Philip Doddridge replies to those who present their own morality and righteous works as justification before God.
Had your obedience to the law of God been complete, the plea might be allowed as important and valid. . . . I add farther, had these works of yours, which you now urge, proceeded from a sincere love to God, and a genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you would not have thought of pleading them any otherwise than as an evidence of your interest in the gospel covenant and in the blessings of it, procured by the righteousness and blood of the Redeemer; and that faith, had it been sincere, would have been attended with such deep humility, and with such solemn apprehensions of the divine holiness and glory, that, instead of pleading any works of your own before God, you would rather have implored his pardon for the mixture of sinful imperfection attending the very best of them. Now, as you are a stranger to this humbling and sanctifying principle, (which here in this address I suppose my reader to be) it is absolutely necessary you should be plainly and faithfully told, that neither sobriety, nor honesty, nor humanity will justify you before the tribunal of God, when he “lays judgment to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, Isa. xxviii. 17.” and examines all your actions and all your thoughts with the strictest severity. You have not been a drunkard, an adulterer, or a robber. So far it is well. You stand before a righteous God, who will do you ample justice, and therefore will not condemn you for drunkenness, adultery, or robbery; but you have forgotten him, your Parent and your Benefactor; you have “cast off fear, and restrained prayer before him, Job xv. 4.” you have despised the blood of his Son, and all the immortal blessings that he purchased with it. For this, therefore, you are judged, and condemned. And as for any thing that has looked like virtue and humanity in your temper and conduct, the exercise of it has in great measure been its own reward, if there were any thing more than form and artifice in it; and the various bounties of divine Providence to you, amidst all your numberless provocations, have been a thousand times more than an equivalent for such defective and imperfect virtues as these. You remain therefore chargeable with the guilt of a thousand offences, for which you have no excuse, though there are some other instances in which you did not grossly offend. And those good works in which you have been so ready to trust, will no more vindicate you in his awful presence, than a man’s kindness to his poor neighbors would be allowed as a plea in arrest of judgment, when he stood convicted of high treason against his prince. —Philip Doddridge, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (Robert Porter, 1810), 52–53.
One of the most important—if not the most important—qualities of a gospel preacher is the humility to apply every sermon to himself. Until he has first seen his own sin as the object of God’s righteous judgment, he is not fit to preach to others. And when he has, he will, as Philip Doddridge writes, be rightly motivated.
And shall this sentence stand upon record in vain, Shall the law speak it, and the Gospel speak it? and shall it never be pronounced more audibly? and will God never require and execute the punishment? He will O sinner, require it; and he will execute it, though he may seem for a while to delay. For well dost thou know that “he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the” whole “world in righteousness, by that Man whom he hath ordained, of which he hath given assurance in having raised him from the dead, Acts xvii. 31.” And when God judgeth the world, O reader, whoever thou art, he will judge thee. And while I remind thee of it, I would also remember that he will judge me. And “knowing the terror of the Lord, 2 Cor. v. 11.” that I may “deliver my own soul, Ezek. xxxiii. 9.” I would, with all plainness and sincerity, labor to deliver thine. —Philip Doddridge, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (Robert Porter, 1810), 59.
Look upon your dear Redeemer! look up to this mournful, dreadful, yet, in one view, delightful spectacle, and then ask thine own heart, Do ye believe that Jesus suffered and died thus? And why did he suffer and die? Let me answer in God’s own words, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace was upon him, that by his stripes we might he healed: it pleased the Lord to bruise him, and put him to grief, when he made his soul an offering for sin; for the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all, Isa. liii. 5, 6, 10.” So that I may address you in the words of the apostle, “Be it known unto you therefore, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; Acts xiii. 38.” as it was his command, just after he arose from the dead, “that repentance and remission of sins should be, preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem, Luke xxiv. 47.” the very place, where his blood had so lately been shed in such a cruel manner. I do thereby testify to you, in the words of another inspired writer, that Christ was made sin, that is, a sin offering, “for; though he knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him, 2 Cor. v. 21.” that is, that through the righteousness he has fulfilled, and the atonement he has made, we might be accepted by God as righteous, and be not only pardoned, but received into his favour. “To you is the word of this salvation sent, Acts xiii. 26.” and to you, O reader, are the blessings of it even now offered by God, sincerely offered; so that . . . it is not your having broken the law of God that shall prove your ruin, if you do not also reject his Gospel. It is not all those legions of sins which rise up in battle array against you that shall be able to destroy you, if unbelief do not lead them on, and final impenitency do not bring up the rear. I know that guilt is a timorous thing; I will therefore speak in the words of God himself; nor can any be more comfortable: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, John iii. 36. and he shall never come into condemnation, John v. 24. There is therefore now no condemnation,” no kind or degree of it, to them, to any one of them, “who are in Jesus Christ, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, Rom. viii. 1.” You have indeed been a very great sinner, and your offences have truly been attended with most heinous aggravations; nevertheless you may rejoice in the assurance, that “where sin hath abounded, there shall grace much more abound, Rom. v. 20.” “that where sin hath reigned unto death,” where it has had its most unlimited sway and most unresisted triumph, there shall “righteousness reign to eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Rom. v. 21.” That righteousness, to which on believing on him thou will be entitled, shall not only break those chains by which sin is (as it were) dragging thee at its chariot-wheels with a furious pace to eternal ruin, but it shall clothe thee with the robes of salvation, shall fix thee on a throne of glory, where thou shalt live and reign for ever among the princes of heaven, shalt reign in immortal beauty and joy, without one remaining scar of divine displeasure upon thee, without any single mark by which it could be known that thou hadst ever been obnoxious to wrath and a curse, except it be an anthem of praise to “the Lamb that was slain, and has washed thee from thy sins in his own blood, Rev. i. 5.” —Philip Doddridge, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (Robert Porter, 1810), 75–76.
God alone is the standard of goodness. No honest person, understanding that fact, can claim to be good. No matter how good we try to be, next to God’s holy standard, “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isaiah 64:6). The good news of the gospel is that God provides us with a perfect righteousness, which can be ours, through faith in Christ.
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. —Romans 3:28
Nor is it necessary, in order to thy being released from guilt, and entitled to this high and complete felicity, that thou shouldst, before thou wilt venture to apply to Jesus, bring any good works of thine own to recommend thee to his acceptance. It is indeed true, that, if thy faith be sincere, it will certainly produce them; but I have the authority of the word of God to tell thee that if thou this day sincerely believest in the name of the Son of God, thou shalt this day be taken under his care, and be numbered among those of his sheep to whom he hath graciously declared that “he will give eternal life, and that they shall never perish, John x. 28.” Thou hast no need therefore to say, “Who shall go up into heaven, or who shall descend into the deep for me? For the word is nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, Rom. x. 6, 7, 8.” With this joyful message I leave thee; with this faithful saying, indeed “worthy of all acceptation; 1 Tim. i. 15.” with this Gospel, O sinner, which is my life; and which, if thou dost not reject, will be thine too. —Philip Doddridge, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (Robert Porter, 1810), 76.
Not the labours of my hands, Can fulfil thy law’s demands: Could my zeal no respite know. Could my tears for ever flow; All for sin could not atone, Thou must save and thou alone. Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling; Naked come to thee for dress, Helpless, look to thee for grace: Foul I to the fountain fly, Wash me, Saviour, or I die. —Augustus Toplady