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On the Sinner’s Justification by Faith in Christ.
THIS doctrine has been considered by calvinistic divines, even in the sense in which they understand it, of great importance, and essential to the system of truth revealed in the scriptures, so that if it be secluded, or not 50understood, the whole system of christian doctrine falls with it, and comes to nothing. And if we attend to the writings of the apostle Paul, especially his letters to the churches at Rome and Galatia, we shall find that he considers the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ, for which he earnestly contends, as essential to the christian scheme; so that Christ and christianity can be of no advantage to them, who oppose and reject it. What is proposed in this section, is, to attempt to explain this doctrine according to the scripture; and to evince the truth and importance of it.
What has been already said, in the foregoing part of this system, concerning the law of God; the apostasy of man, and the guilty lost state in which he is; the nature and demerit of sin; the character, design and work of the Redeemer; and the nature of saving faith, prepares the way to understand the doctrine we are now to consider, as it is involved in these particular truths, as the foundation of it; and the proper application of them to this subject will show what is meant by being justified by faith in Jesus Christ, according to the scripture, and that it is an important and essential article of the christian doctrine.
The justification of a sinner, now under consideration, consists in forgiving his sins, or acquitting him from the curse and condemnation of the law; and receiving him to favour, and a title to all the blessings contained in eternal life; which is treating him as well, at least, as if he never had sinned, and had been always perfectly obedient. Though these may be considered distinctly, as in some respects two, yet they are never separated, but are both always implied in the justification of a sinner. Both these are mentioned by St. Paul, as included in justification by faith. “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ. By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”9696 Rom. v. 1, 2. By faith men are justified, in which they receive the forgiveness of their sins, and are made heirs of an eternal inheritance, heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, agreeable to the following words of Christ. “That they may receive forgiveness of sins, 51and inheritance among them which are sanctified, by faith that is in me.”9797 Acts xxvi. 18.
For the illustration of this point, the following things must be observed.
1. The sinner has nothing in himself, nor is it possible he ever should have any thing, that could render it proper and reasonable that he should, out of respect to that, be pardoned and received to favour. He is under the curse of the law, which curses every one who once transgresses it. Therefore, every sinner is under this curse, who is not delivered from it by Jesus Christ. Thus St. Paul states the case, “For as many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse: For it is written. Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.”9898 Gal. iii. 10, 13. The law curses the sinner, and leaves him under the curse; and that is all the law can do.—The curse dooms him to eternal destruction, as the just punishment of his crime; unless by some means it can be taken off, and yet the law be maintained and honoured as just and good. Nothing that can be done by the sinner to make atonement for his sin or recommend himself to favour, will do any thing towards removing the curse. The reason of this is plain, and easy to be seen. The sin of which he has been guilty is an infinite evil, and has therefore rendered him infinitely ill deserving. It is as a weight infinitely heavy lying upon him; and he must eternally sink under it. Though he had all possible finite power, it could not remove it, or lighten it in the least degree; for finite power is nothing before an infinite weight, and can do nothing to remove, or make it less. Supposing the sinner comes to repentance, renounces his sin, returns to his duty, and becomes perfectly holy and obedient; he does no more than his present duty, by the supposition. This cannot make up, or atone for his past faults, or do any thing towards it; and therefore can do nothing towards removing the curse.—Besides, if he could do more than his present duty, and continued in his obedience a thousand years, or ever so long, this would do nothing towards 52removing the curse, or counterbalancing his crime; for his crime is infinite, and all that he offers, or can offer, by his obedience, is but finite at most; and therefore as just nothing towards counterbalancing his guilt; as what is finite sinks into nothing, in comparison with that which is infinite.—When that which is infinite is put into one scale, and something finite in the other, the latter does nothing towards weighing down or lightening the former, and is just as if there were nothing put into the scale against that which is infinite. For the same reason, no past obedience of a creature will in the least extenuate a crime committed, after a course of obedience, however long, but he is as guilty, and deserves punishment as much as if he had performed no antecedent obedience, according to the divine law. It cannot be remembered in his favour, when he has once transgressed. It cannot prevent, remove, or lighten the curse in the least degree. No preceding or consequent obedience, can atone for the transgression, or remove or mitigate the curse. Sin being an infinite evil, and deserving an infinite punishment, it swallows up, cancels and reduces to nothing, all the possible holiness of the creature, whether it take place before or after the sin; so that it cannot be reckoned in his favour, any more that if he had no holiness; for the law says, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things, written in the book of the law-, to do them.”
II. God will not show favour to the sinner, by pardoning and saving him, so as in the least degree to counteract and disregard his holy law: And therefore will not, cannot consistently forgive him, or treat him any otherwise than as an accursed creature, on account of any thing amiable or worthy in him, while no righteousness and worthiness, answerable to the demands of his law, can be reckoned and properly improved in his favour. The law of God is perfectly reasonable and right: It is founded in the divine character and perfections. It is the voice of God. He looks upon the sinner just as the law represents him, as infinitely odious and ill deserving; and he cannot be rendered acceptable to God, and obtain his pardon, on the account of any thing which is not agreeable to this law, and consistent 53with paying a proper regard to it in all respects. Hence it is impossible that the sinner should be pardoned and restored to favour, on account of his own worthiness and righteousness.
III. In Jesus Christ the Redeemer, there is righteousness and worthiness enough to answer the law, and to deliver the sinner from the curse of it, and recommend him to all the favour he wants, when it may be with propriety reckoned in his favour; or when he is interested in it, so that he may, consistently with reason and truth, have the benefit of it.9999 This has been before considered, in stating the character, design and work of the Redeemer. Part II. Chap. II. III. “He is the end of the law for righteousness, to every one that believeth.”100100 Rom. x. 4. He has been made a curse, that he might deliver all who believe in him from the curse of the law.101101 Gal. iii. 13. And God can be just, can act consistent with his righteousness, and make a display of it, and do no injury to himself, his law and government, or to his creatures, but maintain the rights of all; and yet justify the sinner who believes in Jesus. “Being justified freely, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ: Whom God hath set forth a propitiation, through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness; that he might be just, and the justifier of him who believeth in Jesus.”102102 Rom. iii. 24, 26. The scripture represents all favour, pardon of sin, redemption and eternal life, as given to men, not out of regard to any righteousness or worthiness of theirs; but purely for the sake of Christ, out of regard for the atonement he has made by his own blood, and his righteousness and worthiness. The whole that is comprised in redemption, pardon of sin, peace with God, and eternal life, are given through Christ, that is, on his account, and for his sake. “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”103103 Rom. v. 1. “Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.”104104 Chap. iii. 24. Righteousness recommends to favour; this the justified sinner has not in himself, but in Christ. His righteousness is unto all, and upon all them that believe. He is the end of the 54law for righteousness.105105 Rom. iii. 22. x. 4. On this St. Paul placed his whole dependence. He says, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord: For whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, 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.”106106 Phil. iii. 8, 9. Believers are accepted in the beloved, that is, purely out of respect to the worthiness of Christ.107107 Eph. i. 6. Therefore, they are directed to ask for all the favour they want, in his name, that is, for his sake.
IV. In order to be interested in the righteousness of Christ, so as to have the benefit of it, and be recommended to favour, and justified on his account, and for his sake, it is necessary, that men should be united to him by a peculiar union, so as to be the members of the body of which he is the head.
