraham: and he gives this reason for it, in the Galatians 3:10, "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." 'Tis manifest that these words cited from Deuteronomy 27:26 are spoken not only with regard to the ceremonial law, but the whole law of God to mankind, and chiefly the moral law; and that all mankind are therefore as they are in themselves under that curse, not only while the ceremonial law lasted, but now since that has ceased: and therefore all that are justified, are redeemed from that curse, by Christ's bearing it for them; as there in the Galatians 3:13, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree." Now therefore, either its being said so, that he is cursed "that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them," is a good reason why we can't be justified by the works of that law, of which it is so said, or it is not; if it be, then it is a good reason why we can't be justified by the works of the moral law, and of the whole rule which God has given mankind to walk by; for the words are spoken of the moral as well as the ceremonial law, and reach every command, or precept which God has given to mankind, and chiefly the moral precepts, which are most strictly enjoined, and the violations of which in both New Testament and Old, and in the books of Moses themselves, are threatened with the most dreadful curse.
8. The Apostle does in like manner argue against our being justified by our own righteousness, as he does against being justified by the works of the law; and evidently uses the expressions of our "own righteousness," and "works of the law," promiscuously, and as signifying the same thing. It is particularly evident by Romans 10:3, "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God." Here 'tis plain that the same thing is asserted as in the last two verses but one of the foregoing chapter, "But Israel which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness: Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law." And 'tis very unreasonable, upon several accounts, to suppose that the Apostle by "their own righteousness," intends only their ceremonial righteousness For when the Apostle warns us against trusting in our own righteousness for justification, doubtless it is fair to interpret the expression in an agreement with other Scriptures where we are warned not to think that 'tis for the sake of our own righteousness, that we obtain God's favor and blessing; as particularly that in Deuteronomy 9:4–6,
Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the Lord thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the Lord hath brought me in, to possess this land; but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord doth drive them out from before thee. Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thy heart, dost thou go to possess their land; but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which he sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Understand therefore, that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness, for thou art a stiff-necked people.
None will pretend that here the expression "thy righteousness," signifies only a ceremonial righteousness, but all virtue or goodness of their own; yea and the inward goodness of the heart as well as the outward goodness of life; which appears by the beginning of the Deuteronomy 9:5, "Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart,…"; and also by the antithesis in the Deuteronomy 9:6, "Not for thy righteousness, for thou art a stiff-necked people." Their stiff-neckedness was their moral wickedness, obstinacy, and perverseness of heart: by righteousness, therefore, on the contrary, is meant their moral virtue, and rectitude of heart, and life. This is what I would argue from hence, that the expression of "our own righteousness," when used in Scripture, with relation to the favor of God, and when we are warned against looking upon it as that by which that favor, or the fruits of it are obtained, don't signify only a ceremonial righteousness, but all manner of goodness of our own.
The Jews also in the New Testament are condemned for trusting in their own righteousness in this sense; Luke 18:9, etc. "And he spake this parable unto certain that trusted in themselves that they were righteous." This intends chiefly a moral righteousness, as appears by the parable itself, in which we have an account of the prayer of the Pharisee, wherein the things that he mentions, as what he trusts in, are chiefly moral qualifications and performances, viz. that he was not an extortioner, unjust, nor an adulterer, etc.
But we need not go to the writings of other penmen of the Scripture; but if we will allow the apostle Paul to be his own interpreter, he when he speaks of our own righteousness as that which we are not justified or saved by don't mean only a ceremonial righteousness, nor does he only intend a way of religion, and serving God, of our own choosing and fixing on, without divine warrant or prescription; but by our own righteousness he means the same as a righteousness of our own doing, whether it be a service or righteousness of God's prescribing, or our own unwarranted performing: Let it be an obedience to the ceremonial law, or a gospel obedience, or what it will, if it be a righteousness of our own doing, it is excluded by the Apostle in this affair, as is evident by Titus 3:5. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done." But I would more particularly insist on this text; and therefore this may be the
9. [Ninth] argument, that the Apostle when he denies justification by works, and by works of the law, and by our own righteousness, don't only mean works of the ceremonial law, viz. what is said by the Apostle in Titus 3:3–7. For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice, and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior, toward man, appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Savior; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life. Works of righteousness that we have done, are here excluded, as what we are neither saved, nor justified by. The Apostle expressly says, we are not saved by 'em; and 'tis evident that when he says this, he has respect to the affair of justification, and that he means, we are not saved by 'em in not being justified by 'em, as by the next verse but one, which is part of the same sentence, "That being justified by his grace we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life."
'Tis several ways manifest that the Apostle in this text, by "works of righteousness which we have done," don't mean only works of the ceremonial law. It appears by the Titus 3:3, "For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another." These are breaches of the moral law, that the Apostle observes they lived in before they were justified: and 'tis most plain that 'tis this that gives occasion to the Apostle to observe as he does in the Titus 3:5, that it was not by works of righteousness which they had done, that they were saved or justified.
But we need not go to the context, 'tis most apparent from the words themselves, that the Apostle don't mean only works of the ceremonial law: if he had only said, it is not by our own works of righteousness; what could we understand by "works of righteousness," but only "righteous works," or which is the same thing, "good works"? And to say that it is by our own righteous works, that we are justified, though not by one particular kind of righteous works, would certainly be a contradiction to such an assertion. But the words are rendered yet more strong, plain, and determined in their sense, by those additional words, "which we have done"; which shows that the Apostle intends to exclude all our own righteous or virtuous works universally. If it should be asserted concerning any commodity, treasure, or precious jewel, that it could not be procured by money, and not only so, but to make the assertion the more strong, it should be asserted with additional words, that it could not be procured by money that men possess; how unreasonable would it be after all to say, that all that was meant was, that it could not be procured with brass money?
And what renders the interpreting of this text of works of the ceremonial law, yet more unreasonable is, that these works were indeed no works of righteousness at all, but were only falsely supposed to be so by the Jews; and that our opponents in this doctrine suppose is the very reason why we ben't justified by 'em, because they are not works of righteousness, or because (the ceremonial law being now abrogated) there is no obedience in 'em: but how absurd is it to say, that the Apostle when he says we are not justified by works of righteousness that we have done, meant only works of the ceremonial law, and that for that very reason because they are not works of righteousness. To illustrate this by the forementioned comparison: if it should be asserted that such a thing could not be procured by money that men possess, how ridiculous would it be to say that the meaning only, that it could not be procured by counterfeit money, and that for that reason, because it was not money. What Scripture will stand before if they will take liberty to manage Scripture thus? Or what one text is there in the Bible that mayn't at this rate be explained all away, and perverted to any sense men please.
But then further, if we should allow that the Apostle intends only to oppose justification by works of the ceremonial law in this text, yet 'tis evident by the expression he uses, that he means to oppose it under that notion, or in that quality, of their being works of righteousness of our own doing. But if the Apostle argues against our being justified by works of the ceremonial law under the notion of their being of that nature and kind, viz. works of our own doing; then it will follow that the Apostle's argument is strong against, not only those, but all of that nature and kind, even all that are of our own doing.
If there were no other text in the Bible about justification but this, this would clearly and invincibly prove that we are not justified by any of our own goodness, virtue, or righteousness or for the excellency or righteousness of anything that we have done in religion; because 'tis here so fully and strongly asserted: but this text does abundantly confirm other texts of the Apostle, where he denies justification by works of the law: there is no doubt can be rationally made but that, when the Apostle here shows that God saves us according to his mercy, in that he don't save us by "works of righteousness that we have done" (Titus 3:5), and that so we are "justified by grace" (Titus 3:7), herein opposing salvation by works, and salvation by grace, he means the same works as he does in other places, where he in like manner opposes works and grace, the same works as in Romans 11:6, "And if by grace then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace: but if it be of works, then it is no more grace; otherwise work is no more work." And the same works as in Romans 4:4, "Now to him that worketh, is the reward not reckoned of grace but of debt." And the same works that are spoken of in the context of the Romans 3:24 of the foregoing chapter, which the Apostle there calls works of the law "being justified freely by his grace.…" And of the Romans 4:16, "Therefore 'tis of faith, that it might be by grace." Where in the context, the righteousness of faith, is opposed to the righteousness of the law: for here God's saving us according to his mercy, and justifying us by grace, is opposed to saving us by works of righteousness that we have done, in the same manner as in those places justifying us by his grace, is opposed to justifying us by works of the law.
