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First, The general nature of justification — State of the person to be justified antecedently thereunto, Rom. iv. 5; iii. 19; i. 32; Gal. iii. 10; John iii. 18, 36; Gal. iii. 22 — The sole inquiry on that state — Whether it be any thing that is our own inherently, or what is only imputed unto us, that we are to trust unto for our acceptance with God — The sum of this inquiry — The proper ends of teaching and learning the doctrine of justification — Things to be avoided therein
That we may treat of the doctrine of justification usefully unto its proper ends, which are the glory of God in Christ, with the peace and furtherance of the obedience of believers, some things are previously to be considered, which we must have respect unto in the whole process of our discourse. And, among others that might be insisted on to the same purpose, these that ensue are not to be omitted:—
1. The first inquiry in this matter, in a way of duty, is after the proper relief of the conscience of a sinner pressed and perplexed with a sense of the guilt of sin. For justification is the way and means whereby such a person does obtain acceptance before God, with a right and title unto a heavenly inheritance. And nothing is pleadable in this cause but what a man would speak unto his own conscience in that state, or unto the conscience of another, when he is anxious under that inquiry. Wherefore, the person under consideration (that is, who is to be justified) is one who, in himself, is ἀσεβής, Rom. iv. 5, — “ungodly;” and thereon ὑπόδικος τῷ Θεῷ, chap. iii. 19, — “guilty before God;” that is, obnoxious, subject, liable, τῷ δικαιώματι τοῦ Θεοῦ, chap. i. 32, — to the righteous sentential judgment of God, that “he who committeth sin,” who is any way guilty of it, is “worthy of death.” Hereupon such a person finds himself ὑπὸ κατάραν, Gal. iii. 10, — under “the curse,” and “the wrath of God” therein abiding on him,” John iii. 18, 36. In this condition he is ἀναπολόγητος, — without plea, without excuse, by any thing in and from himself, for his own relief; his “mouth is stopped,” Rom. iii. 19. For he is, in the judgment of God, declared in the Scripture, συγκεκλεισμένος ὑφ’ ἁμαρτίαν, 8Gal. iii. 22, — every way “shut up under sin” and all the consequents of it. Many evils in this condition are men subject unto, which may be reduced unto those two of our first parents, wherein they were represented. For, first, they thought foolishly to hide themselves from God; and then, more foolishly, would have charged him as the cause of their sin. And such, naturally, are the thoughts of men under their convictions. But whoever is the subject of the justification inquired after, is, by various means, brought into his apprehensions who cried, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
2. With respect unto this state and condition of men, or men in this state and condition, the inquiry is, What that is upon the account whereof God pardons all their sins, receives them into his favour, declares or pronounces them righteous and acquitted from all guilt, removes the curse, and turns away all his wrath from them, giving them right and title unto a blessed, immortality or life eternal? This is that alone wherein the consciences of sinners in this estate are concerned. Nor do they inquire after any thing, but what they may have to oppose unto or answer the justice of God in the commands and curse of the law, and what they may betake themselves unto for the obtaining of acceptance with him unto life and salvation.
That the apostle does thus, and no otherwise, state this whole matter, and, in an answer unto this inquiry, declare the nature of justification and all the causes of it, in the third and fourth chapters of the Epistle to the Romans, and elsewhere, shall be afterwards declared and proved. And we shall also manifest, that the apostle James, in the second chapter of his epistle, does not speak unto this inquiry, nor give an answer unto it; but it is of justification in another sense, and to another purpose, whereof he treats. And whereas we cannot either safely or usefully treat of this doctrine, but with respect unto the same ends for which it is declared, and whereunto it is applied in the Scripture, we should not, by any pretences, be turned aside from attending unto this case and its resolution, in all our discourses on this subject; for it is the direction, satisfaction, and peace of the consciences of men, and not the curiosity of notions or subtlety of disputations, which it is our duty to design. And, therefore, I shall, as much as I possibly may, avoid all these philosophical terms and distinctions wherewith this evangelical doctrine has been perplexed rather than illustrated; for more weight is to be put on the steady guidance of the mind and conscience of one believer, really exercised about the foundation of his peace and acceptance with God, than on the confutation of ten wrangling disputers.
3. Now the inquiry, on what account, or for what cause and reason, 9a man may be so acquitted or discharged of sin, and accepted with God, as before declared, does necessarily issue in this:— Whether it be any thing in ourselves, as our faith and repentance, the renovation of our natures, inherent habits of grace, and actual works of righteousness which we have done, or may do? Or whether it be the obedience, righteousness, satisfaction, and merit of the Son of God our mediator, and surety of the covenant, imputed unto us? One of these it must be, — namely, something that is our own, which, whatever may be the influence of the grace of God unto it, or causality of it, because wrought in and by us, is inherently our own in a proper sense; or something which, being not our own, nor inherent in us, nor wrought by us, is yet imputed unto us, for the pardon of our sins and the acceptation of our persons as righteous, or the making of us righteous in the sight of God. Neither are these things capable of mixture or composition, Rom. xi. 6. Which of these it is the duty, wisdom, and safety of a convinced sinner to rely upon and trust unto, in his appearance before God, is the sum of our present inquiry.