This union, or relation, which actually takes place between Christ and the justified, by which they obtain this privilege, it has been before observed, is represented by various similitudes; by the union of the branches with the vine, by which they are one tree, and have the same life and sap running through the whole: By the head and members, which make one body: By the union of husband and wife, by which they become one flesh, and the wife shares in the riches, worthiness and honours of the husband, however poor, mean and unworthy she was, antecedent to her union to him. This union of the justified with Christ, is often expressed in scripture by being in Christ. “That I may win Christ, and be found in him.”108108 Phil. iii. 8, 9. And, “we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ.”109109 1 John v. 20. “Abide in me, and I in you.”110110 John xv. 4.
The children of the first Adam were to partake of the benefit of his righteousness, had he, by his obedience, obtained the righteousness of the law: and they do actually share with him in the evil consequences of his sin, by virtue of their union with him. He and they are naturally united, as he is their common progenitor, 55and they his posterity. And by divine constitution he was appointed in such a sense, their common, public head, that the effects of his righteousness, should he obtain it, or his sin, should he transgress, should be transmitted to them. Yet they could not be justified by his obedience or righteousness, or condemned for his sin, without an express, or implicit, moral, voluntary union to him, which was indeed supposed and secured by the constitution. If Adam had obeyed the law perfectly, and obtained righteousness and life, his children could not have the benefit of it when they came to exist, in any other way, but by a moral, voluntary union of heart to him, by approving of his character and conduct, and of that constitution, which in this way would bring them to share in the benefit of his obedience, so that they should have the benefit of his righteousness, and be made heirs of eternal life, without being in a state of trial themselves. And were it possible, in that case, and should any of his posterity actually withhold their consent to what their father had done, and refuse to be thus united to him, and to be justified in this way, they must be excluded from all interest in his righteousness, and benefit by it. And since Adam did sin, guilt and condemnation came upon his posterity by their moral union to him, by either an implicit or express consent to his sinning, and approbation of him in this character. Therefore, if there be any one of the human race, who has lived heretofore, is now on the stage, or shall exist from this time to the end of the world, who never consents in any degree, either explicitly, or by implication, to the first transgression; but perfectly and constantly, through life, refuses to unite himself to him as a sinner; that is, does not commit one sin, but continues perfectly holy, he will not partake of any of the guilt of the sin of Adam, nor be condemned by any law or constitution whatever.
The second Man, the last Adam, of whom the first was a figure and type, is as really a public head and substitute for others, as the first, but not in every respect and circumstance like him; yea, infinitely different in some respects. He has so far united himself to man, as to become a real man, and take the place of man, under 56the law; and has made full atonement for sin, by taking the curse on himself, and suffering it in man’s stead, the just for the unjust; and has obtained the righteousness of the law by perfect obedience to it; by which he has brought in everlasting righteousness, a righteousness unspeakably more excellent, and meritorious, and worthy of respect and reward, than all possible obedience of men or angels. And having thus obtained all that sinful lost man wants, in order to complete his redemption and happiness, he freely offers himself, with all his fulness, for man, to every one who comes within hearing of the gospel, and is willing to be united to him, and receive him, with the blessings he has to give, without money or price, without requiring or expecting any returns to be made by the sinner, as any degree of compensation.
But all this does not put the sinner in possession of the pardon of his sins, and a title to life. But he will as certainly perish in his sins, as if there had been no such Redeemer, unless a moral union take place between him and the Saviour, by his hearty approbation of his character, of his design, and of what he has done and suffered for the salvation of men; and he, cordially unite himself to him in the character he sustains, as the Redeemer of sinners. It is not proper, it is not right and fit, it is incongruous, and therefore impossible, that he should have any interest in the atonement and righteousness of Christ, so as to be pardoned and received to favour, out of respect to that, while with his whole heart he opposes and rejects him, and is disposed not to come to him, that he might have life; because by this there is a moral discord between him and the Redeemer, and opposition to him, and refusal to be in any union or relation to him.
If a rich and honourable prince offer himself to a mean woman, who is poor and greatly in debt, to be her husband, and make her honourable, rich and happy, this will not put her in possession of these benefits, or give her the least interest in them, or title to them, unless she consents to take him as her husband, and cordially receive him as he offers himself. It is by accepting the offer that the relation of husband and wife takes place, and they are so united as to become one flesh, in consequence 57of which she becomes rich and honourable, by the interest she has in her husband’s riches and honours.
So, no sinner can obtain an interest in the atonement and righteousness of Christ, unless there be a real consent of heart, either explicit or implied, to receive him as he offers himself, by which a moral union, or union of heart, exists between him and the Saviour, by which they are, in such a sense and degree one, that it is proper to reckon or impute the righteousness of the Redeemer to the sinner, so that he shall have as much benefit by it, as if it were personally his righteousness.
It has been thought by some, that if the sin of Adam be not imputed to his posterity, and they considered as guilty and condemned, antecedent to their union to him, by consenting to his sin, there is no parallel between the imputation of the sin of Adam to his children, and of the righteousness of Christ to them who believe in him, which the apostle Paul supposes there is, and asserts in the fifth chapter of his letter to the Romans. But the above representation of this point may serve to show, that this objection is groundless. As the posterity of Adam become guilty, and fall under condemnation, by consenting to his sin, and a union of heart to him, as a transgressor; that is, by sinning themselves: so the righteousness of the Mediator comes upon men» or is imputed to them, for their justification, by their uniting themselves to him in a cordial approbation of his righteousness, and his holy character. It is true there is a necessary difference in many respects, but in this there is a parallel.
One great and remarkable difference, besides those mentioned in that chapter by St. Paul, is, that the first Adam, was constituted the public head and representative of all the human race, of whom he was the natural head and father, so that they should be holy or sinful, and consequently justified or condemned, according to his conduct in a state of trial, as he should persevere in obedience, or fall by transgression. The constitution or covenant with the first Adam secured the obedience and holiness of all his children, that they should be united in their hearts to him, by a cordial, voluntary approbation of his character and righteousness, 58 if he should persevere in obedience through the time of his trial, and consequently have eternal life. And, on the contrary, if he should be guilty of disobedience, all his children should join with him in his rebellion, as soon as they existed capable of moral agency, and have that in their hearts, which, at least, would imply a full consent to his transgression, and in their hearts unite with him in it, and consequently fall under condemnation with him. Thus, by one man sin entered into the world, and has spread, and taken hold of all the children of Adam; and by sin they are involved in condemnation and the curse.111111 Rom. v. 12, 19.
