Payson: The Law Is Honored in
the Salvation of the Sinner
“That the gospel method of justification by faith in Christ secures the honor of the law, will appear evident if we consider the views and feelings which it requires of all who would be justified and saved by this method. These views and feelings, taken collectively, are called repentance and faith. Repentance consists in hatred of sin, and sorrow on account of it. But sin is a transgression of the law. The penitent then hates and mourns for every transgression of the law of which he has been guilty. But no man can sincerely hate and mourn over his transgressions of any law, unless he sees and feels that it is a just and good law. If he does not see this, if the law which he has transgressed appears in his view unjust or not good, he will hate and condemn, not himself, but the law and the lawmaker.
Every real penitent then sees and acknowledges that the law which he has violated is holy and just, and good and glorious; that he is justly condemned by it, and that he would have no reason to complain of God if he were left to perish forever. He can say, I deserve the curse, and let no one ever think hardly of God, or of his law, though I should perish forever. And can those who exercise or inculcate such feelings as these be justly accused of making void or dishonoring the law? Do they not rather honor and establish it, by taking part with it against themselves by saying, the law is right and we only are wrong?
To place this in a still clearer light, permit me to throw into the form of a dialogue the feelings which a penitent, believing sinner exercises and expresses when he applies to Christ to be justified or pardoned. Let us suppose the Saviour to say to such a person, as he did to those who applied to him for relief while on earth, What wilt thou that I should do for thee? Save me, Lord, from my sins and from the punishment which they deserve. In what do thy sins consist? They consist, Lord, in numberless transgressions of God’s law. Is that law unjust? Lord, it is most just. Why then, didst thou transgress it? Because, O Lord, my heart was rebellious and perverse. Canst thou offer no excuse, no plea of extenuation of thy sins? None, Lord; I am altogether without excuse, nor do I wish to offer any. Is the punishment with which thou art threatened too severe? No, Lord, I deserve it all; nor can I escape it but through thy rich mercy and sovereign grace. Such is, in effect, the language of every one who applies to Christ for salvation; such the feelings implied in the exercise of repentance and faith.
The gospel method of justification sets before us new and powerful motives to obey the law. For instance, it presents God, the Lawgiver, in a new, and most interesting and affecting light. It shows him to us as the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, displaying the most wonderful compassion for our lost and guilty race, and so loving our revolted world, as to give his only begotten Son to die for its offenses. Of all the attitudes in which God was ever revealed to his creatures, this is incomparably the most interesting and affecting. It is indeed interesting to view him as our creator, our Sovereign, or Preserver, and our Benefactor; and we are sacredly bound to regard Him in these characters with gratitude, reverence, and love. But how much more interesting to see him pitying the the sorrows which our sins against Him had brought upon us, and taking his Son out of his bosom to give him up as a ransom to redeem us from those sorrows! If God said to Abraham, Now I know that thou lovest me, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me, well may we say to God, Lord, now we know that thou lovest us, that thou dost not willingly punish us, that thou hast no pleasure in our death, since thou hast given thy Son, thine only and well-beloved Son, to die on the cross for our sins. Thus the gospel method of salvation by revealing God to us in this most interesting and affecting light, powerfully urges us to love Him, to love His law, to repent of having disobeyed it, and to obey it hereafter.
Suppose human legislators could write their laws upon the hearts of their subjects. Would they not then secure obedience far more effectually than they can do now, by all the penalties which they annex to a violation of their laws? If they could give all their subjects a disposition to abhor murder, theft, injustice, and fraud, would they not secure life and property in the most perfect manner? Just so, if the law of God can be written in men’s hearts, if his love can be shed abroad in them, if they can be made holy, it will secure obedience to that law far more effectually than all the thunders and lightnings of Sinai.”
— Edward Payson (1783 – 1827)
Excerpted from the book “Memoir, Sermons and Select Thoughts of Edward Payson” by Asa Cummings (1858)