JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
“The just shall live by faith.” – Rom. 1: 17.
Our text furnishes us with a theme that is eminently appropriate both to the place and to the occasion. This house has been erected as a Christian Church, and we are assembled on the occasion of its solemn consecration. This has just been formally done, in the presence of the congregation, by whose pious zeal its walls have been reared. It has been dedicated as a Christian Church, for the preservation and furtherance of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is declared to be distinctively a Lutheran Church, in which “the doctrines of Christ may be preached according to the Confessions of our Evangelical Lutheran Church, His holy Sacraments rightly administered, and His religion handed down to the latest generations.” Chief among the doctrines of our holy Christianity, and prominent before all others in the Confessions and history of the Lutheran Church, is the doctrine of Justification by Faith. The doctrine of Justification by Faith in the atonement for sin effected for us by the obedience unto death of our Lord Jesus Christ, distinguishes Christianity from all other religions in the world. And the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone, was the turning-point of the Reformation; it was the experience of its necessity and efficacy in the heart of Martin Luther that constituted his best qualification for the work of the Reformation; and as it distinguished the Lutheran Church from the Church of Rome, so it has come to be regarded as the distinguishing mark of separation between Protestantism and Romanism. Of all the texts, too, that announce the doctrine, that which I have named at the head of this discourse did as much, perhaps, as any other single passage, to give shape both to the experience and to the theology of the great Reformer. During the spiritual conflict of his soul at Erfurt, and his terrible sickness at Bologna, and his eventful visit to Rome and his effort there to ascend St. Peter’s staircase on his knees, these words of Paul, like a ray of light from heaven, dispersed from his mind both spiritual doubt and Romish superstition. It is eminently suitable, therefore, that the doctrine of Justification by Faith, which this text announces, should be taken as the subject for consideration in the first discourse, following the dedication sermon this morning, in a house designed by its founders to be “Ein Feste Burg,” for the propagation and defence of the doctrines of the Reformation.
“The just shall live by faith.”
Let us, first, enter briefly into an exegetical examination of this passage. The entire verse reads — “For therein” — i.e., as expressed in the preceding verse, in “the Gospel of Christ which is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” — “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” This is quoted from Habakkuk 2:4.
The life, expressed in the words “shall live” is undoubtedly eternal life. It is the opposite of eternal death. It is explained in the previous verse as “salvation,” and in the following verse as the opposite of, or deliverance from, “the wrath of God.” They that “live” in the sense here spoken of, are saved from the “wrath of God,” i.e., from the condemnation which the law of God denounces upon the transgressor. It is the same life referred to by the apostle in the passage, Rom. 6: 23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And again, in Rom. 5:21, “As sin reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” It is also the same life to which Jesus himself refers when he says, John 3: 16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
They who thus “live,” are here called “the just.” This word, as it occurs in this passage, is used in the sense of “justified,” A similar use occurs in Job 9:2; where the question is asked, “How should man be just with God?” The import is, “flow should man be justified — pronounced just — judicially acquitted before God?”
To be made just — pronounced just — justified before God — is asserted in the text to be “by faith.” It is not on account of any innocence possessed, or works wrought, by the person, that he is declared to be “just,” — not on account of any merit in him, bat by “faith” in a merit outside of him. As faith and works are always placed in opposition to each other by the apostle, when speaking of the way of salvation, his intention here, as elsewhere, is to teach that a man is “just with God” by faith as distinct from works, or by a righteousness other than his own, and that is reckoned to him by faith as the instrument of its appropriation.
This righteousness which is appropriated by faith, and on account of which the man who believes is pronounced “just,” and the effect of which is that he “lives,” i.e. has eternal life, is in this verse distinctly declared to be “the righteousness of God.” “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith, as it is written. The just shall live by faith.” It is the same righteousness which the apostle uniformly mentions as the ground of our Justification. Thus in Rom. 3: 20 — 22. “Therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being
witnessed by the law and the prophets. Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all, and upon all them that believe.” And in Rom. 10: 3, 4. “For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” And in Phil. 3: 9. “That. I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”
The plain import of this passage is therefore this: Man is justified before God, and has eternal life, not on account of his own righteousness, but by faith in the righteousness of God, which is acquired for us by our Lord Jesus Christ. We are just, i.e., justified, by faith, and the effect is, we shall live, or have eternal life. The great theme announced in this precious passage is,
JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH.