10. The Apostle could not mean only works of the ceremonial law, when he says we are not justified by the works of the law, because 'tis asserted of the saints, under the Old Testament, as well as New. If men are justified by their sincere obedience, it will then follow that formerly, before the ceremonial law was abrogated, men were justified by the works of the ceremonial law, as well as the moral. For if we are justified by our sincere obedience, then it alters not the case, whether the commands be moral, or positive, provided they be God's commands, and our obedience be obedience to God: and so the case must be just the same under the Old Testament, with the works of the moral law, and ceremonial, according to the measure of the virtue of obedience, there was in either. 'Tis true their obedience to the ceremonial law would have nothing to do in the affair of justification, unless it was sincere; and so neither would the works of the moral law: obedience to the moral law would have been concerned in the affair, if sincere; and so would obedience to the ceremonial. If obedience was the thing, then obedience to the ceremonial law, while that stood in force, and obedience to the moral law, had just the same sort of concern, according to the proportion of obedience that consists in each. As now under the New Testament, if obedience is what we are justified by, that obedience must doubtless comprehend obedience to all God's commands now in force, to the positive precepts of attendance on baptism and the Lord's Supper, as well as moral precepts. If obedience be the thing, it is not because 'tis obedience to such a kind of commands, but because 'tis obedience. So that by this supposition, the saints under the Old Testament were justified, at least in part, by their obedience to the ceremonial law.
But 'tis evident that the saints under the Old Testament were not justified in any measure, by the works of the ceremonial law. This may be proved proceeding on the foot of our adversaries' own interpretation of the Apostle's phrase of "the works of the law"; and supposing him to mean by it only the works of the ceremonial law. To instance in David, 'tis evident that he was not justified in any wise, by the works of the ceremonial law, by Romans 4:6–8. "Even as David also described 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 sin." 'Tis plain that the Apostle is here speaking of justification, by the preceding verse, and by all the context; and the thing spoken of, viz. forgiving iniquities and covering sins, is what our adversaries themselves suppose to be justification, and even the whole of justification. This David, speaking of himself, says (by the Apostle's interpretation), that he had without works. For 'tis manifest that David in the words here cited, from the beginning of the Psalms 32, has a special respect to himself: he speaks of his own sins being forgiven and not imputed to him: as appears by the words that nextly follow, "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old, through my roaring all the day long; for day and night thy hand was heavy upon me, my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid: I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin." Let us therefore understand the Apostle which way we will, by "works," when he says, "David describes the blessedness of the man to whom the Lord imputes righteousness without works," whether of all manner of works, or only works of the ceremonial law, yet 'tis evident at least, that David was not justified by works of the ceremonial law. Therefore here is the argument: if our own obedience be that by which men are justified, then under the Old Testament, men were justified partly by obedience to the ceremonial law (as has been proved); but the saints under the Old Testament were not justified partly by the works of the ceremonial law; therefore men's own obedience is not that by which they are justified.
11. Another argument that the Apostle, when he speaks of the two opposite ways of justification, one by the works of the law, and the other by faith, don't mean only the works of the ceremonial law, may be taken from that place, Romans 10:5–6. "For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doth those things shall live by them; but the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise," etc. Here two things are evident,
(1) That the Apostle here speaks of the same two opposite ways of justification, one by the righteousness which is of the law, the other by faith, that he had treated of in the former part of the epistle; and therefore it must be the same law that is here spoken of: the same law is here meant as in the last verses of the foregoing chapter, where he says the Jews had "not attained to the law of righteousness: Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law." As is plain, because the Apostle is still speaking of the same thing, the words are a continuation of the same discourse, as may be seen at first glance, by anyone that looks on the context.
(2) 'Tis manifest that Moses when be describes the righteousness which is of the law, or the way of justification by the law, in the words here cited, "He that doth those things shall live in them," don't speak only, nor chiefly, of the works of the ceremonial law; for none will pretend that God ever made such a covenant with man, that he that kept the ceremonial law should live in it, or that there ever was a time that it was chiefly by the works of the ceremonial law, that men lived and were justified. Yea, 'tis manifest by the forementioned instance of David, mentioned in the fourth of Romans that there never was a time wherein men were justified in any measure, by the works of the ceremonial law, as has been just now shown. Moses therefore in those words, which the Apostle says, are a description of the righteousness which is of the law, can't mean only the ceremonial law. And therefore it follows that when the Apostle speaks of justification by the works of the law, as opposite to justification by faith, he don't mean only the ceremonial law, but also the works of the moral law, which are the things spoken of by Moses, when he says, "He that doth those things shall live in them"; and which are the things that the Apostle in this very place is arguing that we can't be justified by; as is evident by the context, the last verses of the preceding chapter, "But Israel which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness: Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law," etc. And in the Romans 10:3 of this chapter, "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God."
And further, how can the Apostle's description that he here gives from Moses, of this exploded way of justification by the works of the law, consist with the Arminian scheme of a way of justification by the virtue of a sincere obedience, that still remains as the true and only way of justification, under the gospel? 'tis most apparent that 'tis the design of the Apostle to give a description of both the legal rejected, and the evangelical valid ways of justification, in that wherein they differ, or are distinguished the one from the other: but how is that, that "He that doth those things shall live in them," that wherein the way of justification by the works of the law, differs, or is distinguished from that in which Christians under the gospel are justified, according to their scheme; for still, according to them, it may be said, in the same manner, of the precepts of the gospel, he that doth these things shall live in them: the difference lies only in the things to be done, but not at all in that, that the doing of them is not the condition of living in them, just in the one case, as in the other. The words, "He that doth them shall live in them," will serve just as well for a description of the latter as the former. By the Apostle's saying, the righteousness of the law is described thus, he that doth these things shall live in them, but the righteousness of faith, saith thus, plainly intimates that the righteousness of faith saith otherwise, and in an opposite manner. But besides, if these words cited from Moses, are actually said by him of the moral law as well as ceremonial as 'tis most evident they are, it renders it still more absurd to suppose them mentioned by the Apostle, as the very note of distinction between justification by a ceremonial obedience, and a moral sincere obedience, as the Arminians must suppose.
Thus I have spoken to a second argument, to prove that we are not justified by any manner of virtue or goodness of our own, viz. that to suppose otherwise is contrary to the doctrine directly urged, and abundantly insisted on by the apostle Paul, in his epistles. I proceed now to a
Third argument, viz. that to suppose that we are justified by our own sincere obedience, or any of our own virtue or goodness, derogates from gospel grace.
That scheme of justification that manifestly takes from, or diminishes the grace of God, is undoubtedly to be rejected; for 'tis the declared design of God in the gospel to exalt the freedom and riches of his grace, in that method of justification of sinners, and way of admitting them to his favor, and the blessed fruits of it, which it declares. The Scripture teaches that the way of justification that is appointed in the gospel covenant, is appointed, as it is, for that end, that free grace might be expressed and glorified; Romans 4:16, "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace." The exercising, and magnifying the free grace of God in the gospel contrivance for the justification and salvation of sinners, is evidently the chief design of it; and this freedom and riches of grace of the gospel is everywhere spoken of in Scripture as the chief glory of it. Therefore that doctrine that derogates from the free grace of God in justifying sinners, as it is most opposite to God's design, so it must be exceeding offensive to him.
Those that maintain that we are justified by our own sincere obedience, do pretend that their scheme does not diminish the grace of the gospel; for they say that the grace of God is wonderfully manifested in appointing such a way and method of salvation, by sincere obedience, in assisting us to perform such an obedience, and in accepting our imperfect obedience, instead of perfect.
Let us therefore examine that matter, whether their scheme of a man's being justified by his own virtue, and sincere obedience, does derogate from the grace of God or no; or whether free grace is not more exalted in supposing as we do, that we are justified without any manner of goodness of our own. In order to this, I will lay down this self-evident
Proposition, that whatsoever that be, by which the abundant benevolence of the giver is expressed, and gratitude in the receiver is obliged, that magnifies free grace. This I suppose none will ever controvert or dispute. And it is not much less evident, that it doth both show a more abundant benevolence in the giver when he shows kindness without goodness or excellency in the object, to move him to it; and that it enhances the obligation to gratitude in the receiver.
