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ON THE PRIVILEGES OF BELIEVERS: JUSTIFICATION.
Importance of the Doctrine - Meaning of the term Justification—The Author and Subjects of
Justification-Implies that a Sinner is pardoned, and accounted righteous-Ground of Justification, not the Works of the Law.
The subject which we are now to consider is entitled to the most serious attention, on account of the important place which it holds in the system of religion. To a man who acknowledges himself to be a sinner, no inquiry is so interesting as that which relates to the means of his restoration to the favour of God; and, if he is thoroughly convinced of his guilt and danger, he will find no rest till he has obtained a satisfactory answer to it. Till this point is decided, all other information respecting religion will be unavailing. Demonstrations of the existence of God will only serve to confirm, and more deeply impress upon his mind, the awful truth which he already believes, that there is a righteous Judge, before whom he must appear, and by whose sentence his final doom will be fixed. To explain the moral law to him, and inculcate the obligations to obey it, will be to act the part of a public accuser, when he quotes the statutes of the land in order to show that the charges which he has brought against the criminals at the bar are well founded, and, consequently, that he is worthy of punishment. The stronger the arguments are by which you evince the immortality of the soul, the more clearly do you prove that his punishment will not be temporary, and that there is another state of existence, in which he will be fully recompensed according to his desert. Hence you perceive how defective is not only natural religion, but that spurious Christianity, the publication of which Unitarians affirm to have been the sole design of the mission of our Saviour. There is nothing in a pure morality, and the doctrine of the resurrection and a future state, to relieve the mind of a sinner.
It is the glory of the gospel, that it reveals the method according to which a sinner may obtain peace with his Maker, and may rise to the possession of eternal life. It resolves the important question, how a man may be just with God. But although the information which he gives on this subject is sufficiently clear, it may be misapprehended, through carelessness and prejudice; and, accordingly, we find that there has been, and still is, a diversity of opinion among professed Christians with respect to the ground of acceptance. An error upon this point is fundamental ; for, as there is only one way to heaven, if we miss it and take another, it is certain that we shall not arrive at that happy place. If we entertain right views of the doctrine of justification, we cannot go far wrong with respect to any other essential truth of Christianity; but a mistake here will affect the whole system, and give rise to false conceptions of the character of God, of the mediation of Christ, of the law, of the gospel, of grace, and of works. It was justly termed by Luther, articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiæ, the article of a standing or falling church; because, according to the views which are adopted in any church with respect to the means of regaining the favour of God, true piety and holiness will flourish or decline in it. I may add, that it was eminently through the preaching of the scriptural doctrine of justification, that the reformation from Popery was effected. The light of this truth discovered to men the abominations of Antichrist, and made them renounce the merit of good works, the efficacy of fasts, and pilgrimages, and penances, the intercession of saints and angels, the sacrifice of the mass, and all the other tenets by which the mediation of Christ had been virtually set aside, and sinners had been led to rest their hope upon a foundation of sand.
It is necessary, in the first place, to ascertain the meaning of the term justification. It is a Latin word, which, however, is not of classical authority, and is found, I believe, only in the works of ecclesiastical writers. If we explain it according to the laws of etymology, it will signify the making of a person just, as sanctification signifies the making of a person holy. Hence some of the ancients were misled with regard to the meaning of the term, and confounded justification with sanctification. The church of Rome has fallen into this same error. The justification of a sinner is declared by the council of Trent to be not only the remission of sin, but also sanctification and the renovation of the inward man, by which a person who was unjust is made just, and instead of an enemy becomes a friend, so that he is an heir according to the hope of eternal life. The formal cause of it is the righteousness of God, not that by which he is himself righteous, but that by which he makes us righteous; and by which, bestowed upon us as his gift, we are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and are not only accounted, but are truly called, and are righteous, receiving each of us righteousness in ourselves according to our measure, which the Spirit distributes to every man as he wills, and according to the peculiar disposition and co-operation of every man.” The council then proceeds to enact the following decree :-" If any man shall say that men are justified solely by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, or solely by the remission of sins to the exclusion of grace and charity which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Spirit, and is inherent in them, or even that the grace by which we are justified is only the favour of God, let him be accursed."* This is called the first justification, and it is said to be by faith, in a sense, however, which does not altogether exclude merit and predisposing qualifications. The second justification is said to be by works, performed by the aid of the grace which was infused in the first.
Justification is a forensic term, which denotes not a change of a person's dispositions, but a change of his state in relation to the law. It does not make him righteous by an infusion of holy habits, but pronounces him righteous on valid grounds. This appears from many passages to be the meaning of the Hebrew word pvy, and the Greek word 8.x21c00. “ If there be a controversy among men, and they come into judgment that the judges may judge them, then they shall justify the righteous and condemn the wicked." To justify the righteous is not to make him, but to pronounce him, righteous upon proof of his innocence, and of the goodness of his cause. For this alone is the office of a judge. “ To justify the wicked,” signifies to pronounce him just, or to acquit him in judgment, and is declared to be an “abomination to the Lord,"I as it is to condemn the righteous, or pronounce him to be guilty. • He is near that justitieth me; and who is he that will contend with me?''S These are the words of our Saviour, and refer to the sentence of his Father, by which he was acquitted from every false charge brought against him by his enemies, as well as from the demands of law and justice which he had fully satisfied. The word is evidently used in the same sense when the Psalmist says, “ Enter not into judgment with thy servant ; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified."!! He is speaking to God as his Judge, and he intreats him that he may not be brought to trial; because neither he nor any other person could expect a sentence in his favour.
