RELIGION OF THE LAW AND GOSPEL.
What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed notafter righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even therighteousness which is of faith; but Israel, which followed afterthe law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it wereby the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling-stone;as it is written, Behold I lay in Sion a stumbling-stone, androck of offense; and whosoever believeth in him shall not be ashamed.Romans 9:30-33.
In the Epistle to the Romans, the apostle pursues a systematiccourse of reasoning, to accomplish a particular design. In thebeginning of it, he proves that not only the Gentiles, but theJews also, were in a state of entire depravity; and that the Jewswere not, as they vainly imagined, naturally holy. He then introducesthe Moral Law, and by explaining it, shows that by works of lawno flesh could be saved. His next topic is Justification by Faith,in opposition to Justification by Law. Here I will observe, inpassing, that it is my design to make this the subject of my nextlecture. The next subject, with which he begins chap. 6, is toshow that sanctification is by faith; or that all true religion,all the acceptable obedience there ever was in the world, is basedon faith. In the eighth and ninth chapters, he introduces thesubject of divine sovereignty; and in the last part of the ninthchapter, he sums up the whole matter, and asks, "What shallwe say then?" What shall we say of all this? That the Gentileswho never thought of the law, have become pious, and obtainedthe holiness which is by faith; but the Jews attempting it bythe law, have entirely failed. Wherefore? Because they made thefatal mistake of attempting to become pious by obeying the law,and have always come short, while the Gentiles have obtained truereligion, by faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is here called"that stumbling-stone," because the Jews were so opposedto him. But whosoever believeth in him shall not be confounded.
My design tonight is, to point out as distinctly as I can,the true distinction between the religion of law and the religionof faith. I shall proceed in the following order;
I. Show in what the distinction does not consist. II. Showin what it does consist. III. Bring forward some specimens ofboth, to show more plainly in what they differ.
I. I am to show in what the distinction between the religionof law and the religion of faith does not consist.
1. The difference does not lie in the fact, that under thelaw men were justified by works, without faith. The method ofsalvationin both dispensations has been the same. Sinners werealways justified by faith. The Jewish dispensation pointed toa Savior to come, and if men were saved at all, it was by faithin Christ. And sinners now are saved in the same way.
2. Not in the fact that the gospel has canceled or set asidethe obligations of the moral law. It is true, it has set asidethe claims of the ceremonial law, or law of Moses. The ceremoniallaw was nothing but a set of types pointing to the Savior, andwas set aside, of course, when the great anti-type appeared. Itis now generally admitted by all believers that the gospel hasnot set aside the moral law. But that doctrine has been maintainedin different ages of the church. Many have maintained that thegospel has set aside the moral law, so that believers are underno obligation to obey it. Such was the doctrine of the Nicolaitans,so severely reprobated by Christ. The Antinomians, in the daysof the apostles and since, believed that they were without anyobligation to obey the moral law; and held that Christ's righteousnesswas so imputed to believers, and that he had so fulfilled thelaw for them that they were under no obligation to obey it themselves.
There have been many, in modern times, called Perfectionists,who held that they were not under obligation to obey the law.They suppose that Christ has delivered them from the law, andgiven them the Spirit, and that the leadings of the Spirit arenow to be their rule of life, instead of the law of God. Wherethe Bible says, sin shall not have dominion over believers, thesepersons understand by it, that the same acts, which would be sinif done by an unconverted person, are not sin in them. The others,they say, are under the law, and so bound by its rules, but themselvesare sanctified, and are in Christ, and if they break the law itis no sin. But all such notions must be radically wrong. God hasno right to give up the moral law. He cannot discharge us fromthe duty of love to God and love to man, for this is right initself. And unless God will alter the whole moral constitutionof the universe, so as to make that right which is wrong, he cannotgive up the claims of the moral law. Besides, thisdoctrine representsJesus Christ and the Holy Ghost as having taken up arms openlyagainst the government of God.
3. The distinction between law religion and gospel religiondoes not consist in the fact that the gospel is any less strictin its claims, or allows any greater latitude of self-indulgencethan the law. Not only does the gospel not cancel the obligationsof the moral law, but it does in no degree abate them. Some peopletalk about gospel liberty; as though they had got a new rule oflife, less strict, and allowing more liberty than the Law. I admitthat it has provided a new method of justification, but it everywhere insists that the rule of life is the same with the law.The very first sentence of the gospel, the command to repent,is in effect a re-enactment of the law, for it is a command toreturn to obedience. The idea that the liberty of the gospel differsfrom the liberty of the law is erroneous.
4. Neither does the distinction consist in the fact that thosecalled legalists, or who have a legal religion, do, either byprofessionor in fact, depend on their own works for justification.It is not often the case, at least in our day, that legalistsdo profess dependence on their own works, for there are few soignorant as not to know that this is directly in the face of thegospel. Nor is it necessarily the case that they really dependon their own works.
