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was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way ?"** In the Epistle to the Hebrews, we are informed that she received them by faith.t How she came to the knowledge of Jehovah, the sacred historian has not told us; but it is certain that she did believe in him; and, because she believed in him, received the Israelitish spies into her house. She was therefore justified before their arrival. Hence, her justification by works must signify, as in the case of Abraham, the manifestation of her faith. By them she was justified before men, or proved to be a believer; but she was justified before God prior to the performance of them.
When we consider that Paul and James had different designs, and that they speak of different kinds of faith and justification, we perceive that, notwithstanding an apparent discrepancy, the doctrine of the one perfectly harmonizes with that of the other. When James affirms, that “ by works a man is justified, and not by faith only," he does not contradict Paul, who asserts, that “we are justified by faith without the deeds of the law;"S he simply lays down this important proposition, that it is not by a simple profession of faith that we can know a man to be in a state of favour with God, but by a prosession accompanied with such good works as evince its sincerity. “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works."|| No person of common understanding, and common candour, would charge two modern Divines with contradicting each other, if to the question, How are we justified before God? the one should answer, By faith; and to the question, How are we justified before men, or proved to be genuine believers ? the other should answer, By works. It requires little sagacity to perceive, and only a little honesty to acknowledge, that, if Paul and James speak of the same subject, it is utterly impossible to reconcile them. The one or the other must be in an error; and, consequently, the one or the other must be erased from the list of the apostles, unless, with Unitarians, we will venture to deny their inspiration, and boldly maintain that they were liable to mistakes like other men. Had Paul and James been understood by the primitive Christians to treat of the same justification, their Epistles would not have been both received as divine. The one or the other would have been rejected. If two writings had appeared, in one of which it was affirmed that there are three persons in the Godhead, and in the other that there is only one person, both could not have been admitted into the canon, but the latter would have been pronounced to be the work of a heretic. Doubts were entertained of the Epistle of James by some individuals, probably because it seemed to be at variance with the doctrines of Paul; but it was received by the Jewish believers to whom it was addressed, as we learn from its insertion in the Syriac version, made, it is supposed, in the first or the beginning of the second century; and it has long been acknowledged by the whole Church as the genuine production of the apostle whose name it hears.
* James ii. 25.
+ Heb. xii. 31.
James ii. 24.
& Rom. ii. 28.
|| James ii. 18.
Refutation of the Objection, that the Doctrine of Justification by Faith is injurious to
AGAINST the doctrine of justification by faith without the works of the law, objections have been advanced, some of which have been already considered. It might have been previously expected, that it would not have been quietly received; and that, mortifying as it is to the pride of man, it would call forth many attempts to set it aside, and to secure to him, if not the whole honour, at least some share in the glory of his salvation. Accordingly, no article of faith has given rise to more violent controversies, and en exhibited in a more odious light; endeavours having been used, not only to disprove it by direct argument, but to load it with consequences from which it may appear that it cannot be true. The consequences, indeed, which are adduced from a doctrine, ought not to be always admitted as a test of its truth, for they may be unfairly drawn, and may be false even when to us they seem to be legitimate, because the subject may be obscure, and we may take only a partial view of it; but if it could be clearly shown that a doctrine leads to vice and impiety, the proof would be complete that it did not emanate from the source of all purity, but that it was an invention of men, or a suggestion of the father of lies.
There is an objection which has been frequently urged against justification by grace, and which Paul, anticipating from his knowledge of the light in which the doctrine would be viewed by men of corrupt minds, has stated and refuted. The doctrine seems to wear an unfriendly aspect to holiness, for which some men profess great zeal, and would persuade us that they are deeply concerned for its interests. In many cases, the sincerity of this profession may be called in question without a breach of charity ; because we find that those who are most eloquent in their declamations in favour of good works, are not distinguished by the practice of them; and that frequently the only proof which they give of attachment to them, consists in violent invectives against those who hold a different creed. At present, however, we shall confine our attention to their reasoning. If we are freely pardoned, they say, and if nothing is required of us that we should enjoy this blessing but to believe, this easy method of obtaining forgiveness will be an incitement to repeat our offences. May we not also be tempted to sin from the notion that, the more numerous our transgressions are, divine grace will be the more glorified in passing them by? If good works are not the condition of our restoration to the favour of God, and he is accepted who does not work, but believes, the most powerful inducement to perform them is taken away. It is the hope of being benefited by his labours, which rouses a person to active exertion. No consideration can be conceived more effectual to excite us to obedience, than the prospect of recommending ourselves to our Maker, and of being rewarded with a blessed immortality; but, if the prize is secured to us by the merit of another, nothing can be expected to follow but total remissness. Men, persuading themselves that they are justified by faith, will naturally conclude that good works are unnecessary, every purpose which they were intended to accomplish being effected by a different expedient. They will think that there is no hazard in neglecting them; and perhaps they will deem it their duty to neglect them, lest they should interfere with the righteousness of Christ, weaken
their feelings of dependence upon him, and create in their minds an idea of merit, by which his honour would be impaired.
