THE ARGUMENT FROM EXPERIENCE
"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . and rejoice in hope of the glory of God."—Rom. V. I, 2 (A. V.).
The subject of these two verses is the Christian's peace and joy. You will observe that the apostle does not argue that a Christian ought to have peace and joy. He does not exhort Christians to seek to attain peace and joy. He does not expound the nature of a Christian's peace and joy. He does something far more striking. He assumes the Christian's peace and joy as a fact of experience, the unquestionable reality of which may stand as a common ground of reasoning between him and his readers. He thus represents peace and joy as a special characteristic of Christians, recognized as such by all—peace of heart as a present possession, and joy over the great hope which is theirs for the future. "We have," says he, "peace with God, and we rejoice over the hope of the glory of God."
Upon this fact, adduced here just because it is a universally acknowledged and undeniable fact, that the Christian enjoys this peace with God and with happy lips exults over the hope of glory, the apostle founds an argument. Let us recall the place of the passage in the general disposition of the matter in the epistle. In the opening chapters was exhibited the necessity of a justification by faith and not by works. Then the nature and working of this method of salvation was expounded. Then the apostle begins a series of arguments designed to show that this is indeed God's method of saving men. The first proof that he offers is drawn from the case of Abraham, and operates to show that God has always so dealt with His people: for that Abraham, the father of the faithful, was justified by faith and not by works the Scriptures expressly testify, saying that "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him unto righteousness." This is the immediately preceding section to our present passage. In the immediately succeeding section he appeals to the analogy of God's dealings with men in other matters. It was by the trespass of one that men were brought into sin and death —does it not comport with God's methods that by the righteousness of one men should be brought into justification and life? Our present
passage lies between, and constitutes an intermediate argument that justification by faith is God's own method of saving sinners.
This argument, you will observe, is drawn from the experience of Paul's Christian readers. They had made trial of this method of salvation; they had sought justification, not on the ground of works of righteousness which they could do, but out of faith. And the turmoil of guilty dread before God which filled their hearts had sunk into a sweet sense of peace, and the future to which they had hitherto looked shudderingly forward in fearful expectation of judgment had taken on a new aspect—they "exult in hope of the glory of God." It is on this, their own experience, that the apostle fixes their eyes. They have sought justification out of faith; they have reaped the fruits of justification in peace and joy. Can they doubt the reality of the middle term, of that justification that mediates between their faith and their peace and joy? As well tell the famishing wanderer that the pool into which he has dipped his cup is but a mirage of the desert, when from it the refreshing fluid is already pouring over his parched tongue, and bringing life and vigor into every languid member. "It is because we have been justified," says the apostle—and here is the emphasis, "the triumphant emphasis," as the great German commentator H. A. W. Meyer puts it—" it is because we have been really and actually justified out of faith, that we have this peace with God, and are able to exult in the hope of the glory of God." Thus the apostle argues back from their conscious peace and joy to the reality of the justification out of which they grow.
It is very interesting to observe this prominent use in the reasoning of the apostle Paul of what we have learned to call "the argument from experience." Some appear to fancy this argument one of the greatest discoveries of the nineteenth century; others look upon it with suspicion as if its use were an innovation of dangerous tendency. No doubt, like other forms of argumentation, it is liable to misuse. It is to misuse it to confound it with proof by experiment. By his use of the argument from experience Paul is far from justifying those who will accept as true only those elements of the Christian faith the truth of which they can verify by experiment. There is certainly an easily recognizable difference between trusting God for the future because we have known His goodness in the past, and casting ourselves from every pinnacle of the temple of truth in turn to see whether He has really given His angels charge concerning us, according to His word.
