A Study of Romans 3:20
<“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
One of the most affecting displays of the gross ignorance of man under the fall, relative to God’s method of saving sinners, is that, after the lapse of almost nineteen hundred years from the days of Christ on earth, there should be such multitudes professing and calling themselves Christians, who determine to reject God’s only method of saving sinners, and cling to the system which can only curse and condemn them; still ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own, “refusing to submit to the righteousness of God.” The grand scheme of salvation, as revealed in God’s holy word, is so arranged, settled, and determined, that it brings all the glory to God; but cursed pride, which cast apostate spirits from heaven, and turned the fair creation of God out of paradise, still lurking and still raging in the bosom of every child of Adam in his unregenerate state, rejects God’s method of saving, and clings to the scheme of creature doings, human merits, and the covenant of works, rather than the covenant of grace. And although the word of God is so explicit, that, in the language of my text, no flesh can be justified in the sight of God by the deeds of the law, yet men are determined to try whether they can or not. They hazard their souls, and even woo damnation rather than bow to God’s plan of saving them, “not submitting to the righteousness of God.” Yet, surely, of all the questions that can interest the mind of man, this must be the highest and the greatest, “How do I stand before the holy God?” I am shortly to appear in His presence, as soon as I have done with this wilderness. “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment;” and I must “appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.” How do I stand? Am I accepted or rejected? Am I pardoned or condemned? Am I justified, or under the curse? Will not such questions as these interest my hearers? Have you never put them home in secret to your conscience? Have you never asked God to decide them for you? Is it a matter of no moment to any of you, who may pass out of the world ere the day closes, whether you are to go into eternity under condemnation, or in a state of justification? Whether you are exposed to the frown, the wrath, the curse, the vengeance of the God that made you, or accepted in the beloved, acquitted, justified, adopted, and saved? My hearers, let me implore you to exercise your common powers and faculties just to give this subject a thought, and inquire, whilst I attempt to open the passage I have read, “On what ground do I stand for eternity?”
Mark the solemn description of man under the fall, which immediately precedes my text, and then look at the text as an inference or conclusion drawn therefrom. “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none that understandeth; there is none that seeketh after God; they are all gone out of the way; they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” Now, proud boaster,, where hast thou an inch of ground to stand upon? Now, aspiring rebel, free will, what answer will you give to God’s solemn charge in these verses? But is this will not humble thee, see how it is amplified, “Their throat is an open sepulchre. With their tongues they have used deceit. The poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their ways; the way of peace they have not known; there is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now there is a picture of the dignity of human nature under the fall, if you mean to boast of yourselves. If there should be any present this morning, who are proud enough to imagine that this is merely a description of some of the baser sort of mortals who have made themselves a nuisance and a pest to society, I pray you to look at the opening account, which includes all, “all have gone out of the way,” all are ranked under this awful descruption of character under the fall. Then follows the statement, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law.” That is the great question then, “Am I under the law or under grace?” “What things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law;” and it says them for this very purpose, “that every mouth may be stopped,” when the law demands and claims perfect, sinless obedience, and the description of man is such as I have read, “that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” Can any man, with the use and possession of his common faculties, even admitting that he has no grace, dispute the statements just read, and the fact which sums them up, that man under the fall is utterly helpless with regard to any law that can be given as a proposal of life. “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law;” but now “every mouth is stopped, and all the world is become guilty before God,” and for this purpose, that the unavoidable inference might stare every awakened sinner in the face, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
Let me, first of all, then, invite your attention to the solemn declaration in my text. Then to the inquiry which it naturally suggests, If there be no justification by the law, where and how is it to be obtained? And then, thirdly, the teaching of God Himself, in His word, concerning such an inquiry. May the Holy Ghost enable me to set forth His truth solemnly, clearly, and explicitly in your hearing this morning, and give you the hearing ear to listen with attention unto the things that shall be advanced.
