2. Dost thou plead by thy righteousness for mercy for thyself? Why in so doing thou impliest, that mercy thou deservest; and that is next door to, or almost as much as to say, God oweth me what I ask for. The best that can be put upon it is, thou seekest security from the direful curse of God, as it were by the works of the law, Rom. ix. 31-33; and to be sure, betwixt Christ and the law, thou wilt drop into hell. For he that seeks for mercy, as it were, and but as it were, by the works of the law, doth not altogether trust thereto. Nor doth he that seeks for that righteousness that should save him as it were by the works of the law, seek it only wholly and solely at the hands of mercy.
So then, to seek for that that should save thee, neither at the hands of the law, nor at the hands of mercy, is to be sure to seek it where it is not to be found; for there is no medium betwixt the righteousness of the law and the mercy of God. Thou must have it either at the door of the law, or at the door of grace. But sayst thou, I am for having of it at the hands of both. I will trust solely to neither. I love to have two strings to my bow. If one of them, as you think, can help me by itself, my reason tells me that both can help me better. Therefore will I be righteous and good, and will seek by my goodness to be commended to the mercy of God: for surely he that hath something of his own to ingratiate himself into the favour of his prince withal, shall sooner obtain his mercy and favour, than one that comes to him stripped of all good.
I answer, But there are not two ways to heaven: there is but one new and living way which Christ hath consecrated for us through the vail, that is to say, his flesh; and besides that one, there is no more; Heb. x. 19-24. Why then dost thou talk of two strings to thy bow? What became of him that had, and would have two stools to sit on? yea, the text says plainly, that therefore they obtained not righteousness, because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. See here, they are disowned by the gospel, because they sought it not by faith, that is, by faith only. Again, the law, and the righteousness thereof, flies from them (nor could they attain it, though they follow after it), because they sought it not by faith.
Mercy then is to be found alone in Jesus Christ. Again, the righteousness of the law is to be obtained only by faith of Jesus Christ; that is, in the Son of God is the righteousness of the law to be found; for he, by his obedience to his Father, is become the end of the law for righteousness. And for the sake of his legal righteousness (which is also called the righteousness of God, because it was God in the flesh of the Lord Jesus that did accomplish it), is mercy, and grace from God extended to whoever dependeth by faith upon God by this Jesus his righteousness for it. And hence it is, that we so often read, that this Jesus is the way to the Father; that God, for Christ's sake, forgiveth us; that by the obedience of one many are made righteous, or justified; and that through this man is preached to us the forgiveness of sins; and that by him all that believe are justified from all things from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses.
Now, though I here do make mention of righteousness and mercy, yet I hold there is but one way, to wit, to eternal life; which way, as I said, is Jesus Christ; for he is the new, the only new and living way to the Father of mercies, for mercy to make me capable of abiding with him in the heavens for ever and ever.
But sayst thou, I will be righteous in myself that I may have wherewith to commend me to God, when I go to him for mercy?
I answer, But thou blind Pharisee, I tell thee thou hast no understanding of God's design by the gospel, which is, not to advance man's righteousness, as thou dreamest, but to advance the righteousness of his Son, and his grace by him. Indeed, if God's design by the gospel was to exalt and advance man's righteousness, then that which thou hast said would be to the purpose; for what greater dignity can be put upon man's righteousness, than to admit it?
I say then, for God to admit it, to be an advocate, an intercessor, a mediator; for all these are they which prevail with God to shew me mercy. But this God never thought of, much less could he thus design by the gospel; for the text runs flat against it. Not of works, not of works of righteousness, which we have done; "Not of works, lest any man should boast," saying, Well, I may thank my own good life for mercy. It was partly for the sake of my own good deeds that I obtained mercy to be in heaven and glory. Shall this be the burden of the song of heaven? or is this that which is composed by that glittering heavenly host, and which we have read of in the holy book of God? No, no; that song runs upon other feet—standeth in far better strains, being composed of far higher and truly heavenly matter: for God has "predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved: in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;" Eph. i. And it is requisite that the song be framed accordingly; wherefore he saith, that the heavenly song runs thus— "Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests; and we shall reign on the earth;" Rev. v. 9, 10.
He saith not that they have redeemed, or helped to redeem and deliver themselves; but that the Lamb, the Lamb that was slain; the Lamb only was he that redeemed them. Nor, saith he, that they had made themselves kings and priests unto God to offer any oblation, sacrifice, or offering whatsoever, but that the same Lamb had made them such: for they, as is insinuated by the text, were in, among, one with, and no better than the kindreds, tongues, nations, and people of the earth. Better! "No, in no wise," saith Paul (Rom. iii. 9); therefore their separation from them was of mere mercy, free grace, good will, and distinguishing love; not for, or because of works of righteousness which any of them have done; no, they were all alike. But these, because beloved when in their blood (according to Ezek. xvi.), were separated by free grace; and as another scripture hath it, "redeemed from the earth," and from among men by blood; Rev. xiv. 3, 4. Wherefore deliverance from the ireful wrath of God must not, neither in whole nor in part, be ascribed to the whole law, or to all the righteousness that comes by it, but to this Lamb of God, Jesus, the Saviour of the world; for it is he that delivered us from the wrath to come, and that according to God's appointment; "for God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by (or through) our Lord Jesus Christ;" 1 Thess. i. 10; v. 9. Let every man, therefore, take heed what he doth, and whereon he layeth the stress of his salvation; "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ;" 1 Cor. iii. ii.
But dost thou plead still as thou didst before, and wilt thou stand thereto? Why then, thy design must overcome God, or God's design must overcome thee. Thy design is to give thy good life, thy good deeds, a part of the glory of thy justification from the curse. And God's design is to throw all thy righteousness out into the street, into the dirt and dunghill, as to that thou art for glory, and for glorying here before God; yea, thou art sharing in the glory of justification when that alone belongeth to God. And he hath said, "My glory will I not give to another." Thou wilt not trust wholly to God's grace in Christ for justification; and God will not take thy stinking righteousness in as a partner in thy acquitment from sin, death, wrath, and hell. Now the question is, Who shall prevail? God, or the Pharisee? and whose word shall stand? his, the Pharisee's?
Alas! the Pharisee here must needs come down, for God is greater than all. Also, he hath said, that no flesh shall glory in his presence; and that he will have mercy, and not sacrifice. And again, that it is not (or shall be) in him that wills, nor in him that runs, but in God that sheweth mercy. What hope, help, stay, or relief, then is there left for the merit-monger? What twig, or straw, or twined thread, is left to be a stay for his soul? This besom will sweep away his cobweb: the house that this spider doth so lean upon, will now be overturned, and he in it, to hellfire; for nothing less than everlasting damnation is designed by God, and that for this fearful and unbelieving Pharisee: God will prevail against him for ever.
3. But wilt thou yet plead thy righteousness for mercy? Why, in so doing thou takest away from God the power of giving mercy. For if it be thine as wages, it is no longer his to dispose of at pleasure; for that which another man oweth me, is in equity not at his, but at my disposal. Did I say that by this thy plea thou takest away from God the power of giving mercy? I will add, yea, and also of disposing of heaven and life eternal. And then, I pray you, what is left unto God, and what can he call his own? Not mercy, for that by thy good deeds thou hast purchased: not heaven, for that by thy good deeds thou hast purchased: not eternal life, for that by thy good deeds thou hast purchased. Thus, Pharisee (O thou self-righteous man), hast thou set up thyself above grace, mercy, heaven, glory; yea, above even God himself, for the purchaser should in reason be esteemed above the purchase.
Awake, man! What hast thou done? Thou hast blasphemed God; thou has undervalued the glory of his grace; thou hast, what in thee lieth, opposed the glorious design of heaven; thou hast sought to make thy filthy rags to share in thy justification.
