Home > Hermeneutics > The Holy Spirit’s use of words:Example 3

The Holy Spirit’s use of words:Example 3

What has just been before us leads us to point out that the only sure and satisfactory way of settling the old controversy between the Protestant and popish theologians as to whether the word “justify” means to make just or to pronounce just is to ascertain how the term is used by the sacred writers, for an appeal to Holy Writ does not leave the issue in the slightest doubt. In the first place, when we are said to “glorify God” we do not render Him glorious, but announce that He is so. When we are bidden to sanctify the Lord God in our hearts (1 Peter 3:15), we do not make Him holy, but assert that He is so. Equally, when it is said

“that Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou judgest” (Psalm 51:4),

the force of it is that Thou mightest be pronounced righteous in Thy judicial verdicts. In none of these instances is there the least ambiguity or uncertainty, in none is there any transformation wrought in the object of the verb—to suggest so would be horrible blasphemy. When wisdom is said to be “justified of her children” (Matthew 11:19) it obviously signifies that she is vindicated by them. Nor does the word have any different force when it is applied to the sinner’s acceptance with God.

In the second place, it is to be noted that in many passages justification is placed over against condemnation. The meaning of a term is often perceived by weighing the one that is placed in opposition to it—as “destroy” is over against “fulfill” in Matthew 5:17.

“If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked” (Deuteronomy 25:1).

“He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 17:15).

“For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).

Thus the forensic sense of the term is definitely established, for in those and similar passages two judicial sentences are mentioned which are exactly the reverse of each other. As to condemn a man “is not to make him unrighteous”, but is simply the pronouncing of an adverse sentence against him, so to justify is to not to effect any moral improvement in his character, but is simply declaring him to be righteous. The word is still further explained by Romans 3:19, 20:

“that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become [be brought in] guilty before God: Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight,”

where guilt and non-justification are synonymous.

But in all generations Satan and his agents have labored to make men believe that when Scripture speaks of God’s justifying sinners it signifies the making of men righteous by means of something which is infused into them, or else produced by them; thereby dishonoring Christ. The early chapters of Romans are devoted to an exposition of this all-important truth.

First, it is shown that “there is none righteous” (3:10), none who measures up to the Law’s requirements.

Second, that God has provided a perfect righteousness in and by Christ, and that this is revealed in the Gospel (1:16, 17;3:21, 22).

Third, that this righteousness, or vicarious obedience, of Christ is imputed or reckoned to the account of those who believe (4:11, 24).

Fourth, that since God has placed to the credit of the believing sinner the fulfillment of the Law by his Substitute, he is justified (5:1, 18).

Fifth, therefore none can lay anything to his charge (8:33). Thus may the believing sinner exultantly exclaim, “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength” (Isaiah 45:24), “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). “I will go in the strength of the Lord God: I will make mention of Thy righteousness, even of Thine only” (Psalm 71:16).

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

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