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THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE GALATIANS - Chapter 2 - Verse 16
Verse 16. Knowing. We who are Jews by nature, or by birth. This cannot mean that all the Jews knew this, or that he who was a Jew knew it as a matter of course, for many Jews were ignorant of it, and many opposed it. But it means that the persons here referred to, those who had been born Jews, and who had been converted to Christianity, had had an opportunity to learn and understand this, which the Gentiles had not. This gospel had been preached to them, and they had professedly embraced it. They were not left to the gross darkness and ignorance on this subject which pervaded the heathen world, and they had had a better opportunity to learn it than the converts from the Gentiles. They ought, therefore, to act in a manner becoming their superior light, and to show in all their conduct that they fully believed that a man could not be justified by obedience to the law of Moses. This rendered the conduct of Peter, and the other Jews who "dissembled" with him, so entirely inexcusable. They could not plead ignorance on this vital subject, and yet they were pursuing a course the tendency of which was to lead the Gentile converts to believe that it was indispensable to observe the laws of Moses, in order to be justified and saved.
Even we have believed in Jesus Christ. We are therefore justified. The object of Paul here seems to be to show, that as they had believed in the Lord Jesus, and thus had been justified, there was no necessity of obeying the law of Moses with any view to justification. The thing had been fully done without the deeds of the law, and it was now unreasonable and unnecessary to insist on the observance of the Mosaic rites.
In this verse, the apostle has stated in few words the important doctrine of justification by faith—the doctrine which Luther so justly called, Articulus stantis, vel cadentis ecclesia. In the notes referred to above, particularly in the notes on the epistle to the Romans, I have stated in various places what I conceive to be the true doctrine on this important subject. It may be useful, however, to throw together in one connected view, as briefly as possible, the leading ideas on the subject of justification, as it is revealed in the gospel.
I. Justification is properly a word applicable to courts of justice, but is used in a similar sense in common conversation among men. An illustration will show its nature. A man is charged, e.g., with an act of trespass on his neighbour's property. Now there are two ways which he may take to justify himself, or to meet the charge, so as to be regarded and treated as innocent. He may
(a) either deny that he performed the act charged on him, or he may
(b) admit that the deed was done, and set up as a defence that he had a right to do it. In either case, if the point be made out, he will be just or innocent in the sight of the law. The law will have nothing against him, and he will be regarded and treated in the premises as an innocent man; or he has justified himself in regard to the charge brought against him.
II. Charges of a very serious nature are brought against man by his Maker. He is charged with violating the law of God; with a want of love to his Maker; with a corrupt, proud, sensual heart; with being entirely alienated from God by wicked works; in one word, with being entirely depraved. This charge extends to all men; and to the entire life of every unrenewed man. It is not a charge merely affecting the external conduct, not merely affecting the heart; it is a charge of entire alienation from God—a charge, in short, of total depravity. See, especially, Rom 1, 2, 3. That this charge is a very serious one, no one can doubt. That it deeply affects the human character and standing, is as clear. It is a charge brought in the Bible; and God appeals in proof of it to the history of the world, to every man's conscience, and to the life of every one who has lived; and on these facts, and on his own power in searching the hearts, and in knowing what is in man, he rests the proofs of the charge.
III. It is impossible for man to vindicate himself from this charge. He can neither show that the things charged have not been committed, nor that, having been committed, he had a right to do them. He cannot prove that God is not right in all the charges which he has made against him in his word; and he cannot prove that it was right for him to do as he has done. The charges against him are facts which are undeniable, and the facts are such as cannot be vindicated. But if he can do neither of these things, then he cannot be justified by the law. The law will not acquit him. It holds him guilty. It condemns him. No argument which he can use will show that he is right, and that God is wrong. No works that he can perform will be any compensation for what he has already done. No denial of the existence of the facts charged will alter the case; and he must stand condemned by the law of God. In the legal sense he cannot be justified; and justification, if it ever exist at all, must be in a mode that is a departure from the regular operation of law, and in a mode which the law did not contemplate, for no law makes any provision for the pardon of those who violate it. It must be by some system which is distinct from the law, and in which man may be justified on different principles than those which the law contemplates.
IV. This other system of justification is that which is revealed in the gospel by the faith of the Lord Jesus. It does NOT consist in either of the following things:
(1.) It is not a system or plan where the Lord Jesus takes the part of the sinner against the law or against God. He did not come to show that the sinner was right, and that God was wrong. He admitted most fully, and endeavoured constantly to show, that God was right, and that the sinner was wrong; nor can an instance be referred to where the Saviour took the part of the sinner against God, in any such sense that he endeavoured to show that the sinner had not done the things charged on him, or that he had a right to do them.
