Posted on Feileadh Mor back in 2013.
“Sinners are exhorted to “seek” God, to “serve” him with fear and joy, to “forsake” their wicked way, and “return” to him, to “repent” and “be converted.” These are manifestly exercises of the heart, and addressed to the unconverted. Neither are they to be understood as the requirements of a covenant of works. That covenant neither requires repentance nor promises forgiveness. But sinners are directed to these things under a promise of “mercy” and “abundant pardon.” There is a wide difference between these addresses and the address of our Lord to the young ruler; that to which he was directed was the producing of a righteousness adequate to the demands of the law, which was naturally impossible; and our Lord’s design was to show its impossibility, and thereby to convince him of the need of gospel mercy; but that to which the above directions point is not to any natural impossibility, but to the very way of mercy. The manner in which the primitive preachers guarded against self-righteousness was very different from this. They were not afraid of exhorting either saints or sinners to holy exercises of heart, nor of connecting with them the promises of mercy.”
“The law has no promise of life to a single transgressor, and never had; but merely a threatening of death. God is not, therefore, in covenant with sinners, nor they with him: they are not under a covenant of works; but merely under the curse for transgressing it.”
“A self-righteous attachment to a covenant of works, or, as the Scripture expresses it, a being “of the works of the law,” is no other than the working of unbelief, and rebellion against the truth. Strictly speaking, men are not now under the covenant of works, but under the curse for having broken it. God is not in covenant with them, nor they with him. The law, as a covenant, was recorded, and a new and enlarged edition of it given to Israel at Mount Sinai; not, however, for the purpose of “giving life” to those who had broken it; but rather as a preparative to a better covenant. Its precepts still stand as the immutable will of God towards his creatures; its promises as memorials of what might have been expected from his goodness, in case of obedience; and its curses as a flaming sword that guards the tree of life. It is stationed in the oracles of God as a faithful watchman, to repel the vain hopes of the self-righteous, and convince them of the necessity of a Saviour, Rom. vii. 10 ; Matt. xix. 17. Hence it was given to Israel by the hand of Moses, as a mediator, Gal. iii. 19-21.
But if unbelievers be no otherwise under the covenant of works than as they are exposed to its curse, it is improper to say that whatever is required of them in the Scriptures is required by that covenant, and as a term of life. God requires nothing of fallen creatures as a term of life. He requires them to love him with all their hearts, the same as if they had never apostatized, but not with a view to regain his lost favour; for were they henceforward perfectly to comply with the Divine precepts, unless they could atone for past offences, (which is impossible,) they could have no ground to expect the bestowment of everlasting life. It is enough for us that the revealed will of God to sinners says, Believe; while the gospel graciously adds the promise of salvation.”