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to let fall so much as a disparaging syllable respecting them. God forbid that we should for a moment forget or overlook, even in the heat of argumentation, the holy purpose and tendency of the gospel. But let good works be kept in their own place. We deny them the place of a cause in the salvation of man; their connexion with pardon we hold to be not a connexion of merit, as is supposed by those who maintain their efficacy to secure the pardon of sin. The reasons of this opinion are soon told.
In the first place, man can never do more at any one time than is his present duty, God having at all times a supreme right to all his services. He can never do more at any given time than it is his duty at that very time to fulfill. Being under obligation to the full extent of his ability, and throughout the whole period of his being, present obedience can do no more than fulfill present obligation. It follows that nothing man can ever do, can have the effect of meriting his release from the punishment due to former demerit. If it has merit at all, its merit is confined to the present, it cannot possibly be either retrospective or prospective. It can neither make amends for a past offence, nor purchase an indulgence for the future. As soon might the man who pays a debt which he contracted to-day, plead such payment as liquidating a debt which he contracted yesterday, or entitling him to contract another to-morrow without the intention of paying it. To maintain that past offences may be pardoned on the score of future amendment, is to adopt the antichristian absurdity of super
erogation. Nay, it is every whit as reasonable to suppose that past obedience should atone for future sins (which is the principle of the Popish indulgences), as to suppose that present obedience should atone for past sins : that is to say, neither can be maintained with the least claim to rationality.
In the next place, there can be no works good in the sight of God but what flow from, and are connected with, the atonement. Good works can be performed only by those who are united to Christ by faith, that is, are in a justified state. Without faith it is impossible to please God. We are accepted in the Beloved. As an honest action can only be performed by an honest man, so a good work can only proceed from one who is himself good. The whole world is by nature guilty before God; there is none righteous, no, not one; in our flesh dwelleth no good thing; our best righteousnesses are as filthy rags in God's sight. None but such as are in Christ can serve God in newness of spirit, can yield him the obedience of faith; and to suppose any other kind of obedience to be acceptable, is to fancy that He who looks on the heart will be pleased with the performance without the principle, the shadow without the substance, the body without the spirit.
Moreover, the notion that good works are meritorious is expressly contradicted by scripture. On nothing is the bible more full or explicit. The assertions are so express, that only the most inveterate prejudice can mistake their import or evade their force. Before the efficacy of good works to secure
the pardon of sin can be held with any plausibility, its advocates would do well to have certain plain affirmations blotted from the records of divine truth. By the deeds of law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight. And if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace: but if it be of works, then it is no more grace; otherwise work is no more work. As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse. Not of works, lest any man should boast.
Such is the insufficiency of those other grounds of pardon which have been supposed to render atonement unnecessary, or, rather, have been proposed as substitutes for the atonement of Christ. If, by the previous remarks on this subject, we are warned against entertaining insulated views of the divine perfections, and defective notions of God's moral government, by that we have just been considering, are we put on our guard against trusting to repentance or future amendment of life, as a meritorious ground of forgiveness. What impious presumption do such thoughts imply! How perilous the state of those who rest their soul's eternal interests on the daring experiment of supplanting the righteousness of God's own Son by worth of their own! God grant that we may have deeper impressions of the evil of sin, and humbler views of ourselves than such presumption supposes ! The heathen themselves may well reprove such impiety; for the existence among them of expiatory sacrifices, indicates a universal sense of the inefficacy of other things to secure pardon to offenders, and of the necessity of something more than pardon and good works, to appease the anger of their divinities. This fact itself is highly instructive, and should put to shame those pretended Christians who would set aside altogether the plan of a propitiatory mediation.
8 Rom. iii. 20. xi. 6. Gal. iii. 10. Eph. ii. 9.
IV. With the views already taken of the necessity of the atonement, agree the assertions of holy writ. The following are a specimen.
Luke xxiv. 26. “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? The sufferings of the Redeemer are here spoken of by himself as being necessary. Such is the meaning of
Ought not ;' oixò žder. The verb denotes necessity, in the strict and proper sense of the term. Necesse est, oportet, opus est, ita, ut vel necessitas absoluta vel relativa indicetur?' The necessity is not absolute, but relative. It springs not from any personal sin on the part of Christ; but from God's sovereign and free determination to pardon the sins of those in whose room he stood, as well as from those scripture predictions in which his determination had been made known, and which required to be fulfilled.
Heb. i. 10. “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. Here we have
an object proposed, bringing many sons to glory,' or the salvation of a number of the human family ; the manner in which the object is accomplished, by 'making the Captain of salvation perfect through sufferings,' that is, by the sufferings of Christ, who is undoubtedly meant by the Captain of salvation ; and the necessity that exists for taking this method of effecting the end, it became him for whom are all things, and by whom are all things.' Necessity is the idea expressed by the original term—ÉRZETE. It is fit, decorous, becoming, proper. The ground of this fitness is the character of God it became him.' There was a moral fitness or propriety arising from the nature, will, and government of God, that Christ should suffer, if men were to be saved. Any other way would not have been befitting the divine Being. A stronger necessity, than what is founded on the nature of God, cannot be conceived; and such necessity we have here adduced by the inspired apostle for the sufferings or atonement of Christ.
Heb. viii. 3. “For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. The person spoken of as 'this man,' or this one (TOUTOV), i. e. this high priest, is Christ. What is said of him is, his having somewhat to offer,' some gift or sacrifice to present to God as an atonement for the sins of his people. And for this, there is stated to
10 dpxngòs is used in the New Testament only with reference to Christ. Acts jü, 15. v. 31. Heb. xii. 2.