I invite your attention to the discussion of,
The Ground, and
The Means of Justification.
In the consideration of The Nature of Justification, it is important that we endeavor to form a distinct conception of the subject, apart from its connection with any other. Among many other benefits, Christianity proposes to do two prominent things for man. It proposes to produce a personal change in his moral nature, and to effect a judicial change in his state or relation to the law and government of God. The one we call Sanctification, and the other we term Justification. Sanctification is a change of the heart, Justification is a change of state. The opposite of Sanctification is unholiness; the contrary of Justification is condemnation. Sanctification removes the pollution of our moral nature occasioned by indwelling sin, Justification takes away the condemnation which God inflicts upon the guilty transgressor of His holy law. Whilst Sanctification is the work of holiness, begun at regeneration, and continuing through life, and is not complete until its subject is perfected in heaven, Justification is a forensic or judicial act by which the Judge acquits from the charge of guilt, and removes the sentence of condemnation that rested upon the transgressor. The two things are essentially distinct, and it is of the highest importance to the formation of correct sentiments concerning them, that we keep them separate in our thinking of them.
Let us examine a few passages in order to ascertain whether this distinction between Sanctification and Justification is recognized in the Scriptures, and particularly whether Justification is to be taken in this judicial sense. In Prov. 17: 15, we read, “He that juslifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are an abomination to the Lord.” If to justify a wicked man, meant to make him a righteous and good man, it is not conceivable how it could be an abomination to the Lord. It is plain that it means to pronounce a wicked man free from guilt or blame, to clear him from, merited punishment, to declare him to be just, righteous, and innocent, notwithstanding his being a wicked man, and thus imports a sort of judicial proceeding. This passage alone is sufficient to teach us that Justification is something quite different from Sanctification, and that it evidently does not mean the making of a man morally righteous. The making of a man morally righteous must necessarily take place, but that is the work of Sanctification; Justification means something else.
Let us take another passage. In Job 9: 2, 3, we read: “How shall man be just with God? If he will contend with him, he cannot answer him one of a thousand.” Here the word “just” is used, not in reference to personal character, but to indicate the judicial relation of man with God. If God will “contend,” i.e., enter into a trial with man, as a criminal is tried by his judge, as he cannot answer him, or account for, one of a thousand of his sins, how, therefore, can he be justified, i.e., cleared, or acquitted, or saved from condemnation in his sight? The judicial sense of this passage is very plain.
Take another passage. In Psalm 143: 2, we read: “And enter not into judgment with thy servant, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” In this passage, the forensic or judicial sense of the word “justified,” is very clear. The Psalmist prays that God will not enter into judgment with him, i.e., call him to account, or sit as a judge on his case, because, being really guilty, and as all men are equally guilty with himself, therefore, neither himself, nor any other man living, can be, in God’s sight, justified, i.e., acquitted of the charge of sin and saved from the punishment which it deserves. To be justified, and to be acquitted, are here evidently the same thing.
Those passages in which justification and condemnation are spoken of as opposites of each other, make this interpretation especially manifest. Take for example, Rom.5:18, “As by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation, even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” Here, just as condemnation means “the judicial act of declaring one guilty, and dooming him to punishment,” as Webster defines it, so justification means the very opposite of that, and imports the judicial act of declaring one not guilty, and saving him from punishment.
