Thomas Chalmers


ROMANS, iii, 27—11.

"Where is boasting then ? It is excluded. By what law? of works? nay; but by the Law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the Law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is He not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also seeing it is one God which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith ? God forbid - yea, we establish the Law."

THE term law may often be taken in a more general acceptation, than that of an authoritative rule for the observation of those who are subject to it. It may signify the method of succession, by which one event follows another - either in the moral or in the physical world; and it is thus that we speak of a law of nature, or a law of the human mind, thereby denoting the train or order of certain consecutive facts, which maintain an unvarying dependence among themselves. Both the law of works, and the law of faith, though the judicial character of God is strongly evinced in the establishment of them, may be understood here in this latter sense which we have just now explained. The law of works, is that law by which the event of a man's justification, follows upon the event of his having performed these works. The law of faith is that law, by which the event of a man's justification follows, upon the event of his conceiving faith - just as the law of gravitation is that law upon which every body above the surface of the earth, when its support is taken away, will fall toward its centre and as the law of refraction is that, upon which every ray of light, when it passes obliquely from air into water, is bent from the direction which it had formerly.

Ver. 29. It is good, for the purpose of keeping up in your mind the concatenation that obtains between one part of the epistle and the other, to mark every recurrence of similar terms which takes place in the prosecution of its argument. He had in the second chapter, made a pointed address to the Jew - who rested in the law, and made his boast of God. He now excludes his boasting; and in doing so reduces the Jew and the Gentile to the same condition of relationship with God.

Ver. 80. The term "one" may either be taken numerically, or refers to the unity and unchangeableness of God's purpose. By a preceding verse, the works of the law are set aside in the matter of our justification. And it comes in as an appropriate question - Is the law made void through this? What would have been consequent upon obedience to the law, is now made consequent upon faith; and does this nullify the law? No, it will be found that it serves to establish the law, securing all the honour which is due to the Lawgiver; perpetuating the obligation and authority of the law itself; and introducing into the heart of the believer such new principles of operation, as to work conformity between the law of God and the life of man, a conformity that is ever making progress here and will at length be perfected hereafter.

The passage now expounded scarcely requires any paraphrastic elucidation at all - yet agreeable to our practice we shall still offer one.

"Where is boasting then? It is excluded. In what method? By the method of justification through works? No, it is by the method of justification through faith. But if works had any part in our justification there would still be room for boasting - and we must therefore conclude since boasting is done away that they have no part at all - and that man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is He only the God of the Jews Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also - seeing that He the same God dispenses justification to both in the same way, that is, justifying the circumcision by faith and also the uncircumcision by faith. Do we then make the law void through faith? By no means. We rather establish the law."

We now proceed as usual to press upon you, any such lessons as may be extracted from the passage of the day.
And first you know it to be a frequent evasion, on the part of those who dislike the utter excluding of works from that righteousness which justifies a sinner before God, that they hold the affirmation of Paul upon the subject to be of the ceremonial and not of the moral law. They are willing enough to discard obedience to the former, but not obedience to the latter, as having any efficacy in justification. And they will further acknowledge, that they have a much higher esteem for the latter than for the former; that they think greatly better of the man who has the rectitutlcs of morality to signalize his character, than of the man who has only the ritual observations of a punctual and prescribed ceremonial to signalize his character; that all rites, be they Jewish or Christian, have a greatly inferior place in their estimation, to the virtues of social life, or to the affections of an inward and enlightened piety - insomuch that should there stand before them an individual of fidelity incorruptible, and of honour fearless and unspotted, and of humanity ever breathing the desires of kintlness and ever busying itself with deeds of kindness in behalf of our species, and of patriotism linking all its energies with the good of his native land, and of gentleness shedding its mild and pleasing lustre over the walks of private companionship, and of affection kindling its still more intense and exquisite charm in the bosom of his home - why there would not be one moment's hesitation with them, whether the homage of their reverential and regardful feelings, were more due to such an individual, even though a stranger to the puritanical rigours of the sabbath and of the sacrament; or to him, who, trenched in the outward regularities of worship and of ordinance, had less of the graces and less of the honesties of character to adorn him - and you can well anticipate their reply to the question, Which of the two had the more to boast of - the man of social worth or the man of saintly exterior?

