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THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
This is a sublime and important subject. An error in the article of a sinner's justification before God, is one of a most serious kind. If we have wrong views of this doctrine, we cannot have correct views of the economy of salvation. It has been called the doctrine by which a church stands or falls the very binge of christianity—the rock of safety to those who are taught of God--and the stone of stumbling to all to whom the Gospel is hid.
Various are the views which men still hold on this subject. Some quarrel with the term, imputed righteousness. But we may here observe that, though mechanical language ill applies to Almighty God, “whose ways are not as our ways, and though it is not to be supposed that infinite power and wisdom proceed by abstraction, and detaching particulars as we do, yet, perhaps, there is no language more accurate to be used, respecting our justification, than that which represents God as a judge, imputing our sins to Christ and his righteousness
“or his accepting us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone. Those persons that quarrel with the term, imputed righteousness, do certainly forget, or do not wish to believe the doctrine of imputed sin. For all arguments that can be produced against imputed righteousness, will bear equally strong against imputed sin. They, therefore, who deny imputation of Christ's righteousness, to be consistent, should
deny the imputation of Adam's sin to his posterity, and the imputation of our sins to Christ. Here Arians and Socinians, who deny both, are much more consistent than those who, in some sense, admit both, and yet deny the imputation of the Redeemer's righteousness to the soul.
I. Some maintain that faith is the condition of the covenant, or our justifying righteousness. To this sentiment, when rightly understood, I see no objection. I can cordially enough say, with many a good old writer on the subject, that faith is
the interesting condition of the covenant, or the mean of an interest in Christ. I am willing to believe that it is our duty to exercise faith in the blood of the covenant, and that faith is a condition God may justly demand from us. But this is not the sense in which some understand it; that is, if they affix any precise idea to it as a condition opposed to imputed righteousness. They say that we are called on to exercise faith in Jesus, and that that faith is the procuring condition of our justification; that on account of that faith we are justified in the same sense as others maintain that a man is justified by the righteousness of Christ. This must be the sense in which they understand it; for if they held faith merely as the instrumental condition of the covenant, the
controversy, of course, would be only a jangle of words. That faith does not justify in the former sense of it, will appear from the following considerations.
1. Faith is only finite in its nature. Faith cometh from above. It is the gift of God" for by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." It cometh from the Father of spirits, and Jesus is its author and finisher. It is, nevertheless, ours subjectively, because implanted in us, and exercised by us. It can only be said to justify as exercised by us. “ Therefore we conclude,” says the Apostle, “that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” It is only said to justify us, as being our own, and must therefore be finite. Man can only be the subject of that which is finite; the contrary assertion would tend to deify him. And let it be remembered, that if faith were infinite, man would be able to do an infinite good; for like cause like effect holds true in this as well as in other cases. But if man were capable of doing an infinite good, he must be infinitely good himself, and if infinitely good, he must be divine. On rational principles, then, it is easy to show that faith, in the only sense in which it can be said to justify as exercised by us, can only be a finite good at best. But if sin be an infinite evil
, how will that which is finite form a counterpart to that which is infinite? If the offence be infinite, is justice likely to be satisfied with that which is finite in return? By no means. Besides, on such a principle, there would be no propriety in that declaration on which believers insist so pothetically—“having done all in our power we are unprofitable servants.” If, on account of faith, their persons were accepted, and that faith were subjectively exercised by them, then, undoubtedly, they would be, in the highest sense of the word, profitable servants.
2. The faith of believers is strong and weak. Some are said, like Abraham, to be “strong in faith, giving glory to God," and others are reproved, as our Saviour does his disciples when he says, “Oye of little faith.” There is much darkness and some fears still remaining in the minds of many of God's children, whilst others have arrived at full assurance. If, then, men were justified on account of their faith, the Almighty would justify one man on account of one quantity of faith, and another man on account of another quantity of faith. In that case, the condition of the covenant would vary exactly in proportion to the quanlity of faith that the believer possessed. God would, in the one case, either have too much from the one, or too little from the other, which is absurd. By carefully examining the covenant of works and grace, we cannot find that ever the Almighty represented one quantity of righteousness as sufficient for one man, and another quantity as sufficient for another. The principle would be precarious for the sinner. He would find it extremely difficult to ascertain precisely what quantity would suffice.
