Images de page




I KNOW not whether it is worth my while to dwell at any greater length in praising the utility of this epistle, because I am afraid lest my eulogy of it, which must, without doubt, fall far below its real value and importance, should only contribute to lessen its celebrity. Besides, its character is much more immediately discerned at first sight, and its real nature better explained than can be depicted by any language. I prefer, therefore, to pass on to the argument, which will incontrovertibly prove that this epistle, besides many other excellencies of the highest order, possesses this peculiar property, and unrivalled honour, that the expositor, who has attained to a true understanding of its contents, has the doors thrown open for entering into the deepest and most hidden treasures of the word of truth.

The whole epistle is so methodical that the very preface is distinguished by the artificial character of its structure. This art appears in many passages which will be noticed in our remarks on the epistle, but especially in deriving the principal argument from the preface. For, having commenced with the praise of his apostolic office, Paul gradually advances to commend the gospel; and, since this necessarily leads him to dispute concerning faith, he passes on, conducted as it were by the context, to the consideration of the subject. He thus commences the principal question of the whole epistle, our justification by faith, which he discusses to the end of the fifth chapter. The subject, therefore, proposed for our consideration in these chapters is, that the mercy of God in Christ is the alone righteousness of man, which, being offered

by the gospel, is apprehended by faith. But men are soothed and lulled to sleep by their vices, and so deluded by a false opinion of righteousness as to imagine that they stand in no need of the righteousness of faith, unless they have been cast down from every kind of confidence. Besides, being inebriated by the pleasure of their lusts, and sunk in deep security, they cannot easily be roused to seek for righteousness, unless struck with the terror of the divine judgment. The apostle undertakes to convince them of their iniquity, and to shake them out of their drowsiness when pierced by the arrows of conviction.

Paul, in the commencement, proves the whole human race to be guilty of ingratitude, from the very structure of the world, because they do not, in so great an excellency of his works, acknowledge a Creator; nay, when compelled to own him, they do not honour his majesty as they ought, but profane and violate it by their vanity. Thus all are proved guilty of impiety, which is the most detestable of all crimes. And to show more clearly that all have revolted from the Lord, he enumerates the base and horrid transgressions to which men are every where liable. This affords an evident proof of their degeneracy from God, because they are signs of divine anger which could exist only in the wicked. For the Jews and some of the gentiles, while they covered their internal wickedness by a veil of external holiness, did not by any means think they could be convicted of these crimes, and therefore imagined themselves exempted from a common damnation. The apostle directs his pen against this pretended holiness; and, as he could not strip such characters of their mask in the presence of men, he summons them to the judgment of God, from whose eyes their secret desires are not concealed.

He next divides mankind into Jews and gentiles, and places each of them before God's tribunal. He deprives the gentiles of their pretended excuse from ignorance, because conscience, by which they were more than sufficiently convicted, served them instead of a law. He particularly presses upon the Jews the written law, which they produced in their defence; and having proved them to be transgressors of it, they could not deny their iniquity, since sentence was now pronounced against them by the very mouth of God. At the same time he meets an objection, which might seem to favour them; namely, that injury was done to the covenant of God, if the Jews were not separated from others, which was a mark of holiness to that nation. He on this occasion, for the first

time, teaches that they did not excel others by the right of the covenant, since they had departed from it by their own unfaithfulness. But that he might not derogate in any respect from the constancy of the divine promise, he grants them some prerogative from the covenant, which consisted in God's mercy, not their merit; because it pertains to their own excellence to continue equal to the gentiles. He then confirms it from the authority of Scripture, that the Jews and gentiles are all sinners, where he treats a little concerning the use of the law.

After plainly depriving the human race of all confidence in their own virtue, and boasting in their own righteousness, and affrighting them by the severity of the divine judgment, he now returns to the subject proposed-justification by faith; where he explains the nature of faith, and how we may acquire the righteousness of Christ by its means. He subjoins, to the end of the third chapter, a few striking questions, for the purpose of repelling the ferocity of human pride and boasting, that it may not dare to exalt itself against the grace of God. He prevents the Jews from confining such distinguished grace of God to their own nation, and claims it also for the gentiles.