1. It shows a more abundant goodness in the giver, when he shows kindness without any excellency in our persons or actions that should move the giver to love and beneficence. For it certainly shows the more abundant and overflowing goodness, or disposition, to communicate good by how much the less loveliness or excellency there is to entice beneficence: the less there is in the receiver to draw good will and kindness, it argues the more of the principle of good will and kindness in the giver; for one that has but a little of a principle of love and benevolence, may be drawn to do good, and to show kindness, when there is a great deal to draw him or when there is much excellency and loveliness in the object to move good will; when he whose goodness and benevolence is more abundant, will show kindness, where there is less to draw it forth; for he don't so much need to have it drawn from without, he has enough of the principle within to move him, of itself. Where there is most of the principle, there it is most sufficient for itself; and stands in least need of something without to excite it: for certainly a more abundant goodness, more easily flows forth, with less to impel or draw it than where there is less; or which is the same thing, the more anyone is disposed of himself, the less he needs from without himself, to put him upon it, or stir him up to it. And therefore his kindness and goodness appears the more exceeding great, when it is bestowed without any excellency or loveliness at all in the receiver, or when the receiver is respected in the gift, as wholly without excellency: and much more still when the benevolence of the giver not only finds nothing in the receiver to draw it, but a great deal of hatefulness to repel it: the abundance of goodness is then manifested, not only in flowing forth without anything extrinsic to put it forward, but in overcoming great repulsion in the object. And then does kindness and love appear most triumphant, and wonderfully great, when the receiver is respected in the gift, as not only wholly without all excellency or beauty to attract it, but altogether, yea infinitely vile and hateful.
2. 'Tis apparent also that it enhances the obligation to gratitude in the receiver. This is agreeable to the common sense of mankind, that the less worthy or excellent the object of benevolence, or the receiver of kindness is, the more he is obliged, and the greater gratitude is due. He therefore is most of all obliged, that receives kindness without any goodness or excellency in himself, but with a total and universal hatefulness. And as 'tis agreeable to the common sense of mankind; so 'tis agreeable to the Word of God: how often does God in the Scripture insist on this argument with men, to move them to love him, and to acknowledge his kindness? How much does he insist on this as an obligation to gratitude, that they are so sinful and undeserving, and ill-deserving.
Therefore it certainly follows, that that doctrine that teaches that God, when he justifies a man, and shows him that great kindness, as to give him a right to eternal life, don't do it for any obedience, or any manner of goodness of his; but that justification respects a man as ungodly, and wholly without any manner of virtue, beauty, or excellency. I say, this doctrine does certainly more exalt the free grace of God in justification, and man's obligation to gratitude to him, for such a favor, than the contrary doctrine, viz. that God in showing this kindness to man, respects him as sincerely obedient and virtuous, and as having something in him that is truly excellent, and lovely, and acceptable in his sight, and that this goodness or excellency of man is the very fundamental condition of the bestowment of that kindness on him, or of the distinguishing him from others by that benefit. But I hasten to a—
Fourth argument, for the truth of the doctrine, that to suppose a man is justified by his own virtue or obedience, derogates from the honor of the Mediator, and ascribes that to man's virtue, that belongs only to the righteousness of Christ: it puts man in Christ's stead, and makes him his own savior, in a respect, in which Christ only is his Savior: and so 'tis a doctrine contrary to the nature, and design of the gospel which is to abase man, and to ascribe all the glory of our salvation to Christ the Redeemer. It is inconsistent with the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness, which is a gospel doctrine.
Here I would, first, explain what we mean by the imputation of Christ's righteousness; second, prove the thing intended by it to be true; third, show that this doctrine is utterly inconsistent with the doctrine of our being justified by our own virtue, or sincere obedience.
1. I would explain what we mean by the imputation of Christ's righteousness. Sometimes the expression is taken by our divines in a larger sense, for the imputation of all that Christ did and suffered for our redemption, whereby we are free from guilt, and stand righteous in the sight of God; and so implies the imputation both of Christ's satisfaction, and obedience. But here I intend it in a stricter sense, for the imputation of that righteousness, or moral goodness, that consists in the obedience of Christ. And by that righteousness being imputed to us, is meant no other than this, that that righteousness of Christ is accepted for us, and admitted instead of that perfect inherent righteousness that ought to be in ourselves: Christ's perfect obedience shall be reckoned to our account, so that we shall have the benefit of it, as though we had performed it ourselves: and so we suppose that a title to eternal life is given us as the reward of this righteousness. The Scripture uses the word impute in this sense, viz. for reckoning anything belonging to any person, to another person's account: as Philem. Philemon 18, "If he have wronged thee, or oweth thee ought put that on mine account." In the original it is τoύτo έμoί έλλóγα: impute that to me. 'Tis a word of the same root with that which is translated impute. Romans 4:6, "To whom God imputeth righteousness without works." And 'tis the very same word that is used, Romans 5:13, that is translated impute: "Sin is not imputed, where there is no law."
The opposers of this doctrine suppose that there is an absurdity in it: they say that to suppose that God imputes Christ's obedience to us, is to suppose that God is mistaken, and thinks that we performed that obedience that Christ performed. But why can't that righteousness be reckoned to our account, and be accepted for us, without any such absurdity? Why is there any more absurdity in it, than in a merchant's transferring debt or credit from one man's account to another, when one man pays a price for another, so that it shall be accepted as if that other had paid it? Why is there any more absurdity in supposing that Christ's obedience is imputed to us, than that his satisfaction is imputed? If Christ has suffered the penalty of the law for us, and in our stead, then it will follow, that his suffering that penalty is imputed to us, i.e. that it is accepted for us, and in our stead, and is reckoned to our account, as though we had suffered it. But why mayn't his obeying the law of God be as rationally reckoned to our account, as his suffering the penalty of the law? Why may not a price to bring into debt, be as rationally transferred from one person's account to another, as a price to pay a debt? Having thus explained what we mean by the imputation of Christ's righteousness, I proceed,
2. To prove that the righteousness of Christ is thus imputed.
(1) There is the very same need of Christ's obeying the law in our stead, in order to the reward, as of his suffering the penalty of the law, in our stead, in order to our escaping the penalty; and the same reason why one should be accepted on our account, as the other, there is the same need of one as the other, that the law of God might be answered: one was as requisite to answer the law as the other. This is certain, that that was the reason why there was need that Christ should suffer the penalty for us, even that the law might be answered; for this the Scripture plainly teaches: this is given as the reason why Christ was made a curse for us, that the law threatened a curse to us (Galatians 3:10, Galatians 3:13). But the same law that fixes the curse of God, as the consequent of not continuing in all things written in the law to do them (Galatians 3:10), has as much fixed doing those things as an antecedent of living in them (as Galatians 3:12, the next verse but one): there is as much of a connection established in one case as in the other. There is therefore exactly the same need from the law of perfect obedience being fulfilled, in order to our obtaining the reward, as there is of death's being suffered, in order to our escaping the punishment, or the same necessity by the law, of perfect obedience preceding life, as there is of disobedience being succeeded by death: the law is without doubt, as much of an established rule in one case as in the other.
Christ by suffering the penalty, and so making atonement for us, only removes the guilt of our sins and so sets us in the same state that Adam was in the first moment of his creation: and it is no more fit, that we should obtain eternal life, only on that account, than that Adam should have the reward of eternal life, or of a confirmed and unalterable state of happiness the first moment of his existence, without any obedience at all. Adam was not to have the reward merely on account of his being innocent; if so, he would have had it fixed upon him at once, as soon as ever he was created; for he was as innocent then as he could be: but he was to have the reward on account of his activeness in obedience; not on the account merely of his not having done ill, but on the account of his doing well.
So on the same account we han't eternal life merely on the account of being void of guilt (as Adam was at first existence), which we have by the atonement of Christ; but on the account of Christ's activeness in obedience, and doing well. Christ is our second federal head, and is called the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22), because he acted the part for us, that the first Adam should have done: when he had undertaken to stand in our stead, he was looked upon, and treated as though he were guilty with our guilt; and by his satisfying, or bearing the penalty, he did as it were free himself from this guilt. But by this, the second Adam did only bring himself into the state that the first Adam was in on the first moment of his existence, viz. a state of mere freedom from guilt; and hereby indeed was free from any obligation to suffer punishment: but this being supposed, there was need of something further, even a positive obedience, in order to his obtaining, as our second Adam, the reward of eternal life.