3. It is obvious that if a man were justified on account of his faith, then at one time the same individual would be more, and at another time he would be less justified. Faith is not equal in all, nor is it the same at all times in the same individual. Take the example of Peter by way of illustration. He had little faith when he was afraid and began to sink in the water. He had more when he could appeal to Christ and say, “ Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee." How weak was his faith when he could swear that he knew not Jesus? It was so weak that he had not one particle of it in exercise. Now it is not faith in habit, but faith in exercise that justifies the sinner; of course, Peter, on the principles referred to, would have been more justified at one time than another. So it is with all believers, they are sometimes stronger, at other times weaker; but agreeably to the scriptural view of the subject, they are always just in the sight of God on his ac. count who is the Lord our Righteousness. It follows, from these remarks, first, that the doctrine of being justified on account of faith is highly improper; and, secondly, that the doctrine of being justified by faith is the true scriptu. ral view of the subject—by it as an instrument, though not on acccount of it as a procuring cause.
And for the use of this language, when speaking on this subject, there is the plainest reason in the world. As any kind of business is often said to be done by the instrument by which it is accomplished, so we are said to be justified by faith. For as necessary as the instrument with which we work, or the hands that ase the instrument, so necessary is faith to lay hold of the righteousness of Christ for our justification, so that “ being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
II. Some hold that sincerity is the condition of the covenant: that on account of which sinners are accepted before God. This sentiment is fanciful to an extreme, Whether its supporters mean by the term sincerity, sincerity in principle, or sincerity in practice, or both, I cannot say. Sincerity is good in its place, if conversant about proper principles and proper practice, but let it not be exalted to the situation of a Saviour. “It matters not,” say the supporters of this, "what any man believes, sincerity is the whole of religion-it is all in all.” Did these persons reflect a little, they would find,
1st. That sincerity and uprightness are not inseparably connected. All laudable sincerity has uprightness or truth for its foundation, but with every species of sincerity it is not so.
Need I prove this. Look, then, at yon poor deluded mortal, and see how sincere he is counting his beads, and bowing before a crucifix!-see how tremblingly he approaches the priest, and receives his exculpatory benediction !—and hear how often he exclaims, “Hail Mary! Mother of God! Queen of Heaven!” Look to pagan countries, and you will see thousands of idol temples replenished with idol deities, and the inhabitants adoring most devoutly gods that cannot save! Are such offerings acceptable to God, however sincere the supplicants ? By no meansthey are calculated to rob him of his glory. They are thereby giving that service to graven images, to which the blessed God is alone entitled. Are uprightness and sincerity united ? By no means they are in direct opposition. To suppose that God would 'sanction that sincerity which is inconsistent with uprightness, is to suppose him capable of sanctioning a lie. Neither can we suppose him capable of accepting, on account of our sincerity opposed to uprightness, the person of any man. But, to prove our point, we only call on you to look at that man who mounts the rostrum, and proclaims in the ears of an admiring audience, a salvation on terms the Scrip
tures never taught. Do you observe how he keeps faith in Christ out of view by preaching up the merit of good works? and can you calmly and deliberately say, that God sanctions his sincerity? No-unless you maintain that the Scripture speaks a lie which declares, it is “ not of works, lest any man should boast”-unless you suppose the Almighty capable of approving that which detracts so sensibly from the excellence of the Saviour's sacrifice, and gives room for creature boasting.
But, 2ndly, admitting that sincerity or uprightness were always uniformly connected, then it is liable to the objec. tions already made, when speaking of faith. It is only finite-it is very different in men, and different at different periods in the same individual. However much, therefore, we applaud faith, as that by which a man is instrumentally justified-however much we admire sincerity as a grace implanted by the Spirit-we must testify against both, as that on account of which, sinners are accepted before God.
III. The third sentiment that is held on this subject is, that Christ is the fountain of righteousness—that the sinner is justified on account of the righteousness of Christ. View this as the ground of a sinner's acceptance with God, and you will find that it has all that faith and sincerity want. It is infinite, whereas faith and sincerity, however genuine, can only be finite. The infinite nature of Christ's righteousness follows from the Deity of his person. Is the sin of man infinite ? So is the righteousness of Christ, and is consequently a complete counterpart to it. An infinite obedience must possess an infinite quantity of merit, and when imputed to the sinner, God sees no iniquity in him. This righteousness is not greater to one and less to another, as faith and sincerity are, for it is equal to all. Nor does it vary. Being wrought out by him who is the Lord our Righteousness, it is immutable, and will for ever remain the same.
We would close these remarks by a direct appeal to Scripture; and in producing the testimony of him who cannot lie, it becomes you, reader, to receive it as such, and to rest satisfied in the truth. The Apostle Paul, in the 3d chap. of his epis. to the Romans, insists particularly on this subject—"therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight, but now the righteousness of God, without the law, is manifested, even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and