Equally clear is Rom. 8: 33, “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth — who is he that condemneth?” Here the whole transaction, as indicated by these words, is judicial. We have before us the judge, the tribunal, the accuser, the charge brought, the person arraigned, the condemnation sought, the acquittal from the charge, the exemption from punishment. The whole is judicial. The condemnation of the accused by the judge does not make him guilty — he was guilty before, and his condemnation judicially fastens his guilt upon him, and sentences him to punishment. So his justification does not make him righteous; the righteousness, on the ground of which he is justified, must be found before, and his justification is his judicial acquittal of the charge, brought against him on the ground of a perfect righteousness that is found to be adequate for his acquittal
It seems to me that these passages make the nature of Justification plain to the commonest capacity. By keeping clear in our minds the distinction between sanctification, which makes us personally holy, and justification, which is our judicial acquittal of the charge of guilt, and the removal of the condemnation which God’s law denounces upon the transgressor, we can have no difficulty in comprehending the nature of both. To use the forcible words of another, “Sanctification is the act of God within us, changing our moral nature — Justification is the act of God without us, changing our relative state — blessings inseparable, indeed, but essentially distinct.”
It may be instructive, as well as interesting, to all present to hear what is said concerning the nature of Justification, by some of the old and learned divines of our Church, as well as the testimony of our Confessions themselves. The Formula of Concord, Art. 3, says, “The word to justify here signifies to declare or pronounce just or righteous, and absolved from sins, and to account as released from the eternal punishment of sins, for the sake of the righteousness of Christ, which is imputed to faith by God” The great Chemnitz says, “Paul everywhere describes Justification as a judicial process, because the conscience of the sinner, accused by the divine law before the tribunal of God, convicted, and lying under the sentence of eternal condemnation, but fleeing to the throne of grace, is restored, acquitted, delivered from the sentence of condemnation, is received into eternal life, on account of the obedience and intercession of the Son of God, the Mediator, which is apprehended and applied by faith.” To this clear and lucid statement of the doctrine, Quenstedt, another of our profound divines, furnishes the explicit testimony: “Justification is the external, judicial, gracious act of the most Holy Trinity, by which it accounts a sinful man, whose sins are forgiven on account of the merits of Christ, apprehended by faith, as just, to the praise of its glorious grace and justice, and to the salvation of the justified.” To these statements of the doctrine, we must yet add that of the learned Baier, who says, “Justification has a forensic sense, and denotes that act by which God, the Judge, pronounces righteous the sinner guilty of crime, and deserving punishment, but who believes in Jesus.” The testimony of the Church is uniform with the testimony of the Scriptures. As the Word of God announces the doctrine, so it has been understood and confessed by all the sound divines and faithful members of the Church, from the beginning to the present time.
Bearing in mind the forensic or judicial meaning of justification, we must next inquire into the nature of the righteousness which constitutes
THE GROUND OF JUSTIFICATION.
In order correctly to understand the ground of our justification, we remark —
1. Justification, or, a judicial acquittal, demands a perfect righteousness as the ground of it.
The great moral law controls our relation to God and to His moral government of the world. It is the standard of moral duty. Obedience of the law is righteousness; transgression of the law is sin. 1 John 3:4. Righteousness requires a perfect fulfilment of every precept of the law, and the least violation of any of its precepts is sin, and brings us under its entire condemnation. “He that is guilty of one point is guilty of all,” and the denunciation is in these solemn words: “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them.” This is very clear. It is not needed to break every precept of the law in order to be a transgressor of the law. If one precept is broken, the law is broken. An offender in one point is an offender against the whole law. No righteousness is perfect that is not complete in all things, The righteousness on account of which we can be justified before the court of heaven must be perfect. Nothing less than this is righteousness. In a judicial sense, nothing less than this can be righteousness. As it was in the old law, so it is now, and always will be, in God’s court, as in human courts, “If there be a controversy between men, and they come into judgment, that the judges may judge them, then shall they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked.” Deut. 25:1. “We are sinners, simply because we have transgressed the law, whether it be only once or a thousand times; so we can be accounted righteous only when we may be regarded as having perfectly kept the law.” The thief or the murderer suffers the penalty of imprisonment or capital punishment for the violation of but one of the immense number of laws on the statute-book. He may have kept all the others; the transgression of one is enough to condemn him. So says human law, and on this point the law of God and the law of man accord perfectly, and the enlightened judgment of all men, in all ages, has pronounced it right and just.
