Home > Systematic Theology > Duty of Gratitude for Divine Grace: Blessings of Grace: Justification- Book Seventh- Chapter 3- Section 2

Duty of Gratitude for Divine Grace: Blessings of Grace: Justification- Book Seventh- Chapter 3- Section 2

Book Seventh

CHAPTER III.

SECTION II.–JUSTIFICATION.

ALL WHO BELIEVE IN CHRIST, ARE JUSTIFIED BY HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS IMPUTED TO THEM.[53]

Justification is the act of a judge acquitting one who is charged with crime. It is the opposite of condemnation. In Deut. xxv. 1, the judges of Israel were commanded, in the discharge of their official duty, to justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.

Justification is a higher blessing of grace, than pardon. The latter frees from the penalty due to sin, but it does not fully restore the lost favor of God. A pardoned criminal, and a just man who has committed no crime, stand on different ground. The distinction between pardon and justification may be illustrated by these words of Job, “God forbid that I should justify you.”[54] If, in this passage, we should substitute the word pardon for justify, every one would perceive an important change in the meaning. This change shows the difference between pardon and justification. Such is the greatness of divine grace to the sinner who returns to God through Jesus Christ, that he is treated as if he had never sinned; and this is imported to the declaration that he is justified. We are, however, not to conceive of these as separate blessings. It is not true that one sinner is justified, and another merely pardoned: but every penitent believer is both pardoned and justified. As repentance and faith are duties mutually implying each other, so pardon and justification are twin blessings of grace, bestowed together through Jesus Christ. All whom Jesus delivers from the wrath to come are freely justified from all things, and presented faultless before the presence of his glory.

Justification is attributed, in the Scriptures, to the blood and the obedience of Christ: “Being justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.”[55] “By the obedience of one, shall many be made righteous.”[56] Both his blood and his obedience were necessary to magnify the law, and make it honorable. His blood signifies the endurance of its penalty; and his obedience, the fulfilment of its precepts. On this endurance of the penalty, our deliverance from wrath is based; and on his fulfilment of the precepts, our complete justification before God. Justification, however, could not be complete, without deliverance from the penalty; and it therefore required both the blood and the obedience of Christ; or, in the language of Scripture, “his obedience unto death.”

Justification is by faith. On this point, the Scriptures are explicit. “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.”[57] By him all that believe are justified from all things.[58] Faith does not justify, because of its own merit. Other graces co-exist with it in the heart of the believer; as repentance, love, &c. And these have equal claim to merit; and especially love, which is the fulfilling of the law,[59] but faith is selected as the justifying grace; and Paul assigns the reason, “It is of faith, that it might be by grace.”[60] In the very exercise of faith, merit is renounced, and the sole reliance is placed on the merit of Christ. Hence faith is opposed to works: “To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”[61] In faith, the sinner as ungodly comes to God, who justifies the ungodly,[62] through Christ, who died for the ungodly.[63] He presents no plea, and entertains no hope, founded on personal merit, but relies wholly on the blood and obedience of Christ. Faith is an exercise of the believer’s mind; and as such, it is as much a work as repentance or love, and it produces other works: for, “Faith worketh by love.”[64] But it is not as a work, or as producing other works, that faith justifies; but as renouncing all personal merit and self-reliance, and receiving salvation as a gift of free grace through Jesus Christ.

In justification, righteousness is imputed, accounted, or reckoned. “David describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness.”[65] Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness:[66] “For us, also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe.”[67]

How God can justly account an ungodly man righteous, is a problem which it required infinite wisdom to solve. How it was solved Paul has informed us. Him hath “God set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past through the forbearance of God; to declare I say at this time his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.”[68] The propitiatory sacrifice of Christ, and faith is that sacrifice, are the means which God employs for the solution of the difficult problem: and these solve it completely; God himself, the perfectly just one, being judge. We may not be able fully to understand the solution, and perceive all its fitness and beauty; but we may learn much respecting it, from the light which the Scriptures throw on it; and, where we fail to comprehend, we ought patiently to wait for the further light which eternity will disclose.

