As a means of laying down this thesis, Brown begins by talking about the Lord’s means of bringing people to a state of justification. He writes,
The Lord’s ordinary and usual method, in bringing his chosen ones into a justified state, is first to convince them of their sin and misery, by setting home the Law, and awakening their consciences… (p. 22, John Brown of Wamphray, ‘A Life of Justification Opened’)If the Law doesn’t act to convict – then I don’t know how one can come to any true understanding of himself (and, corollary to this, of God). We see the attitude of ‘self-worth’ whenever George Barna makes his polls of the American public, and even worse, the American church-going public, embodied in such statements as ‘I’m not an evil person – I’ve never murdered anyone!’ and ‘Most people are basically good at heart – they don’t have any evil orientation’ that come out repeatedly in such studies. People with this kind of attitude truly don’t understand what is expected of them, and what standard they should truly be paying attention to.
But when a person comes face-to-face with God’s demands, he must own up to the truth… Brown writes that it is at this point that
…the man is made to renounce all his former grounds of hope, and confidence, all his former duties, good works, civility, negative holiness, and whatever else he placed his confidence in formerly; yea all his righteousness are as filthy rags, and accounted as loss and dung. So that he hath nothing within himself, as a righteousness, that he can expect to be justified by, before God… (p. 22, John Brown of Wamphray, ‘A Life of Justification Opened’)Again, without the Law serving the function of showing us who we are before God, we are extremely apt to hold ourselves as righteous, acceptable, ‘basically good’. Quite probably, I’ve been overly generous with ‘we are extremely apt to’. More accurate might be ‘we undoubtedly will’. The Fall has twisted and ruined our self-perception in such a way to make us ready to justify ourselves based on a standard we know that we can achieve. We know that acceptance before God is something we must have (or we perish), and therefore we make up a standard that is achievable, so that our wounded consciences are eased. This, however, puts God in a place of dishonor, and removes Him from His appropriate seat of judgment and Sovereign headship over all men.
As contrasted to this man-centered approach, God's way of justification, Brown writes,
…is so contrived, and the awakened man (whom God is about to justify) is now convinced of it, that man must be abased; for he is now able to see, that he is empty and poor, and hath nothing to commend him to God, no righteousness of his own to produce; nothing within him, or without him, except the alone righteousness of Christ the Mediator and Cautioner, that can stand him in stead; nothing of his own must here come in reckoning, neither alone, nor in conjunction with the righteousness of Christ; for what is of grace, must not be of works, otherwise grace is no more grace Romans 11: 6. (pp. 22-23, John Brown of Wamphray, ‘A Life of Justification Opened’)It seems clear that part of the reason some reject the teaching of the necessity of God’s imputing both Christ’s obedience to the precepts of the Law AS WELL as his so-called ‘passive obedience’ to the ceremonial Law of atonement is that their view of the Law’s demands on the individual is low indeed. If one believes that full obedience to God’s Law in exhaustive detail as never required of any, then one needn’t have Christ’s obedience in that sense attributed to him. One can then, in this view, pass the standard required by some sort of ‘evangelical obedience’, or by the acceptance by God of sincere intention to obey and submit as a righteousness of a sort.
This isn’t the way the Law has historically been understood by the Reformed church, as Brown expounds the doctrine here. One of the clear functions of the Law, as described by the Apostle Paul, is to drive the individual away from reliance upon self, and a sense of worthiness to a truer sense of who he is before God – one who has no claim to righteousness in himself, and no means of restoration but grace.