Now, all these are mighty sins; these have made thine iniquity infinite. What wilt thou do? Thou hast created to thyself a world of needless miseries. I call them needless, because thou hadst more than enough before. Thou hast set thyself against God in a way of contending, thou standest upon thy points and pantables; thou wilt not bate God an ace of what thy righteousness is worth, and wilt also make it worth what thyself shalt list: thou wilt be thine own judge, as to the worth of thy righteousness; thou wilt neither hear what verdict the word has passed about it, nor wilt thou endure that God should throw it out in the matter of thy justification, but quarrelest with the doctrine of free grace, or else dost wrest it out of its place to serve thy Pharisaical designs; saying, "God I thank thee, I am not as other men;" fathering upon thyself, yea, upon God and thyself a stark lie; for thou art as other men are, though not in this, yet in that; yea, in a far worse condition than the most of men are. Nor will it help thee anything to attribute this thy goodness to the God of heaven; for that is but a mere toying; the truth is, the God that thou intendest is nothing but thy righteousness; and the grace that thou supposest is nothing but thine own good and honest intentions. So that,
4. In all that thou sayst thou dost but play the downright hypocrite: thou pretendest indeed to mercy, but thou intendest nothing but merit: thou seemest to give the glory to God, but at the same time takest it all to thyself: thou despisest others, and criest up thyself; and in conclusion, fatherest all upon God by word, and upon thyself in truth. Nor is there anything more common among this sort of men, than to make God, his grace, and kindness, the stalking-horse to their own praise, saying, "God, I thank thee," when they trust to themselves that they are righteous, and have not need of any repentance; when the truth is, they are the worst sort of men in the world, because they put themselves into such a state as God hath not put them into, and then impute it to God, saying, God, I thank thee, that thou hast done it; for what greater sin than to make God a liar, or than to father that upon God which he never meant, intended, or did: and all this under colour to glorify God, when there is nothing else designed, but to take all glory from him, and to wear it on thine own head as a crown, and a diadem, in the face of the whole world.
A self-righteous man, therefore, can come to God for mercy no otherwise than fawningly: for what need of mercy hath a righteous man? Let him then talk of mercy, of grace, and goodness, and come in an hundred times with his, "God, I thank thee," in his mouth, all is but words; there is no sense, nor savour, nor relish, of mercy and favour; nor doth he in truth, from his very heart, understand the nature of mercy, nor what is an object thereof; but when he thanks God, he praises himself: when he pleads for mercy, he means his own merit; and all this is manifest from what doth follow; for, saith he, I am not as this Publican: thence clearly insinuating, that not the good, but the bad, should be rejected of the God of heaven: that not the bad but the good, not the sinner, but the self-righteous, are the most proper objects of God's favour. The same thing is done by others in this our day: favour, mercy, grace, and, "God, I thank thee," is in their mouths, but their own strength, sufficiency, free- will, and the like, they are the things they mean by all such high and glorious expressions.
But, secondly, If thy plea be not for mercy, but for justice, then to speak a little to that. 1. Justice has measures and rules to go by; unto which measures and rules, if thou comest not up, justice can do thee no good. Come then, O thou blind Pharisee, let us pass away a few minutes in some discourse about this. Thou demandest justice, because God hath said, that the man that doth these things shall live in and by them. And again, the doers of the law shall be justified, not in a way of mercy, but in a way of justice: "He shall live by them." But what hast thou done, O blind Pharisee? What hast thou done, that thou art emboldened to venture to stand and fall to the most perfect justice of God? Hast thou fulfilled the whole law, and not offended in one point? Hast thou purged thyself from the pollutions and motions of sin that dwell in thy flesh, and work in thy own members? Is the very being of sin rooted out of thy tabernacle? And art thou now as perfectly innocent as ever was Jesus Christ? hast thou, by suffering the uttermost punishment that justice could justly lay upon thee for thy sins, made fair and full satisfaction to God, according to the tenor of his law, for thy transgressions? If thou hast done all these things, then thou mayst plead something, and yet but something, for thyself, in a way of justice. Nay, in this I will assert nothing, but will rather inquire: What hast thou gained by all this thy righteousness? (We will now suppose what must not be granted:) Was not this thy state when thou wast in thy first parents? Wast thou not innocent, perfectly innocent and righteous? And if thou shouldst be so now, what hast thou gained thereby? Suppose that the man that had, forty years ago, forty pounds of his own, and had spent it all since, should yet be able now to shew his forty pounds again; what has he got thereby, or how much richer is he at last than he was when he first set up for himself? Nay, doth not the blot of his ill living betwixt his first and his last, lie as a blemish upon him, unless he should redeem himself also, by works of supererogation, from the scandal that justice may lay at his door for that.
But, I say, suppose, O Pharisee, this should be thy case, yet God is not bound to give thee in justice that eternal which by his grace he bestoweth upon those that have redemption from sin, by the blood of his Son. Injustice, therefore, when all comes to all, thou canst require no more than an endless life in an earthly paradise; for there thou wast set up at first; nor doth it appear from what hath been said, touching all that thou hast done or canst do, that thou deservest a better place.
Did I say, that thou mayst require justly an endless life in an earthly paradise? Why, I must add to that saying this proviso, If thou continuest in the law, and in the righteousness thereof; else not.
But how dost thou know that thou shalt continue therein? Thou hast no promise from God's mouth for that; nor is grace or strength ministered to mankind by the covenant that thou art under. So that still thou standest bound to thy good behaviour; and in the day that thou dost give the first, though ever so little a trip, or stumble in thy obedience, thou forfeitest thine interest in paradise (and in justice), as to any benefit there.
But alas! what need is there that we should thus talk things, when it is manifest that thou hast sinned, not before thou wast a Pharisee, but when after the most strictest sect of thy religion thou livest also a Pharisee; yea, and now in the temple, in thy prayer there, thou shewest thyself to be full of ignorance, pride, self-conceit, and horrible arrogancy, and desire of vain glory, &c., which are none of them the seat or fruits of righteousness, but the seat of the devil, and the fruit of his dwelling, even at this time in thy heart.
Could it ever have been imagined, that such audacious impudence could have put itself forth in any mortal man, in his approach unto God by prayer, as has shewed itself in thee? "I am not as other men," sayst thou! But is this the way to go to God in prayer? "The prayer of the upright is God's delight." But the upright man glorifies God's justice, by confessing to God the vileness and pollution of his state and condition: he glorifies God's mercy, by acknowledging, that that, and that only, as communicated of God by Christ to sinners, can save and deliver from the curse of the law.
This, I say, is the sum of the prayer of the just and upright man, Job. i. 8; xl. 4; Acts xiii. 22; Psalm xxxviii.; li.; 2 Sam. vi. 21, 22; and not as thou most vain-gloriously vauntest with thy, "God, I thank thee, I am not as other men are."
True, when a man is accused by his neighbours, by a brother, by an enemy, and the like, if he be clear (and he may be so, as to what they shall lay to his charge), then let him vindicate, justify, and acquit himself, to the utmost that in justice and truth he can; for his name, the preservation whereof is more to be chosen than silver and gold; also his profession, yea, the name of God too, and religion may now lie at stake, by reason of such false accusations, and perhaps can by no means (as to this man) be covered and vindicated from reproach and scandal, but by his justifying of himself. Wherefore, in such a work, a man serveth God, and saves religion from hurt; yea, as he that is a professor, and has his profession attended with a scandalous life, hurteth religion thereby, so he that has his profession attended with a good life, and shall suffer it notwithstanding to lie under blame by false accusations, when it is in the power of his hand to justify himself, hurteth religion also. But the case of the Pharisee is otherwise. He is not here a-dealing with men, but God; not seeking to stand clear in the sight of the world, but in the sight of heaven itself; and that too, not with respect to what men or angels, but with respect to what God and his law could charge him with, and justly lay at his door.
This therefore mainly altereth the case; for a man here to stand thus upon his point, it is death; for he affronteth God, he giveth him the lie, he reproveth the law; and, in sum, accuseth it of bearing false witness against him; he doth this, I say, even by saying, "God, I thank thee, I am not as other men are;" for God hath made none of this difference. The law condemneth all man as sinners; testifieth that every imagination of the thought of the heart of the sons of men is only evil, and that continually; wherefore they that do as the Pharisee did, to wit, seek to justify themselves before God from the curse of the law by their own good doings, though they also, as the Pharisee did, seem to give God the thanks for all; yet do most horribly sin, even by their so doing, and shall receive a Pharisee's reward at last. Wherefore, O thou Pharisee, it is a vain thing for thee either to think of, or to ask for, at God's hand, either mercy or justice. Because mercy thou canst not ask for, from sense of want of mercy, because thy righteousness, which is by the law, hath utterly blinded thine eyes; and complimenting with God doth nothing: and as for justice, that can do thee no good; but the more just God is, and the more by that he acteth towards thee, the more miserable and fearful will be thy condition, because of the deficiency of thy so much, by thee, esteemed righteousness.