God saw meet to place man first in a state of trial, and not to give him a title to eternal life, as soon as he had made him; because it was his will that he should first give honor to his authority, by fully submitting to it, in will and act, and perfectly obeying his law. God insisted upon it that his holy majesty and law should have their due acknowledgment, and honor from man, such as became the relation he stood in to that Being that created him, before he would bestow the reward of confirmed and everlasting happiness upon him; and therefore God gave him a law when he created him, that he might have opportunity, by giving due honor to his authority in obeying it, to obtain this happiness. It therefore became Christ, seeing that in assuming man to himself, he sought a title to this eternal happiness for him, after he had broken the law, that he himself should become subject to God's authority, and be in the form of a servant, that he might do that honor to God's authority for him, by his obedience which God at first required of man, as the condition of his having a title to that reward. Christ came into the world to that end, to render the honor of God's authority and law, consistent with the salvation and eternal life of sinners; he came to save them, and yet withal to assert and vindicate the honor of the Lawgiver, and his holy law. Now if the sinner after his sin was satisfied for, had eternal life bestowed upon him, without active righteousness, the honor of his law would not be sufficiently vindicated. Supposing this were possible, that the sinner himself could by suffering pay the debt, and afterwards be in the same state that he was in before his probation, that is to say, negatively righteous, or merely without guilt; if he now at last should have eternal life bestowed upon him, without performing that condition of obedience, then God would recede from his law, and would give the promised reward, and his law never have respect and honor shown to it, in that way of being obeyed. But now Christ by subjecting himself to the law and obeying of it, has done great honor to the law, and to the authority of God who gave it: that so glorious a person should become subject to the law, and fulfill it, has done much more to honor it, than if mere man had obeyed it: it was a thing infinitely honorable to God that a person of infinite dignity was not ashamed to call him his God, and to adore and obey him as such: this was more to God's honor than if any mere creature, of any possible degree of excellence and dignity, had so done.
'Tis absolutely necessary that in order to a sinner's being justified, the righteousness of some other should be reckoned to his account; for 'tis declared that the person justified is looked upon as (in himself) ungodly; but God neither will nor can justify a person without a righteousness; for justification is manifestly a forensic term, as the word is used in Scripture, and the thing a judicial thing, or the act of a judge: so that if a person should be justified without a righteousness, the judgment would not be according to truth: the sentence of justification would be a false sentence, unless there be a righteousness performed that is by the judge properly looked upon as his. To say, that God don't justify the sinner without sincere, though an imperfect obedience, don't help the case; for an imperfect righteousness before a judge is no righteousness. To accept of something that falls short of the rule, instead of something else that answers the rule, is no judicial act, or act of a judge, but a pure act of sovereignty, An imperfect righteousness is no righteousness, before a judge; for "righteousness (as one observes) is a relative thing, and has always relation to a law: the formal nature of righteousness, properly understood, lies in a conformity of actions to that which is the rule and measure of them." Therefore that only is righteousness in the sight of a judge that answers the law.3 The law is the judge's rule: if he pardons and hides what really is, and so don't pass sentence according to what things are in themselves he either don't act the part of a judge, or else judges falsely. The very notion of judging, is to determine what is, and what is not, in anyone's case The judge's work is two-fold: it is to determine first what is fact, and then whether what is in fact be according to rule, or according to the law. If a judge has no rule or law established beforehand, by which he should proceed in judging, he has no foundation to go upon in judging, he has no opportunity to be a judge; nor is it possible that he should do the part of a judge. To judge without a law or rule by which to judge, is impossible for the very notion of judging is to determine whether the object of judgment be according to rule; and therefore God has declared that when he acts as a judge he will not justify the wicked, and cannot clear the guilty; and by parity of reason cannot justify without righteousness.
And the scheme of the old law's being abrogated, and a new law introduced, won't help at all in this difficulty; for an imperfect righteousness cannot answer the law of God we are under, whether that be an old or a new one; for every law requires perfect obedience to itself: every rule whatsoever requires perfect conformity to itself; 'Tis a contradiction to suppose otherwise; for to say, that there is a law that don't require perfect obedience to itself, is to say that there is a law that don't require all that it requires. That law that now forbids sin, is certainly the law that we are now under (let that be an old one, or a new one); or else it is not sin: that which is not forbidden, and is the breach of no law, is no sin: but if we are now forbidden to commit sin, then 'tis by a law that we are now under, for surely we are neither under the forbiddings, nor commandings of a law that we are not under. Therefore if all sin is now forbidden, then we are now under a law that requires perfect obedience; and therefore nothing can be accepted as a righteousness in the sight of our Judge, but perfect righteousness. So that our Judge cannot justify us, unless he sees a perfect righteousness, some way belonging to us, either performed by ourselves, or by another, and justly and duly reckoned to our account.
God doth in the sentence of justification pronounce a man perfectly righteous, or else he would need a further justification after he is justified: his sins being removed by Christ's atonement, is not sufficient for his justification; for justifying a man, as has been already shown, is not merely pronouncing him innocent or without guilt, but standing right, with regard to the rule that he is under, and righteous unto life; but this, according to the established rule of nature, reason, and divine appointment, is a positive perfect righteousness.
As there is the same need that Christ's obedience should be reckoned to our account, as that his atonement should; so there is the same reason why it should. As if Adam had persevered, and finished his course of obedience, we should have received the benefit of his obedience, as much as we have the mischief of his disobedience; so in like manner, there is reason that we should receive the benefit of the second Adam's obedience, as of his atonement of our disobedience: believers are represented in Scripture as being so in Christ, as that they are legally one, or accepted as one, by the Supreme Judge: Christ has assumed our nature, and has so assumed all, in that nature, that belong to him, into such an union with himself, that he is become their head, and has taken them to be his members: and therefore what Christ has done in our nature, whereby he did honor to the law and authority of God by his acts, as well as the reparation to the honor of the law, by his sufferings, is reckoned to the believer's account; so as that the believer should be made happy, because it was so well, and worthily done by his head, as well as freed from being miserable, because he has suffered for our ill and unworthy doing.
When Christ had once undertaken with God, to stand for us, and put himself under our law, by that law he was obliged to suffer, and by the same law he was obliged to obey: by the same law, after he had taken man's guilt upon him, he himself being our surety, could not be acquitted, till he had suffered, nor rewarded till he had obeyed: but he was not acquitted as a private person, but as our head, and believers are acquitted in his acquittance; nor was he accepted to a reward for his obedience as a private person, but as our head, and we are accepted to a reward in his acceptance. The Scripture teaches us, that when Christ was raised from the dead, he was justified; which justification as I have already shown, implies, both his acquittance from our guilt, and his acceptance to the exaltation and glory that was the reward of his obedience: but believers, as soon as they believe are admitted to partake with Christ in this his justification: hence we are told that he was "raised again for our justification" (Romans 4:25). Which is true lot only of that part of his justification that consists in his acquittance but also his acceptance to his reward: the Scripture teaches us that he is exalted, and gone to heaven, to take possession of glory in our name, as our forerunner (Hebrews 6:20). We are as it were both "raised up together with Christ, and also made to set together with Christ, in heavenly places, and in him" (Ephesians 2:6).
If it be objected here, that there is this reason, why what Christ suffered should be accepted on our account rather than the obedience he performed, that he was obliged to obedience for himself, but was not obliged to suffer but only on our account. To this I answer, that Christ was not obliged on his own account, to undertake to obey. Christ in his original circumstances, was in no subjection to the Father, being altogether equal with him: he was under no obligation to put himself in man's stead, and under man's law, or to put himself into any state of subjection to God whatsoever. There was a transaction between the Father and the Son, that was antecedent to Christ's becoming man, and being made under the law wherein he undertook to put himself under the law, and both to obey and to suffer; in which transaction these things were already virtually done in the sight of God; as is evident by this, that God acted on the ground of that transaction, justifying and saving sinners, as if the things undertaken had been actually performed long before they were performed indeed. And therefore, without doubt, in order to the estimating the value, and validity of what Christ did and suffered, we must look back to that transaction, wherein these things were first undertaken, and virtually done in the sight of God, and see what capacity and circumstances Christ acted in then, and then we shall find that Christ was under no manner of obligation, either to obey the law, or to suffer the penalty of it. After this he was equally under obligation to both; for henceforward he stood as our surety or representative: and therefore this consequent obligation may be as much of an objection against the validity of his suffering the penalty, as against his obedience. But if we look to that original transaction between the Father and the Son, wherein both these were undertaken and accepted, as virtually done in the sight of the Father, we shall find Christ acting with regard to both, as one perfectly in his own right, and under no manner of previous obligation, to hinder the validity of either.
