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7. If I understand the framers of the Westminster Confession of Faith, they regarded justification as a state resulting from the relation of an adopted child of God, which state is entered into by faith alone, and held that justification is not conditionated upon obedience for the time being, but that a person in this state may, as they hold that all in this life in fact do, sin daily, and even continually, yet without condemnation by the law, their sin bringing them only under his fatherly displeasure, and subjecting them to the necessity of repentance, as a condition of his fatherly favor, but not as a condition of pardon or of ultimate salvation. They seem to have regarded the child of God as no longer under moral government, in such a sense that sin was imputed to him, this having been imputed to Christ, and Christ's righteousness so literally imputed to him that, do what he may, after the first act of faith he is accounted and treated in his person as wholly righteous. If this is not antinomianism, I know not what is; since they hold that all who once believe will certainly be saved, yet that their perseverance in holy obedience to the end is, in no case, a condition of final justification, but that this is conditionated upon the first act of faith alone. They support their positions with quotations from scripture about as much in point as is common for them. They often rely on proof-texts that, in their meaning and spirit, have not the remotest allusion to the point in support of which they are quoted. I have tried to understand the subject of justification as it is taught in the Bible, without going into labored speculations or to theological technicalities. If I have succeeded in understanding it, the following is a succinct and a true account of the matter:
The Godhead, in the exercise of His adorable love and compassion, sought the salvation of sinners, through and by means of the mediatorial death and work of Christ. This death and work of Christ were resorted to, not to create, but, as a result of, the merciful disposition of God and as a means of securing the universe against a misapprehension of the character and design of God in forgiving and saving sinners. To Christ, as Mediator between the Godhead and man, the work of justifying and saving sinners is committed. He is made unto sinners "wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). In consideration of Christ's having by His death for sinners secured the subjects of the divine government against a misconception of His character and designs, God does, upon the further conditions of a repentance and faith that imply a renunciation of their rebellion and a return to obedience to His laws, freely pardon past sin, and restore the repentant and believing sinner to favor, as if he had not sinned, while he remains repentant and believing, subject however to condemnation and eternal death, unless he holds the beginning of his confidence steadfast unto the end. The doctrine of a literal imputation of Adam's sin to all his posterity, of the literal imputation of all the sins of the elect to Christ, and of His suffering for them the exact amount due to the transgressors, of the literal imputation of Christ's righteousness or obedience to the elect, and the consequent perpetual justification of all that are converted from the first exercise of faith, whatever their subsequent life may be I say I regard these dogmas as fabulous, and better befitting a romance than a system of theology.
But it is said, that the Bible speaks of the righteousness of faith. "What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith."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" (Romans 1:30). These and similar passages are relied upon, as teaching the doctrine of an imputed righteousness; and such as these: "The Lord our righteousness" (Phil. 3:9): "Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength" (Isaiah 45:24). By "the Lord our righteousness," we may understand, either that we are justified, that is, that our sins are atoned for, and that we are pardoned and accepted by, or on account of the Lord, that is Jesus Christ; or we may understand that the Lord makes us righteous, that is, that He is our sanctification, or working in us to will and to do of His good pleasure; or both, that is, He atones for our sins, brings us to repentance and faith, works sanctification or righteousness in us, and then pardons our past sins, and accepts us. By the righteousness of faith, or of God by faith, I understand the method of making sinners holy, and of securing their justification or acceptance by faith, as opposed to mere works of law or self-righteousness. Dikaiosune, rendered righteousness, may be with equal propriety, and often is, rendered justification. So undoubtedly it should be rendered in: "But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). The meaning here doubtless is, that He is the author and finisher of that scheme of redemption, whereby we are justified by faith, as opposed to justification by our own works. "Christ our righteousness" is Christ the author or procurer of our justification. But this does not imply that He procures our justification by imputing His obedience to us.
The doctrine of a literal imputation of Christ's obedience or righteousness is supported by those who hold it, by such passages as the following: "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, `Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin'" (Romans 4:5-8). But here justification is represented only as consisting in forgiveness of sin, or in pardon and acceptance. Again, "To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. For He hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:19, 21). Here again the apostle is teaching only his much loved doctrine of justification by faith, in the sense that upon condition or in consideration of the death and mediatorial interference and work of Christ, repentant believers in Christ are forgiven and rewarded as if they were righteous.
Foundation of the justification of repentant believers in Christ. What is the ultimate ground or reason of their justification?