We remark —
2. We have not in our hearts and lives a personal righteousness that can constitute the ground of our justification.
The Scriptures, confirmed by every man’s experience, make this point so clear that argument upon it is scarcely necessary. The passages, Rom. 3:10, “There is none righteous, no not one,” and Rom. 3:23, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” are complete proofs of it. Equally explicit is the passage, Titus 3:5, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy hath he saved us.” But most conclusive of all are the declarations, Rom. 3: 20, “Therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin,” and Gal. 2:16, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law, for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”
Now, the nature of Justification itself, being a judicial acquittal of a person arraigned for crime, makes it very evident that, if we are sinners and have transgressed the law, we can never be justified by our works, for our works are the very things that condemn us. A prisoner, arraigned before the court on a charge of crime, can be acquitted only if his innocence is established; but if guilty, and strict justice is done, he must inevitably be condemned. Adam, before he fell, could have been justified by works, for he was then innocent and had broken no law. Unfallen angels can be justified by works, for they have never sinned. But sinners, being guilty men, as we all are, can never be justified by works, for “How can a man be just with God? If he will contend with him, he cannot answer one of a thousand.” If we were holy as Adam before he fell, as unfallen angels are, or as Jesus, who was without sin, then we might hope to be justified by works; but the fact of guilt makes justification by works impossible.
We remark —
3. Christ’s righteousness is the only ground of our justification.
The Scriptures uniformly represent that Christ became our substitute and surety, took our place, and acted in our stead, and by His obedience unto death, His doing, and His suffering, He effected for us a vicarious atonement; and that whosoever believes on Him has His righteousness accounted to him as his own, and stands justified before God, for Christ’s sake. Christ’s obedience is, therefore, instead of our obedience, and His righteousness instead of our righteousness, in the matter of our justification. The perfect righteousness which Justification requires, and which we so lamentably lack, we find in our Divine Surety, who obeyed the law in our stead, whose righteousness is made over or imputed to us, and in His righteousness we are accepted and regarded as righteous. The law is fulfilled, not by us, but in the person of a representative — “The Lord our righteousness.” Jer. 23: 6. Faith appropriates that righteousness, so that to the believer alone is the vicarious righteousness of Christ imputed. It is, therefore, called the righteousness of faith, and the entire doctrine is known as the doctrine of Justification by Faith.
Concerning this doctrine, as thus briefly stated, let us now go to the Word of God, and listen to its testimony:
In the third chapter of Romans, St. Paul argues this subject at length, in the most able and conclusive manner. “There is none righteous; no, not one.” “Therefore by the deeds of the law, there shall no flesh be justified in His sight.” “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all them that believe. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, to declare, I say, at this time, His righteousness, that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Can anything be more clearly stated, or more conclusively reasoned? Not any deeds that man doeth, nor any righteousness that man worketh, but the righteousness of God, the Divine Redeemer of man, is the ground on which his justification or acquittal before God taketh place.
Now, this is not the only instance in which this doctrine is taught in the Scriptures. It is the general tenor of the apostle’s teaching. Let us hear a few additional statements. In Rom. 10: 3, 4, he says, concerning his Jewish brethren, “For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”
Hear also Phil. 3: 9, “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ; the righteousness which is of God by faith.” In 1 Cor. 1:30, we read: “But of him are ye in
Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” In 2 Cor.5:21, we read: “For He hath made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” Jeremiah had prophetically said concerning Christ, Jer. 23:6, “And this is the name whereby He shall be called, The Lord our righteousness.”
Now, brethren, we can only conceive of two classes of justifying righteousness. Only two kinds of righteousness, as bearing upon our justification, are ever spoken of in the Scriptures, and these are our own righteousness and the righteousness of Christ. These are always placed in direct and positive opposition to each other when the subject of discussion is justification. See how completely and persistently the antithesis is carried out. “Is one called the ‘righteousness of the law,’ the other is the ‘righteousness of faith,’ Is one called by St. Paul ‘our own righteousness,’ the other he calls the ‘righteousness of God.’ Is one described as ‘by the law/ the other is ‘without the law.’ Is one reckoned to ‘him that worketh,’ the other is to ‘him that worketh not.’ Is the one ‘of debt,’ the other is ‘of grace.’ Does one give man ‘whereof to glory,’ because it is ‘of works,’ the other ‘excludes boasting,’ because it is ‘of faith.’ Does Paul ‘count all things but loss that he may win Christ, and be found in Him?’ He has no hope of succeeding till he has first laid aside ‘his own righteousness’ as worthless, and put on in its stead the ‘righteousness which is by the faith of Christ.’ In his view these two are essentially inconsistent in the office of justification, so that if we trust in the one we cannot have the other; if we ‘go about to establish our own righteousness,’ it implies that we have not submitted to, but rejected, the ‘righteousness of God.’”