(2) To suppose that all Christ does is only to make atonement for us by suffering, is to make him our Savior but in part. 'Tis to rob him of half his glory as a Savior. For if so, all that he does is to deliver us from hell; he don't purchase heaven for us. The adverse scheme supposes that he purchases heaven for us, in this sense, that he satisfies for the imperfections of our obedience, and so purchases that our sincere imperfect obedience might be accepted as the condition of eternal life; and so purchases an opportunity for us to obtain heaven by our own obedience. But to purchase heaven for us, only in this sense, is to purchase it in no sense at all; for all of it comes to no more than a satisfaction for our sins, or removing the penalty by suffering in our stead: for all the purchasing they speak of, that our imperfect obedience should be accepted, is only his satisfying for the sinful imperfection of our obedience, or (which is the same thing) making atonement for the sin that our obedience is attended with. But that is not purchasing heaven, merely to set us at liberty again, that we may go and get heaven by what we do ourselves: all that Christ does is only to pay a debt for us; there is no positive purchase of any good. We are taught in Scripture that heaven is purchased for us, 'tis called "the purchased possession" (Ephesians 1:14). The gospel proposes the eternal inheritance, not to be acquired, as the first covenant did, but as already acquired and purchased: but he that pays a man's debt for him, and so delivers him from slavery, can't be said to purchase an estate for him, merely because he sets him at liberty, so that henceforward he has an opportunity to get an estate by his own hand labor. So that according to this scheme, the saints in heaven have no reason to thank Christ for purchasing heaven for 'em, or redeeming them to God, and making them kings and priests, as we have an account that they do in Revelation 5:10.
(3) Justification by the righteousness and obedience of Christ, is a doctrine that the Scripture teaches in very full terms. Romans 5:18–19, "By the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." Here in one verse we are told that we have justification by Christ's righteousness, and that there might be no room to understand the righteousness spoken of merely of Christ's atonement, by his suffering the penalty. In the next verse, 'tis put in other terms, and asserted that 'tis by Christ's obedience that we are made righteous. 'Tis scarce possible anything should be more full and determined: the terms, taken singly, are such as do fix their own meaning, and taken together, they fix the meaning of each other: the words show that we are justified by that righteousness of Christ, that consists in his obedience, and that we are made righteous or justified by that obedience of his, that is his righteousness, or moral goodness before God.
Here possibly it may be objected, that this text means only that we are justified by Christ's passive obedience.
To this I answer, whether we call it active or passive, it alters not the case as to the present argument, as long as 'tis evident by the words that 'tis not merely under the notion of an atonement for disobedience, or a satisfaction for unrighteousness, but under the notion of a positive obedience, and a righteousness, or moral goodness, that it justifies us, or makes us righteous; because both the words righteousness, and obedience are used, and used too as the opposites to sin and disobedience, and an offense. "Therefore, as by the offense of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so, by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men to justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience, many were made sinners; so by the obedience of one, shall many be made righteous." Now what can be meant by righteousness, when spoken of as the opposite to sin, or moral evil, but only moral goodness? What is the righteousness that is the opposite of an offense, but only the behavior that is well pleasing? and what can be meant by obedience, when spoken of as the opposite of disobedience, or going contrary to a command, but a positive obeying and an actual complying with the command? So that there is no room for any invented distinction of active and passive, to hurt the argument from this Scripture, as long as 'tis evident by it as anything can be, that believers are justified by the righteousness and obedience of Christ under the notion of his moral goodness, and his positive obeying, and actual complying with the commands of God, and that behavior of his, that, because of its conformity to his commands, was well-pleasing in his sight. This is all that ever any need to desire to have granted in this dispute.
By this it appears, that if Christ's dying be here included in the words, righteousness and obedience, it is not merely as a propitiation, or bearing a penalty of a broken law in our stead, but as his voluntary submitting and yielding himself to those sufferings, was an act of obedience to the Father's commands, and so was a part of his positive righteousness, or moral goodness.
Indeed all obedience considered under the notion of obedience or righteousness, is something active, something done in active and voluntary compliance with a command; whether that which we do is something easy, and something that may be done without suffering, or whether it be something hard and difficult; yet as 'tis obedience, or righteousness, or moral goodness, it must be considered as something voluntary and active. If anyone is commanded to go through difficulties, and sufferings, and he in compliance with this command voluntarily does it, he properly obeys in so doing; and as he voluntarily does it, in compliance with a command, his obedience is as active as any whatsoever: 'tis the same sort of obedience, a thing of the very same nature, as when a man in compliance with a command, does a piece of hard service, or goes through hard labor; and there is no room to distinguish between such obedience and other that is more easy, and to make a different sort of obedience of it, as if it were a thing of quite a different nature, by such opposite terms as active and passive: all the distinction that can be pretended, is that which is between obeying an easy command and a difficult one: but is not the obedience itself of the same nature, because the commands to be obeyed, are some of 'em more difficult than others? Is there from hence any foundation to make two species of obedience, one active and the other passive? There is no appearance of any such distinction ever entering into the hearts of any of the penmen of Scripture.
'Tis true that of late, when a man refuses to obey the precept of an human law, but patiently yields himself up to suffer the penalty of the law, it is called passive obedience; but this I suppose is only a modern use of the word obedience; be sure it is a sense of the word that the Scripture is a perfect stranger to; and it is improperly called obedience, unless there be such a precept in the law, that he shall yield himself patiently to suffer, to which his so doing shall be an active voluntary conformity. There may in some sense be said to be a conformity to the law in a person's suffering the penalty of the law; but no other conformity to the law is properly called obedience to it, but an active voluntary conformity to the precepts of it: the word obey is often found in Scripture with respect to the law of God to man, but never in any other sense.
'Tis true that Christ's willingly undergoing those sufferings which he endured, is a great part of that obedience or righteousness by which we are justified. The sufferings of Christ are respected in Scripture under a two-fold consideration, either merely as his being substituted for us, or put into our stead, in suffering the penalty of the law; and so his sufferings are considered as a satisfaction and propitiation for sin: or as he in obedience to a law, or command of the Father, voluntarily submitted himself to those sufferings, and actively yielded himself up to bear them; and so they are considered as his righteousness, and a part of his active obedience. Christ underwent death in obedience to the command of the Father. Psalms 40:6–8, "Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire: mine ears hast thou bored Burnt-offering and sin-offering hast thou not required: Then said I, Lo, come; in the volume of the book it is written of me: I delight to do thy will, O my God, and thy law is within my heart." John 10:17–18, "I lay down my life that I might take it again: No man taketh it from me; but I lay it down of myself: I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again: This commandment have I received of my Father." John 18:11, "The cup which my Father hath given me to drink, shall I not drink it?" And this is part, and indeed the principal part of that active obedience that we are justified by.
It can be no just objection against this, that that command of the Father to Christ that he should lay down his life, was no part of the law that we had broken, and therefore that his obeying this command could be no part of that obedience that he performed for us, because we needed that he should obey no other law for us, but only that which we had broken or failed of obeying: for although it must be the same legislative authority, whose honor is repaired by Christ's obedience, that we have injured by our disobedience; yet there is no need that the law that Christ obeys should be precisely the same that Adam was to have obeyed, in that sense that there should be no positive precepts wanting, nor any added: there was wanting the precept about the forbidden fruit, and there was added the ceremonial law. The thing required was perfect obedience: it is no matter whether the positive precepts were the same, if they were equivalent. The positive precepts that Christ was to obey, were much more than equivalent to what was wanting, because infinitely more difficult, particularly the command that he had received to lay down his life, which was his principal act of obedience, and which above all others, is concerned in our justification. As that act of disobedience by which we fell, was disobedience to a positive precept that Christ never was under, viz. that of abstaining from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, so that act of obedience by which principally we are redeemed, is obedience to a positive precept that Adam never was under, viz. the precept of laying down his life. It was suitable that it should be a positive precept that should try both Adam's and Christ's obedience: such precepts are the greatest and most proper trial of obedience, because in them, the mere authority and will of the Legislator is the sole ground of the obligation (and nothing in the nature of the things themselves); and therefore they are the greatest trial of any person's respect to that authority and will.
