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sufficient to make us live without him, and to supersede the necessity of any Christ, or atonement.
While this passage of Ezekiel is before us, it may not be amiss to take a short and summary view of God's reasoning with Israel, in the 18th and 33d chapters.* Wherein, I think, we will find due consideration paid to the most notable objections that ever were framed by the heart of man, against the revealed method of acceptance with God. I shall only premise what I think I need not take time to illustrate at present, That God had hitherto, by his visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, kept up in Israel a standing pledge and memorial of his great purpose of saving men by the transferring of guilt. The Israelites were, in Ezekiel's time, suffering
the manifest tokens of the Divine displeasure, for the sins of their fathers, as well as their own. Their complaint against the way of God, as hard and unequal, was twofold. 1. They thought it unreasonable that a son should suffer for the sins of his parents, however well he himself should behave; for men always presume they will do better than those before them; yea, better than they themselves have formerly done. This complaint corresponds exactly with that which we make against suffering for the sin of Adam. To obviate this complaint, God proposes to take away the ground of it. He assures them he would set aside that extraordinary providence, under which they had been hitherto conducted, and whose main end and view I have already hinted at; that since they found fault with his way, as unequal, he would deal with them according to their oun, namely, according to what they counted equity; that
1 * Some have thought that I have considered the reasoning with Israe in these chapters as sarcastical. For my part, I know nothing in the whole argument that can come under that notion, but the profane sar. casm of the four grapes, which God first repels as impious in itself, and unreasonable at first instance, by asserting his own sovereignty in these words, “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine." Then he condescends to reason with them on their own notions of equity, giving the most solemn assurance to every objector, that it should fare with him according to his own future conduct. Even as Jesus solemnly declares to one, If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments; and to another, This do, and thou shalt live. We cannot seriously maintain that death is the wages of sin, unless with equal seriousness we maintain that life is due to the righteous. Those indeed who pretend to be righteous while they are not, expose themselves to worse than ridicule. But this can by no means throw any air of levity on the divine law, nor on God's procedure with men, which, in the distribution of either justice or mercy, most solemnly and invariably establishes the law.
they should have no more occasion to say, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge; that if a wicked father should beget a righteous son, that son should surely live; and that every man should suffer only for his own fault. 2. They also thought it very hard, that if a man had once led a bad life, no encouragement should be given for his reformation, however well disposed he should be for the time to come. For all men generally propose to do better, when once it shall be more convenient for them. They thought to what purpose shall we reform, or hearken to the prophet's warning, to turn from our evil way, while our former transgressions still stand upon record against us ?—Let us do ever so well for the time to come, we must be treated as eriminals for what is past. God also removes the ground of this complaint. He assures every man, who shall sincerely repent, or turn from his evil way, and do that which is lawful and right, that he shall be happy, and no mention made of his former faults. All this he confirms by his oath, that there might be no remaining doubt or hesitation in the minds of men, about their acceptance with him, as soon as they reformed. The complaint and the answer stand together in these words, chap. xxxiii, 10, 11. Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel, Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live? Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked should turn from his way and live : turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel ? &c. Then follow the words in the foregoing paragraph.
But to have a proper view of this matter, one must read the whole two chapters; whence it will appear, that the Divine reasoning in them proceeds wholly on the objection, that the Lord's way was not equal: which indeed comprehends the force of all the objections that have since been made against the gospel. If nothing but equity had appeared in the Divine character, nothing but misery could have been looked for by the guilty To men who are dissatisfied with his way, as unequal, God proposes to deal with them according to any rule of equity insisted upon among them. Chap. xxxiii, 20. Ye say, the way of the Lord is not equal : O ye house of Israel, I will judge every one of you after his ways. So likewise it appears from the New Testament, that every one who is found guilty at last, shall be condemned out of
his own mouth, or for walking unsuitably to his own maxim. The field, then, is left fair and
every one who vills to run. Every let or hindrance, every objection tha the reasoning faculty of man can frame, is entirely remov d.Let all the well-disposed, all the friends of virtue avail hemselves of the free declaration; God himself hath set his o 'hto it, that every one who turns from evil to do good, shall be happy. He who does this, may warrantably expect all countenance and encouragement from his Maker, whose p'easure ever lies on the side of righteousness. Many think hey
Let them enjoy themselves. Christians have no occasion to quarrel with them. If they do well, no doubt they shall be accepted. The gospel is only a gracious provision, made, by the Supreme royal prerogative, for the guilty and the desperate. Jesus Christ came only to bring relief to the vicious and the ungodly, without infringing the privileges of the righteous in the least. So these last, who are rich, have no reason, whatsoever, to grudge at the alms provided for the starving poor, seeing it is done no way at their cost or expense.
