Just a follow-up on one thought on my post ‘Both to will and to do‘ from the other day.
I said there that aiming for holiness would be legalistic, (i) if it was attempted on the strength of our own efforts, forgetting that sanctifying grace comes from the same source as justifying grace, and on the same terms, (ii) if it was undertaken as a means of consolidating or contributing to our salvation, and (iii) if we ended up feeling or acting as if our perceived successes or failures according to either self-imposed or scriptural benchmarks have any bearing on the safety or wellbeing of our souls.
I’ve now just discovered a note I had of Ralph Erskine saying the same sort of thing, under the heading ‘signs of a legal temper in believers.’ (Again, a legal temper is a tendency to resort to keeping the law as a basis of our hope of acceptance with God, and Erskine is exposing this harmful tendency in believers – people who have learned by experience that it is indeed harmful, but who still keep slipping back into that way of thinking and living.)
1. It is a legal temper, when the believer is under excessive discouragements, on whatever ground: it is an evidence he is too much under the law; for the law can give no encouragement, no settlement to the conscience; it is only Christ can give rest. ‘Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’
What is it that discourages a believer when he is under a legal temper? Sometimes he is discouraged when he performs duty, and cannot find that presence, that sensible help he would have; why then he is dispirited indeed. It is true he then hath ground of mourning, when the Lord is absent; he should be deeply humbled for the causes of it: but when he is so dispirited that he loses his confidence, and is beaten quite away from his faith and hope, questions his state and gives way to slavish fear that weakens his hands in duties and draws his heart from duty, it is a token, he is secretly hankering after the law; for the language of his heart is, O if I could pray with as much life, and hear with as much attention, and perform duty with as much vigour as I would be at! O then I would have good hope. And so it is not Christ so much as the law … that you desire to place your hope in, while you are under that legal frame. …
Sometimes their discouragements arise from this, that they dare not apply the promises, and why so? Because they think the promises are not for such as they are; but only for such as are more holy. What is this but a legal temper, apprehending that if you had such and such a legal rightousness then God would be some way induced to give you the promise. But O, is not grace to be glorified in this new and gospel way! And therefore the more of a gospel spirit you have, the more cheerfully will you embrace the promises for this end, that, having these promises, you may cleanse yourself, but [drawing virtue from] this promise.
2. It is a sign of a legal temper, when a person is more taken up with the gifts of Christ, than with Christ himself. When they get any sensible grace, and sensible good affections, melting of heart, melting of spirit, any inclination to what is good, any gifts or graces, whether common or special, they admire these, and are not so much taken up with Chrsit himself. But the person that is evangelical in his actings, by what he gets, he is led to the giver; if this be sweet, O he is infinitely sweeter that sent it. I embrace the token, and it draws out my heart the more after him from whom it came.
(It was the second paragraph under number (1) that made me think of that earlier post, but the rest is useful too.)