The law that Christ was subject to, and obeyed, was in some sense the same that was given to Adam: there are innumerable particular duties that are required by the law only conditionally; and in such circumstances, are comprehended in some great and general rule of that law. Thus for instance, there are innumerable acts of respect and obedience to men, which are required by the law of nature (which was a law given to Adam), which yet ben't required absolutely, but upon many prerequisite conditions; as that there be men standing in such relations to us, and that they give forth such commands, and the like: so many acts of respect and obedience to God, are included, in like manner, in the moral law conditionally, or such and such things being supposed, as Abraham's going about to sacrifice his son, the Jews circumcising their children when eight days old, and Adam's not eating the forbidden fruit; they are virtually comprehended in that great general rule of the moral law, that we should obey God, and be subject to him in whatsoever he pleases to command us. Certainly the moral law does as much require us to obey God's positive commands, as it requires us to obey the positive commands of our parents. And thus all that Adam, and all that Christ was commanded, even his observing the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish worship, and his laying down his life, was virtually included in this same great law.
'Tis no objection against the last mentioned thing, even Christ's laying down his life, its being included in the moral law given to Adam, because that law itself allowed of no occasion for any such thing; for the moral law virtually includes all right acts, on all possible occasions, even occasions that the law itself allows not: thus we are obliged by the moral law to mortify our lusts, and repent of our sins, though that law allows of no lust to mortify, or sin to repent of.
There is indeed but one great law of God, and that is the same law that says, "If thou sinnest, thou shalt die," and "Cursed is everyone that continues not in all things contained in this law to do them": all duties of positive institution, are virtually comprehended in this law: and therefore if the Jews brake the ceremonial law, it exposed 'em to the penalty of the law, or covenant of works, which threatened, "Thou shalt surely die." The law is the eternal and unalterable rule of righteousness, between God and man, and therefore is the rule of judgment, by which all that a man does shall be either justified or condemned; and no sin exposes to damnation, but by the law: so now he that refuses to obey the precepts that require an attendance on the sacraments of the New Testament, is exposed to damnation, by virtue of the law or covenant of works. It may moreover be argued, that all sins whatsoever, are breaches of the law or covenant of works, because all sins, even breaches of the positive precepts, as well as others, have atonement by the death of Christ: but what Christ died for, was to satisfy the law, or to bear the curse of the law; as appears by Galatians 3:10–13 and Romans 8:3–4.
So that Christ's laying down his life might be part of that obedience by which we are justified, though it was a positive precept, not given to Adam. It was doubtless Christ's main act of obedience, because it was obedience to a command that was attended with immensely the greatest difficulty, and so to a command that was the greatest trial of his obedience; his respect shown to God in it, and his honor to God's authority, was proportionably great: it is spoken of in Scripture as Christ's principal act of obedience. Philippians 2:7–8, "But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man, and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Hebrews 5:8, "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things that he suffered." It was mainly by this act of obedience, that Christ purchased so glorious a reward for himself; as in that place in Philippians, Philippians 2:8–9, "He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross; wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name, which is above every name." And it therefore follows from what has been already said, that it's mainly by this act of obedience, that believers in Christ also, have the reward of glory, or come to partake with Christ in his glory. We are as much saved by the death of Christ, as his yielding himself to die was an act of obedience, as we are, as it was a propitiation for our sins: for as it was not the only act of obedience that merited, he having performed meritorious acts of obedience through the whole course of his life; so neither was it the only suffering that was propitiatory; all his suffering through the whole course of his life being propitiatory, as well as every act of obedience meritorious: indeed this was his principal suffering; and it was as much his principal act of obedience.
Hence we may see how that the death of Christ did not only make atonement, but also merited eternal life; and hence we may see how by the blood of Christ we are not only redeemed from sin, but redeemed unto God; and therefore the Scripture seems everywhere to attribute the whole of salvation to the blood of Christ: this precious blood is as much the main price by which heaven is purchased, as 'tis the main price by which we are redeemed from hell. The positive righteousness of Christ, or that price by which he merited, was of equal value with that by which he satisfied; for indeed it was the same price: he spilled his blood to satisfy, and by reason of the infinite dignity of his person, his sufferings were looked upon as of infinite value, and equivalent to the eternal sufferings of a finite creature: and he spilled his blood out of respect to the honor of God's majesty, and in submission to his authority, who had commanded him so to do, and his obedience therein was of infinite value; both because of the dignity of the person that performed it, and because he put himself to infinite expense to perform it, whereby the infinite degree of his regard to God's authority appeared.
One would wonder what Arminians mean by Christ's merits: they talk of Christ's merits as much as anybody, and yet deny the imputation of Christ's positive righteousness: what should there be that anyone should merit or deserve anything by, besides righteousness or goodness? If anything that Christ did or suffered, merited or deserved anything, it was by virtue of the goodness, or righteousness, or holiness of it: if Christ's sufferings and death merited heaven, it must be because there was an excellent righteousness, and transcendent moral goodness in that act of laying down his life: and if by that excellent righteousness he merited heaven for us, then surely that righteousness is reckoned to our account, that we have the benefit of it, or which is the same thing, it is imputed to us.
Thus I hope I have made it evident, that the righteousness of Christ is indeed imputed to us. I proceed now to the
3. [Third,] and last thing under this argument, that this doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness is utterly inconsistent with the doctrine of our being justified by our own virtue, or sincere obedience. If acceptance to God's favor, and a title to life, be given to believers, as the reward of Christ's obedience, then it is not given as the reward of our own obedience. In what respect soever, Christ is our Savior, that doubtless excludes our being our own saviors, in that same respect. If we can be our own saviors in the same respect that Christ is, it will thence follow that the salvation of Christ is needless, in that respect; according to the Apostle's reasoning. Galatians 5:4, "Christ is rendered of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law." Doubtless 'tis Christ's prerogative to be our Savior, in that sense wherein he is our Savior: and therefore if it be by his obedience that we are justified, then it is not by our own obedience.
Here perhaps it may be said, that a title to salvation is not directly given as the reward of our obedience; for that is not by anything of ours, but only by Christ's satisfaction and righteousness; but yet an interest in that satisfaction and righteousness is given as a reward of our obedience. But this don't at all help the case; for this is to ascribe as much to our obedience, as if we ascribed salvation to it directly, without the intervention of Christ's righteousness: for it would be as great a thing for God to give us Christ, and his satisfaction and righteousness, in reward for our obedience, as to give us heaven immediately; it would be as great a reward, and as great a testimony of respect to our obedience. And if God gives as great a thing as salvation, for our obedience, why could he not as well give salvation itself directly? And then there would have been no need of Christ's righteousness. And indeed if God gives us Christ, or an interest in him, properly in reward of our obedience, he does really give us salvation in reward for our obedience; for the former implies the latter; yea it implies it as the greater implies the less. So that indeed it exalts our virtue and obedience more, to suppose that God gives us Christ in reward of that virtue and obedience, than of he should give salvation without Christ.
The thing that the Scripture guards, and militates against, is our imagining that 'tis our own goodness, virtue, or excellency, that instates us in God's acceptance and favor. But to suppose that God gives us an interest in Christ in reward for our virtue, is as great an argument that it instates us in God's favor, as if he bestowed a title to eternal life, as its direct reward. If God gives us an interest in Christ, as a reward of our obedience, it will then follow, that we are instated in God's acceptance and favor by our own obedience, antecedent to our having an interest in Christ. For a rewarding anyone's excellency, evermore supposes favor and acceptance on the account of that excellency: it is the very notion of a reward, that it is a good thing, bestowed in testimony of respect and favor for the virtue or excellency rewarded. So that it is not by virtue of our interest in Christ and his merits, that we first come into favor with God, according to this scheme; for we are in God's favor before we have any interest in those merits; in that we have an interest in those merits given as a fruit of God's favor for our own virtue, If our interest in Christ be the fruit of God's favor, then it can't be the ground of it. If God did not accept us, and had no favor for us, for our own excellency, he never would bestow so great a reward upon us, as a right in Christ's satisfaction and righteousness. So that such a scheme destroys itself, for it supposes that Christ's satisfaction and righteousness are necessary for us to recommend us to the favor of God; and yet supposes that we have God's favor and acceptance before we have Christ's satisfaction and righteousness, and have these given as a fruit of God's favor.
