« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
ROMANS, viii, 3, 4. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
We have already explained the distinction between a physical law, whereby is established that order of succession, in which one event follows another; and a juridical law, or a law of authority, for the government of rational and responsible creatures. In the verse immediately preceding, the word occurs twice; but at each time with such an annexed specification, as points to the former rather than to the latter meaning of the term. There is first the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, which marks, we think, that established order in the Divine administration of grace, whereby, all who are in Christ Jesus have a reviving and a sanctifying influence put forth upon them. There is then the law of sin and of death, which marks another of those constant successions, that obtain either between two events, or two states in the history of any individual—even that by which sin is followed up with an extinction of the spiritual life, with an utter incapacity for sacred employments or sacred delights; and when superadded to the negation of all those sensibilities that enter into the happiness of heaven, you have as the natural con
sequences of sin, the agony of self-reproach, the undying worm of a conscience that never ceases to haunt and to upbraid you.
But you will observe that the term law in the verse before us, is used generally and without any accompaniments. We are not aware of any passage in the Bible, where, if so introduced, it does not signify that law which God hath instituted for the moral government of His creatures; and there can be no doubt, that it is to be understood in this juridical sense on the present occasion. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.'
But what is it that the law could not do? The answer to this is, we think, to be gathered from the next verse. It could not accomplish that end for the bringing about of which, God sent His Son into the world, and executed upon Him the condemnation that we had incurred; and this He did, it is said, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us. This then is what the law failed to achieve. It could not fulfil in us its own righteousness. It could not cause us to exemplify that which itself had enacted. It could not fashion us, the children of men, according to its own pure and beautiful model; and, all perfect in excellence as its light was, it could not obtain the unsullied reflexion of it, from the living history of any of our species. As to any efficiency upon us, it was a dead letter; and did as little for the morality of the world, as if struck with impotency itself, it had been bereft of all dignity and been reduced to a
dishonoured thing, without the means or the right of vindication. The law issued forth, and with much of circumstance too, its precepts and its promulgations. But it is quite palpable that man did not obey ; and, whether we look to the wickedness which stalketh abroad and at large over the face of the earth, or rest the question on each individual who breathes upon it—that the righteousness thereof, instead of being fulfilled, has been utterly and universally fallen from.
But the apostle introduces a caution here, that he might not appear to derogate from the law, by ascribing to it any proper or inherent impotency. And, for this purpose, he lets us know, what the precise quarter was in which the failure originated
- not then that the law was weak in itself, but in that it was weak through the flesh. To the law, there belong a native power and efficiency, in all its lessons and all its enforcements, which is admirably fitted to work out a righteousness on the character of those to whom it is addrest.
For this purpose, there is no want of force or of fitness in the agent; but there may be a want of fitness in the subject upon which it operates. It is no reflection on the penmanship of a beautiful writer, that he can give no adequate specimen of his art, on the coarse or absorbent paper, which will take on no fair impression of the character that he traces upon its surface. Nor is it any reflection on the power of an accomplished artist, that he can raise no monument thereof, from the stone which crumbles at every touch, and so is incapable of being moulded into the exquisite form of his own faultless and
finished idea. And so of the law, when it attempts to realize a portrait of moral excellence on the groundwork of our nature. It is because of the groundwork, and not of the law, that the attempt has failed ; and so when he tells us of what the law could not do, lest we should be left to imagine that this was from any want of force or capacity in the law, he adds in that it was weak through the flesh.'
And it is to be observed, that the fulfilment of the righteousness of the law in us, was a thing to be desired—not merely that in us a beauteous moral spectacle might be reared, and so the universe become richer as it were than before in worth and in virtue; but that our righteousness should be of such a kind as would satisfy the law, as would render to the law its due, as would secure all the homage that rightfully belongs to it. will perceive is a distinct object from the former. That the law should impress the worth and the loveliness of its own virtues upon our character, is one thing. That the law should in us achieve the vindication of its own honour, is another. It could not do the first, through the weakness of the flesh. And as little can it do the second, excepting in those on whom it wreaks the vengeance of its insulted authority. It may be said to fulfil its own righteousness, in those to whom it serves as the ministry of condemnation.
It, in the act of punishment, gives full proof of its own awful and inviolable majesty. It is a work of righteousness on the part of the law, when it pours forth the wrath, and executes the penalty that are due to disobe
dience. There is then open demonstration made, of its strict and sacred character; and the charge of impotency cannot be preferred against the law, as to the manifestation and fulfilment of its right
It does not work in the persons of the impenitent, the virtues which it enjoins, nor fulfil in this sense its own righteousness upon them. But it wreaks upon these persons the vengeance which it threatens; and in this sense, may be said to make fulfilment of its righteousness. In the persons again of those who walk after the Spirit, the virtues enjoined by the law are effectually wrought; but how, would we ask, can the law, in reference to them, acquit itself of its juridical honours!—for they too have offended. The experience of every struggling Christian in the world, bears testimony to his many violations. There is, all his life long, a shortcoming from the law's strictness and the law's purity. There is a constant offence rendered by us in these vile bodies, against that commandment which will admit of no compromise, and suffer no degradation. So that even though the personal workmanship of righteousness should be in progress—though the moral picture should be gradually brightening, into a faultless conformity to that pattern that hath been shown to us from the mount—though at length our likeness to the law should be consummated— Yet is that very law subject even now to perpetual affronts from us, on its holiness and majesty; and the question remains, how, in these circumstances, shall its righteousness be vindicated upon us-even though we do walk after the Spirit, and do not walk after the Aesh?