1. First of all, then, let us glance at the solemn declaration that by the deeds of the law no flesh living can be justified in the sight of God. Now by, “the deeds of the law,” I am not merely to understand, though I include, the Decalogue, the ten commandments, but everything preceptive, everything in the form of condition, everything in the character of proposal. Any offers or overtures that mortals talk foolishly about, when presenting them to one another as terms and conditions, whereby men may be accepted of God, make them ever so easy, and propose them if you like in gospel language mingled and marred, leave the poor ruined sinner without the possibility of obtaining justification, without the possibility of obtaining peace of mind, or a well-grounded hope relative to eternity. How solemn the fact, that millions of persons, and thousands of divines, as they are termed, teach and preach in direct contradiction to this, and are everlastingly proposing sometime to the sinner for him to accomplish and meet God’s terms, as they erroneously consider it, and so obtain salvation.
Now the first fact that stares us in the face here is, that fallen man is incapable of fulfilling the law; and this is why he can never obtain justification from it. The man who can obtain justification by the deeds of the law must perform all its requisitions in thought, word, and deed, without one failure from his birth to his death. Now did you ever meet with a man proud enough to imagine that he had done that? Did you ever meet with a man ignorant enough, amidst all the mass of ignorance relative to God’s method of saving sinner’s, to assert that he never committed one sin against God in thought, word, or deed? I never met with one. The apostle is directed to say, if a man had gone a great way towards it, and had kept the whole law saving one point, that by his failure in that one point the Holy Ghost makes him guilty of it all; and that fallen man, so far from fulfilling the holy law of God, can do nothing by violate it. Every act that he does is an act of rebellion against it; and even the external morality and consistency, ever the walk of decorum amongst unconverted persons, which is so gratifying to neighbors and friends after all amounts to a broad rejection of God’s gospel, and consequently a contempt of God’s law, because it does not come to the fulfilling of it all. Beware, then, of false grounds, and of cherishing false hopes. If you look to anything in the creature, in whole or in part, for your salvation, I tell you that fallen man is incapable of anything that is acceptable in the sight of God. Well do I know, by painful and bitter experience, that proud free will can do nothing but sin. But when I speak of free will it is a nonentity; and why I should bandy about such a phrase seems strange when I analyze it. Why there is no such thing. The very expression of will is an inclination, a slope, in some direction or other. All we can say so man’s will is, that it is either under the sovereignty, one or the other. To talk of free will is ridiculous. The will of every man is either under the government of God, or led captive by the prince of darkness, led captive, and consequently incapable of fulfilling the law of God in whole or in part. If you look at our Lord’s exposition of the law in its spirituality, in which He tells us that covetousness is idolatry, then, I ask, where is the man who never had a covetous feeling or thought? Again, He tells us that a lustful look is adultery; and where is the man who is exempt? Then He analyzes the whole law, and tells us that it is the discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. We go, therefore, beyond external manifestations, and ask what goes on in the poor depraved heart of man? One uninterrupted, unremitting scene of rebellion against God’s command and will. Yet, with all this incapability of man to do ought but sin in his fallen state, the obligations of the law are not abated. I dwell upon this point because the professors of modern divinity state that they are abated; that if man does his best, if he is sincere in his obedience as far as it goes, and if he avoids all the evil that he can, even though he cannot come up to the mark, yet God is merciful and abates the rest, especially if he brings in the merits of Christ to make up the dificiency. Such is the sum and substance of the modern gospel; and a most deceptive thing it is, the truth being, that the holy law of God is, like Himself, immutable; that its obligations are the same, and that you and I must find the whole amount of its demands, the very last mite, somewhere or other, or perish under its curse. Now I have found it. But, mind you, not in myself, and not in any creature. The whole is paid, the entire demand, the perfect cancelling, the going to the end of it, the magnifying of it in the person of Him who is at once Law-maker, Law-giver, and Law-fulfiller. Glory to His name, that ther we have it in full.