1. It is not founded in Christ's literally suffering the exact penalty of the law for them, and in this sense literally purchasing their justification and eternal salvation. The Westminster Confession of Faith affirms as follows: chapter on Justification, section 3 "Christ by His obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to His Father's justice in their behalf. Yet, inasmuch as He was given by the Father for them, and His obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead, and both freely, not for anything in them, their justification is only of free grace, that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners." If the framers of this confession had made the distinction between the grounds and conditions of justification, so as to represent the gracious disposition that gave the Son, and that accepted His obedience and satisfaction in their stead, as the ground or moving cause, and the death and work of Christ as a condition or a means, as "that without which" the benevolence of God could not wisely justify sinners, their statement had been much improved. As it stands, the transaction is represented as a proper quid pro quo, a proper full payment of the debt of the justified. All the grace consisted in giving His Son, and consenting to the substitution. But they deny that there is grace in the act of justification itself. This proceeds upon the ground of "exact justice." There is then according to this, no grace in the act of pardon and accepting the sinner as righteous. This is "exact justice," because the debt is fully canceled by Christ. Indeed, "Christian, what do you think of this?" God has, in the act of giving His Son and in consenting to the substitution, exercised all the grace He ever will. Now your forgiveness and justification are, according to this teaching, placed on the ground of "exact justice." You have now only to believe and demand "exact justice." One act of faith places your salvation on the ground of "exact justice." Talk no more of the grace of God in forgiveness! But stop, let us see. What is to be understood here by exact justice, and by a real, full satisfaction to His Father's justice? I suppose all orthodox Christians to hold, that every sinner and every sin, strictly on the score of justice, deserves eternal death or endless suffering. Did the framers of this confession hold that Christ bore the literal penalty of the law for each of the saints? Or did they hold that by virtue of His nature and relations, His suffering, though indefinitely less in amount than was deserved by the transgressors, was a full equivalent to public justice, or governmentally considered, for the execution of the literal penalty upon the transgressors? If they meant this latter, I see no objection to it. But if they meant the former, namely, that Christ suffered in His own person the full amount strictly due to all the elect, I say,
(1.) That it was naturally impossible.
(2.) That His nature and relation to the government of God was such as to render it wholly unnecessary to the safe forgiveness of sin, that He should suffer precisely the same amount deserved by sinners.
(3.) That if, as their substitute, Christ suffered for them the full amount deserved by them, then justice has no claim upon them, since their debt is fully paid by the surety, and of course the principal is, in justice, discharged. And since it is undeniable that the atonement was made for the whole posterity of Adam, it must follow that the salvation of all men is secured upon the ground of "exact justice." This is the conclusion to which Huntington and his followers came. This doctrine of literal imputation, is one of the strongholds of universalism, and while this view of atonement and justification is held they cannot be driven from it.
(4.) If He satisfied justice for them, in the sense of literally and exactly obeying for them, why should His suffering be imputed to them as a condition of their salvation? Surely they could not need both the imputation of His perfect obedience to them, so as to be accounted in law as perfectly righteous, and also the imputation of His sufferings to them, as if He had not obeyed for them. Is God unrighteous? Does He exact of the surety, first, the literal and full payment of the debt, and secondly, perfect personal obedience for and in behalf of the sinner? Does He first exact full and perfect obedience, and then the same amount of suffering as if there had been no obedience? And this, too, of His beloved Son?
(5.) What Christian ever felt, or can feel in the presence of God, that he has a right to demand justification in the name of Christ, as due to him on the ground of "exact justice?" Observe, the framers of the Confession just quoted, studiously represent all the grace exercised in the justification of sinners, as confined to the two acts of giving His Son and accepting the substitution. This done, Christ fully pays the debt, fully and exactly satisfies His Father's justice. You now need not, must not conceive of the pardon of sin as grace or favor. To do this is, according to the teaching of this Confession, to dishonor Christ. It is to reject His righteousness and salvation. What think you of this? One act of grace in giving His Son, and consenting to the substitution, and all forgiveness, all accepting and trusting as righteous, is not grace, but "exact justice." To pray for forgiveness, as an act of grace, is apostasy from Christ. Christian! Can you believe this? No; in your closet, smarting under the sting of a recently committed sin, or broken down and bathed in tears, you cannot find it in your heart to demand "exact justice" at the hand of God, on the ground that Christ has fully and literally paid your debt. To represent the work and death of Christ as the ground of justification in this sense, is a snare and a stumbling-block. This view that I have just examined, contradicts the necessary convictions of every saint on earth. For the truth of this assertion I appeal to the universal consciousness of saints.