4. The way whereby sinners do or ought to betake themselves unto this relief, on supposition that it is the righteousness of Christ, and how they come to be partakers of, or interested in, that which is not inherently their own, unto as good benefit and as much advantage as if it were their own, is of a distinct consideration. And as this also is clearly determined in the Scripture, so it is acknowledged in the experience of all them that do truly believe. Neither are we in this matter much to regard the senses or arguing of men who were never thoroughly convinced of sin, nor have ever in their own persons “fled for refuge unto the hope set before them.”
5. These things, I say, are always to be attended unto, in our whole disquisition into the nature of evangelical justification; for, without a constant respect unto them, we shall quickly wander into curious and perplexed questions, wherein the consciences of guilty sinners are not concerned; and which, therefore, really belong not unto the substance or truth of this doctrine, nor are to be immixed therewith. It is alone the relief of those who are in themselves ὑπόδικοι τῷ Θεῷ, — guilty before, or obnoxious and liable to, the judgment of God, — that we inquire after. That this is not any thing in or of themselves, nor can so be, — that it is a provision without them, made in infinite wisdom and grace by the mediation of Christ, his obedience and death therein, — is secured in the Scripture against all contradiction; and it is the fundamental principle of the gospel, Matt. xi. 28.
6. It is confessed that many things, for the declaration of the truth, and the order of the dispensation of God’s grace herein, are necessary to be insisted on, — such are the nature of justifying faith, the place and use of it in justification, and the causes of the new covenant, 10the true notion of the mediation and suretiship of Christ, and the like; which shall all of them be inquired into. But, beyond what tends directly unto the guidance of the minds and satisfaction of the souls of men, who seek after a stable and abiding foundation of acceptance with God, we are not easily to be drawn unless we are free to lose the benefit and comfort of this most important evangelical truth in needless and unprofitable contentions. And amongst many other miscarriages which men are subject unto, whilst they are conversant about these things, this, in an especial manner, is to be avoided.
7. For the doctrine of justification is directive of Christian practice, and in no other evangelical truth is the whole of our obedience more concerned; for the foundation, reasons, and motives of all our duty towards God are contained therein. Wherefore, in order unto the due improvement of them ought it to be taught, and not otherwise. That which alone we aim (or ought so to do) to learn in it and by it, is how we may get and maintain peace with God, and so to live unto him as to be accepted with him in what we do. To satisfy the minds and consciences of men in these things, is this doctrine to be taught. Wherefore, to carry it out of the understandings of ordinary Christians, by speculative notions and distinctions, is disserviceable unto the faith of the church; yea, the mixing of evangelical revelations with philosophical notions has been, in sundry ages, the poison of religion. Pretence of accuracy, and artificial skill in teaching, is that which gives countenance unto such a way of handling sacred things. But the spiritual amplitude of divine truths is restrained hereby, whilst low, mean, philosophical senses are imposed on them. And not only so, but endless divisions and contentions are occasioned and perpetuated. Hence, when any difference in religion is, in the pursuit of controversies about it, brought into the old of metaphysical respects and philosophical terms, whereof there is πολὺς νόμος ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα — sufficient provision for the supply of the combatants on both sides, — the truth for the most part, as unto any concernment of the souls of men therein, is utterly lost and buried in the rubbish of senseless and unprofitable words. And thus, in particular, those who seem to be well enough agreed in the whole doctrine of justification, so far as the Scripture goes before them, and the experience of believers keeps them company, when once they engage into their philosophical definitions and distinctions, are at such an irreconcilable variance among themselves, as if they were agreed on no one thing that does concern it. For as men have various apprehensions in coining such definitions as may be defensible against objections, which most men aim at therein; so no proposition can be so plain, (at least in “materia probabili,”) but that a man ordinarily versed in pedagogical terms 11and metaphysical notions, may multiply distinctions on every word of it.
