It is shown that there is a two-fold justification: the one, in the sight of God, and the other, before men.
Without this distinction, the subject cannot properly be illustrated. There are sundry texts, which exclude all good works with respect to our justification; whilst others include such as necessary. This perplexes some minds, and to reconcile this apparent contrariety, they conclude that both faith, and good works are necessary to justify a man in the sight of God. Nevertheless, this does not harmonize those different texts. For such a text as this— ‘therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law’—Rom. 3, 20— does not admit the least addition of works in the article of our justification. But as the scriptures speak of a justification in the sight of men, as well as in the sight of God, it is not difficult to discover a harmony between those apparent repugnant texts. This is elucidated by the following specimens:
1 ‘Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his (God’s) sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. Rom. 3, 20, 21. This text speaks of a justification in the sight of God, which positively excludes all legal works.
2. ‘For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.’ ch. 4, 2. From this text it may be concluded that there is a justification by works; but not before God; hence it must be before men. As the justification before God is without works, even so the justification before men, cannot be otherwise, but by works. It is said ‘God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit. seen of angels, &c.’ 1 Tim. 3, 16. Christ was justified in the spirit, but not in the sight of God; because he knew his son as just, and holy from eternity. Through the spirit he wrought miracles, Matth. 12, 28 ; which were calculated to justify him as the Messiah, in the sight of men. He therefore says, If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But it I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works ; that ye may know, and believe that the Father is in me, and I in him.’ John 10, 37,38. Again. ‘By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned’ Matth 12, 37. Now we know, that in the sight of God words are not necessary, either to justify, or condemn us ; because he knows all secrets of the heart before words are uttered. But that men may be informed of the intention of the heart, words are necessary ; and by which we either stand justified, or else, convicted of an error.
3. It has been supposed by some that St. James, when he insists upon good works, (ch. 2) as necessary unto justification, contradicted St. Paul, who excludes such. James does not allude to the same justification. ‘Ye may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works : shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works’ ch. 2, 18. As this text speaks of shewing one’s faith by works, it must be a manifestation of our justification; hence such as is in the sight of men. For we need not to shew our faith to God, because he is omniscient. Again — ‘Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?’ v. 21. Abraham, by yielding obedience to the divine mandate to offer his son Isaac, could not allude to a justification before God. Abraham was circumcised previous to the birth of Isaac, which is evident from the scriptures; (see Gen ch. 17) hence before he could offer him upon the altar. Now Abraham ‘received the sign of, circumcision, a seal of the righteousness 0f the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised.’ Rom. 4, 11. Hence, as Abraham was circumcised before he offered his son Isaac upon the altar, and as circumcision was a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, it is evident, that he was justified in the sight of God, before he was about to sacrifice his son. As he was justified in God’s sight, before he performed this work, it must be concluded, that he thereby shewed himself as just in the sight of men. This is confirmed by St. Paul ‘For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.’ Rom. 4, 2. Since Abraham might glory by his works ; yet not before God, the conclusion is, that he might have a glory in the sight of men.
When St. Paul teaches, that we are justified by faith, exclusive of’ all legal works, he does not by it mean an assent to any common truth, such as; that God created the world, or the existence of angels ; but a faith in Christ, not as a mere creator, but as a saviour of sinners ; or, as he calls it ‘faith in his blood.’ Rom. 3, 25. But the faith which St. James denies as sufficient to justify one, is not this faith ; but the faith, that there is ONE God, which he also, represents as dead without works. ‘Thou believest that there is one God ; thou doest well: the devils also believe and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 19, 20. What does St James call a dead faith? Not the faith in Jesus Christ, as a saviour : for he says ‘My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.’ v. 1. This shews, that the faith in Jesus Christ has no respect to persons; hence it cannot be dead, but living. But the faith, that there is one God, in itself is dead. Why so? The truth that only one God exists, includes no promise of salvation. Hence simply to believe this, cannot engender a living principle. Unless a promise be made, the creature does not (I mean the guilty) expect a favour, and without which he has no inducement to love. Whereas the truth, that there is a saviour includes a promise of life, and salvation ; the sinner that believes this must rejoice; and he has an inducement to love God ; hence it must because of this promise, be a living faith.
