Do Not Seek Righteousness by the Law – Pt.1

Do Not Seek Righteousness by the Law – Pt.1

“I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” — Gal. 2:21.

When I first entered on these words, I told you what the scope of the apostle was in this epistle: he is here brining forth arguments against that error that the Galatian churches were plagued with; and arguments for that truth of the gospel that he had planted amongst them, and taught them. The truth was this, That the righteousness of a sinner for justification was only in Christ. The error of the Galatians lay in this, That something of the righteousness of the law was to be mixed therewith. My text contains two arguments against this error, drawn from a common natural head of arguing against error, by the absurdities that necessarily flow from it. Now there are two grand absurdities that flow from this doctrine of the law in point of justification, 1st, That it frustrates the grace of God; 2dly, That it makes Christ’s death to be in vain: and two more abominable things cannot be well thought of; and people have great need to fear, and to take heed of any doctrine that hath any tendency to either of them. The first of these the apostle expresses in his own person: “I do not frustrate the grace of God.” And here he speaks as a believer, and not as a minister nor an apostle; so he discourses from ver. 16, speaking of himself and the rest of the godly, like ordinary believers, that betook themselves to this way of relief by Christ’s righteousness alone. I propose four observations to speak to.

1st, That the grace of God shines gloriously in the justifying of a sinner through the righteousness of Christ: and this I have spoke to.

2dly, That frustrating the grace of God is a great and horrible sin; for so it is expressed by the apostle, “I do not frustrate the grace of God.” As if he should have said, “B1essed be God, I am not in that road; I am not one that frustrates the grace of God; I am saved by it.” How the grace of God is frustrated, and how great the sin is, I spoke to the last day. The revelation of the grace of God, and the tender of it, and the urging of it, may be frustrated, and is, by many: but the grace itself, in its powerful conveyance by the Holy Ghost on the hearts of men, always reaches its end. The grace of God is irresistible in its thorough powerful application: this I also spoke to; and would only add a word or two further about the greatness of this sin of seeking righteousness by the law, and thereby frustrating the grace of God.

1. This is a sin that but few in the world can commit. The greatest part of them that go to hell cannot commit this sin; they never frustrated the grace of God. Indeed all that are finally guilty of it go to hell; but all that go to hell are not guilty of this sin. The greatest part of the world never frustrated the grace of God, for they never heard of it; and, therefore, our Lord pronounces a woe against Capernaum, against Chorazin and Bethsaida, and tells them that they were in a worse case than Sodom and Gomorrah, than Tyre and Sidon, (Matt. 11:21), because the grace of God was never offered them as it was to the others. Sirs, let me tell you, the worst quarters in hell are for those persons that are nearest to Christ, and yet not in him by faith: of all sinners such drop deepest into the pit.

2. The devils are not guilty of this sin. There is not a devil in hell, nor out of it, that is so guilty of this sin of frustrating the grace of God, as thousands of professors in London are. The devils are haters of the grace of God; but the grace of God was never tendered to them: they only hate the grace of God as it is tendered to men, and envy it; but the grace of God was never offered to the devils. The way of preserving the holy angels, and the way of justice to the damned spirits, proclaim greatly the wonderful privilege that we have in the gospel. The holy angels are kept, and they received grace, for the election of grace fell on them: they are called the elect angels. When that great apostasy was in the upper house, all the reprobate angels fell of their own accord, and all the elect angels stood: and that election of grace towards angels ran through Jesus Christ, who was to be their preserving head. There is something that looks like this in the word of God.

But recovering grace to angels was never given; the angels that stood had preserving grace given them, to keep them in their first station; but the angels that fell had no recovering grace given them, “Christ took not on him,” saith the apostle, “the nature of angels, but was born of the seed of Abraham.” And thence it came to pass, that the devils themselves are not guilty of this sin of frustrating the grace of God. Surely then people had need to take great heed that they be not guilty of a worse sin than that which the devils can commit. There is no creature that hath frustrated the grace of God, but that creature that hath the offer of the grace of God.

3. Frustrating the grace of God is a sin that none that are in hell are guilty of. All that are finally guilty of it on earth are sent to hell, but none that are in hell are guilty of it; for when once that last sentence is executed upon them, the door of grace and mercy is for ever shut upon them. So that it is the gospel-sinner only who can frustrate the grace of God, who is guilty of that sin; and that but a small part of the world are guilty of it; that the devils in hell are not guilty of it, that all the damned in hell are not guilty of it, though they rage, and roar, and blaspheme; and ail sorts of wickedness we may well conclude to be in their miserable state: but frustrating the grace of God is a sin not to be found in hell, because grace enters not there. So much shall serve for this second point of doctrine, That it is a horrible sin to frustrate the grace of God. I come now to speak to the next doctrine.

3dly, To seek righteousness by the works of the law, is to frustrate the grace of God: for this is the scope of the apostle’s argument. It is to shew that there is no righteousness to be had by the law; and this is one argument that he proves it by, “I do not,” saith he, “frustrate the grace of God.” It is, as if he should have said, “If I sought righteousness by the works of the law, I should frustrate the grace of God; but I do not seek righteousness by the law, for I am dead to the law, and therefore I do not frustrate the grace of God.” There are two things under this doctrine that I would speak to — 1st, What is it to seek righteousness by the law? 2dly, How doth it appear that seeking righteousness by the works of the law is frustrating the grace of God? For they that are guilty of this sin of seeking righteousness by the works of the law, they are very loath to take in this, that they frustrate the grace of God: they will say, that they give all respect to the grace Of God; even the self-righteous Pharisee could claim to have the grace of God, (Luke 18:11), “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men;” “I thank God, that I am so good as I am;” when he was a poor, vain, self-conceited man all the while.

Be continued tomorrow

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