And what misuse of this argument could be more fatal than to make it carry the whole weight of the evidences of our religion, or even, as has sometimes been done, to attempt to enhance its value by disparaging all other methods of proof? Such an exaggeration of its importance is a symptom of that unhappy subjectivity in religion unfortunately growing in our modern Church, which betrays its weakened hold upon the objective truth and reality of Christianity by its neglect or even renunciation of the objective proofs of its truth. No wonder when men find the philosophical principles or critical postulates to which they have committed their thinking, working their way subtilely but surely into every detail of their thought, and gradually taking from them their confidence in those supernatural facts on which Christianity rests—no wonder, I say, that in such circumstances they should despairingly declare that the essence of Christianity is independent of its supposed supernatural history, and is vindicated by the imminent experiences of their own souls. Needless to say that the essence of Christianity which in their view is proved by their experiences is not the Christianity of Christ and His apostles, but the philosophical faith of their own preconceptions. And needless to say that this despairing and exclusive use of the argument from experience has no analogy in the usage of Paul. With him, it takes its place among the other arguments, and is not permitted to take the place of the rest. He appeals first to God's announced intention from the beginning so to deal with His people, and to the historic fact of His so dealing with them. And he appeals last to the analogy of His dealings with men in other matters. Between these he places the argument from experience, and twines the strong cord of his proof from the three fibers of God's express promise, our experience, and the analogy of His working. When we unite the Scriptural, experiential, and analogical arguments we are followers of Paul.
Such a use of the argument from experience by Paul, though it may interest us, certainly cannot surprise us. It is no unwonted thing with Paul. It constantly appears in his writings as a capital argument, and such was his confidence in it that he did not hesitate at times to stake much upon its validity. It is to this argument, for example, that he appeals when he cries to the foolish Galatians: "This only would I know from you, Received ye the Spirit by works of law or by the hearing of faith?" They had received the Spirit —of that he and they alike were sure. And they had sought Him, not by law-works, but by faith. That, too, they knew very well. Were they so foolish as to be unable to draw the inference thrust upon them—that the seeking that found was the true and right seeking? The apostle will then draw it for them. "He therefore that supplieth the Spirit to you, and worketh powers in you, doeth He it by law-works or by the hearing of faith? Even as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him unto righteousness. Ye perceive, therefore, that they which be of faith, the same are Abraham's sons."
An humbler servant of Christ than Paul, and a far earlier one, had, indeed, long before pressed this argument with matchless force. Blind unbelief alone could say to him who once was blind but now could see: "This man is not from God. Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner." The one, the sufficient answer was: "Whether He be a sinner, I know not; one thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see. . . . Why herein is the marvel, that ye know not whence He is, and yet He opened mine eyes!" Greater marvel than the opening of the eyes of one born blind that men should shut their eyes to who, and what, and whence He is, who opens blind eyes! "If this man were not from God, He could do nothing!"
What, after all, is this "argument from experience" but an extension of our Lord's favorite argument from the fruits to the tree which bears the fruits? He who is producing the fruits of the Spirit has received the Spirit; he who has reaped the fruits of justification has received justification; and he who has obtained these fruits by the seeking of faith knows that he has obtained out of his faith the justification of which they are the fruits; and may know, therefore, that the way of faith is the right and true way of obtaining justification. We must not pause in the midst of the argument and refuse to draw the final conclusion. If the presence of the fruits of justification proves we are justified, the presence of the justification, thus proved, proves that justification is found on the road by which we reached it. This is the apostle's argument.
That the argument is valid it is not easy to doubt. It is one of those practical appeals which carry conviction even to minds which do not care to investigate the grounds of their validity. Nevertheless its validity has its implications, and this is as much as to say that it rests on presuppositions without which it would not be valid. Men may draw water from a well and be assured that it comes to them through the action of the pump, without at all understanding, or stopping to consider, the theory of suction by which the pump acts. But no pump will yield water if it be not constructed in accordance with the principles of suction. And it seems accordingly important that the principles of suction should be understood. Our understanding of these principles not only increases the intelligence but also adds to the confidence with which we accredit the refreshing floods to its gift. In a somewhat analogous way it will repay us to investigate the validity of the apostle's argument from experience, and to seek to bring clearly before us the presuppositions on which its validity rests and the lines of reasoning on which its conclusions may be justified. It will surely grow in force to us in proportion to the clearness with which its implications are apprehended.