Indeed, neither salvation itself, nor Christ the Savior, are given as a reward of anything in man: they are not given as a reward of faith, nor anything else of ours: we are not united to Christ as a reward of our faith, but have union with him by faith, only as faith is the very act of uniting, or closing on our part. As when a man offers himself to a woman in marriage, he don't give himself to her as a reward of her receiving him in marriage: her receiving him is not considered as a worthy deed in her, for which he rewards her, by giving himself to her; but 'tis by her receiving him, that the union is made, by which she hath him for her husband: 'tis on her part the unition itself By these things it appears how contrary to the scheme of the gospel of Christ, their scheme is, who say that faith justifies as a principle of obedience, or as a leading act of obedience; or (as others) the sum, and comprehension of all evangelical obedience: for by this 'tis the obedience or virtue that is in faith, that is the thing, that gives it its justifying influence; and that is the same thing as to say, that we are justified by our own obedience, virtue or goodness.
Having thus considered the evidence of the truth of the doctrine, I proceed now to the
III. [Third] thing proposed, viz. to show in what sense the acts of a Christian life, or of evangelical obedience, may be looked upon to be concerned in this affair.
From what has been said already, it is manifest that they cannot have any concern in this affair as good works, or by virtue of any moral goodness in them; no as works of the law, or as that moral excellency, or any part of it, that is he answering or fulfillment of that great, and universal, and everlasting law or covenant of works, that the great Lawgiver has established, as the highest and unalterable rule of judgment; which Christ alone answers, of does anything towards it.
And it having been shown, out of the Scripture, that 'tis only by faith, or the soul's receiving, and uniting to the Savior, that has wrought our righteousness, that we are justified; it therefore remains that the acts of a Christian life can't be concerned in this affair any otherwise, than as they imply, and are the expressions of faith, and may be looked upon as so many acts of reception of Christ the Savior.
But the determining what concerns acts of Christian obedience can have in justification in this respect, will depend on the resolving of another point, viz. whether any other act of faith besides the first act, has any concern in our justification, or how far perseverance in faith, or the continued and renewed acts of faith, have influence in this affair.
And it seems manifest that justification is by the first act of faith, in some respects, in a peculiar manner, because a sinner is actually and finally justified as soon as he has performed one act of faith; and faith in its first act does, virtually at least, depend on God for perseverance, and entitles to this among other benefits. But yet the perseverance of faith is not excluded in this affair; it is not only certainly connected with justification, but it is not to be excluded from that on which the justification of a sinner has a dependence, or that by which he is justified.
I have shown that the way in which justification has a dependence on faith, is that it is the qualification on which the congruity of an interest in the righteousness of Christ depends, or wherein such a fitness consist But the consideration of the perseverance of faith, can't be excluded out of this congruity or fitness, for it is congruous that he that believes in Christ should have an interest in Christ's righteousness, and so in the eternal benefits purchased by it, because faith is that by which the soul hath union or oneness with Christ, and there is a natural congruity in it, that they that are one with Christ, should have a joint interest with him in his eternal benefits; but yet this congruity depends on its being an abiding union. As it is needful that the branch should abide in the vine, in order to its receiving the lasting benefits of the root, so it is necessary that the soul should abide in Christ, in order to its receiving those lasting benefits of God's final acceptance and favor. John 15:6–7, "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch. If ye abide in me, and my words abide [in] you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." John 15:9–10, "Continue ye in my love: If ye keep (or abide in) my commandments, ye shall abide in my love, even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love." There is the same reason why it is necessary that the union with Christ should remain, as why it should be begun, why it should continue to be, as why it should once be: if it should be begun without remaining, the beginning would be in vain. In order to the soul's being now in a justified state, and now free from condemnation, 'tis necessary that it should now be in Christ, and not only that it should once have been in him. Romans 8:1, "There is no condemnation to them [which] are in Christ Jesus." The soul is saved in Christ, as being now in him, when the salvation is bestowed, and not merely as remembering that it once was in him. Philippians 3:9, "That I may be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." 1 John 2:28, "And now little children abide in him; that when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming." In order to persons being blessed after death, 'tis necessary not only that they should once be in him, but that they should die in him. Revelation 14:13, "Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord."
And there is the same reason why faith, the uniting qualification, should remain, in order to the union's remaining, as why it should once be, in order to the union's once being.
So that although the sinner is actually, and finally justified on the first act of faith, yet the perseverance of faith, even then, comes into consideration, as one thing on which the fitness of acceptance to life depends. God the act of justification, which is passed on a sinner's first believing, has respect to perseverance, as being virtually contained in that first act of faith and 'tis looked upon and taken by him that justifies, as being as it were a property in that faith that then is: God has respect to the believer's continuance in faith, and he is justified by that, as though it already were, because by divine establishment it shall follow; and it being by divine constitution connected with that first faith, as much as if it were a property in it, it is then considered as such, and so justification is not suspended; but were it not for this it would be needful that it should be suspended, till the sinner had actually persevered in faith.
And that it is so, that God in the act of final justification that he passes at the sinner's conversion, has respect to perseverance in faith, and future acts of faith, as being virtually implied in the first act, is further manifest by this, viz. that in a sinner's justification at his conversion, there is virtually contained a forgiveness as to eternal, and deserved punishment, not only of all past sins, but also of all future infirmities and acts of sin, that they shall be guilty of; because that first justification is decisive and final. And yet pardon, in the order of nature, properly follows the crime, and also follows those acts of repentance and faith that respect the crime pardoned, as is manifest both from reason and Scripture. David in the beginning of Psalms 32 speaks of the forgiveness of sins of his, that were doubtless committed long after he was first godly, as being consequent on those sins, and on his repentance and faith with respect to them; and yet this forgiveness is spoken of by the Apostle in the fourth of Romans, as an instance of justification by faith. Probably the sin David there speaks of is the same that he committed in the matter of Uriah, and so the pardon the same with that release from death, or eternal punishment, that the prophet Nathan speaks of. 2 Samuel 12:13, "The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die." Not only does the manifestation of this pardon follow the sin in the order of time, but the pardon itself, in the order of nature, follows David's repentance and faith with respect to this sin; for it is spoken of in the Psalms 32 as depending on it. But inasmuch as a sinner, in his first justification, is forever justified and freed from all obligation to eternal punishment, it hence of necessity follows, that future faith and repentance are beheld in that justification, as virtually contained in that first faith and repentance; because repentance of those future sins, and faith in a Redeemer, with respect to them, or, at least, the continuance of that habit and principle in the heart, that has such an actual repentance and faith, in its nature and tendency, is now made sure by God's promise.
If remission of sins, committed after conversion, in the order of nature follows that faith and repentance that is after them, then it follows that future sins are respected in the first justification, no otherwise than as future faith and repentance are respected in it. And future repentance and faith are looked upon by him that justifies, as virtually implied in the first repentance and faith, in the same manner as justification from future sins, is virtually implied in the first justification; which is the thing that was to be proved.
And besides, if no other act of faith could be concerned in justification but the first act, it will then follow that Christians ought never to seek justification by any other act of faith. For if justification is not to be obtained by after-acts of faith, then surely it is not a duty to seek it by such acts: and so it can never be a duty for persons after they are once converted, by faith to seek to God; or believingly to look to him for the remission of sin, or deliverance from the guilt of it, because deliverance from the guilt of sin is part of what belongs to justification. And if it ben't proper for converts by faith to look to God through Christ for it, then it will follow that it is not proper for them to pray for it, for Christian prayer to God for a blessing is but an expression of faith in God for that blessing; prayer is only the voice of faith. But if these things are so, it will follow that the petition of the Lord's Prayer, "forgive us our debts," is not proper to be put up by disciples of Christ, or to be used in Christian assemblies, and that Christ improperly directed his disciples to use that petition, when they were all of them, except Judas, converted before. The debt that Christ directs his disciples to pray for the forgiveness of, can mean nothing else, but the punishment that sin deserves, or the debt that we owe to divine justice, the ten thousand talents we owe our Lord. To pray that God would forgive our debts, is undoubtedly the same thing as to pray that God would release us from obligation to due punishment; but releasing from obligation to the punishment due to sin, and forgiving the debt that we owe to divine justice, is what appertains to justification.