This is the objection against our doctrine; and it is stated, I apprehend, in all its force. Justification by faith, without the works of the law, is injurious to the interests of morality, by weakening or destroying the motives to it. If the objection were well founded, if there were such an opposition between free justification and the necessity of holiness, as some men pretend, it would follow that our views are erroneous, and that what we call the Gospel of the grace of God is a licentious perversion of the truth. Paul, as we have already remarked, anticipated this objection; and it is not improbable that it was brought forward by some disputers in his days. Hence arises a strong presumption, that his doctrine and ours, in reference to this important article of religion, agree. There would have been no room for the objection, if he had taught that men are in any sense justified by works. Whatever other faults might have been found with his doctrine, it could not have been alleged that it had a tendency to set aside the obligations to duty; and if any person had been so stupid as to urge this objection, Paul would not have entered into an elaborate train of reasoning with a view to show that it was inapplicable, but would have thought it sufficient to state anew, that, according to him, good works were the condition of our restoration to the favour of God. After having declared that, “ as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous;"* after having given the same view of justification which we have exhibited, he adds, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein ? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.”+
Decisive, however, as this objection is accounted, and triumphantly as it is displayed as a complete refutation of our doctrine, it is easy to show that it discovers rather the ignorance of those who advance it, than the strength of their cause.
Three things are taken for granted, which are grossly and palpably false. It is presumed, that, if good works are not necessary to the justification of a sinner, they are not necessary for any other purpose, and are altogether useless; that justification and sanctification may be separated, or that a man may be received into the favour of God and yet continue unholy; and that the doctrine of justification by grace does not supply motives of sufficient efficacy to insure our obedience. If the reverse of these assumptions can be proved, the objection falls to the ground; and although we be justified by faith, the interests of holiness are eflectually secured.
First, It is assumed that, unless good works are the condition of justification, there is no other reason of sufficient efficacy to induce us to perform them. It is not a little strange that this idea should be adopted, especially by persons who have much to tell us concerning eternal and immutable morality, by which they mean, that morality is founded in the nature of things, is independent of time, and place, and circumstances, and is of perpetual obligation, whatever may be the condition of intelligent beings. It does not well accord with their fine declamations concerning the intrinsic beauty of virtue, the satisfaction which it imparts to the mind, and which more than compensates the difficulties and sacrifices attending the practice of it, and the disinterested character of a good man, who will cultivate virtue for its own sake. These speculations have vanished into air, and it is confessed by the authors of them that virtue requires a more substantial recommendation than its own charms; that it is in fact a calculation of interest; and that unless it hold out the prospect of solid advantage, it will have no authority upon our consciences, no attractions for our hearts. Hence we learn what are the real sentiments and feelings of the objectors, for they virtually acknowledge, that notwithstanding their pretended zeal for good works, they would not hold them in estimation were it not for their consequences; that they do not set a value upon them for their intrinsic worth, but solely because they are the means by which their own happiness will be promoted. This is a fair inference from their objection ; for they unquestionably judge from themselves, when they say, that, if men are once persuaded that works are not the condition of eternal life, they will consider themselves as loosed from any obligation to perform them. They conclude that other men would act in this manner, because they are conscious that such would be their own conduct.
* Rom. v. 18, 19.
+ Rom. vi, 1–7.
