ROMANS, viii, 3, 4.
"For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."

We have already explained the distinction between a physical law, whereby is established that order of succession, in which one event follows another; and a juridical law, or a law of authority, for the government of rational and responsible creatures. In the verse immediately preceding, the word occurs twice ; but at each time with such an annexed specification, as points to the former rather than to the latter meaning of the term. There is first the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, which marks, we think, that established order in the Divine administration of grace, whereby, all who are in Christ Jesus have a reviving and a sanctifying influence put forth upon them. There is then the law of sin and of death, which marks another of those constant successions, that obtain either between two events, or two states in the history of any individual - even that by which sin is followed up with an extinction of the spiritual life, with an utter incapacity for sacred employments or sacred delights; and when superadded to the negation of all those sensibilities that enter into the happiness of heaven, you have as the natural consequences of sin, the agony of self-reproach, the underlying worm of a conscience that never ceases to haunt and to upbraid you.

But you will observe that the term law in the verse before us, is used generally and without any accompaniments. We are not aware of any passage in the Bible, where, if so introduced, it does not signify that law which God hath instituted for the moral government of His creatures ; and there can be no doubt, that it is to be understood in this juridical sense on the present occasion. "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." But what is it that the law could not do? The answer to this is, we think, to be gathered from the next verse. It could not accomplish that end for the bringing about of which, God sent His Son into the world, and executed upon Him the condemnation that we had incurred; and this He did, it is said, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us.

This then is what the law failed to achieve. It could not fulfil in us its own righteousness. It could not cause us to exemplify that which itself had enacted. It could not fashion us, the children of men, according to its own pure and beautiful model; and, all perfect in excellence as its light was, it could not obtain the unsullied reflexion of it, from the living history of any of our species. As to any efficiency upon us, it was a dead letter; and did as little for the morality of the world, as if struck with impotency itself, it had been bereft of all dignity and been reduced to a dishonoured thing, without the means or the right of vindication. The law issued forth, and with much of circumstance too, its precepts and its promulgations. But it is quite palpable that man did not obey; and, whether we look to the wickedness which stalketh abroad and at large over the face of the earth, or rest the question on each individual who breathes upon it - that the righteousness thereof instead of being fulfilled, has been utterly and universally fallen from.

But the apostle introduces a caution here, that he might not appear to derogate from the law, by ascribing to it any proper or inherent impotency. And, for this purpose, he lets us know, what the precise quarter was in which the failure originated - not then that the law was weak in itself, but in that it was weak through the flesh. To the law, there belong a native power and efficiency, in all its lessons and all its enforcements, which is admirably fitted to work out a righteousness on the character of those to whom it is addrest. For this purpose, there is no want of force or of fitness in the agent but there may be a want of fitness in the subject upon which it operates. it is no reflection on the penmanship of a beautiful writer, that he can give no adequate specimen of his art, on the coarse or absorbent paper, which will take on no fair impression of the character that he traces upon its surface. Nor is it any reflection on the power of an accomplished artist, that he can raise no monument thereof, from the stone which crumbles at every touch, and so is incapable of being moulded into the exquisite form of his own faultless and finished idea.

And so of the law, when it attempts to realize a portrait of moral excellence on the groundwork of our nature. It is because of the groundwork, and not of the law, that the attempt has failed; and so when he tells us of what the law could not do, lest we should be left to imagine that this was from any want of force or capacity in the law, he adds in that it was weak through the flesh.

And it is to be observed, that the fulfilment of the righteousness of the law in us, was a thing to be desired - not merely that in us a beauteous moral spectacle might be reared, and so the universe become richer as it were than before in worth and in virtue; but that our righteousness should be of such a kind as would satisfy the law, as would render to the law its due, as would secure all the homage that rightfully belongs to it. This you will perceive is a distinct object from the former. That the law should impress the worth and the loveliness of its own virtues upon our character, is one thing. That the law should in us achieve the vindication of its own honour, is another. It could not do the first, through the weakness of the flesh. And as little can it do the second, excepting in those on whom it wreaks the vengeance of its insulted authority. It may be said to fulfil its own righteousness, in those to whom it serves as the ministry of condemnation. It, in the act of punishment, gives full proof of its own awful and inviolable majesty. It is a work of righteousness on the part of the law, when it pours forth the wrath, and executes the penalty that are due to disobedience.

There is then open demonstration made, of its strict and sacred character; and the charge of impotency cannot be preferred against the law, as to the manifestation and fulfilment of its righteousness. It does not work in the persons of the impenitent, the virtues which it enjoins, nor fulfil in this sense its own righteousness upon them. But it wreaks upon these persons the vengeance which it threatens; and in this sense, may be said to make fulfilment of its righteousness. In the persons again of those who walk after the Spirit, the virtues enjoined by the law are effectually wrought; but how, would we ask, can the law, in reference to them, acquit itself of its juridical honours? - for they too have offended. The experience of every struggling Christian in the world, bears testimony to his many violations. There is, all his life long, a shortcoming from the law’s strictness and the law’s purity. There is a constant offence rendered by us in these vile bodies, against that commandment which will admit of no compromise, and suffer no degradation.