We are far from disputing the justness of their preference for the former of these two men ; but we would direct them to the use that they should make of this preference - when turning to its rightful and consistent application tthe statement of our apostle, that from the affair of our justification all boasting is excluded. We ask them upon a reference to their own principles and feelings, whether this assertion of the inspired teacher points more to the exclusion of the moral or of the ceremonial law? Is it not the fair and direct answer that it points the more, to that of which men are inclined to boast the more? To set aside the law of works in the matter of our justification is not to exclude boasting at all - if it be only those works that are excluded, which beget no reverence when done by others, and no complacency when done by themselves.

The exclusion of boasting might appear to the mind of an old Pharisee, as that which went to sweep away the whole ceremonial in which he gloried. But for the very same reason should it appear to the mind of him who is a tasteful admirer of virtue, to sweep away the moral accomplishments in which he glories. To him, in fact, the ceremonial law, in which he has no disposition to boast whatever, is not so touched by the affirmation of the apostle, as the moral law on which alone he would ground a boastful superiority of himself over others. The thing which is shut out here from the office of justification, is that thing which excites boasting in man. Carry this verse to the Jew who vaunted himself that he gave tithes and fasted twice in the week ; and these are the observances, which, as to any power of justifying, are here done away. Carry this verse to the man who stands exalted over his fellows, either by the integrities which direct or by the kind humanities which adorn him; and these are the virtues, which as to their power of justifying, are just as conclusively done away. Whatever you are most disposed to boast of; it is that upon which the sentence of expulsion most pointedly and most decisively falls; and the ground of a Pharisee's dependence on his conformities to the ceremonial law, is not more expressly cast away by this passage - than is the ground of his dependence, who, in our own more refined and cultivated age, would place his dependence before God on those moralities, which to him are the objects of a far more enlightened admiration, and of a far juster and truer complacency.

It is thus, that the towering pretensions, even of the most moral and enlightened of our sages in modern days, may be utterly overthrown. If there was then a greater tendency to boast of ceremonial observations, then was the righteousness of the ceremonial law most severely struck at by the apostle, as having no place in our justification. But if there be now a greater tendency to boast of moral observations, now is the righteousness of the moral law most pointedly the object of his attack, as out of propriety and of place in the matter of our justification. In a word, this verse has the same power and force of conclusion still, that it had then. It then reduced the boastful Jew to the same ground of nothingness before God, with the Gentile whom he despised. And it now reduces the eloquent expounder of human virtue to the same ground, with that drivelling slave of rites and punctuahities whom he so tastefully, and from the throne of his mental superiority, so thoroughly despises - shutting in fact every mouth, and making the righteousness of all before God, not a claim to be challenged, but a gift to be humbly and thankfully accepted of from His hands.

This is far from the only passage, however, which excludes the moral as well as the ceremonial law from any standing in the province of our justification. In many places it is said, that our justification is not of works in the general, and without any addition of the term law at all, to raise the question whether it be the moral or ceremonial law that is intended. And in the preceding part of the epistle, they arc moral violations which are chiefly instanced, for the purpose of making it out, that by the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified. In the theft and adultery and sacrilege of the second chapter, and in the impiety and deceit and slander and cruelty of the third, we see that it was the moral law, and the offence of a guilty world against it, which the apostle chiefly had in his eye; and when, as the end of all this demonstration, he comes to the conclusion of the world's guilt - why should we restrict the apostle, as if he only meant to exclude the ceremonial law from the office of justifying? When he says that by the law is the knowledge of sin, is it the ceremonial law only that is intended - when in fact they were moral sins that he had all along been specifying? Or is it the sole purpose of the apostle, to humble those who made their boast of the ceremonial law - when he instances how the law administered to himself the conviction of his sinfulness, by fastening upon the tenth commandment, and telling us that he had not been criminal, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet? What do you make of the passage where it is said, that we are saved - not by works of righteousness, which we have done? Does not this include all doings, be they of a moral or be they of a ceremonial character? And in the verses which immediately precede this quotation from Titus, whether think you was the moral or the ceremonial law most in the apostle's head - when, in alleging the worthlessness of all the previous doings of his own converts, he charged them with serving divers lusts and pleasures, and with living in malice and envy - hateful and hating one another? His distinction between the moral and ceremonial, is, in fact, a mere device, for warding off a doctrine, by which alienated nature feels herself to be pained and humbled and revolted, in all ages of the world. It is an opiate, by which she would fain regale the lingering sense that she so fondly retains of her own sufficiency. It is laying hold of a twig, by which she may bear herself up, in her own favourite attitude of independence upon God; and gladly would she secure the reservation of some merit to herself, and of some contributions out of her own treasury, to the achievement of her own justification.

