« הקודםהמשך »
tion is not concerning one portion of the Mosaic law only, or concerning the Mosaic law at all, considered simply as such, but concerning every law which God has prescribed to man, whether contained in writing, or made known by an internal consciousness of merit and demerit, of right and wrong. And this universality of application is distinctly marked in the passage itself, as it stands in the original. St. Paul, having shown that the Gentiles had transgressed a law written in their hearts, containing the substance of the written law, and that the Jews had failed in their observance of the written law itself, makes a general assertion with reference to both parties, that is, to all the world. And in doing this, he drops the definite article before “law,” which he had used when speaking of the Mosaic code, and affirms, in general and comprehensive terms,
By deeds of law shall no flesh be justified, for by law is knowledge of sin :" whereas he resumes the article in the latter clause of the twenty-first verse, when he speaks of the Law, that is, the Mosaic law, as a dispensation typical of the Gospel. So that by “ deeds of law,” we are to understand all that is meant by “works” in another part of this epistle, (iv. 2), or by “works of righteousness” in the epistle to the Ephesians, (ii. 9); namely, acts of obedience to the moral law, to that rule of duty which God has given for the regulation of human conduct; including, so far as relates to the Jews, the whole of the Mosaic institutions.
By law then we understand the universal rule of duty, whether imprinted on the heart, or written in the law of Moses, or, we may add, embodied in those precepts of the Gospel which are explanatory of that law: and by deeds of law we understand good works, of whatever kind, wrought in compliance with this rule.
If we ask, what is the demand of this law, or what the condition of obtaining righteousness under this covenant, we learn that it is nothing less than full, perfect, undeviating obedience. Concerning the duties which the law prescribes, it is said, on the one hand, “ The man that doeth them shall live in them;" and, on the other hand, “ Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them,” (Gal. iii. 12, 10); a denunciation extending not only to the Jews, to whom these words were immediately addressed, but also to the Gentiles, who, according to the apostle, knew the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death.
II. Let us, in the next place, consider what is the character of that rule of duty which God has
declared to man. This law, proceeding from the combined holiness, justice, and benevolence of the Most High, is in itself spiritual, or a transcript of the divine nature. The law is holy, and the commandment, each command which it contains, is holy, and just, and good. It is in every way excellent : pure, in itself, even is pure; just, or reasonable in its demands; and good, or tending to the welfare and happiness of those to whom it has been given.—Moreover, as the divine author is infinite and omniscient, so also the law knows no limits in its application. It reaches even to the thoughts and intents of the heart; requiring, not only conformity in the external act, but truth in the inward parts. God looketh on the heart.—And lastly, as God is unchangeable, so likewise his law is unalterable, and must stand good for ever. Either in its requirements, or in its penalty, it must be entirely fulfilled. “ Think not,” said our blessed Lord,“ that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. (Matt. v. 17, 18.)
Such then is the law of God, with the sanctions whereby it is enforced. In itself it is holy, and just, and good. Clothed with all purity and justice, and constructed so as to impart blessedness to all who may obey, it enters into the inmost recesses of man's heart, and claims his universal, undeviating, compliance.
III. This is, beyond all question, the character of the divine law in itself, and considered as addressing man in a state of innocence, possessing power to obey. But we must remember, with the apostle, that all men have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; and we are therefore to consider, as that which immediately concerns ourselves, what is the tendency or effect of the same law when broken, and still presented to the conscience of the sinner.
We are told in Scripture both what the law, under these circumstances, cannot do, and also what it really does effect.
The law cannot, in any way, become to the sinner a means of obtaining righteousness. If a man, having once offended against the law, were to obey it for ever after, he could not, by this imperfect obedience, place himself in the situation of one who had fulfilled the law.
" Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now, if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.” (James ii. 10, 11.) And hence, by deeds of law there shall no flesh be made righteous. No sinful man,
, by the performance of some works of righteousness, can place himself in the situation of one who has fulfilled all righteousness; and accordingly, if respect be had only to the law, man must remain for ever a transgressor in the sight of God.
And hence we discover one effect which the broken law can produce; or rather, one which, with regard to every descendant of Adam, it does produce. By it every mouth is stopped, and all the world has become guilty before God. This is the effect of past transgression of the law. But what is its further tendency, if we consider it as from time to time presented to the conscience of the sinner? Having once and for ever condemned him, has it any power to acquit and to restore him? Does it continue to be, with respect to him, good ? Can it by any means be made to minister peace to his conscience, or to implant purity and holiness within his soul ? Directly the reverse. We learn, from the united voice of Scripture and experience, that the law, having been once broken, and having thus charged guilt upon the soul, brings with it, in the next place, whenever it is presented to the mind, a sense or feeling of that guilt, together