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§ 4. The Righteousness of Christ the Ground of Justification.
The imperative question remains, How shall a man be just with God? If our moral excellence be not the ground on which God pronounces us just, what is that ground? The grand reason why such different answers are given to this question is, that it is understood in different senses. The Scriptural and Protestant answer is absurd, if the question means what Romanists and others understand it to mean. If “just” means good, i.e., it the word be taken in its moral, and not in its judicial sense, then it is absurd to say that a man can be good with the goodness of another; or to say that God can pronounce a man to be good who is not good. Bellarmin says an Ethiopian clothed in a white garment is not white. Curcellæus, the Remonstrant, says, “A man can no more be just with the justice of another, than he can be white with the whiteness of another.” Moehler159159Symbolik, § 14, 6th edit. Mainz, 1843, p. 139. says, it is impossible that anything should appear to God other than it really is; that an unjust man should appear to him, or be pronounced by him just. All this is true in the sense intended by these writers, “The judgment of God is according to truth.” (Rom. ii. 2.) Every man is truly just whom He justifies or dodares to be just. It is in vain to dispute until the “status quæstionis” be clearly determined. The word δίκαιος, “righteous,” or “just,” has two distinct senses, its above stated. It has a moral, and also a legal, forensic, or judicial sense. It sometimes expresses moral character, sometimes simply a relation to law and justice. In one sense to pronounce a man just, is to declare that he is morally good. In another sense, it is to declare that the 142claims of justice against him are satisfied, and that he is entitled to the reward promised to the righteous. When God justifies the ungodly, he does not declare that he is godly, but that his sins are expiated, and that he has a title founded in justice to eternal life. In this there is no contradiction and no absurdity. If a man under attainder appear before the proper tribunal, and show cause why the attainder should in justice be reversed, and he be declared entitled to his rank, titles, and estates, a decision in his favour would be a justification. It would declare him just in the eye of the law, but it would declare nothing and effect nothing as to his moral character. In the like manner, when the sinner stands at the bar of God, he can show good reason why he cannot be justly condemned, and why he should be declared entitled to eternal life. Now the question is, “On what ground can God pronounce a sinner just in this legal or forensic sense?” It has been shown that to justify, according to uniform Scriptural usage, is to pronounce just in the sense stated, that it is not merely to pardon, and that it is not to render inherently righteous or holy. It has also been shown to be the doctrine of Scripture, what indeed is intuitively true to the conscience, that our moral excellence, habitual or actual, is not and cannot be the ground of any such judicial declaration. What then is the ground? The Bible and the people of God, with one voice answer, “The righteousness of Christ.” The ambiguity of words, the speculations of theologians, and misapprehensions, may cause many of the people of God to deny in words that such is the proper answer, but it is nevertheless the answer rendered by every believer’s heart. He relies for his acceptance with God, not on himself but on Christ, not on what he is or has done, but on what Christ is and has done for him.
Meaning of the Terms.
By the righteousness of Christ is meant all he became, did, and suffered to satisfy the demands of divine justice, and merit for his people the forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life. The righteousness of Christ is commonly represented as including his active and passive obedience. This distinction is, as to the idea, Scriptural. The Bible does teach that Christ obeyed the law in all its precepts, and that he endured its penalty, and that this was done in such sense for his people that they are said to have done it. They died in Him. They were crucified with Him. They were delivered from the curse of the law by his being made a curse for them. He was made under the law that he 143might redeem those who were under the law. We are freed from the law by the body of Christ. He was made sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. He is the end of the law for righteousness to all them that believe. It is by his obedience that many are made righteous. (Rom. v. 19.) We obeyed in Him, according to the teaching of the Apostle, in Romans v. 12-21, in the same sense in which we sinned in Adam. The active and passive obedience of Christ, however, are only different phases or aspects of the same thing. He obeyed in suffering. His highest acts of obedience were rendered in the garden, and upon the cross. Hence this distinction is not so presented in Scripture as though the obedience of Christ answered one purpose, and his sufferings another and a distinct purpose. We are justified by his blood. We are reconciled unto God by his death. We are freed from all the demands of the law by his body (Rom. vii. 4), and we are freed from the law by his being made under it and obeying it in our stead. (Gal. iv. 4, 5.) Thus the same effect is ascribed to the death or sufferings of Christ, and to his obedience, because both are forms or parts of his obedience or righteousness by which we are justified. In other words the obedience of Christ includes all He did in satisfying the demands of the law.
The Righteousness of Christ is the Righteousness of God.
The righteousness of Christ on the ground of which the believer’s justified is the righteousness of God. It is so designated in Scripture not only because it was provided and is accepted by Him; it is not only the righteousness which avails before God, but it is the righteousness of a divine person; of God manifest in the flesh. God purchased the Church with his own blood. (Acts xx. 28.) It was the Lord of glory who was crucified. (1 Cor. ii. 8.) He who was in the form of God and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Phil. ii. 6-8.) He who is the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of his person, who upholds all things by the word of his power; whom angels worship; who is called God; who in the beginning laid the foundations of the earth, and of whose hands the heavens are the workmanship; who is eternal and immutable, has, the Apostle teaches, by death destroyed him who has the power of death and delivered those who through fear of death (i.e., of the wrath of God) were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Heb. i., ii.) 144He whom Thomas recognized and avowed to be his Lord and God was the person into whose wounded side he thrust his hand. He whom John says he saw, looked upon, and handled, he declares to be the true God and eternal life. The soul, in which personality resides, does not die when the man dies, yet it is the soul that gives dignity to the man, and which renders his life of unspeakably greater value in the sight of God and man, than the life of any irrational creature. So it was not the divine nature in Christ in which his personality resides, the eternal Logos, that died when Christ died. Nevertheless the hypostatic union between the Logos and the human nature of Christ, makes it true that the righteousness of Christ (his obedience and sufferings) was the righteousness of God. This is the reason why it can avail before God for the salvation of the whole world. This is the reason why the believer, when arrayed in this righteousness, need fear neither death nor hell. This is the reason why Paul challenges the universe to lay anything to the charge of God’s elect.
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