Often they really depend on Christ for salvation. But theirdependence is false dependence, such as they have no right tohave. They depend on him, but they make it manifest that theirfaith, or dependence, is not that which actually "workethby love," or that "purifieth the heart," or that"overcometh the world." It is a simple matter of factthat the faith which they have does not do what the faith doeswhich men must have in order to be saved, and so it is not thefaith of the gospel. They have a kind of faith, but not that kindthat makes men real Christians, and brings them under the termsof the gospel.
II. I am to mention some of the particulars in which thesetwo kinds of religion differ.
There are several different classes of persons who manifestlyhave a legal religion. There are some who really profess to dependon their own works for salvation. Such were the Pharisees. TheHicksite Quakers formerly took this ground, and maintained thatmen were to be justified by works; setting aside entirely justificationby faith. When I speak of works, I mean works of law. And hereI want you to distinguish between works of law and works of faith.This is the grand distinction to be kept in view. It is betweenworks produced by legal considerations, and those produced byfaith.
There are but two principles on which obedience to any governmentcan turn: One is the principle of hope and fear, under the influenceof conscience. Conscience points out what is right or wrong, andthe individual is induced by hope and fear to obey. The otherprinciple is confidence and love. You see this illustrated infamilies, where one child always obeys from hope and fear, andanother from affectionate confidence. So in the government ofGod, the only thing that ever produces even the appearance ofobedience, is one of these two principles.
There is a multitude of things that address our hopes and fears;such as character, interest, heaven, and hell, etc. These mayproduce external obedience, or conformity to the law. But filialconfidence leads men to obey God from love. This is the only obediencethat is acceptable to God. God not only requires a certain courseof conduct, but that this should spring from love. There neverwas and never can be, in the government of God, any acceptableobedience but the obedience of faith. Some suppose that faithwill be done away in heaven. This is a strange notion. As if therewere no occasion to trust God in heaven, or no reason to exerciseconfidence in him. Here is the great distinction between the religionof law and gospel religion. Legal obedience is influenced by hopeand fear, and is hypocritical, selfish, outward, constrained.Gospel obedience is from love, and is sincere, free, cheerful,true. There is a class of legalists, who depend on works of lawfor justification, who have merely deified what they call a principleof right, and have set themselves to do right; it is not out ofrespect to the law of God, or out of love to God, but just becauseit is right.
There is another distinction here. The religion of law is thereligion of purposes, or desires, founded on legal considerations,and not the religion of preference, or love to God. The individualintends to put off his sins; he purposes to obey God and be religious;but his purpose does not grow out of love to God, but out of hopeand fear. It is easy to see that a purpose, founded on such considerations,is very different from a purpose growing out of love. But thereligion of the gospel is not a purpose merely, but an actualpreference consisting in love.
Again, there is a class of legalists that depend on Christ,but their dependence is not gospel dependence, because the workswhich it produces are works of law; that is, from hope and fear,not from love. Gospel dependence may produce, perhaps, the verysame outward works, but the motives are radically different. Thelegalist drags on a painful, irksome, moral, and perhaps, outwardly,religious life. The gospel believer has an affectionate confidencein God, which leads him to obey out of love. He obedience is promptedby his own feelings. Instead of being dragged to duty, he goesto it cheerfully, because he loves it, and doing it is a delightto his soul.
There is another point. The legalist expects to be justifiedby faith, but he has not learned that he must be sanctified byfaith. I propose to examine this point another time, in full.Modern legalists do not expect to be justified by works; theyknow these are inadequate they know that the way to be saved isby Christ. But they have no practical belief that justificationby faith is only true, as sanctification by faith is true, andthat men are justified by faith only, as they are first sanctifiedby faith. And therefore, while they expect to be justified byfaith, they set themselves to perform works that are works oflaw.
Again: I wish you to observe that the two classes may agreein these points; the necessity of good works, and, theoretically,in what constitutes good works; that is obedience springing fromlove to God. And further, they may agree in aiming to performgood works of this kind. But the difference lies here in the differentinfluences to which they look, to enable them to perform goodworks.
The considerations by which they expect their minds to be affected,are different. They look to different sources for motives. Andthe true Christian alone succeeds in actually performing goodworks. The legalist, aiming to perform good works, influencedby hope and fear, and a selfish regard to his own interest, obeyingthe voice of conscience because he is afraid to do otherwise,falls entirely short of loving God with all his heart, and soul,and strength. The motives under which he acts have no tendencyto bring him to the obedience of love. The true Christian, onthe contrary, so appreciates God, so perceives and understandsGod's character, in Christ, as begets such an affectionate confidencein God, that he finds it easy to obey from love. Instead of findingit, as a hymn has strangely represented, "Hard to obey, andharder still to love,"
he finds it no hardship at all. The commandments are not grievous.The yoke is easy, and the burden light. And he finds the waysof wisdom to be ways of pleasantness, and all her paths to bepeace.