Now here I urge upon you the vast importance of entertaining clear views upon this point, because the general descriptions of modern divinity go in the channel I have just reprobated, and in terms more or less deceptive, hold forth that there is something dependent on the creature, something resting with man, something for him to perform or accomplish, at any rate his praying, repenting, or believing, if nothing else, and that God is to meet him upon that ground. If God had not met and given me repentance, I had never repented as long as I live. If God had not met me, and given me the spirit of prayer, I should never have offered a prayer. If God had not met me, and given me the spirit of faith, I had never believed to the saving of my soul. All must come from Him, and that which comes from Him is not a condition with us. It is His own gift, By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justifed in His sight.”
How important, how infinitely important it is, to have right views of this part of the subject; and , therfore, I will detain you a few moments longer upon it. We are not among the persons that despise the law, that are opposed to the law, that are outlawed. We are not among the persons that would annihilate the law; but we believe most decidedly and assuredly, that not one jot or tittle of it can by possibility fail, until all be fulfilled. We believe most assuredly with Paul, that it is holy, and just, and good, that its obligations are immutable, that it can make no abatement, that it despises the thought of a compromise, and that it will not yield to one iota of deficiency. “Pay me that thou owest,” is its rigorous demand; and the payment it must and will have, or the sinner must perish for ever under its curse. Happy, happy soul, that has found the Law-fulfiller; that has been enabled to run to Him, “who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth;” that has obtained satisfactory evidence of relationship to, and an interest in, Him, who went to the end of the law; yea, who is Himself the end of the law, and not the destroyer of the law, “I came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it.” “The end of the law for righteousness unto every one who believeth.
Just glance a moment here at the other feature of the solemn declaration in the text, “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” Paul says, “I had not known sin but by the law.” That is manifesting his character. He did not know what a sinner he was while sitting at the feet of Gamaliel. He did not know that he was every way depraved, helpless, guilty, undone, under its sentence, and under its curse. “I had not known sin but by the law. I had not known lust except the law had said, ‘thou shalt not covet'” It is the restriction, the prohibition, the exposing of the evil before God, that convinces of the sin; “By the law is the knowledge os sin.” Therefore, he adds, “I was alive without the law once. I did not know that I was such a sinner. I never felt contrition under it, and you might have preached repentance unto me to my dying day, and I should never have believed that I needed it. I thought I was alive in the sight of God, and did Him service. I knew nothing of the enormity of what dwelt within; but ‘when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.'” Here then was the solemn stopping of his wild career of Pharisaic pride. All the innate depravity of fallen Adam nature stirred in resentment; stirred and strove for mastery; stirred in rebellion against God, “sin revived.” Such was the discovery he made by the law revealing the inmost recesses and thoughts of his heart to himself; such was the discovery he made of sin, that he died under it, fell despondingly at the feet of Jesus, cried for mercy, renounced all hope in the creature, and after being brought to discover his salvation lying in the Person of Jesus Christ, he says, “I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” I have sometimes wondered what Saul would have said, before he set out from Jerusalem with authority from the high priests against the disciples of Christ, if some one had met him and addressed him thus, “Saul, do you know that no good thing dwelleth in you? Do you know that you are a mass of sin? Do you know that you are guilty of violating the whole law of God? Do you know that you are under its curse, and therby exposed to destruction?” Why do not you think he would have at once drawn his sword, and, without ceremony cut off the head of such an one? But when grace takes possession of his heart, he is forced to own it, “I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” What a mercy then is it that the law should have come home as it were to him! “When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.”
