« PreviousContinue »
SIN AND GRACE.
[Preached at St. Mary's, Madras, March 4, 1826.]
ROMANS vii. 24, 25. Oh wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the
body of this death! I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord !
A VERY touching and natural complaint is expressed, and a very seasonable and efficacious consolation afforded in the former and latter parts of this passage of Scripture, which contains, indeed, in very few words, a comprehensive and forcible view of the necessities and the hopes of a Christian. The natural misery of man is expressed in the heaviness of that sorrow which, when abstracted from the consideration of redemption through Christ, made St. Paul declare himself most wretched; and the merciful deliverance of man is no less warmly and gratefully acknowledged in that noble burst of rapture wherein he magnifies the favour bestowed on him, and thanks his God for his escape, through his crucified Lord and Saviour, from the body of death.
Without these distinct yet blended feelings; with
out a sense, and a mournful sense, of the natural weakness and forlorn condition of mankind, and more particularly of his own condition; and without an earnest and thankful hope of God's help and mercy through His Son, it is hardly too much to say that no man can be a genuine Christian. If he is deficient in the former of these feelings; if, not acknowledging his own helplessness, he trusts in himself that he is strong, he cannot ask the aid of Christ, nor will that blessed and mighty aid be offered to him. If he is deficient in the latter, he must also want that love for his Redeemer which arises from a sense of His benefits ; he must want that reliance on his God, which only can save us from despair. It shall, therefore, be the aim of my present discourse to lay before you, shortly and clearly, the nature and the grounds of both these mental habits; and, at the same time, to point out and illustrate the tenour of the apostle's reasoning in that remarkable passage of Scripture from which the words of my text are taken.
The Epistle to the Romans, it is always necessary to bear in mind, was addressed, in the first instance, to individuals of the Jewish nation, who, though they had so far believed in Christ as to acknowledge Him for their Messiah, were very far from a right understanding of the nature of His errand among men, or of the blessed and wonderful effects of His merits, His intercession, and His sufferings. They denied, in fact, that truth in which the main secret of the Christian system lay,
the forgiveness of sins by His one sacrifice of Himself once offered; or at best they confined the necessity of such an atonement to the blinded Gentiles alone, without admitting that the race of Israel required any further aid than was supplied by the law of Moses.
To those who were led by that glorious light which, in the wilderness, rested on the mercy-seat of the ark, and in subsequent ages shone with a different, but not less clear and miraculous illumination, in the writings of so many prophets, what room, they argued, was left for further knowledge ? By those who had the divinely imposed seal of circumcision, and were themselves the kindred of Christ, what further proof of God's favour was required or could be looked for ? And, by those who walk after the whole and perfect rule of God's commandments, could any condemnation be feared, could any further atonement be needed ?
To cure this lofty opinion of themselves is St. Paul's scope through the greater part of this Epistle; and the principles on which he reasons are, perhaps, of matchless ingenuity and clearness. He begins by proving that which, indeed, the best informed among the Jews have themselves allowed, and of which the experience of the world affords abundant and melancholy evidence, that the Gentile and the Jew were alike transgressors before God. He shows that the circumcision on which they so much relied, was in itself a badge of their profession, a distinctive mark of God's favour to
those who kept the law, but no more to be pleaded as an atonement for the breach of the law, than the uniform of a soldier is an excuse for his transgression of those articles of war, which that very uniform enhances his obligation to keep inviolate. The question of the law itself he treats in a more elaborate manner, by urging, both that the publication of a law contains in itself no atonement for its transgression; and still further, that such a law could do no more than show men their danger, without furnishing the means of escape, and thus would leave them more wretched than it found them.
The argument thus brought forward is obscure, perhaps, though just and subtle. A familiar illustration may explain it. If I see my neighbour riding furiously towards the brink of a precipice, I do well, indeed, to cry to him to stop his horse ; but if his horse have the mastery, no benefit will arise from my warning. If I tell a man who is tempted to commit adultery, that the consequences of such a crime will be infamy here and everlasting ruin hereafter, I tell him, indeed, a sad and dismal truth; but, if his passions so enslave him, that, while acknowledging the goodness of my counsel, he professes himself unable to follow it, it is plain that such advice has only the effect of enhancing his folly, and rendering his sin more exceedingly sinful.
Now this was the case with the law of Moses; and it must, from the constitution of our nature, be
the case with every law and every rule of conduct which can be given, unless there be given at the same time a power of keeping the law; a mastery over those passions, the indulgence of which is prohibited; and a pardon and atonement for the transgressions of which we have been previously guilty. Now as the former of these was in no degree supplied, and the latter in a very imperfect manner supplied, by the moral and ceremonial law of Moses ; it followed that the law of Moses by itself fell short of our necessities, and that neither the Gentile nor the Jew could stand upright in the sight of God, without the preventing grace and atoning sacrifice which our Lord brought to light in His Gospel.
It is thus that St. Paul, with admirable precision of dexterity, avoids the necessity of ascribing to the law an efficacy which it did not possess, while he admits, in the fullest terms, that praise and excellence of the law for which the Jew was chiefly anxious; its Divine original, its inherent purity, its adaptation to the happiness and virtue of mankind.
Every commandment of God, he allows, was just and holy. But those commandments (which were, in truth, only declarations of God's displeasure against particular sins) gave their hearers, indeed, a sufficient warning as to the danger of indulging in those sins, but conferred no power to overcome the force of passion, no opening of escape from the temptations by which they were surrounded. “We know," observes St. Paul, « that