Is it so with most professors of religion? Is it so with you?Do you feel, in your religious duties constrained by love? Areyou drawn by such strong cords of love, that it would give youmore trouble to omit duty than to obey? Do your affections flowout in such a strong current to God, that you cannot but obey?How is it with those individuals who find it "hard to obey,and harder still to love?" What is the matter? Ask that wifewho loves her husband, if she finds it hard to try to please herhusband! suppose she answers, in a solemn tone, "O yes, Ifind it hard to obey and harder still to love my husband,"what would the husband think? What would any one of you who areparents say, if you should hear one of your children complaining,"I find it harder to obey my father, and harder still tolove?" The truth is, there is a radical defect in the religionof those people who lovesuch expressions and live as if they weretrue. If any one of you find religion a painful thing, rely onit, you have the religion of the law. Did you ever find it a painfulthing to do what you love to do? No. It is a pleasure to do it.The religion of the gospel is no labor to them that exercise it.It is the feeling of the heart. What would you do in heaven, ifreligion is such a painful thing here? Suppose you were takento heaven and obliged to grind out just so much religion everyweek, and month and year, to eternity. What sort of a heaven wouldit be to you? Would it be heaven, or would it be hell? If youwere required to have ten thousand times as much as you have here,and your whole life were to be filled up with this, and nothingelse to do, or enjoy but an eternal round of such duties, wouldnot hell itself be a respite to you?
The difference, then, lies here. One class are striving tobe religious from hope and fear, and under the influence of consciencewhich lashes them if they do not do their duty. The other classact from love to God, and the impulses of their own feelings,and know what the text means, which says, "I will put mylaw in their inward parts, and write it on their hearts, I willbe their God, and they shall be my people."
III. I will give some specimens of these two classes, by wayof illustration.
The first example I shall give is that of the apostle Paul,as he has recorded it in the 7th of Romans, where he exhibitsthe struggle to obey the law, under the influence of law alone.[Here Mr. Finney proceeded, at a considerable length, to commenton the 7th chapter of Romans, but as he has since concluded togive a separate lecture on that subject, these remarks are omittedhere. He showed how Paul had struggled, and labored, under themotives of law, until he absolutely despaired of help from thatquarter; and how, when the gospel was brought to view, the chainwas broken, and he found it easy to obey. He then proceeded.]
You may see the same in the experience of almost any convictedsinner, after he has become truly converted. He was convicted,the law was brought home to his mind, he struggled to fulfillthe law, he was in agony, and then he was filled with joy andglory. Why? He was agonized under the law, he had no rest andno satisfaction, he tried to please God by keeping the law, hewent about in pain all the day, he read the Bible, he tried topray; but the Spirit of God was upon him, showing him his sins,and he had no relief. The more he attempts to help himself thedeeper he sinks in despair. All the while his heart is cold andselfish. But now let another principle be introduced, and lethim be influenced by love to God. The same Holy Spirit is uponhim, showing him the same sins that grieved and distressed himso before. But now he goes on his knees, his tears flow like wateras he confesses his guilt, and his heart melts in joyful relentings,such as cannot be described, but easily understood by them thathave felt it. Now he engages in performing the same duties thathe tried before. But, O, how changed! The Spirit of God has brokenhis chains, and now he loves God and is filled with joy and peacein believing.
The same thing is seen in many professors of religion, whofind religion a painful thing. They have much conviction, andperhapsmuch of what they call religion, but their minds are chieflyfilled with doubts and fears, doubts and fears all the time. Byand by, perhaps, that same professor will come out, all at once,a different character. His religion now is not all complaintsand sighs, but the love of God fills his heart, and he goes cheerfullyand happily to his duty; and his soul is so light and happy inGod, that he floats in an ocean of love and joy, and the peacethat fills him is like a river.
Here, then, is the difference between the slavery of law andthe liberty of the gospel. The liberty of the gospel does notconsist in being freed from doing what the law requires, but ina man's being in such a state of mind that doing it is itselfa pleasure instead of a burden. What is the difference betweenslavery and freedom? The slave serves because he is obliged todo so, the freeman serves from choice. The man who is under thebondage of law does duty because conscience thunders in his earsif he does not obey, and he hopes to go to heaven if he does.The man who is in the liberty of the gospel does the same thingsbecause he loves to do them. One is influenced by selfishness,the other by disinterested benevolence.
I. You can easily see, that if we believe the words and actionsof most professors of religion, they have made a mistake; andthat they have the religion of law, and not gospel religion. Theyare not constrained by the love of Christ, but moved by hopesand fears, and by the commandments of God. They have gone no fartherin religion than to be convicted sinners. Within the last year,I have witnessed the regeneration of so many professors of religion,that I am led to fear that great multitudes in the church areyet under the law; and although they profess to depend on Christfor salvation, their faith is not that which works by love.