There is a two-fold sense in which the revelation of sin is brought home to the sinner’s heart by the law. First of all, in the letter, when the letter of the law is made clear, and Jehovah’s right to demand of the sinner, a perfect, sinless obedience, is acknowledged only in theory, it cannot but create alarm, “thereby is the knowledge of sin.” But, more especially, when it has come home to the conscience; when it is written and engraven on the heart, and presented to the view of spiritual illumination; when the eyes of the mind are opened to discover the solemn and humiliating fact, that such is the extent of the law of God, that it searches and penetrates to the very thoughts and intents of the heart, that a wandering affection, a vile motive, an unchaste thought, a covetous desire, one sinful emotion, in the eye of God, and the law subjects the poor wretched ruined sinner to eternal wrath and destruction. Here is the nature of sin held up to our view like a mirror, that the sinner may see his own face, and be affrighted at his own ugliness and deformity by sin, discovering as the looks into this glass of the law, that from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot there is no soundness in him, but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores. Then the law is such a discerner, such a mirror to look into, that it discerns the secrets of his heart, and assures him that every imagination and thought of his heart is only evil, and that continually, a rooted evil, and that the heart is, “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” Now, beloved, if the Holy Ghost brings home His holy law in its spirituality to your hearts, I know the result will be that you will be abased before God, and cry out, “Wo is me; for I am undone.” “God, be merciful unto me, a sinner.”
2. This will lead us to the next head of our inquiry. If nothing man is capable of doing, can justify him in the sight of God; if by the deeds of the law there is no justification; if no creature doings, no human efforts are acceptable unto God, then the inquiry arises which Job once uttered, “How can man be just with God?” an inquiry which was thrust upon my thoughts yesterday morning whilst meditating upon this portion of Scripture, to propose to you with some earnestness, “How shall man be just with God?” Now this is a question which concerns us all. If there shall be here this morning, a hardened sinner who has never thought of asking himself, whether at the day of judgment he shall be saluted with a “Come, ye blessed,” or a “Depart, ye cursed,” I tell such an one, in the name of the living God, that in his present position there is nothing before him but the eternal curse, the eternal wrath of God. But I would fain hope there are many here who are inquiring, “How can I stand accepted before God? How can God save such a sinner as I?” I once conversed with an individual who was resting upon false ground and false hopes until I had pretty well elbowed him off, and extorted the sigh, “I should like to be right at last.” Perhaps there are some such here today; some who are a little shaken in creature confidence; who apprehend that their grounds are false, and their hopes delusive; whose prospects are not quite so clear as they had supposed; who begin to think that the danger is not over, that they may die and sink into damnation, notwithstanding all their professions. Come, poor sinner, if you are inquiring, “How can I be just before God,” we will endeavor to offer a little assistance in enabling you to answer the question.
But under this division of our discourse let me simply press upon you the importance of the inquiry itself. Rational beings do not ordinarily act irrationally in worldly matters. They do not usually put off the inquiry, “How do my affairs in business stand?” until the end of the year when they, “take stock,” and balance their accounts. No, as they go along they want to see some collateral evidence that they are not retrograding, not becoming insolvent. They wish to see things going on daily with some degree of satisfaction. Yet mortal men value their souls less than pounds, shillings, and pence, less than mere matters of trade, less than the enterprises of a day, which may be right or wrong, painful or pleasant, and scarcely allow themselves time to pause and ask. “If I were to quit this world within the next twenty-four hours, how shall I stand? Shall I be insolvent to the law God; or have the receipt in full of all demands in the hand of faith to present, all paid, and the law magnified and made honorable?” I would that men were disposed, at least, to give as much thought and as much time to their immortal interests, their eternal welfare, as we find men of common sense give to the common affairs of life. The laborer after using his strength for the day, looks for his wages at night. The servant attends to his master’s wants and requirements, and expects his food and wages in return. Yet there are millions of precious souls, who would be highly offended if we were not to call them Christians, but who from week to week, and month to month, have scarcely one thought as to whether they are to be plunged into eternal despair or enthroned in glory; to die condemned, or to leave the world justified, accepted, beloved, and acknowledged as heirs of glory. How strange this infatuation in man, this deadness of human nature, and this utter incapacity for anything spiritual in the degrading position in which Adam has left him! Oh, that God may rouse your attention to the inquiry, if the law will not justify me, if I cannot, if Satan cannot, if angels cannot, then how will God justify me?
