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DIFFICULTIES RESPECTING JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH.
ST. JOHN, vi. 28, 29.
Then said they unto Him, what shall we do that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.
BEFORE I proceed to the particular subject of my present sermon, I must just resume for a moment the conclusion of what I said last Sunday; in which it was said, that according to St. Paul's doctrine men could be justified in God's sight neither by the performance of outward rites and ceremonies, nor yet by works of real righteousness and holiness; they could be justified by neither, because the outward rites were of no value, and the perfect works of holiness were out of their power to do. It is of the utmost importance to keep this dis
tinction clearly in mind, for nothing can be more shocking than to place ceremonial and moral works on the same level with one another, and to suppose that the reason why we are justified by neither of them is because neither of them are of any value to salvation. Ceremonial works, it is true, are of no value, but moral are of the greatest, and while it is said that we are not justified by them, it is not owing to any fault or unworthiness on their part, but on ours; not that they are not in themselves precious, but that we do not fulfil them.
Farther, when we speak of moral works and of ceremonial works as being infinitely different, and when we say that the first have the greatest value, and the second none at all, it is at once to be understood that a moral work is not a particular act, but an act done in a particular way; that is, from certain motives and feelings. The very same thing may be a ceremonial work or a moral work, according to the state of mind under which it is done. As, for example, suppose that a man says a certain number of prayers daily, because he thinks that the mere saying them over has an effect in itself, without his being at all in earnest about the meaning of them: this is a ceremonial work. But let a man pray out of the strength and sincerity of his own feelings, because he hates sin and loves God, and craves God's help to hate sin more, and to
love Him better, then such prayer is a moral work, a work of righteousness and holiness, so far as it is done in the spirit of repentance and faith; although when done in another spirit, it was no more than a formal or ceremonial work. And this applies to every work whatsoever; no act which can be named being a moral work in itself merely, but only as being at once the thing which we ought to do, and much more as being done in the spirit with which we ought to do it; for goodness is a matter of the heart, and the inward man, and not of outward action.
We say, then, that men cannot be justified by outward actions of any sort, because although they can do such actions, yet they are when done of no value to justify. Neither can men be justified by their moral actions, because although virtue in itself, or holiness, is worthy of all honour, yet our moral actions are not sufficiently pure, nor sufficiently habitual, to deserve in God's sight the name of virtue: what we do well is not done perfectly well, and it is mixed up with a great deal of evil.
Therefore God declares to us that we must be justified by faith: and this is repeated many times over in the Scriptures, not always in the same words when the same thing is meant, nor always expressing quite the same thing, when the words used are the same. But undoubtedly there is an
excellence, a preeminence ascribed to faith in the New Testament, which forms one of the great peculiarities of the Scripture: insomuch that as in our Lord's words in the text, so in many other places, the great lesson inculcated is briefly this, "Believe and be saved."
Yet it is no less true that this lesson so expressed does not stand alone; we are told also that we shall be judged at the last day according to our works. This is St. Paul's own declaration in the fullest terms. "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." And St. James, as is well known, does not hesitate to say in express words, that a man is justified in part by his works: language which is scarcely so strong as that of the Epistle to the Hebrews, where it says "God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love which you have showed towards His name;" for by saying "God is not unrighteous to forget your work," the conclusion must be, if we take the words literally, that God would be unrighteous if He did forget it, that is, that the works of love spoken of had an absolute claim of right upon God's reward; which would be at once the doctrine of merit, and a making of our salvation to be, in certain cases at least, a matter not of grace but of debt.
Why do I mention passages seemingly so opposite? Is it merely to involve the question in more difficulty, to represent the Scriptures as teaching nothing clearly about it, or as speaking contradictions, so that we must either cast off St. Paul on the one hand, or St. James and the Epistle to the Hebrews on the other? God forbid: I believe that here, as in other matters, the seeming contradictions of the Scripture are amongst its most precious lessons; and that by casting off any part of that revelation which God has, as it were, joined together as one, we should but impair the value of the other part which we retained. But I mention them to show, in the first place, the difficulty of the subject, and that it is very easy to fail in expressing what the Scripture means to convey altogether, so as to omit something which ought not to be omitted, and to put forward other things too prominently and too exclusively. And I mention them yet more to show that we ought not to be nice in finding fault with each other's language on such points, seeing that the language which we often condemn in one another is no more than what St. Paul on one hand, and St. James on the other, have said before us; have said, and have said also with no qualification expressed along with it; and yet it would be very rash, and very painful, to say that either of these apostles was inculcating error. Therefore, although a man's language may awaken