So that even though the personal workmanship of righteousness should be in progress - though the moral picture should be gradually brightening, into a faultless conformity to that pattern that hath been shown to us from the mount - though at length our likeness to the law should be consummated - Yet is that very law subject even now to perpetual affronts from us, on its holiness and majesty; and the question remains, how, in these circumstances, shall its righteousness be vindicated upon us - even though we do walk after the Spirit, and do not walk after the flesh! You all understand, I trust, how it is that the gospel adjusts this deficiency. It is stated in the verse before us; and though stated often, it is like ointment, which, though often poured forth, is always the same and always precious. There was something more, you will perceive, than a Spirit necessary to work in us a personal righteousness - a sacrifice was necessary to make atonement for our personal guilt. Though the former operation were to prosper onward every day, to its full and final accomplishment - yet, without the latter provision, there would have been still the spectacle held forth of a degraded law and a dishonoured lawgiver. The righteousness of the law might have been fulfilled, in regard to the impress made by it on the character of man; but it would not have been fulfilled, in regard to the perfect and undeviating adherence due by man at all times to its own authority.

And so, to use the expression of the apostle John, the Saviour came not by water only, but by water and blood. It was not enough to regenerate, it was also necessary to atone. Without the shedding forth of the Spirit there would have been no righteousness infused: But without the shedding of blood there could have been no righteousness imputed. There behoved to be the one, for the renewal of man unto obedience; and there behoved to be the other, for the remission of his sins: And those are the weightiest verses of the Bible, where, in one short and memorable sentence, both are propounded to us, as the essentials of a sinner’s restoration.

Now the passage before us, is one out of many exemplificatious, that may be given us of this twofold announcement. It might be rendered clearer to you, perhaps, by a short paraphrase. ‘For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God did, by sending His own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for a sin-offering - so as thereby to condemn sin in the flesh. And this he did, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.’ You will observe here, that the first step, was to make ample reparation for the injuries sustained by the law; and so by satisfying its rights, making a full vindication of its righteousness. Ere the sinner could be operated upon so as to be transformed, the law which he had broken, it would appear, behoved to have compensation for the outrage done to it. There was a need be that the threatened penalty should not be arrested, but have its course - that it should break forth into the open and manifest discharge, which might announce to the world both the evil of sin, and the truth and justice of that God who had uttered His proclamations against it: And there seems to be a further, though perhaps to us an inscrutable propriety, in the chastisement of our peace having been borne by one, who bore our nature - in the Son having been sent, under no other likeness then the likeness of sinful flesh - in humanity having had to suffer the vengeance which humanity incurred. And though it required the strength of the Godhead to bear the burden of our world’s atonement - yet seemeth there to have been, in order to the effect of this great mystery, some deep necessity that we cannot fully penetrate, why it should be laid on God manifest in the flesh, and who took not upon Him the nature of angels, but the nature of the seed of Abraham.

And so the incarnate God suffered for our world. For this purpose, did He become flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone. There were laid upon Him the iniquities of us all; and from the intelligible symptoms of a sore and cruel agony, that even the divine energies of His nature did not overbear, may we conclude that the ransom has been fully paid - and so the worth and authority of the law have been fully magnified. And this, it would appear, is an essential step to our sanctification. There behoved to be this satisfaction rendered to the law, ere they who had transgressed it could be turned to its love and its willing obedience. That law which was written on tables of stone, had to be appeased for its violated honour, ere it was transferred into the fleshly tablets of our heart, and became there the spontaneous and emanating principle of all goodness. The blood of remission had to be shed, ere the water of regeneration could be poured forth; and so the Son of God came in the likeness of sinful flesh, and became a sin-offering, and sustained the whole weight of sin’s condemnation - And, after ascending from the grave, bad that Holy Ghost committed unto Him, who was not given in abundance to men till the Son of man was glorified - and it is under the power of this mighty agent, that all who put their trust in Him, areenabled to walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.

Thus historically, the atonement by Jesus Christ took place, before that more abundant ministration of the Spirit, which obtains under the economy of gospel - And so also personally, a belief in that atonement has the precedency to a sanctifying operation over the sinner’s heart. Not till we accept Jesus Christ as the Lord our righteousness, shall we experience Him to be the Lord our strength. Not till we put faith in that blood by which our guilt is washed away, shall we be free to love the Being whom before we were afraid of. Nor till pardon is made known, shall we be loosened from the bonds of despair, or at least of callous indifference - And it is only through a pardon which is sealed by the blood of divine expiation, that to peace with God we can add a practical and purifying sense of the holiness of God. It is thus that a belief in the propitiation, is as sure to regenerate as it is to reconcile; and the knowledge that Christ was condemned in the flesh for our offences, is that which gives impulse to that heavenly career, in which we walk no longer after the flesh but after the Spirit.

