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But let us now proceed to the more difficult part of our task. We find it repeatedly said, in seeming contradiction to the foregoing, that by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified.' Again we read that man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.' Such as went about to establish their own righteousness,' are said to have been ignorant of God's righteousness,' and to have failed of attaining to the law of righteousness because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.' An apostle tells us that he desires to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness, which was of the law,' and which he accounted but as 'loss,' and as the most nauseous filth. And, as if to destroy all motive for practising what was so useless and even hurtful, he declares that we are delivered from the law,' as a woman is from her husband at his death; and that Christ hath 'blotted out the hand-writing of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, taking it out of the way and nailing it to his cross."
It is well known that, by these and similar expressions, many have been led to decry all human righteousness as worthless and vile, as but filthy rags,' or indeed as existing only in the vain conceit of arrogant mortals. We have been told that it is impossible for us to attain any genuine righteousness, as we acquire other qualities, by our own endeavors; and that we can possess none which is, strictly speaking, personal, or properly belonging to our individual character. All that we have been allowed to hope for, is, the righteousness of Christ, either reckoned to our account by imputation, or else implanted in our minds by an immediate supernatural agency. Accordingly, it has been maintained that nothing we are able to do, can avail to our justification; if justified at all, it must be by the arbitrary pleasure of the sovereign Judge, on some other ground than our works or personal virtue. Faith is, indeed, considered by many as a prescribed condition of our being thus justified; and by others, as only the means by which we perceive and enjoy a justification already confirmed. But the doctrine of justification by faith in one of these senses, and not by our own righteousness in any sense whatsoever, has long been proclaimed a fundamental tenet of Christianity, without which no man can be saved. All who
1 Rom. iii. 20, 28; vii. 1—6; ix. 30—32; x. 3. Gal. ii. 16. Philip. iii. 8,9. Colos. ii. 13, 14.
reject it and all who are ignorant of it, are pronounced strangers to the gospel and enemies to God, how sincerely soever they believe in Christ and strive to obey his commands. And these conclusions are said to be drawn directly and necessarily from that part of the New Testament language of which we last gave examples.
That such a doctrine is not taught, even in the class of texts adduced, we shall take occasion to show, as well as that it is contrary to the general tenor of the Scriptures. But first we wish to point out the important fact, that whatever be the real meaning of the peculiar language in question, we must bring it under one of the two following descriptions: it was either so highly figurative as to be commonly expressed in phraseology entirely different; or, if literal, it was of so little concern to people in general, that Christ and all his apostles but one, overlooked it in their teaching. For it is a remarkable circumstance that we find none of them to have introduced it, at least in similar terms, except St. Paul. Now, were it such as the modern doctrine is represented, of such paramount importance and of such universal moment, should we not find it a favorite topic of the New Testament at large, especially of those discourses that were addressed to people for the purpose of converting them, or of pointing out the way of life? Was it not as necessary then as now to guard all classes of men against the damning, but very natural, mistake of seeking acceptance with God by working righteousness? We repeat: whatever was the meaning of the language in question, it was such as St. Paul alone appears to have had occasion to teach in the terms proposed. Neither the rest of the apostles and writers of the New Testament, nor the several disciples and converts whose incidental remarks and discourses are there preserved, nor our Saviour himself, ever employed that phraseology in all their instructions, public or private, to inquirers, to their followers, to the multitude, nor in all their reproofs and warnings to their enemies. They were utter strangers to it. We mention this fact as showing, not that St. Paul's doctrine here was either incorrect or useless, but that it was not a subject which needed to be thus explained and enforced on ordinary occasions. It was very different, in this respect, from the modern doctrine. Let this circumstance have its due weight.
