Sermon XXX

SERMON XXX.

MAN CANNOT JUSTIFY HIMSELF BY DENYING OR DISPROVING THE CHARGE OF GUILT.

Rom. iii. 20.—" By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified."

By the " deeds of the law " is denoted conformity to the law, or obedience to the law. The word " law" here includes law of all descriptions, moral as well as ceremonial; for the apostle, in the previous part of the chapter, had referred particularly to the violation of the moral law. Having shown that men were universally guilty of such violation, he draws from this argument the conclusion stated in my text, that it is impossible now for any one to be justified by obeying the law of God. The proposition, then, which I derive from the text, and which I propose to defend, is, that man cannot be justified by his own righteousness. To see the truth of this proposition, it is necessary to know what is meant by being justified, and then to show that it cannot be secured by a man's personal obedience.

The term justify is a legal term, but it is also in common use, and is intelligible to all. An illustration or two will make it plain, and will lay the foundation for the train of thought which will be pursued in this discourse. A man is charged with murder. He may put his defence on one of two grounds. He may either deny the fact of having killed ; or admitting that, he may show that he had a right to do it, or is excusable for it. If the charge is not made out against him, of course he is just in the sight of the law, and is acquitted. Or if the fact be made out or admitted, he may take the ground either that he did it in self-defence, or that it was done under such a state of mental derangement as to destroy responsibility—and he is acquitted. He had no " malice prepense." He intended no murder; he committed none ; and the law does not hold him guilty of the charge. A man is charged with trespass. He takes a similar ground of defence. He denies the fact, or maintains that he had a right to do what he has done. He sets up a claim to a " right of way" over a field which his neighbour owns, and having; established that, he is acquitted, or is held to have done no

more than he had a right to do in the case. He is a just man in the eye of the law, and may pursue his own business, enjoy tile immunities of a good citizen, the honours of an unsullied name, and protection in his rights unmolested. It may be add%l here, that there is no other way by which a man can justify himself in the sight of the law. He could not do it by admitting the fact of the trespass, and by paying the fine, or making compensation for the injury done ; for though he might be discharged, yet this would be no justification of what was done, and would avail nothing towards showing that he was right in doing it. It does not make a wrong right either to intend beforehand to pay for the mischief, or to make amends for it after the deed is done. This remark will be used hereafter in examining the attempts which men have made to justify themselves.

Now if man attempts to justify himself before his Maker, he must take one of the grounds referred to. He must either deny the charge brought against him; or admitting the facts in the case, he must show that he had a right to do what he has done. If he can do either of these, he will be justified, for God does not condemn the innocent. We will suppose, then, the case of a man arraigned at the bar of his Maker, as we all soon shall be, on trial with reference to eternity. There are two things that occur to us at once. What is the charge against him ? What is the defence which he sets up? If there is no charge, he is justified of course. If his defence is valid, he will be acquitted.

It is necessary then, first, to look at the charge which is brought against man. The charge is, that he has violated the law of his Maker, or is a transgressor. It is that of apostacy, or revolt from God; entire failure to keep his laws; a life spent in the constant neglect of acknowledged duty, and the habitual commission of known sins. It may be assumed that every reader is sufficiently familiar with the Bible to know the nature of these charges without their being specified in detail. No one trained in a Christian community can be ignorant of the account of our race which the Bible gives. These charges of guilt do not make the impression which they ought, for these reasons:—because we are so familiar with them ; because others are implicated with us; because we do not cordially believe them. Many a man reads the account of human nature in the Bible without supposing there is anything serious in the matter, or much fitted to trouble him. There is many a one who would pass a sleepless night if he knew there was a charge of petty larceny against him, which would bring him into court to-morrow, who has no trouble at the charge of total apostacy and utter revolt brought against him by God. There is many a one who would be in the deepest consternation if he knew that his name was before a grand jury in some such connexion as his conscience could easily suggest, who has no alarm at the thought of the " grand assize," and no dread of the formidable catalogue of crimes drawn up against him in the secrecy of the Divine counsels. A few remarks will demonstrate that these charges against man in the Bible ought to make an impression, and that men ought to be willing to look at them. A case or two may therefore be supposed which will show how men ought to be affected in view of such charges brought by the Creator. The case of an officer in a bank may be referred to. He has been long there, or in other stations in public life ; and has gained a character, compared with which all the gold that the vaults of the bank could contain would be worthless as the sand. Suddenly, charges are brought against him of unfaithfulness to his trust. They come from quarters worthy of his attention ; proceed from such a source as inevitably to gain the ear of the community ; are such that his family must know of them ; are sustained by such circumstances of actual losses in the bank as to render the charge credible; and are of such a character as to make it necessary for him to leave his post, disgraced perhaps for ever. Now it is not necessary to suppose that these accusations are true. All that is designed is to show the effect which charges of guilt, from a respectable quarter, usually have on a man's mind. But suppose he secretly knew they were all true, how could his conduct be explained, if he were utterly indifferent and unconcerned ?