The last Adam, the Redeemer of men, has no such particular relation and union to all the human race, either by nature, or divine constitution, as the first Adam had. He has indeed become a man, and united himself to the human nature, and in consequence of what he has done and suffered, he has obtained a righteousness as sufficient for the salvation of one as of another, of all as well as of one, or of any part: He is able to save to the uttermost, all them who believe in him, and come to God by him.112112 Heb. vii. 25. And consequently invites all to come unto him, and be saved; and has ordered his gospel to be preached to all nations, to every son and daughter of Adam. But there is no provision or security in any divine constitution, or the covenant of redemption between the Father and the Mediator, that all shall believe on him and unite themselves to him, by a cordial approbation of his character and righteousness; so as to render it fit and proper that they should be justified and saved by him. But in this constitution, or covenant between the Father and the Son, only a certain number, a part of mankind, are given to the Redeemer, and the voluntary union of these to him by faith, by which the church, the body, of which he is the constituted head, shall be formed, is secured and made certain. This is declared by Christ in the most express, unequivocal words, “All that the Father giveth me, shall come to me, and him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out. And this is the Father’s will who hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me, I should lose nothing, but 59should raise It up again at the last day. Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me, be with me, where I am, that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me.”113113 John vi. 37, 39. xvii. 24.
That Christ means by those who were given to him, not only his present disciples, but all that should be finally saved by him; and that these are not all mankind, but a part, who are taken out of the rest of the world, and to be united to him, and made one with him, as others are not, is evident from the following words of his: “I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me, for they are thine—And all mine are thine, and thine are mine. Neither pray I for those alone (my present disciples, whom I have been particularly mentioning) but for them also which shall believe on me, through their word: That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may be one in us.”114114 John xvii. 9, 10, 20, 21.
To the first Adam, all the human race were given, to be justified or ruined by him, in the manner explained above. To the last Adam, only a part of mankind are given, to be redeemed and saved by him; and their actual and everlasting union with him is made sure, without which union they could not be justified and saved by him. They shall come unto him, and shall never be cast out, or separated from him.
These who are given to Christ, the elect, are his seed. “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, and shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hands. A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.”115115 Psalms xxii. 30. Isaiah liii. 10. They are his adopted children. “Behold, I and the children which God hath given me. According as he hath chosen us in him, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, and without blame before him in love; having predestinated us unto the adoption of children, by Jesus Christ, to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.”116116 Eph. i. 4, 5. Heb. ii. 13. All mankind were the first Adam’s seed, his children. The 60 elect only, who were chosen and given to Christ, before the foundation of the world, are his seed, his children.117117 From this scriptural view of the matter, we see how contrary to the scripture, how unreasonable, as well as whimsical their notion is, who advance, that Christ is originally so united to all mankind, that he and they are so one, that whatever one is and does, the other is and does also: so that the sins of men are the sins of Christ, and mankind did and suffered what was done and suffered by Christ. This they imagine is implied in the representation of the union of Christ with his people; by the union of the head and members of the human body; of the husband and wife; the vine and the branches, &c. And that on this supposition only, there can be any justice or propriety, in the suffering of Christ for the sins of men, or in the justification or salvation of men, by the righteousness of Christ. And they hence infer, as a certain consequence, that all mankind shall be saved. This consequence is contrary to numerous express declarations in divine revelation, and is built on a precarious sandy foundation indeed. See Relly’s Doctrine of Union.
V. Sinners are thus united to Christ by faith, or believing in him.
It has been shewn, in the preceding section, that saving faith consists in a cordial approbation of Christ, and receiving him in the character he sustains, as the Redeemer of sinners, by which the sinner unites himself to Christ, and becomes one heart, and one soul with him. It is by this faith, according to scripture, that the heart is so united to Christ, that he dwells in the heart; and by faith they come into the relation of children of God, and put on Christ. “Ye are the children of God, by faith in Christ Jesus: For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.”118118 Gal. iii. 26, 27. Eph. iii. 17. “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them who believe on his name.”119119 John i. 12. “He that hath the Son, hath life.”120120 1 John v. 12. Faith so unites the believer to Christ, that it is fit and proper that he should be considered and treated as so far one with him, as to pardon and justify him for the sake of Christ, out of respect to his sufferings and obedience, by which he has merited such favour for all his; for all who are thus united to him.
Therefore, it is abundantly declared in scripture, that men are justified by faith, or through faith; that faith is counted for righteousness, and imputed to the believer for righteousness: and the righteousness by which they are justified is called, “The righteousness of faith,” 61not because there is any righteousness in faith to justify the sinner, or do any thing towards it; but because faith receives the righteousness of Christ, and so unites the believer to the Redeemer, that by divine constitution and promise, the righteousness of Christ is reckoned in his favour, and avails for his justification. Faith is not connected with justification, because of any moral excellency or worthiness, which is, or can be supposed to be in it; for the believing sinner cannot have any such worthiness in himself, or in any of his exercises, as in the least decree to recommend him to favour on that account, which is to be more particularly considered before this section is concluded; but men are justified by faith, because it is connected with the righteousness of Christ, and the believer is so united to him, that it is proper and fit that his righteousness should be improved in the sinner’s favour, and he be justified on that account. Therefore, justification by faith, is always opposed to justification by works; the works of the law, especially in the writings of the apostle Paul, as has been particularly observed in the foregoing section, and the reason of it given. It will be sufficient to mention the following passages of his, omitting a great number of Others to the same purpose. “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. Therefore, we conclude that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law.”121121 Rom. iii. 22, 28. 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.122122 Gal. ii. 16. “That I may 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, through faith.”123123 Phil. iii. 9.— Some have supposed that by the faith of Christ, mentioned several times in the passages quoted, and in one or two other places, is meant Christ’s faith, which intends the whole of the righteousness of Christ. But there does not appear any reason for such a construction. This is, at best, a very obscure and unusual way to express the obedience and righteousness of Christ. This the apostle often mentions, and constantly holds up to view in his writings, in clear and intelligible expressions; such as his righteousness, his dying for sinners, and giving himself for them; the atonement; his obedience; obedience unto death, &c.—And since he always means the faith of the believer, when he says men are justified by faith, except in these few places, it seems to be doing violence to those, to understand them in a quite different sense; especially, since the expression, though a little varied, may most naturally be understood to mean faith in Christ, or the faith by which men believe in him and of which he is the object; and more especially, since this phrase must be understood so, in a number of other places. The following are instances of it. Mark xi. 22. “Have faith in God.” Ἕχετε πίστιν Θεοῦ—Have faith of God. Acts iii. 16. “Through faith in his name.” In the original it is. Through the faith of his name. Rom. iii. 26. “The justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.” In the original it is, του εκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ—Him who is of the faith of Jesus. Jam. ii. 1. “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, with respect of persons.” Rev. xiv. 12. “Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and that faith of Jesus.”62
Some have supposed that it was necessary to exclude all moral goodness, and consequently all exercise of heart, from the faith by which men are justified, in order to their being justified by free grace, in opposition to justification by works; and have thought, that if there be any moral goodness in justifying faith, especially all that moral goodness which is comprised in gospel holiness, as has been represented in the preceding section; they have a righteousness of their own, which will recommend them to favour; and therefore do not stand in need, or, at most, in so much need of the righteousness of Christ, and of free grace, as if they had no moral goodness; but have some ground of boasting; and that this therefore tends to flatter the pride of man: Whereas the scripture says, that the way of justification by faith excludes all boasting; and that the ungodly, who have no works, are justified by faith.
