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The Difference between the Law and the Gospel.
In several Sermons preached at Berry-street, December, 1731, Gal. ii. 21, 22.—Is then the law against the promises of God? God forbid ;
For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law : But the scripture bath concluded all under sin, that the promise of faith by Jesus Christ might be given to
them that believe. I HAVE long had a design to explain this text to you, because it seems to be a key, whereby we are let into the sense and meaning of this apostle, in his long and laboured arguments about the law and gospel, in his epistles to the Romans and the Galatians, and in the constant distinction that he there observes between them.
These Galatians, who were converted to the faith of Christ, had been closely beset by some zealous judaizing christians, who would fain have had them circumcised, and engaged to keep the Jewish law; chap. vi. 12, 13. The apostle, who well understood the liberty of the gospel, would not sutfer them to be thus imposed upon; and therefore he argues, he allures, he threatens, he denounces, he uses all the proper methods of an apostle, and a preacher of christianity, to establish them in the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free, and to guard them against yielding a tittle of compliance with the Jewish ceremonies and bondage.
He shews them, in this chapter, that the promise was given to Abraham, the great believer, with all the blessings of salvation contained in it, and to all those who imitate his faith, by trusting in the gospel of Christ ; for they are the seed of Abraham ver. 8, 9. And the law curses and condemns sinners ; Gal. ii. 10. but it does not, it cannot save them; ver. 11. And that the law which came in four hundred years after the promise to Abraham, could not disannul the promise or make it of none effect. The question arises then in the 19th verse; to what end then serveth the law? The answer is, to shew them their sins, and to keep-alive a sense of sin among them, till Christ should come, who was to remove sin. Then comes in the objection of my text, Is not the law then against the promises ? Is not the promise to Abraham contradicted by the law given to the Jews No; by
no means; for they were designed for two different purposes. The law was given for special and peculiar reasons in this life, to the Jews. The promise was given to Abraham and through him, to all Gentile as well as Jewish believers for eternal life. Whereas, if there had been a law given which could have given life, i. e. eternal life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise of faith by Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.
Let us first examine the meaning of the words and phrases in my text.
Quest. 1. What is meant by law in general, and the law bere spoken of in particular ? - Answ. A law is the will of a superior, signified to us, or laid within the reach of our knowledge; which, if we obey, we are pronounced righteous, and obtain a right to any blossings promised to the obedient; but if we disobey we are guilty, and are laid under a sentence of condemnation.I say, the will of a superior, signified to us, or laid within our reach, because the Gentiles having not the revealed law of God, are a law to themselves; because the great and general rules of it, ,are so far written in their hearts and consciences, as that they might be found out by reason and diligence, and honest enquiry; and in this sense they are set within our reach.
A law of God requires that the obedience of the creature be perfect, without defect, persevering to the end of the time which God hath appointed ; and it must be also personal, or performed by himself, not by a surety br substitute. A law of God is such a constitution of God, as pronounces righteous those who fully comply with all its requirements; but it accepts of no less than it requires, nor does it own any thing for righteousness which is not perfect. Rom. ii. 7. "Who by patient continuance in well-doing, (Greek, continuance in a good work, or working good) seek for glory, honour, and immortality, eternal life.” Gal. ii. 10. “ 'The man that doth them shall live in them.” James ii. 10. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” The Jewish law given at Sipai is the particular law here meant in the first part of the verse: The law which was given four hundred years after the promise : even the whole law of Moses, given to the Jewish nation.
Quest. 2. What is this promise ? Answ. The promise to Abraham, that all the nations should be blessed in him : that he and his seed should be heirs of an inheritance, and that God should be their God. It is, in short, the gospel of salvation contained in the promise given to Abraham. See Gal. iii. 8. “ The scripture foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thy seed shall all nations be blessed.” And it is called the promise, to distinguish it from the law of Sinai, and indeed from all proper laws : for as I shall shew, the gospel does not save us in the way of a law; and therefore is not a proper law.
Quest. 3. What is meant by the law's giving life. --- Answ. The word is (wortolno au, which more naturally signifies quickening, or bringing a dead thing into life, by putting a spirit or life into it, or by making it active in a vital manner : And so it might seem to imply giving new spiritual life to those who are dead in trespasses and sins. But the whole context rather constrains us to construe it, the giving a title to eternal life and happiness to men in a judicial or legal manner. This no law of God can do, as the apostle here asserts.
Quest 4. What is meant by righteousness ? - Anste. A justifying righteousness, or a sentence of justification, a rectitude in the court of God, a freedom from punishment, and a right to life, which is the natural and proper effect of perfect obedience to any law of God given to men. But this blessing may be given also another way, viz. by the free grace of God, without any such obedience or righteousness of our own working.
Quest. 5. What have we to understand by the scripture concluding all under sin ? - Answ. It signifies that the scripture, or the word of God, declares that all mankind are sinners, there is none righteous, no not one; Rom. iii. 10. And as sinners, they are under a sentence of condemnation by the law of God, whatsoever law they are under, whether the law of nature, or any laws of revelation : forasmuch as no man hath ever perfectly fulfilled any law that God had given him, and therefore all are come short of justification and life, all are fallen short of the glory of God, proinised to obedience. See this at large, both declared, pronounced, and argued; Rom. iii. 9—20. By the law shall no flesh living be justified, &c.
