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obligation of obedience. The question is not, therefore, whether particular duties, as repentance, faith, and the observance of sacraments, belong to the Creator's law, or the Mediator's law, as distinct from each other; but whether they belong to this or that administration of the law. As they are duties enjoined by divine authority, they belong to the law of God which is one; but as they are conditions of salvation belonging to the Mediator's administration, they are called gospel conditions.
The difference of administration will answer every purpose of different laws, without involving any absurdities; which different laws will not. Thus if it should be asserted that God requires the same obedience as the condition of salvation now, that he did of Adam before the fall; notwithstanding we have lost the capacity to obey; it would be our duty to urge that, we are not under that graceless, remediless, anti-mediatorial administration of the law as a covenant of life; but under the merciful administration of the Mediator, and the mild and practicable conditions required by him in the gospel."
That this was Mr. Wesley's view of the law of works, is evident from his Plain Account of Christian Perfection. Speaking of Christ having put an end to the law of works, he says, “ Observe in what sense he has put an end to it, and the difficulty vanishes. Were it not for the abiding merit of his death, and his continual intercession for us, that law would condemn us still. These, therefore, we still need for every transgression of it.” But what propriety was there in saying, s observe in what sense he has put an end to it,” if the repeal were total? or what propriety in talking of the “transgression" of a law that has no existence!
If the question be, what was Wesley's sentiment respecting the law of works? there is the most abundant evidence that he did not admit its repeal, except as a covenant of life. He does indeed often speak of that law as "expiring with Christ," as "abolished by his death,” and as being superseded by another, even the law of faith.” But in every place he has the difference in the conditions of salvation, or in the administration of the law, immediately in view; and in no instance does he speak of the law of works in its preceptive sense as repealed; but the contrary.
When he considers the law in its preceptive sense he says to the objector, “ The case is not, therefore, as you suppose, that men were once, (before the fall) more obliged to obey God, or work the works of the (Adamic) law, than they are now. This is a supposition you cannot make good. The nature of the covenant of grace gives no ground, no encouragement at all, to set aside any instance or degree of obedience, any part or measure of holiness;" which it would do if the law of works were totally repealed. Accordingly he considers the involuntary deviations of Christians from the law of works, as transgressions which need both atonement and pardon.
Speaking of those who fulfil the law of love, as the Mediator's law, he says, “Yet as even in these there is not a full conformity to the perfect (Adamic) law, so the most perfect in love do, on this very account, need the blood of atonement, and may properly for themselves, as well as for their brethren say, 'forgive us our trespasses.' And he tells us this was the "judgment of all our brethren who met at Bristol, (England) in Aug. 1758."
Again, says he, “To explain myself a little more fully on this head, 1. Not only sin properly so called, that is, a voluntary transgression of a known law, but sin improperly so called, that is, an involuntary transgression of a divine law, known or unknown, needs the atoning blood.”
According to the doctrine here laid down we have two standards of perfection : one according to the anti-mediatorial administration of the law, which is more elevated; the other according to the mediatorial administration, which is the standard of Christian perfection.
That this was Messrs. Wesleys' and Fletcher's view is plain from this, that when they have described perfection according to the “Mediator's law,” they consider the short-comings and errors which accompany it, as transgressions of the law of works, requiring both atonement and pardon. On this account, says Wesley, "I never use the phrase, sinless perfection;" and the acute Fletcher never used it without a qualifying epithet, as evangelical
evangelically sinless," was his phrase. And commenting in the sixth volume of his checks upon the Apostle's words, “as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse,” he says, “the apostle means the law abstractedly from the promises of
grace ; for in that case the law immediately becomes the Adamic covenant of works"--plainly showing that we are under the same law with Adam, except as it differs by the promises of grace, or the administration of Jesus Christ.
When, therefore, Fletcher contends that mankind are under the “Mediator's law," a "milder law," &c. he must be understood with reference to the new and practicable conditions of salvation under the Mediatorial administration of the law, and not as implying the repeal of the law of works. Indeed he intimates that this is his meaning when he speaks of the "mediatorial,” and the “ anti-mediatorial law."
If any wish for further information upon this subject they may consult Mr. Wesley's sermons entitled " The origin, nature, &c. of the law," and "The law established through faith,” as also his edition of Baxter's “ Aphorisms of Justification;" an extract from which follows:
Prop. ix. "Therefore we must not plead the repeal of the law for our justification; but must refer it to our surety, who by the value and efficacy of his one offering and merits, doth continually satisfy.
“You must here distinguish betwixt
“1. The repealing of the law and the relaxing of it. 2. Between a dispensation absolute and respective. 3. Between the alteration of the law, and the alteration of the subjects relating to it. 4. Between a discharge conditional, with a suspension of execution, and a discharge absolute; and so I resolve the question thus :
“1. The law of works is not abrogated or repealed, but dispensed with, or relaxed. A dispensation is, (as Grotius defineth it) an act of a superior, whereby the obligation of a law in force is taken away, as to certain persons and things.
“2. This dispensation is not total or absolute, but respective. For, 1 though it dispense with the rigorous execution, yet not with every degree of execution. 2. Though the law be dispensed with, as it containeth the proper subjects of the penalty, viz. the parties offending, and the circumstances of duration, &c. yet in regard of the mere penalty, abstracted from person and circumstances, it was not dispensed with; for to Christ it was not dispensed with : his satisfaction was by paying the full value.
3. Though by this dispensation freedom may be as full as upon a repeal; yet the alteration is not made in the law, but in our relation to the law.