What has been already said in the preceding section, and in this, it is thought, is sufficient to show, that such an opinion is wholly without foundation, and contrary to the truth. But as this is a point of no small importance, it is proposed to attend to it more particularly, by bringing into view, and applying some things which have been before observed; and introducing some other considerations, which may serve to remove mistakes, and elucidate and confirm the truth on this head. To this end the following things may be observed.63
1. It is impossible, according to the reason and nature of things, and the law of God, which is founded on this, that he who has once sinned, should, by any moral qualification, or holiness, render himself acceptable to God, or so as to be looked upon, or treated any otherwise, than an accursed, infinitely odious creature. The reason of this has been given: It is because the law of God, which is most reasonable, just and good, does curse the transgressor; let his character be otherwise what it may, either before or after his sin, this cannot, in the least degree, remove the curse. “For it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things, written in the book of the law to do them.” As this is the law of God, and perfectly agreeable to unalterable reason and truth, he will look upon the sinner in the light in which the law sets him, and treat him accordingly; and therefore will not pardon him, out of respect to any thing he does, or can do, as recommending him, in the least degree, to any favour. All moral qualifications of his, however great and good, must stand for just nothing, and be of no avail to recommend the sinner to pardon, &c. Whenever such an one is justified, it must be altogether on the account of the atonement and worthiness of Christ, who was made under the law; and so made a curse, that he might deliver the believer iii him from the curse. And whatever moral goodness there is in faith, he is not justified on this account, any more than if there were no moral goodness in it. The believer obtains justification by his faith, not out of respect to any moral goodness in it, how much soever it may contain; but, because by it he is united to Christ, so as that it is proper he should have an interest in his righteousness, and be justified out of respect to that, and consistent with the law of God. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, to every one that believeth.”
It is indeed impossible that he who has once sinned, if he have any degree of virtue and true love to God, in the exercise of that, to seek or desire to recommend himself to God by it, so as to obtain pardon and his favour, merely out of respect to that; for this would be to oppose God, and all goodness; to rise in rebellion 64against his law, and holy government; and therefore, contrary to love to God, and all true virtue, or moral goodness.—The reason of this has been given, viz. That it is contrary to the law of God, which curses the sinner, that he should be considered and treated any otherwise than as being accursed, out of regard to any thing he has, or can do, and while he is not united to Christ, so as to have the benefit to his righteousness, by receiving justification purely out of respect to that. Hence it is certain, that if a man seek, righteousness and justification by the works of the law, or by any supposed virtue or goodness of his own, he does in that, act as an enemy to God, and to his law; and his supposed moral goodness is nothing but sin and rebellion. But if it were not so, and he were really and perfectly holy, this could not recommend him to pardon; and would be no reason why he should be pardoned, and delivered from the curse of the law, rather than another, who is wholly destitute of all moral goodness. The reason of this has been given. Therefore, whenever he who has sinned is brought to love God, and exercise any degree of moral goodness, he will not desire to be justified by it, and will be so far from offering it as a righteousness to recommend him to favour, that he will approve of the law of God which curses him, and condemn himself as that docs, as infinitely guilty and ill-deserving; and consequently place all his hope of pardon in the atonement of Christ; and with Paul, not desire to be found in his own righteousness, which is of the law; but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God, by faith. But of this, more hereafter.
2. Though a sinner, upon his becoming perfectly obedient, after he had sinned, might be justified by his own righteousness, which has been proved to be impossible; yet man is cut off from all hope of acceptance in this way, because every believer is, in this life, very imperfect, and sinful. In every act of his, there is much sin; sin enough to condemn him, had he never sinned before. He has a great degree of opposition in his heart to God, and his law; and all his exercises, in which there is a degree of moral goodness, are so defective, that he has reason to be ashamed of himself, and of 65them; for every degree of defect is sinful. He does not love God half so much as he ought, and his heart is exceeding corrupt and abominable, viewed in all the exercises and defects of it. On this account the believer is unworthy of any favour, his goodness is infinitely far from rendering him worthy of the least favour; and every act of his is attended with sin enough to condemn him forever, if viewed and treated as he is in himself, and according to his present character. In this view the Psalmist says, “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand! Enter not into judgment with thy servant: For in thy sight shall no man living be justified.”124124 Psalms cxxx. 3. cxliii. 2. And Job says, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: But now mine eye seeth thee: Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”125125 Job xlii. 5, 6.
When it is considered, how much sin attends the believer in all his exercises; how far he falls below his duty in every thing; how much moral evil is constantly in his heart; and how greatly every thing wrong and. defective in him is aggravated, and more criminal than it was before he believed, by the greater light and conviction he now has, and the great, peculiar and distinguishing favours he has received from God: and the advantages and motives he now has to be holy as God is holy, by which his obligations are unspeakably increased: When all this is considered, there will doubtless appear reason to conclude that he is now more criminal in the sight of God, and in this sense a greater sinner, and more hateful and abominable, than he was before he believed, or than any unbeliever whatsoever, notwithstanding his faith, virtue, and holiness. Surely then he has nothing in himself suited to flatter and raise his pride, by becoming a believer, and uniting himself to Christ; but every thing is suited to lead him to humble himself in the sight of the Lord, and walk humbly with God, and constantly cry, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
This leads to another particular.
3. All the virtue or holiness; all the right taste and exercises which are implied in saving faith, as described m the foregoing section, as was there observed, imply 66and consist chiefly in disclaiming and renouncing all pretences to any worthiness that the believer has, or can possibly be in man, that should recommend him to any favour, and in coming to Christ, as in himself, infinitely guilty and ill-deserving, and trusting in his atonement and merit for justification. How then can this possibly lead men to trust in themselves that they are righteous, or flatter and encourage their pride? It is the only thing that destroys such a spirit, and tends to pluck it up by the roots, and by which a believer humbles himself in the sight of the Lord, and walks humbly before him all his days. The more of this faith he has, the farther he is from pride, and the more humble. And he who has not this faith, and does not live by it, his soul is lifted up in pride, and is not upright in him.126126 Hab. ii. 4.
Faith, which worketh by love, discerns the excellence of the divine character and law, and the infinite evil of sin; approves of the former and condemns the latter. In the exercise of this faith the law comes, sin revives, and the sinner dies; feels himself undone and lost forever, notwithstanding any help or righteousness in himself, if treated according to the righteous law of God. By this faith the sinner flies to the Redeemer for righteousness, justification and redemption, as a free gift to an infinitely unworthy creature, who has no righteousness of his own to recommend him to the least favour, and never can have any. And the more the sinner has of this faith, which implies love and repentance, and the longer he lives by it, the more he sees and feels the evil nature and ill desert of sin, and a view and sense of his own sinfulness increases; and the more he prizes and trusts in Christ for pardon, righteousness, sanctification and redemption. And if he be not really a greater criminal than he was before, he now sees much more of his sin and guilt, and a view and sense of this increases, as he grows in faith and grace. Thus all boasting is most effectually excluded by the law of faith, as faith itself discards and opposes all that which could be the ground of boasting.
Hence it appears, that they who exclude repentance and love from faith, take an effectual way to support 67boasting and the pride of man: For that faith in which there is no repentance does not oppose the pride of the human heart, but leaves man as proud as before, and with the same disposition to exalt himself, and trust in himself that he is righteous. No one who has not a heart that is truly penitent and friendly to God, will humble himself before God, and be willing to be wholly indebted to free sovereign grace for justification and redemption.127127 “There Is that in the nature of repentance, which peculiarly tends to establish the contrary of justification by works; for nothing so much renounces our own worthiness and excellency, as repentance. The very nature of it is to acknowledge our own utter sinfulness and unworthiness, and to renounce our own goodness, and all confidence in self; and to trust in the propitiation of the Mediator, and ascribe all the glory of forgiveness to him.” President Edwards’s Discourse on Justification by Faith alone, p. 114.