What a deplorable condition then is a poor Pharisee in! For mercy he cannot pray; he cannot pray for it with all his heart, for he seeth indeed no need thereof. True, the Pharisee, though he was impudent enough, yet would not take all from God; he would still count, that there was due to him a tribute of thanks: "God, I thank thee," saith he: but yet not a bit of this for mercy; but for that he had let him live (for I know not for what he did thank himself), till he had made himself better than other men. But that betterment was a betterment in none other's judgment than that of his own; and that was none other but such an one as was false. So then the Pharisee is by this time quite out of doors: his righteousness is worth nothing, his prayer is worth nothing, his thanks to God are worth nothing; for that what he had was scanty and imperfect, and it was his pride that made him offer it to God for acceptance; nor could his fawning thanksgiving better his case, or make his matter at all good before God.
But I will warrant you, the Pharisee was so far off from thinking thus of himself, and of his righteousness, that he thought of nothing so much as of this, that he was a happy man: yea, happier by far than other his fellow rationals: yea, he plainly declares it, when he saith, "God, I thank thee, I am not as other men are."
O what a fool's paradise was the heart of the Pharisee now in, while he stood in the temple praying to God! God, I thank thee, said he; for I am good and holy; I am a righteous man; I have been full of good works; I am no extortioner, unjust, nor adulterer, nor yet as this wretched Publican. I have kept myself strictly to the rule of mine order, and my order is the most strict of all orders now in being: I fast, I pray, I give tithes of all that I possess. Yea, so forward am I to be a religious man, so ready have I been to listen after my duty, that I have asked both of God and man the ordinances of judgment and justice; I take delight in approaching to God. What less now can be mine than the heavenly kingdom and glory?
Now the Pharisee, like Haman, saith in his heart, To whom would the king delight to do honour more than to myself? Where is the man that so pleaseth God, and, consequently, that in equity and reason should be beloved of God like me? Thus like the prodigal's brother, he pleadeth, saying, "Lo, these many years do I serve thee; neither transgressed I at any time thy commandments," Luke xv. 29. O brave Pharisee! but go on in thine oration—"Nor yet as this Publican."
Poor wretch, quoth the Pharisee to the Publican, What comest thou for? Dost think that such a sinner as thou art shall be heard of God? God heareth not sinners; but if any man be a worshipper of God (as I am, as I thank God I am), him he heareth. Thou, for thy part, hast been a rebel all thy days: I abhor to come nigh thee, or to touch thy garments. Stand by thyself, come not near me, for I am more holy than thou; Isa. lxv. 5.
Hold, stop there, go no further: fie, Pharisee, fie! dost thou know before whom thou standest, to whom thou speakest, and of what the matter of thy silly oration is made? Thou art now before God, thou speakest now to God, and therefore in justice and honesty thou shouldst make mention of his righteousness, not of thine; of his righteousness, and of his only.
I am sure Abraham, of whom thou sayst he is thy father, never had the face to do as thou hast done, though, it is to be presumed, he had more cause so to do than thou hast, or canst have. Abraham had whereof to glory, but not before God; yea, he was called God's friend, and yet would not glory before him; but humbleth himself, was afraid, and trembled in himself, when he stood before him acknowledging of himself to be but dust and ashes; Gen. xviii. 27, 30, 22; Rom. iv. 1, 2; but thou, as thou hadst quite forgot that thou wast framed of that matter, and after the manner of other men, standest and pleadest thy goodness before him? Be ashamed, Pharisee! dost thou think that God hath eyes of flesh, or that he seeth as man sees? Are not the secrets of thy heart open unto him Thinkest thou with thyself that thou, with a few of thy defiled ways, canst cover thy rotten wall, that thou has daubed with untempered mortar, and so hide the dirt thereof from his eyes; or that these fine, smooth, and oily words, that come out of thy mouth, will make him forget that thy throat is an open sepulchre, and that thou within art full of dead men's bones, and all uncleanness? Thy thus cleansing of the outside of the cup and platter, and thy garnishing of the sepulchres of the righteous, is nothing at all in God's eyes, but things that manifest that thou art an hypocrite and blind, because thou takest no notice of that which is within, which yet is that which is most abominable to God. For the fruit, alas! what is the fruit of the tree, or what are the streams of the fountain? Thy fountain is defiled; yea, a defiler, and so that which maketh the whole self, with thy works, unclean in God's sight.
But, Pharisee, how comes it to pass that the poor Publican is now so much a mote in thine eye, that thou canst not forbear, but must accuse him before the judgment-seat of God—for in that thou sayst, that thou art not even as this Publican, thou bringest in an accusation, a charge, a bill, against him? What has he done? Has he concealed any of thy righteousness? or has he secretly informed against thee, that thou art an hypocrite and superstitious? I dare say, the poor wretch has neither meddled nor made with thee in these matters.
But what aileth thee, Pharisee? Doth the poor Publican stand to vex thee? Doth he touch thee with his dirty garments? or doth he annoy thee with his stinking breath? Doth his posture of standing so like a man condemned offend thee? True, he now standeth with his hand held up at God's bar; he pleads guilty to all that is laid to his charge.
He cannot strut, vapour, and swagger as thou dost; but why offended at this? Oh, but he has been a naughty man, and I have been righteous! sayst thou. Well, Pharisee, well, his naughtiness shall not be laid to thy charge, if thou hast chosen none of his ways. But since thou wilt yet bear me down that thou art righteous, shew now, even now, while thou standest before God with the Publican, some, though they be but small, yea, though but very small, fruits of thy righteousness. Let the Publican alone, since he is speaking for his life before God. Or, if thou canst not let him alone, yet do not speak against him; for thy so doing will but prove that thou rememberest the evil that the man has done unto thee; yea, and that thou bearest him a grudge for it too, and while you stand before God.
But, Pharisee, the righteous man is a merciful man, and while he standeth praying, he forgiveth; yea, and also crieth to God that he will forgive him too; Mark xi. 25, 26; Acts vii. 60. Hitherto then thou hast shewed none of the fruits of thy righteousness. Pharisee, righteousness would teach thee to love this Publican, but thou shewest that thou hatest him. Love covereth the multitude of sins; but hatred and unfaithfulness revealeth secrets.
Pharisee, thou shouldst have remembered this thy brother in this his day of adversity, and shouldst have shewed that thou hadst compassion on thy brother in this his deplorable condition; but thou, like the proud, the cruel, and the arrogant man, hast taken thy neighbour at the advantage, and that when he is even between the straits, and standing upon the pinnacle of difficulty, betwixt the heavens and the hells, and hast done what thou couldst, what on thy part lay, to thrust him down to the deep, saying, "I am not even as this Publican."
What cruelty can be greater, what rage more furious, and what spite and hatred more damnable and implacable, than to follow, or take a man while he is asking of mercy at God's hands, and to put in a caveat against his obtaining of it, by exclaiming against him that he is a sinner? The master of righteousness doth not so: "Do not think (saith he) that I will accuse you to the Father." The scholars of righteousness do not do so. "But as for me (said David), when they (mine enemies) were sick (and the Publican here was sick of the most malignant disease), my clothing was of sackcloth, I humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer (to wit, that I made for them) returned into mine own bosom. I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother;" John v. 45; Psalm xxxv. 13, 14.
Pharisee, dost thou see here how contrary thou art to righteous men? Now then, where shall we find out one to parallel thee, but by finding him out that is called "the dragon;" for he it is that accuseth the poor sinners before God? Zech. iii.; Rev. xii.