2. Our own works, or obedience to the law or to the gospel, are not the ground or foundation of our justification. That is neither our faith, nor repentance, nor love, nor life, nor anything done by us or wrought in us, is the ground of our justification. These are conditions of our justification, in the sense of a "not without which," but not the ground of it. We are justified upon condition of our faith, but not for our faith; upon condition of our repentance, love, obedience, perseverance to the end, but not for these things. These are the conditions, but not the reason, ground, or procuring cause of our justification. We cannot be justified without them, neither are we or can we be justified by them. None of these things must be omitted on pain of eternal damnation. Nor must they be put in the place of Christ, upon the same penalty. Faith is so much insisted on in the gospel as the sine qua non of our justification, that some seem disposed, or at least to be in danger of substituting faith in the place of Christ; of making faith instead of Christ the Savior.
3. Neither is the atonement, nor anything in the mediatorial work of Christ, the foundation of our justification, in the sense of the source, moving, or procuring cause. This, that is the ground of our justification, lies deep in the heart of infinite love. We owe all to that merciful disposition that performed the mediatorial work, and died the accursed death to supply an indispensable condition of our justification and salvation. To stop short in the act which supplied the condition, instead of finding the depths of a compassion as fathomless as infinity, as the source of the whole movement, is to fail in discrimination. The work, and death, and resurrection, and advocacy of Christ are indispensable conditions, are all-important, but not the fundamental reason of our justification.
4. Nor is the work of the Holy Spirit in converting and sanctifying the soul, the foundation of our justification. This is only a condition or means of bringing it about, but is not the fundamental reason.
5. But the disinterested and infinite love of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the true and only foundation of the justification and salvation of sinners. God is love, that is, He is infinitely benevolent. All He does, or says, or suffers, permits or omits, is for one and the same ultimate reason, namely, to promote the highest good of universal being.
6. Christ, the second person in the glorious Trinity, is represented in scripture, as taking so prominent a part in this work, that the number of offices and relations which He sustains to God and man in it are truly wonderful. For example, He is represented as being King, Judge, Mediator, Advocate, Redeemer, surety, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption, Prophet, Priest Passover, or Lamb of God the bread and water of life true God and eternal life our life our all in all as the repairer of the breach as dying for our sins as rising for our justification as the resurrection and the life bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows as He, by whose stripes we are healed as the head of His people as the bridegroom or husband of His church as the shepherd of His flock as the door by which they enter as the way to salvation as our salvation as the truth as being made sin for us that we are made the righteousness of God in Him that in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead that in Him all fullness dwells all power in heaven and earth are said to be given to Him the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world Christ in us the hope of glory the true vine of which we are the branches our brother Wonderful Counselor the mighty God the everlasting Father the prince of peace the captain of salvation the captain of the Lord's host.
These are among the official relations of Christ to His people, and to the great work of our justification. I shall have frequent occasion to consider Him in some of these relations, as we proceed in this course of study. Indeed, the offices, relations, and works of Christ, are among the most important topics of Christian theology.
Christ is our Justification, in the sense that He carries into execution the whole scheme of redemption devised by the adorable Godhead. To Him the scriptures everywhere direct the eyes of our faith and of our intelligence also. The Holy Spirit is represented not as glorifying Himself, but as speaking of Jesus, as taking of the things of Christ and showing them to His people, as glorifying Christ Jesus, as being sent by Christ, as being the Spirit of Christ, as being Christ Himself dwelling in the hearts of His people. But I must forbear at present. This subject of Christ's relations needs elucidation in future lectures.
The relations of the old school view of justification to their view of depravity is obvious. They hold, as we have seen, that the constitution in every faculty and part is sinful. Of course, a return to personal, present holiness, in the sense of entire conformity to the law, cannot with them be a condition of justification. They must have a justification while yet at least in some degree of sin. This must be brought about by imputed righteousness. The intellect revolts at a justification in sin. So a scheme is devised to divert the eye of the law and of the lawgiver from the sinner to his substitute, who has perfectly obeyed the law. But in order to make out the possibility of his obedience being imputed to them, it must be assumed, that He owed no obedience for Himself; than which a greater absurdity cannot be conceived. Constitutional depravity or sinfulness being once assumed, physical regeneration, physical sanctification, physical divine influence, imputed righteousness and justification, while personally in the commission of sin, follow of course.