We read in one epistle of the ministration of condemnation and the ministration of righteousness. The former is that which takes place under the law, when its denunciations have their course; and, as all are guilty, all are liable to the tremendous penalties of guilt. The apostle says of this ministration, that it is glorious; and glorious certainly in the exhibition which it gives of the Godhead of that sacredness which admits of no stain, and would recoil from the most distant approaches of evil - of that pure and lofty throne, whence every award comes forth with authority inflexible - of that rectitude which will not hold compromise with iniquity at all, and, Eather than suffer it to draw near, will send out flames from the awful sanctuary of its habitation to burn up and to destory it - of that jealousy, which, like a consuming fire, spreadeth abroad among the hosts of the rebellious, so that not one shall remain a monument of God’s connivance at that which He utterly abhors - of a dread intolerance for moral evil, even in the slightest shades and degrees of it, so that, rather than deign one look of acceptance to sin, every sinner must irrevocably perish.

In all this, says the apostle, there is a glory - yet there is another ministration, even one of righteousness, which excelleth in glory, it is that which takes place under the gospel; and under which all the former glory is kept entire, nay enhanced into a brighter manifestation. For there too, is the Law made honourable; and there the Lawgiver is evinced to be inflexibly just, and jealous of the authority of His government; and there the sacredness of Heaven’s jurisprudence is made to shine forth, if not in the punishment of sin, at least in the atonement which has been made for it; and there the vengeance due to guilt appeareth more strikingly than before, by its transference from the head of the sinner to the head of the illustrious Substitute, who trembled and suffered and died in his stead.
The glories of truth and of holiness are more highly illustrated under our new economy than under the old one, and with this additional glory which is all its own - that there mercy sits in benignant triumph among the now vindicated attributes of the Godhead; and sinners, who else would have been swept away into an eternity of pain and of deep oblivion, are transformed anew into the righteousness which they had ‘lost, have their place again in the family of God - a part among the hallelujahs of the unfallen.

Let me conclude with two practical observations. In the first place see, how, in order that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, it is not enough that we walk as spiritual men. The more spiritual in fact that you are, the greater will your sensibility be to the remaining deficiencies of your heart and temper and conversation - the more oppressive will be your consciousness of the weight of your still unquelled carnality - the more affecting will be your remembrance, every evening, of the slips and the shortcomings of the day that hath past over you - So that if you only had to do with the law, and if its righteousness were the condition of your acceptance with God - you, though making daily progress even unto perfection, would, by every new addition to your spiritual tenderness, be only aggravating your despair. There behoved to be a daily remembrance of sin; and this, if unmixed with faith in the great propitiation, would leave you heartless and hopeless as to all the purposes of obedience.

So that to the last half-hour even of a most triumphant course in sanctification, you must never lose sight of Him on whom has been laid the condemnation of all your offences - the confessionsthat you make, (and you will have to make them perpetually) must be over the head of the great Sacrifice - you must still keep by your great High Priest, as the anchor of your soul; and never for a moment transfer your dependence from Him to your own righteousness - you must look for all your acceptance only in the Beloved; and count for your justification before God, on nothing else than on Jesus Christ and on Him crucified. Now, this comes to be a mystery, which the world can never be made to understand by explanation; and which it is only for a Christian to realize in his own experience. There are constant alternations of sin and of sorrow, in the history of every believer; and the guilt of the daily transgression is actually washed away, in this case, by the evening acknowledgment - the act of confession on his part, being in very deed followed up by an act of forgiveness on the part of God. "For if any man confess his sins, God is faithful and just to forgive him his sins." And then the singularity is, (yet if you have no part in that singularity you are no Christian) it is, that, under this process of daily offending, and daily application to that blood by which it is again obliterated, there should, on the part of the disciple, be so fearful an avoidance of evil - such a dread of sin, and so grievous a discomfort when he falls into it - as honest an aspiring after his own personal righteousness, as if it formed the price of his salvation and, withal, the same busy performance of duty that behoved to take place, had the old economy of the law been again set up, and heaven to be challenged upon the merits of our own obedience.

Yes, my brethren, it is the wondrous property of the gospel, that, while it speaks peace to the sinner, it charms the power of sin away from his heart - inducing him to love the law, at the very time that it holds out an impunity for all its violations; and, with the soft whispers of reconciliation that it sends into the offender’s ear, sending along with it a moral suasion into his heart, that gains it over to the side of all the commandments. And hence my second remark is, that, however zealously the righteousness of Christ must be contended for as the alone plea of a sinner’s acceptance, yet that the benefit thereof rests upon none save those, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.

Light where it may, it must carry a sanctifying power along with it; and you have no part nor lot in the matter, if you are not pressing onward in grace and in all godliness. It is not enough, that upon Christ all its honours have been amply vindicated - upon you who believe in Christ all its virtues must be engraven; and it is thus, and thus alone, that there is brought about a complete and a satisfying fulfilment of its righteousness. The law is not made void by faith, but by faith it is established; and while, on the one hand, all the outrage done to it when written on tables of stone, has been repaired by the noblest of satisfactions - on the other hand, does it come forth again in all the brightness of a new and a living lustre, by its being now written on the fleshly tablets of our heart. The handwriting of ordinances that was against us, and contrary to us, has been taken out of the way, having been nailed to the cross of Christ; but the hand of Jesus Christ as the Lord their Sanctifier is ever on the persons of those who believe in Him - beautifying them with His salvation, and spreading over their characters all the graces of holiness.
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