« AnteriorContinua »
ance with the law, but a penitent and unreserved dedication of ourselves to God, which is the condition of our acceptance with him. Sins past are forgiven on repentance; and new obedience, proceeding from an honest and good heart, is accepted, even though imperfections attend it. "The free gift is of many of fences unto justification." Though on repentance there is the actual remission of sins only which are past, yet there is the gracious promise, that all future sins, on the renewed exercise of repentance, may also be forgiven; and that in answer to the humble prayers of the believer, such support shall be granted him as will preserve him from final apostacy. Whom God justifies, them he also glorifies. They are kept by his power, through faith, unto salvation.
Between the law and the gospel there is then a great difference in several respects.
1. The law condemns sinners, without giving them any hope of pardon; the gospel provides for the forgiveness of all sins.
2. By the law judgment comes on all men for one offence; by the gospel the free gift is of many offences unto justification. 3. The law accepts of no obedience short of perfection: the gospel accepts of sincerity.
4. The law leaves the subject to his own strength: the gospel offers grace to help in time of need.
We may observe, once more,
IV. That the gospel scheme of salvation is wholly of grace. As to him who worketh the reward is reckoned, not according to grace, but debt; so to him who believeth in God as justifying the ungodly, salvation comes, not in a way of debt, but grace. "By grace we are saved through faith, not of ourselves, but by the gift of God."
Grace, in our text, is opposed, not merely to merit, but to debt, or to that which is due in virtue of the promise made to sinless obedience. As opposed to merit, the reward promised to Adam was of grace; for what could he have done to deserve so favorable a constitution as that under which he was placed? Even the highest angel cannot be said to merit any positive happiness-much less the eternal continuance of that glorious state,
which he enjoys. As he is God's creature, no wrong, or injury would be done him, if a period were put to his existence. His happiness is the free gift of God's bounty-not the meritorious purchase of his own services. When, therefore, the apostle says, "To him who worketh, the reward is reckoned of debt," he cannot mean the merit of a reward, properly so called; but that right to it, which is conveyed by God's promise to perfect obedience.
To this debt he opposes grace, by which he evidently means benefits bestowed on guilty creatures already under the condemnation of God's law. The blessings which God grants to innocent beings, flow from his bounty and goodness: Those which he vouchsafes to sinful creatures, proceed from his mercy and grace. In this sense the word, grace, is used by this apostle, in our text and many other places.
The gospel supposes mankind to be sinners. It provides for their recovery in a way which excludes boasting. It discovers to them a great salvation, which it represents as the purchase of a Redeemer, and the gift of God through him. This salvation it offers to the penitent and humble believer, and promises him acceptance with God, as if he had not offended. It invites sinners to the throne of grace, that they may there receive the assistance of the Holy Spirit, both to the exercise of repentance, and to the performance of all the duties of a godly life. The reward which it promises, is not only beyond what innocence could claim, but also far superior to that which the bounty of God promised to the obedience of Adam. "Christ came, that we might have life, and that we might have it more abundantly." The free gift through him has abounded to many. They who believe have received abundance of grace in the forgiveness of all their sins; and they will receive still more abundant grace, when they shall reign in life through Jesus Christ.
1. The mighty and wonderful preparation which God has made for our recovery from the ruins of the tacy, may lead us to suppose, that the human race is of great importance in the scale of rational beings, and in the scheme of God's universal government. Though in ourselves we are unworthy of God's notice, yet he has done much for us-far more
than we could have asked, or even now can think. He must, then, have some great design to accomplish by us. In us his glory will,
by some means or other, be wonderfully displayed.
2. Our compliance with the terms of the gospel appears to be a matter of vast importance. So wonderful a dispensation of grace cannot be rejected without awful guilt and danger.
A salvation procured in the manner which the gospel discovers, must be a great salvation-greater than we can imagine. And proportionably great will be the guilt and punishment of those who neglect and despise it. If without the grace revealed, our state would have been hopeless and wretched, how dreadful will be their doom, to whom it is offered in vain? "He who despised Moses's law died without mercy; Of how much sorer punishment will they be thought worthy, who tread under foot the Son of God, profane the blood of the covenant, and do despite to the Spirit of grace?"
3. It is a great matter really to comply with the gospel.
As it is a plan contrived by Divine wisdom for the redemption of guilty creatures, so we must see that we are sinners-must condemn ourselves as such-must be sensible of our desert of punishment-must renounce sin with purpose of heart-must commit ourselves to the hands of divine mercy-must seek pardon in the name of the Saviour, and accept it as a free gift from him-and must hope for eternal life, not because we deserve it, but because the Saviour who died for us, has purchased it, and God, who cannot lie, has promised it.
4. Humility becomes the most improved saints. For by the grace of God they are what they are. It is not owing to their own works, but to God's sovereign grace, that they are brought into a state of salvation, and made heirs of the heavenly inheritance. They were once guilty, polluted and condemned: But they are washed, justified and sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the spirit of God. By the mercies of God let them be excited to every good work; and, when they have done all, let them remember, that they are unprofitable servants; and let them glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
THE DIFFERENT ENDS OF THE TWO THIEVES CRUCIFIED WITH
LUKE XXIII. 39-43.
And one of the malefactors, which were hanged, railed on him, saying, If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering, rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me, when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.
THE story now read affords us two examples, directly opposite to each other; but both instructive; and more so by the contrast in which they stand. Here are two malefactors suffering in company with the great Redeemer, one on his right hand, and the other on his left. One dies with a heart full of impiety and a mouth full of blasphemy: The other expires humble and penitent, confessing his guilt and imploring the mercy of the Saviour.
Both these criminals seem to have been under the same external circumstances, as well as of the same vicious character. They
* For some thoughts in this sermon the author is indebted to Bishop Sherlock.
had followed the same course of life, were condemned to the same punishment, and were to suffer at the same time, and in equal nearness to the Saviour. Both had the same need of his help, and the same opportunity to seek it. But one reproached, upbraided and insulted him; the other penitently condemned himself, acknowledged the justice of his sentence, rebuked the impiety of his companion, declared the innocence of his Saviour, applied to him for salvation, and obtained a promise of accept
These two examples are recorded to teach us, that the greatest sinners may hope for pardon in a way of repentance; but that none ought to presume on Divine mercy in a way of sin.. The dying example of the penitent thief is a powerful antidote to despair; the awful death of the other is a solemn warning against presumption.
The example of the malefactor who obtained mercy on the cross, is well suited to prevent despair, and to encourage repentance in every thoughtful and awakened sinner.
The causes of despair must be either in the sinner's apprehensions of the Saviour, or in his views of himself.
If you doubt of mercy on any apprehension of the Saviour, it must be because you distrust either his power, or his readiness to
If you feel any distrust of his power, look up to the cross: There you will see enough to dispel all your fears.
Never did Jesus appear in so much weakness-never did he look so unlike a saviour, as when he hung on the tree; and yet even here you see him mighty to save. If in this condition he could bend the stubborn heart of a sinner long accustomed to do evil-if here he could wipe off the guilt contracted by the foulest crimes-if here he could open to a miserable criminal the gates of the heavenly paradise; surely now, since he has loosed the bands of death, ascended to his heavenly kingdom, and taken possession of his glorious throne, he must be able to save to the uttermost all them who come to him; for he was exalted to be a prince and a saviour, that he might give repentance and remission of sins.