"I am not as this Publican." Modesty should have commanded thee to have bit thy tongue as to this. What could the angels think, but that revenge was now in thine heart, and but that thou comest up into the temple rather to boast of thyself and accuse thy neighbour, than to pray to the God of heaven; for what petition is there in all thy prayer, that gives the least intimation that thou hast the knowledge of God or thyself? Nay, what petition of any kind is there in thy vain-glorious oration from first to last? Only an accusation drawn up, and that against one helpless and forlorn; against a poor man, because he is a sinner; drawn up, I say, against him by thee, who canst not make proof of thyself that thou art righteous; but come to proofs of righteousness, and thou art wanting also. What, though thy raiment is better than his, thy skin may be full as black; yea, what if thy skin be whiter than his, thy heart may be yet far blacker. Yea, it is so, for the truth hath spoken it; for within, you are full of excess and all uncleanness; Matt. xxiii.
Pharisee, these are transgressions against the second table, and the Publican shall be guilty of them; but there are sins also against the first table, and thou thyself art guilty of them.
The Publican, in that he was an extortioner, unjust and an adulterer, made it thereby manifest that he did not love his neighbour; and thou by making a god, a saviour, a deliverer, of thy filthy righteousness, dost make it appear, that thou dost not love thy God; for as he that taketh, or that derogateth from his neighbour in that which is his neighbour's due, sinneth against his neighbour; so he that taketh or derogateth from God, sinneth against God.
Now, then, though thou hast not, as thou dost imagine, played at that low game as to derogate from thy neighbour; yet thou hast played at that high game as to derogate from thy God; for thou hast robbed God of the glory of salvation; yea, declared, that as to that there is no trust to be put in him. "Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness;" Psalm lii. 7.
What else means this great bundle of thy own righteousness, which thou hast brought with thee into the temple? yea, what means else thy commending of thyself because of that, and so thy implicit prayer, that thou for that mightst find acceptance with God?
All this, what does it argue, I say, but thy diffidence of God? and that thou countest salvation safer in thine own righteousness than in the righteousness of God? and that thy own love to, and care of thy own soul, is far greater, and so much better, than is the care and love of God? And is this to keep the first table; yea, the first branch of that table, which saith, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God?" for thy thus doing cannot stand with love to God?
How can that man say, I love God, who from his very heart shrinketh to trust in him? Or, how can that man say, I would glorify God, who in his very heart refuseth to stand and fall by his mercy?
Suppose a great man should bid all the poor of the parish to his house to dinner, and should moreover send by the mouth of his servant, saying, My lord hath killed his fatlings, hath furnished his table, and prepared his wine, nor is there want of anything; come to the banquet: Would it not be counted as an high affront to, great contempt of, and much distrust in, the goodness of the man of the house, if some of these guests should take with them, out of their own poor store, some of their mouldy crusts, and carry them with them, lay them on their trenchers upon the table before the lord of the feast and the rest of his guests, out of fear that he yet would not provide sufficiently for those he had bidden to the dinner that he had made?
Why, Pharisee, this is the very case; thou hast been called to a banquet, even to the banquet of God's grace, and thou hast been disposed to go; but behold, thou hast not believed that he would of his own cost make thee a feast when thou comest: wherefore of thy own store thou hast brought with thee, and hast laid upon thy trencher on his table thy mouldy crusts in the presence of the angels, and of this poor Publican; yea, and hast vauntingly said upon the whole, "God, I thank thee, I am not as other men are." I am no such needy man; Luke xviii. 11. "I am no extortioner, nor unjust, nor adulterer, nor even as this Publican." I am come indeed to thy feast, for of civility I could do no less; but for thy dainties, I need them not, I have of such things enough of mine own; Luke xviii. 12. I thank thee therefore for thy offer of kindness, but I am not as those that have, and stand in need thereof, "nor yet as this Publican." And thus feeding upon thine own fare, or by making a composition of his and thine together, thou contemnest God, thou countest him insufficient or unfaithful; that is, either one that has not enough, or having it, will not bestow it upon the poor and needy; and, therefore, of mere pretence thou goest to his banquet, but yet trustest to thy own, and to that only.
This is to break the first table; and so to make thyself a sinner of the highest form: for the sins against the first table are sins of an higher nature than are the sins against the second. True, the sins of the second table are also sins against God, because they are sins against the commandments of God: but the sins that are against the first table, are sins not only against the command, but against the very love, strength, holiness, and faithfulness of God: and herein stands thy condition; thou hast not, thou sayst, thou hast not done injury to thy neighbour; but what of that, if thou hast reproached thy maker?
Pharisee, I will assure thee, thou art beside the saddle; thy state is not good, thy righteousness is so far off from doing any good, that it maketh thee to be a greater sinner, because it signifieth more immediately against the mercy, the love, the grace, and goodness of God, than the sins of other sinners, as to degree, do.
And as they are more odious and abominable in the sight of God (as they needs must, if what is said be true, as it is), so they are more dangerous to the life and soul of man; for that they always appear unto him in whom they dwell, and to him that trusteth in them, not to be sins and transgressions, but virtues and excellent things; not things that set a man further off, but the things that bring a man nearer God, than those that want them are or can be.
This therefore is the dangerous estate of those that go about to establish their own righteousness, that neither have, nor can, while they are so doing, submit themselves to the righteousness of God; Rom. x. 3. It is far more easy to persuade a poor wretch, whose life is debauched, and sins are written in his forehead, to submit to the righteousness of God (that is, to the righteousness that is of God's providing and giving), than it is to persuade a self-righteous man to do it; for the profane is sooner convinced of the necessity of righteousness to save him, as that he has none of his own, and accepteth of, and submitteth himself to the help and salvation that is in the righteousness and obedience of another.
And upon this account it is that Christ saith the publicans and harlots enter into the kingdom of heaven before the scribes and Pharisees; Matt. xxi. 31. Poor Pharisee, what a loss art thou at? thou art not only a sinner, but a sinner of the highest form. Not a sinner by such sins (by such sins chiefly) as the second table doth make manifest; but a sinner chiefly in that way as no self-righteous man did ever dream of. For when the righteous man or Pharisee shall hear that he is a sinner, he replieth, "I am not as other men are."
And because the common and more ordinary description of sin is the transgression against the second table, he presently replieth again, "I am not as this Publican is;" and so shroudeth himself under his own lame endeavours and ragged partial patches of moral or civil righteousness. Wherefore, when he heareth that his righteousness is condemned, slighted, and accounted nothing worth, then he fretteth and fumeth, and would kill the man that so slighteth and disdaineth his goodly righteousness; but Christ, and the true gospel-teacher still go on, and condemn all his righteousness as menstruous rags, as an abomination to God, and nothing but loss and dung.
Now menstruous rags, things that are an abomination and dung, are not fit matter to make a garment of to wear when I come to God for life, much less to be made my friend, my advocate, my mediator and spokesman, when I stand betwixt heaven and hell; Isa. lxiv. 6; Luke xvi. 15; Phil. iii. 6-8, to plead for me that I might be saved.
Perhaps some will blame me, and count me also worthy thereof, because I do not distinguish betwixt the matter and the manner of the Pharisee's righteousness. And let them condemn me still for saving the holy law, which is neither the matter nor manner of the Pharisee's righteousness, but rather the rules (if he will live thereby) up to which he should completely come in every thing that he doth. And I say again, that the whole of the Pharisee's righteousness is sinful, though not with and to men, yet with and before the God of heaven. Sinful, I say it is, and abominable, both in itself, and also in its effects.
1. In itself; for that it is imperfect, scanty, and short of the rule by which righteousness is enjoined, and even with which every act should be; for shortness here, even every shortness in these duties, is sin and sinful weakness; wherefore the curse taketh hold of the man for coming short; but that it could not justly do, if his coming short was not his sin: Cursed is every one that doth not, and that continueth not to do all things written in the law; Deut. xxvii. 26; Gal. iii. 10.
2. It is sinful; because it is wrought by sinful flesh; for all legal righteousness is a work of the flesh; Rom. iv. 1, &c.; Phil. iii. 3-8.
A work, I say, of the flesh; even of that flesh, who, or which also committeth the greatest enormities; for the flesh is but one, though its workings are divers: sometimes in a way most notoriously sensual and devilish, causing the soul to wallow in the mire.
