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The haughty Israelite felt that he was a descendant of Abraham, who was distinguished in so singular a manner as to be styled “ the friend of God.”—The favour of Jehovah was extended even to his descendants; since it was foreshewn that from him would be raised up a mighty nation, who should rule in full sovereignty over the land of Canaan ; and through whom blessings should be derived to all the nations under Heaven. The bigoted Jew professed himself a disciple of Moses; the author of that law, which set a wide distinction between him and all other people; and he thought that, by conforming to the ceremonies required by that law, he was enabled to establish a full right to a participation in the favour of that God who had shewn such signal kindness to Abraham, and had severed his posterity from the Gentile world in so marked a way, as to proclaim them, his called, his elect or chosen, his saints, his royal priesthood, his peculiar people. This haughty Israelite, this bigoted Jew, no doubt was conscious that his more immediate forefathers had, on many occasions, departed from that obedience, which was the proud characteristic of Abraham; and that adhe rence to the ceremonial and moral law, which was enjoined to the disciples of Moses. For this general defection of principle, they had been visited by severe national punishments; more especially, in the la mentable captivity to which the kingdoms of Israel and Judah had been subjected, and from which the latter only had been permitted to return. Nevertheless, they.conceived that these manifestations of Divine wrath were only temporary; they assumed
to themselves the merit of having abandoned that idolatry, by which their forefathers had been so fatally ensnared; and they conceived that the Messiah, who had been so long predicted as about to arise in the royal house of David, was designed to put an end to their present state of punishment and degradation, to acknowledge their merit for a more strict and zealous conformity to all the rites of the law, and to raise for them a sovereignty founded upon a basis, which could not be shaken. Thus would they be enabled to assert a just superiority over Gentiles, who were equally abhorred as idolaters and as conquerors ; equally hostile to their religion and their independence. ( Now it was customary with the Israelites to express the favour, in which they were held in the sight of God, and the privileges they enjoyed in consequence of that favour by the general term, justification. To justify was to consider or account righteous ; and for merit, whether inherent in themselves, or derived from others, to bestow favour or reward. As the blessings, ensured to the Patriarchs or promised under the law, consisted of worldly advantages, but bestowed immediately from Heaven, there was a mixture of earthly and spiritual ideas in the language as well as feelings of Jews, which produces an appearance of confusion in the language of Scripture, unless pains are taken to make the proper discrimination; unless we duly consider, when reference is made solely to the case of Jews, or when, by figure or by inference, Christians are themselves concerned. That Judaism was preparatory to the Gos
pel; that the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ; is a truth upon which the very foundation of our religion depends ; the hinge upon which turn all our knowledge and hope of heavenly things. Nevertheless they are as distinct, as any two things can be, between which any connexion subsists; and it is important to us, if we wish to have a really accurate knowledge of that wherein we make our boast, upon no account whatsoever to give the terms, belonging to the one, so large a signification, as to conceive them equally belonging to the other.
Upon this subject of the sense, in which the word justification” is used in the Epistles, a more convenient opportunity will arise for entering into some necessary explanation, when we arrive at the consideration of particular parts of this Epistle. It appeared desirable however to throw out a general caution to Christians not to mistake the meaning of terms, about which the Jews themselves were not always clear in their conception and upon which it formed a part of the Apostle's design, when he addressed the Romans, to give his countrymen an opportunity of forming notions more correct.
In fact, it was with the view of pointing out and correcting the erroneous notions of his countrymen respecting their religious privileges, or, as they termed it, their justification in the sight of God, as strictly due to them and as necessarily withholden from the Gentiles, that he composed this Epistle. And he has argued it in such a way, as at once to impress upon his unbelieving countrymen the mortifying truth, that they could no longer be considered objects of Divine favour, or justified in the sight of God, unless they received the Gospel; and at the same time to assure to the Gentiles the certainty of their acceptance upon the terms prescribed in that Gospel.
With these views then, prompted by the peculiar nature of the errors then prevailing, and by a wish to avert the mischief resulting from them—in the calamities, that were shortly to fall upon such Jews as persisted in their unbelief,—and in the dissensions, that unhappily rankled in the church of Christ itselfSt. Paul addressed this Epistle to the Romans. After a solemn but affectionate salutation; after expressions of warm commendation on their faith, and of his own deep anxiety for their spiritual welfare ; he proceeds at once to lay open the true nature of the Gospel, and commences with the startling proposition contained in the text-startling, I mean, to those who are accustomed to contemplate the Gospel in its features of grace and mercy alone, and to welcome it, as announced by the Heavenly messengers, and as actually designed, to promote peace on earth, and display good-will towards men. St. Paul however represents the publication of the Gospel as a manifestation of Divine displeasure. " The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.”
We must here carefully observe that, although these representations of the intentions and effects of the Gospel be of an opposite tendency, yet they are not at all contradictory. They only take a different view of the same subject; and apply their observations to different parts of the same very complicated system.
No one, who is conversant with the scriptures either of the Old or New Testament; no one, who has considered the predictions contained in the former, and traced the conduct of the Jewish nation through different periods of transgression up to that dreadful consummation of national guilt, which is recorded in the latter; no one, I say, who has thus read and reflected, can possibly doubt that the will of God, declared by the Gospel, contained a denunciation of woe, as well as an offer of grace. The law of Moses was expressly proposed to the people of Israel as a blessing and a curse :-“ Behold, I set before you this day,” said Moses,“ a blessing and a curse; a blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day, and a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of thę Lord your God.”
je bio trid jadi In like manner, the law. of Christ was announced as the only mean, by which the effects of God's displeasure against sin could possibly be averted, The forerunner of our Lord dwelt only upon the vengeance, which was about to be displayed, in order to awaken his hearers to immediate repentance. 140 generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come ?-+And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, West into the fire." There is indeed a striking resem,
a Deut. xi. 26-28.
• Matt. iii. 7-10.