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He that studieth to fulfil the law without faith, is afflicted for the devil's sake ; and continues a persecutor both of faith and the law, until he come to himself, and cease to trust in his own works; he then gives glory to God who justifies the ungodly, and acknowledges himself to be nothing, and sighs for the grace of God, of which he knows that he has need. Faith and grace now fill his empty mind, and satisfy his hunger; then follow works which are truly good ; neither are they works of the law, but of the spirit, of faith and grace: they are called in the scripture, the works of God which he worketh in us.
Whatsoever we do of our own power and strength, that is not wrought in us by his grace, without doubt is a work of the law, and avails nothing toward justification ; but is displeasing to God, because of the infidelity wherein it is done. He that trusts in works does nothing freely and with a willing mind; he would do no good work at all if he were not compelled by the fear of hell
, or allured by the hope of present good. Whereby it is plainly seen that they strive only for gain, or are moved with fear, showing that they rather hate the law from their hearts, and had rather there were no law at all : an evil heart can do nothing that is good. This evil propensity of the heart, and unwillingness to do good, the law betrays, when it teaches that God does not esteem the works of the hand, but those of the heart.
Thus sin is known by the law, as Paul teaches ; for we learn thereby that our affections are not placed on that which is good ; this ought to teach us not to trust in ourselves, but to long after the grace of God, whereby the evil of the heart may be taken away, and we become ready to do good works, and love the law voluntarily; not for fear of any punishment, but for the love of righteousness. By this
means one is made of a servant, a son; of a slave,
Being a continuation of the first. We shall now come to treat more particularly of the text. Verse 1. “The heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all.” We see that the children unto whom their parents have left some substance, are brought up no otherwise than if they were servants. They are fed and clothed with their goods, but they are not permitted to do with them, nor use them according to their own minds, but are ruled with fear and discipline of manners, so that even in their own inheritance they live no otherwise than as servants. After the same sort it is in spiritual things. God made with ḥis people a covenant, when he promised that in the seed of Abraham, that is in Christ, all nations of the earth should be blessed ; Gen. xxii. That covenant was afterwards confirmed by the death of Christ, and revealed and published abroad by the preaching of the gospel. For the gospel is an open and general preaching of this grace, that in Christ is laid up a blessing for all men that believe.
Before this covenant is truly opened and made manifest to men, the sons of God live after the manner of servants under the law; and are exercised with the works of the law, although they cannot be justified by them; they are true heirs of heavenly things, of this blessing and grace of the covenant; although they do not as yet know or enjoy it. Those that are justified by grace, cease from the works of the law, and come unto the inheritance of justifica
tion; they then freely work those things that are good, to the glory of God and benefit of their neighbours. For they have and possess it by the covenant of the father, confirmed by Christ, revealed, published, and as it were delivered into their hands by the gospel, through the grace and mercy of God.
This covenant, Abraham, and all the fathers which were endued with true faith, had no otherwise than we have : although before Christ was glorified, this
grace was not openly preached and published: they lived in like faith, and therefore obtained the like good things. They had the same grace, blessing and covenant that we have ; for there is one Father and God over all. Thou seest that Paul here, as in almost all other places, treats much of faith ; that we are not justified by works, but by faith alone. There is no good thing which is not contained in this covenant of God; it gives righteousness, salvation, and peace : by faith the whole inheritance of God is at once received. From thence good works come; not meritorious, whereby thou mayest seek salvation, but which with a mind already possessing righteousness, thou must do with great pleasure to the profit of thy neighbours.
Verse 2. “But is under tutors and governours until the time appointed of the father.” Tutors and governours are they which bring up the heir, and so rule him and order his goods, that he neither waste his inheritance by riotous living, nor his goods perish or be otherwise consumed. They permit him not to use his goods at his own will or pleasure, but suffer him to enjoy them as they shall be needful and profitable to him. They keep him at home, and instruct him whereby he may long and comfortably enjoy his inheritance : but as soon as he arrives to the years of discretion and judgement, it cannot but be grievous to him to live in subjection to the commands and will of another.
In the same manner stands the case of the children of God, which are brought up and instructed under the law, as under a master, in the liberty of sons. The law profits them in this, that by the fear of it, and the punishment which it threatens, they are driven from sin, at least from the outward work : by it they are brought to a knowledge of themselves, and that they do no good at all with a willing and ready mind as becomes sons ; whereby they may easily see what is the root of this evil, and what is especially needful unto salvation ; to wit, a new and living spirit to that which is good : which neither the law nor the works of the law is able to give ; yea, the more they apply themselves to it, the more unwilling they find themselves to work those things which are good.
Here they learn that they do not satisfy the law, although outwardly they live according to its precepts. They pretend to obey it in works, although in mind they hate it; they pretend themselves righteous, but they remain sinners. These are like unto those of Cain's progeny, and hypocrites ; whose hands are compelled to do good, but their hearts consent unto sin and are subject thereto. To know this concerning one's self is not the lowest degree toward salvation. Paul calls such constrained works, the works of the law ; for they fiow not from a ready and willing heart; howbeit the law does not require works alone, but the heart itself; wherefore it is said in the first Psalm of the blessed man, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord : and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” Such a mind the law requires, but it gives it not; neither can it of its own nature : whereby it comes to pass, that while the law continues to exact it of a man, and condemns him as long as he hath not such a mind, as being disobedient to God, he is in anguish on every side; his conscience being grievously terrified.
Then indeed is he most ready to receive the grace of God; this being the time appointed by the Father when his servitude shall end, and he enter into the liberty of the sons of God. For being thus in distress, and terrified, seeing that by no other means he can avoid the condemnation of the law, he the Father for grace ; he acknowledges his frailty, he confesses his sin, he ceases to trust in works, and humbles himself, perceiving that between him and a manifest sinner, there is no difference at all except of works, that he hath a wicked heart even as every other sinner hath. The condition of man's nature is such, that it is able to give to the law, works only, and not the heart : an unequal division, truly, to dedicate the heart, which incomparably excels all other things, to sin, and the hand to the law : which is offering chaff to the law, and the wheat to sin ; the shell to God, and the kernel to satan. Whose ungodliness if one reprove, they become enraged, and would even take the life of innocent Abel, and persecute all those that follow the truth.
Those that trust in works, seem to defend them to obtain righteousness ; they promise to themselves a great reward for this, by persecuting hereticks and blasphemers, as they say, which seduce with errour, and entice many from good works. But those that God hath chosen, learn by the law how unwilling the heart is to conform to the works of the law; they fall from their arrogancy, and are by this knowledge of themselves brought to see their own unworthiness. Hereby they receive that covenant of the eternal blessing and the Holy Ghost, which renews the heart : whereby they are delighted with the law, and hate sin; and are willing and ready to do those things which are good. This is the time appointed by the Father, when the heir must no longer remain a servant, but a son; being led by a free spirit, he is no more kept in subjection under tutors and governours