These implications or presuppositions are, speaking broadly, two. In the first place, it is s
implied in the validity of this argument—so immediately and inevitably recognized—that there is a natural adaptation in this mode of salvation —the mode of justification by faith—for the production of peace and joy in the heart of the sinner that embraces it. And in the second place, it is implied in the validity of this argument that the deliverances of the human conscience are but the shadows of the divine judgment: that its imperatives repeat the demands of God's righteousness, and its satisfaction argues the satisfaction of the divine justice. Let us look at these implications in turn.
First, let us inquire if there is not necessarily implied a natural adaptation in justification by faith to produce peace and joy in the sinner.
We have sought, let us say, justification out of faith. We have peace and joy. Here are two facts. We may look at them separately. What is to unite them in our apprehension? What warrants us to infer from the mere fact that we have peace and joy that this peace and joy are the product of the justification that we have sought out of faith, and therefore argue the reality of that justification and the success of our seeking it by faith?
Is it merely that the peace and joy have succeeded in the sequence of time the seeking by faith? What is to assure us that this is not a mere post hoc and no propter hoc at all? Is it then merely the universality of the experience—our observation that all such seekers have proved to be finders? Is a Christian to base his peace and joy, then, on another's finding? Nay, on the invariableness of such finding by others? Who will assure him of this invariableness? Who will assure him that the next seeker may not fail to find? That in the next village such seekers may not as invariably fail as among his own acquaintances they have invariably found? That his partial observation, in a word, is the norm of fact? Must he wait to base his confidence and hope on the collection and tabulation of a body of statistics?
For the validity of the argument it is obvious that there must be some more immediate and obvious vinculum between the seeking and finding than mere observed sequence, some natural connection between the justification sought by faith and the peace and joy which have come to the seeker—level to the apprehension of all, and pointing each one directly to his justification, as the source of his peace and joy, in so clear and convincing a way that he needs must find the account of his inward peace in the reality of his outward justification. Does any such connection exist?
Something of this connection will no doubt be supplied by the fact that these Christians who now enjoy this peace and joy have been seekers of peace and joy by other methods than through faith, and have not found; and only upon laying aside their feverish efforts at self-salvation and upon seeking through faith, have they found. The contrast of these diverse experiences counts for much, and assures them that the blessed fruits of justification ripen in the heart only when justification is sought through faith; that they do not grow on the tree of works. Were this not the experience of Christians, the apostle's whole argument would fail. That argument has, therefore, a double edge; it as much implies that peace and joy do not come through works as that they do come through faith. What he is attempting to prove is just that justification comes out of faith and not out of works; and the experience it rests upon must be an experience, therefore, of not finding as truly as an experience of finding. This double experience, then, we say, will go far toward connecting the peace and joy
which Christians possess, with a justification specifically by faith as its root and source.
It will go far toward it, but it will not go the whole way. The connection so found is still only an empirical one. Even if it should prove universal it might still be accidental. A deeper fact must lie behind, creating a more necessary connection; or rather, let us say, giving a rational account of this experience. That deeper fact must lie in some inherent difference in the modes of seeking; that is, it can only lie in the natural adaptation of the mode of salvation set forth in the term "justification by faith" for the production of peace and joy in the heart of the sinner who embraces it—a natural adaptation absent from works. In other words, the connection will fully emerge only on the discovery of the fact that peace and joy are the natural, or, indeed, the necessary fruits of seeking salvation in the method proclaimed by the apostle.
In order to make this plain, we have only to formulate clearly the question on the decision of which it is suspended. It is this: Whether there is an adaptation in the method of salvation proclaimed by Paul for the production of such effects as peace and joy: or whether the peace and joy which follow the trial of this mode of salvation arise within the heart wholly unrelated with, and pointing in no wise back to, the justification of which they are the fruits. In other words, whether men find peace and joy on seeking justification through faith only because the Holy Spirit works these sentiments in some mysterious way in their hearts—causing them to spring up within them on His almighty fiat as flowers growing on no stalk; or whether the Spirit's fecundating power causes them to grow visibly upon the stem of justification by faith itself. We cannot doubt, following Paul, which is the true alternative.
