By James H. Brookes
NO HOPE FOR THE SINNER IN THE LAW
"For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them."—Romans x, 5.
There are only two ways by which men expect to enter heaven. One is by doing, the other is by believing. We often hear doleful and sometimes unmeaning complaints about the great diversity of religious opinions in the world, but all systems of faith can be readily reduced to the two already mentioned. In the one class we must place that vast multitude without the pale of the Christian Church who, acknowledging in general terms the existence of God and a future state of rewards and punishments, seek to win the approval of their Creator by their amiable character, or by their upright conduct, or by certain acts of worship sanctioned by custom or suggested by conscience. To these must be added that vast multitude within the pale of the Church who seek to win the approval of their Creator by their prayers, or good works, or reception of what are called the Sacraments. I am not here referring to any particular denomination of professing Christians, but to all in every denomination who rely upon anything whatever that they have done or can do to be saved.
They agree precisely with the former class, and stand upon precisely the same ground, and are doomed to the same end; for the unbeliever's are to have their "portion with the hypocrites,"1 and the hypocrites are to have their "portion with the unbelievers."2 If the one will be saved by well-doing, so will the other, unless it can be shown that God has promised eternal life for a special kind of well-doing; but if the one will be lost for refusing to rest simply and solely upon the finished work of Christ, so will the other. The fact that some are members of the Church and some are not does not change in the slightest degree the principle on which they act, and which in both cases is the principle of doing as the procuring cause of salvation. One man hopes to be saved because he pays his just debts, or because he is honorable in his business transactions, or because he is a faithful husband, an indulgent father, and a kind neighbor, or because he contributes his money, example, and energies to advance the welfare of the community and country in which he lives. Another man hopes to be saved because he has been baptized in what he supposes to be an authorized form and by an authorized minister, or because he has partaken of the Lord's Supper, or because he goes to church, or because he tries to live up to the rules of the ecclesiastical body which he has joined and does his part in promoting the interests of that body.
It is obvious that these two men do not differ with respect to the principle which underlies their hope of salvation, for they depend alike upon their own doing to be admitted into the glorious d^Yelling-place of God when called to leave the world. One may utterly reject the Divine authority of the Bible, and the other may be a Presbyterian, or Baptist, or Congregationalist, or Methodist, or Episcopalian, or Roman Catholic, or known by any other denominational title; but it is clear that they build upon the same foundation and must stand or fall together. If you ask for the reason of their expectation that they will be saved, you will find that in both cases they rely on something that they have done, or are doing, or intend to do, and hence the ground of their hope, so far as they put themselves to the trouble of forming any distinct views of the subject, is one and the same, whether they are in or out of the Church. It is to be feared that there are thousands in all the churches who would listen with blank amazement to the solemn direction of the Holy Ghost, "Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you;"3 but when we are able by close questioning to arrive at that reason, it amounts to nothing more than this: they were taught to believe that they are sinners, and sometimes a slumbering conscience wakes up long enough to confirm the teaching; and influenced by the example and wishes of parent, or husband, or wife, or friend, they made a profession of religion, as it is significantly called. They are not happy in their relations to God, who is an object of dread or indifference, and hence they think it wise to do something to secure them against punishment in the eternal world in case of sudden death, while their tastes, aims, and aspirations centre with supreme regard about the present world. I have known Christian mothers to take great comfort from the fact that their daughters, after a night of God-forgetting and God-defying revelry, were pious enough to say their prayers before retiring to rest; and the poor deluded daughters really fancy that they have done something to cause the sleepless eye of Jehovah to look upon them complacently.
Upon ministers of the Gospel—nay, ministers of the law, I should term them—largely rests the responsibility for this lamentable state of things; because in reply to the earnest question of many an anxious soul, "What must I do to be saved?"4 instead of answering in the language of the apostle, and preaching the good news of God's love and of a finished salvation to the believer, they tell the inquirer to be confirmed, or to unite with the Church, or to enter into covenant with God to serve Him, or to keep on praying and striving, and thus put the dead sinner on a course of worthless doing. "They be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch."5 God knows I do not desire to express myself harshly; and surely I can have no wish to excite the enmity and call forth the opposition of those who are warmly attached to their religious teachers and to the systems of religious faith in which they have been educated; but the interests involved in this discussion are too precious to allow the use of honeyed phrases concerning men who claim to be "the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation."6 "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."7 "For Moses describe to the righteousness which is of the law. That the man which doeth those things shall live by them."