But these are not all the works of the flesh; the flesh sometimes will attempt to be righteous, and set upon doing actions that in their perfection would be very glorious and beautiful to behold. But because the law is only commanding words, and yieldeth no help to the man that attempts to perform it; and because the flesh is weak, and cannot do of itself that, therefore this most glorious work of the flesh faileth.
But, I say, as it is a work of the flesh it cannot be good, forasmuch as the hand that worketh it is defiled with sin; for in a good man, one spiritually good, that is "in his flesh, there dwells no good thing," but consequently that which is bad; how then can the flesh of a carnal, graceless man (and such a one is every Pharisee and self- righteous man in the world), produce, though it joineth itself to the law, to the righteous law of God, that which is good in his sight.
If any shall think that I pinch too hard, because I call man's righteousness which is of the law, of the righteous law of God, flesh, let them consider that which follows: to wit, That though man by sin is said "to be dead in sin and trespasses," yet not so dead but that he can act still in his own sphere; that is, to do, and choose to do, either that which by all men is counted base, or that which by some is counted good, though he is not, nor can all the world make him, capable of doing any thing that may please his God.
Man, by nature, as dead as he is, can, and that with the will of his flesh, will his own salvation. Man, by nature, can, and that by the power of the flesh, pursue and follow after his own salvation; but then he wills it, and pursues or follows after it, not in God's way, but his own; not by faith in Christ, but by the law of Moses. See Rom. ix. 16, 31; x. 3, 7.
Wherefore it is no error to say, that a man naturally has will, and a power to pursue his will, and that as to his own salvation. But it is a damnable error to say, that he hath will and power to pursue it, and that in God's way: for then we must hold that the mysteries of the gospel are natural; for that natural men, or men by nature, may apprehend and know them, yea, and know them to be the only means by which they must obtain eternal life; for the understanding must act before the will; yea, a man must approve of the way to life by Jesus Christ, before his mind will budge, or stir, or move, that way: "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God (of the gospel); for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
He receiveth not these things; that is, his mind and will lie cross unto them, for he counts them foolishness; nor can all the natural wisdom in the world cause that his will should fall in with them, because it cannot discern them.
Nature discerneth the law, and the righteousness thereof; yea, it discerneth it, and approveth thereof; that is, that the righteousness of it is the best and only way to life, and therefore the natural will and power of the flesh, as here you see in the Pharisee, do steer their course by that to eternal life; 1 Cor. ii. 14.
The righteousness of the law, therefore, is a work of the flesh, a work of sinful flesh, and therefore must needs be as filth, and dung, and abominable as to that for which this man hath produced it and presented it in the temple before God.
Nor is the Pharisee alone entangled in this mischief; many souls are by these works of the flesh flattered, as also the Pharisee was, into an opinion, that their state is good, when there is nothing in it. The most that their conversion amounteth to is, the Publican is become a Pharisee; the open sinner is become a self-righteous man. Of the black side of the flesh he hath had enough, now therefore with the white side of the flesh he will recreate himself. And now, most wicked must he needs be that questioneth the goodness of the state of such a man. He, of a drunkard, a swearer, an unclean person, a Sabbath-breaker, a liar, and the like, is become reformed, a lover of righteousness, a strict observer, doer, and trader in the formalities of the law, and a herder with men of his complexion. And now he is become a great exclaimer against sin and sinners, denying to be acquaint with those that once were his companions, saying, "I am not even as this Publican."
To turn therefore from sin to man's righteousness, yea, to rejoice in confidence, that thy state is better than is that of the Publican (I mean, better in the eyes of divine justice, and in the judgment of the law); and yet to be found by the law, not in the spirit, but in the flesh; not in Christ, but under the law; not in a state of salvation, but of damnation, is common among men: for they, and they only, are the right men, "who worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." Where, by "flesh," must not be meant the horrible transgressions against the law (though they are also called "the works of the flesh," Gal. iv. 29); for they minister no occasion unto men to have confidence in them towards God: but that is that which is insinuated by Paul, where he saith, he had no "confidence in the flesh," though he might have had it; as he said, "though I might also have confidence in the flesh." "If any other man," saith he, "thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more," Phil. iii. 3, 4; and then he repeats a twofold privilege that he had by the flesh.
1. That he was one of the seed of Abraham, and of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews, &c.
2. That he had fallen in with the strictest men of that religion, which was such after the flesh, to wit, to be a Pharisee, and was the son of a Pharisee, had much fleshly zeal for God, and "touching the righteousness which is of the law, blameless," Phil. iii. 3, 5, 6.
But I say still, there is nothing but flesh; fleshly privileges and fleshly righteousness, and so, consequently, a fleshly confidence, and trust for heaven. This is manifest; when the man had his eyes enlightened, he counted all loss and dung that he might be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.
And this leads me to another thing, and that is, to tell thee, O thou blind Pharisee, that thou canst not be in a safe condition, because thou hast thy confidence in the flesh, that is, in the righteousness of the flesh. "For all flesh is grass, and all the glory of it as the flower of the field;" and the flesh, and the glory of that being as weak as the grass, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, is but a weak business for a man to venture his eternal salvation upon. Wherefore, as I also hinted before, the godly-wise have been afraid to be found in their righteousness, I mean their own personal righteousness, though that is far better than can be the righteousness of any carnal man: for the godly man's righteousness is wrought by the Spirit and faith of Christ, but the ungodly man's righteousness is of the flesh, and of the law. Yet I say, this godly man is afraid to stand by his righteousness before the tribunal of God, as is manifest in these following particulars.
1. He sees sin in his righteousness; for so the prophet intimates, when he saith, "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isa. lxiv.); but there is nothing can make one's righteousness filthy but sin. It is not the poor, the low, the mean, the sickly, the beggarly state of man, nor yet his being hated of devils, persecuted of men, broken under necessities, reproaches, distresses, or any kind of troubles of this nature that can make the godly man's righteousness filthy; nothing but sin can do it, and that can, doth, hath, and will do it. Nor can any man, be he who he will, and though he watches, prays, strives, denies himself, and puts his body under what chastisement or hardships he can; yea, though he also get his spirit and soul hoisted up to the highest peg or pin of sanctity and holy contemplation, and so his lusts to the greatest degree of mortification; but sin will be with him in the best of his performances: with him, I say, to pollute and defile his duties, and to make his righteousness speckled and spotted, filthy and menstruous.
I will give you two or three instances for this.
(1.) Nehemiah was a man (in his day), one that was zealous, very zealous, for God, for his house, for his people, and for his ways; and so continued, and that from first to last, as they may see that please to read the relation of his actions; yet when he comes seriously to be concerned with God about his duties, he relinquisheth a standing by them. True, he mentioneth them to God, but confesseth that there are imperfections in them, and prayeth that God will not wipe them away. "Wipe not out my good deeds, O my God, that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof." And again, "Remember me, O my God, concerning this also (another good deed), and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy; and remember me, O my God, for good;" Neh. xiii.
I do not think that by these prayers he pleadeth for an acceptance of his person, as touching justification from the curse of the law (as the poor blind Pharisee doth), but that God would accept of his service, as he was a son, and not deny to give him a reward of grace for what he had done, since he was pleased to declare in his testament, that he would reward the labour of love of his saints with an exceeding weight of glory; and therefore prayeth, that God would not wipe away his good deeds, but remember him for good, according to the greatness of his mercy.
(2.) A second instance is that of David, where he saith, "Enter not into judgment with thy servant, O Lord; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified;" Psalm clxiii. 2. David, as I have hinted before, is said to be a man "after God's own heart," Acts xiii.; and as here by the Spirit he acknowledges him for his servant; yet behold how he shrinketh, how he draweth back, how he prayeth, and petitioneth, that God would vouchsafe so much as not to enter into judgment with him. Lord, saith he, if thou enterest into judgment with me, I die, because I shall be condemned; for in thy sight I cannot be justified; to wit, by my own good deeds. Lord, at the beginning of thy dealing with me, by the law and my works, I die: therefore do not so much as enter into judgment with me, O Lord. Nor is this my case only, but it is the condition of all the world: "For in thy sight shall no man living be justified."
