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§ 9. Objections to the Protestant Doctrine of Justification.
It is said to lead to Licentiousness.
1. The first, most obvious, and most persistently urged objection against the doctrine of gratuitous justification through the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, has already been incidentally considered. That objection is that the doctrine leads to license; that if good works are not necessary to justification, they are not necessary at all; that if God accepts the chief of sinners as readily as the most moral of men, on the simple condition of faith in Christ, then what profit is there in circumcision? in Judaism? in being in the Church? in being good in any form? Why not live in sin that grace may abound? This objection having been urged against the Apostle, it needs no other answer than that which he himself gave it. That answer is found in the sixth and seventh chapters of his Epistle to the Romans, and is substantially as follows:
First, the objection involves a contradiction. To speak of salvation in sin is as great an absurdity as to speak of life in death. Salvation is deliverance from sin. How then can men be delivered from sin in order that they may live in it. Or, as Paul expresses it, “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”
Secondly, the very act of faith which secures our justification, secures also our sanctification. It cannot secure the one without securing also the other. This is not only the intention and the desire of the believer, but it is the ordinance of God; a necessary feature of the plan of salvation, and secured by its nature. We take Christ as our Redeemer from sin, from its power as well as from its guilt. And the imputation of his righteousness consequent on faith secures the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as certainly, and for the very same reasons (the covenant stipulations), that it secures the pardon of our sins. And, therefore, if we are partakers of his death, we are partakers of his life. If we die with Him, we rise with Him. If we are justified, we are sanctified. He, therefore, who lives in sin, proclaims himself an unbeliever. He has neither part nor lot in the redemption of Him who came to save his people from their sins.
Thirdly, our condition, the Apostle says, is analogous to that 172of a slave, belonging first to one master, then to another. So long as he belonged to one man, he was not under the authority of another. But if freed from the one and made the slave of the other, then he comes under an influence which constrains obedience to the latter. So we were the slaves of sin, but now, freed from that hard master, we have become the servants of righteousness. For a believer, therefore, to live in sin, is just as impossible as for the slave of one man to be at the same time the slave of another. We are indeed free; but not free to sin. We are only free from the bondage of the devil and introduced into the pure, exalted, and glorious liberty of the sons of God.
Fourthly, the objection as made against the Apostle and as constantly repeated since, is urged in the interests of morality and of common sense. Reason itself, it is said, teaches that a man must be good before he can be restored to the favour of God, and if we teach that the number and heinousness of a man’s sins are no barrier to his justification, and his good works are no reason why he should be justified rather than the chief of sinners, we upset the very foundations of morality. This is the wisdom of men. The wisdom of God, as revealed in the Scriptures, is very different. According to the Bible the favour of God is the life of the soul. The light of his countenance is to rational creatures what the light of the sun is to the earth, the source of all that is beautiful and good. So long, therefore, as a soul is under his curse, there is no life-giving or life-sustaining intercourse between it and God. In this state it can only, as the Apostle expresses it, “bring forth fruit unto death.” As soon, however, as it exercises faith, it receives the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, God’s justice is thereby satisfied, and the Spirit comes and takes up his dwelling in the believer as the source of all holy living. There can therefore be no holiness until there is reconciliation with God, and no reconciliation with God except through the righteousness imputed to us and received by faith alone. Then follow the indwelling of the Spirit, progressive sanctification, and all the fruits of holy living.
It may be said that this scheme involves an inconsistency. there can be no holiness until there is reconciliation, and no reconciliation (so far as adults are concerned) until there is faith. But faith is a fruit of the Spirit, and an act of the renewed soul. Then there is and must be, after all, holy action before there is reconciliation. It might be enough to say in answer to this objection, 173that logical order and chronological succession are different things; or that the order of nature and order of time are not to be confounded. Many things are contemporaneous or co-instantaneous which nevertheless stand in a certain logical, and even causal relation to each other. Christ commanded the man with a withered arm to stretch forth his hand. He immediately obeyed, but not before he received strength. He called to Lazarus to come forth from the grave; and he came forth. But this presupposes a restoration of life. So God commands the sinner to believe in Christ; and he thereupon receives Him as his Saviour; though this supposes supernatural power or grace.
Our Lord, however, gives another answer to this objection. He says, as recorded in John xvii. 9, “I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.” The intercession of Christ secures for those given to Him by the Father the renewing of the Holy Ghost. The first act of the renewed heart is faith; as the first act of a restored eye is to see. Whether this satisfies the understanding or not, it remains clear as the doctrine of the Bible that good works are the fruits and consequences of reconciliation with God, through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Inconsistent with the Grace of the Gospel.