If then a man expects to obtain righteousness by the law or by the principle of doing, he must do the things required by the law. It is not enough that he tries to do them; or that he promises to do them; or that he is sorry because he has not done them; or that he does some of them; but he must actually do, and do without faltering, and do all the things demanded by the law, or a voice breaks like thunder above his head, saying, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them."8 God, who gave the law and knows why He gave it, has also said, "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all."9 "And the Levites shall speak, and say unto all the men of Israel with a loud voice, . . . Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them; and all the people shall say. Amen."10 Even the incarnate One who came on a mission of love and salvation to our lost race solemnly declared, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled."11 The law, therefore, cannot lower its demands to humor the caprices or to suit the necessities of the sinner, for then it would be no law at all. It is an unalterable expression of the will of God concerning the duty of man, and it remains forever the same in its holy precepts and in its dread penalty, whatever may be our state. Human laws are often repealed; or changed in some of their principal features; or suffered to lie on the statute book as a dead letter; because the legislators and the executive are frequently ignorant, passionate, fickle, and powerless to enforce their decrees; but the Divine law, as we have already seen, is perfect; and the Divine Lawgiver has all the resources of the universe at His command to do His bidding. Hence it is written, "If the word [that is the law] spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?"12
The law, we here learn, is steadfast, stable, firmly established; and every transgression—not only some gross and enormous transgressions, but every transgression and disobedience—is sure to receive a just recompense of reward; "for the wages of sin is death."13 What hope, then, can the sinner derive from the law or from reliance upon his own doing to be saved? None whatever. The righteousness which Moses describeth, that the man which doeth those things shall live by them, most clearly can be of no avail to the man who has not done them. The promise is only to him who doeth them, and not to him who fails to do them. If any can be found who have perfectly obeyed the requirements of the law in thought, emotion, word, and deed, they may begin to speak of winning heaven on the principle of doing; but if it can be proved that all, without exception, have disobeyed these requirements, it follows, so far as the law is concerned, that it condemns and curses the entire human family, and demands that the threatened penalty shall be inflicted.
I am not now speaking of the adorable grace and unsearchable wisdom of the Lawgiver in providing a substitute upon whom the penalty descended, instead of upon "his people which he foreknew," but my aim is to call the attention of the reader to the fact that if his reliance for salvation is upon keeping the law or upon his own doing, he is utterly helpless and hopeless. Law knows no mercy. Its whole office is discharged when it lays down a rule of action and promises to justify or to declare righteous those who conform to this rule, with the fearful alternative of punishment if the rule is violated in the slightest particular. They, then, know not what they say, nor whereof they affirm, who dismiss the tremendous realities of eternity from their attention with the flippant remark that they will be saved if they do the best they can. Even if this were true, there is not an honest man in the world who will dare say, in the presence of the holy God, that he has always done the best he could. The general confession contained in the Episcopal prayer-book, "to be said by the whole congregation after the minister," might well be said by the whole human race in the humble acknowledgment: "Almighty and most merciful Father: we have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us." Not only have we left undone many things which we ought to have done, but many things which we might have done; and not only have we done many things which we ought not to have done, but many things which we might have avoided. This, I am sure, every candid and intelligent person will promptly admit, and hence those who claim that they will be saved if they do the best they can must see, after a moment's reflection, that they will have no ground upon which they can stand in the Judgment.