Be it also remembered that this inquiry is of vast importance, because it is essential to peace of mind. If you look to the apostle’s statement in the fifth chapter of the Epistle, you will find it written, “Therefore, being justified, by faith we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ;” as though he had said, “If we are not satisfied, and conscious of our justification, how shall we have peace with God?” Now, I appeal to your consciences upon this point; you who do not know your justification; you who have never recieved it; you who have not made the matter certain; you who are not brought to decision respecting your real standing before God. You know not that you will stay another hour upon earth; and can you think of an opening grave? Can you think of the coffin entering the room to receive your lifeless body? Can you think of appearing before the heart searching God with peace of mind, with calm, with composure, with satisfaction? I know that your cannot. “There is not peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” I should have no peace, either night or day, if I had not made sure of my justification. When I could not get it from the law, I was led elsewhere for it; and when I obtained it, then I had peace with God. What can interrupt it? What can prevent it? If I know that I stand complete, and accepted in the sight of God, my sins all pardoned, my person clothed, and covered with a perfect robe of righteousness, and God Himself looking on, and saying, “I have not beheld iniquity, neither have I seen perverseness,” Jesus looking on, and saying, “Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee,” and the Holy Ghost making me His temple, and training me up for glory, then there is peace with God. But the soul that knoweth not its justification cannot know that peace. It may stifle conviction; it may trample on agitated feelings; it may rush into worldly pursuits to drown them; it may lull its senses, as with an opiate, “I shall do as well as others at last. And God is merciful.” Poor, wretched soul! you will never have peace in this or in the future world, without the justification of which we are about to speak. It is essential to peace of mind.
Before I come to the Divine teaching concerning justification, allow me to remind you of what is set down before your eyes in the letter on “Justification,” in our little book, “Jazer,” with which, I dare say, most of you are familiar. There I have shown, that justification hath a threefold aspect. I suppose many now present remember the phrase. And the soul that is really concerned about being justified will be anxious respecting each of these aspects. First, how he is to be justified before God, in His sight; that is my text. Then, secondly, how he is to be justified in the court of conscience, so as to know it, and obtain the peace of which I have been speaking. And then, thirdly, how he is to be justified before the world, that they may see him, and acknowledge that he is one of the people whom God has blessed. Now I should like this threefold view of justification ever to be kept prominently before you.
If I am not to be justified by the deeds of the law, in the sight of God, how am I to be justified? I answer, before I come to the teaching which I purpose to dwell upon, that I must appear in His sight, “without spot or blemish, or any such thing;” for He will “by no means clear the guilty.” I must have a righteousness as perfect as His own; nay, it must be His own. I must appear in His sight, and in His view, as though I had never sinned. There can be no abatement. There can be no parleyings. There can be no compromising of matters. All must be removed; the guilt quite taken away; the “no condemnation” proclaimed; the “it is God that justifieth,” put forth as a challenge, and “who is He that condemneth?” There must be the approval of the Most High. In a word, I must be seen complete in Christ, to be justified before God in His sight.
Again, the justification about which every awakened soul taught of God is anxious, hath its aspect in the conscience. It must be known there; felt and experienced there, and enjoyed as a matter of Divine revelation, as a matter of positive, blessed assurance in the soul. And here I can find no room for a ray of hope, or a shadow of encouragement, but be getting quite out of the creature, by gazing on what Jesus is to me, by accepting Him as the Father’s gift, and by making Him my all, and in all.
Then I must have the justification that can face the world with a bold look, and, in the fruits and effects of mighty grace brought forth, challenge the world respecting transgression, and bless and praise God for being kept by His power through faith, walking with God, walking circumspectly, and “letting my light so shine before men, that others may see my good works, and glorify my Father who is in heaven.”