Quest. 6. What is that promise given by the faith of Christ to them that believe ?--Answ. The promise of salvation, and the inheritance of heaven, typified by the land of Canaan, given originally and eminently to Abraham and his seed, and continued to those who are his spiritual seed, viz. who believe or trust in Christ, who is the Messiah promised to Abraham : For by faith in Christ we are made the children of Abraham; Gal. iii. 29. i. e. as we are imitators of his faith, so we are invested in his benefits ; i. e. those who imitate Abraham by trusting in the mercy of God through the Messiah, now he is come in the flesh, as Abraham trusted in him before he came, are accounted in the sight of God, the children or posterity of Abraham, and are partakers of those blessings of the inheritance of eternal life, which was promised to Abraham, under types and figures of the land of Canaan ; Gal. ii. 7, 8, 9, 29. And as Abraham was made a child of God by trusting in the ancient promise, so we are made the children of God by faith, or trusting in Jesus Christ, the Messiah ; Gal. iii. 26.
Having explained the words so particularly, I come to lay down these observations :
I. Observ. There is a constant and happy harmony between the several revelations of God to men. The promise to Abrahan, or the gospel proposed and preached to him, is not contrary to the law given by Moses to the Jews. The law signifies the precepts of God revealed or discovered to men, more particularly to the Jews.
The gospel is the promise of the special blessings of God revealed or discovered to men, particularly to Abraham of old, and to us in a plainer manner, in these latter days.
Here I shall shew, in the first place, that the law and the gospel, i. e. the precept and the promise, cannot contradict one another; for they both run through all the different dispensations that ever God gave to the children of men since the fall. Secondly, The law and gospel do not contradict one another, for they are two different discoveries of the mind and will of God, made to men for very different purposes.
The law, since the fall of Adam, was given for the discovery or conviction of sin, and to shew men not only their duty, but also how exceeding sinful their natures are, and how unable they are to fulfil their duties perfectly; and therefore to lay them under a sense of guilt and condemnation. The promise, or gospel, was given for the relief of guilty man, whom the law bad condemned, and to provide a righteousness, or justification, and life for them, who, according to the law, had a sentence of death passed upon them. Therefore the law is called the ministration of condemnation and death, and the gospel the ministration of the spirit and righteousness, or of justification and eternal life; 2 Cor. ii. 7, 8, 9.
I confess, if the law had been given for the same end as the gospel, if the law had been given for man ruined and sinful, to obtain life and salvation by it as well as the gospel, then they might have been supposed to contradict one another, and the objection in my text had stood firm, and we could not have easily and fairly answered it; but since they are given for different purposes, they are but different revelations of God, which are made happily subordinate one to another, and their different ends and designs are both obtained. The law copvinces and condemns sinners, and the gospel relieves and pardons them, justifies and saves them. See Rom. iii. 20-22, &c. Gal. ii. 10-14.
Object. 1. But doth not St. Paul himself say, that the law was ordained for life ? Rom. vii. 10.
Answ. 1. Perhaps St. Paul might mean only to shew his former opinion, that he thought it was ordained to give life; Rom. vii. 10, 11, 13. But supposing this to be the real design of the words, it signifies no more than that the law was designed or ordained to give life and happiness to every one that perfectly fulfilled it; Rom. ii. 7. and x. 5. But in Gal. iii. 10. cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are aritten in the book of the law to do them. The law could have given lifc indeed to Adam, if he had continued to obey it; and the law could give life still, if men were perfectly innocent, and perfectly obedient; for the law is not weak in itself, or unable to give life, but only through the infirmity of our flesh, to fulfil the law ever since the fall of Adam, by whom sin entered into our natures and death entered into the world by sin : Rom. viii. 3, 4. Jhat the law could not do, in that it was weak (not in itself, but) through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and (as a sacrifice) 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.
Answ. 2. The Jewish law was brought in to shew how transgressions abounded; Rom. v. 20. Gal. i. 19. The law entered that sin might abound, or might appear to abound, for by the law is the knowledge of sin; Rom. iii. 20.
Object. 2. Were none of the Jews saved, to whom the law of Şinai was given, and who were under this law? Were not all of them condemned by it?
Answ. Yes, they were all condemned by this law in the sight of God, considered as the Lord of souls or consciences'; for they had all broke it in several instances : Nor could the services there required purify their consciences ; Heb. ix. 9. But several of them were saved by the promise to Abraham, i. e. by the gospel, which was contained in the five books of Moses, and was often intermingled with the declarations of the law: the promise to Abraham, or the gospel, was not anpulled but continued, established and ratified by the revelation of Moses; Gal. ii. 17. “ The law which was four hundred and thirty years after, can: not disannul it, that it should make the promise of none effect." And Rom. iii. 21. “ The righteousness of faith,” or justification of the gospel, “ as witnessed by the law and the prophets.” So Abraham was saved ; so David by the grace of God in the covenant of promise ; Rom. iv. 3, 6. But not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh (no man living was or could) be justified ;" Rom. iii. 20. Gal. iii. 16.
Let us now recollect the explication of the words, law giving life, and righteousness, in short, that we may more easily apply the words in reading what follows, and so proceed to the next observation.