What, now, is the process? The sinner stands before God charged with the transgression of His law. He is guilty. He can present no plea of “not guilty.” He has committed the deed with which he is charged; and not only in one instance, but in thousands, for they are more than the hairs of his head, and cannot be numbered. As he has no innocence to offer, and no righteousness to plead, he is under the curse of the law, and awaits the sentence of condemnation from the lips of the Judge. But lo! a righteousness is found that will save him. Christ his divine substitute and surety has by his vicarious obedience “magnified the law, and made it honorable” — has so fully obeyed the law in his stead, that not one jot or one tittle remains unfulfilled; and this His righteousness is now declared for the remission of sins — declared, repeats the apostle, that God “might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” He, therefore, that lays hold with the trembling hand of faith upon the Saviour’s righteousness, has that righteousness reckoned to him, and in it he stands justified before God. With David, Psalm 71: 16, his faith leads him to say, “I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only;” and the righteousness of which he makes mention, and on which he rests his salvation, will not disappoint his hopes.
We quote the words of another: “Such is the fulness of that meritorious cause of justification unto all who believe, that they are accounted righteous; in other words, righteousness is accounted or imputed to them — righteousness as perfect as the merits of the Redeemer, because of those merits it consists — so that to believers God no more imputes sin, than if they had never sinned. The numerous passages I have quoted, teach nothing less than that whenever a sinner believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, though his sins be as scarlet, and as numerous as the sands on the seashore, the righteousness of Christ, as his substitute and surety, is so perfectly made over to him, that he stands in Him, before God, as having nothing laid to his charge; his sins remembered no more; his justification (not his sanctification, remember,) — his justification as perfect as was that of Adam before he sinned — no more capable of being increased than the righteousness of the Beloved in whom he is accepted. This is the fulness of the glory of our redemption. It is finished. It is finished. ‘He that believeth is justified from all things from which he could not be justified by the law of Moses.’ Therefore does St. Paul triumphantly exclaim, ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth?’ Such is the blessed doctrine of Justification by Faith, without which, as the standards of the church truly say, ‘The poor conscience can have no certain hope, nor conceive the riches of the grace of Christ.’”
The doctrine as thus announced in God’s Word, is the doctrine of our Church as laid down in our Confessions, and is also the uniform testimony of our ablest theologians. Says the Apology of the Augsburg Confession: “To be justified here signifies, according to forensic usage, to absolve a guilty man and pronounce him just, but on account of the righteousness of another, viz., of Christ, which righteousness of another is communicated to us by faith.” The Formula of Concord, Art. 3, has the following: “Christ’s obedience, therefore, not only in suffering and dying, but in His being voluntarily put under the law in our stead and fulfilling it with such obedience, is imputed to us for righteousness, so that for the sake of this perfect obedience, which He rendered unto His heavenly Father for us, in both doing and suffering in His life and death, God forgives us our sins, accounts us as righteous and just, and saves us eternally.” The great theologian, Quenstedt, has this luminous passage: “The form of imputation consists in the gracious decision of God, by which the penitent sinner, on account of the most perfect obedience of another, i.e., of Christ, apprehended by faith, according to Gospel mercy, is pronounced righteous before the divine tribunal, just as if this obedience had been rendered by man himself.” It will be clearly seen how closely these statements of the doctrine harmonize with the utterances of the Word of God, as presented in this discourse.
The discussion of our subject would be incomplete, if we did not yet consider more at length, Faith as the
MEANS OF JUSTIFICATION.