4. If faith did not imply a right taste and disposition and true love to Christ, it would not in any manner or degree unite the sinner to Christ so as to render it fit and proper that his righteousness should be reckoned in his favour, or be any reason why such a believer should be justified, rather than another, who does not believe. It has been shewn, that in the scripture the believer is said to be in a particular relation to Christ, to be in Christ, and to put him on; to be united to him as the wife is to the husband, and the members of the body to the head; and that this union is by faith. This gives him an interest in Christ, as, on account of this union, he may with reason and propriety be considered and treated as belonging to Christ, so as to have the benefit of his worthiness and righteousness for his justification; and in this sense he is justified by faith. That faith therefore, which does not unite to Christ, cannot be justifying saving faith. No faith can do this but that which implies love, for in this all true moral union consists. That faith which is consistent with the sinner’s being at heart an enemy to Christ, does in no true sense unite to him, but is consistent with the greatest, with total alienation from him, and opposition to him. Therefore, there is no more reason or fitness that the man who has such a faith should be justified by the righteousness of Christ, than he who has it not, but is in every sense an unbeliever.68
It must be still kept in mind, that faith does not bring into a justified state, because it is a good work, or out of respect to the moral goodness there is in it; but because of the natural fitness there is, that he whose heart is united to Christ, as it is by believing, should be recommended to favour, and justified by his worthiness and righteousness, to whom he is thus united, and in whom he trusts. The believing sinner is considered, when viewed in and by himself, as destitute of any thing to recommend him to favour, and as unworthy and ill-deserving, as if he had no faith, and no kind or degree of moral goodness: And must be viewed so, according to the reason of things, and the law of God; so that when he is justified, he is justified as being ungodly, because he really is so; that is, has no moral goodness, to recommend him, as the reason why he should be justified, rather than another, who has no moral goodness. In this respect all are alike, and upon equal grounds. This leads us to the true sense of the following words of the apostle Paul, “To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”128128 Rom. iv. 5.
By him that worketh not, is evidently meant one who does not attempt to work, in order to recommend himself to the favour of God by his moral goodness; is not of those who are of the works of the law, and consequently under the curse of it, notwithstanding any thing they can do; but renounces all pretence and desire to be justified in this way, by his works; but directly contrary to this, believeth on him, and receives from him, as a free, undeserved favour, justification, who gives it to all such, though they have no righteousness or works to recommend them; but are in this respect ungodly. This is evidently the Apostle’s meaning; for he puts not working, and believing, in opposition to working in order to recommend themselves and render themselves worthy of a reward, so as, in this sense, to bring God into debt to them. This appears by the foregoing words, with which those are connected. “Now to him that worketh, is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him 69that justifieth the ungodly, &c.” By working he means the deeds, the works of the law, of which he speaks, and sets them in opposition to faith, as he does here. What is meant by working to merit a reward, has been often explained in the preceding section, and in this. Faith is opposed to this, and looks to Christ, and receives justification, pardon and righteousness, as a free, undeserved gift to the ungodly, that is, to one who has no good works, no worthiness to recommend him to the least favour, but is infinitely unworthy, guilty and ill deserving. All this is consistent with faith, implying and consisting in all that moral goodness, gospel holiness, and obedience, which, according to scripture it does, as has been shewn in the section on saving faith.
5. If moral goodness in justifying faith would recommend the believer to favour, on account of the worth in it, and render a sinner more worthy and deserving, or less unworthy and ill deserving in the sight of God, and therefore is inconsistent with justification by free grace, and consequently all moral goodness must be excluded from it; then it is equally necessary that the believer should never have any moral goodness, in order to his being saved by grace. They who would exclude all moral goodness from faith, and suppose, if it involves repentance and love, and is really a holy exercise, this moral goodness would render the sinner more deserving or less ill deserving, and so would be inconsistent with his being justified wholly by the righteousness of Christ, and saved by free grace, do suppose, at the same time, that gospel holiness and obedience is some how connected with saving faith, and does take place, sooner or later, in the heart of every believer. But if moral goodness in those who have sinned, in itself considered, recommend to favour, and render them worthy of it; then when they attain to this they will have no more need of the righteousness of Christ, nor of free grace; but may and must trust in their own righteousness. And when they come to be perfectly holy, they may justly consider themselves as worthy of eternal life, and claim it as a debt, and not receive it as a free gift. Do not they who carefully exclude all moral goodness from saving faith, for the reason above mentioned, appear inconsistent 70with themselves, in this respect? It is not yet seen how those things can be reconciled.
But if what has been proved concerning the law of God, and the true state of the sinner, viz. that no possible degree of holiness and obedience, continued any length of time by the sinner, can atone for one sin; but if he once transgress the law, he falls under the curse of it, from which no moral goodness afterwards attained can deliver him, but he will forever deserve to be the subject of the displeasure of God, and condemned to eternal misery: If this be kept in view, it will appear, that whatever moral goodness he attains, it does not render him the less unworthy; and if he be pardoned and saved, it must be as much through the righteousness of Christ, and as really a free gift to him, and he as much the subject of free grace, as if he had no moral good; and the believer must receive all favours, and continue in a justified state, through life, however obedient he be; and forever, though perfectly holy, out of respect to the righteousness of Christ, and as a gift of free grace, as much as he received justification at first. And there does not appear any inconsistence or difficulty in the matter, when viewed in this scripture light.
The redeemed, when perfectly holy in heaven, will, considered in and by themselves, be as deserving of the divine displeasure and everlasting punishment, as they ever were, and will be so forever. They continue in a justified state, and in the enjoyment of the favour of God, by continuing united to Christ; and were it possible that this union between the Redeemer and them should cease, they would, they must fall under condemnation, and sink into hell. It is true, that the obedience and holiness of believers is acceptable to God, and may be rewarded, as a testimony of this, in consequence of their union to Christ, and out of respect to his atonement and worthiness, because they are united to him, and love him, who is so infinitely worthy in the sight of God. Their persons and their obedience, and offerings to God, are pleasing and acceptable to him for the sake of Christ, and because they belong to him, and are in him, and do all in his name. This is the account the scripture gives 71of the matter. “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted m the beloved.”129129 Eph. i. 6. “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”130130 Col. iii. 17. “To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God and precious; ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God, by Jesus Christ.”131131 1 Peter ii. 4, 5. “Now the God of peace—make you perfect in every good work, to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ.”132132 Heb. xiii. 21. The reason of this is, that by the atonement which Christ has made for sin, and out of respect to that, their sins are all forgiven; they are blotted out, so as not to be remembered against them.—In this respect, their guilt is cancelled and done away, which otherwise would counterbalance, swallow up, and destroy all their moral goodness. In this sense, God is reconciled to them in Christ, not imputing their trespasses unto them.133133 2 Cor. v. 19. And by reason of their relation to Christ, their moral goodness, in the exercise of which they cleave to Christ, and love and honour him, is more acceptable, precious and worthy in the sight of God, than it could be in any creature not so united to the infinitely worthy Redeemer. Their relation to him gives them a dignity and worthiness, which they have not in themselves, considered as separate from Christ, and renders all their holiness more acceptable and rewardable than otherwise it could be. This is expressed by Christ in the following words. “He that loveth me, shall be loved of my Father. The Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.”134134 John xiv. 21. xvi. 27.—See President Edwards, on Justification by Faith alone, p. 92, 93.