The sense of peace that steals into the heart, the exulting joy which cannot keep silence on the lips of him who seeks his justification out of faith, are indeed the work of the Holy Spirit. Apart from His vitalizing operations even the saved soul might remain dark and the redeemed lips dumb. But they do not, therefore, hang in the air without cognizable ground or source. The Holy Spirit does not here, any more than in other spheres of his activity, work irrational effects. There is a rational account to be given of this peace and joy as well as a spiritual one. The mode of justification propounded by God through the apostle is one which is adapted to the actual condition of man; one which is calculated to satisfy his conscience, to allay his remorseful sense of guilt, to supply him a rational ground of conviction of acceptance with God, and to quicken in him a happy, hopeful outlook upon the future. And it is because this mode of justification is thus calculated to provide a solid ground for peace and joy to the rational understanding that those who seek justification thus and not otherwise acquire, under the quickening influences of the Spirit, a sense of peace with God and a joyful outlook of hope for the future.
No more here than elsewhere does the Spirit of all order work a blind, an ungrounded, an irrational set of emotions in the heart. Did He so, they would scarcely be probative of anything. A set of emotions arising in the soul, no one knows whence, no one knows on what grounds, especially if they were persistent, and in proportion as they were violent, would only vex the soul and cast it into inquietude. It is only because these Spirit-worked emotions of peace and joy attach themselves rationally to the mode of justification by faith that they can point to it as their source, and prove that they who have sought their justification by faith have surely found. The probative power of the actual peace and joy received by the means of this justification is thus dependent upon the rational adaptability of this method of salvation to produce, in those who make trial of it, peace of heart and joy in the prospect of the future. The gist of the whole matter, then, is that this mode of justification may be recognized as supplying the only true and actual justification, because it alone, among all the methods by which men have sought to obtain peace with God, is calculated to satisfy their consciences and to furnish to them a rational ground of hope of acceptance.
How many other ways there are in which men have sought and continue to seek peace! And how little they avail! Let them seek by works—at the best, they can but cry at the last that they are unprofitable servants. The perfect obedience which their hearts tell them, in a voice which will not be gainsaid, is due from them, they know also that they have not rendered, that they cannot render. And the dreadful load of guilt with which their past offenses have burdened their souls, and which their present sins are continually increasing, weighs down their spirits in hopeless despair. While walking this treadmill road of works no peace can possibly visit their hearts; no exultation in the prospective goal can attend their steps. Present
anguish, despairing desperation—these are their only possible heritage.
Let them, then, despairingly recognize the hopelessness of a work-righteousness for such creatures as men, and abase themselves in rueful sorrow before God, confessing the blackness of their sin and the utterness of their helplessness, and pleading God's mercy as their only hope. Can remorse, as it bites back upon the soul in memory of its deeds of shame, atone for guilt incurred—condone for continued incompleteness of obedience? Is it not rather the heart rising up against itself in self-disgust, accusing itself before the holy and just God, and dragging away its refuges of lies that it may see the sword of vengeance hanging over it? How can the awakened sense of sin instill peace into the soul? Or the soul's own fierce condemnation of itself open out before it vistas of exulting hope? When our hearts condemn us it is our despair to know that God is greater than our hearts— greater in His flaming hatred of sin, in the strictness of His inquisition, in the certain vengeance of His justice.
