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SANCTIFICATION BY GRACE
Romans 6:1, 2. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?"
The Apostle Paul, in the preceding chapters of this epistle, had opened the great doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In the three first chapters he shows negatively how the sinner cannot be justified; in the latter part of the third and in the fourth he indicates the only ground upon which he can be justified, and in the fifth points out the method by which the scheme of justification is applied.
He first proves, by an appeal to fact, the entire depravity of all mankind, both Jew and Gentile, and their consequent inability to bring forth a righteousness by which they should be justified. But while all are thus incapacitated to furnish a justifying righteousness, God in mercy reveals a plan by which He may be just, and yet the justifyer of him who believeth in Jesus. This plan sets aside the works of the sinner as a platform of justification, and shuts him up to the acceptance of a righteousness provided by God Himself. The righteousness which is thus graciously provided is entirely exclusive of works and is received by a
NOTE.—This sermon was prepared as a trial sermon for ordination. It was written when the author was in his twenty-fourth year; and is inserted here, not to increase his reputation as a pulpit orator, but to show his early conception of what a sermon ought to be ; and because it represents his theological views at the beginning of his ministry. While the style and manner of treatment smacks of the seminary student it also prophesies the great preacher.
simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Not being his own, but having been wrought out by Christ, the only way in which it becomes available to the sinner is by virtue of a legal imputation. He, and only he, to whom this righteousness is thus legally accounted as his own, can be accepted and justified by God. In the chapter immediately preceding that from which the text is taken, the apostle points out the channel through which this imputation flows, the specific method by which the system of saving grace is actually applied. This he designates as the federal relation in which the sinner stands to his surety, the Lord Jesus Christ. As a federal connection with Adam in the covenant of works was the ground upon which his guilt is imputed to his natural posterity—so a federal connection with Christ in the covenant of grace is the ground upon which His righteousness is imputed to His spiritual seed. As natural birth is the designation of those upon whom the covenant of works takes effect, so spiritural birth is the designation of those upon whom the covenant of grace takes effect. And as in the covenant of works, we become connected with Adam not by any personal suffrage of our own, but by the sovereign appointment of an all-wise God—so in the covenant of grace we become connected with Christ—not primarily by a personal act of ours, but by virtue of an eternal purpose
of grace. The whole plan, then, upon which the sinner is justified is obviously gratuitous. Destitute of the ability to furnish an acceptable righteousness, he is necessarily destitute of merit. He is therefore saved, if saved at all, upon a principle of mere grace. The apostle, in the next place, anticipates, in the words of the text, the objection which in one point of view would be naturally rendered by the carnal heart to the system
of grace which he had propounded and the abuses which in another would be made of it. The misapprehension of his meaning is briefly this: If, as you affirm, we are justified and saved irrespectively of our own works, then by consequence it is not necessary for us to work at all. In fact, the less of our own works there be the more glory upon this gratuitous scheme will accrue to God, and if we continue in sin there will be an opportunity afforded for a more abundant and illustrious display of grace. Two parties would be disposed to use this language in reference to the apostle's doctrine; the Legalist who would be unwilling to receive it, as in that case he would be constrained forever to forego his legal dependencies; and the Autinomian who would gladly adopt it inasmuch as he regards it as removing every barrier to licentiousness, and affording a premium to crime. The answer of the apostle, commenced in the text and carried on in the succeeding verses, is clear and full: "How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?"
The force of this reply lies, we conceive, in the construction placed upon the phrase, "dead to sin.” Of these words, different interpretations have been given. By one class of commentators the expression “dead to sin" is regarded as synonymous with dead to the power of sin. How shall we who are dead to the
of sin, who profess to have had our lusts and sins crucified with Christ, indulge in the commission of sin? Our sins have been nailed to Christ's cross, and shall, therefore, have no more dominion over us. But although this be partially true, the apostle's argument is not presented in a right point of view. For if this exposition be adopted, it seems that he would have contradicted his own doctrine laid down so forcibly in the
seventh chapter of this epistle and confirmed by the concurrent testimony of other passages of Scripture by which we are taught that the believer, although constantly advancing in holiness, still never attains that state in which he may say that he is dead to the power of sin. The conflict between the new nature and the still indwelling old nature is hushed only in the silence of death in that solemn moment when the immortal spirit ceases to be a tenant of its mortal tabernacle, and, therefore, ceases to be exposed through the avenues of the senses to the inroads of temptation.
Further, if this interpretation be adopted, the answer of the apostle, as an argument, loses its weight. For to be dead to the power of sin is to cease to live in the indulgence of sin. If this be the apostle's meaning, then the question would thus resolve itself: How shall we who no longer live in sin, live any longer therein ? The force of the reply, we apprehend, consists in the fact that a strong contrast is drawn between two opposing states. But, according to the exposition under consideration, this contrast is overlooked, and, if we mistake not, the apostle is made to assert an identical proposition.
The true meaning of the words, “dead to sin,” we take to be dead to the guilt of sin. It will be perceived that the word guilt is employed as equivalent to liability to punishment and not as equivalent to moral turpitude.
The former interpretation has been supported on the ground that the believer is often spoken of in Scripture as actually doing what it is only meant that he ought to do, and as actually being in a state in which it is only meant that he ought to be. But as yet the apostle had only been treating of the justified state of believers,
and not of the duties which pertain to sanctification of life, and it seems to us that his object in the present chapter is specifically to indicate the dependence of sanctification upon the previous state of justification by a gratuitous righteousness. Keeping this in view, we are able to determine the sense of the words “dead to sin," and the force of the question in which they are employed. They form the connecting link between the consideration of our justified and our sanctified states. They are the steps. by which the apostle passes in the course of his high argument from the former to the latter. The train of thought appears to be this: in the covenant of grace believers are united to Christ as their federal head. This legal union, however, under a federal constitution, does not take effect upon the sinner until he is also spiritually united to Christ. This is done by the efficacious grace of the spirit implanting in his heart a new principle of holiness, the prime element of which is Faith. By means of this faith the sinner is enabled to apprehend Christ and to receive the righteousness which he has provided for all His federal constituents. Faith is the instrumental medium by which the sinner becomes an actual partaker of the federal union with all its inestimable blessings. The moment of the spiritual is the precise moment at which the federal relation takes effect, and at which its influence upon the sinner begins to be developed. That instant the ungodly sinner becomes a justified and accepted believer. His state is changed. He has passed from a legal state of condemnation and bondage to a legal state of justification and freedom. By virtue of this federal and spiritual union he becomes mystically but truly and really one with the Lord Jesus Christ. He is identified with Christ in law. All the acts which