2. It is objected that the Protestant doctrine destroys the gratuitous nature of justification. If justice be satisfied; if all the demands of the law are met, there can, it is said, be no grace in the salvation of the sinner. If a man owes a debt, and some one pays it for him, the creditor shows no grace in giving an acquittal. This objection is familiar, and so also is the answer. The work of Christ is not of the nature of a commercial transaction. It is not analogous to a pecuniary satisfaction except in one point. It secures the deliverance of those for whom it is offered and by whom it is accepted. In the case of guilt the demand of justice is upon the person of the offender. He, and he alone is bound to answer at the bar of justice. No one can take his place, unless with the consent of the representative of justice and of the substitute, as well as of the sinner himself. Among men, substitution in the case of crime and its penalty is rarely, if ever admissible, because no man has the right over his own life or liberty; he cannot give them up at pleasure; and because no human magistrate has the right to relieve the offender or to inflict the legal penalty on another. But Christ had power, i.e., the right 174 (ἐξουσία) to lay down his life and “power to take it again” And God, as absolute judge and sovereign, the Lord of the conscience, and the proprietor of all his creatures, was at full liberty to accept a substitute for sinners. This is proved beyond contradiction by what God has actually done. Under the old dispensation every sacrifice appointed by the law was a substitute for him in whose behalf it was offered. In the clearest terms it was predicted that the Messiah was to be the substitute of his people; that the chastisement of their sins was to be laid on Him, and that He was to make his soul an offering for sin. He was hailed as He entered on his ministry as the Lamb of God who was to bear the sins of the world. He died the just for the unjust. He redeemed us from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us. This is what is meant by being a substitute. To deny this is to deny the central idea of the Scriptural doctrine of redemption. To explain it away, is to absorb as with a sponge the life-blood of the Gospel.
It is the glory, the power, and the preciousness of the Protestant doctrine that it makes the salvation of sinners a matter of grace from the beginning to the end. On the part of the eternal Father it was of grace, i.e., of unmerited, mysterious, and immeasurable love that He provided a substitute for sinners, and that He spared not his own Son, but freely gave Him up for us all It was a matter of grace, i.e., of love to sinners, to the ungodly, to his enemies, that the eternal Son of God became man, assumed the burden of our sins, fulfilled all righteousness, obeying and suffering even unto death, that we might not perish but have eternal life. It is of grace that the Spirit applies to men the redemption purchased by Christ; that He renews the heart; that He overcomes the opposition of sinners, making them willing in the day of his power; that He bears with all their ingratitude, disobedience, and resistance, and never leaves them until his work is consummated in glory. In all this the sinner is not treated according to his character and conduct. He has no claim to any one in this long catalogue of mercies. Everything to him is a matter of unmerited grace. Merited grace, indeed, is a solecism. And so is merited salvation in the case of sinners.
Grace does not cease to be grace because it is not exercised in violation of order, propriety, and justice. It is not the weak fondness of a doting parent. It is the love of a holy God, who in order to reveal that love and manifest the exceeding glory of that attribute when exercised towards the unworthy, did what was 175necessary to render its exercise consistent with the other perfections of the divine nature. It was indispensable that God should be just in justifying the ungodly, but He does not thereby cease to be gracious, inasmuch as it was He who provided the ransom by which the objects of his love are redeemed from the curse of the law and the power of sin.
God cannot declare the Unjust to be Just.