Now that is, if I understand it aright, the sum and substance of justification; a soul standing, accepted of God, as sinless as Himself; a soul, conscious of it in the transformation that is effected by the power of sovereign grace, in the exercise of that faith which lays hold of eternal life; a soul so influenced by the mighty grace that has pardoned and justified him, that he walks before God, the church and the world, as an object of Divine love, a partaker of sovereign grace, bringing forth fruit unto righteousness. I dare say I shall be accounted a legal sort of a preacher for urging these things. Be it so; I have no objection. I have lived long enough in my Master’s employment to be quite regardless of the approval of men, if I can but secure the approval of God; and I know that the things I have set forth thus far are the things of God.
3. Let us now lead on your attention to the Divine teaching relative to this great work. If the inquiry is alive in your minds, and your peace and comfort are seen and felt to be dependent upon the attainment I have described, of knowing that you stand justified before God, then hear the three things that God says respecting it. He says, that it is the righteousness of Christ only that can do it. He says, in a variety of places in His Word, that it is obtained by faith. And He says, by the mouth of the Son of God Himself, that it can never be forfeited or lost. That is God’s teaching of the mode of justification, that Christ’s righteousness is the sum and substance, the matter and reality of it, upon all and to all them that believe. Therefore, the apostle, in addressing the Corinthians, amidst all their depravity and licentiousness, for which the city of Corinth was renowned, and amidst all their wickedness and abominations, of which he gives a catalogue, singles out the justified ones, and says, “Such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified.” How? “In the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” Then it is in the name of the Lord Jesus that our justification stands in the sight of the Most High. And as often as a guilt-burdened soul goes to the throne to plead for the assurance of his justification of his justification, he must name the Lord Jesus, the doing and the dying of the Lord Jesus, the justifying righteousness of the Lord Jesus, His obedience to the law, and His suffering of the penalty. If he wishes to be justified in the eye of the law, he must name the Law-fulfiller, who has, “magnified the law, and made it honorable. If he wishes to be justified in the right of sovereign, inflexible justice, he must name the Sufferer against whom the sword of justice was commanded to “awake,” and tell of His agonies, sufferings, and death, as the grand matter of his justification; for “He was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification.”
And here let me make one bold and broad statement, which I would that I had a voice loud enough for all the world to hear. It is just this: no sinner of Adam’s posterity can, by possibility, be justified in the sight of God, but in the imputed righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. This must be laid to his account, and put upon his person. He must be seen complete in Christ, or perish forever. Oh! ye hypocrites and formalists, and worldly professors, think seriously of this. If there be an Arian or a Socinian within the sound of my voice, let him think of this. Eternal damnation hangs over your heads, and you must endure it in the bottomless pit, unless you are justified by appearing robed in the imputed righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Such is the teaching of Scripture; such is the teaching of God Himself in His own Divine oracles.
Moreover, this justification is said to be attained and appropriated by faith. How explicit has the apostle been all through the Epistle to the Romans upon this point. And referring to the same subject, and renewing the same blessed arguments in his Epistle to the Galatians, he says, (2:16), “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” Just in accordance, you see, with the language of our text this morning. Now here we perceive that the apostle puts an amazing stress upon faith. And I would that this were clearly and distinctly understood; because those who profess to hold what is called “justification by faith,” too frequently attribute such importance to faith as to imply that it possesses justifying properties and qualities; that it has in itself the merit of justification, and that it is for, or on account of, our believing that we are justified, all of which is erroneous. That it is by faith is in conformity with the statements of God’s word; but this signifies, not that faith is the procuring cause, but simply the eye that see, the hand that grasps and appropriates. It is, “by faith,” we discover that our righteousness is alone in Christ, and that it is in Him all the seed of Israel shall be justified, and shall glory. By faith we see all that dwelleth in the creature to be nothing but condemnation and curse; and discover that the man who is justified before God, must be brought out of self to rely implicitly and entirely upon the perfect work of the Lord Jesus Christ. But the eye that sees the antidote did not make it. The hand that takes the antidote did not earn it. It is an acceptance and a reception by faith. Therefore, as often as you read or listen to the phrase so commonly employed and so seldom explained, “We are justified by faith,” do not imagine that faith has any inherent justifying qualities or merits; but that it is simply the eye that sees, the hand that grasps, the power that rests, and the confidence that abides in Christ, and receives salvation wholly in His blood and righteousness. I desire to be very explicit in reference to this point, because of the sad mistakes concerning it which are abroad in the world in modern times. When we talk of obtaining justifying righteousness by faith we receive it of God. Our faith credits His testimony, and stretches forth her hands, as He quickens it and calls it into exercise, to lay hold upon His perfect righteousness, and plead it before the throne, and grasp every promise connected with it, and then to rejoice in the fact, “that there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit,” (Rom. 8:1). Oh, the vast importance of having clear views in relation to this distinction.