When the Scriptures speak of justification by the obedience or blood of Christ, faith is supposed; otherwise, those passages which speak of justification by faith, would be without meaning. And in like manner, when they speak of justification by faith, the obedience and blood of Christ are supposed; otherwise, it would be unmeaning to say, “Justified by his blood;” “By his obedience many are made righteous.” What Christ did and suffered, and also our faith in Christ, are necessary to effect our justification; and the part which each of these has in the process, is an interesting subject of inquiry.

We have already seen that faith does not justify as a meritorious work. If it justified on the ground of merit, it would need to possess sufficient merit to satisfy all the demands of the law, both perceptive and penal; and in that case the obedience and sufferings of Christ would be unnecessary. It is not jointly meritorious with the obedience and sufferings of Christ; for they are in themselves perfect: and, without addition from the works of the sinner, magnify the law and make it honorable. Christ, and Christ alone, is the end of the law for righteousness, to every one that believeth.[69] Faith disclaims all merit of its own, but receives Christ as the propitiation that God has set forth, and, as the end of the law, fully satisfying all its claims. Faith distinguishes those to whom righteousness is imputed: “it is unto all, and upon all them that believe:”[70] but it is not, in itself, either in whole or in part, the meritorious cause of justification.

But merit is ascribed, in the word of God, to the obedience and sufferings of Christ. His blood is represented as a price paid, and a price of such value, that our deliverance from under the law may, on the ground of it, be justly claimed: “Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold; but with the precious blood of Christ.”[71] “He was made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.”[72]

“Ye are not your own: ye are bought with a price.”[73] As a commodity may be claimed, when its full value has been paid, and the purchase completed; so our deliverance from the condemnation of the law, and our justification before God, may be claimed on the merits of Christ’s obedience and sufferings. Avenging justice is satisfied: “He is the propitiation for our sins.”[74] “The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake.”[75] He gave himself an offering and a sacrifice to God of sweet smelling savor.”[76]

When the Scriptures speak of Christ’s blood as the ground of our justification, his obedience is supposed: and, on the other hand, when his obedience is mentioned, his sufferings are supposed. His obedience to the precepts of the law would not have sufficed, if he had not also endured its penalty: and if, while enduring his sufferings, he had not loved God with all his heart, his sacrifice would have been polluted. A lamb without spot was needed; and perfect obedience was therefore necessary to render his offering acceptable. His active and passive obedience are both necessary to make a complete salvation; and when only one is mentioned in the Scriptures, the other is supposed.

In being made under the law, Christ became our substitute; and his obedience and sufferings are placed to our account, as if we had personally obeyed and suffered, to the full satisfaction of the law. We are thus justified by the righteousness of Christ imputed to us: “He who knew no sin, was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”[77] Our sins were imputed to Christ when he died for them; and his righteousness is imputed to us when we receive eternal life through him. He was treated as if he had personally committed the sins which were laid on him: and all who believe in him are treated as if they had personally rendered that satisfaction to the law which was rendered by his obedience and sufferings.

Nothing can be accounted the meritorious cause of justification, but the obedience and sufferings of Christ: yet faith is indispensable: “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; and the wrath of God abideth on him.”[78] By him all that believe are justified.[79] Faith, then, is the turning point, by which a sinner’s condition is determined. In God’s method of grace, all the benefits of Christ’s satisfaction to the law are made over to the sinner, as soon as he believes: and faith, therefore, serves to him instead of a perfect personal obedience to the law. On his believing in Christ, he is treated as if he had personally rendered a perfect obedience to the law: and this is the import of those Scriptures which say that faith is imputed to him for righteousness. It is not so imputed, because of any merit which it possesses; but because it is that which the Gospel recognises in the sinner as entitling him to the full satisfaction that Christ has rendered. When faith is said to be imputed for righteousness, the obedience and sufferings of Christ, on which faith lays hold, are viewed as connected with it, and constituting the meritorious ground of its acceptance.

That the sin or righteousness of one should be imputed to another, has been thought by some to be inconsistent with the principles of justice, the province of which is, to give to every man his due. From some cause, the notion of imputation has prevailed in all ages, in the sacrifices which have been offered, both by divine authority and by heathen worshippers. This notion has the full authority of God’s word, and evidently lies at the foundation of the salvation which infinite wisdom and goodness have provided for guilty men. It would, therefore, be extreme folly in us to reject this salvation because of an objection which may arise to our erring reason in determining the abstract principles of justice. There is no higher rule of justice than God himself; and what the Judge of all does, must be right.

