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HAVING passed over these few scriptures, I shall come to particular instances of persons who have been justified; and shall briefly touch their qualifications in the act of God’s justifying them.
In the beginning of this chapter you find these two persons reasoning with the serpent, the effect of which discourse was, “They take of the forbidden fruit, and so break the command of God,” Genesis 3:7-15.
What followeth? Not one precept by which they should by works obtain the favor of God, but the promise of a Savior; of which promise this 21st verse is a mystical interpretation: “The Lord God made them coats of skins, and clothed them,” Genesis 3:21.
Hence observe, 1. That these coats were made, not before, but after they had made themselves aprons; a plain proof their aprons were not sufficient to hide their shame from the sight of God. 2. These coats were made, not of Adam’s inherent righteousness, for that was lost before by sin, but of the skins of the slain lambs, types of the death of Christ, and of the righteousness brought in thereby — “By whose stripes we are healed,” Isaiah 53. 3. This is further manifest; for the coats, God made them; and for the persons, God clothed them therewith; to shew that as the righteousness by which we must stand just before God from the curse is a righteousness of Christ’s performing, not of theirs; so he, not they, must put it on them also, for of God we are in Christ, and of God his righteousness is made ours, 1 Corinthians 1:30.
But, I say, if you would see their antecedent qualifications, you find them under two heads — 1. Rebellion. 2. Hypocrisy.
Rebellion, in breaking God’s command; hypocrisy, in seeking how to hide their faults from God. Expound this by gospel language, and then it shews “that men are justified from the curse in the sight of God while sinners in themselves.” Secondly, “The Lord had respect to Abel and to his offering,” Genesis 4:4.
By these words we find the person first accepted, “The Lord had respect unto Abel.” And indeed, where the person is not first accepted, the offering will not be pleasing; the altar sanctifies the gift, and the temple sanctifieth the gold, Matthew 23:16-21; so the person, the condition of the person, is that which makes the offering either pleasing or despising. In the epistle to the Hebrews it is said, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous,” Hebrews 11:4.
Now faith hath to do with God through Christ; not with him through our works of righteousness. Besides, Abel was righteous before he offered, before he did do good, otherwise God would not have testified of his gift. “By faith he obtained witness that he was righteous,” for God approved of his gifts. Now faith, I say, as to our standing quit before the Father, respects the promise of forgiveness of sins through the undertaking of the Lord Jesus. Wherefore Abel’s faith as to justifying righteousness before God looked not forward to what should be done by himself, but back to the promise of the seed of the woman, that was to destroy the power of hell, “and to redeem them that were under the law,” Genesis 3:15; Galatians 4:4,5. By this faith he shrouds himself under the promise of victory, and the merits of the Lord Jesus. Now being there, God finds him righteous; and being righteous, “he offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than his brother;” for Cain’s person was not first accepted through the righteousness of faith going before, although he seemed foremost as to personal acts of righteousness, Genesis 4. Abel therefore was righteous before he did good works, but that could not be but alone through that respect God had to him for the sake of the Messias promised before, Genesis 3:15. But the Lord’s so respecting Abel presupposeth that at that time he stood in himself by the law a sinner, otherwise he needed not to be respected for and upon the account of another. Yea, Abel also, forasmuch as he acted faith before he offered sacrifice, must thereby entirely respect the promise, which promise was not grounded upon a condition of works to be found in Abel, but in and for the sake of the seed of the woman, which is Christ, Galatians 4:4; which promise he believed, and so took it for granted that this Christ should break the serpent’s head — that is, destroy by himself the works of the devil; to wit, sin, death, the curse, and hell. By this faith he stood before God righteous, because he had put on Christ; and being thus, he offered; by which act of faith God declared he was pleased with him, because he accepted of his sacrifice. Thirdly, “And the Lord said unto her — The elder shall serve the younger,” Genesis 25:23.
These words, after Paul’s exposition, are to be understood of justification in the sight of God, according to the purpose and decree of electing love, which had so determined long before that one of these children should be received to eternal grace; but mark, not by works of righteousness which they should do, but “before they had done either good or evil;” otherwise “the purpose of God” according to election, not of works, but of him that calleth, “could not stand,” but fall in pieces, Romans 9:10-12. But none are received into eternal mercy but such as are just before the Lord by a righteousness that is complete; and Jacob having done no good, could by no means have that of his own, and therefore it must be by some other righteousness, “and so himself be justified from the curse in the sight of God while a sinner in himself.” Fourthly, The same may be said concerning Solomon, whom the Lord loved with special love as soon as born into the world ( 2 Samuel 12:24,25), which he also confirmed with signal characters. “He sent (saith the Holy Ghost) by the hand of Nathan the prophet, and he called his name Jedidiah, because the Lord loved him.” Was this love of God extended to him because of his personal virtues? No, verily; for he was yet an infant.
