"Think not," saith our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, "that I am come to destroy the law, -- I am come to fulfil it," Matt. v.17. It was a needful caveat, and a very timeous advertisement, because of the natural misapprehensions in men's minds of the gospel. When free forgiveness of sins, and life everlasting, is preached in Jesus Christ, without our works; when the mercy of God is proclaimed in its freedom and fulness, the heart of man is subject to a woful misconceit of Christ, as if by these a latitude were given, and a liberty proclaimed to men to live in sin. That which is propounded as the encouragement of poor sinners to come to God, and forsake their own wicked way, is miserably wrested upon a mistake, to be an encouragement to revolt more and more. Righteousness and life, by faith in a Saviour, without the works of the law, is holden out as the grand persuasion of the gospel, to study obedience to the law. And yet such is the perverseness of many hearts, that, either in opinion or practice, they so carry themselves, as if there were an inconsistency between Christ and the law, between free justification and sanctification, -- as if Christ had come to redeem us, not from sin, but to sin. Now, to prevent this, "think not," saith he, "that I am come to destroy the law." Do not fancy to yourselves a liberty to live in sin, and an immunity from the obligation of a commandment, because I have purchased an immunity and freedom from the curse. No, "I am come to fulfil it," rather, not only in mine own person, but in yours also. And to this purpose Paul, Rom. iii.31, "Do we then make void the law by faith?" It is so natural to our rebellious hearts to desire to be free from the yoke of obedience, and therefore we fancy such a notion of faith, as may not give itself to working in love, as is active in nothing but imagination. The apostle abominates this, -- "God forbid," he detests it, as impious and sacrilegious; "yea, we establish it." So then, all returns to this, one of the great ends of Christ's coming in the flesh, and one main intendment of the gospel published in his name, is not merely to deliver us from wrath, and redeem us from the curse, (Gal. iii.13; 1 Thess. i.10,) but also, and that especially, to redeem us from all iniquity, that we might be a people zealous of good works, (Tit. ii.14); and to take away sin, and "destroy the works of the devil," 1 John iii.5, 8. We spoke something before noon, how Christ hath fulfilled the law, and established it in his own person, by obedience and suffering, -- neither of which ways it could be so well contented by any other. But there is yet a third way that he fulfils and establisheth it, and that is in our persons, "that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." He hath obliged himself to fulfil it, not only for believers, but in believers. Therefore the promises run thus, I will write my law in their hearts, and cause them to walk in my statutes, Ezek. xxxvi.27; Jer. xxxi.33. Not only I delight to do thy will, but I will make them delight to do it also. And truly, in this respect, the law is more fulfilled and established by Christ, than ever it could have been, if man had been left to satisfy it alone. If we had reckoned alone with the law, we had been taken up eternally with satisfying for the breaches of it, so that there could be no access to obedience of the command, and no acceptance either. A sinner must first satisfy the curse, for the fault done, before ever he can be in a capacity to perform new obedience on the terms of acceptation of it with God. Now the first would have taken up eternity, so that there can be no place of entry to the second; therefore, if Christ had not found out a way of free pardon of the sins that are past, and assurance of forgiveness for the time to come, the commandments of God would be wholly frustrated. "But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared," Psalm cxxx.4. The word is also "worshipped." Truly, my beloved, this is the foundation of all religion, -- free forgiveness. There had been no religion, no worship of God, no obedience to his commands throughout all eternity; there should never have been any fear, any love, any delight in God, any reverence and subjection to him, if he had not forgiveness, -- a treasure of mercies with him to bestow first upon sinners. And this makes access to stand and serve in his sight. The cloud of our transgressions is so thick and dark, that there never could have been any communion with God, if he had not found out the way to scatter and blot it out, for his own name's sake. Religion, then, must begin at this great and inestimable free gift of imputed righteousness, -- of accounting us what we are not in ourselves, because found so in another. It begins at remission of sins. But that is not all. This hath a further end, and truly it is but introductive to a further end; that so a soul may be made partaker of the gift of holiness within, and have that image of God renewed in holiness and righteousness. I would have you once persuaded to begin at this, to receive the free gift of another's righteousness, (Rom. v.17,) and another's obedience, to find your own nakedness and loathsomeness without this covering, and how short all other coverings of your own works are. O that we could once persuade you to renounce yourselves, to embrace this righteousness! Then it were easy to prevail with you to renounce sin, to put on holiness. I say, first, you must renounce yourselves, as undone in all you do, as loathsome in all that ever you loved, and come under the wide and broad skirt of Christ's righteousness, which he did weave upon the earth, for to hide our nakedness. You must once have the righteousness of the law fulfilled perfectly by another, before you can have access to fulfil one jot of it yourselves, or any thing you do be accepted. And, till this foundation be laid, you do but beat the air in religion, you build on the sand.
Now, if once you were brought this length, to renounce all confidence in yourselves, and to flee into Christ's righteousness, then it were easy to lead you a step further, -- to renounce the love of your most beloved sins. And the more lovely that Christ's righteousness is in your eyes, the more beauty would holiness and obedience have in them also unto you. Then you would labour to walk after the guidance of the Spirit.