Another circumstance, still more significant, is, that St. Paul himself never introduced that language, except on occasions of one kind only. They were occasions, however, with which he, as apostle to the Gentiles, was very conversant; we mean those on which he came in contact with, the notion, so prevalent in his day, that it was still necessary to be circumcised and to observe the rituals of the Mosaic law. When, on the other hand, this error was out of view, he himself used none of that phraseology: witness his speech before the Areopagus at Athens, his farewell address to the elders of the Ephesian church, his defence before king Agrippa, his two Epistles to the Corinthians, those to the Thessalonians, and the principal part of several others. The only places in which we do find it, are, his exhortation to the Jews in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia ;1 his Epistle to the Romans, where he argued the case at large between the Jew and the Gentile; his Epistle to the Galatians, who had been partially drawn over to Judaism; and his Epistle to the Hebrews,2 or Jewish Christians. Add to these a solitary expression or two which may possibly come under this head, in his epistles severally to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Timothy and Titus; in all of which last named cases, however, the context refers expressly to the Mosaic law and its peculiarities.3
Now, this remarkable combination of circumstances can hardly be regarded as accidental. It indicates pretty clearly that the subject in question had such a bearing on the controversy which then raged about the observance of the Jewish rituals, that most of its importance was derived from that relation. And that such was in fact the case, will plainly appear, on considering the several views which the apostle has given of the law, of its righteousness, and of its deeds or works. To this survey we shall now proceed; quoting all the leading passages in which he has introduced those topics, pointing out their connexions and the circumstances that dictated them, and interspersing such remarks as may appear necessary to the illustration of the whole.
1 Acts xiii. 38, 39; compare ver. 14-16, &c. 2 It may be well to observe, once for all, that who was the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, is by no means certain. But as the question is not material to our present subject, we follow the common custom of ascribing it to St. Paul.
3 Eph. ii. 8,9; compare ver. 11-15. Philip. ii. 2-9. Colos. ii. 8-24. 1 Tim. i. 8, 9; compare ver. 4-7. Titus iii. 4, 5; compare ver. 9.
A noted text is the following, in the Epistle to the Philippians: that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." What did St. Paul here mean by his ' own righteousness which is of the law?' personal righteousness, moral virtue? Did he wish to be destitute of this? For, whatever it was, he desired to be found not having' it. The phrase itself seems to define his meaning clearly enough: it was that peculiar righteousness which was of the law,' or which consisted in Jewish privileges and the observance of legal rites. The preceding context shows it to be that in which he himself had been blameless while a Pharisee and a wicked persecutor, (of course, it was not moral virtue,) and which he now regarded as 'loss' and as filth: 'If any man thinketh he hath whereof to trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law,' &c. &c. Brought up in 'the Jewish religion,' and 'profiting in it above many his equals,' he naturally retained much of their religious phraseology, especially as it was perpetually obtruded on his attention by the controversies in which he was engaged with them. They called the observance of the Mosaic prescriptions, righteousness; and he likewise had been accustomed so to call it, and to glory in it as such. With regard to this righteousness he had formerly been blameless,' and like other Pharisees, he had esteemed it gain.' But now he counted it as 'loss,' and utterly discarding it, endeavored to attain the true righteousness which the gospel enjoined. If it be asked, why he introduced the subject of the Jewish rituals while writing to the Philippians, a Gentile church, the answer is, he was cautioning them against the teachers of circumcision; as we dis
1 Philip. ii. 8, 9.
cover by the words immediately preceding those just quoted: 'Beware,' says he, 'of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision [or, circumcision.] For we are the circumcision which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any man thinketh he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more;' &c. &c. Such is the context, and such the meaning, of this noted passage.
In illustrating the other passages on this point, we may find it advantageous to arrange them in classes. Let it be observed, then, that there are two respects in which the righteousness and deeds of the law,' or what was commonly so called, were widely distinguished from righteousness in the proper sense of this word, and of course from all that could avail to real justification.
I. In the first place, they consisted, as we have seen, chiefly in certain privileges of birth, and in a routine of ceremonial observances. To be born of Hebrew parents, and thus to have Abraham for their father,' was supposed by the Jews to convey a degree of holiness. They also trusted in themselves that they were righteous,' on account of fasting twice in the week and paying tithes of all they possessed.' Such were their boasted qualifications. Now, that everything of this kind fell altogether short of moral virtue, none will doubt, at the present day. And this pervading defect in the legal righteousness is clearly pointed out by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews; whose prepossessions, unlike ours, would naturally lead them to overlook the failing, and to fancy some inherent worth in performances which they had been accustomed from their childhood to deem so sacred. Having mentioned at some length the ordinances of divine service under the old covenant, he reminds them that both the gifts and sacrifices which were offered' in those times, 'could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience; which stood only in meats and drinks and divers washings and carnal ordinances imposed on them until the time of reformation.' But, adds he, Christ having come and entered the holy place, even into heaven itself, shall purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God."1
'Heb. ix. 9-14; compare 1-9.