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THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS:
THE CHAPEL IN WEST-STREET, SEVEN DIALS,
ON SUNDAY, NOV. 24, I7G.">.
"This is his name whereby he shall he vailed, The Lord Our Righteousness." Jer. xxiii. 0.
1. How dreadful, and how innumerable are the contests which have arisen about religion! And not only among the children of this world, among those who knew not what true religion was, but even among the children of God; those who had experienced " the kingdom of God within them ;" who had tasted of " righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." How many of these, in all ages, instead of joining together against the common enemy, have turned their weapons against each other, and so not only wasted their precious time, but hurt one another's spirits, weakened each other's hands, and so hindered the great work of their common Master! How many of the weak have hereby been offended! —how many of the lame turned out of the way!—how many sinners confirmed in their disregard of all religion, and their contempt of those that profess it!—and how many of "the excellent ones upon earth" have been constrained to " weep in secret places!"
2. What would not every lover of God and his neighbour do, what would he not suffer, to remedy this sore evil; to remove contention from the children ofGod; to restore orpreserve peace among them? What but a good conscience would he thinktoo dear to part with, in order to promote this valuable end? And suppose we cannot " make [these] wars to cease in all the world," suppose we cannot reconcile all the children of God to each other, however let each do what he can, let him contribute, if it be but two mites, toward it. Happy arc they who arc able, in any degree, to promote "peace and good will among men ;" especially among good men; among those that are all listed under the banner of "the Prince of Peace;" aud are, therefore, peculiarly engaged, "as much as lies in them, to live peaceably with all men."
3. It would be a considerable step toward this glorious end, if we could bring good men to understand one another. Abundance of disputes arise purely from the want of this; from mere misapprehension. Frequently neither of the contending parties understands what his opponent means; whence it follows, that each violently attacks the other, while there is no real difference between them. And yet it is not always an easy matter to convince them of this; particularly when their passions are moved: it is then attended with the utmost difficulty. However, it is not impossible; especially when we attempt it, not trusting in ourselves, but having all our dependence upon Him, with whom all things are possible. How soon is He able to disperse the cloud, to shine upon their hearts, and to enable them both to understand each other, and " the truth as it is in Jesus!"
4. One very considerable article of this truth is contained in the words above recited, "This is his name whereby he shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness ;" a truth this, which enters deep into the nature of Christianity, and, in a manner, supports the whole frame of it. Of this, undoubtedly, may be affirmed, what Luther affirms of a truth closely connected with it; it is, Articulusstantis vel cadenlis ecclesicc; the christian church stands or falls with it. It is certainly the pillar and ground of that Faith, of which alone cometh salvation; of that Catholic or Universal Faith which is found in all the children of God, and which "unless a man keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly."
5. Might not one, therefore, reasonably expect that, however they differed in others, all those who name the name of Christ should agree in this point? But how far is this from being the case! There is scarce any wherein they are so little agreed; wherein those who all profess to follow Christ, seem so widely and irreconcileably to differ. I say seem; because I am thoroughly convinced, that many of them only seem to differ. The disagreement is more in words than in sentiments: they are much nearer in judgment than in language. And a wide difference in language there certainly is, not only between Protestants and Papists, but between Protestant and Protestant; yea, even between those who all believe Justification by Faith;
did nothing amiss; that he knew not outward sin of any kind, neither was " guile found in his mouth;" that he never spoke one improper word, nor did one improper action. Thus far it is only a negative righteousness, though such an one as never did, nor ever can, belong to any one that is born of a woman, save himself alone. But even his outward righteousness was positive too: He did all things well: In every word of his tongue, in every work of his hands, he did precisely the " will of Him that sent him." In the whole course of his life, he did the will of God on earth, as the Angels do it in heaven. All he acted and spoke was exactly right in every circumstance. The whole and every part of his obedience was complete. "He fulfilled all righteousness."
4. But his obedience implied more than all this: It implied not only doing, but suffering; suffering the whole will of God, from the time he came into the world, till "he bore our sins in his own body upon the tree;" yea, till having made a full atonement for them, "he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost." This is usually termed the passive righteousness of Christ; the former, his active righteousness. But as the active and passive righteousness of Christ were never in fact separated from each other, so we never need separate them at all, either in speaking or even in thinking. And it is with - regard to both these conjointly, that Jesus is called "The Lord our Righteousness."
II. But when is it that any of us may truly say, "The Lord our Righteousness?" In other words, when is it that the Righteousness of Christ is Imputed to us, and in what sense is it imputed?
1. Look through all the world, and all the men therein are either believers or unbelievers. The first thing, then, which admits of no dispute among reasonable men is this: To all believers the righteousness of Christ is imputed j to unbelievers it is not.
But when is it imputed? When they believe: in that very hour the righteousness of Christ is theirs. It is imputed to every one that believes, as soon as he believes: faith and the righteousness of Christ are inseparable. For if he believes according to Scripture, he believes in the righteousness of Christ. There is no true faith, that is, justifying faith, which hath not the righteousness of Christ for its object.
2. It is true, believers may not all speak alike; they may not all use the same language. It is not to be expected that they should: wo cannot reasonably require it <>f them. A thousand circumstances may cause them to vary from each other, in the manner of expressing themselves; but a difference of expression docs not necessarily imply a difference of sentiment. Different persons may use different expressions, and yet mean the same thing. Nothing is more common than this, although we seldom make sufficient allowance for it. Nay, it is not easy for the same persons, when they speak of llie same thing at a considerable distance of time, to use exactly the same expressions, even though they retain the same sentiments: how then can we be rigorous in requiring others to use just the same expressions with us?
3. We may go a step farther yet: Men may differ from us in their opinions, as well as their expressions, and nevertheless be partakers with us of the same precious faith. It is possible they may not have a distinct apprehension of the very blessing which they enjoy: their ideas may not be so clear, and yet their experience may be as sound as ours. There Ls a wide difference between the natural faculties of men, their understandings in particular; and that dilTcrencc is exceedingly increased, by the manner of their education. Indeed this alone may occasion an inconceivable difference in their opinions of various kinds; ami why not upon this head, as well as on any other? But still, though their opinions, as well as expressions, may be confused and inaccurate, their hearts may cleave to God through the Son of his Love, and be truly interested in his righteousness.
4. Let us then make all that allowance to others, which, were we in their place, we would desire for ourselves. Who is ignorant (to touch again on that circumstance only) of the amazing power of education? And who that knows it, can expect, suppose a member of the Church of Rome, either to think or speak clearly on this subject? And yet, if we had heard even dying Bellarminc cry out,—when he was asked, "Unto which of the saints wilt thou turn ?"—Fidcre mentis Cliristi tutissimum; "It is safest to trust in the merits of Christ;" would we have affirmed that, notwithstanding his wrong opinions, he had no share in his righteousness?
5. But in what sense is this righteousness imputed to believers? In this: All believers are forgiven and accepted, not for the sake of any thing in them, or of any thing that ever was, that is, or ever can be done by them, but wholly and solely for the sake of what Christ hath d< and buffered for them. 1 say again, nut fur th Liu them, or done by