1.We should endeavour to get clear views of the extent, spirituality and purity of the moral law, so that we may know something of the multitude and malignity of our sins. We should therefore not only learn the nature of the law as exhibited in the Holy Scriptures but should, by a frequent and impartial examination of ourselves, apply the rule to our own hearts and lives with conscientious fidelity and diligence. Every hour spent in such self-scrutiny will reveal to us evils which before we had not noticed. And no sin can be mortified and subdued until it is detected and its evil nature discerned. As all true spiritual knowledge is from the Holy Ghost, we should incessantly pray for this inestimable blessing which, Christ has emphatically taught, will be freely given to every one who asks – that is, who asks with faith and importunity.
2. As the law convicts every man of sin, justification by it is impossible; for even one sin would render it impossible for the transgressor to receive a sentence of acquittal. How much more impossible is it when our sins are literally innumerable! The only condition of justification by the law is perfect obedience, and no such obedience can be rendered by any mere man. But it has been rendered by Christ in our nature, for He was made under the law and fulfilled all righteousness. And the sinner is warranted, by the free call of the gospel, to avail himself of this ground of acceptance, by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ with all his heart.
3. If the law shows that sin of every kind is a base and odious thing, we should be anxious to be cleansed from its defilement. In order to this, we should come often to the fountain for sin and uncleanness, opened by the death of Christ; that is, we should by faith apply to the blood of sprinkling, and should seek daily to purify ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit. We should earnestly and importunately offer up the petition which Christ offered in his intercessory prayer: “Sanctify [us] through Thy truth, Thy word is truth”. The Word, rendered effectual by the Holy Spirit, is the efficient means of cleansing the souls of believers. We should ply this work every day, for it is carried on by the use of means, and our success in it depends very much on the diligence and fidelity with which we use the means of God’s appointment. “Blessed are they”, says Christ, “that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. . . . Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” “Be ye holy, for I am holy.”
4. A spiritual knowledge of the law is the true source of evangelical repentance. As sin is a disconformity to the law and its evil is seen in this mirror [the law], the sight of it will fill the soul with sorrow and work such a hatred of sin as will effectually turn away the soul from the abominable thing which God hates. This view of sin, in its deformity and vileness, will also cause the soul, not only to mourn, but to be ashamed and confounded in the presence of God. And as this quality of baseness and defilement belongs to all sin, true repentance will consist in a hearty aversion to all sin, and a fixed purpose to forsake it, which will show itself by reformation of life.
5. The knowledge of sin produced by the law will have a tendency to make the true penitent willing to leave the present state and forsake the body, as sin cleaves to the soul as long as it remains here, and these vile bodies must be laid in the dust before they will be purified from the disorder which sin has introduced. As perfection in holiness is the blessedness reserved for the future state of the believer, he will often direct a longing look to those regions of purity, into which neither sin nor sorrow can ever enter. This delightful hope he cherishes; and it leads him, while detained below, to seek for purity. “He that hath this hope in him”, says the apostle John, “purifieth himself, even as He is pure.” How sweet the rest when all contest with sin and temptation shall cease! How glorious the state in which we shall see no longer through a glass darkly, but face to face, and where we shall know even as we are known!
6. The most important benefit of the knowledge of sin, by the law, is that it shows us our absolute need of a better righteousness than our own and impels us to look for salvation to the cross of Christ. The law is a schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ and, although this had primary reference to the ceremonial law, the moral law is not excluded. God uses it to drive sinners to that refuge which He has in mercy prepared for them. Commonly the first concern of the awakened soul has relation to the law. He now begins to see that it possesses a binding obligation, and that he has broken it in innumerable instances in thought, word and deed. The application of the law to the conscience of an awakened sinner puts him, at first, to earnest efforts to repair the breach which he has made. He now strives by prayers and tears and various human devices to make satisfaction for his sins but, the more he strives to raise himself out of the horrible pit and miry clay, the deeper he sinks. And, like a prisoner in a dark deep pit, no effort that he can make has any tendency to extricate him from his helpless condition.
But when he has exhausted all his efforts without success and is ready to despair of salvation, he hears the voice of a kind Deliverer inviting him to look unto Him and be saved. It is as though one let down a rope to the helpless prisoner. All he has to do is to take fast hold of it and he is drawn up and finds himself in safety and at liberty. So the convinced sinner seizes the invitations of the gospel with the strong grasp of faith and, behold, he is brought out of darkness into the marvellous light of the gospel, and from a state of condemnation to complete justification. If I now speak to any convinced, discouraged soul who finds that he can do nothing to remove either the guilt or defilement of sin, I would earnestly and affectionately exhort such to take immediate refuge under the cross. The crucified Redeemer sends forth an influence from this point which effectually draws the hearts of sinners to Himself. “Look unto Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else.” As Moses lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness for the healing of those who were dying by the venomous bite or sting of the fiery serpents, so the Son of Man has been lifted up so that whosoever believeth on Him might have everlasting life. All that was required of the Israelites in the wilderness was to look, and all that is necessary to salvation now is faith, which is nothing else but looking unto Jesus for His help and deliverance.
1. The application of a discourse on Romans 3:20 in Alexander’s Practical Sermons, p 39ff.