Concil. Trident, Sess. vi. Decret. et Canon, de justificatione. | Deut. xxv. 1.
Prov. xvii. 15.
$ Is. I. 8. VOL. II.-24
| Ps. cxlii. 2.
In the New Testament, the word dixiu always bears a forensic sense, or a sense closely connected with it, importing not to make, but to pronounce righteous. When wisdom is said to be “ justified of her children,' meaning is, that she is approved or vindicated by them, exhibited in her true character, and cleared from the aspersions of her enemies. The man who is desirous to justify himself, is a man who is eager to prove that there is no defect in his obedience. of this description were the Pharisees, who maintained that men were accepted by God on the ground of their good works, and made a show of righteousness before the world. Ye are they that justify yourselves before men.”+ The publican went down to his house "justified,"I that is, acquitted and pardoned by God, whose mercy he had humbly implored. “The doers of the law shall be justified, that is, they, and they alone, shall be esteemed righteous by the law, or rather by the Lawgiver. The forensic sense of justification is manisest from its being opposed to condemnation. “ It is God that justifieth ; who is he that condemneth?” “ Judgment was by one to condemnation ; but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.”'ll
It is unnecessary to multiply proofs, as the matter is abundantly plain. Justification is a change, not of our nature, but of our state. Those who are justified are also regenerated; but the two privileges, although inseparable, are perfeçıly distinct.
The Author of justification is God. “It is God that justifieth.” The person to be justified is accountable to him as his Creator and Lawgiver, and by his sentence he must stand or fall. In this transaction he sustains the character of the guardian of the law, who will take care, if I may speak so, that its authority shall not be subverted, and its rights be violated by any sentence which he may pronounce in favour of its subjects; and of the God of grace, who receives into favour those whom he might have justly excluded from his presence. It is said, indeed, in the Book of Daniel, that they who turn many to righteousness," or literally, who justify many, “ shall shine as the stars for ever and ever.” But their justification of others is merely ministerial, and must be understood of their agency under God in bringing men to that faith through which they are justified. In the same way we must explain those words of Christ, which seem to put the power of eternal life and death into the hands of his apostles : " Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.'
*** If there is no reference to the miraculous gift of discerning spirits, by which they could certainly judge of the state of individuals, and pronounce a sentence upon them which would be ratified in heaven, nothing further can be intended than that, as preachers of the word, they were authorised to declare the characters of those who should be justified, and of those who should be condemned, to assure believers of eternal life, and unbelievers of eternal death.
The person who is justified is a sinner. God “justifieth the ungodly."H He is considered as one who has violated the law, and the design of the sentence is to set him free from the consequences of transgression. If he were not a sinner, he would be under no necessity to make anxious inquiries respecting the means of restoration to the favour of the Lawgiver. He would be already justified, for God always beholds the righteous with a pleasant countenance.
“ Those whom God effectually calleth,” says our confession of Faith, " he also freely justifieth, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous."#1
• Matt. xi. 19. Luke xvi. 15. I Dan. xii. 3. * John xx. 23.
# Ib. xviii. 14.
$ Rom. ii. 13. | Ib. viii. 33, 34. v. 16. ## Westm. Conf. ch. xi. $ 1.
Although justification is represented as a single act, and is commonly spoken of as a single blessing, yet it consists, according to this definition, of more parts than one, to which, when attempting to explain its nature, we must separately direct our attention. The person to be justified is a sinner; and justification is a sentence declaring him to be just in the eye of the law. Two things are necessarily involved in this sentence; first, that he is acquitted from every charge of transgression which is brought against him by the law; and secondly, that he is accounted to have fulfilled, or on some ground treated as if he had fulfilled, its demands.
Justification implies the acquittal of the justified person from the charges of the law. It may here be observed, that the person in whose favour a legal sentence is pronounced, may be viewed as innocent or guilty. If he is innocent, the law acquits him, by declaring the charge to be unfounded, or, in the language of Scripture, by “bringing forth his righteousness as the noon-day." It is impossible that a trial on false grounds can take place at the tribunal of God; but cases of this kind frequently occur in human courts of justice. If he is guilty, as all those are who obtain the blessing of which we are speaking, the law grants him a pardon, or, to express myself more accurately, as pardon is not the act of the law, he is forgiven by the Lawgiver, or the person in whose hands the administration of justice and mercy is lodged.
