Thus said the LORD, Keep you judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.
God does not demand of a man, when He sends to him the gracious announcement of the Gospel, that he should change his heart, in order to his having a share in His proffered mercy. He does not say to him, You are now a disloyal subject, and before you can have an interest in the blood of My Son, I require you to become loyal. But He does require that he should set himself to the giving up the overt acts of disloyalty. He sends the tidings of a flee pardon to His alienated subjects, but He bids them, as it were, get ready for its reception. "Keep ye judgment, and do justice," etc. The manner in which the doctrines of Scripture are oftentimes propounded has a distinct tendency to repress men's energies, or to give them an altogether wrong direction. The Bible addresses itself unreservedly to sinners, as though they had a moral power of action, for which they were, in the largest sense, accountable, and through which they might make some progress towards deliverance. Hence, it calls on the wicked to forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and to turn unto the Lord. It bids them cease to do evil, and learn to do well; it clearly demands a preparatory reformation, and such an attention to the conduct as shall, in some sense, make way for the free pardon of the Gospel.
I. SHOW WHAT LIES WITHIN THE POWER OF THE UNCONVERTED; AND WHAT, THEREFORE, THEY ARE BOUND TO DO IF THEY HOPE FOR, CONVERSION. We apply this direction to the case of every individual, whatever his station in society; and we consider it as requiring of him a more diligent attention to the duties of that station, as preliminary to his obtaining a single share in the mercies of redemption. If he be living in any known sin, let him renounce it. God's Spirit, so to speak, is scared away by his intemperance, his lust, his uncontrolled tempers, and if he would hope for visitation from this Spirit, let him strive to sweep the chamber, and to garnish it for its reception.
II. THE PERFECT HARMONY OF THESE STATEMENTS WITH THE DOCTRINES OF GRACE. We are accustomed to preach to you the insufficiency of works, in helping forward that justification which is purely of faith; and now we seem to teach the vast importance of works, and those, too, works wrought by mere human strength, as distinctly instrumental to human salvation.
1. The throwing of a man upon certain resources which we hold him to possess, is not representing him as able to advance one step without God. It is God's own appointment that we should use the strength which we have, before more is imparted; and since we only teach submission to this appointment, there can be nothing of interference with the freeness of grace.
2. Our representation of the duties of the unconverted, if they desire conversion, must be correct, inasmuch as it is formed altogether on a Scriptural model. We refer you to the preaching of John the Baptist, as furnishing this model.
3. There is a difficult passage in the history of our Lord's ministrations, which can only be explained on the supposed truth of what we have advanced. When the young man came to Jesus, and demanded what good thing he must do that he might have eternal life, the Saviour replied, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments."
4. We admit that, if a man reform his life under the idea that the reform is meritorious, he may possibly be no nearer conversion i but if he attempt to reform, simply as a preliminary, he shall, surely, be thereby brought unto greater fitness for the reception of grace; and yet the grace when it comes shall have lost none of its characteristics, but still be grace the very freest and the most undeserved.
5. Again, salvation is a thing of faith, not of works. The very desire after conversion pre-supposes faith. If a man do not believe in the coming wrath, he can have no wish for a change that is to secure him against the outbreak of that wrath i and in exhorting him unto an immediate fighting against sin, we exhort him to bring his faith into practice.
6. The individual who goes out into the arena of life and makes an effort in his own strength to overthrow evil, will be a hundredfold better taught the moral decrepitude of man, by the little progress that he makes, or the defeat that he sustains, than another who sits down in his closet and seeks to ascertain his native insufficiency by throwing his power into a balance, or computing it by a process of mathematical calculation.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.