And then to suppose that no after-acts of faith are concerned in the business of justification, and so that it is not proper for any ever to seek justification by such acts, would be forever to cut off those Christians, that are doubtful concerning their first act of faith, from the joy and peace of believing. As the business of a justifying faith is to obtain pardon and peace with God, by looking to God and trusting in him for these blessings, so the joy and peace of that faith, is in the apprehension of pardon and peace obtained by such trust. This a Christian that is doubtful of his first act of faith, can't have from that act, because, by the supposition, he is doubtful whether it be an act of faith, and so whether he did obtain pardon and peace by that act: the proper remedy, in such a case, is now by faith to look to God in Christ for these blessings; but he is cut off from this remedy, because he is uncertain whether he has warrant so to do, for he don't how but that he has believed already; and if so, then he has no warrant to look to God by faith for these blessings now, because by the supposition no new act of faith is a proper means of obtaining these blessings. And so he can never properly obtain the joy of faith; for there are acts of true faith, that are very weak acts, and the first act may be so as well as others; it may be like the first motion of the infant in the womb, it may be so weak an act that the Christian by examining it, may never be able to determine whether it was a true act of faith or no; and it is evident from fact, and abundant experience, that many Christians are forever at a loss to determine which was their first act of faith. And those saints that have had a good degree of satisfaction concerning their faith, may be subject to great declensions and falls, in which case they are liable to great fears of eternal punishment; and the proper way of deliverance is to forsake their sin by repentance, and by faith now to come to Christ for deliverance from the deserved eternal punishment; but this it would not be, if deliverance from that punishment, was not this way to be obtained.
But what is a still more plain and direct evidence of what I am now arguing for, is that the act of faith that Abraham exercised in the great promise of the covenant of grace that God made to him, of which it is expressly said, Genesis 15:16, 8 "It was accounted to him for righteousness"; which is the grand instance and proof, that the Apostle so much insists upon throughout the Romans 4, and Galatians 3, to confirm his doctrine of justification by faith alone, was not Abraham's first act of faith, but was exerted long after he had by faith forsaken his own country (Hebrews 11:8), and had been treated as an eminent friend of God.
Moreover, the apostle Paul in the Philippians 3, tells us how earnestly he sought justification by faith, or to win Christ and obtain that righteousness which was by the faith of him, in what he did after his conversion. Philippians 3:8–9, "For whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." And in the two next verses he expresses the same thing in other words, and tells us how he went through sufferings, and became conformable to Christ's death, that he might be a partaker with Christ in the benefit of his resurrection; which the same Apostle elsewhere teaches us, is especially justification: Christ's resurrection was his justification; in this, he that was put to death in the flesh, was justified by the spirit, and he that was delivered for our offenses, rose again for our justification. And the Apostle tells us in the verses that follow, in that Philippians 3, that he thus sought to attain the righteousness which is through the faith of Christ, and so to partake of the benefit of his resurrection, still, as though he had not already attained, but that he continued to follow after it.
On the whole, it appears that the perseverance of faith is necessary, even to the congruity of justification, and that not the less, because a sinner is justified, and perseverance promised on the first act of faith, but God in that justification has respect not only to the past act of faith, but to his own promise of future acts, and to the fitness of a qualification beheld as yet only in his own promise.
And, that perseverance in faith is thus necessary to salvation, not merely as a sine qua non, or as an universal concomitant of it, but by reason of such an influence and dependence, seems manifest by many Scriptures; I would mention two or three. Hebrews 3:6, "Whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence, and the rejoicing of the hope, firm unto the end." Hebrews 3:14, "For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence, steadfast unto the end." Hebrews 6:12, "Be ye followers of them, who through faith and patience inherit the promises." Romans 11:20, "Well, because of unbelief they were broken off, but thou standest by faith: Be not high-minded, but fear."
And as the congruity to a final justification depends on perseverance in faith, as well as the first act, so oftentimes the manifestation of justification in the conscience, arises a great deal more from after-acts, than the first act. And all the difference whereby the first act of faith has a concern in this affair that is peculiar, seems to be as it were only an accidental difference, arising from the circumstance of time, or its being first in order of time; and not from any peculiar respect that God has to it, or any influence it has of a peculiar nature, in the affair of our salvation.
And thus it is that a truly Christian walk, and the acts of an evangelical, child-like believing obedience, are concerned in the affair of our justification and seem to be sometimes so spoken of in Scripture, viz. as an expression of a persevering faith in the Son of God, the only Savior. Faith unites to Christ, and so gives a congruity to justification, not merely as remaining a dormant principle in the heart, but as being, and appearing in its active expressions.
The obedience of a Christian, so far as it is truly evangelical, and performed with the spirit of the Son sent forth into the heart, has all relation to Christ the Mediator, and is but an expression of the soul's believing unition to Christ: all evangelical works are works of that faith that worketh by love; and every such act of obedience, wherein it is inward, and the act of the soul, is only a new effective act of reception of Christ, and adherence to the glorious Savior. Hence that of the Apostle, Galatians 2:20, "I live, yet not I; but Christ liveth in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh, is by the faith of the Son of God." And hence we are directed, in whatever we do, whether in word or deed, to do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:17).
And that God in justification has respect, not only to the first act of faith, but also to future persevering acts, in this sense, viz. as expressed in life, seems manifest by Romans 1:17, "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed, from faith to faith: As it is written, The just shall live by faith." And Hebrews 10:38–39, "Now the just shall live by faith; but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul."
So that as was before said of faith, so may it be said of a child-like, believing obedience, it has no concern in justification by any virtue, or excellency in it; but only as there is a reception of Christ in it. And this is no more contrary to the Apostle's frequent assertion of our being justified without the works of the law than to say that we justified by faith for faith is as much a work or act of Christian obedience, as the expressions of faith, in spiritual life and walk. And therefore as we say that faith don't justify as a work, so we say of all these effective expressions of faith.
This is the reverse of the scheme of our modern divines, who hold that faith justifies only as an act, or expression of obedience; whereas in truth, obedience has no concern in justification, any otherwise than as an expression of faith. I now proceed to the
IV. [Fourth] thing proposed, viz. to answer objections.
Obj. 1. We frequently find promises of eternal life and salvation, and sometimes of justification itself, made to our own virtue and obedience. Eternal life is promised to obedience, in Romans 2:7, "To them who by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory, honor and immortality, eternal life." And the like in innumerable other places. And justification itself is promised to that virtue of a forgiving spirit or temper in us, Matthew 6:14–15, "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." All allow that justification in great part consists in the forgiveness of sins. To this I answer,
(1) These things being promised to our virtue and obedience, argues no more, than that there is a connection between them and evangelical obedience; which I have already observed is not the thing in dispute. All that can be proved by obedience and salvation being connected in the promise, is that obedience and salvation are connected in fact; which nobody denies, and whether it be owned or denied, is as has been shown, nothing to the purpose. There is no need that an admission to a title to salvation, should be given on the account of our obedience, in order to the promises being true. If we find such a promise, that he that obeys shall he saved, or he that is holy shall be justified, all that is needful in order to such promises being true, is that it be really so, that he that obeys shall be saved, and that holiness and justification shall indeed go together: that proposition may be a truth, that he that obeys shall be saved, because obedience and salvation are connected together in fact; and yet an acceptance to a title to salvation not be granted upon the account of any of our own virtue or obedience. What is a promise, but only a declaration of future truth, for the comfort and encouragement of the person to whom it is declared? Promises are conditional propositions; and as has been already observed, it is not the thing in dispute, whether other things besides faith mayn't have the place of the condition in such propositions wherein pardon and salvation are the consequent.
(2) Promises may rationally be made to signs and evidences of faith, and yet the thing promised not be upon the account of the sign, but the thing signified. Thus for instance, human government may rationally make promises of such and such privileges, to those that can show such evidences of their being free of such a city, or members of such a corporation, or descended of such a family; when it is not at all for the sake of that which is the evidence or sign, in itself considered, that they are admitted to such a privilege, but only, and purely, for the sake of that which it is an evidence of.
And though God don't stand in need of signs to know whether we have true faith or not, yet our own consciences do; so that 'tis much for our comfort that promises are made to signs of faith. A finding in ourselves a forgiving temper and disposition, may be a most proper and natural evidence to our consciences that our hearts have, in a sense of our own utter unworthiness, truly closed, and fallen in, with the way of free, and infinitely gracious forgiveness of our sins, by Jesus Christ; whence we may be enabled, with the greater comfort to apply to ourselves the promises of forgiveness by Christ.
(3) It has been just now shown how that acts of evangelical obedience are indeed concerned in our justification itself, and are not excluded from that condition that justification depends upon, without the least prejudice to that doctrine of justification by faith, without any goodness of our own, that has been maintained, and therefore it can be no objection against this doctrine, that we have sometimes in Scripture, promises of pardon and acceptance, made to such acts of obedience.
(4) Promises of particular benefits implied in justification and salvation, may especially be fitly made to such expressions and evidences of faith, as they have a peculiar natural likeness and suitableness to: as forgiveness is promised to