But although they can perceive no reason for the performance of good works, if they are not the meritorious cause of our justification, those who have studied the Scriptures, and imbibed their spirit, entertain a different opinion. Obedience to the divine law is our indispensable duty, without any
reference to our own interest. Nothing is more contrary to reason and piety than to suppose, that moral obligation is founded on a contract between us and our Maker, by which we engage to fulfil certain services in consideration of certain advantages. The idea assumes what is false—that we are independent beings, and voluntarily enter into an engagement to give what we might withhold. If God is the author of our existence and faculties, he has undoubted right to prescribe the purpose for which we should use those faculties, and his will constitutes a permanent obligation. The reason why we should obey is not that we expect a recompense from him, but that being our Creator he is our Sovereign Lord, to whose commands we should implicitly bow. There is no doubt that a creature would be bound to obey, although he knew that next moment he should be annihilated. The truth is, that what we do is not obedience, unless it be done from respect to his will; for to obey is to execute the orders of a superior because they are his orders, and not because they will be productive of some advantage to ourselves. And this is in fact the consideration by which true Christians are influenced. They think principally of their duty, regarding their interest as a subordinate consideration, and conform to the precepts of the law because the authority which enjoins them is sacred in their eyes. Hence it appears, that, although good works should not be the condition of justification, the reason for performing them remains in all its force. By them we discharge the debt of obedience which we owe to the Author of our being.
Again, obedience is the return which is due to God for his innumerable favours. The objectors seem to think that the expectation of new blessings is a powerful excitement to duty, but that the remembrance of past blessings will have no such effect. It is acknowledged that men are very apt to forget the kindness of a benefactor; but bad as human nature is, instances of gratitude are not uncommon, and many a willing service is performed under the influence of this feeling. In particular, we might calculate upon its powerful operation in those who have received from God the remission of their sins, and a right
to eternal life, and whose hearts have been softened and made susceptible of every good impression by the Spirit of grace. • What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits ? is a question which a justified man will naturally ask; and knowing that obedience is the most acceptable return, “ he will make haste, and not delay to keep his commandments.” The objection makes no allowance for the operation of gratitude, and supposes men, even when brought under the power of religion, to be entirely governed by selfishness. But true believers enter into the spirit of the apostolic exhortation, “ Ye are not your own; ye are bought with a price ; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."'*
In the next place, by obedience we glorify God, and recommend religion to our fellow-men: Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit ; so shall
my disciples.”+ While we thus pay to God the homage which he claims, and recognise him as a Being of essential purity, which is the glory of his nature, our conduct is calculated to make an impression upon others, and to induce them seriously to consider their obligations, and to endeavour, through Divine assistance, to fulfil them: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." These are reasons which will influence those who reflect, that the end of all the works of God is his glory; and that as it is passively promoted by the inferior parts of the creation, in which his perfections are displayed, so it is the sacred duty of intelligent beings to contribute to it actively, by the dedication of their faculties to his service. In answering the objection, we are perpetually reminded of the narrow contracted views from which it has proceeded. What is not immediately related to themselves, does not fall under the contemplation of the objectors.' Why should they glorify God, unless it can be shown that some benefit will accrue to them? They who reason in this manner, furnish the clearest evidence that they do not understand the enlightened and liberal principles of genuine piety, and are actuated by the mercenary spirit of slaves. It is certain that the spirit of a Christian would not have dictated the objection which we are at present refuting.
I remark, in the last place, that the consideration which appears to the objectors to be alone of any force to excite men to obedience, a regard to their own interest, is not wanting, according to the doctrine of justification by faith. Although good works are not the foundation of our title to eternal life, yet they are intimately connected with our happiness, and contribute to promote it. To a believer, holiness is an evidence of the existence of Divine grace in his heart, of the sincerity of his faith, and consequently of his interest in the favour of God. “ Hereby perceive we that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.”'S It is his qualification for communion with God, between whom and a creature polluted with sin there can be no comfortable intercourse. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another."|| If the joys of fellowship with God will not excite men to their duty, the promise of heaven itself, as their reward, would have as little effect; for heaven, rightly understood, is a continuation of the pleasures of devotion, and cannot be an object of desire unless those pleasures are prized above all earthly delights. And this leads me to state, that when we have abandoned the idea of good works being the condition of future happiness, there remains this strong reason for performing them, that they are indispensably necessary to prepare us for it; for this is the law, from which there is no exemption, that, “ without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.”'q He who trusts in the merit of the Saviour, feels himself impelled to the cultivation
1 Cor. vi. 20. $ 1 John iii. 19.
+ John xv. 8.
* Matt. v. 16.