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The same species of observation applies to the epistle to the Galatians; in which epistle, it is true, that the Apostle hath used concerning faith these very strong terms : “ Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ ; that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” Nevertheless, in another place of this same epistle, we have the following plain, clear, and circumstantial denunciation : " The works of the flesh are manifest, which are these-Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of the which I tell you before, as I have told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” No words can be more positive than these, and the last words are the most positive of all, “ shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Sinners like these may have been justified in a certain sense; they may have been saved in a certain sense ; that is, they may have been brought into a state of justification or salvation for the present; but they shall not be finally happy, “they shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
In the epistle to the Ephesians, we acknowledge the same observation, namely, that the Apostle hath spoken strong things concerning faith ; yet hath at the same time, and in the same writing, most absolutely insisted upon a virtuous life, and most positively declared that a life of sin will end in perdition. Concerning faith, he hath said this : “ 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.” Concerning a life of sin, he makes this declaration. After having enumerated certain species of sins, he adds these cautionary words, which show his opinion as manifestly as words can show it : “Let no man deceive you with vain words; for because of these things, even the sinful practices before recited, cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.”
To conclude: What the Apostle might particularly mean by the several expressions concerning faith, which have been quoted, is another question ; but that he did not mean to state or teach that a life of endeavour after virtue, if that be what we understand by good works, could be dispensed with ; or that a life of continued unrepented sin would end in salvation by means, or for the sake of any belief in Christ's religion, I think most evident, and would be so, although we were not able to settle, to our satisfaction, the first question, namely, what it was he did mean. I say, the negative proposition is most evident, unless we can be brought to suppose, that Saint Paul delivered a doctrine contrary to that of our Saviour and of the other Apostles, destructive of one declared end of the christian institution itself (and the end and design of any system of laws is to control the interpretation of particular parts); and lastly, what is most improbable of all, at the same time and in the same manner, directly repugnant to what he himself has solemnly asserted and delivered at other times and in other places.
THE EFFICACY OF THE DEATH OF CHRIST CONSISTENT WITH THE NECESSITY OF A GOOD LIFE; THE ONE BEING THE CAUSE, THE OTHER THE CONDITION, OF SALVATION.
ROMANS vi. 1.
W’hat shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin,
that grace may abound? God forbid.
That Saint Paul, in the texts which are usually quoted upon this question from his epistles, did not mean to say, that faith, accompanied with wickedness of life, would end in salvation, may be considered, I think, as proved. The next inquiry is, if he did not mean this, what did he mean? His words we cannot alter: and what other sense can we fairly put upon them, so as to excuse or avoid the sense which we disclaim ? Now it is but justice to every writer to suppose, that he writes to be understood by those to whom his writing is immediately addressed, and that he has in view the circumstances and situation of the persons whom he directly accosts, much more than the circumstances and situation of those who may come to read what he has written, in some remote age and
There are no ancient writings in which this allowance is more wanted than in those of Saint Paul, nor in any part of his writings more than
in that which forms the subject of our present discourse. Saint Paul's writings were addressed to Christians : but who in those days were Christians ? They were in general, if not altogether, persons, not as we are, born and bred up in the religion, but they were persons who, having been born and bred up heathens or Jews, when arrived at years of judgement and discretion, and exercising that judgement and discretion, had voluntarily, and from conviction, quitted their native religion, become believers in Jesus Christ, and openly taken upon themselves the profession of this, now a new system of faith and conduct. This conversion had been with them a most momentary change. It was the grand æra and event of their lives as to spiritual matters : and no wonder their teachers should be industrious in pointing out to them the advantages, the effects, and the obligation of this change. Now it appears to have
. been a doctrine of Christianity taught both by Saint Paul and the other preachers of the religion, asserted, or rather assumed, in their writings, and frequently referred to therein,—that, amongst other effects and advantages of their becoming Christians, this was one, namely, that the sins of which they had been guilty before their conversion were thereupon forgiven; and which sins being so forgiven, they, by their conversion, and at the time of their conversion, stood in the sight of God (whatever their former lives had been) as just persons, no less so, than if they had led lives of righteousness from their birth ; that is, in one word, they were justified.
But the forgiveness here spoken of, namely, the forgiveness of prior sins upon this faith and conversion, and the justification implied in that forgiveness, was undoubtedly an advantag exed by the mercy of God to their faith and conversion, and not the effect of any pretensions they had, or might suppose themselves to have, from either their situation or behaviour prior to their conversion. Therefore, supposing this to be the sense of the word justification, viz. the remission of all the sins they had committed before their conversion to Christianity, it was literally and strictly true what Saint Paul tells these Christians, in his epistle to the Romans, that they were justified by faith without the works of the law, even supposing “the works of the law” to comprise all the duties of the moral law ; and I think it very probable, that this is what Saint Paul meant by justification in that remarkable text, and which is one of the strongest on that side of the question. And I think so for two reasons. In the fifth chapter of the epistle, and the first verse, which connects itself with the text under consideration (the intermediate chapter being employed in a digressive illustration of the subject, drawn from the history of Abraham), I say, in the beginning of the fifth chapter, Saint Paul evidently speaks of their being justified, as of a thing that was past. Whatever it was, it had already taken place : they were already justified; for he speaks thus of it: “ Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” If then their justification had already taken place, when did it take place? What time can be assigned to it but the time of their conversion, according to the sense we contend for? A second fair ground for believing that this was the Apostle's meaning is, that it best suited with his argument.