3. Another standing objection to the Protestant doctrine has been so often met, that nothing but its constant repetition justifies a repetition of the answer. It is said to be absurd that one man should be righteous with the righteousness of another; that for God to pronounce the unjust just is a contradiction. This is a mere play on words. It is, however, very serious play; for it is caricaturing truth. It is indeed certain that the subjective, inherent quality of one person or thing cannot by imputation become the inherent characteristic of any other person or thing. Wax cannot become hard by the imputation of the hardness of a stone, nor can a brute become rational by the imputation of the intelligence of a man; nor the wicked become good by the imputation of the goodness of other men. But what has this to do with one man’s assuming the responsibility of another man? If among men the bankrupt can become solvent by a rich man’s assuming his responsibilities, why in the court of God may not the guilty become righteous by the Son of God’s assuming their responsibilities? If He was made sin for us, why may we not be made the righteousness of God in Him? The objection assumes that the word “just” or “righteous” in this connection, expresses moral character; whereas in the Bible, when used in relation to this subject, it is always used in a judicial sense, i.e., it expresses the relation of the person spoken of to justice. Δίκαιος is antithetical to ὑπόδικος. The man with regard to whom justice is unsatisfied, is ὑπόδικος, “guilty.” He with regard to whom justice is satisfied, is δίκαιος, “righteous.” To declare righteous, therefore, is not to declare holy; and to impute righteousness is not to impute goodness; but simply to regard and pronounce chose who receive the gift of Christ’s righteousness, free from condemnation and entitled to eternal life for his sake. Some philosophical theologians seem to think that there is real antagonism between love and justice in the divine nature, or that these attributes are incompatible or inharmonious. This is not so in man, why then should it be so in God? The highest form of moral 176excellence includes these attributes as essential elements of its perfection. And the Scriptures represent them as mysteriously blended in the salvation of man. The gospel is a revelation to principalities and powers in heaven of the πολυποίκιλος σοφία τοῦ Θεοῦ, because therein He shows that He can be just and yet justify, love, sanctify, and glorify the chief of sinners. For which all sinners should render Him everlasting thanksgiving and praise.
Christ’s Righteousness due for Himself.
4. It was natural that Socinus, who regarded Christ as a mere man, should object to the doctrine of the imputation of his righteousness to the believer, that Christ was under the same obligation to obey the law and to take his share of human suffering as other men, and therefore that his righteousness being due for Himself, could not be imputed to others. This objection is substantially urged by some who admit the divinity of Christ. In doing so, however, they virtually assume the Nestorian, or dualistic view of Christ’s person. They argue on the assumption that He was a human person, and that he stood, in virtue of his assumption of our nature, in the same relation to the law as other men. It is admitted, however, that the Son, who became incarnate, was from eternity the second person in the Godhead. If, therefore, humanity as assumed by him was a person, then we have two persons, — two Christs, — the one human, the other divine. But if Christ be only one person, and if that person be the eternal Son of God, the same in substance, and equal in power and glory with the Father, then the whole foundation of the objection is gone. Christ sustained no other relation to the law, except so far as voluntarily assumed, than that which God himself sustains. But God is not under the law. He is Himself the primal, immutable, and infinitely perfect law to all rational creatures. Christ’s subjection to the law therefore, was as voluntary as his submitting to the death of the cross. As He did not die for Himself, so neither did He obey for Himself. In both forms of his obedience He acted for us, as our representative and substitute, that through his righteousness many might be made righteous.
As to the other form of this objection, it has the same foundation and admits of the same answer. It is said that the obedience and sufferings of Christ, being the obedience and sufferings of a mere man, or at best of only the human element in the constitution of his person, could have only a human, and, therefore, only a finite value, and consequently could be no adequate satisfaction 177for the sins of the whole world. Our Lord told his disciples. “Ye are of more value than many sparrows.” If, then, in the sight of God a man is of far greater value than irrational creatures, why should it be thought incredible that the blood of the eternal Son of God should cleanse from all sin? What a man does with his hands, the man does; and what Christ through his human nature did, in the execution of his mediatorial work, the Son of God did. Therefore, men who spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit did not hesitate to say, that the Lord of glory was crucified (1 Cor. ii. 8), and that God purchased the Church” with his own blood.” (Acts xx. 28.)177177The text in this passage is indeed disputed. The common text has θεοῦ “the Church of God;” which is retained by Mill, Bengel, Knapp, Hahn, and others in their editions of the New Testament. Many MSS, have κυριοῦ και θεοῦ; and others, simply κυριοῦ. The fact that the phrase “the Church of God” occurs eleven times in the New Testament, while “Church of the Lord” never occurs, is urged as a reason in favour of the latter reading, as it is assumed that transcribers would be apt to adopt a familiar, rather than unexampled expression. There may be some force in this. On the other hand, the presumption is that the sacred writers adhere to their own “usus loquendi.” The words in Acts xx. 28 are Paul’s words, and as he, at least in ten other cases, speaks of the “Church of God,” and never once uses the expression “Church of the Lord,” it is in the highest degree improbable that he uses that phrase here. Besides, it is evident that transcribers, critics, and heretics would have a strong disposition to get rid of such a phrase as “the blood of God.” Modern critics do not hesitate to assign, as one of their reasons for rejecting the common text, that the expression is “too strong.” The passage, however, though sacred, is not essential. the usage pervades the New Testament of predicating of the person of Christ what is true of either element, the human or the divine, of his mysteriously constituted personality. In Hebrews i. 3 the person who upholds the universe by the word of his power, is said to have purged our sins by Himself, i.e., by the sacrifice of Himself. And in ii. 14, the person whom the sacred writer had set forth as higher than the angels, as God, as creator of heaven and earth, as eternal and immutable, is said to have become partaker of flesh and blood, in order that by death He might destroy him that had the power of death. And in Philippians ii. 6, 9, 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. Nevertheless, Acts xx. 28 be not essential to prove any doctrine, those who believe it as it reads in the common text, to be part of the word of God, are bound to stand by it. If, then, the obedience rendered, and the sufferings endured, were those of a divine person, we can only shut our mouths and bow down before God in adoring wonder, with the full assurance that the merit of that obedience and of those sufferings, must be abundantly sufficient for the justification of every sinner upon earth, in the past, the present, or the future.