He was justified then in the sight of God from the curse by another than his own righteousness. Fifthly, “And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live,” Ezekiel 16:6.
The state of this people you have in the former verses described, both as to their rise and practice in the world, Ezekiel 16:1-5. (1.) As to their rise. Their original was the same with Canaan, the men of God’s curse, Genesis 9:25. Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; the same with other carnal men, Romans 3:9. “Thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite.” (2.) Their condition, that is shewed us by this emblem — 1. They had not been washed in water. 2. They had not been swaddled. 3. They had not been salted. 4. They brought filth with them into the world. 5. They lay polluted in their cradle. 6. They were without strength to help themselves. Thus they appear and come by generation.
Again, as to their practice — 1. They polluted themselves in their own blood. 2. They so continued till God passed by — “And when I passed by thee, I saw thee polluted in thine own blood” — in thy blood, in thy blood; it is doubled. Thus we see they were polluted born, they continued in their blood till the day that the Lord looked upon them; polluted, I say, to the loathing of their persons, etc. Now this was the time of love — “And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.” Question: But how could a holy God say, live, to such a sinful people? Answer: Though they had nought but sin, yet he had love and righteousness. He had, 1. Love to pity them; 2. Righteousness to cover them: “Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love,” Ezekiel 16:8. What follows? (1.) “I spread my skirt over thee;” and, (2.) “Covered thy nakedness;” yea, (3.) “I sware unto thee;” and, (4.) “Entered into covenant with thee;” and, (5.) “Thou becamest mine.” My love pitied thee; my skirt covered thee. Thus God delivered them from the curse in his sight. “Then I washed thee with water (after thou wast justified); yea, I thoroughly washed away thy blood from thee, and anointed thee with oil,” Ezekiel 16:9.
Sanctification, then, is consequential, justification goes before — the Holy Ghost by this scripture setteth forth to the life, free grace to the sons of men while they themselves are sinners. I say, while they are unwashed, unswaddled, unsalted, but bloody sinners; for by these words, “not washed, not salted, not swaddled,” he setteth forth their unsanctified state; yea, they were not only unsanctified, but also cast out, without pity, to the loathing of their persons; yea, “no eye pitied them, to do any of these things for them;” no eye but his whose glorious grace is unsearchable; no eye but his who could look and love; all others looked and loathed; but blessed be God that hath passed by us in that day that we wallowed in our own blood; and blessed be God for the skirt of his glorious righteousness wherewith he covered us when we lay before him naked in blood. It was when we were in our blood that he loved us; when we were in our blood he said, Live. Therefore, “men are justified from the curse in the sight of God while sinners in themselves.” Sixthly, “Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and stood before the angel,” Zechariah 3:3.
Thus therefore Joshua stood. Now Joshua was clothed (not with righteousness, but) with filthy rags! Sin upon him, and Satan by him, and this before the angel! What must he do now? Go away? No; there he must stand. Can he speak for himself? Not a word; guilt had made him dumb, Isaiah 53:12. Had he no place clean? No; he was clothed with filthy garments.
But his lot was to stand before Jesus Christ, that maketh intercession for transgressors — “And the Lord said unto Satan, the Lord rebuke thee, Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem, rebuke thee,” Zechariah 3:2.
Why, the Lord clothes him with change of raiment: the iniquities were his own, the raiment was the Lord’s — “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.” We will not here discourse of Joshua’s sin, what it was, or when committed; it is enough to our purpose that he was clothed with filthy garments, and that the Lord made a change with him by causing his iniquity to pass from him, and by clothing him with change of raiment. But what had Joshua antecedent to this glorious and heavenly clothing? The devil at his right hand to resist him, and himself in filthy garments — “Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. And he answered and spake to those that stood before him saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment,” Zechariah 3:3,4.
II. But to pass the Old Testament types, and to come to the New. First, “And when he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might go with him. Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things God hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee,” Mark 5:18,19.
