« PreviousContinue »
I have assigned four reasons for believing that it was the righteousness which God requires, that Paul meant by “his righteousness," in verses 25 and 26. 1. It was a dispute about the righteousness which God requires, that occasioned Paul to use the phrase, “the righteousness of God.” 2. He explained the meaning to be “the righteousness which is by faith in Christ."
3. It was a righteousness “for the remission of sins," which he represents Christ as set forth to declare. 4. It is certain that Christ was set forth to declare the righteousness which God requires for the remission of sins. I think these reasons will not be denied, and cannot be invalidated. Therefore, unless the righteousness which God requires for the remission of sins, stood in the way of forgiveness, the passage
under review affords not the shadow of support to the doctrine of substituted punishment.
I cannot, however, close this chapter without remarking on the contrast which is presented by the different modes of interpreting the phrase, “the righteousness of God,"
“ his righteousness," as used by Paul in the controverted passage. According to the popular explanation of the phrase in verses 25 and 26, “the righteousness which is by faith” is supposed to consist in reliance on a vicarious punishment for the remission of sins. On the other interpretation, “ the righteousness which is by faith,” is supposed to consist in humble obedience to the moral precepts of Jesus Christ, in which God declared by him the righteousness which he requires for the remission of sinssuch obedience as results from cordially believing in Jesus as the promised Messiah and the Light of the world.
It hence becomes a serious question, whether reliance on vicarious suffering for the remission of sin, is equiva
lent to doing the will of the Father, as declared by the Son in his Sermon on the Mount, and in other discourses recorded by the evangelists ? Should any one doubt my correctness in supposing that the Sermon on the Mount was a declaration of the righteousness which God requires for the remission of sins, I would entreat him to read the sermon again, with an impartial desire to know what is its character and what was its purpose, and whether it is not adapted to the very purpose for which I have supposed it to have been delivered. I would request particular attention to the two last paragraphs of the sermon. If calling Christ " Lord, Lord," avails nothing, except we do the will of his Father,—if hearing his sayings or precepts. and doing them is like building a house on a rock, a firm foundation,—and if hearing his sayings and not doing them is like the conduct of “a foolish man who built his house on the sand," and thụs exposed it to be ruined by an approaching storm and flood; what better evidence can we desire that Christ had been declaring the righteousness which God requires for the remission of sins, and the salvation of the soul?
Let it not, however, be imagined that I am disposed to retort the censures of those who have represented a belief in vicarious punishment as essential to the faith of a Christian. Candor requires me to say, that when a reliance on a supposed vicarious sacrifice leads a person to obey the precepts of Christ and to imitate his example ; these effects are salutary, acceptable to God, and the righteousness which he requires for the remission of sinshowever incorrect may have been his views of the design of the atoning sacrifice. • Where there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not
according to that he hath not.” But when reliance on the supposed vicarious suffering renders a person indifferent or negligent in regard to obeying the moral precepts of the gospel ; this reliance, in my opinion, is pernicious in its effects, and tends to the ruin rather than the salvation of the soul.
I may also express my belief, that good people who have been in the habit of regarding the atoning sacrifice as a substitute for punishment, have been really under a mistake in supposing that they “rely solely” on such a sacrifice for pardon and acceptance with God; and that, in point of fact, they do habitually and practically regard obedience to the moral precepts of Christ as essential to peace of conscience, to the approbation of God, and to the forgiveness of their sins. But in regard to others, who do in fact “rely solely" on a vicarious sacrifice, and hence esteem personal obedience as of no account in respect to pardon; it is my opinion that the reproof of Samuel to Saul, with little variation, is truly applicable to them : “ Hath the Lord as great delight in ” a reliance on vicarious suffering, “as in obeying the voice of the Lord ? Behold, to obey is better than " reliance on “sacrifice, and to hearken, than" any faith which worketh not by love.
N. B. Since writing this chapter, I have observed that Peter used the phrase, “the righteousness of God,” in the first verse of his Second Epistle. He thus addressed the Christians to whom he wrote-—“To them that have obtained like precious faith with us, through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” He might use the phrase to denote God's faithfulness to his promises ; but I think it is more probable that he used it as Paul did, meaning the righteousness which God requires.
The Veracity of God in regard to his Threatenings.
It has been supposed that it would have been inconsistent with the veracity of God to forgive the penitent without a vicarious punishment. It may, therefore, be thought incumbent on me to show that this opinion is groundless.
Let it then be observed, that under all the forms of human government a power of pardon is supposed to exist; and this supposed power is exercised without any impeachment of veracity. Why then should it be imagined that free pardon is inconsistent with the veracity of God? “In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die," was the threatening to Adam; by which he was informed of evil to which he would be instantly exposed, if he should transgress. Perhaps, however, the meaning was no more than this, that by transgression he would become immediately liable to die, or that the sentence of death would be immediately passed upon him; and that he would be constantly liable to the execution of the sen
But whatever might be the import of the threatening, Adam was allowed a long space for repentance. May we on such ground impeach the veracity of God ? Shall we not rather infer, that in all his threatenings, God reserves to himself the power of pardon ?
Some light may. perhaps be obtained from God's language to Jeremiah : “ At what time I shall speak concerning a nation or a kingdom, to pluck up or to pull down and to destroy; if that nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.” Jer. xviii.
Jer. xviii. On this merciful principle God spared the Ninevites who repented at the preaching of Jonah.
That this principle is applicable to individuals as well as to nations, may be inferred from the ancient institution of sacrificial atonements—from the calls of God to individual repentance, and his promises of pardon to the penitent. But does not God say to Ezekiel, “ The soul that sinneth, it shall die ?”—How then can be pardon without substituted punishment ?
If we look at the words just quoted, regardless of their connexion, they would seem to exclude pardon on any ground whatever; for surely nothing is said or intimated in them relating to vicarious sacrifice. But when we examine the words with their connexion in view, they are found to be a declaration, that one shall not die for the sin of another, but every one for his own sin, except he repent. I shall quote the passage as it stands in the Bi
“ The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father ; neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep áll my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.” Ezek. xviii. 20, 21.