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THE LAW OF LIBERTY. Jam. ii. 12. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be
judged by the law of liberty. THE law of works contained in the Ten Commandments is continued in force under the Gospel dispensation, as a rule of life. This appears from the frequent reference which is made to it in the New Testament in this particular view. St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, when inculcating the duty of love, says, “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law .. .. for love is the fulfilling of the lawa.” In like manner St. James, condemning an undue respect of persons which had obtained to a great extent in the Christian Church, says, “ If ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the lare as transgressors b.” The difference which exists between the Law and the Gospel, is not that the Gospel dispenses with any thing which the law had enjoined, but that it requires the same things in a different manner; the law inculcating them as the means of obtaining life; the Gospel requiring them as the means of honouring God, and of manifesting that life which God has already imparted to the soul. The law in its requirements begets a spirit of bondage : but the Gospel, whilst its requirements are the same, operates as “a law of liberty;" inspiring us with motives of a more ingenuous kind, and at the same time imparting to the believer such powerful assistance as renders obedience easy and delightful. Hence the Apostle, shewing that the conduct which he was reproving was condemned by the Gospel no less than by the law, (for the Gospel itself declares, that “he shall have judgment without mercy, who has shewn no mercy",") entreats the whole Christian Church
a Rom. xiii. 8—10. O ver. 9. c ver, 13.
“so to speak, and so to act, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.”
Now in these words we see,
It is a law, and has all the force of a law, and must be obeyed on pain of God's heavy displeasure; but it is “a law of liberty:" and this it is, 1. As freeing men from the guilt of sin
[The Gospel proclaims, to all who receive it, pardon and peace. It holds forth a Saviour, who has bought us with his blood, and by the sacrifice of himself has effected our reconciliation with the offended Majesty of heaven. It declares, that " by receiving that Saviour," however guilty we may have been in times past, “ we shall have the privilege of becoming the sons of God." --- In this it differs widely from the law: the law knew nothing of pardon : it simply said, “ Do this, and live:” and if in one single instance it was violated, all hopes of acceptance by it were destroyed for ever. A certain kind of forgiveness indeed was obtained by the offering of certain sacrifices : but it was only such a measure of it as exempted the person from present punishment, but could never procure acceptance for him in the eternal world; and hence, as “it could never really take away sins," it could " never make any man perfect as pertaining to the conscience." Moreover, there were some sins for which no sacrifice whatever could be received. But the Gospel offers a full and everlasting remission from all sins, and declares, that “all who believe, are justified from all things, even from those from which they could never even in appearance) be justified by the law of Moses 8.” Thus by announcing to the whole world, that " there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus“," the Gospel may justly be called “ A law of liberty."] 2. As freeing men from the power of sin
[The promise which the Gospel makes to all who truly receive it, is this; “ Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace." And, whilst it gives this assurance to its votaries, it imparts to them the power of carrying it into effect. The person who is united unto Christ by faith, is like a scion, which when engrafted into a
d John i. 12.
Compare ver. 10. with Gal. iii. 10. f Heb. ix. 9. and x. 1-4.
& Acts xiii. 39. h Rom. viii. 1.
i Rom. vi. 14.
tree, lives by virtue derived from the tree, and is enabled from that time to bring forth its appropriate fruits. Our Lord in this view says, “I am the vine; ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me, or separate from me, ye can do nothingk." In this again the Gospel differs widely from the law : for, whilst the law issued its commands, it imparted no power to obey them: but the Gospel conveys to the soul of the believer such a measure of strength, as enables it to mortify sin, and to abound in all the fruits of righteousness to the praise and glory of God. This is what St. Paul expressly tells us : “ The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, that is, the Gospel, (which St. James in nearly similar terms calls the law of liberty,) hath made me free from the law of sin and death : 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, (hath done; that is, he hath) 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?."
I may add, that the Gospel gives us a more liberal spirit, in that it does not force us to do what is hateful to us, but disposes us willingly to take upon us the yoke of Christ, and renders “ his yoke easy, and his burthen light.” The current of a believer's affections is changed by itm; so that, though he still feels the workings of corruption strong within him, he “ delights in the law of God after his inward man”,” and “ has his conversation in heaven,” as the unbeliever has on earth.
Thus does " the law of faith p" “ make men free 9;" and “ the liberty which they receive from Christ renders them free indeed"."]
