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THE LAW CONSISTENT WITH THE PROMISES.
GALATIANS, iii. 21.
Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid."
By the manner of the Apostle's writing in this epistle, it appears evident that christians, even as early as the time of the Apostles, were strongly inclined to the opinion, that the works of the law were necessary to give validity and efficacy to the gospel of Jesus Christ. To this agrees the account we have in the 15th of Acts, where we are informed that “ certain men, which came down from Judea" to Antioch, “ taught the brethren and said, except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” From such sentiments it appears the Apostle labored with great earnestness to dissuade his brethren. The chapter from which our text is chosen begins as follows; “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you ; received the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith ? Are ye so foolish ? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh ?" A little attention to this subject will discover that by law and flesh the author means the same thing He endeavored to explain to his christian brethren the design and utility of the law, and to show that it had neither power to give the life of faith, or to render the promises of the gospel covenant without effect. He stated the important question on which
his whole argument rested, and answered it in our text; “Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid.” Whatever is contained in the promises of God, be it ever so much or ever so good, it is not in the least subject to be rendered null or even diminished in the least degree by the law; and on the other hand the promises of God do in no. wise frustrate the law, but the doctrine of the divine promises does in fact establish the law. To this effect are the words of the Apostles to the Romans; “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid ! yea, we establish the law.” Moreover Jesus himself said ; “ Think not that I am come to destroy the law, the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”
Our first inquiry may be directed to ascertain what is contained in the promises of God. This subject is of the utmost importance, and if duly considered cannot fail to engage the attention of hearer, and draw the mind of each individual present to an entire devotion to the inquiry proposed. The audience will not feel, on this subject, an idle indifference scarcely to be avoided while listening to declamations, authorised only by human imaginations. Nor can any part of the congregation feel a less interest in the subject than the rest, for the promises about to be examined are expressive of the will of our Father in heaven of whose divine bounty we are all equal heirs.
It is natural for children to listen with attention and solicitude to the reading of the will of an earthly parent, even where there is but little left for the heirs, for they greatly desire to know if the same good will and impartial favor be discoverable in the last expressions and latest testimony of parental love, as had evidently marked the parent's conduct through life. But where a vast fortune is left in legacies, self interest, that ruling passion of the soul, renders attention active, and every one is wide awake; and anxious to know the contents of this final testament. How much more then shall we be desirous to acquaint ourselves with the promises of our heavenly Father which ex
press what he hath laid up for us in the covenant of his grace? With what impressions of mind ought we to commence this research? Is it proper that we begin this examination with prepossessions of mind most favorable to limited and ungenerous principles, or such as better correspond with the divine goodness continually, manifested in a boundless, rich, and munificent providence? If simple nature alone had been our instructor, if we had not been educated in a belief which limits the holy One, if we were left to judge of the goodness of the divine Being, respecting the moral and spiritual interests of his creatures from his impartial goodness in his temporal providence, have we the least reason to believe that we should be in possession of notions opposed to the universality of divine mercy? But unhappily for us, we have early imbibed illiberal views of God and his goodness, and under this embarrassment we stand opposed to rational views of universal goodness; hence in treating the subject proposed, arguments are needed which may tend to do away our prejudices, and to establish in our minds a doctrine which will be seen to harmonize with the wonderful works and universal goodness of God.
The promises of God of which the Apostle spake in the text are those made to Abraham, which we may learn from the following in the context; “ Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not and to seeds, as of many ; but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ.” These promises made to Abraham in Christ, the apostle calls a covenant, a he expresses in his next words ; “ And this I say, that the covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance of the the law, it is no more of promise ; but God gave it to Abraham by promise." "By this scripture we learn that the promises made to Abraham are called a covenant which was confirmed in Christ; and that which the promises contain, is called an inheritance.
The promises to Abraham are recorded, Genesis xii
2, 3, “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curseth thee; and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” xviii. 18.“ Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him.” xxii. 18. “In thy seed shall all, the nations of the earth be blessed.” The confirmation of these promises to Isaac is recorded, Genesis xxvi. 3, 4. “Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries; and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father. And I will make thy seed to raultiply as the stars of heaven, and I will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." The confirmation of the same promises to Jacob we read in Chapter xxviii. 14. And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth; and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee, and in thy seed, shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”
These are the promises of God, of which mention is made in our text, and which our text says, the law is not against. It may be well now to inquire something respecting the extensiveness of these promises. What is the most natural sense of such language as this? “ All the nations of the earth, all the families of the earth;” and such as St. Peter used, Acts iii. 25, “ Ye are the children of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, and in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.” Would any person, having the least knowledge of language, make use of such to express something concerning a very small part of mankind? The learned and pious divines who composed the Westminster Catechism did not make use of such language to express the covenant of grace in which they believed. Their words are the following; “Goci having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eterni
ty, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of a state of sin and misery, and to bring them into a state of salvation, by a Redeemer.” Will any candid person say, that this language which the Westminster divines made use of to express their covenant of grace and the language which God used to express his covenant of grace to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are of the same import? No one will pretend this. If it had been the intention of those divines to state the covenant of which St. Peter spoke in Acts iii. would they not have been likely to make use of such language as he used, and as is used in other parts of the scriptures on the same subject? There can be no doubt of this. But the fact is, their covenant of grace is not mentioned in the whole of the divine oracles. It is a most humiliating thought, that the wisdom of God should have been thus totally neglected, and the wisdom, the partial, sensual wisdom of this world set in its stead. It is a matter of most painful reflection, that while the christian church have made no provision to teach youth the gospel covenant of the God of Abraham, of Isaac and Jacob, unwearied pains and innumerable means have been employed to instruct them, “and that right early," in this covenant of men's invention. But, by attending too much to the vain notions of men, we shall get away from our subject. We will therefore observe, that the language in which the covenant which God made with the fathers is expressed, is as extensive as any language that could have been used, unless more than the whole human family were to be comprehended : All nations of the earth, all the families of the earth, and all the kindreds of the earth, is universal ; and all the partial creeds of men acknowledge it to be so by carefully and respectfully neglecting to use it.
Our next inquiry will seek to ascertain the blessing which is promised to all the nations of the earth in the covenant of God.
This question is settled by the testimony of the Apostle in our context; “And the scriptures forese