Do Not Seek Righteousness by the Law – Pt.2

Do Not Seek Righteousness by the Law – Pt.2

1. What is it to seek righteousness by the works of the law? By law here I mean the holy spotless law of God. The law of man hath nothing to do in the point of righteousness before God. This seeking of righteousness by the law is righteousness in God’s sight; the apostle states the matter so. No man is justified by the law in the sight of God. That a man is justified by the law in the sight of men, nobody can deny. We should be very careful to justify ourselves in the sight of men by the law, and our conformity to it; but this righteousness here spoken of is righteousness in the sight of God, and righteousness by the law of God; and it stands in three things.

1st, Righteousness by the law is that which obtains a man’s acceptance with God. That is righteousness by the law that procures a man’s acceptance with God; upon the account of which he stands before God as a righteous man, and is dealt with accordingly. Now, he that seeks righteousness by the law in this sense, is one who dreams, that by doing and obeying what the law requires, he may work out that for which he may stand righteous and accepted in God’s sight. And that is one way this sin is committed.

2dly, In this righteousness before God by the works of the law, there is an expectation of impunity for all that is past in transgressing the law. And we find that this must necessarily be the righteousness of a holy man, who stands in a state of acceptance with God; but the righteousness of a man who hath been once a sinner must be by having that which may bring him into a state of impunity and safety of all the transgressions that he hath been guilty of before. Now, men are guilty of seeking righteousness by the works of the law this second way, when they do, or think to do, that for which God will forgive all their transgressions, and forget all that they have done: and of this the Pharisee made no question: though he was a sinner, yet he comes and prays, and expects acceptation in God’s sight, and the forgiveness of his sins, upon the account of the good that he had done.

3dly, In this righteousness by the works of the law there is a title to eternal life. He that, by what he doth, expects to have a right conferred upon him to eternal life, is a man that seeks righteousness by the law: “Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” said the poor young legalist, (Matt. 19:16). I would gladly have eternal life, and would gladly have a right to it: Master, tell me what good thing shall I do to get it. These are the three ways by which men seek righteousness by the law:—To do that whereby a man may obtain acceptance before God: To do that for which he may obtain pardon and impunity from God: To do that for which he may have a right conferred on him to eternal life. But, you will say, this is so gross Popery, that there is no Protestant guilty of it. Alas! alas! every natural man is guilty of it; and it is only the almighty power of the Spirit of God that can erase it out of their hearts. I will offer you some plain proofs of this.

1. How many are there, when their hearts are examined, must acknowledge that their eyes are altogether on the precepts of the law, and not a thought on the promises of the gospel? How many poor creatures are there that begin to be thoughtful about their salvation, insomuch that they make people that are about them, who are ignorant and charitable, think that they are hopeful Christians. But try these people this way, and you will find that all the exercise of their religion is about the precepts of the law, and they have no exercise at all about the promises of the gospel, he that minds only the precepts, is only a doer; and he that minds not the promise, he is no believer: for the precept is the rule of practice; but it is the promise that is the foundation of faith. Now, how can that man be reckoned a believer, that hath no heart-exercise about the promises?

2. A great many people are mightily taken up about their own works, and but very little about Christ’s. Our righteousness doth not stand in our own works; but stands in Christ’s works, what Christ did, and suffered for us in his life, and death, and resurrection; therein stands our righteousness. Now, how many poor creatures are there that reckon it a great matter, and glory mightily in their own doings: if they pray, and hear, and read, and can but make any sort of reformation in their conversation, how big do these things appear in their eyes! But Christ’s life and death, and all his great performances for our salvation, are mean and low, and of small esteem with them. And do not these sort of people seek righteousness by the law? Aye surely.

3. They look for eternal life, but they look for it as a reward of works, and not as an inheritance given by gift and grace; and all servants and slaves must do so, and all natural men are slaves, they are children of the bondwoman, (Gal. 4:31); they work for fear of punishment, and in hopes of the crown: they work for wages; the wages they love, and would have, but the work they hate. Whereas the believer acts just the contrary; he loves the work, and he expects the wages as the gift of grace from the blessed Father he serves. The apostle makes a great distinction between these two; “Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ, (Gal. 4:7). Every man that is for righteousness by the works of the law is a servant; he looks upon God as his master, and the law as his master’s will, and he sets about obeying with all his might. Now, is not this a good servant? Yes. But all such servants go to hell: you must be children, for none but children are saved. And, indeed, there are none true servants to him, but they that are children: they are but slaves, and are cast out, that do not serve with their love, and expect the inheritance only as a gift of grace. So much for that first thing, What it is to seek righteousness by the works of the law.

Be continued tomorrow

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