But I will go a step farther and say that if my reader were able from the hour his eye falls upon these lines to abstain entirely from sin, he could not be saved in \artue of his own doing. Yes, I will take it for granted, for the sake of argument, that henceforth he can perfectly keep the law of God in thought, word, and deed; and, after all, he must inevitably be lost if his dependence is placed on his own good character and conduct; "for Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law. That the man which doeth those things shall live by them." He does not say that the man which doeth those things part of the time, but all the time; for if life is to be earned on the principle of doing the things required by the law, they must not be left undone, but done. If they are left undone once or for a single instant, all hope of being saved by doing is gone, and gone forever. Suppose, then, that when judged by the law you could truthfully claim that you had strictly observed all its commands for ten, twenty, or thirty years, the Judge would very properly reply, Why did you not observe them all the time? What were you doing the many years previous to your observance of them but committing sin continually? According to your own showing, you have utterly failed in your duty, and as you prefer to be judged by the law, O sinner, you are condemned. "Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."14
What would be thought of a court of justice which would justify or declare righteous a man arraigned at its bar on the ground that, although he had committed innumerable crimes through a long series of years, he had subsequently reformed and become an upright citizen? The chief executive might possibly pardon him in view of his reformation, but he could not do it without setting the law aside; and surely he could not pronounce him a righteous man, or right according to law. But God can never set His "holy, just and good "law aside, nor can He fail, as has been previously shown, to punish sin; and therefore, if the sinner could be obedient hereafter in every respect to the demands of the law, his subsequent good conduct could not possibly atone for his former bad conduct, nor exempt him from the penalty which is denounced against "every transgression and disobedience."
But it adds immensely to the embarrassment of the sinner, and still further proves that there is no hope for him in the law or upon the principle of doing, when we remember that, strive as he may, he will continue to sin. Admitting that he can wholly abstain from transgression by the strength of his will, and resolutions, and vows and efforts, the law cannot possibly justify him, because he has already disobeyed its precepts, and he cannot with his utmost endeavors do more than it requires; so that he comes short of his duty although he should never again be guilty of a single offense. How helpless, then, is his condition when he discovers by sad experience, as he surely will discover, that the good which he would, he does not, and the evil which he would not, that he does! When, aroused from his death sleep by the quickening voice of the Son of God, he undertakes to do something to be saved and flies to the law for refuge, he finds to his amazement that he had not known before the hidden evils of his heart. He is like a man who dwells in a dark room and imagines that it is clean, until the law enters like the sunlight and reveals the dust and defilement lying all around. He is like a man who thinks in his intoxication that he is pursuing a straight path, until the law comes, like a perfect rule, and shows him how crooked his ways have been. "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law; for I had not known lust, except the law had said. Thou shalt not covet."15
I am but stating the experience of all, without exception, who have earnestly and resolutely tried the law, or the principle of doing, in order to be saved, when I say that a miserable failure has been the uniform result; and it is owing to my anxiety to save you this bitter experience, dear reader, that I dwell so much upon a point which may seem to you of little importance. How many sincere souls might be spared months and years of gloomy despondency and harassing fears if taught at the beginning of their religious experience the utter uselessness and worthlessness of their own doing! You remember that when our blessed Lord was on the earth, "there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him. Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? "Observe that, like sinners now, he wanted to do something, and the Saviour met him on his own ground. It is as if He had said. You ask what you must do; and, since you are determined to seek salvation by doing, "thou knowest the commandments. Do not commit adultery. Do not kill, Do not steal. Do not bear false witness, Defraud not. Honor thy father and mother." You will notice that Christ takes him only to that part of the ten commandments which requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and does not refer to that higher part which requires us to love God with all the heart, and soul, and strength, and mind; because the former was sufficient to disclose to the inquirer the deceitfulness of his heart. "And he answered and said unto him. Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me." If he really loved his neighbor as himself, why did he wish to retain his immense wealth and leave others around him wretchedly poor, when, if he had been poor and they rich, he would have desired to share in their abundance? "And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved; for he had great possessions."16 Alas! with all his doing that made him so amiable and attractive, he had not complied with the spirit of the second table of the Decalogue, to say nothing of the first. My reader, if you really insist upon trying to be saved by trying to keep the law, you will discover that it will baffle your best efforts, and outstrip your most arduous pursuit of holiness, and more and more reveal the abyss of ruin in which you are plunged, and drag from their secret lurking-places in 3^our soul sins of whose existence you have probably been ignorant.
1) Matt. xxiv. 51.
2) Luke xii. 46.
3) 1 Peter iii. 15.
4) Acts xvi. 30.
5) Matt. xv. 14.
6) Acts xvi. 17.
7) Isa. viii. 20.
8) Gal. iii. 10.
9) James ii. 10.
10) Deut. xxvii. 14, 26.
11) Matt. v. 18.
12) Heb. ii. 2,3.
13) Rom. vi. 23.
14) Matt. xxv. 30.
15) Rom. vii. 7.
16) Mark x. 17-22.