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The soul that sinneth shall die.' Cursed is he that continueth not in all things in the book of the law to do them ;' Deut. xxvii. 26. Hence the apostle pronounceth universally without exception, that they 'who are under the law, are under the curse;' Gal. iii. 10. And, saith he, ver. 12. •The law is not of faith.' There is an inconsistency between the law, and believing; they cannot have their abode in power. together. Do this and live;' fail and die: is the constant, immutable voice of the law. This it speaks in general to all; and this in particular to every one.
2. The sinner seems to have manifold and weighty reasons to attend to the voice of this law, and to acquiesce in its sentence. For,
1. The law is connatural to him; his domestic, his old acquaintance. It came into the world with him, and hath grown up with him from his infancy. It was implanted in his heart by nature; is his own reason; he can never shake it off or part with it. It is his familiar, his friend, that cleaves to him as the flesh to the bone; so that they who have not the law written, cannot but shew forth the work of the law; Rom. ii. 14, 15, and that because the law itself is inbred to them; and all the faculties of the soul are at peace with it, in subjection to it. It is the bond and ligament of their union, harmony, and correspondency among themselves, in all their moral actings. It gives life, order, motion to them all. Now the gospel, that comes to control this sentence of the law, and to relieve the sinner from it, is foreign to his nature, a strange thing to him, a thing he hath no acquaintance or familiarity with; it hath not been bred up with him ; nor is there any thing in him, to side with it, to make a party for it, or to plead in its behalf. Now shall not a man rather believe a domestic, a friend, indeed himself; than a foreigner, a stranger, that comes with uncouth principles, and such as suit not its reason at all? 1 Cor. i. 18.
2. The law speaks nothing to a sinner, but what his conscience assures him to be true. There is a constant concurrence in the testimony of the law and conscience. When the law says, this or that is a sin, worthy of death, conscience says, it is even so; Rom. i. 42. And where the law of itself, as being a general rule, rests, conscience helps it on,
and says, this and that sin, so worthy of death, is the soul guilty of; then die, saith the law, as thou hast deserved. Now this must needs have a mighty efficacy to prevail with the soul to give credit to the report and testimony of the law; it speaks not one word but what he hath a witness within himself to the truth of it. These witnesses always agree; and so it seems to be established for a truth, that there is no forgiveness.
3. The law, though it speak against the soul's interest, yet it speaks nothing but what is so just, righteous, and equal, that it even forceth the soul's consent. So Paul tells us, that men know this voice of the law to be the judgment of God; Rom. i. 32. They know it, and cannot but consent unto it, that it is the judgment of God; that is, good, righteous, equal, not to be controlled. And indeed what can be more righteous than its sentence? It commands obedience to the God of life and death : promiseth a reward, and declares that for non-performance of duty, death will be inflicted. On these terms the sinner cometh into the world ; they are good, righteous, holy; the soul accepts of them, and knows not what it can desire better or more equal. This the apostle insists upon, Rom. vii. 12, 13. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Wạs then that which was good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me, by that which is good ; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.' Wherever the blame falls, the soul cannot but acquit the law, and confess that what it says, is righteous and uncontrollably equal. And it is meet things should be so. Now though the authority and credit of a witness may go very far in a doubtful matter; when there is a concurrence of more witnesses it strengthens the testimony; but nothing is so prevalent to beget belief, as when the things themselves that are spoken are just and good, not liable to any reasonable exception; and so is it in this case, unto the authority of the law, and concurrence of conscience, this also is added, the reasonableness and equity of the thing itself proposed, even in the judgment of the sinner; namely, that every sin shall be punished, and every transgression receive a meet recompense of reward. 4. But yet farther.
farther. What the law says, it speaks in the
name and authority of God. What it says, then, must be believed, or we make God a liar. It comes not in its own name, but in the name of him who appointed it. You will say then, is it so indeed ? Is there no forgiveness with God? For this is the constant voice of the law, which you say speaks in the name and authority of God, and is therefore to be believed. I answer briefly with the apostle; what the law speaks, it speaks to them that are under the law. It doth not speak to them that are in Christ, whom the ‘law of the Spirit of life, hath set free from the law of sin and death;' but to them that are under the law it speaks, and it speaks the very truth; and it speaks in the name of God, and its testimony is to be received. It says there is no forgiveness in God, namely, to them that are under the law; and they that shall flatter themselves with a contrary persuasion, will find themselves wofully mistaken at the great day.