As for those who are sincerely well inclined, I have no doubt but they will do that which is lawful and right; even as I make no question but those who are averse to sin, will avoid it; for I have no notion, either from Scripture or experience, of any impotency in man to do good, but what arises from his aversion to it; or of any readiness in him to do evil, but what arises from his love to it. The gospel, then, or the way of God, which will always appear unequal, in some respect or other, in the eyes of the wellinclined, can never be acceptable to any but those who are ungodly, and without strength, even those who can have no hope according to any rule of equity.
If it be still said, that there is this difference betwixt the law and the gospel, that the latter furnishes friendly and powerful assistance to the candidate for happiness, whereas the former
* When we endeavour, at any time, to set forth the divine grace toward the guilty in its proper light, I see no occasion we have to stop our course, to pay a tender regard to the scrupulous objections of those guardians of virtue, who, affecting great jealousy for her interests, quite overact their part, and express no small concern, lest they should be any way injured by the grace of the gospel, and a door be opened for licentiousness; for as those objections were never inade by any such as were impelled by manifest disaffection to all truth, godliness, and humanity, the short apostolic reply to the makers of them is abundantly sufficient, Their damnation is just.
does not; I shall only reply, that an attentive reader of the two chapters will be at no loss to prove, that he who is sincerely inclined to fulfil the law, shall be favoured with the Divine countenance, no less than he who is sincerely inclined to comply with what are called the terms or requisites of the gospel.
I have chosen rather to take notice of these passages in Ezekiel, because I find nothing more vehemently insisted upon by the popular preachers, when they would encourage their hearers in their self-justifying labour, than the abovementioned Divine oath. And I make no doubt but the Jewish doctors made the same use of it to their pupils. And no question they reckoned a man converted, when once they found him sincerely disposed to obey the law. The variation of a few names make no material difference in this
I think we may form an idea of the popular doctrine, by alluding to some of the similitudes most familiarly used by the teachers. The gospel, we shall say, is like a rope or a ladder, let down into a pit for the deliverance of some men who are in hazard of perishing at the bottom of it; let down, I say, considerably near to them; yet at such a distance as they are scarce able, by their greatest efforts and utmost stretching, to touch, by the point of their finger, the means of their escape; yet it is their duty to continue labouring to get hold of it, waiting for supernatural assistance. Now, it does not signify much, by what name we call the means of escape, whether we ca]l it the law or the gospel; for the great concern we have with either of these, is to obtain a righteousness, or title to life. I apprehend, then, that the great difficulty is over, when once a man has fairly got hold of the rope, or his foot on the first step of the ladder; that is, when he has got his aversion to righteousness overcome, and pointed the other way, toward sin. The whole ascent after this must certainly be much easier.
I say, it does not signify much, whether we call our means of escape the law or the gospel : for, according both to the Jewish and popular doctrine, it is not the bare knowledge of the law, or the gospel, that can do us any service, but the use we make of them. The bare persuasion of the truth contained in either, unless reduced to practice, can be of no manner of advantage to our persons.
This is likewise common
* I am here reminded of a fixed maxim among our popular preachers, That an unapplied Christ is no Christ or Saviour at all. Just so it
to both, that they convey happiness, or afford hope to the welldisposed. And the exercise of the candidates must be much the same with respect to either ; that is, to endeavour to attain a due sense of former deficiencies, with a proper value and esteem for the mean of escape; or, in other words, to at tain to the hatred of sin, and the love of righteousness. And we need make no question, but the Jewish teachers, who were well skilled in the business of making proselytes or converts, knew as well as our popular preachers, how to awaken concern, and to suggest comfort
, by heightening and lowering the terms and requisites by turns, according to the various cases of their hearers. And it would seem, that the zealous Jews, as well as modern Christians, laid no small stress on the diligent attendance they gave in hearing sound doctrine, and the motions thereby produced in their hearts. Paul insinuates no less, when he says to the Jews, Not the HEARERS OF THE LAW are justified before God, but the DOERS OF THE LAW shall be justified. The more attentively we consider this matter we shall find the more reason to conclude, what has been oftener than once hinted, that it is of no great moment, what name or thing we make use of, or what materials we work upon, to excite and gratify the darling sense of self-importance; the operation and the effect being in all cases nearly the same, while we are the agents, and the comfort is to arise more or less, from our labour.
The source of all this self-justifying labour, as grafted upon Christianity, I take to be this. The gospel, or the report concerning the work of Christ, wears the same uniform aspect toward all
, considering all mankind as perfectly on a level, regarding even those whom it relieves as children of wrath, even as others. The pride of man, which must always have some distinguishing qualification to feed upon, cannot digest this. So each one reasons thus: “Seeing many shall perish, and seeing the gospel says nothing to me, but what it says to every one, what comfort can unless I can find about myself at least one grain of odds, casting the balance in my favour, in comparison with others, or in comparison with what I myself have hitherto been ?"
reap from it,
may be said of the law, that an unfulfilled law, or a law not actually applied and reduced to practice, can give no life at all. So that generally speaking, it may well be said, that we differ from the Jews more about words than things.