The present state of this man is sufficiently declared in these particulars — 1. He was possessed with a devil; with devils, with many; with a whole legion, which some say is six thousand, or thereabouts. 2. These devils had so the mastery of him as to drive him from place to place into the wilderness among the mountains, and so to dwell in the tombs among the dead, Luke 8. 3. He was out of his wits; he would cut his flesh, break his chains, nay, “no man could tame him,” Mark 5:7. 4. When he saw Jesus, the devil in him, as being lord and governor there, cried out against the Lord Jesus. In all this what qualification shews itself as precedent to justification? None but such as devils work, or as rank Bedlams have. Yet this poor man was dispossessed, taken into God’s compassion, and was bid to shew it to the world — “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee;” which last words, because they are added over and above his being dispossessed of the devils, I understand to be the fruit of electing love — “I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion,” which blesseth us with the mercy of a justifying righteousness; and all this, as by this is manifest, without the least precedent qualification of ours. Secondly, “And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both,” Luke 7:42.
The occasion of these words was, for that the Pharisee murmured against the woman that washed Jesus’ feet, because “she was a sinner,” ( Luke 7:37); for so said the Pharisee, and so saith the Holy Ghost; but saith Christ, Simon, I will ask thee a question — “A certain man had two debtors. The one owed him five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both,” Luke 7:42.
Hence I gather these conclusions — 1. That men that are wedded to their own righteousness understand not the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins. This is manifested by the poor Pharisee; he objected against the woman because she was a sinner. 2. Let Pharisees murmur still, yet Christ hath pity and mercy for sinners. 3. Yet Jesus doth not usually manifest mercy until the sinner hath nothing to pay — “And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly (or freely, or heartily) forgave them both.” If they had nothing to pay, then they were sinners; but he forgiveth no man but with respect to a righteousness; therefore that righteousness must be another’s; for in the very act of mercy they are found sinners. They had nothing but debt, nothing but sin, nothing to pay: “Then they were justified freely by grace, through that redemption that is in Jesus Christ.” So, then, “men are justified from the curse in the sight of God while sinners in themselves.” Thirdly, “And when he saw their faith, he said unto the man, Thy sins are forgiven thee,” Luke 5:20.
And observe it, the faith here mentioned is not to be reckoned so much the man’s, as the faith of them that brought him; neither did it reach to the forgiveness of sins, but to the miracle of healing; yet this man in this condition had his sins forgiven him.
But again; set the case the faith was only his (as it was not), and that it reached to the doctrine of forgiveness, yet it did it without respect to righteousness in himself; for guilt lay still upon him, he had now his sins forgiven him.
But this act of grace was a surprisal; it was unlooked for: “I am found of them that sought me not,” Isaiah 65. They came for one thing, he gave them another; they came for a cure upon his body, but, to their amazement, he cured first his soul: “Thy sins are forgiven thee.”
Besides, to have his sins forgiven betokeneth an act of grace; but grace and works as to this are opposite, Romans 11:6; therefore “men are justified from the curse in the sight of God while sinners in themselves.” Fourthly, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son,” Luke 15:21.
What this man was, is sufficiently declared in Luke 15:13, etc. As first, a riotous spender of all — of time, talent, body, and soul. 2. He added to this his rebellion great contempt of his father’s house — he joined himself to a stranger, and became an associate with swine, Luke 15:15,17.
At last, indeed, he came to himself. But then observe, (1.) He sought not justification by personal performances of his own; (2.) Neither did he mitigate his wickedness; (3.) Nor excuse himself before his father, but first resolveth to confess his sin; and coming to his Father, did confess it, and, that with aggravating circumstances: “I have sinned against heaven; I have sinned against thee; I am no more worthy to be called thy son,” Luke 15:18.
Now what he said was true or false; if true, then he had not righteousness; if false, he could not stand just in the sight of his father by virtue of his own performances. And, indeed, the sequel of the parable clears it. His father said to his servant, “Bring forth the best robe,” the justifying righteousness, “and put it upon him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet,” Luke 15:22. This best robe, then, being in the father’s house, was not in the prodigal’s heart; neither stayed the father for further qualifications, but put it upon him as he was, surrounded with sin and oppressed with guilt. Therefore “men are justified from the curse in the sight of God while sinners in themselves.” Fifthly, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost,” Luke 19:10.