Well, then, may God be bribed? Let us heap up our votive offerings upon His altar. Let us continually sing His praises before men—something after the fashion of those Ephesians who stood in the theater and "all with one voice, about the space of two hours, cried out, ' Great is Diana of the Ephesians!'" Let us devote our lives to His service in a perfection of obedience which we know we cannot render, or in an exquisite minuteness of self-torture which we hope He may accept in lieu of obedience. Can we believe that God will accept these in place of His due? Let us drown His altars in the blood of bulls and goats; or—for such is the wont of men seeking to still the accusing voice within them—let us slash our flesh and mingle our own blood with that of the sacrifices. Let us even— for this, too, men have done in their agony of remorse in every corner of this globe—give the fruit of our bodies for the sins of our souls, "making our son or our daughter pass through the fire to Moloch." Or, since those days are passed, and the fires on the world's altars are quenched, let us offer up our own lives to God, starving within us all natural affections, stifling all proper emotions, and painfully immolating ourselves on a daily altar of ascetic observance. Can we believe that thus the righteous anger of the holy and righteous One against our sins will be appeased so that He will satisfy Himself with
our imperfect obedience? We know that the judgment of God is true; and that He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, even though we writhe in fear before His face and strive to cloud his eyes to its enormity.
But why need we multiply words? Such expedients men have always tried, and such expedients men are everywhere trying, in their despairing search for peace. Every such expedient conceivable men have tried—we have tried—and peace has not been attained. We look in dread about us, and clearly see that every avenue of escape is closed.
Every avenue of escape is closed. All but one. If—if an adequate atonement might be made for sin; if a perfect obedience could be rendered to the law; and if this atonement and this obedience should be made ours: then, but only then, could hope awake in our dead souls, could peace once more steal into our troubled hearts. Now, it is just this that Paul offers to a despairing world in the proclamation of justification by faith. It is a proclamation of "justification," you will observe, not a proclamation of escape from sin's penalty— not even a proclamation of simple pardon of sin, or of the eradication of sin—but specifically a proclamation of "justification." It appeals as such to the judgment of conscience, and works its effect in the realm of conscience. Paul does not deny man's guilt—he asserts man's guilt. He does not outrage conscience by proclaiming pardon without expiation of guilt—he proclaims the indefeasible need of expiation. He does not insult intelligence by representing that sinful man can offer the expiation that is required and at the same time acquire merit for reward—he proclaims the helplessness of humanity in its estate of condemnation. He empties us of all righteousness which we may claim, or which we may seek to acquire by our deeds, and proclaims with piercing clearness that by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified. And then he turns and points to a wonderful spectacle of the Son of God, become man, taking His place at the head of His people, presenting an infinite sacrifice for their sins in His own body on the tree, working out a perfect righteousness in their stead in the myriad deeds of love and right that filled His short but active life; and offering this righteousness, this righteousness of God, provided by God and acceptable to God, to the acceptance of the world. Here is a mode of salvation which is indeed calculated to still the gnawing sense of guilt and quiet the fear of wrath. And a capital proof of
its truth is that it does at last supply a basis, on which resting, men can believe that they are accepted with God; that it lays a foundation, on which building, men can at length feel peace of heart and entertain hope for the future. In effect the apostle says to his readers: "You have tried every way of making your peace with God: only in this way have you found one which satisfied your consciences. The righteousness of Christ, laid hold of by faith, evidently suffices for all your needs. Resting upon it, your guilty fears subside and you feel safe at last. Thus, and thus alone, you see that God may be just (as you know Him to be unfailingly) and yet the justifier of such sinners as you know yourselves to be."
And you will observe how Paul not only says this in effect in this appeal to his readers' experience, but the whole trend of the epistle up to this point is calculated to give force to the appeal and to evoke an immediate and deep response. For what is that proof, with which the epistle opens, that all men are sinners and under the condemnation of the law, so that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against them as workers of iniquity, but a faithful probing of conscience, awakening it to a sense of guilt and a consciousness of helplessness? And what is that exposition of God's mode of justification by means of a righteousness provided by Christ and laid hold of by faith, but a loving presentation of the sacrifice and work of Christ to the apprehension of faith? And what is that exposition of the acceptance of Abraham, the father of the faithful, but a gracious assurance that it is thus that God deals mercifully with his children? And what, now, is this appeal to their own experience as they have humbly sought God's forgiveness and acceptance in Christ, by simple faith in Him, but an assault on their hearts, that they may be forced to realize for themselves and confess to their fellow-men all the satisfaction they have found in believing in Christ?