But farther to explain the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ, now under consideration, it must be observed,
VI. Men are brought into a justified state by one, the first act of saving faith. The promise of salvation 72is made to him who believeth. “He that believeth shall be saved; he hath eternal life, and shall never come into condemnation.” He therefore who believes and exercises one act of true faith, however imperfect and weak, comes within the reach of this promise, is justified and shall be saved. The reason of it is, because the first act of faith as really unites the sinner to Christ, as many, or a course of acts do; and therefore is sufficient to render it fit and suitable that he should have an interest in his merit and righteousness.
It is true indeed, that in order to a person’s continuing in a justified state, he must continue united to Christ, and therefore must persevere in his faith, in which the union on his part consists, and by which it is maintained: And in this respect the faith by which a man is justified, and obtains the promises of life, is a persevering faith.—Though a man is pardoned and has a promise of eternal life, upon the first act of faith, yet this first act is not regarded by God, in his justifying him, as the only act; but it is viewed as connected with a continued series of the acts of the same faith to the end. And the first act entitles to life, as the first, or beginning of a continued course of exercises of the same kind, or as a persevering faith.
The first act of faith entitles to perseverance in faith, by virtue of a divine constitution and promise. God has promised that he who once believes shall continue to believe, so that his faith shall not fail: That they shall be “kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation.”135135 1 Pet. i. 5. If this were not the case, it would not be fit or congruous, that he who once believes should have the promise of salvation; and justification to eternal life would be suspended until the believer had persevered in faith.
In the first act of saving faith, the believer does virtually and implicitly, if not expressly, look to Christ and trust in him for perseverance, together with other blessings; and so it gives a title to this benefit, among others. In this view, perseverance in faith is implied in the first act, and as such, it is justifying faith, and has the promise of salvation. The scripture sets this point 73in the same light. “Now the just shall live by faith but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.”136136 Heb. x. 38, 39. Here, saving faith is represented as persevering faith; and perseverance, as being that in faith, by which it becomes saving; for believing to the saving of the soul, is put in opposition to drawing back unto perdition; and therefore must mean a persevering faith.
In this view it may be seen why believers are daily to pray for the forgiveness of the sins, which they commit after they are in a justified state; and why God is represented as actually forgiving them; and that this forgiveness is suspended upon their renewed acts of repentance and faith. The believer, upon his first believing, has the forgiveness of all his past sins, and the promise that all his future sins shall be forgiven; so that he shall never come into condemnation, but is passed from death to life: But this justification is, the whole of it, in some sense, conditional; it is granted upon the supposition that he will persevere in a course of repeated acts of faith, and that his present union to Christ will never cease, but be an everlasting union: If this should cease to exist, and this were possible, all his past sins would be remembered against him, and he fall into condemnation, and under the curse of the law; nor could any of his sins, which he should commit in future, be forgiven. He has the promise of the forgiveness of all the sins which he shall commit, upon condition he does persevere in repentance and faith; therefore upon his renewed sinning, he renews acts of repentance and faith, and, in the exercise of these, asks for pardon, and upon this he is actually forgiven, and not before, agreeable to the divine promise. But as his perseverance in faith is made sure by the promise of God, in the covenant of grace, pardon of all his sins and eternal life are made sure to him, upon his first act of faith, and his justification.
VII. In the justification of the believer by the righteousness of Christ, it does not become his righteousness, so as that he is considered as having actually done and 74suffered, in his own person, what Christ did and suffered; for this is in no sense true, and cannot be made true.—But he being in Christ, united to him by faith, the righteousness of Christ, what he has done and suffered for sinners, and in their place and stead, avails for the believer’s justification, and he has as much advantage by it, in this respect, as if it were his own personal righteousness. It would be needless to mention this particular, if some had not entertained this notion of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, and represented it in this very absurd light; and drawn consequences from it, most contrary to the truth, and many express declarations of scripture.
VIII. In pardoning and justifying the believer, his sins are not so blotted out, or covered, as not to be any more seen or remembered. When sins are once committed, they never can become no sins; it will be forever true, that they were committed. These facts, or the nature of them, cannot be annihilated or altered. And it is impossible that they should be forgotten by God, or out of his sight, while he exists the Omniscient. And the believer’s knowledge that he is justified has no tendency to make him forget his sins; but the contrary, viz. to fix them on his memory, to think much of them, confess them, and humble himself for them, and admire the grace of God in his forgiveness, for the sake of Christ. If he could forget his sins, he would forget that he was pardoned; for the latter supposes the former, and is founded upon it. Paul, remembered and repeatedly mentioned his sins, and ranks himself among the chief of sinners, after he knew he was pardoned, and had obtained mercy. And if he could lose the idea of his sin and guilt, he would have no idea of the mercy of God to him. as long as he exists. His sin, in persecuting the saints, and the sins of other justified persons, on scripture record, are so far from being forgotten, covered or hid, that they are published to the world, and will be eternally known and remembered. The scripture speaks of forgiving sin, by such phrases as these, Not remembering them any more—covering them—casting them into the depths of the sea, &c. These are strong metaphorical expressions, to denote 75that God does not, and never will suffer them to rise and be brought against the believer, to condemn him, or do him any hurt. In this sense they are annihilated, blotted out, and never shall be remembered any more. That these expressions cannot be understood in any other sense, or be literally true, appears from the observations which have been made under this head.
IX. The justification of the believer by the righteousness of Christ does in no measure free him from obligation to be perfectly holy in his own person; but increases it, and his criminality in not being so. He is freed from the curse of the law, for not being perfectly and perseveringly holy, and from obligation to perfect obedience, in order to be justified; for he is already justified, without this. In this respect, he is not under the law, but under grace. But still he is under obligation to love God with all his heart, and his neighbour as himself. His faith is a conformity to these commands, as including repentance and love, and he cannot be perfectly holy, to which he is under indispensable obligation, till he comes to a perfect conformity to this law: For by this only, lie can be holy, as God is holy. It is impossible he should not be under obligation to obey this law perfectly; for it is founded in reason, and cannot be altered or abated; and must therefore forever be the rule of the duty of creatures; and every thing in them which is contrary to this law, or a disregard of it, is sin. Christ did not come to destroy, or make void the law, in this respect; but to fulfil it: And his fulfilling or obeying it, and suffering the penalty of it, does not release the believer from obligation to obedience to it; for this is impossible, because it would be infinitely wrong. Yet some have been so wild in their notions, and so absurd and infatuated, as to suppose he has done it!