In the economy of grace, Faith performs a two-fold office. It is, in the soul, the root and spring of all other Christian graces; and, therefore, is the principle of our sanctification. All Christian virtues do spring out of a true and living faith. Good works, as the fruit of a living piety, have their root and source away down in true and saving faith. “Faith without works is dead,” says the apostle, and a dead faith cannot save us. Faith is the hand that lays hold on Christ, Heb. 6:18; and it must be a living not a dead hand, for a dead hand cannot lay hold. Faith is the eye, that looks to Jesus for salvation, Isaiah 45:22; John 3:14,15; and it must be a living, sparkling eye, for a dead eye cannot look. This office of faith, as the spring whence issue the streams of holy and useful deeds, that adorn the Christian character and bless the world, is of very high and essential importance, and must have a very prominent place in the teachings of the Church, and in the practical life of every Christian.
But for the purpose of Justification, faith has another, and different office, which is to be kept very distinct both in our teaching, and in our experience. It is simply the means or instrument of our appropriation of Christ, by which we put on Christ’s righteousness, and lay hold on the promises of salvation in him. Faith is not the ground of our Justification, for this is the righteousness of Christ, nor is there any such merit in the exercise of faith, that we are justified as a reward for the good work or merit of believing. It is simply the instrument; the hand stretched out, the eye looking, by which we accept and appropriate to ourselves, the merits of the Saviour. In the language of the Confessions of our Church, ” It remains the office and property of faith alone, that it alone, and nothing else, is the medium or instrument, by and through which the grace of God, and the merit of Christ, in the promises of the Gospel, are apprehended, and received, and accepted, and are applied, and appropriated to us, and that love and all other virtues or works are excluded from this office, and property of such application or appropriation.” Formula Concord, Art. 3, Just, by Faith. Faith is therefore effectual unto our Justification simply as an act by which we embrace Christ, receive His benefits, appropriate His merits, put on the garment of His spotless righteousness, lay hold upon His promises, cling to His cross, and put our feet firmly upon the rock of our Salvation, which is Christ.
It is of the first importance that we keep distinctly separate in our minds, this twofold nature and office of faith. In reference to our Justification, it is simply the means; or the instrument of our appropriation of Christ, and His benefits, and that only. “To some it may seem, however, that the difference between these divergent views is too slight to be made of any importance. But we apprehend, it is the point of divergency where lies the unseen origin of those very errors which have for their legitimate issue, when carried out, nothing less than justification by our own righteousness.” — Bp. Mcllvaine.
“In the point of acceptation,” says an old divine, “God hath given to this poor virtue of faith a name above all names. Faith, indeed, as it is a virtue, is poor and mean, and comes short of love. Faith is but a bare hand. It lets all things fall that it may fill itself with Christ. Nothing is required but a bare empty hand, which hath nothing to bring with it; though it be ever so weak, yet if it have a hand to receive, it is alike precious faith, that of the poorest believer and the greatest saint.”
Again. “Faith is simply the hand that takes of the righteousness of Christ, and appropriates it unto us, while laying our sins on the head of that wonderful sacrifice He was for us. It is a hand without price, without desert, a sinful, as well as an empty hand, meriting to be smitten dead for its own defects, and for the sinfulness of him whose hand it is, while as God’s appointed means, it puts on Christ, and clothes the sinner in His righteousness.”
The representation of the instrumental office of faith, by terming it the hand that takes, and the eye that looks, is not only common in theological writers, but is so because authorized by the Word of God. There we are directed both to “lay hold on the hope that is set before us,” Heb. 6: 18, and to “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world,” John 1: 29, and “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth,” Isaiah 45: 22. As this taking and looking is not with the bodily hand and eye, it is, of course, with the hand and eye of faith.