In regard to the charges which are brought against man a few remarks may be made here, to show why they should be allowed to make an impression on the mind. (1.) One consideration respects the source from whence they come. They are professedly the charges of our Maker and final Judge. They are those on which we are to be tried at his bar, and in reference to which our destiny is to be determined. (2.) They are the most fearful of all accusations which can be brought against a creature. No crime can be equal to that of being an enemy of God ; and no offence against human society can equal, in enormity and ill-desert, the crimes of which man is charged against his Maker. (3.) The charge extends to every human being. No exception is made in favour of youth, beauty, rank, or blood; none in favour of the amiable, the honest, or the moral ; none in favour of those who have endeavoured to wipe away the accusation by their own good conduct. It is not indeed charged that one is as bad as another, or that any one is as bad as he can be; but it is that every one is guilty of violating the law of God, and is held to be such a sinner that he cannot save himself. (4.) It is charged that each and every one is of such a character that the eternal pains of hell would be an adequate recompense for his crimes. He is held to be under condemnation, and to be justly exposed to punishment that shall be severe in the extremest degree, unmitigated, and everlasting. Each one is held to be such an evil-doer that it would be wrong for God to admit him to heaven as he is, but not wrong to consign him to unending woe. It is important not to disguise anything about this, or to seek to hide it by soft names. The robber is deemed worthy of the penitentiary; the murderer is regarded as deserving death on the gibbet; and in like manner it is held in the charge brought against man, and the threatenings appended to them, that every man deserves the pains of everlasting death, and that if he should receive what is properly due to him, he would be cast off from God,■and punished for ever. Such is the nature of the charges against man. On these he is held guilty ; on these he will be arraigned. The Bible has two aspects. It reveals a way of pardon; but it is also the grand instrument of indictment against man. It is designed to reveal his character ; to reprove his crimes ; to overwhelm him with the conviction of guilt; and to be the standard of judgment on the final day. The question therefore arises, now to be considered, whether if these are the charges against man, he can vindicate or justify himself. It has been already remarked, that there are but two grounds to be taken in such a vindication. One is, to deny the facts charged on man; the other is, if the facts be admitted, for him to show that he had a right to do as he has done. There is nothing else that can be conceived of in the ease to be done by him, unless it were to attempt to make expiation or reparation by extraordinary merit, by penance, or by sacrifice; though this would not justify him for what he had done, any more than a man's paying a fine could make it right for him to put out his neighbour's eye, or burn his housel If neither of these things can be done, it will follow that man cannot be justified by his own righteousness. These points will now be considered in their order. The first is, that man cannot deny the truth of the charges brought against him. In support of this the following considerations may be urged:—