The Apostle, in calling men's attention to the law of liberty, marks, II. Our duty in relation to it
If we have been made free by the Gospel, we are bound to regard it,
1. As our rule of conduct here
[The substance of all its commands is comprehended in one word, Love. As he that loveth fulfils the law, so he that loveth fulfils the Gospel also; as St. Paul has said ; “ Bear ye one another's burthens, and so fulfil the law of Christs." But here we must particularly observe, that our obedience to this law is not restricted to overt acts : our whole spirit must accord with it, and be moulded by it. If we notice the particular conduct which the Apostle reproves, we shall find, that it was not such as would have brought down censure from the world at large: it would rather have been commended as a respect due to the higher orders of society. But, when strictly examined, it was contrary to the principle of love: and that was quite sufficient to render it an object of severest reprobation. The doing as we would be done unto, forms the proper standard for our conduct towards all mankind : and if, either in word or deed, we deviate from that, we transgress that holy law which we are bound to obey. How far this heavenly principle extends, may be seen in the description given of it by St. Paul : and, if we do not in the constant habit of our minds endeavour to attain it, we may believe what we will, and do what we will, and suffer what we may, but, after all, we shall be only “ as sounding brass, and as tinkling cymbalst.] 2. As God's rule of judgment hereafter
k John xv. 1, 5.
i Rom. viii. 2-4.
m Col. iii. 2.
[By this law we shall be judged in the last day. It is remarkable, that in the account which our Lord gives us of the final judgment, there is no mention made of any actual transgression as determining the fate of the ungodly: their performance of the offices of love is the only subject of inquiry; and their neglect of them is the only ground that is specified for their eternal condemnation". Of course, I must not be understood to say, that this will really be the only subject of inquiry, or the only ground of a sinner's condemnation; for no doubt the whole of men's lives will be taken into the account in fixing their eternal destiny: but it is the only thing mentioned by our Lord in his account of that day: and this is sufficient to shew us the vast importance of keeping it ever in our view. We must attend to it no less in our words, than in our actions ; and “so speak, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty."]
That we may bring home this subject more powerfully to your hearts, we would entreat you to bear in mind the main points contained in it: REMEMBER1. The true nature of the Gospel
[Men universally conceive of the Gospel as a system of restraints : and when we call upon them to obey the Gospel, they consider us as attempting to abridge their liberty. But the very reverse of this is true. We find men slaves to the
very reverse of attempting tontthem to obey in system
now, as there count the service But this
world, and sin, and Satan; and we come to break their chains, and to set them at liberty. Our blessed Lord proclaimed this as the great object of his mission, “ to preach deliverance to the captives, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord *." There are now, as there were in the Jewish state, many who love their bonds, and account the service of their master preferable to the liberty that is proclaimed. But this does not at all change the nature of the Gospel, which is altogether “ a law of liberty" to all who truly embrace it. Do not then imagine, that, when we would induce you to renounce all the lords that have had dominion over you, we would bring you into bondage, or deprive you of any thing that will conduce to your real happiness. We make our appeal to yourselves, and ask, Whether what you have hitherto considered as liberty, has not been in reality the sorest bondage ? We ask, Whether sin has not kept you from the love and service of God, and bound you as with adamantine chains to the objects of time and sense? We ask, Whether in proportion as you were brought to the employment and felicity of the heavenly hosts, you would not attain to perfect freedom? To all then we say, Believe in Christ, and give yourselves up to him, and ye shall then“ be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God y."] 2. Its proper tendency
[Strange as the inconsistency is, the very persons who will exclaim against the Gospel as making the way to heaven so strait that nobody can walk in it, will cry out against it also as a licentious doctrine, and will represent the preachers of it as saying, that men may live as they please, provided only they believe. But the Gospel is “ a doctrine according to godliness;" and the very " grace of God which bringeth salvation, teaches men to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live righteously, soberly, and godly in this present world.” The Gospel, it is true, is “a law of liberty;" but not of liberty to live in sin: it is a liberty from sin ; and a liberty in the ways of God. Instead of superseding morality, it raises the tone of morals to the highest possible pitch, requiring us to “ walk in all things as Christ walked," and to “ purify ourselves even as he is pure." And, whilst it sets up this high standard for our attainment, it sets up the same for our trial in the last day; and requires us so to speak and so to do, as they that shall be tried and judged by it. Know therefore, that notwithstanding the Gospel is as free for all as the light we see and the air we breathe, its proper tendency is to assimilate us to God, whose name and nature is LOVE?.]
* Luke iv. 18, 19. y Rom. viii. 21. z 1 John iv. 8, 16.