(3.) A third instance is that general conclusion of the apostle, "But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident; for the just shall live by faith." By this saying of St Paul, as he taketh up the sentence of the prophet Habakkuk, chap. ii. 4, so he taketh up this sentence, yea, and the personal justice of David also. No man, saith he, is justified by the law in the sight of God: no, no just man, no holy man, not the strictest and most righteous man. But why not? Why, because "the just shall live by faith."
The just man, therefore, must die, if he has not faith in another righteousness than that which is of the law, called his own: I say, he must die, if he has none other righteousness than that which is his own by the law. Thus also Paul confesses of himself: "I (saith he) know nothing by myself," either before conversion or after; that is, I knew not that I did any thing before conversion, either against the law, or against my conscience; for I was then, touching the righteousness which is of the law, blameless. Also, since my conversion, I know nothing by myself; for "I have walked in all good conscience before God unto this day."
A great saying, I promise you. Well, but yet "I am not hereby justified;" Phil. iii. 7; Acts xxiii. 1; 1 Cor. iv. 4. Nor will I dare to venture the eternal salvation of my soul upon mine own justice; "for he that judgeth me is the Lord;" that is, though I, through my dim-sightedness, cannot see the imperfections of my righteousness, yet the Lord, who is my judge, and before whose tribunal I must shortly stand, can and will; and if in his sight there shall be found no more but one spot in my righteousness, I must, if I plead my righteousness, fall for that.
2. That the best of men are afraid to stand before God's tribunal, there to be judged by the law as to life and death, according to the sufficiency or non-sufficiency of their righteousness, is evident; because by casting away their own (in this matter), they make all the means they can for this; that is, that his mercy, by an act of grace, be made over to them, and that they in it may stand before God to be judged.
Hence David cries out so often, "Lead me in thy righteousness." "Deliver me in thy righteousness." "Judge me according to thy righteousness." "Quicken me in thy righteousness." "O Lord (says he), give ear to my supplications: in thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness." "And enter not into judgment with thy servant, O Lord: for in thy sight shall no flesh living be justified." And David, what if God doth thus? Why, then, saith he, "My tongue shall speak of his righteousness." "My tongue shall sing of thy righteousness." "My mouth shall shew forth thy righteousness." "Yea, I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only;" Psalm lviii.; xxxi. 1; xxxv. 24; cxix. 40; xxxv. 28; li. 14; lxxi. 15, 16.
Daniel also, when he comes to plead for himself and his people, he first casts away his and their righteousness, saying, "For we do not present our supplications unto thee for our righteousness:" And he pleads God's righteousness, and that he might have a share and interest in that saying, "O Lord, righteousness belongeth to thee;" to wit, that righteousness, for the sake of which, mercy and forgiveness, and so heaven and happiness, is extended to us.
Righteousness belongeth to thee, and is thine, as nearly as sin, shame, and confusion, are ours, and belongeth to us. Read the 16th and 17th verses of the 9th of Daniel. "O Lord (saith he), according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger, and thy fury, be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain; because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem, and thy people, are become a reproach to all that are about us. Now, therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord's sake:" For the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ; for on him Daniel now had his eye, and through him to the Father he made his supplication; yea, and the answer was according to his prayer, to wit, that God would have mercy on Jerusalem; and that he would in his time send the Lord, the Messias, to bring them in everlasting righteousness for them.
Paul also, as I have hinted before, disclaims his own righteousness, and layeth fast hold on the righteousness of God; seeking to be found in that, not having his own righteousness, for he knew that when the rain descends, the winds blow, and the floods come down on all men, they that have but their own righteousness, must fall; Phil. iii
Now, the earnest desire of the righteous to be found in God's righteousness, ariseth from strong conviction of the imperfections of their own, and the knowledge that was given them of the terror that will attend men at the day of the fiery trial; to wit, the day of judgement. For although men can now flatter themselves into a fool's paradise, and persuade themselves that all shall be well with them then, for the sake of their own silly and vain-glorious performances, yet when the day comes that shall burn like an oven, and when all that have done wickedly shall be as stubble (and so will all appear to be that are not found in Christ), then will their righteousness vanish like smoke, or be like fuel for that burning flame. And hence the righteousness that the godly seek to be found in, is called, The name of the Lord, a strong tower, a rock, a shield, a fortress, a buckler, a rock of defence, unto which they resort, and into which they run and are safe.
The godly therefore do not, as this Pharisee, bring their own righteousness into the temple, and there buoy up themselves and spirits by that into a conceit, that for the sake of that God will be merciful and good unto them; but throwing away their own, they make to God for his, because they certainly know, even by the word of God, that in the judgment none can stand the trial but those that are found in the righteousness of God.
3. That the best of men are afraid to stand before God's tribunal by the law, there to be judged to life and death, according to the sufficiency or non-sufficiency of their righteousness, is evident; for they know, that it is a vain thing to seek, by acts of righteousness, to make themselves righteous men, as is the way of all them that seek to be justified by the deeds of the law.
And herein lieth the great difference between the Pharisee and the true Christian man. The Pharisee thinks, by acts of righteousness, he shall make himself a righteous man: therefore he cometh into the presence of God well furnished, as he thinks, with his negative and positive righteousness.
Grace suffereth not a man to boast before God, whatever he saith before men. His soul that is lifted up, is not upright in him; and better is the poor in spirit than the proud in spirit. The Pharisee was a very proud man; a proud, ignorant man; proud of his own righteousness, and ignorant of God's: for had he not, he could not, as he did, have so condemned the Publican, and justified himself.
And I say again, that all this pride and vain-glorious show of the Pharisee did arise from his not being acquainted with this, that a man must be good before he can do good; he must be righteous, before he can do righteousness. This is evident from Paul, who insinuateth this as the reason why none do good, even because "There is none that is righteous, no, not one." "There is none righteous," saith he, and then follows, "There is none that doeth good;" Rom. iii. 10, 11, 12. For it is not possible for a man that is not first made righteous by the God of heaven, to do any thing that in a gospel-sense may be called righteousness. To make himself a righteous man, by his so meddling with them, he may design; but work righteousness, and so by such works of righteousness make himself a righteous man, he cannot.
The righteousness of a carnal man is indeed by God called righteousness; but it must be understood as spoken in the dialect of the world. The world indeed calls it righteousness, and it will do no harm, if it bear that term with reference to worldly matters. Hence worldly civilians are called good and righteous men, and so, such as Christ, under that notion, neither died for, nor giveth his grace unto; Rom. v. 7, 8. But we are not now discoursing about any other righteousness, than that which is so accounted either in a law or in a gospel-sense; and therefore let us a little more touch upon that.
A man then must be righteous in a law-sense, before he can do acts of righteousness, I mean, that are such in a gospel-sense. Hence, first, you have true gospel-righteousness made the fruit of a second birth. "If ye know that Christ is righteous, know ye that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him;" 1 John ii. 29. Not born of him by virtue of his own righteous actions, but born of him by virtue of Christ's mighty working with his work upon the soul, who afterwards, from a principle of life, acteth and worketh righteousness.
And he saith again, "Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous." Upon this scripture I will a little comment, for the proof of what is urged before: namely, that a man must be righteous in a law-sense, before he can do such things that may be called acts of righteousness in a gospel-sense. And for this, this scripture, 1 John iii. 7, ministereth to us two things to be considered by us.
The first is, That he that doth righteousness is righteous.
The second is, That he that doth righteousness is righteous, as Christ is righteous.
First, He that doth righteousness; that is, righteousness which the gospel calleth so, is righteous; that is, precedent to, or before he doth that righteousness. For he doth not say, he shall make his person righteous by acts of righteousness that he shall do; for then an evil tree may bear good fruit, yea, and may make itself good by doing so; but he saith, He that doth righteousness is righteous; as he saith, He that doth righteousness is born of him.
So then, a man must be righteous before he can do righteousness, before he can do righteousness in a gospel-sense.
Our second thing then is to inquire, with what righteousness a man must be righteous, before he can do that which in a gospel-sense is called righteousness.