II. Some persons are all faith without works. These are Antinomians.Others are all works and no faith: these are legalists. In allages of the church, men have inclined first to one of these extremes,and then over to the other. Sometimes they are settled down ontheir lees, pretending to be all faith, and waiting God's time;then they get roused up, and dash on in works, without regardto the motive from which they act.
III. You see the true character of those professors of religionwho are for ever crying out "Legality!" as soon as theyare pressed up to holiness.
When I first began to preach, I found this spirit in many places;so that the moment Christians were urged up to duty, the cry wouldrise, This is legal preaching do preach the gospel; salvationis by faith, not by duty; you ought to comfort saints, not distressthem. All this was nothing but rank Antinomianism.
On the other hand, the same class of churches now complain,if you preach faith to them, and show them what is the true natureof gospel faith. They now want to do something, and insist thatno preaching is good that does not excite them, and stir themup to good works. They are all for doing, doing, doing, and willbe dissatisfied with preaching that discriminates between trueand false faith, and urges obedience of the heart, out of loveto God. The Antinomians wait for God to produce right feelingsin them. The Legalists undertake to get right feelings by goingto work. It is true that going to work is the way, when the churchfeels right, to perpetuate and cherish right feelings. But itis not the way to get right feeling, in the first place, to dashright into the work, without any regard to the motives of theheart.
IV. Real Christians are a stumbling-block to both parties;to those who wait God's time and do nothing, and to those whobustle about with no faith. The true Christian acts under sucha love to God and to his fellow man, and he labors to pull sinnersout of the fire with such earnestness, that the waiting partycry out, "Oh, he is getting up an excitement; he is goingto work in his own strength; he does not believe in the necessityof divine influences; we ought to feel our dependence; let uswait God's time, and not try to get up a revival without God."So they sit down and fold their hands, and sing, "We feelour dependence, we feel our dependence; wait God's time; we donot trust in our own works." On the other hand, the legalists,when once they get roused to bustle about, will not see but theirreligion is the same with the real Christian's. They make as strenuousoutward efforts, and suppose themselves to be actuated by thesame spirit.
You will rarely see a revival, in which this does not showitself. If the body of the church are awakened to duty, and havethe spirit of prayer and zeal for the conversion of sinners, therewill be some who sit still and complain that the church are dependingon their own strength, and others very busy and noisy, but withoutany feeling while the third class are so full of love and compassionto sinners that they can hardly eat or sleep, and yet so humbleand tender that you would imagine they felt themselves to be nothing.The legalist, with his dry zeal, makes a great noise, deceiveshimself, perhaps, and thinks he is acting just like a Christian.But mark! The true Christian is stirring and active in the serviceof Christ, but moves with the holy fire that burns within hisbosom. The legalist depends on some protracted meeting, or someother influence from without, to excite him to do his duty.
V. You see why the religion of some persons is so steady anduniform, and that of others, is so fitful and evanescent. Youwill find some individuals, who seem to be always engaged in religion.Talk to them any time, on the subject, and their souls will kindle.Others are awake only now and then.
Once in a while you may find them full of zeal. The truth is,when one has the anointing that abides, he has something thatis durable. But if his religion is only that of the law, he willonly have just so much of it as he has of conviction at the presentmoment, and his religion will be fitful and evanescent, of course.
VI. You see why some are so anxious to get to heaven, whileothers are so happy here. There are some, who have such a lovefor souls, and such a desire to have Christ's kingdom built uponearth, that they are perfectly happy here, and willing to liveand labor for God, as long as he chooses to have them.
Nay, if they were sent to hell, and permitted to labor therefor souls, they would be happy. While others talk as if peoplewere never to expect true enjoyment in this life; but when theyget to heaven, they expect to be happy. One class have no enjoymentbut in hope. The other has already the reality, the very substanceof heaven begun in the soul.
Now, beloved, I have as particularly as I could in the time,pointed out to you the distinction between the religion of thelaw and the religion of the gospel. And now, what religion haveyou? True religion is always the same, and consists in disinterestedlove to God and man. Have you that kind of religion? Or have youthe kind that consists, not in disinterested love, but in thepursuit of happiness as the great end. Which have you? The fruitsof the Spirit are love, joy, peace. There is no condemnation ofsuch religion. But if any man have not the spirit of Christ, heis none of his. Now, don't make a mistake here, and suffer yourselvesto go down to hell with a lie in your right hand, because youhave the religion of the law. The Jews failed here, while theGentiles attained true holiness by the gospel. O, how many aredeceived, and are acting under legal considerations, while theyknow nothing of the real religion of the gospel!
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