Paul's words, says Jerome, are not like the words of other men, "they have hands and feet"; they are living things and tug at our very heart strings. But they are not less, but more, logical arguments for that; and we perceive that in his present argument it is to this feeling of satisfaction in the man who has sought his justification by believing in Christ that the apostle appeals in proof of the reality and truth of the justification sought. His argument is from the internal peace to the external peace. You have sought justification out of faith, he says; you have appropriated
the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and His righteousness; you rest on Him, and interpose Him between you and God. Your conscience says, It is enough. For the first time you find satisfaction —your guilty fears subside and a sense of peace and exulting joy in the future prospect take their place. Is not this new-found satisfaction of conscience a proof of the reality of the justification you sought? This is Paul's argument.
But once more we need to pause and ask, How is the argument valid? External peace with God is inferred here from internal peace of conscience. What warrants such a tremendous inference? Is it so certain that because the qualms of our conscience are satisfied, therefore the demands of God's justice are satisfied? Here lies the deepest foundation of the argument; and it is important for us to realize fully this second of the implications which we have pointed out as necessarily lying at its basis. Its validity rests, as we have said, on the assumption that the human conscience is the shadow of God's judgment; that its deliverances repeat the demands of God's righteousness; and that its satisfaction, therefore, argues the satisfaction of God's justice.
But here again, tremendous as the assumption is, we suppose it needs only to be clearly stated to be already accepted. For what is the question that is raised but, Whether the appeasing effect of Christ's blood of expiation is confined to the human conscience solely, while what we may call the divine conscience—God's sense of right—is left unaffected by it? And what is this question but this deeper one, Whether our moral sense is so out of analogy with God's moral sense that what fully meets and satisfies that moral indignation which rises in us on the realization of sin as sin, stands wholly out of relation with God's moral indignation at the spectacle of sin? Can this be a matter of doubt? Certainly it is to be hoped not. For so to affirm would obviously be to confound all our moral judgments. Not merely would it dethrone conscience from her empire over our lives and thoughts, but it would reduce unhappy man to a state far worse than that of the unreflecting brutes.
Far better to have no sense of right and wrong than to be cursed with a faculty as sensitive to moral distinctions as the needle is to the magnetic currents, and yet so wayward in its movements as to lead us continually astray, and bite back upon us with the bitterest remorse when perchance we have earned the praise of God. At the best, con
science would sink into the voice of hereditary custom; and what we call the right would be transmuted into the habitual, what has been found expedient in the present constitution of society. Its opposite would be equally right in a differently constituted social order—as Mr. Darwin tells us, indeed, affirming that were men organized according to the social order of, say, bees, what we fondly dream is the voice of God within us guarding the sacred boundary-lines that separate the domains of eternal right and wrong, would speak in opposite tones, requiring, with its categorical imperative, what it now brands as sin, and scourging us away from what we now look upon as right, with all its machinery of instinctive shrinking, sense of guilt, burning shame, and biting remorse. Thus, as you will observe, all of what men call morality perishes out of the earth—the convenient and expedient take its place. And with it perishes also all that men call religion: for a God requiring we know not and cannot know what— who may be most deeply offended when we most sincerely strive to please Him—whose judgments of right and wrong are so out of analogy with ours that His most burning wrath may be stirred by our highest holiness, and His most gracious good pleasure evoked by what causes us the most agonizing regret, is clearly not a God whom such creatures as men may serve; nay, is clearly to us no God at all. The truth of our moral sense and blank atheism are the only alternatives. That men may remain men, as it is necessary that what they must believe to be true, is true; so it is necessary that what they must believe to be right, is right. The eternally ineradicable distinction of right and wrong, the changeless and sensitive truth of the human conscience to this distinction —these are the conditions, on the one hand, of human sanity; and the essential postulates, on the other, of all religion.
