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MAN CANNOT JUSTIFY HIMSELF BY DENYING OR DISPROVING
THE CHARGE OF GUILT.
Rom. iii. 20.-"By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified."
By the “ deeds of the law” is denoted conformity to the law, or obedience to the law. The word “law" here includes law of all descriptions, moral as well as ceremonial; for the apostle, in the previous part of the chapter, had referred particularly to the violation of the moral law. Having shown that men universally guilty of such violation, he draws from this argument the conclusion stated in my text, that it is impossible now for any one to be justified by obeying the law of God. The proposition, then, which I derive from the text, and which I
propose to defend, is, that man cannot be justified by his own righteousness. To see the truth of this proposition, it is necessary to know what is meant by being justified, and then to show that it cannot be secured by a man's personal obedience.
The term justify is a legal term, but it is also in common use, and is intelligible to all. An illustration or two will make it plain, and will lay the foundation for the train of thought which will be pursued in this discourse. A man is charged with murder. He may put his defence on one of two grounds. He may either deny the fact of having killed ; or admitting that, he may show that he had a right to do it, or is excusable for it. If the charge is not made out against him, of course he is just in the sight of the law, and is acquitted. Or if the fact be made out or admitted, he may take the ground either that he did it in self-defence, or that it was done under such a state of mental derangement as to destroy responsibility-and he is acquitted. He had no - malice prepense."
He intended no murder ; he committed none; and the law does not hold him guilty of the charge. A man is charged with trespass. He takes a similar ground of defence. He denies the fact, or maintains that he had à right to do what he has done. He sets up a claim to a “right of way” over a field which his neighbour owns, and having established that, he is acquitted, or is held to have donc no more than he had a right to do in the case. He is a just man in the eye of the law, and may pursue his own business, enjoy the immunities of a good citizen, the honours of an unsullied name, and protection in his rights unmolested. It may be added here, that there is no other way by which a man can justify himself in the sight of the law. He could not do it by admitting the fact of the trespass, and by paying the fine, or making compensation for the injury done ; for though he might be discharged, yet this would be no justification of what was done, and would avail nothing towards showing that he was right in doing it. It does not make a wrong right either to intend beforehand to pay for the mischief, or to make amends for it after the deed is done. This remark will be used hereafter in examining the attempts which men have made to justify themselves.
Now if man attempts to justify himself before his Maker, he must take one of the grounds referred to. He must either deny the charge brought against him; or admitting the facts in the case, he must show that he had a right to do what he has done. If he can do either of these, he will be justified, for God does not condemn the innocent. We will suppose, then, the case of a man arraigned at the bar of his Maker, as we all soon shall be, on trial with reference to eternity. There are two things that occur to us at once. What is the charge against him? What is the defence which he sets up? If there is no charge, he is justified of course. If his defence is valid, he will be acquitted.
It is necessary then, first, to look at the charge which is brought against man. The charge is, that he has violated the law of his Maker, or is a transgressor. It is that of apostacy, or revolt from God; entire failure to keep his laws; a life spent in the constant neglect of acknowledged duty, and the habitual commission of known sins. It may be assumed that every reader is sufficiently familiar with the Bible to know the nature of these charges without their being specified in detail. No one trained in a Christian community can be ignorant of the account of our race which the Bible gives. These charges of guilt do not make the impression which they ought, for these reasons :--because we are so familiar with them ; because others are implicated with us; because we do not cordially believe them. Many a man reads the account of human nature in the Bible without supposing there is anything serious in the matter, or much fitted to trouble him. There is many a one who would pass a sleepless night if he knew there was a charge of petty larceny against him, which would bring him into court to-morrow, who has no trouble at the charge of total apostacy and utter revolt brought against him by God. There is many a one who would be in the deepest consternation if he knew that his name was before a grand jury in some such connexion as his conscience could easily suggest, who has no alarm at the thought of the "grand assize," and no dread of the formidable catalogue of crimes drawn up against him in the secrecy of the Divine counsels. A few remarks will demonstrate that these charges against man in the Bible ought to make an impression, and that men ought to be willing to look at them. A case or two may therefore be supposed which will show how men ought to be affected in view of such charges brought by the Creator. The case of an officer in a bank may be referred to. He has been long there, or in other stations in public life; and has gained a character, compared with which all the gold that the vaults of the bank could contain would be worthless as the sand. Suddenly, charges are brought against him of unfaithfulness to his trust. They come from quarters worthy of his attention ; proceed from such a source as inevitably to gain the ear of the community; are such that his family must know of them; are sustained by such circumstances of actual losses in the bank as to render the charge credible; and are of such a character as to make it necessary for him to leave his post, disgraced perhaps for ever. Now it is not necessary to suppose that these accusations are true. All that is designed is to show the effect which charges of guilt, from a respectable quarter, usually have on a man's mind. But suppose he secretly knew they were all true, how could his conduct be explained, if he were utterly indifferent and unconcerned?