And, first, I answer, he must be righteous in a law-sense: that is, he must be righteous in the judgment of the law. This is evident: because he saith, "He that doeth righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous." That is, in a law-sense: for Christ in no sense is righteous in the judgment of charity only; but in his meanest acts, if it be lawful to make such comparison, he was righteous in a law- sense, or in the judgment of the law. Now the apostle saith, that "he that doeth righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous." They are the words of God, and therefore I cannot err in quoting of them, though I may not so fully as I would make the glory of them shine in speaking to them.
But what righteousness is that, with which a man must stand righteous in the judgment of the law, before he shall or can be found to do acts of righteousness, that by the gospel are so called?
1. I answer, first, It is none of his own which is of the law, you may be sure: for he hath his righteousness before he doth any that can be called his own. "He that doeth righteousness is righteous" already, precedent to, or before he doth that righteousness; yea, he "is righteous, even as he is righteous."
2. It cannot be his own which is of the gospel; that is, that which floweth from a principle of grace in the soul: for he is righteous before he doth this righteousness. "He that doeth righteousness is righteous." He doth not say, he that hath done it, but he that doth it; respecting the act while it is in doing, he is righteous. He is righteous even then when he is a-doing of the very first act of righteousness; but an act, while it is doing, cannot, until it is done, be called an act of righteousness; yet, saith the text, "he is righteous."
But again, if an act, while it is doing, cannot be called an act of righteousness, to be sure, it cannot have such influences as to make the actor righteous—to make him righteous, as the Son of God is righteous; and yet the righteousness with which this doer is made righteous, and that before he doth righteousness, is such; for so saith the text, that makes him righteous, as he is righteous.
Besides, it cannot be his own, which is gospel-righteousness, flowing from a principle of grace in the soul; for that in its greatest perfection in us, while we live in this world, is accompanied with some imperfections; to wit, our faith, love, and whole course of holiness is wanting, or hath something lacking in it. They neither are apart, nor when put all together, perfect, as to the degree, the uttermost degree of perfection.
But the righteousness under consideration, with which the man, in that of John, is made righteous, is a perfect righteousness; not only with respect to the nature of it, as a penny is as perfect silver as a shilling; nor yet with respect to a comparative degree, for so a shilling arriveth more toward the perfection of the number twenty, than doth a twopenny or a threepenny piece; but it is a righteousness so perfect, that nothing can be added to, nor can any thing be taken from it; for so implieth the words of the text, he is righteous as Christ is righteous; yea, thus righteous before, and in order to his doing of righteousness.
And in this he is like unto the Son of God, who was also righteous before he did acts of righteousness referring to a law of commandment; wherefore it is said, that as he is, so are we in this world. As he is or was righteous, before he did acts of righteousness among men by a law; so are his righteous, before they act righteousness among men by a law. "He that doeth righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous."
Christ was righteous before he did righteousness, with a twofold righteousness. He had a righteousness as he was God; his Godhead was perfectly righteous: yea, it was righteousness itself. His human nature was perfectly righteous, it was naturally spotless and undefiled. Thus his person was righteous, and so qualified to do that righteousness, that because he was born of woman, and made under the law, he was bound by the law to perform.
Now, as he is, so are we; not by way of natural righteousness, but by way of resemblance thereunto. Had Christ, in order to his working of righteousness, a two fold righteousness inherent in himself?—the Christian, in order to his working of righteousness, had belonging to him a twofold righteousness. Did Christ's twofold righteousness qualify him for that work of righteousness that was of God designed for him to do?—why, the Christian's twofold righteousness doth qualify him for that work of righteousness that God hath ordained that he should do and walk in this world.
But you may ask, What is that righteousness with which a Christian is made righteous before he doth righteousness?
I answer, It is a twofold righteousness.
1. It is a righteousness put upon him.
2. It is a righteousness put into him.
For the first, It is a righteousness put upon him, with which also he is clothed as with a coat or mantle, Rom. iii. 22, and this is called "the robe of righteousness;" and this is called "the garment of salvation;" Isa. lxi. 10.
This righteousness is none other but the obedience of Christ; the which he performed in the days of his flesh, and can properly be called no man's righteousness, but the righteousness of Christ; because no man had a hand therein, but he completed it himself. And hence it is said, that "by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous;" Rom. v. 19. By the obedience of one, of one man Jesus Christ (as you have it in verse 15); for he came down into the world, to this very end; that is, to make a generation righteous, not by making of them laws, and prescribing unto them rules (for this was the work of Moses, who said, "And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as he hath commanded us;" Deut. vi. 25; xxiv. 13); nor yet by taking away by his grace the imperfections of their righteousness, and so making of that perfect by additions of his own; but he makes them righteous by his obedience, not in them, but for them, while he personally subjected himself to his Father's law on our behalf, that he might have a righteousness to bestow upon us. And hence we are said to be made righteous, while we work not, and to be justified, while ungodly (Rom. iv. 5), which can be done by no other righteousness than that which is the righteousness of Christ by performance, the righteousness of God by donation, and our righteousness by imputation. For, I say, the person that wrought this righteousness for us, is Jesus Christ; the person that giveth it to us, is the Father; who hath made Christ to be unto us righteousness, and hath given him to us for this very end, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him; 1 Cor. i. 4; 2 Cor. v. 21. And hence it is often said, "One shall say, Surely in the Lord have I righteousness and strength." And again, "In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory." "This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord; and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord;" Isa. xlv. 24, 25; liv. 17.
This righteousness is that which justifieth, and which secureth the soul from the curse of the law; by hiding, through its perfection, all the sins and imperfections of the soul. Hence it follows, "Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin;" Rom. iv.
And this it doth, even while the person, that by grace is made a partaker, is without good works, and so ungodly. This is the righteousness of Christ, Christ's personal performances, which he did when he was in this world; that is that by which the soul, while naked, is covered, and so hid as to its nakedness, from the divine sentence of the law: "I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness," Ezek. xvi. 4-9.
Now this obediential righteousness of Christ consisteth of two parts. 1. In a doing of that which the law commanded us to do. 2. In a paying that price for the transgression thereof, which justice hath said shall be required at the hand of man; and that is the cursed death. "In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die the death;" to wit, the death that comes by the curse of the law. So then, Christ having brought in that part of obedience for us, which consisteth in a doing of such obediential acts of righteousness which the law commands, he adds thereto the spilling of his blood, to be the price of our redemption from that cursed death, that by sin we had brought upon our bodies and souls. And thus are the Christians perfectly righteous; they have the whole obedience of Christ made over to them; to wit, that obedience that standeth in doing the law, and that obedience that standeth in paying of a price for our transgressions. So, then, doth the law call for righteousness? here it is. Doth the law call for satisfaction for our sins? Here it is. And what can the law say any more to the sinner but that which is good, when he findeth in the personal obedience of Christ for him, that which answereth to what it can command, that which it can demand of us?
Herein, then, standeth a Christian's safety, not in a bundle of actions of his own, but in a righteousness which cometh to him by grace and gift; for this righteousness is such as comes by gift, by the gift of God. Hence it is called the gift of righteousness, the gift by grace, the gift of righteousness by grace, which is the righteousness of one, to wit, the obedience of Jesus Christ, Rom. v. 15-19.
And this is the righteousness by which he that doth righteousness is righteous as he is righteous; because it is the very self-same righteousness that the Son of God hath accomplished by himself. Nor has he any other or more excellent righteousness, of which the law taketh notice, or that it requireth, than this: for as for the righteousness of his Godhead, the law is not concerned with that; for as he is such, the law is his creature, and servant, and may not meddle with him.
The righteousness also of his human nature, the law hath nothing to do with that; for that is the workmanship of God, and is as good, as pure, as holy, and undefiled, as is the law itself. All then that the law hath to do with, is to exact complete obedience of him that is made under it, and a due satisfaction for the breach thereof; the which, if it hath, then Moses is content.
Now, this is the righteousness with which the Christian, as to justification, is made righteous; to wit, a righteousness that is neither essential to his Godhead, nor to his manhood; but such as standeth in that glorious person (who was such) his obedience to the law. Which righteousness himself had, with reference to himself, no need of at all, for his Godhead, yea, his manhood, was perfectly righteous without it. This righteousness therefore was there, and there only necessary, where Christ was considered as God's servant (and our surety) to bring to God Jacob again, and to restore the preserved of Israel. For though Christ was a Son, yet he became a servant to do, not for himself, for he had no need, but for us, the whole law, and so bring in everlasting righteousness for us.