Let us now come for a moment to the point of investigation, and each one for himself inquire, “Has my faith eyed all it wants in Christ, and grasp it?” The apostle bids his son Timothy to “lay hold of eternal life;” and this is the business and office of faith, which brings us to another point, that this justification in Christ, imputed, appropriated, and enjoyed in the exercise of living faith, can never be forfeited or lost. Here I will just refer to our Lord’s own statement respecting the matter. In order to be quite correct in the quotation, turn to the fifth chapter of the gospel of John, and the twenty-forth verse, “verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life,” now mark, “and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” This was the phrase that particularly seized my attention, “shall not come into condemnation.” Now after the Lord’s family have received their justification, and been led to entertain a sweet satisfaction and assurance concerning it, and enjoyed its blessed privileges, how often do they condemn themselves, and how often does the “accuser of the brethren,” try to condemn them? But, beloved, here is the promise dropping from the lips of our precious Lord, “shall not come into condemnation.” No heart-backslidings, no life-backslidings, no wanderings, no barrenness, no innate depravity, no rising corruptions, shall bring down final condemnation upon one whom God has justified. Do not imagine, let me guard you against that mistake, that we are here giving license to sin. God forbid! I tell you that the evils I have referred to will be visited by the rod, the frown of God, the chastisement of the Father; but never to condemnation, “shall not come into condemnation.” If I am addressing any poor, trembling heart-backslider, or life-backslider, who has, in days by-gone, enjoyed something like a sweet assurance of justification before God, let me remind him, in order to lift him from his despondency, if God will, that there is no condemnation unto them that are in Jesus Christ. You may know what broken bones mean, you may know what darkness and gloom mean, you may know what hunger and want mean, you may know what the rod of chastisement is; but you shall never know what hell is; you shall never know what condemnation means in the sight of God; nay, more, when once the Saviour’s righteousness is appropriated, His person confided in, and a union obtained with Him by faith, it is a “passing from death unto life;” “you shall not come into condemnation.” Oh, come, beloved let this afford a cheering ray of hope unto those who may be ready to sink into despondency. I repeat, I say not this to encourage or to palliate sin. God forbid; but because I know that the case of the poor backslider has been generally over-looked; and I drop this hint at the close of the discourse, that if there be such an one present this morning, who thinks that the mercy of God is clean gone from him, that there is no more hope for him, that he has sinned against light and knowledge, that he has gone too far into the depths of depravity, that he cannot pray, hope, or believe, let me tell him, “If thou canst cling to the foot of the cross, and if thou canst loathe and abhor thyself for the sins which brought this calamity upon thee; there is still hope in Israel concerning these things, for our precious Lord has said, ‘shall not come into condemnation.'” Lift up your head, then, with a ray of hope, and in the company of those who have lived near to God in the enjoyment of justification, cry mightily for grace that no stirring lusts within, that no vile temptations from without, that no circumstances around you, may lead you away from the center of your joy and peace. Abide fast by the cross, “cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart.” And then, being justified, you shall have, “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
May He command a blessing upon these few hints, and take the whole glory for all the good that shall be effected unto His own precious and glorious name. Amen
By Joseph Irons
Delivered in Grove Chapel, Camberwell, Feb. 11th 1849