I would have the impression of this deep in your hearts, -- that the gospel is not a doctrine of licentiousness, but a doctrine of the purest liberty, of the completest redemption. Many think it liberty to serve their lusts; and it is indeed as bonds and cords to restrain them. There is no man but would be content to be saved from the wrath to come; and therefore many snatch at such sentences of the gospel, and take them lightly, without consideration of what further is in it. But truly if this were all, it were not complete redemption, if there were not redemption from sin too, which is the most absolute tyrant in the world. I think a true Christian would account the service of sin bondage, though it were left at his own option. He that commits sin, is the servant of sin; therefore the freedom that Christ purchaseth, is freedom from sin, John viii.36. I will say more. We are delivered from wrath, that so we may be redeemed from sin. We have the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, that so the image of Christ may be renewed within us; this is the very end of that. I am sure any that discerns aright, knows sin to have infinitely more evil in it than punishment hath; nay, punishment is only evil, as it hath relation to sin. There is a beauty of justice and righteousness in punishment, but there is nothing in sin but deformity and opposition to his holiness. It is purely evil, and most purely hated of God. And if there were no more to persuade you that sin is infinitely more evil than pain, consider how our pain and punishment was really transferred upon the blessed Son of God, and that all this did not make him a whit the worse. But he was not capable of the real infusion of our sin. That would have made Christ as miserable, wretched, and impotent, as any of us, that would have disabled him so far from helping us, that he would have had as much need of a mediator as we, -- all which were highly blasphemous to imagine. Look then how much distance and difference there was between suffering, dying Christ, and wretched men living in sin. None can say but he is infinitely better, even while in pain, nor(176) the highest prince in pleasure, so much disproportion there is between sin and pain; so much is the one worse than the other. Do not think then that Christ died to purchase an indulgence for you to live in sin. Truly that were to take away the lesser evil, that the greater may remain; that were to deliver from one misery, that we may be more involved in that which is the greatest of all miseries. Nay, certainly if Christ be a Redeemer, he must redeem us from our most potent and accursed enemy, -- sin; he must take away the root, the fountain of all misery, -- sin; that which conceived in its womb all pains, sorrows, sicknesses, death and hell. You have the great end of redemption expressed, Luke i.74, 75, "That we, being delivered from all our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness." It was that for which he made man at first, and it is that for which he hath made him again, "created unto good works," Eph. ii.10. It was a higher design certainly, for which the Son of God became partaker of our nature, than only to deliver us from hell. No doubt it was to make us partakers of the divine nature, (2 Pet. i.4;) and this is the very nature of God, -- holiness and goodness. As sin is the very nature and image of the devil, so the great breach of the creation was the breaking off of this image of God. That was the heaviest fall of man, from the top of divine excellency, into the bottom of devilish deformity. Now it is this that is the great plot for which Christ came into the world, -- to make up that breach, to restore man to that dignity again; so that redemption from wrath is but a step to ascend upon, to that which is truly God's design, and man's dignity, -- conformity with God in holiness and righteousness.
O that you could be persuaded of this, -- that Christ's business in the world was not to bring a notion of an imaginary righteousness only, by mere imputation, but to bring forth a solid and real righteousness in our hearts, by the operation of his Spirit! I say, imputation, or accounting righteous, is but a mere imagination, if this lively operation do not follow. He came not only to spread his garment over our nakedness and deformity, but really and effectually to be a physician to save our souls, to cure all our inward distempers. The gospel is not only a doctrine of a righteousness without us, but of a righteousness both without, for, and within us too; -- "that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us," &c. Christ without, happiness itself without, cannot make us happy, till they come in within us, and take up a dwelling in our souls. Therefore I declare unto the most part of you who pretend to expect salvation by Jesus Christ, that you are yet in your sins, and as yet you have no fellowship in this redemption. Do you think to walk after the course of the world, and the lusts of the flesh, -- to wallow in those common pollutions and uncleannesses among men, swearing, lying, contention, railing, wrath, malice, envy, drunkenness, uncleanness, and such like, and yet be in Christ Jesus? Do not deceive yourselves, "God is not mocked." He that is in Christ is a new creature. His endeavour and study, his affection and desire, is toward a new walk after the Spirit. Are not most of you carnal, all flesh, -- the flesh gives laws, and you obey them? Are not your immortal souls enslaved to base lusts, to the base love of the world? Are they not prone to prostitute themselves to the service of your fleshly and brutish part? Why do you then imagine, that you are in Christ Jesus, partakers of his righteousness? Consider it in time, that so you may be indeed, what you now are not, but pretend to be. It is the opinion that you are in Christ already that keeps you out of him.
But, on the other hand again, there is nothing here to discourage a poor soul, that thinks subjection to sin the greatest slavery, who would as gladly be redeemed from the power of it as from hell. I say to such, whose soul's desire it is to be purged from all that "filthiness of the flesh and spirit," and whose continued aim is to walk in obedience, -- though you have many failings, and often fall and defile yourselves again, yet this comfort is holden out here unto you, -- there is no condemnation to you; Jesus Christ hath condemned sin to save you, he hath fulfilled all righteousness for you; and therefore lay you the weight of your acceptation and consolation upon what he hath done himself, and not upon what is but yet a-doing in you. Do you not find, I say, that the grace of Jesus Christ, revealed in the gospel, is that which melts your hearts most? Is not the goodness of the Lord that which persuades you most? And do not these make you loathe yourselves and love holiness? Encourage yourselves therefore in him. Hold fast the righteousness that is without you by faith, and certainly you shall find that righteousness and holiness shall in due time be fulfilled within you. I know no soul so wretched, but it may lay hold on that perfect righteousness of Christ's, and go under the covering of it, and take heart from it, if so be the desire and affection of their soul be directed to a further end, to have his Spirit dwelling within them, for the renewing of their heart "in righteousness and true holiness." I do not say, that this is a condition which you must perform before you venture to lay hold on Christ's righteousness without you; nowise, but rather I would declare unto you the very nature of faith in Christ, that it seeks delivery from wrath in him, not simply and lastly, but that a way may be made for redemption from sin, and that there may be a participation of that divine nature, which is most in its eye.