I may fittingly sum up the results of the discussion in the forcible words of an eloquent divine. “By faith we are in Christ Jesus. A weak faith accomplishes this living union as really, though not with so much sensible consolation to the soul, as a stronger faith. But, says St. Paul, there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. Now, condemnation is the precise opposite of justification. Where one is not, the other must be. To impute sin is to condemn; not to impute sin is to justify. If it is unreasonable to speak of God’s imputing sin only partially, so that a man shall be accounted as only partly a sinner and partly not a sinner, which is indeed absurd, then it is unreasonable to speak of God’s justifying but partly, or accounting a man in a judicial sense partly condemned and partly acquitted, which would amount to being partly a child of God, and partly a child of the devil — partly under the penalty of the law, and partly under grace. In precisely the same sense and degree, therefore, in which justification could be progressive, must condemnation be also. But condemnation is not progressive in any sense. It is complete as soon as we sin. A thousand more sins will increase our penalty, but cannot increase the certainty of our condemnation. The amount of penalty depends on the amount of guilt. The perfectness or certainty of condemnation depends only on the fact of guilt. Just as a dozen acts of theft will increase the amount of the convict’s penalty; but in a just administration of law, one act of theft will insure condemnation. So also in justification. Christ’s righteousness is set in precise opposition to our sin. Justification depends upon our having that righteousness accounted to us instead of our sin. Faith is the instrument or means that obtains that righteousness. As the first act of sin condemns perfectly, so the first act of faith justifies perfectly. Subsequent acts of faith, and stronger degrees thereof, will increase our sense of consolation in Christ, and our confidence of the love of God. and our strength in every walk of Godliness, and will multiply upon our souls for present comfort and spiritual prosperity all the recompense arising from such growth in grace, just as increase of guilt increases shame and penalty; but all this can no more acquire for us a more perfect justification, than additional guilt would obtain a more entire condemnation. Christ our righteousness is our strong city — our city of refuge. Once inside the gates, the sinner is safe from the avenger, whether he enter far within or just across the threshold. Christ is the ark. It mattered not, in the days of Noah, whether those who fled from the flood to the ark were possessed of a strong or a trembling faith — whether during the awfulness of the deluge they all felt assured of protection, or were some of them fearful. Strong or weak in faith, they had sufficient faith to induce them to flee for refuge to the hope set before them. When the flood came, they were found therein. It was enough. All from the very instant of their entrance were alike perfectly secure under the shadow of the Almighty. Continuing in the ark, their safety admitted neither of increase nor diminution. So in Christ. He that wins Christ, and is found in Him, is complete in Him. He may have entered the last hour, or the last century. He may have come doubtful or assured: with a trembling faith or with an assured one. His hand may have reached the refuge with a firm or a feeble grasp. He may have escaped out of the deepest mire of ungodliness, or from having been always not far from the kingdom; but it altereth not, he is in the ark. God hath shut him in. Who shall lay anything to his charge? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again, who also maketh intercession for us.” — Bp. Mcllvaine.
Indulge me yet in three remarks.
1. We have in this, subject the great line of distinction between truth and error.
The doctrine of Justification by Faith is particularly the dividing line between Roman ism and Protestantism. The Reformation of the sixteenth century turned principally on this point. “Luther,” say’s Scott, in his “Luther, and the Lutheran Reformation,” “was appointed in the counsels of Providence, by no means exclusively of the other reformers, but in a manner more extraordinary and much superior, to teach mankind, after upwards of a thousand years’ obscurity, this great evangelical tenet, compared with which how little appear all other objects of controversy! He proved by numberless arguments from the Scriptures, and particularly by the marked opposition between law and faith, law and grace, that in justification before God all sorts of human works are excluded, moral as well as ceremonial. He restored to the Christian world the true forensic or judicial sense of the word justification, and rescued that term from the erroneous sense in which, for many ages, it had been misunderstood, as though it meant infused habits of virtue, whence it had been usual to confound justification with sanctification. By this doctrine, rightly stated with all its adjuncts and dependencies, a new light breaks in on the mind, and Christianity appears singularly distinct not only from Romanism, but also from all other religions, Neither the superstitions of the Papist, nor the sensibility of the humane, nor the splendid alms of the ostentatious, nor the most powerful efforts of unassisted nature, avail in the smallest degree to the purchase of pardon and peace. The glory of this purchase belongs to Christ alone; and he who in real humility approves of, acquiesces in, and rests on Him, is the true Christian.”