But this is a propensity, to which the apostle grants no quarter, and no indulgence whatever. Whenever it appears, he is sure to appear in unsparing hostility against it; and never will your mind and the mind of the inspired teacher be at one, till, reduced to a sense of your own nothingness, and leaning your whole weight on the sutliciency of another - you receive justification as wholly of grace, and feel on this ground that every plea of boasting is overthrown.
We may here notice another shift, by which nature tries to ease herself of a conclusion so mortifying. She will at times allow justification to be of faith wholly; but then she will make a virtue of her faith. All the glorying that she would have associated with her obedience to the law, she would now transfer to her acquiescence rn the gospel. The docility, and the attention, and the love of truth, and the preference of light to that darkness which they only choose whose deeds are evil - these confer, in her fond estimation, a merit upon believing; and here therefore would she make a last and a desperate stand, for the credit of a share in her own salvation.

If the verse under consideration be true, there must be an error in this imagination also. It leaves the sinner nothing to boast of at all; and should he continue to associate any glorying with his faith, then is he turning this faith to a purpose directly the reverse of that which the apostle intends by it.
There is no glory, you will allow, to yourself, in seeing with your eyes open that sun which stands visibly before you - whatever glory may accrue to Him, who arrayed this luminary in his brightness; and endowed you with that wondrous mechanism, which conveys the perception of it. There is no part of the glory of a gift, ascribed to the mendicant, who simply look to it - whatever praise of generosity may be rendered to Him who is the giver; or still more to Him who hath conferred upon the hand its moving power, and upon the eye its seeing faculty. And even though the beggar should be told to wait another day, and then to walk to some place of assignation, and there to obtain the princely donation that was at length to elevate his family to a state of independence - in awarding the renown that was due upon such a transaction, would it not be the munificence of the dispenser that was held to be all in all; and who would ever think of lavishing one fraction of acknowledgment, either upon the patience, or upon the exertion, or upon the faith of him who was the subject of all this liberality?
And be assured that in every way, there is just as little to boast of on the part of him, who sees the truth of the gospel, or who labours to come within sight of it, or who relies on its promises after he perceives them to be true. His faith, which has been aptly termed the hand of the mind, may apprehend the offered gift and may appropriate it; but there is just as little of moral praise to be rendered on that account, as to the beggar for laying hold of the offered alms. it is with the man whom the gospel has relieved of his debt, as it is with the man whom the gold of a generous benefactor has relieved of his. There is nothing in the shape of glory that is due at all to the receiver; and nothing could ever have conjured imp such an imagination, but the delusive feeling that cleaves to nature of her own sufficiency. There is not one particle of honour due to the sinner in this affair; and all the blessing and honour and glory of it must be rendered Him, who, in the face of his manifold provocations, and when He might have illustrated both the power of His anger and the triumphs of his justice, gave way to the movements of a compassion that is infinite; and had with wisdom unsearchable, to find out a channel of conveyance - by which, in consistency with the glory of such attribute and with the principle of such a government as are unchangeable, He might call His strayed children back again to the arms of an offered reconciliation, and lavish on all who come the gift of a free pardon in time and a full perfection of happiness through eternity.

And to cut away all pretensions to glorying on the score of faith - the faith itself is a gift. The gospel is like an offer made to one who has a withered hand; and power must go forth with the offer ere the hand can be extended to take hold of it. The capacity of simply laying hold of the covenant of peace, is as much a grant, as is the covenant itself. The helpless and the weary sinner, who has looked so fruitlessly after the faith which is unto salvation, knows that the faculty of seeing with his mind, is just as necessary to him, as is the truth itself which is addressed to it. He knows that it is not enough for God to present him with an object; but He must also awaken his eye to the perception of it. And let him who wants the faith cavil as he may, in the vain imagination of a sufficiency that he would still reserve for man in the matter of his redemption - certain it is, that he who has the faith, sees the hand of God both in conferring it at the first, and in keeping it up afterwards - And, thankful both for the splendour of his hopes, and for the faculty of seeing it, his is an unmixed sentiment of humility and gratitude to the Being, who has called him out of darkness into the marvellous light of the gospel.
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