In explaining the imputation of Adam’s sin, we showed that there is a threefold union between Adam and his posterity, rendering the imputation of his sin to them as an act of justice. There is, in like manner, a threefold union between Christ and his people, rendering the imputation of their sin to him, and of his righteousness to them, consistent with justice.

1. There is a union of consent. Christ consented to the righteousness of the law, in its condemnation of his people, and to the necessity of satisfaction: and they do the same. He consented to become a substitute for them, and render the required satisfaction in their behalf: and they joyfully accept the favor. While in impenitence and unbelief, they do not approve the law, or its sentence, and do not acknowledge the obligation to make satisfaction. When they become sensible of this obligation, the first effort is to make satisfaction in their own persons. In this state of mind their consent with Christ is only partial; and the Gospel does not pronounce them justified. But when they become convinced of their utter inability to render satisfaction in their own persons, they give themselves up to Christ, and not only consent, but pray to be found in him, not having their own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God by faith.

How the union of Christ and his people rendered it just in God to inflict the penalty of their sins on him, and to justify them, we cannot claim fully to understand. God knows well what his moral government requires; and as he has approved the arrangement, we may be sure it must be right. We may hope to obtain further knowledge of this glorious mystery when the counsels of infinite wisdom are unfolded to our view in the future world.

But even here we may see, in part, a fitness in the procedure. Without the consent of Christ, we cannot suppose that justice would have laid our iniquities on him: and, without the consent to be saved by him, which faith yields, we cannot understand how justice would have been honored in our being justified. As the consent of Adam’s descendants to the deed of their father, in rebelling against the law of his Sovereign, justifies the imputation of his sin to them; so the consent of Christ and his people to the divine scheme of grace, justifies what is done to them both in the execution of the scheme.

2. There is a spiritual union. As Adam was the natural head of his posterity, so Christ is the spiritual head of his people. Adam’s descendants are born from him according to the flesh, and possess the nature which existed in him as its beginning or fountain. Christ’s people are born of the Spirit, and possess the spirit which was in Christ without measure; so that, “If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”[80] This union is like that of the head and members of the human body: “and by one spirit believers are all baptised into this one body.[81] It is like the union of the vine and its branches; through all which the same vitalizing and fructifying sap circulates. This union secures the perfect consent, which has already been notice, between Christ and his people; and further illustrates the fitness of that arrangement by which they are regarded as one in the administration of God’s moral government.

3. There is a federal union. As Adam was the federal head and representative of his descendants; so Christ stood, in the covenant of grace, as the federal head and representative of all whom the Father gave to him. For their sakes he undertook the work of mediation; and for their sakes he did and suffered all that was necessary to the full execution of the work. Justice, and every other attribute of the divine nature, concurred in the arrangement, by which he was to see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; and by the knowledge of him to justify many.[82] And now, justice, and every other attribute of the divine nature, fully sanction the arrangement, by which his righteousness is imputed to all his elect people, on their believing in him. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died.”[83]

The imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, is an act of justice; the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers, is an act of grace. The former is on the proper level of justice; but the latter rises above it. Justice has nothing to say against it, but, on the contrary, is fully satisfied and abundantly honored by it; yet the plan did not originate in the justice, but in the love, of God, which provided the needed sacrifice. This distinction ought never to be forgotten. If our condemnation, is our natural state, is not just, our deliverance from it is of debt, and not of grace. When we feel, in every power of our minds, that we are justly condemned before God, and that his wrath is our righteous due; we can then receive Christ and salvation by him, as the gift of God, the free gift, the unspeakable gift, of his grace.