These observations of the historian are discriminating and just.
2. We have in this subject the source of greatest consolation to Christian minds.
How full of hope and comfort to the heart of the humble believer is the doctrine of justification by faith in Jesus Christ! “Being justified by faith we have peace with God;” and, of course, peace within our own hearts. When we look at ourselves, we see naught but weakness, imperfections, and sins; and we justly tremble with apprehension for the future; and if we had nothing but our own righteousness to depend on, we might well utterly despair. But when we look away from ourselves, and contemplate the pure and perfect righteousness of Christ, our divine surety, and consider that His spotless righteousness, being His obedience of the law in our stead, is imputed to us as our own, and that we may stand in it righteous before God, and justified of all our sins, the soul is filled with unutterable peace and joy. We lie at the foot of the cross, and look up to Jesus crucified for us, as all our salvation, and the view gives peace unspeakable. The whole doctrine is so extraordinary and wonderful, that the Christian is sometimes disposed to think that it is too good to be true. But no, fellow Christians, it is as true as it is good.
3. We have in this subject the answer to be given to anxious souls who inquire the way of salvation.
To the question, ” Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” the Apostle Paul gave the answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved;” and, brethren, we have no other answer for that question now. We have the same needs, the same Saviour, the plan of salvation is the same, and the way by which we can procure its benefits is still the same. On account of its wonderful simplicity, it is regarded now, as formerly, by the “Jew a stumbling-block,” and by the “Greek foolishness;” but it is still “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” We must, therefore, now as ever, direct the inquirer for the way to heaven to the Lord Jesus Christ, as his “wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption.” But, he answers, ” I am such a great sinner.” We reply, “There is no doubt of it.” ” I have deserved to be cast away forever.” “Tis certainly true.” “I can do nothing to atone for my numerous and aggravated transgressions.” “Tis plain that you cannot.” “What, then, shall I do?” “Do! simply, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and trust in the Atonement He has made for you. Believe His word and promise when he tells you that He became your substitute, obeyed the law, and endured its penalty in your stead; and that as your substitute His obedience is your obedience, His righteousness your righteousness, His sufferings instead of your suffering, and that for His sake, God will treat you as having perfectly kept the law; and, therefore you will not only be released from the punishment due to transgression, but be entitled to the full rewards of obedience. Do you believe this? If you truly, and with the whole heart, believe it, there is no more difficulty in your case. Your fears will give place to hope, joy will succeed to sorrow, and your soul will be at peace with God, and with itself.”
Indulge me in one remark more. Am I addressing any who are altogether indifferent as regards their justification, and are impenitent, unbelieving, careless sinners? Let me affectionately remind you that you are sinning against the highest possible exhibition of love and mercy. You are rejecting the way of salvation which the Divine mind has devised, and are exalting your reason above Infinite Wisdom. In resting on jour own merits, and rejecting Christ’s justifying righteousness, you are casting from you God’s method of mercy, and are “hewing out for yourselves broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Will you blindly go down to despair, when so much has been done, and all is ready, to raise you to heaven?
Cling to the Crucified!
His death is life to thee,
Life for eternity.
His pains thy pardon seal;
His stripes thy bruises heal;
His cross proclaims thy peace,
Bids every sorrow cease.
His blood is all to thee,
It purges thee from sin,
It sets thy spirit free,
It keeps thy conscience clean.
Cling to the Crucified!
Cling to the Crucified!
His is a heart of love,
Full as the hearts above;
Its depth of sympathy
Are all awake for thee;
His countenance is light,
Even to the darkest night.
That love shall never change,
That light shall ne’er grow dim;
Charge thou thy faithless heart
To find its all in Him.
Cling to the Crucified!
Cling to the Crucified!
His righteousness is thine,
His works thy plea divine;
Thy sins on Him were laid;
His soul an offering made;
Justice is satisfied;
The claims of law supplied;
God now will pardon give,
And man be justified;
He that believes shall live,
Since Christ for him has died.
Cling to the Crucified!