The occasion of these words was, for that the Pharisees murmured because “Jesus was gone to be a guest to one that was a sinner,” yea, a sinner of the publicans, and these words are most fitly applied to the case in hand.
For though Zaccheus climbed the tree, yet Jesus Christ found him first, and called him down by his name; adding withal, “For today I must abide at thy house;” which being opened by verse 9, is as much as to say, I am come to be thy salvation. Now this being believed by Zaccheus, he made haste and came down, and “received him joyfully.” And not only so, but to declare to all the simplicity of his faith, and that he unfeignedly accepted of this word of salvation, he said unto the Lord, and that before all present, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation (a supposition intimating an affirmative), I restore him fourfold.” This being thus, Christ doubleth his comfort, saying to him also, and that before the people, “This day is salvation come to this house.” Then, by adding the next words, he expounds the whole of the matter, “For I am come to seek and save that which was lost” — to seek it till I find it, to save it when I find it. He finds them that sought him not, Romans 10:20; and, as in the case of Zaccheus, behold me! to a people that asked not after him. So, then, seeing Jesus findeth this publican first, preaching salvation to him before he came down from the tree, it is evident he received this as he was a sinner; from which faith flowed his following words and works as a consequence. Sixthly, “Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, This day shalt thou be with me in paradise,” Luke 23:43.
This was spoken to the thief upon the cross, who had lived in wickedness all his days; neither had he so much as truly repented — no, not till he came to die; nay, when he first was hanged he then fell to railing on Christ. For though Luke leaves it out, beginning but at his conversion; yet by Matthew’s relating the whole tragedy, we find him at first as bad as the other, Matthew 27:44.
This man, then, had no moral righteousness, for he had lived in the breach of the law of God. Indeed, by faith he believed Christ to be King, and that when dying with him. But what was this to a personal performing the commandments? or of restoring what he had oft taken away? Yea, he confesseth his death to be just for his sin; and so leaning upon the mediation of Christ he goeth out of the world. Now he that truly confesseth and acknowledgeth his sin, acknowledgeth also the curse to be due thereto from the righteous hand of God. So, then, where the curse of God is due, that man wanteth righteousness. Besides, he that makes to another for help, hath by that condemned his own (had he any) of utter insufficiency. But all these did this poor creature; wherefore he must stand “just from the law in the sight of God while sinful in himself.” Seventhly, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Acts 9:6. What wilt thou have me to do? Ignorance is here set forth to the full. He hitherto knew not Jesus, neither what he would have him to do; yet a mighty man for the law of works, and for zeal towards God according to that. Thus you see that he neither knew that Christ was Lord, nor what was his mind and will — “I did it ignorantly, in unbelief,” 1 Timothy 1:13-15. I did not know him; I did not believe he was to save us; I thought I must be saved by living righteously, by keeping the law of God. This thought kept me ignorant of Jesus, and of justification from the curse by him. Poor Saul! how many fellows hast thou yet alive! — every man zealous of the law of works, yet none of them know the law of grace; each of them seeking for life by doing the law, when life is to be had by nought but believing in Jesus Christ. Eighthly, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” Acts 16:31.
A little before, we find Paul and Silas in the stocks for preaching of Jesus Christ; in the stocks in the inward prison by the hands of a sturdy jailer; but at midnight, while Paul and his companion sang praises to God, the foundations of the prison shook, and every man’s bands were loosed.
Now the jailer being awakened by the noise of this shaking, and supposing he had lost his prisoners, drew his sword, with intent to kill himself; “But Paul cried out, Do thyself no harm, for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” In all this relation here is not aught that can justify the jailer. For, 1. His whole life was idolatry, cruelty, and enmity to God. Yea, 2. Even now, while the earthquake shook the prison, he had murder in his heart — yea, and in his intentions too; murder, I say, and that of a high nature, even to have killed his own body and soul at once. Well, 3. When he began to shake under the fears of everlasting burnings, yet then his heart was wrapped up in ignorance as to the way of salvation by Jesus Christ: “What must I do to be saved?” He knew not what — no, not he.
His condition, then, was this: he neither had righteousness to save him, nor knew he how to get it. Now, what was Paul’s answer? Why, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (look for righteousness in Christ), and then thou shalt be saved.” This, then, still holdeth true, “men are justified from the curse in the sight of God whilst sinners in themselves.”