It has been observed, that gospel holiness, or the holiness of faith, differs from legal holiness, or the holiness of man before he fell into sin, and that of the angels; and the difference has been particularly stated in the foregoing section. Nevertheless, the holiness necessary to justification by law, or the covenant of works, and that of the believer under the covenant of grace, are of the same nature and kind, and consist in obedience and 76conformity to the same law, in love to God, and to our neighbour: Though the latter may require exercises in some respects different, and towards new and different objects and truths, which could have no place or existence, under the former, such as sinful man, redemption, the character of Jesus Christ, his sufferings and works, &c.
And it is worthy of observation here, that the holiness of faith, and of the redeemed, so far as for the reason above mentioned, it differs from legal holiness, or that under a covenant of works, has a peculiar beauty and excellence, and renders him who possesses it, more happy than he could be under a covenant of works, though perfectly holy.
The redeemed are raised from the dark regions of infinite guilt and wo; delivered from sin, in which they were totally involved; and translated from the power land kingdom of Satan, into the eternal kingdom of Christ, to sit down and reign with him on his throne. And this deliverance, happiness and honour, is not from themselves, in the least degree; but from the free sovereign grace and wonderful love of God; and by the incarnation of the Son of God, and his taking the place of sinners, and dying for their redemption. All this makes an amiable and glorious display of the love and wisdom of God, which could not have been made, had not redemption taken place. And all this new and wonderful scene lays a foundation for answerable exercises by the redeemed, in the deepest humility, in a sense and acknowledgment of their unworthiness, and absolute dependence on free sovereign grace for all the good, both negative and positive, comprised in redemption; and in the sweet love of benevolence, delight and gratitude, answerable to the divine love and holiness manifested in the redemption of sinners, and his unspeakable love and grace to them, by which they are laid under peculiarly great, and the most agreeable, everlasting obligations to gratitude and praise.
In these respects, and by their everlasting and peculiarly near and dear relation to Christ, and union with him, by which they are the bride, the Lamb’s wife, the redeemed church will shine in a peculiarly beautiful holiness 77and glory, and enjoy greater happiness and honour, than any of those creatures who have not been redeemed, though perfectly holy. In this respect, as well as others, redemption is the new creation, the new heaven and new earth, far exceeding the first and old creation. In this there is a new display of the divine glory; a new mode of the exercise of holiness by a new kind of creatures, by putting on a form in which there is a new beauty and excellence; and a new degree of happiness; a new and glorious character in the Redeemer, the centre of union, love and holiness of the redeemed church; and, in one word, a new moral world, which could not have taken place, were it not for the apostasy of man, and redemption by Christ. In this sense, “Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new!”
X. On the whole, the doctrine of the justification of sinners by faith in Jesus Christ appears to be not only agreeable to the scripture, but rational, when examined and understood; there being nothing absurd or inconsistent in it. The law of God admits of a substitute to obey or to suffer for others in their room and stead. The first man was constituted such, and he was made a type and figure of the second man, who was to come, the Lord from heaven. He was able to do what the first man could not, even to redeem sinners from the curse of the law, by taking the curse on himself, and suffering it for them, as well as obeying it perfectly; being made under the law, and putting himself in their place. Thus he has a righteousness which answers the law; and therefore sufficient for the justification of all those in whose favour it can be properly applied, so as consistently to have the benefit of it, as much as if it were their own personal righteousness. This can be done only by the sinner’s being cordially united to him, approving of his character, and receiving and trusting ill him for righteousness and redemption, which is done by believing in him. Therefore, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. Even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all, and upon all them that believe.” And this righteousness avails to their complete justification; their sins are pardoned for the sake of Christ, 78who is the propitiation for their sins; he suffering for them, the just for the unjust, has made full atonement; and they are made heirs of eternal life, being recommended by the merit and worthiness of Christ, they being in him, and one with him, as the members and head are one body.
It is agreeable to reason, and common sense, that one person should have favour shewn to him, out of respect to the merit and worthiness of another, purely on the account of the relation the former bears to the latter, who has no worthiness of such favour in himself, and to whom it would be improper to shew such favour, were it not for his relation to such a worthy person, by which he is in some sense united to him. This is really imputing the merit of one person to another, to recommend him to favour, who has no worthiness in himself. Thus, if we have a friend who is very dear to us, and has great merit and worthiness with us, and we see a child in wretched circumstances, starving and naked; when we are informed that he is the son of our friend, we shall be disposed to shew him kindness and give him relief, feed and clothe him for the sake of his father, out of regard to his merit in our eyes. Or, if such a worthy person, who has great merit, have a friend who loves him, though he may have no worthiness in himself, and has offended us; yet if he come recommended by this worthy friend of ours, desiring that we would forgive him, and shew him all the kindness he wants, we shall readily do it, wholly for the sake of the worthiness of our friend, though otherwise it would be proper, and we should be disposed to treat him with neglect and contempt; and this appears congruous and rational.
Much more is it so in the case before us. The Son of God, who is infinitely dear and worthy in his sight, has expressed his love to the Father, and zeal for his honour, and the honour of his law and government, and hatred of all sin against him, by putting himself in the place of sinners under the law; and has borne the curse of it himself in the sinner’s stead, and obeyed it perfectly; hereby manifesting his love to sinful man, and desire of their salvation, if consistent with the honour of God and his law: and that he might make it so for all 79those who believe in him, has done and suffered all this, and in this way has exerted himself to the utmost, that they may be pardoned and saved, and God honoured thereby: That God may be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in him. And in all this, in which he has exercised and expressed his love of righteousness, and hatred of iniquity, in the best manner, and to the highest degree possible, he has merited infinitely with the Father; he is well pleased for his righteousness sake, and is ready to give him whatever he asks; especially that for the sake of which he has gone through all this labour and suffering. He asks that he would pardon and save every guilty sinner, who unites himself to him by believing on him, who shall love, receive, and trust in him, that his righteousness may be imputed to him, and that for his sake he will justify and save all such whom he loves, and for whom he has done and suffered so much.137137 See John xvii. The Father is so well pleased with his righteousness, and he is so infinitely dear, honourable and meritorious in his sight, that he is ready to shew all needed favour to those who love his Son, and believe, on him, for his sake and purely out of respect to his suffering and merit, to justify them, and give them eternal life, though they be in themselves infinitely unworthy and ill deserving Thus the righteousness of Christ is imputed to all them who believe for their justification. And who can shew that there is any thing unreasonable or contrary to the truth in this procedure? Who will say it is not perfectly reasonable and proper?
THE subject of this section leads us to see, and reflect upon the wonderful display of infinite wisdom in the salvation of man, by Jesus Christ.
It has been observed, that wisdom is a moral excellence; it is a moral perfection of God. It is included in benevolence or goodness, and cannot be separated from it. Where there is no benevolence, there is no wisdom, and where there is no wisdom, there is no benevolence. 80And there is always, and in all instances, as much wisdom as there is goodness, and vice versa. Yet it is proper and necessary to distinguish between these, in order to think and speak most clearly of the perfection of God. And this is done in the scripture. The goodness of God is a wise goodness, is exercised in the wisest and best manner, to answer the best ends. God is as wise as he is good.
There is a most bright and glorious display of the wisdom of God in the redemption of man. Therefore, the gospel of the grace of God is called wisdom, the wisdom of God: And Christ is called so: And the apostle Paul, speaking of the redemption of man, has the following remarkable expression. “According to the riches of his grace, wherein he hath abounded towards us, in all wisdom and prudence.”138138 Eph. i. 8. And he says, the angels learn the manifold wisdom of God, in the redemption of his church by Jesus Christ. “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”139139 Chap. iii. 10, 11.