We need not fear to allow, therefore, that the validity of our sense of peace in the justification of faith rests on the correspondence between the moral sense of man and the moral sense of God. Without that correspondence no valid peace could ever, on any ground, visit the human heart. And a peace which is as deeply grounded as the reality of this correspondence, is rooted so profoundly in the nature of man that humanity itself must perish before that peace can be taken away. If there be a God at all, the author of our moral nature, it is just as certain as His existence that the moral judgment which He has implanted in us is true to the pole in the depths of His own moral being; that its deliverances as to right and wrong are but the transcripts of His own moral judgments; that it is rightly called the voice of God within us, and we may hearken to its decisions not so much with confidence that they will be confirmed in the forum of heaven as with the assurance that they are but the echoes of the divine judgment. We may confidently adopt, therefore, the strong language of Dr. Shedd, and say: "What, therefore, conscience affirms, in the transgressor's case, God affirms, and is the first to affirm. What, therefore, conscience feels in respect of the sinner's transgression, God feels, and is the first to feel. What, therefore, conscience requires in order that it may cease to punish the guilty spirit, God requires, and is the first to require. . . . The subjective in man is shaped by the objective in God, and not the objective in God by the subjective in man. The consciousness of the conscience is the reflex of the consciousness of God." The sense of guilt by which the awakened conscience accuses us, speeding on into remorse, is thus perceived to be but the echo of God's judgment against sin. But this could not be if an appeased conscience were not the echo of God's judgment of justification. For, if conscience could cease to accuse while God continued to condemn, it would no longer be true that an accusing conscience is the sign of the condemnation of God, and a sense of guilt the reflex of His overhanging wrath. Conscience is, therefore, a mirror, placed in the human breast, upon which man may read the reflection of God's judgment upon his soul. When frowns of a just wrath conceal His face the clouds gather upon its polished surface; and surely when these clouds pass away, and the unclouded sun gleams upon us from the mirror, it cannot be other than the reflection of God's smile.
We seem now to have probed Paul's argument to the bottom. Man's conscience is but the reflection of God's judgment upon the soul. What satisfies man's conscience satisfies God's justice. The presentation to faith of an expiating and obedient Son of God, becoming man to take our place and stead before the law of God, and paying the penalty of our sin and keeping the probation due from us, satisfies the human conscience. The peace that steals into the heart of him who rests upon the Saviour in faith, and the joy that exults upon his lips as he contemplates the day when he shall stand in Him before the judgment seat of God—being but the rejoic
ing cry of the satisfied conscience—is to us the proof that God's wrath is really appeased, His condemnation reversed, and His face turned upon us in loving acceptance of us in His beloved Son. Surely, then, this experience of peace and joy is an irrefutable proof that this and no other is the just God's mode of justifying the sinner.
And now, men and brethren, what shall we do in the presence of these things? What but, first of all, follow the example of those old copyists who have transmitted to us the sacred text, and transmute Paul's appeal to the fact that Christians have peace and joy into an exhortation to ourselves to enter into this our peace and joy? By God's unspeakable grace the tidings of this gospel have come unto us. How Jesus Christ, who Himself was rich, has come into this poor world of ours that by His poverty we might be made rich—it has all been made known to us. And by God's superabounding grace in the Holy Spirit the ears of our hearts have been opened to the blessed proclamation. We have heard and believed. So, then, "having been justified by faith, let us have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have obtained access into this grace in which we stand; and let us exult in the hope of the glory of God!"