8. Hence, there has been a pretence and appearance of twenty several opinions among Protestants about justification, as Bellarmine11 A cardinal, who, according to Bayle, had “the best pen for controversy of his day.” He was born in Tuscany in 1542, ordained by the celebrated Jansenius in 1569, was professor of theology for seven years at Louvain, in 1576 gave controversial lectures at Rome, was made cardinal in 1599, and archbishop of Capua in 1602; which, three years after, he quitted for Rome, where he died in 1621. His controversial works fill three large folio volumes. His work on the temporal power of the pope was condemned at Paris, because he claimed for the pope the right to depose princes; and yet because he asserted this right to be not direct, but indirect, his book was placed by Pope Sixtus V. on the Index Expurgatorius. — Ed. and Vasquez,22 A Roman Catholic writer on morals and theology, whose works were published at Leyden in 1620. — Ed. and others of the Papists, charge it against them out of Osiander,33 Andrew Osiander, or in German, Hosemann, was born in Franconia 1498, became a preacher at Nuremburg in 1522, and professor of theology in the University of Königsberg in 1548. He died in 1522. He was among the first of the Protestant divines that broached heretical views. He denied the forensic character of justification, confounded it with sanctification, and held that man is justified not by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness in satisfying and obeying the moral law, but by our participation, through faith, in the essential righteousness of Christ as God. He was, nevertheless, an able and learned man, though proud and dogmatic in temper. He wrote a valuable “Harmonia Evangelica.” — Ed. when the faith of them all was one and the same, Bellar., lib v. cap. 1; Vasq. in 1, 2, quest. 113, disp. 202; whereof we shall speak elsewhere. When men are once advanced into that field of disputation, which is all overgrown with thorns of subtleties, perplexed notions, and futilous terms of art, they consider principally how they may entangle others in it, scarce at all how they may get out of it themselves. And in this posture they oftentimes utterly forget the business which they are about, especially in this matter of justification, — namely, how a guilty sinner may come to obtain favour and acceptance with God. And not only so, but I doubt they oftentimes dispute themselves beyond what they can well abide by, when they return home unto a sedate meditation of the state of things between God and their souls. And I cannot much value their notions and sentiments of this matter, who object and answer themselves out of a sense of their own appearance before God; much less theirs who evidence an open inconformity unto the grace and truth of this doctrine in their hearts and lives.
9. Wherefore, we do but trouble the faith of Christians, and the peace of the true church of God, whilst we dispute about expressions, terms, and notions, when the substance of the doctrine intended may be declared and believed, without the knowledge, understanding, or use of any of them. Such are all those in whose subtle management the captious art of wrangling does principally consist. A diligent attendance 12unto the revelation made hereof in the Scripture, and an examination of our own experience thereby, is the sum of what is required of us for the right understanding of the truth herein. And every true believer, who is taught of God, knows how to put his whole trust in Christ alone, and the grace of God by him, for mercy, righteousness, and glory, and not at all concern himself with those loads of thorns and briers, which, under the names of definitions, distinctions, accurate notions, in a number of exotic pedagogical and philosophical terms, some pretend to accommodate them withal.
10. The Holy Ghost, in expressing the most eminent acts in our justification, especially as unto our believing, or the acting of that faith whereby we are justified, is pleased to make use of many metaphorical expressions. For any to use them now in the same way, and to the same purpose, is esteemed rude, undisciplinary, and even ridiculous; but on what grounds? He that shall deny that there is more spiritual sense and experience conveyed by them into the hearts and minds of believers (which is the life and soul of teaching things practical), than in the most accurate philosophical expressions, is himself really ignorant of the whole truth in this matter. The propriety of such expressions belongs and is confined unto natural science; but spiritual truths are to be taught, “not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” God is wiser than man; and the Holy Ghost knows better what are the most expedient ways for the illumination of our minds with that knowledge of evangelical truths which it is our duty to have and attain, than the wisest of us all. And other knowledge of or skill in these things, than what is required of us in a way of duty, is not to be valued.
It is, therefore, to no purpose to handle the mysteries of the gospel as if Hilcot and Bricot, Thomas and Gabriel, with all the Sententiarists,44 Sententiarii were scholastic theologians, who commented on the sentences of Lombard. See vol i. p. 224. [Peter Lombard. Born near Novara, in Lombardy — died in 1164, bishop of Paris — called “Magister Sententiarum,” from one of his works, which is a compilation of sentences from the Fathers, arranged so as to form a system of Divinity, and held in high repute during mediæval times. It appeared in 1172.] Summa Theologica, was the scholastic term for a system of divinity. — Ed. Summists, and Quodlibetarians of the old Roman peripatetical school, were to be raked out of their graves to be our guides. Especially will they be of no use unto us in this doctrine of justification. For whereas they pertinaciously adhered unto the philosophy of Aristotle, who knew nothing of any righteousness but what is a habit inherent in ourselves, and the acts of it, they wrested the whole doctrine of justification unto a compliance wherewithal. So Pighius55 There were two writers, uncle and nephew, of the same name, Pighi, and both born at Campen, in the Dutch province of Overyssel. The uncle (1490–1542) wrote in defence of the Romish hierarchy. — Ed. himself complained of them, Controv. 2, “Dissimulare non possumus, hanc vel primam doctrinæ Christianæ partem (de justificatione) obscuratam 13magis quam illustratam a scholasticis, spinosis plerisque quæstionibus, et definitionibus, secundum quas nonnulli magno supercilio primam in omnibus autoritatem arrogantes,” etc.
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