In order to lay the best and most ample foundation, and give opportunity and occasion for the greatest and most glorious exercise and manifestation of the love and grace of God, it has been wisely ordered that there should be creatures in a state of infinite guilt and wretchedness, from which they could not be delivered consistent with the honour of the divine law, and the moral character and government of God, unless a divine person, the Son of God, became a man, and took upon him the form of a servant, putting himself under the law, and taking the sinner’s place, so as to bear the curse in his stead, and die an ignominious, cruel and accursed death for him: And having thus suffered, and obeyed the law of God in the most trying circumstances, he is become the author of eternal salvation to all them who obey him: And in this way of salvation by Christ, there is no room for mere human righteousness and worthiness to come into the account. The righteousness 81by which man is accepted and justified, is a divine righteousness, the righteousness of God: A righteousness of which not a mere creature is the author; and the worth of it arises from the dignity of the divine nature, and not from any worthiness of a mere creature. In this way man is emptied of all worthiness in himself, and greatly humbled, and brought into a state of exceeding, peculiar dependence on God; and divine grace is exalted and honoured, while the believer receives from him “abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness.”140140 Eph. v. 17.
And the redeemed are interested in this divine righteousness, not out of regard to any worthiness of their own; but when they are justified, they are considered in themselves infinitely unworthy; and that by which they are united to this divine person, so as to have the advantage of his merit, the bond of union on their part consists in an exercise of soul in which they discern and acknowledge that they are infinitely guilty, ill deserving, hateful creatures; that were there not an infinitely meritorious righteousness in Christ, it would not be proper or consistent with the law and the perfection of God, that they should be pardoned and saved; and that the righteousness by which they are justified, is that of a divine person, the righteousness of God. They therefore ascribe every good they receive, every thing better than endless destruction, to the free sovereign grace of God, and give him all the glory of it. This is “to be justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ: And it is of faith, that it might be by grace.”141141 Rom. iii. 24. iv. 16. “By grace are ye saved through faith.” And the apostle adds, “And that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”142142 Eph. ii. 8. This leads to observe, that the faith by which men are united to Christ, is the free, sovereign gift of God, in renewing their hearts, and forming them to such an exercise; in which he acts as an absolute sovereign, and has mercy on whom he will have mercy.
Every thing is so ordered in the work of redemption, as to give the greatest occasion and advantage, and the best opportunity for the exercise of the infinite goodness and grace of God; and in such a manner as to make it 82 most visible to creatures: And the redeemed are put under the best advantage to see it in the extent and glory of it, and be properly affected with it. The emptiness and nothingness of the creature, his infinite dependence on God, the fountain of being and all good; the infinite sufficiency for the creature, even for infinitely guilty and wretched creatures, and his free, sovereign, unbounded love and grace, are here set in the most advantageous and striking light, especially to the redeemed; so that in the final issue of things, when redemption is perfected, God will appear in the clearest light possible, to be all in all.143143 1 Cor. xv. 28. And they will receive unspeakably greater good, than they could have wanted, or were capable of, had they not sinned, and had there been no divine Mediator and righteousness. And all “to the praise of the glory of his grace.”144144 Eph. i. 6.
Now the wisdom of God has contrived and laid the plan for all this. Therefore it is manifested, and glorified in this exercise and display of divine grace, in which God hath abounded in all wisdom and prudence. Here the wisdom of God is set in the most conspicuous, pleasing light, which draws the attention, raises the admiration, influences the love, and exalts the praise of angels. And all who understand the gospel will cordially join with them, and with St. Paul, in his rapture and doxology: “O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise god, be honour and glory, forever and ever. Amen.”145145 Rom. xi. 33. 1 Tim. i. 17.
II. In the view of this subject, we see how and in what respects the law is established in the justification of sinners by faith in Christ.
The apostle Paul says, the law is established in this way. “Do we then make void the law through faith? Yea, we establish the law.”146146 Rom. iii. 31. And when we consider what saving faith is, and how the sinner is justified by faith, we may see on what ground this is asserted.
The whole work of the Redeemer in his incarnation, obedience and sufferings, had reference to the law, in order to establish that, and magnify it, and make it honourable, consistent with the pardon and salvation of 83the sinner who believeth in Jesus. He was made under the law with this view, in order to suffer the curse of it, and obey it in the room of sinners, as their substitute and surety, and in this way obtain the righteousness of the law for them, that he might be “the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”
That the law might be maintained and established by vicarious obedience or suffering, or by a substitute, was made know n when man was first created, as has been shewn. The first substitute or public head failed of obedience, and introduced sin and condemnation, which by divine constitution extended to all his posterity. All mankind are by the disobedience of the first man constituted sinners, and by sinning are under the curse of the law; from which they cannot be delivered, without abolishing the law, unless it be suffered by them, or a substitute. They could not suffer this curse and survive it: for the evil implied in it, and which they deserved, is infinite. And for the same reason, no mere creature in heaven or earth could be a substitute to suffer it in their room. But the last Adam, the second man, who is the Lord from heaven, is able to take the curse on himself and suffer it, and yet survive; and having by this made full atonement for sin, and satisfied the threatening of the law; and by his obedience done all that is required of man, in order to his justification, he has introduced a complete and everlasting righteousness; so that he to whom it may be properly imputed, and he have the advantage of it, as much as if it were his own personal righteousness, and he stood perfectly right in the sight of the law, may be justified, perfectly consistent with the law; and the law be more established, respected and honoured by the divine righteousness of the Mediator, than it would have been by the eternal sufferings of every transgressor, and the obedience of all creatures.
But no man can be justified by the righteousness of Christ, unless he unite himself to him by faith in him; in which he is brought to see and heartily acknowledge the law which curses every transgressor of it, to be holy, just and good, and that he may be justly destroyed forever for his sin, and if he be pardoned and saved, it 84must be wholly by free, undeserved, sovereign grace to him, while he receives this favour purely on the account of the righteousness of Christ. And he highly approves of it, and is greatly pleased that the Mediator has done and suffered so much to establish and honour the law, so as to become the end of the law for righteousness to him who believeth, and trusts in him in the character of “the Lord our righteousness.”147147 Jer. xxiii. 6. Thus the believer is a friend to the law of God, and does not wish to be saved in any way inconsistent with it. And by faith he is conformed to it, in the requirement of it, in a measure, and it is written on his heart. And he feels himself under indispensable obligation to perfect obedience to the law, as an unerring, excellent and perfect rule, and acknowledges that every thing in him, contrary to this law, and that does not come up to all that it requires, is inexcusable wickedness. And he looks to Christ and trusts in him to bring him to a perfect conformity to the law of God, as without that he cannot be completely happy, and in which, in a great measure, his salvation consists. At the same time he is watching and fighting against sin and Satan, and pressing forward after perfect holiness, working out his own salvation with fear and trembling.
Thus the law, both in the precepts and threatenings of it, is every way regarded, maintained and established, in the justification of sinners by faith in Christ, and is much more honoured than it could have been, had there been no Redeemer, and all transgressors of the law had perished, or had it never been transgressed.
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