by Ralph Erskine
A Caution to all against a legal spirit; especially to those that have a profession without power, and learning without grace.
"WHY," says the haughty heart of legalists,
Bound to the law of works by nat'ral twists,
"Why such ado about a law-divorce?
Men's lives are bad, and would you have them worse?
Such Antinomian stuff, with laboured toil,
Would human beauty's native lustre spoil.
What wickedness beneath the cov'ring lurks,
That lewdly would divorce us all from works!
Why such a stir about the law and grace?
We know that merit cannot now take place;
And what needs more?" Well, to let slander drop,
Be merit for a little here the scope.
Ah! many learn to lisp in gospel-terms,
Who yet embrace the law with legal arms.
By wholesome education some are taught
To own that human merit now is naught;
Who faintly but renounce proud merit's name,
And cleave refinedly to the popish scheme.
For graceful works expecting divine bliss,
And, when they fail, trust Christ for what's amiss,
Thus to his righteousness profess to flee,
Yet by it still would their own saviours be.
They seem to works of merit bloody foes,
Yet seek salvation as it were(1) by those.
Blind Gentiles found, who did not seek nor know:
But Israel lost it whole, who sought it so.
Let all that love to wear the legal dress,
Know that as sin, so bastard righteousness
Has slain its thousands, who in tow'ring pride
The righteousness of Jesus Christ deride;
A robe divinely wrought, divinely won,
Yet cast by men for robes that are their own.
By some to legal works seem whole denied,
Yet would by gospel-works be justified,
By faith, repentance, love, and other such:
These dreamers being righteous over much
Like Uzzah, give the ark a wrongful touch.
By legal deeds, however gospelized,
Can e'er tremendous justice be appeased,
Or sinners justified before that God,
Whose law is perfect, and exceeding broad?
Nay, faith itself, that leading gospel-grace,
Holds as a work no justifying place.
Just Heaven to man for righteousness imputes
Not faith itself, or in its acts or fruits;
But Jesus' meritorious life and death,
Faith's proper object all the honour hath.
From this doth faith derive its glorious fame,
Its great renown and justifying name;
Receiving all things, but deserving nought;
By faith all's begg'd and taken, nothing bought.
Its highest name is from the wedding vote,
So instrumental in the marriage knot.
JEHOVAH leads the bride in that blest hour,
Th' exceeding greatness of his mighty power;(2)
Which sweetly does her heart-consent command,
To reach the wealthy Prince her naked hand.
For close to his embrace she'd never stir,
If first his loving arms embraced not her:
But this he does by kindly gradual chase,
Of rousing, raising, teaching, drawing grace,
He shows her, in his sweetest love address,
His glory as the Sun of righteousness;
At which all dying glories earth adorn,
Shrink like the sick moon at the wholesome morn.
This glorious Sun arising with a grace,
Dark shades of creature-righteousness to chase,
Faith now disclaims itself, and all the train
Of virtues formerly accounted gain;
And counts them dung,(3) with holy, meek disdain.
For now appears the height, the depth immense
Of divine bounty and benevolence;
Amazing mercy! ignorant of bounds!
Which most enlarged faculties confounds.
How vain, how void now seem the vulgar charms,
The monarch's pomp of courts, and pride of arms--
The boasted beauties of the human kind,
The powers of body and the gifts of mind!
Lo! in teh grandeur of Immanuel's train,
All's swallowed up as rivers in the main.
He's seen, when gospel light and sight is given
Encompassed round with all the pomp of heaven.
The soul, now taught of God, sees human schools
Make Christless rabbis only literate fools;
And that, till divine teaching powerful draw,
No learning will divorce them from the law.
Mere argument may clear the head, and force
A verbal, not a cordial, clean divorce.
Hence many, taught the wholesome terms of art,
Have gospel heads, but still a legal heart.
Till sovereign grace and power the sinner catch,
He takes not Jesus for his only match.
Nay, works compete! ah! true, however odd,
Dead works are rivals with the living God.
Till heaven's preventing mercy clear the sight,
Confound the pride with supernat'ral light:
No haughty soul of human kind is brought
To mortify her self-exalting thought.
Yet holiest creatures in clay-tents that lodge,
Be but their lives scanned by the dreadful Judge;
How shall they e'er his awful search endure,
Before whose purest eyes heaven is not pure?
How must their black indictment be enlarged,
When by him angels are with folly charged?
What human worth shall stand, when he shall scan?
O may his glory stain the pride of man.
How pond'rous are the tracks of divine grace!
How searchless are his ways, how vast th' abyss!
Let haughty reason stoop, and fear to leap;
Angelic plummets cannot sound the deep.
With scorn he turns his eyes from haughty kings,
With pleasure looks on low and worthless things;
Deep are his judgments, sovereign is his will,
Let every mortal worm be dumb, be still.
In vain proud reason swells beyond its bound;
God and his counsels are a gulf profound,
An ocean wherein all our thoughts are drowned.
(1) Rom. ix. 32.
(2) Eph. i. 19.
(3) Phil. iii. 7, 8.
Very good sonnett and touching the heart of flesh in all of us.
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