Believers continue Guilty, and liable to Punishment.
5. It is sometimes objected to the Protestant doctrine on this subject, that believers not only recognize themselves as justly exposed to condemnation for their present shortcomings and transgressions, but that the Scriptures so represent them, and constantly speak of God as punishing his people for their sins. How is this to be reconciled with the doctrine that they are not under 178condemnation; that, as regards them, justice has been fully satisfied, and that no one can justly lay anything to the charge of God’s elect.
It must be admitted, or rather it is fully acknowledged that every believer feels himself unworthy of the least of God’s mercies. He knows that if God were to deal with him according to his character and conduct, he must inevitably be condemned. This sense of ill-desert or demerit, is indelible. It is a righteous judgment which the sinner passes, and cannot but pass upon himself. But the ground of his justification is not in himself. The believer acknowledges that in himself he deserves nothing but indignation and wrath, not only for what he has been, but for what he now is. This is what he feels when he looks at himself. Nevertheless, he knows that there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus; that Christ has assumed the responsibility of answering for him at the bar of God; that He constantly pleads his own perfect righteousness, as a reason why the deserved penalty should not be inflicted. If punishment were not deserved, pardon would not be gratuitous; and if not felt to be deserved, deliverance could not be received as a favour. The continued sense of ill-desert, on the part of the believer, is in no wise inconsistent with the Scriptural doctrine that the claims of justice in regard to him have been satisfied by his substitute and advocate. There is a great difference, as often remarked, between demerit and guilt. The latter is the liability in justice to the penalty of the law. The former is personal ill-desert. A criminal who has suffered the legal punishment of his crime, is no longer justly exposed to punishment for that offence. He however thinks of himself no better than he did before. He knows he cannot be subjected to further punishment; but his sense of demerit is not thereby lessened. And so it is with the believer; he knows that, because of what Christ has done for him, he cannot be justly condemned, but he feels and admits that in himself he is as hell-deserving as he was from the beginning. The heart of the believer solves many difficulties which the speculative understanding finds it hard to unravel. And it need not inordinately trouble him, if the latter be dissatisfied with the solution, provided he is sure that he is under the guidance of the Spirit by the word.
This Theory concerns only the Outward.
6. Modern theologians in many instances object to the Protestant doctrine of justification, that it is outward; concerns only 179legal relations; disregards the true nature of the mystical union, and represents Christ and his righteousness as purely objective, instead of looking upon Christ as giving Himself, his life to become the life of the believer, and with his life conveying its merits and its power. We are not concerned at present with the theory on which this objection is founded, but simply with the objection itself. What is urged as an objection to the doctrine is true. It does concern what is outward and objective; what is done for the sinner rather than what is done within him. But then it is to be considered, first, that this is what the sinner needs. He requires not only that his nature should be renewed and that a new principle of spiritual or divine life should be communicated to him; but also that his guilt should be removed, his sins expiated, and justice satisfied, as the preliminary condition of his enjoying this new life, and being restored to the favour of God. And secondly, that such is the constant representation of Scripture, our only trustworthy guide in matters of religious doctrine. The Bible makes quite as prominent what Christ does for us, as what He does in us. It says as much of his objective, expiatory work, as of the communication of a higher spiritual life to believers. It is only by ignoring this objective work of Christ, or by merging justification into inward renovation, that this objection has force or even plausibility. Protestants do not depreciate the value and necessity of the new life derived from Christ, because, in obedience to the Scriptures, they insist so strenuously upon the satisfaction which He has rendered by his perfect righteousness to the justice of God. Without the latter, the former is impossible.
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