(2.) It is not that we are either innocent, or are declared to be innocent. God justifies the "ungodly," Ro 4:5. We are not innocent; we never have been; we never shall be; and it is not the design of the scheme to declare any such untruth as that we are not personally undeserving. It will be always true that the justified sinner has no claims to the mercy and favour of God.
(3.) It is not that we cease to be undeserving personally. He that is justified by faith, and that goes to heaven, will go there admitting that he deserves eternal death, and that he is saved wholly by favour and not by desert.
(4.) It is not a declaration on the part of God that we have wrought out salvation, or that we have any claim for what the Lord Jesus has done. Such a declaration would not be true, and would not be made.
(5.) It is not that the righteousness of the Lord Jesus is transferred to his people. Moral character cannot be transferred. It adheres to the moral agent as much as colour does to the rays of light which cause it. It is not true that we died for sin, and it cannot be so reckoned or imputed. It is not true that we have any merit, or any claim, and it cannot be so reckoned or imputed. All the imputations of God are according to truth; and he will always reckon us to be personally undeserving and sinful. But if justification be none of these things, it may be asked, what is it? I answer, It is the declared purpose of God to regard and treat those sinners who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as if they had not sinned, on the ground of the merits of the Saviour. It is not mere pardon. The main difference between pardon and justification respects the sinner contemplated in regard to his past conduct, and to God's future dealings with him. Pardon is a free forgiveness of past offences. It has reference to those sins as forgiven and blotted out. It is an act of remission on the part of God. Justification has respect to the law, and to God's future dealings with the sinner. It is an act by which God determines to treat him hereafter as a righteous man, or as if he had not sinned. The ground or reason of this is the merit of the Lord Jesus Christ; merit such that we can plead it as if it were our own. The rationale of it is, that the Lord Jesus has accomplished by his death the same happy effects in regard to the law and the government of God, which would be accomplished by the death of the sinner himself. In other words, nothing would be gained to the universe by the everlasting punishment of the offender himself, which will not be secured by his salvation on the ground of the death of the Lord Jesus. He has taken our place, and died in our stead; and he has met the descending stroke of justice, which would have fallen on our own head if he had not interposed, See Barnes "Isa 53:1"
and following, and now the great interests of justice will be as firmly secured if we are saved, as they would be if we were lost. The law has been fully obeyed by one who came to save us, and as much honour has been done to it by his obedience as could have been by our own; that is, it as much shows that the law is worthy of obedience, to have it perfectly obeyed by the Lord Jesus, as it would if it were obeyed by us. It as much shows that the law of a sovereign is worthy of obedience, to have it obeyed by an only son, and an heir to the crown, as it does to have it obeyed by his subjects. And it has as much shown the evil of the violation of the law to have the Lord Jesus suffer death on the cross, as it would if the guilty had died themselves. If transgression whelm the innocent in calamity; if it extends to those who are perfectly guiltless, and inflicts pain and woe on them, it is as certainly an expression of the evil of transgression as if the guilty themselves suffer. And an impression as deep has been made of the evil of sin by the sufferings of the Lord Jesus in our stead, as if we had suffered ourselves. He endured on the cross as intense agony as we can conceive it possible for a sinner ever to endure; and the dignity of the Person who suffered—THE INCARNATE GOD—is more than an equivalent for the more lengthened sorrows which the penalty of the law exacts in hell. Besides, from the very dignity of the Sufferer in our place, an impression has gone abroad on the universe more deep and important than would have been by the sufferings of the individual himself in the world of woe. The sinner who is lost will be unknown to other worlds. His name may be unheard beyond the gates of the prison of despair. The impression which will be made on distant worlds by his individual sufferings will be as a part of the aggregate of woe, and his individual sorrows may make no impression on distant worlds. But not so with Him who took our place, He stood in the centre of the universe. The sun grew dark, and the dead arose, and angels gazed upon the scene; and from his cross an impression went abroad to the farthest part of the universe, showing the tremendous effects of the violation of law, when not one soul could be saved from its penalty without such sorrows of the Son of God. In virtue of all this, the offender, by believing on him, may be treated as if he had not sinned; and this constitutes justification. God admits him to favour as if he had himself obeyed the law, or borne its penalty, since as many good results will now follow from his salvation as could be derived from his punishment; and since all the additional happy results will follow which can be derived from the exercise of pardoning mercy. The character of God is thus revealed. His mercy is shown. His determination to maintain his law is evinced. The truth is maintained; and yet he shows the fulness of his mercy, and the richness of his benevolence.
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