In the fourth chapter, he draws his argument from an example; proposing the distinguished one of Abraham, liable to no cavils, since, being the father of the faithful, he ought to be regarded as a rule and general pattern. When, therefore, he has proved Abraham to be justified by faith, he teaches us to pursue the same path; and asserts that, by comparing contrary subjects, the righteousness of works vanishes, where a place is allowed to justification by faith. He confirms this by the opinion of David, who places the happiness of man in the mercy of God, and thus deprives works of the character of conferring happiness on man. He then pursues, more at length, what he had briefly alluded to before, that there was no reason why the Jews should exalt themselves above the gentiles, who have this common happiness equally with the Jews, since the Scripture states that righteousness was conferred on Abraham in uncir. cumcision. In this passage, he adds something on the use of circumcision. He then subjoins that the promise of salvation depends on the alone goodness of God; for, if it rests upon the law, it will not possess a power of giving peace to the consciences in which it ought to be established, nor will it ever attain perfection. We ought to regard the truth of God alone, and not ourselves, in embracing this promise, if

we wish to make it firm and secure; and imitate Abraham, who directed all his attention to the power of God, without considering his own case. At the end of the chapter, that he may apply the example adduced more nearly to a universal cause, he institutes a comparison between instances exactly similar.

The fifth chapter, after briefly touching upon the fruit and effect of the righteousness of faith, is almost entirely taken up in amplification, for the purpose of giving a better illustration of the subject. For, deriving his argument from the greater to the less, he shows how much we, who have been already redeemed and reconciled to God, ought to expect from his love, which has been so liberal to abandoned sinners, as to have betowed upon us his only-begotten and well-beloved Son. He afterwards compares sin with gratuitous righteousness, Christ with Adam, death with life, the law with grace; whence it is fully established that our evils, however great, are absorbed in the infinite goodness of God.

Paul, in the sixth chapter, descends to sanctification, which we obtain in Christ. For the flesh is liable, as soon as it has enjoyed a slight taste of this grace, peaceably to indulge its vices and lusts, as if it were now dead. But Paul, on the contrary, contends, in this passage, that we cannot perceive righteousness in Christ, unless we apprehend, at the same time, sanctification. He argues from baptism, by which we are initiated into the partaking of Christ, and buried by in Christ, that, being dead to ourselves, we should by his life be raised to newness of life. It follows, therefore, that none can put on his righteousness without regeneration. He thence exhorts us to purity and holiness, which ought necessarily to exhibit themselves in such as have been translated from a kingdom of sin to a kingdom of righteousness, and have rejected the impious indulgence of the flesh, which seeks for a more unrestrained licentiousness of sinning in Christ. He also inserts a brief mention of the abrogation of the law, which displays the excellence of the New Testament, where the Holy Spirit is promised, with the forgetfulness of our sins.

In the seventh chapter, he enters into an important dispute concerning the use of the law, which he had before pointed at, when he was, as it were, engaged on another subject; and assigns its inability to do any thing of itself except the causing of our condemnation, as a reason for our being freed from the power of the law. And to prevent this from being perverted to the dishonour of the law, he boldly vindicates it

from all calumny. For he shows the fault to have been ours, why the law, which was given for life, afforded cause for death. At the same time, he explains how sin may be increased by it. He then passes on to describe the struggle between the Spirit and the flesh, which the sons of God feel in themselves as long as they are surrounded with the prison of this mortal body; for they carry about with them the remains. of concupiscence, by which they are constantly withdrawn, in some measure, from obeying the law.

The eighth chapter is full of consolation, lest the discouraged consciences of the faithful should become dejected, when they heard of their disobedience, which the apostle had already proved, or rather of their imperfect obedience. But that the impious might not from this cause lull themselves in security, he first testifies that this blessing belongs only to the regenerate, in whom the Spirit of God lives and flourishes. He therefore explains two things; first, that all who are inserted into the Lord Christ by his Spirit, are out of all danger and hazard of damnation, however much they may as yet be laden with sin; and, in the next place, that all those who remain in the flesh, without enjoying the sanctification of the Spirit, are by no means partakers of so great a blessing. He then explains how great the certainty of our own confidence is, when the Spirit of God by his own testimony expels all doubt and trembling. Besides, he at the same time proves, by anticipation, that the security of eternal life cannot be interrupted or disturbed by the present miseries to which we are subject in this mortal state. Nay, our salvation is rather promoted by such exercises, and all our present miseries will be regarded as nothing, when compared with the excellence of salvation in Christ. He confirms this by the example of Jesus, who, as he is the firstborn, and holds the pre-eminence in the family of God, so he is the first prototype to whom all ought to be conformed. The apostle, therefore, as if the state of the Christian was secure, joined a very striking and very excellent boasting and glorying, by which he courageously insults over the power and machinations of Satan.

But, since many were deeply concerned when they saw the Jews, the first guardians and heirs of the covenant, abhor Christ, because indeed they hence inferred, either that the covenant was translated from the posterity of Abraham, which despise the perfecting of it, or that the Messiah was not the promised Redeemer, since he had not provided better for the

« PrécédentContinuer »