The pardon of sin consists in the absolution of the sinner from the obligation to punishment under which he was lying. This is the nature of remission, whether it refer to crimes committed against the law of God, or to crimes committed against the laws of men. Obedience is not merely recommended to us in the way of counsel, which leaves a person to act as he may think proper, but is enjoined by authority, and enforced by the most solemn sanctions : “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." As soon, therefore, as a man transgresses the commandment, he becomes guilty; or, in other words, he is liable to the penalty, and bound to suffer it by the sentence of the Lawgiver. To pardon this man, is to declare, upon grounds which will be afterwards specified, that, although he has violated the law, it shall not have its course upon him ; that he shall be exempted from the fatal effects of his transgressions, and be treated as if he were innocent. Remission places him in the same relation to the law as if he had not sinned. He is no more under a sentence of condemnation than Adam was before his fall. As one sin subjects the offender to the penalty, if God should enter into judgment with him, it would be impossible that he could escape, since his sins are numerous as the stars of heaven, or the sand upon the sea-shore. But God will not enter into judgment with him, nor listen to any of the charges which the law or his conscience may advance, because his justice has received full satisfaction for all his acts of disobedience. Hence the Scriptures employ a variety of metaphorical expressions to show that the guilt of pardoned sin is completely cancelled, and that those who are forgiven are secured against every penal evil. God is said to have “ blotted out their sins ;” “not to remember them ;" to have “ cast them behind his back ;" to have “ cast them into the depths of the sea ; " " not to impute them ;” and they are represented as so hidden, that when they are “ sought for, they shall not be found.”+ It is evident that these things must be understood, not literally, but as alluding to the various ways in which an object may be concealed from the eyes of men, or banished from their minds. They intimate that, although the sins are ever present to the knowledge of God, who, being infinitely holy, must always view them with abhorrence, yet he will deal with believers in the same gracious manner as if he had forgotten
• Gal. iii. 10.
| Is. xliv. 22. xliii. 25. Xxxviii. 17. Micah vü. 19. Ps. xxxii. 2. Jer. I. 20.
their offences, and they were actually removed out of his sight. Hence, it has been said that God beholds no sin in believers. The proposition gave rise to controversy, and we cannot wonder that it did so, as it is expressed in a paradoxical form. If it mean that, literally, God sees nọ sin in them, it would be false, because he knows them to be chargeable with many transgressions ; but nothing more is intended than that he sees in them no obligation to punishment, no ground on which he may proceed against them as a judge. This is a Scriptural truth, which ought to have been expressed in plain and simple terms; no good purpose could be gained by throwing it into a form calculated to surprise and perplex. We may say of this and some other paradoxes relative to the same subject, which caused much discussion more than a hundred years ago,—such as, that believers contract no new guilt by new crimes ; that God is not offended by their sins; that confession, and repentance, and prayer, are not necessary to pardon ; we may say of them that, if not altogether false, they are a pitiful play upon words; and that, while the sentiments which they were meant to convey, so far as agreeable to Scripture, might be defended, the language ought to have been universally condemned. It is a poor employment to turn the doctrines of religion into riddles.
Such, then, is the nature of remission. It delivers the guilty from the curse of the law; it places those who were devoted to destruction in a state of safety; it averts the judgments which were hanging over their heads, and threatened to overwhelm them for ever. They may confidently say, “ O Lord, we will praise thee: though thou wast angry with us, yet thine anger is turned away, and thou hast comforted us. Sin, although a deadly poison, cannot now destroy them, because an effectual antidote has been administered. Its influence, indeed, is pernicious, and they should guard against it with the utmost circumspection, because it will pollute their souls, disturb their peace, and displease their heavenly Father ; but, although it may subject them to chastisements, it will never expose them to his avenging wrath : “ There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.''t
The pardon which is granted in justification is full, extending to all the transgressions of the guilty persons : “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men. By him, all that believe are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses.”'That law appointed sacrifices for many offences, but there were some for which no atonement was provided. The sacrifice of Christ was an atonement for sins of every kind and degree. Hence, in the Gospel a promise of pardon is made to every man who believes, without any exception; and if there is no sin which shall not be forgiven, it is excepted, not because there was not sufficient virtue in the blood of Christ to expiate it, but because it consists in a deliberate and wilful rejection of his sacrifice; so that the unhappy man is in the same condition with the patient under a dangerous disease, who will not take the only medicine which could cure him, and is therefore abandoned by his physician. With respect to past and present sins, there is no doubt that they are immediately remitted, so that the only question relates to those of which the believer may be afterwards guilty. "To some it has appeared improper to say, that they also are forgiven as soon as he believes; because there is an absurdity, they think, in supposing a debt to be cancelled before it is contracted. To this objection it may be replied, that there is no more ground for the charge of absurdity in this case than in that of our Saviour, to whom all the sins of his people, past, present, and to come, were at once imputed; for “the Lord laid upon him the iniquity of us all;"'S and who consequently made satisfaction for millions of sins which had not yet been committed. There is
• Is. xii. 1.
† Rom. viii. 1.
* Matt. xii. 31. Acts xüü. 39.
$ Is. liii. 6.