Now we know that what things soever the law said, it said to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped…
I. THE ASSERTION OF THE TEXT IS, THAT OUR WHOLE RACE IS INCAPABLE OF EVER BEING JUSTIFIED ON THE GROUND OF HAVING KEPT THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE MORAL LAW OF GOD.
1. This may be easily illustrated by a reference to Scripture.
(1) It declares that the moral law, under which we have been created, commands us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
(2) It also asserts that man is destitute of that love; and that, in the place of it, he cherishes a spirit of enmity to his Maker; and the constitution of civil society everywhere proceeds upon the assumption that men are selfish, faithless, violent, and cruel, and laws are everywhere made to counteract those hateful tendencies.
(3) It reveals to us that our first parents disobeyed God, and transmitted a sinful taint to their posterity. Thus we see that sin is not an accident to, but a universal fact in, human nature. "By one man, sin entered into the world," etc. Such are the declarations of Scripture, and to the truth of them our own consciousness bears undoubted testimony. As soon as any one of us begins to compare himself with the law under which he is created, or even with the imperfect moral standard held forth by his own conscience, he acknowledges himself a sinner, coming short of the praise of God. Nor does anyone find himself alone in this condition. He is surrounded by just such beings, an inhabitant of a world lying in wickedness.
II. BUT HERE THE QUESTION ARISES, SINCE WE CANNOT BE JUSTIFIED ON THE GROUND OF INNOCENCE, MAY WE NOT BY SOME WORKS OF OUR OWN? This question, from the beginning, has deeply agitated the human soul.
1. The first expedient, which seems universally to have suggested itself, was the offering of expiatory victims. But such an expedient as this inevitably loses its efficacy as soon as man listens to the voice of his own consciousness. He then feels that guilt is a personal thing, and that he himself is a sinner. It is he, in his own person, that must answer at the bar of offended justice. Guilt cannot be transferred to a brute, nor can it at will be laid upon the conscience of another. Hence the worshipper returned from the sacrifice unsatisfied and unblessed. The Jew confessed that it was not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin. The pagan retired from the flowing libation and the smoking hecatomb bearing about within him a conscience still burdened with the guilt of unpardoned sin.
2. Another expedient has been to offer reparation to the violated law by repentance and reformation. But if this doctrine be true —
(1) It must proceed upon an entire change of the moral law. The law which the Scriptures have revealed is, that the wages of sin is death. To declare, however, that if a man repents, he is entitled to justification, is to introduce another law, and to declare not that sin of itself is deserving of death, but only sin unrepented of. Now, I ask, where do we find the authority for announcing such a law? Revelation does not teach it. No government on earth could be administered upon this principle.
(2) It would lead to new views of Divine justice. If a sinner can claim justification at the hands of God in virtue of repentance, then there would seem but little distinction to exist between innocence and guilt. He who had kept the whole law without fault, and he who had broken every commandment through life, and at last repented, would both stand in the same moral condition before God; both, on the ground of their own doings, being entitled to be treated as innocent.
(3) It would lead us to believe that God Himself entertained no moral displeasure against sin, but only against sin unrepented of. The announcement of His law would seem to be, that holiness and sin repented of were equally lovely in His sight, inasmuch as they were by His law entitled to the same reward. The Deity would thus seem to entertain less abhorrence to sin than the penitent himself.
(4) It would defeat its own object; for, were this the law, repentance would be impossible. Repentance can only arise from a conviction of the moral turpitude of sin; it is an abhorrence of the act purely on account of its moral wrong, But, upon the supposition in question, sin itself is not wrong, or odious in the sight of God, but only sin unrepented of. But, if the act itself be not morally detestable, of what is there for us to repent? We are to be penitent not for the act, but for our impenitence, while penitence itself is impossible, because the act is not in itself worthy of condemnation. To me, then, the Scriptures seem to assert that repentance can offer no atonement for sin. If the law be holy, and just, and good, it is holy, and just, and good, that it be enforced. If a man repent of his sins, this is right; but under a system of law, this can make no reparation for past transgression. The man confesses that the law is just; but this confession does not render it less just. He acknowledges that he deserves to perish; but this does not alter his desert. "Therefore, by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified," etc.
III. THE GOSPEL IS AN OFFER OF UNIVERSAL PARDON THROUGH THE MEDIATION OF CHRIST.
1. To reveal this great and astonishing truth is the great design of revealed religion. Natural religion intimated to us our sin, and dimly foreshadowed our doom. But from natural religion itself no news of reconciliation could proceed. It is the gospel alone that brings life and immortality to light.
2. For the announcement of this great central truth, the whole previous history of our world was one magnificent preparation.
3. Although, then, by the deeds of the law no flesh can be justified, yet we may not despair, "for our help is laid upon One that is mighty," One who is able to save to the uttermost everyone that believeth.
(F. Wayland, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.