(1.) The source whence these charges come. They are made by God himself. It is assumed here that the Bible is true, and the argument will be conducted on that assumption. In another part of this volume it is shown that it is equally impossible to deny the main facts, whether the Bible be true or false. The position now is, that the sinner cannot take the ground that God has mistaken the facts about man, or that he has designedly brought a false accusation. It surely cannot be necessary to go into an argument to prove this, but an illustration or two may be allowed, (a) One is, that it is impossible for God to mistake on this subject. Men often do mistake in reference to character and conduct. Charges are often falsely brought, and men are often condemned as guilty on false accusations. This may he intentionally done; or judges and jurors may be mistaken; or witnesses may be suborned to sustain the accusation, or those needful for the defence may be absent; or a combination of circumstances which no human sagacity can control, may seem to confirm the charge of guilt against the innocent. But obviously no such mistake can occur in relation to the charges brought in the Bible against man, nor can man get up a vindication of himself bn the ground that his Maker has erred in reference to the facts alleged. (J) As little can he urge that the accusation has been overdrawn; that a degree of guilt has been charged such as the facts would not justify; or that there has been an intermingling of prejudice or passion which has given a colouring to the charge, and that a calmer view may modify these accusations. We can easily admit that such things may occur among men. Judges and jurors are liable to the same passions as other men, and in a time of popular excitement it may happen that the contagion may reach the bench and the jury-room; and hence the laws are careful that the administration of justice shall proceed with as much calmness and coolness as possible. It may happen, also, that false charges are brought against men, because they are obnoxious to those in power. Many a one who has stood in the way of the purposes of a tyrant has been removed under the forms of law, to gratify the passions of such a man, and many a pure name has been covered with infamy by the malignity of those in authority. But it is not needful to show that none of these things can be alleged by man in regard to the charges brought against him by his Maker. It cannot be pretended that God has been hurried into these charges under the influence of passion; or that man is obnoxious to his purposes, and that he would have him removed. The charges arc made with the utmost deliberation. They are made by the most benevolent Being in the universe; by One who can have no pleasure in finding out proofs of guilt; by One who, from his nature, is disposed to make every possible allowance for weak, ness and infirmity; by One who sees, better than man can state it, everything that can be said in his defence; by One more disposed than any human being ever was to do justice to all that is amiable and pure. If man wishes to find a friend who will be kind to his infirmities, and do justice to him when the world does him wrong, he can find no such friend as God. (c) It may be added here, that the charge is one that no denial affects. It has been deliberately made, and is that on which we are to be tried. We may deny it, or disregard it, but it is not thereby affected. Whatever we may choose to think of it does not change the estimate which our Maker affixes to our character, any more than the private views of a prisoner at the bar can modify the estimate of the judge and jury : God will pronounce sentence on us according to his own estimate of our character; and the only security which we can have that we shall not meet with condemnation will be in the fact, that on some grounds he will regard it as . not proper to condemn us. But that cannot be by attempting to deny the truth of the charge which he brings against us, or by holding him either to be malignant or mistaken.

(2.) To show that man cannot deny the truth of what is alleged against him as a violator of the law, it may be observed, secondly, that so far from obeying the perfect law of God, he has failed of yielding perfect obedience to the very lowest rules of morality. The standard at which man aims is in general low enough, and might be supposed sufficiently accommodating to satisfy any one who wished to save himself by his own righteousness. That standard is, at any rate, at an immeasurable distance from the holy law of God. Yet let a man take any standard of conduct which he pleases, and he will fail in all attempts to show that he has always been conformed to it. Who would undertake to prove before any tribunal that could take cognizance of the motives, the thoughts, the words, as well as the outward conduct, that he had always been honest, true, kind, chaste, or courteous ? Who would attempt to prove that he has on no occasion failed in his duty in the tenderest relations of life ? What husband would attempt to prove that he has always had right emotions towards the wife of his youth ? Who in this relation would attempt to prove that he had on no occasion forgotten the high trust committed to him when she left her home and friends to be his ? What child is there that would undertake to prove that he has never failed in his duty to his father or his mother, that he has always been as respectful obedient, and grateful as he ought to have been ? Is there no compunction, when he sees a father die ? Is there nothing which he would wish to recall when he stands by a mother's grave ? What brother would undertake to vindicate all his conduct towards a sister ? or what friend is there that has never had a feeling towards his friend which he ought not to have entertained ? Who is there that would undertake to say that he has never failed in the duty of perfect honesty and truth in the transactions of business ? Nay, to come down to a lower standard, Who, professing to be governed by the laws of honour, would venture, when he comes to die, to stake his eternal welfare on the fact that he has never failed of perfect conformity to that aibitrary code ? Who that professes to be governed by the rules of etiquette would attempt to maintain that those laws have always been perfectly observed? Let a man choose his own standard of action; let him refer to any code by which he professes to regulate his conduct; would he be willing that every thought, and v#ord, and feeling, and action of his life should be brought out to noonday, and that his eternal welfare should be determined by the issue of the question, whether he had or had not been perfectly conformed to that code ? If not, how shall he vindicate himself from the charge of sin ? And if he cannot vindicate himself in reference to these low and imperfect standards, how shall he stand acquitted of the charge of having violated the high and holy law of God? That, he has never made a standard or rule of life. That, he has never attempted to obey. The love to his Maker which that requires, he has never once attempted to exercise. The holy duties which that enjoins, he has never endeavoured to perform. Its sacred injunctions he has never thought of bearing with him to the relations of life, to the counting-room, to the circles of his friendship, or to the scenes of his amusement. How, then, will he proceed in attempting to show that the charges of guilt brought against him are not true ?