To prove that the faith that there is one God, is insufficient to justify, the apostle exhibits the example of devils, who are neither just, nor happy ; notwithstanding they believe this truth. According to the interpretation which the Jews gave of the idolatrous worship of the heathens, and confirmed by St Paul, 1 Cor. 10, 19 21 ; it appears they invoked devils, The heathens did not consider their Gods as supreme beings, but as inferior mediators, called δαιμονια; nevertheless those δαιμονια were devils. He must be an apostate spirit, that requires divine honours from men ; or will accept of such without reproving those by whom they are offered. Those devils that were honoured by the heathens as Gods, do not like them believe the doctrine of polytheism ; but are convinced that there is but one God ; and in this respect, are as orthodox as Abraham. But as they delight in being worshipped by men, they are so far from being justified by this belief, that their guilt is amplified ; and they tremble, knowing that their usurped deities shall be destroyed, and they be punished. That such a faith as this should justify any one, St. Paul never taught. But St. James must have been acquainted with some, who taught it; otherwise he would not so zealously have inveighed against it.
4. When our blessed Saviour shall come in his glory to judge the world, he shall say to the saints—’Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in : naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me : I was in prison, and ye came unto me.’ Matth. 25, 34 – 36. In this text, good works are exhibited as a justification of saints on the day of judgment. But this judgment cannot be intended for God to discover the characters of men; because he is omniscient, and thus needs no information ; hence it must be to reveal the same to an assembled world. The good works of the saints, will justify them in the sight of intelligent creatures. Nevertheless in the sight of God, they are otherwise justified. This is evident, from our Saviour’s declaration for he calls them the blessed of his Father. But the ‘Father has blessed them in Christ with all spiritual blessings.’ Eph. 1.8. ‘So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.’ Gal. 3, 9. Thus as they were blessed of God by faith, it is evident, they were justified by faith in his sight; and as such, they inherit the kingdom. Hence this text beautifully shews, how saints are justified by works in the sight of an assembled world ; and yet, how they were well-pleasing to God, because he had blessed them in Christ by faith.
All men are sinners, and as such only, they may be justified before God : for a just person cannot be justified ; because he is such already. ‘To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.’ Rom. 4, 5. How clearly this proves, that God justifies the ungodly! But it might be asked, how can this be? must a sinner not repent, and believe in Christ, before he can be justified? I answer this is the reason, why God only justifies the ungodly. A penitent sinner is one, who is sensible of his sins, and justly fears the wrath to come, if not relieved; and as a believer he depends on a help not his own; hence upon Jesus Christ. Although, God justifies one that is penitent ; yet does he justify one that is ungodly. The penitent sinner, only differs from the impenitent in so far, that he is sensible of his guilt , and is willing to accept of pardon ; whereas the other is insensible of the same ; and hence, does not perceive the necessity of a saviour. Should the person that is sensible of his guilt, not be guilty? To be sensible of one’s guilt, necessarily presupposes one, that is guilty. ‘If ye were blind, ye should have no sin : but now ye say, We see ; therefore your sin remaineth.’ John 9, 41. If we were blind in our own estimation, we should be sensible of our guilt; and thus perceive the necessity of being saved by Christ; but whilst we imagine we see, our guilt must remain.
Where is the man, who does not stand in need of this justification? Who is he, that is not ungodly? Those who apparently are the vilest, may be justified : for in the sight of God there is no difference : for all have sinned. How erroneous is the opinion, which many entertain, that they must prepare themselves with sundry good works, and a thorough reformation of the heart, before they are entitled to believe; or, hope to be clothed with God’s righteousness. If this should be correct, then they would as just men be justified. How inconsistent!
Faith works by love, Gal 5, 6 ; hence good works are the blessed result, by which we are justified before men, who will glorify our Father in heaven. The man who boasts of an abundance of faith ; and yet is destitute of philanthropy, may be pronounced a hypocrite. But let no one conclude, that because the scriptures recommend good works, and because they demonstrate our motives to others, that therefore they are necessary to justify us before God. They are properly the blessed effects of our justification before God. ‘When ye shall have done all these things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do’ Luke 17, 10. If after doing all that we are commanded, we are to acknowledge ourselves unprofitable servants, it is evident that we are not thereby justified before God; hence we must be clothed with a righteousness, which he himself has prepared.