Has the argument as we have probed it seemed long—too long for despairing feet to follow? Has its depth seemed too profound for the plummet of weak faith to sound? Blessed be God, it is not by following the argument of the apostle, by sounding the depths of his thought, that we are to enter into our peace; but by believing in Jesus Christ our Redeemer. We may drink at this fountain though we know not how the bubbling water forces its way to the surface— nor have time to investigate it, nor minds, mayhap, to comprehend it. Here is the water, and it is here to drink—living water—and whoso drinks of it shall never thirst, but it shall become in him a well of water springing up into eternal life. Let us thank God that He has not suspended our salvation on understanding; and even if we understand not, and our minds go halting as they strive to think His thoughts after Him, let us yet believe and enter into our peace.
And having once entered into our peace, let us turn and look with new eyes upon this life which we are living in the flesh. These difficulties, these dangers, these trials, these sufferings, how hard they have been to bear! We have deserved
no better, but—nay, therefore—how hard they have been to bear! But we have been justified by faith—actually and truly justified by faith— and now we have peace with God. What a new aspect is taken by the trials and sufferings of life! They are no longer our fate, hard and grinding; they are no longer our punishment, better than which is not to be expected—for ever. They come from the hand of a reconciled God, from the hand of our Father. What one of them has not its meaning, its purpose, its freightage of mercy and of good? Shall we not follow the apostle here, and, as we find that peace with God has stolen into our hearts and that we are exulting in the hope of future glory, let that glory gild also our present pathway? Shall we not turn with new courage, nay, even with joy, to the sufferings of this present life, crying with him: "And not only so, but we also rejoice in tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience triedness, and triedness hope, and hope putteth not to shame, because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us!"
What new light this is to shine on the weary pathway of God's saints! Says one of these saints, a follower of Paul in the sharpness of his afflictions as well as in the comfort he drew from them: "The Christian who lives not according to nature, but according to grace, should learn to give thanks to God for all things in Jesus Christ, as His holy and loving word commands us. And that is no more than right. For if we believe that when we were the enemies of God he gave His Son for us, to reconcile us to Himself, how should we not believe that all which He appoints for us after that not only comes not from His wrath, but comes really and literally from His love? And if God in afflicting us does not stop short at indifference, but goes the length of tenderness, is it not right that we in receiving our troubles should not stop short at patience, but go the length of thankfulness? As for myself," he adds, "in my short and scanty experience of the life of faith, I have often found that if resignation does not go so far as that, it does not give to our sufferings that sweetness which the Scripture promises." Here is the marvel of the Christian life. Not patience in afflictions merely, but thankfulness for them, says Adolph Monod, is our duty, nay, our privilege. Exult in joy over them, cries Paul; rejoice in them because we recognize in them but the "growing-pains" by which we are attaining " unto a full-grown man—
unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of man in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but dealing truly in love, may grow up in all things into Him which is the Head, even Christ."
And then the future! We used to look forward to it, perhaps, with nameless dread, with fearful expectation of judgment. What a glory has been thrown upon it by our new standpoint! We are no longer at enmity with God: we are at peace with God. Our conscience tells us that: we gaze on Christ and His sacrifice, and we know that God also sees it, and seeing it cannot condemn him who is in Christ. And when did Almighty God begin anything which He did not finish? And such a beginning! A beginning in indescribable, in inconceivable love. Our hearts are fairly dragged out of us in wondering love as we follow Paul's a fortiori argument. "For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man some one would even dare to die. But God commendeth His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, shall we be saved from wrath by Him. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled with God through the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by His life."
What means this peace in my heart? It means that the sense of guilt is allayed, that I am justified before God by the death of His dear Son. What means this justification with God? It means much more—that I shall be saved, by the life of His Son, from wrath. Much more! It is then much more than certain! Shall we not exult? Shall we not say with the apostle: "Much more being reconciled, shall we be saved by His life, and not only so, but also as those that rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation"? Do we face the future now, then, with calmness? Ah, no! that would imply doubt. Do we face it, then, with courage? No; that would imply danger. Let us with the apostle face it with exultation, as becomes those who rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have received this reconciliation; as becomes those who, having been justified by faith, have peace with God, through Jesus Christ, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
IV THE PARADOX OF OMNIPOTENCE