And hence it is said, that Christ did what he did for us. He became the end of the law for righteousness for us; he suffered for us, he died for us, he laid down his life for us, and he gave himself for us. The righteousness then that Christ did fulfil, when he was in the world, was not for himself simply considered, nor for himself personally considered, for he had no need thereof; but it was for the elect, the members of his body.
Christ then did not fulfil the law for himself, for he had no need thereof. Christ again did fulfil the law for himself, for he had need of the righteousness thereof; he had need thereof for the covering of his body, and the several members thereof; for they, in a good sense, are himself, members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones; and he owns them as parts of himself in many places of the holy scriptures; Eph. v. 30; Acts ix. 4, 5; Matt. xxv. 45; x. 40; Mark ix. 37; Luke x. 16; 1 Cor. xii. 12, 27. This righteousness then, even the whole of what Christ did in answer to the law, it was for us; and God hath put it upon them, and they were righteous in it, even righteous as he is righteous. And this they have before they do acts of righteousness.
Secondly, There is righteousness put into them, before they act righteous things. A righteousness, I say, put into them; or I had rather that you should call it a principle of righteousness; for it is a principle of life to righteousness. Before man's conversion, there is in him a principle of death to sin; but when he is converted to Christ, there is put in him a principle of righteousness, that he may bring forth fruit unto God; Rom. vii. 4-6.
Hence they are said to be quickened, to be made alive, to be risen from death to life, to have the Spirit of God dwelling in them; not only to make their souls alive, but to quicken their mortal bodies to that which is good; Rom. viii. 11.
Here, as I hinted before, they that do righteousness are said to be born of him, that is, antecedent to their doing of righteousness, 1 John ii. 29; "born of him," that is, made alive with new, spiritual, and heavenly life. Wherefore the exhortation to them is, "Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God;" Rom. vi. 13.
Now this principle must also be in men, before they can do that which is spiritual: for whatever seeming good thing any man doth, before he has bestowed upon him this heavenly principle from God, it is accounted nothing, it is accounted sin and abomination in the sight of God; for an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit: "Men do not gather grapes of thorns; neither of a bramble gather figs." It is not the fruit that makes the tree, but the tree that makes the fruit. A man must be good, before he can do good; and evil before he can do evil.
This is that which is asserted by the Son of God himself; and it lieth so level with reason and the nature of things, that it cannot be contradicted: Matth. vii. 16-18; Luke vi. 43-45. "A good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, bringeth forth that which is good: and an evil man, out of the evil treasure of his heart, bringeth forth that which is evil." But notwithstanding all that can be said, it seemeth very strange to the carnal world; for they will not be otherwise persuaded, but that they be good deeds that make good men, and evil ones that make evil men. And so, by such dotish apprehensions, do what in them lieth to fortify their hearts with the mists of darkness against the clear shining of the word, and conviction of the truth.
And thus it was from the beginning. Abel's first services to God were from this principle of righteousness; but Cain would have been made righteous by his deeds; but his deeds not flowing from the same root of goodness, as did Abel's, notwithstanding he did it with the very best he had, is yet called evil: for he wanted, I say, the principles, to wit, of grace and faith, without which no action can be counted good in a gospel-sense.
These two things, then, that man must have that will do righteousness. He must have put upon him the perfect righteousness of Christ: and he must have that dwelling in him, as a fruit of the new birth, a principle of righteousness. Then indeed he is a tree of righteousness, and God is like to be glorified in and by him; but this the Pharisee was utterly ignorant of, and at the remotest distance from.
You may ask me next, But which of these are first bestowed upon the Christian—the perfect righteousness of Christ unto justification, or this gospel-principle of righteousness unto sanctification?
Answ. The perfect righteousness of Christ unto justification must first be made over to him by an act of grace. This is evident,
1. Because he is justified as ungodly; that is, whilst he is ungodly: but it must not be said of them that have this principle of grace in them, that they are ungodly; for they are saints and holy. But this righteousness, by it God justifieth the ungodly, by imputing it to them, when and while they, as to a principle of grace, are graceless.
This is further manifested thus: The person must be accepted before his performance can; "And the Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering;" Gen. iv. If he had respect to Abel's person first, yet he must have respect unto it for the sake of some righteousness; but Abel as yet had no righteousness; for that he acted, after God had a respect unto his person. "And the Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering: but unto Cain, and to his offering, he had no respect."
The prophet Ezekiel also shews us this, where, by the similitude of the wretched infant, and of the manner of God's receiving it to mercy, he shews how he received the Jews to favour. First, saith he, "I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness." There is justification; "I covered thy nakedness." But what manner of nakedness was it? Yes, it was then as naked as naked could be, even as naked as in the day that it was born; Ezek. xvi. 4-9. And as thus naked, it was covered, not with any thing but with the skirt of Christ; that is, with his robe of righteousness, with his obedience, that he performed of himself for that very purpose; for by the obedience of one, many are made righteous.
2. Righteousness unto justification must be first; because the first duty that a Christian performeth to God, must be accepted, not for the sake of the principle from which in the heart it flows, nor yet for the sake of the person that acts it, but for the sake of Christ, whose righteousness it is by which the sinner stands just before God. And hence it is said, "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain," Heb. xi. By faith he did it; but faith in respect to the righteousness that justifies; for we are justified by faith; not by faith as it is an acting grace, but the righteousness of faith, that is, by that righteousness that faith embraceth, layeth hold of, and helpeth the soul to rest and trust to, for justification of life, which is the obedience of Christ. Besides, it is said, by faith he offered; faith then in Christ was precedent to his offering.
Now, since faith was in act before his offer, and since before his offer he had no personal goodness of his own, faith must look out from home; I say to another for righteousness; and finding the righteousness of Christ to be the righteousness which by God was designed to be performed for the justification of a sinner, it embraces it, and through it offereth to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.
Hence it follows, "By which he obtained witness that he was righteous;" by which, not by his offering, but by his faith; for his offering, simply as an offering, could not have made him righteous if he had not been righteous before; for "an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit." Besides, if this be granted, why had not God respect to Cain's offering as well as to Abel's? For did Abel offer? So did Cain. Did Abel offer his best? So did Cain his. And if with this we shall take notice of the order of their offspring, Cain seemed to offer first, and so with the frankest will and forwardest mind; but yet, saith the text, "The Lord had respect to Abel and to his offering." But why to Abel? Why, because his, person was made righteous before he offered his gift: "By which he obtained witness that he was righteous;" God testifying of his gifts, that they were good and acceptable because they declared Abel's acceptation of the righteousness of Christ, through the riches of the grace of God.
By faith, then, Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. He shrouded himself under the righteousness of Christ, and so, of that righteousness, he offered to God. God also looking and finding him there (where he could not have been, as to his own apprehension, no otherwise than by faith), accepted of his gift; by which acceptation (for so you may understand it also) God testifieth that he was righteous, for God receiveth not the gifts and offerings of those that are not righteous, for their sacrifices are an abomination unto him, Prov. xxi. 27.
Abel then was, I say, made righteous, first, as he stood ungodly in himself; God justifieth the ungodly, Rom. iv. Now, being justified, he was righteous; and being righteous, he offered his sacrifice of praise to God, or other offerings which God accepted, because he believed in his Son. But this our Pharisee understandeth not.
3. Righteousness by imputation must be first, because we are made so, to wit, by another—"By the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." Now to be made righteous, implies a passiveness in him that is so made, and the activity of the work to lie in some body else; except he had said, they had made themselves righteous; but that it doth not, nor doth the text leave to any the least countenance so to insinuate; nay, it plainly affirms the contrary, for it saith, by the obedience of one, of one man, Jesus Christ, many are made righteous; by the righteousness of one, Rom. v. So then, if they be made righteous by the righteousness of one; I say if many be made righteous by the righteousness of one, then are they that are so, as to themselves, passive and not active, with reference to the working out of this righteousness. They have no hand in that; for that is the act of one, the righteousness of one, the obedience of one, the workmanship of one, even of Christ Jesus.