On these and the like considerations, I say, there seems to be a great deal of reason, why a soul should conclude that it will be according to the testimony of the law; and that he shall not find forgiveness. Law and conscience close together, and insinuate themselves into the thoughts, mind, and judgment of a sinner. They strengthen the testimony of one another, and greatly prevail. If any are otherwise minded, I leave them to the trial. If ever God awaken their consciences to a thorough performance of their duty; if ever he open their souls, and let in the light and power of the law upon them, they will find it no small work to grapple with them. I am sure that eventually they prevail so far, that in the preaching of the gospel, we have great cause to say, ' Lord, who hath believed our report?' we come with our report of forgiveness, but who believes it? by whom is it received ? neither doth the light, nor conscience, nor conversation of the most, allow us to suppose it is embraced.
Thirdly, The ingrafted notions that are in the minds of men, concerning the nature and justice of God, lie against this discovery also. There are in all men by nature indelible characters of the holiness and purity of God; of his justice and hatred of sin, of his invariable righteousness in the government of the world, that they can neither depose nor lay aside. For notions of God, whatever they are, will bear sway and rule in the heart, when things are put to the trial.
They were in the heathens of old; they abode with them in all their darkness; as might be manifested by innumerable instances. But so it is in all men by nature; their inward thought is, that God is an avenger of sin; that it belongs to his rule and government of the world, his holiness and righteousness, to take care that every sin be punished; this is his judgment, which all men know, as was observed before; Rom. i. 32. They know that it is a righteous thing with God to render tribulation unto sinners. From thence is that dread and fear which surpriseth men at an apprehension of the presence of God; or of any thing under him, abové them, that may seem to come on his errand. This notion of God's avenging all sin, exerts itself secretly, but effectually. So Adam trembled, and hid himself. And it was the saying of old, 'I have seen God, and shall die.' When men are under any dreadful providence; thunderings, lightnings, tempests, in darkness, they tremble, not so much at what they see, or hear, or feel, as from their secret thoughts that God is nigh, and that he is a consuming fire.
Now these inbred notions lie universally against all apprehensions of forgiveness; which must be brought into the soul from without doors; having no principle of nature to promote them.
It is true, men by nature have presumptions and common ingrafted notions, of other properties of God, besides his holiness and justice; as of his goodness, benignity, love of his creatures, and the like: but all these have this supposition inlaid with them in the souls of men; namely, that all things stand between God and his creatures, as they did at their first creation; and as they have no natural notion of forgiveness, so the interposition of sin weakens, disturbs, darkens them, as to any improvement of those apprehensions of goodness and benignity which they have. If they have any notion of forgiveness, it is from some corrupt tradition, and not at all from any universal principle, that is inbred in nature; such as are those, which they have of God's holiness and vindictive justice.
And this is the first ground; from whence it appears, that a real, solid discovery of forgiveness, is indeed a great work ; many difficulties and hinderances lie in the way of its accomplishment.
False presumptions of forgiveness discovered. Differences between them
and faith evangelical. Before I proceed to produce and manage the remaining evidences of this truth, because what hath been spoken, lies obnoxious and open to an objection, which must needs rise in the minds of many, that it may not thereby be rendered useless unto them, I shall remove it out of the way, may pass on to what remains.
It will then be said, Doth not all this lie directly contrary to our daily experience? Do ye not find all men full enough, most too full of apprehensions of forgiveness with God? What so common as God is merciful ? Are not the consciences and convictions of the most, stifled by this apprehension? Can you find a man that is otherwise minded? Is it not a common complaint that men presume on it, unto their eternal ruin? Certainly then, that which all men do, which
every man can so easily do, and which you cannot keep men off from doing, though it be to their hurt, hath no such difficulty in it as is pretended. And on this very account hath this weak endeavour to demonstrate this truth been by some laughed to scorn; men who have taken them the teaching of others, but, as it seems, had need be taught themselves the very first principles of the oracles of God.
Ans. All this then, I say, is so, and much more to this purpose may be spoken. The folly and presumption of poor souls herein, can never be enough lamented. But it is one thing to embrace a cloud, a shadow, another to have the truth in reality. I shall hereafter shew the true nature of forgiveness, and wherein it doth consist, whereby the vanity of this self-deceiving will be discovered and laid open. It will appear in the issue, that notwithstanding all their pretensions, that the most of men know nothing at all, or not any thing to the purpose, of that which is under consideration. I shall, therefore, for the present, in some few observations, shew how far this delusion of many differs from a true gospel discovery of forgiveness, such as that we are inquiring after.
First, The common notion of forgiveness that men have