The Apostle James says: “A man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”[84] In this he appears, at first view, to contradict the words of Paul: “A man is justified by faith, without deeds of the law.”[85] James has assigned a reason, which furnishes a clue that leads to a perfect reconciliation of this apparent contradiction: “For,” says he, “faith without works is dead.”[86] Faith alone, is dead faith; and dead faith, according to his teaching, does not justify; and this doctrine, Paul does not contradict. The justifying faith of Paul, is living, working faith. He says expressly; “Faith works by love.”[87] James does not exclude faith from justification; but, on the contrary, introduces works, not as excluding faith, but as making it perfect: “By works was faith made perfect.”[88] As thus perfected, faith justifies, according to his teaching: and this is precisely what Paul teaches. The works which Paul excludes are not works of faith, but works of law–not works, evidencing the genuineness and vitality of faith; but works, claiming to be, in whole, or in part, the meritorious cause of justification. Such works are excluded, because they would imply an imperfection in Christ’s work, and give the sinner a ground of glorying. It is manifest that James insists on works, merely as evidences of faith: “Show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.”[89] Even words, as well as works, are necessary, to give evidence of faith: “With the heart, man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation.”[90] So far as words prove the presence or absence of faith, it is true, that, “By thy words thou shalt be justified; and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”[91] But words without works, avail nothing; for Christ teaches that, “Not every one that saith Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.”[92] And words and works together, avail nothing, without faith; for, whatever a man may say or do, if he believe not, he “shall be damned.”

A difference of opinion has existed as to the proper date of justification. Some have regarded the day of judgment as its proper date. It is an act of God, as Judge; and, in the judgment of the great day, the Judge will publicly pronounce, on every individual, the sentence which will determine his condition through eternity. Then God’s judgments will be fully revealed; but a partial revelation of them is made in the present life: “Even now, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness, and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”[93] It is true, “He that believeth not, shall be damned;[94] but it is also true, “He that believeth not, is condemned already.”[95] In like manner, it is true that Christ will publicly own his people in the great day, and pronounce the final sentence in their favor; but it is also true, that they are justified in the present life. Hence Paul says: “Ye are justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”[96] “All that believe are justified from all things.”[97] The same rule by which the eternal state of men will be determined in the great day, is now made known on the authority of him who will sit on the throne of judgment then, and who is now the Judge of all the earth. By this revelation, men are already condemned or justified, according to their character. That character is often secret here. In the great day, God will judge the secrets of all hearts; but he will not establish a new rule of judgment: so far as that rule has been correctly applied here, its decision will be confirmed in the last day by the final sentence.

Some have dated justification in eternity past, regarding it as grace given in Christ Jesus before the world began. Justification is not a secret purpose in the bosom of God, but a revelation from him, and therefore it cannot be eternal. It implies, not only the accounting of the sinner righteous, but the declaring of him righteous; other wise, it would not be the opposite of condemnation; and neither justification nor condemnation can be from eternity. God’s purpose to justify is eternal, and so is his purpose to glorify; but it is improper to say that believers are justified from eternity, as to say that they are glorified from eternity. It is clearly the doctrine of Scripture, that, on believing in Christ, men pass from a state of condemnation into a state of justification.

[53] Acts xiii. 39; Rom. iii. 21, 22, 25, 26; x. 4; Gal. ii. 16; iii. 22, 24; Phil. iii. 8–10.

[54] Job xxvii. 5.

[55] Rom. v. 9.

[56] Rom. v. 19.

[57] Rom. v. 1.

[58] Acts xiii. 39.

[59] Rom. xiii. 10.

[60] Rom. iv. 16.

[61] Rom. iv. 5.

[62] Rom. iv. 5.

[63] Rom. v. 6.

[64] Gal. v. 6.

[65] Rom. iv. 6.

[66] Rom. iv. 3.

[67] Rom. iv. 24.

[68] Rom. iii. 25, 26.

[69] Rom. x. 4.

[70] Rom. iii. 22.

[71] 1 Pet. i. 18, 19.

[72] Gal. iv. 5.

[73] 1 Cor. vi. 19, 29.

[74] 1 John ii. 2.

[75] Isaiah xlii. 21.

[76] Eph. v. 2.

[77] 2 Cor. v. 21.

[78] John iii. 36.

[79] Acts xiii. 39.

[80] Rom. viii. 9.

[81] 1 Cor. xii. 13.

[82] Isaiah liii. 11.

[83] Rom. vii. 33, 34.

[84] James ii. 24.

[85] Rom. iii. 28.

[86] James ii. 17.

[87] Gal. v. 6.

[88] James ii. 22.

[89] James ii. 18.

[90] Rom. x. 10.

[91] Matt. xii. 37.

[92] Matt. vii. 21.

[93] Rom. i. 18.

[94] Mark xvi. 16.

[95] John iii. 18.

[96] 1 Cor. vi. 11.

[97] Acts xiii. 39.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology

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