(3.) The charges which are brought against man by his Maker are sustained by all the facts of history. What ground would that man take, who should attempt to show that the accusations in the Bible against the race, that it is sinful and prone to evil are unfounded and false ? On what would he base his argument? To what part of the world, to what historic monument, to what recorded opinions would he turn ? Men often feel that the account in the Bible of the character of man, of the human heart, of the tendency of our nature, is harsh and gloomy. They are inclined to think better of the race, and to suppose tbat the views in the Bible must have been derived from the observation of man in a peculiarly dark age of the world, or were the *

result of feelings bordering on misanthropy. They think that man is better than he is there represented; or at least that by certain modifications in society he reaches a state where that description does not apply to him. On this account it is felt that the charge is one that cannot be sustained; and that it is not true now, that all hope of salvation on the ground of an upright life is cut off. But let a few indisputable facts be submitted to candid men. (a) One is, that the historic account of human conduct in,the Bible is no worse than in other records. The narration of crimes, of wars, of ambition, of carnage, of ■ blood, of sensuality, of venality, of political profligacy or corruption of manners there, is no worse than is to be found in Livy or Suetonius, in Gibbon or Hume. Every "crime recorded in the sacred narrative has more than one parallel in the records of profane history ; and every sentiment there expressed about man can be confirmed by any number of testimonies that the most sceptical could demand. The world has been many a time in a state like that described by Moses as the cause of the deluge; and the earth now bears up many a city where all the crimes on account of which Sodom was overthrown still have an existence. Herculaneum and Pompeii have been revealed, by the monuments exposed to human view from beneath the ashes that covered them, to have been as corrupt, and corrupt in the same sense, as the cities of the plain ; and a single one of the capitals of Europe embosoms probably now more revolting sins than they all. There is not an instance of fraud, corruption, or villany, attributed to man in the Bible, which has not its parallel in the present age of the world. The instances of depravity whose deeds are recorded in the Bible find abundant parallels in profane history ; and not one of the men of guilt there referred to surpasses in wickedness the names of Nero, or Tiberius, of Alexander VI., or his wretched son, of Henry VIII., or Charles II. ; or of the leaders of the French Revolution. (6) The account contained in the Bible of human depravity is sustained by the opinions of the sober and reflecting in all ages. Those who have given themselves to the contemplation of the condition of the world, have seen in it the sad tendency to depravity in human nature, lamented it, and sought to correct it, and yet the current of iniquity has swept over every barrier which man could erect against it, and sweeps on unchecked from age to age. (c) The same view of the human character has been taken by wicked men themselves. Byron had no confidence in human virtue; Walpole said that every man had his price ; Chesterfield regarded all virtue as false and hollow; Bobespierre and Danton acted under the belief that every man deserved the guillotine. And (d) every man acts on the presumption that every other man is a sinner, and that no confidence can be placed in him without securities; and expects that every other one will regard himself in the same light. His security is not in human virtue, but in vaults, and bars, and locks, and bonds ; and he himself expects to be treated by every other man as if he had the same character. His head neither hangs down with shame, nor do his eyes flash with indignat^m, when he is asked for security that he will pay an honest debt, or when he is told in a bank, or on exchange, that no indtvidual or corporation will trust him without having some other security besides himself that he is a safe and honest man. In these circumstances, how can man go before God and attempt to justify himself on the pretext that the charges against him are not true? Can he take the ground that his Maker is mistaken, or that he has maliciously brought a false accusation?