“ 4. So far is the law dispensed with to all, as to suspend the rigorous execution for a time, and discharge conditional procured and granted them; but an absolute discharge is granted to none in this life. For even when we do perform the condition” (of the New Covenant) “yet still the discharge remains conditional, till we have quite finished our performance. For it is not one instantaneous act of believing which shall quite discharge us ; but a continued faith. No longer are we discharged than we are believers. And when the condition is not performed, the law is still in force, and shall be executed upon the offender himself.
“I speak nothing in all this of the directive use of the moral law to believers, but how far the law is yet in force, even as it is a covenant of works'; because an utter repeal of it in this sense is so commonly, but inconsiderately asserted."
III. Whether atonement has been made for actual sins.
It is the opinion of some that atonement was made only for the transgression of the law of works ;-that upon the undertaking of Christ to satisfy for the breach of that law, it was repealed, and another given, called the Mediator's law, for the breach of which no atonement has been made ;-that the law of works would not admit of pardon, nor the Mediator's law of atonement:-that sin atoned for needs neither repentance nor pardon, and that to say otherwise would imply that the law requires satisfaction twice for a breach once; and, finally, that there is no grace manifested in saving from sin which has been atoned for, since this process evidently places salvation on the ground of justice, and not that of grace.
Answer 1. The objection admits that the atonement was made for transgressions of the law of works; and I have before proved that the law of works is still in force, and that all our sins are against that law; therefore our actual sins have been atoned for.
2. As far as the objection is built on the distinction between the law of works and the Mediator's Law, it is answered by the arguments which prove that distinction to be groundless. But if it were otherwise, there is nothing in one law more than another that requires or that rejects atonement. The atonement was not made for a particular sin, or number or class of sins, but for sin generally, and will apply to sins against one law as well as another.
3. According to the objection, sin atoned for needs neither repentance nor pardon; and that to say otherwise would imply that the law requires satisfaction twice for a breach once.
This would follow if it could be proved, 1. that atonement is the same as the payment of a debt; and, 2. that repentance is the same as the payment of a debt, and 3. that pardon is the same as paying a debt. But I deny all these assumptions. And that sin, in order to its being pardoned, requires both repentance and atonement, I have shown under the first head.
4. According to the objection atonement places salvation as the ground of justice and not that of grace. To this it may be answered, i. it would be so if atonement were the same as paying a debt. But I have shown in the foregoing pages that it differs essentially from the payment of a debt, and that it places salvation on the ground of grace in the highest sense possible. 2. If atonement places salvation on the ground of justice, and excludes grace, it will follow that Adam was saved on the ground of justice, without grace! for the objection allows that his sin was atoned for. Here the objector would do well to pause, and ask himself, to what class of the heavenly hosts Adam belongs ? He cannot belong to that class which never sinned, nor to that which is saved by grace. Let him ask himself also, what will be his employment in heaven, and to whom he will ascribe the glory of his salvation ?
Thus far we find nothing to support the doctrine that the atonement was limited to original sin. Nor will it avail to say that Christ is the propitiation for our sins, or that the atonement is a provision for actual sins, if his death were intended only to satisfy for sins against the law of works, and to prepare the way for another law which would pardon without atonement. In this case the words propitiation and atonement apply in a sense too vague and remote, to be authorized by the gospel, or to answer the practical purposes intended by them. It is true that atonement is a provision for the pardoning of sin, not in the remote sense of the objection, but as it applies to the sins to be forgiven.
This, if I mistake not, is the constant representation of this subject by the scriptures. It is never intimated in the word of God, that there is such a difference between sins committed against the law of
works and the law of Christ, as is contended for, or that the atonement was made for the former only. If it should be thought that John and Isaiah favour this distinction, when the former calls Christ “the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world,” and the latter says,
“ The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all; the answer is easy: the scriptures use these nouns in the singular and plural indifferently. The least attention will convince any one of this. Thus Isaiah, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Here we see, not only that the noun is used in the singular and plural indifferently, but also that it is used for actual sins. And this is the constant language of the scriptures. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and for the sins of the whole world.” « For he hath made him to be a sin-offering for us. " Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. “He by the grace of God tasted death for every man.
To transcribe all those passages of scripture which represent the death of Christ' as an atonement for actual sins, would fill a volume. The whole mediatorial work of Christ, and especially his death, applies to mankind in their personal characters, and to their actual sins. This is clear from the doctrine of justification by faith. The faith which justifies the ungodly regards the death of Christ as an atoning sacrifice for actual sin, and receives it as such. The awakened sinner is told that he must believe in order to be saved. He is anxious to know what he must believe. Will you tell him he must believe that Christ has died for original sin? He replies that he is an actual sinner as well as naturally depraved, and wishes to know what he is to believe, on what his faith must be placed, in order that he may be justified. Will you tell him he must believe that Christ has abolished the law of works, and therefore God will pardon him if he truly repents ? But, he continues, whatever distinctions you may make in the law, I know that I have transgressed the law of God, and am justly condemned by it. My repentance is not adequate to repair the injury done by my transgression; and besides, the penaliy of the law is not repentance, but death. I desire, therefore, to know how God can be just, and yet justify the ungodly. Here the gospel comes to his relief and announces, Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. He receives the gracious declaration, relies upon it, is justified, and henceforth sings with the Apostle, “ The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." But upon the supposition Christ did not make atonement for actual sins, believing that he did could never justify the ungodly; and of course all those who profess justification by this faith are deluded, and remain in their sins. Vol. VII.