In regard to the charges which are brought against man a few remarks may be made here, to show why they should be allowed to make an impression on the mind. (1.) One consideration respects the source from whence they come. They are professedly the charges of our Maker and final Judge. They are those on which we are to be tried at his bar, and in reference to which our destiny is to be determined. (2.) They are the most fearful of all accusations which can be brought against a creature. No crime can be equal to that of being an enemy of God; and no offence against human society can equal, in enormity and ill-desert, the crimes of which man is charged against his Maker. (3.) The charge extends to every human being. No exception is made in favour of youth, beauty, rank, or blood; none in favour of the amiable, the honest, or the moral ; none in favour of those who have endeavoured to wipe away the accusation by their own good
conduct. It is not indeed charged that one is as bad as another, or that any one is as bad as he can be; but it is that every one is guilty of violating the law of God, and is held to be such a sinner that he cannot save himself. (4.) It is charged that each and every one is of such a character that the eternal pains of hell would be an adequate recompense for his crimes. He is held to be under condemnation, and to be justly exposed to punishment that shall be severe in the extremest degree, unmitigated, and everlasting. Each one is held to be such an evil-doer that it would be wrong for God to admit him to heaven as he is, but not wrong to consign him to unending woe. It is important not to disguise anything about this, or to seek to hide it by soft
The robber is deemed worthy of the penitentiary; the murderer is regarded as deserving death on the gibbet; and in like manner it is held in the charge brought against man, and the threatenings appended to them, that every man deserves the pains of everlasting death, and that if he should receive what is properly due to him, he would be cast off from God, and punished for ever. Such is the nature of the charges against
On these he is held guilty ; on these he will be arraigned. The Bible has two aspects. It reveals a way of pardon; but it is also the grand instrument of indictment against man. It is designed to reveal his character; to reprove his crimes ; to overwhelm him with the conviction of guilt; and to be the standard of judgment on the final day. The question therefore arises, now to be considered, whether if these are the charges against man, he can vindicate or justify himself. It has been already remarked, that there are but two grounds to be taken in such a vindication. One is, to deny the facts charged on man; the other is, if the facts be admitted, for him to show that he had a right to do as he has done. There is nothing else that can be conceived of in the case to be done by him, unless it were to attempt to make expiation or reparation by extraordinary merit, by penance, or by sacrifice; though this would not justify him for what he had done, any more than a man's paying a fine could make it right for him to put out his neighbour's eye, or burn his house. If neither of these things can be done, it will follow that man cannot be justified by his own righteousness. These points will now be considered in their order. The first is, that man cannot deny the truth of the charges brought against him. In support of this the following considerations may be urged:
(1.) The source whence these charges come. They are made by God himself. It is assumed here that the Bible is true, and the argument will be conducted on that assumption. In another part of this volume it is shown that it is equally impossible to deny the main facts, whether the Bible be true or false. The position now is, that the sinner cannot take the ground that God has mistaken the facts about man, or that he has designedly brought a false accusation. It surely cannot be necessary to go into an argument to prove this, but an illustration or two may be allowed. (a) One is, that it is impossible for God to mistake on this subject. Men often do mistake in reference to character and conduct. Charges are often falsely brought, and men are often condemned as guilty on false accusations. This
This may be intentionally done; or judges and jurors may be mistaken ; or witnesses may be suborned to sustain the accusation, or those needful for the defence may be absent; or a combination of circumstances which no human sagacity can control, may seem to confirm the charge of guilt against the innocent. But obviously no such mistake can occur in relation to the charges brought in the Bible against man, nor can man set up a vindication of himself on the ground that his Maker has erred in reference to the facts alleged. (6) As little can he urge that the accusation has been overdrawn; that a degree of guilt has been charged such as the facts would not justify; or that there has been an intermingling of prejudice or passion which has given a colouring to the charge, and that a calmer view may modify these accusations. We can easily admit that such things may occur among men. Judges and jurors are liable to the same passions as other men, and in a time of popular excitement it may happen that the contagion may reach the bench and the jury-room; and hence the laws are careful that the administration of justice shall proceed with as much calmness and coolness as possible. It may happen, also, that false charges are brought against men, because they are obnoxious to those in power. Many a one who has stood in the way of the purposes of a tyrant has been removed under the forms of law, to gratify the passions of such a man, and many a pure name has been covered with infamy by the malignity of those in authority. But it is not needful to show that none of these things can be alleged by man in regard to the charges brought against him by his Maker. It cannot be pretended that God has been hurried into these charges under the influence of passion ; or that man is obnoxious to his purposes, and that he would have him removed. The charges are made with the utmost deliberation. They are made by the most benevolent Being in the universe ; by One who can have 110 pleasure in finding out proofs of guilt; by One who, from his nature, is disposed to make every possible allowance for weak