(4.) There is but one other observation which it is necessary to make on this part of the subject. It is, that conscience sustains the truth of all the charges which are brought against man. Man exhibits this very strange and remarkable characteristic, that he often frames an argument to show that the race is not as guilty as it is accused of being, and perhaps succeeds ia convincing others, but still his argument does nothing to affect the proof as it lies in his own soul. There is that within himself which is to him overpowering demonstration that his arguments are all false, and that the charges against him are true. God has so formed the soul, that he has there at all times what may be summoned forth, at his pleasure, as a living witness that all that he has charged on man is true, and that shall render nugatory in a moment all the reasonings of men about the uprightness of their own hearts. This proof is found in a man's own conscience. This is a device by which man himself is made to coincide with and confirm the views of the Almighty; to approve where he approves, to condemn where he condemns. It stands apart from the deductions of reason; is little affected by the arguments which men may employ; is susceptible of being called up to give judgment at any time; often pronounces sentence against the favourite opinions of the man himself; and when unbiassed, uniformly declares judgment in favour of right, and condemns what is wrong, and is always on the side of God and his claims. This mysterious and wonderful power is wholly under the Divine control. No matter what may be the cherished opinions of man ; no matter how he may call in question the correctness of the Divine testimony against human conduct, and no matter how reluctant man may be to admit the impossibility of being saved by his own works ; God has power at any moment to summon the mind itself to sustain his own account of the state of the heart, and to put it into such a condition as to leave not a shadow of doubt that all that he has said respecting its depravity is true. It requires all the art of a sinner to keep the voice of conscience silent, and to save himself from its rebukes. "Well he knows that if suffered to speak out, it will be in tones of deep condemnation. It often does speak out. In solitude; in the silence of the night; under the preaching of the gospel; when the mind in its lonely musings runs back, by some mysterious law of association, to the past; in a revival of religion ; on a bed of sickness, or in the prospect of death,—conscience often utters its voice in tones that are so distinct that they can neither be misunderstood nor suppressed. These are circumstances where man is most likely to judge according to truth; and in such circumstances, he is so made as to feel, without a doubt, that the judgment pronounced by conscience is in accordance with that of the Most High, and that the views pressed upon his conscience then about his own character, are those which will be confirmed by the sentence of the final Judge. " In thoughts from the visions of the night," said an ancient sage, " when deep sleep falleth on men, fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones to shake. Then a spirit passed before my face: the hair of my flesh stood up: it stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof: an image was before mine eyes, there was silence, and I heard* a voice saying, Shall mortal man be more just than God ? shall a man be more pure than his Maker ? Behold, he put no trust in his servants ; and his angels he charged with folly : how much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed before the moth?" Job iv. 13—19.

I have concluded but one part of my argument, having aimed .to show that man cannot justify himself before God by taking the ground that the facts arc not as charged upon him, or that he has not in fact violated the law of God. This has been shown by these considerations:—that it is impossible to believe that God would bring a false charge against man; that, as a matter of fact, man fails of perfect conformity to the very lowest standard of morals; that the account in the Bible of the human character is confirmed by all the records elsewhere existing of the character of man ; and that when man has denied the charges against him, conscience comes in to confirm the accusations and the decisions of the Almighty.

I should be glad to leave a single distinct impression on the minds of my readers. It is, that charges of guilt of a most serious nature are made against every one of us. I should desire that you would consider the source of those accusations, and be willing to look at the evidence that they are true. If, as I believe, they are brought against us by God himself, not one word is needed to show that they demand attention. They are the most serious charges that can be made. They come from a source demanding the ear and the fixed attention of those against whom they are brought. If they are alleged by our Creator, they are true; if true, they should excite alarm. They must somehow, and at some period, be met. It will not do to deny their truth, or to laugh at them, or to forget them, or to regard them with unconcern. There they stand written against us in the word of God. They are recorded in the history of our race. They are engraven on our own souls. They are of such a nature that they can easily be made to meet us on the bed of death. They are such that unless they can be shown to be false, or unless the offences charged on us be forgiven, they must sink us down to everlasting suffering. And can man be unconcerned, where there is the slightest evidence that such allegations are brought against him by his Creator? There are those from whose eyelids, if they had a suspicion that a rumour were breathed abroad in this community respecting their integrity as men of business, sleep would depart to-night. There are others, whose character is to themselves so dear and so sacred, that a whisper about their want of holy virtue would throw thtai on a restless bed, and drive peace from their bosom. Can you be indifferent when your Creator stoops from his throne and charges you with sin, with open rebellion, with such a character as to exclude you from his favour ? Can you suffer all this to pass by you as the idle wind ? Oh! could you see all, your eyes would not know the sweets of slumber to-night; your body would be deprived of calm repose ; your conscience would be racked with horror; your soul would be overwhelmed with deep and gloomy forebodings. Can it be a slight tiling to be charged with damning guilt by the eternal God?