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§ 1. Symbolical Statement of the Doctrine.

Justification is defined in the Westminster Catechism, “An act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”

The Heidelberg Catechism in answer to the question, “How dost thou become righteous before God?” answers, “Sola fide in Jesum Christum, adeo ut licet mea me conscientia accuset, quod adversus omnia mandata Dei graviter peccaverim, nec ullum eorum servaverim, adhæc etiamnum ad omne malum propensus sim, nihilominus tamen (modo hæc beneficia vera animi fiducia amplectar), sine ullo meo merito, ex mera Dei misericordia, mihi perfecta satisfactio, justitia, et sanctitas Christi, imputetur ac donetur; perinde ac si nec ullum ipse peccatum admisissem, nec ulla mihi labes inhæreret; imo vero quasi eam obedientiam, quam pro me Christus præstitit, ipse perfecte præstitissem.” And in answer to the question, Why faith alone justifies? it says. “Non quod dignitate meæ fidei Deo placeam, sed quod sola satisfactio, justitia ac sanctitas Christi, mea justitia sit coram Deo. Ego vero eam non alia ratione, quam fide amplecti, et mihi applicare queam.

The Second Helvetic Confession,133133Chapter XV. says “Justificare significat Apostolo in disputatione de justificatione, peccata remittere, a culpa et pœna absolvere, in gratiam recipere, et justum pronunciare. Etenim ad Romanos dicit apostolus, ‘Deus est, qui justificat, quis ille, qui condemnet?’ opponuntur justificare et condemnare. . . . . Etenim Christus peccata mundi in se recepit et sustulit, divinæque justitiæ satisfecit. Deus ergo propter solum Christum passum et resuscitatum, propitius est peccatis nostris, nec illa nobis imputat, imputat autem justitiam Christi pro nostra: ita ut jam simus non solum mundati a peccatis et purgati, vel sancti, sed etiam donati justitia Christi, adeoque absoluti a 115peccatis, morte vel condemnatione, justi denique ac hæredes vitæ æternæ. Proprie ergo loquendo, Deus solus nos justificat, et duntaxat propter Christum justificat, non imputans nobis peccata, sed imputans ejus nobis justitiam.134134See Niemeyer, Collectio Confessionum, Leipzig, 1840.

These are the most generally received and authoritative standards of the Reformed Churches, with which all other Reformed symbols agree. The Lutheran confessions teach precisely the same doctrine on this subject.135135The main passages are Augsburg Confession, part i., article iv.; the Apology for that Confession, article iii.; and the Form of Concord, article iii. Unanimi consensu, docemus et confitemur. . . . . quod homo peccator coram Deo justificetur, hoc est, absolvatur ab omnibus suis peccatis et a judicio justissimæ condemnationis, et adoptetur in numerum filiorum Dei atque hæres æternæ vitæ scribatur, sine ullis nostris meritis, aut dignitate, et absque ullis præcedentibus, præsentibus, aut sequentibus nostris operibus, ex mera gratia, tantummodo propter unicum meritum, perfectissimam obedientiam, passionem acerbissimam, mortem et resurrectionem Domini nostri, Jesu Christi, cujus obedientia nobis ad justitiam imputatur.136136Form of Concord, III. 9.

Again, “Credimus, docemus, et confitemur, hoc ipsum nostram esse coram Deo justitiam, quod Dominus nobis peccata remittit, ex mera gratia, absque ullo respectu præcedentium, præsentium, aut consequentium nostrorum operum, dignitatis, aut meriti. Ille enim donat atque imputat nobis justitiam obedientiæ Christi; propter eam justitiam a Deo in gratiam recipimur et justi reputamur.137137Ibid. Epitome, III. 4. Justificari significat hic non ex impio justum effici, sed usu forensi justum pronuntiari.” And “Justificare hoc loco (Rom. v. 1.) forensi cousuetudine significat reum absolvere et pronuntiare justum, sed propter alienam justitiam, videlicet Christi, quæ aliena justitia communicatur nobis per fidem.138138Apology for the Augsburg Confession, Art. III. 131, 184. So also “Vocabulum justificationis in hoc negotio significat justum pronuntiare, a peccatis et æternis peccatorum suppliciis absolvere, propter justitiam Christi, quæ a Deo fidei imputatur.139139Form of Concord, III. 17. See Hase, Libri Symbolici, 3d edit., Leipzig, 1836.

Hase,140140Hutterus Redivivus, § 109, 6th edit. Leipzig, 1845, p. 274. concisely states the Lutheran doctrine on this subject in these words: “Justificatio est actus forensis, quo Deus, sola gratia ductus, peccatori, propter Christi meritum fide apprehensum, justitiam Christi imputat, peccata remittit, eumque sibi reconciliat.


The” Form of Concord” says, “Hic articulus, de justitia fidei, præcipuus est (ut Apologia loquitur) in tota doctrina Christiana, sine quo conscientiæ perturbatæ nullam veram et firmam consolationem habere, aut divitias gratiæ Christi recte agnoscere possunt. Id D. Lutherus suo etiam testimonio confirmavit, cum inquit: Si unicus his articulus sincerus permanserit, etiam Christiana Ecclesia sincera, concors et sine omnibus sectis permanet: sin vero corrumpitur, impossibile est, ut uni errori aut fanatico spiritui recte obviam iri possit.141141III. 6. The Lutheran theologians, therefore, speak of it as the “ἀκρόπολις totius Christianæ religionis, ac nexus, quo omnia corporis doctrinæ Christianæ membra continentur, quoque rupto solvuntur.142142Quenstedt.

President Edwards.

This statement of the doctrine of justification has retained symbolical authority in the Lutheran and Reformed churches, to the present day. President Edwards, who is regarded as having initiated certain departures from some points of the Reformed faith, was firm in his adherence to this view of justification, which he held to be of vital importance. In his discourse on “Justification by Faith alone,” he thus defines justification: “A person is said to be justified when he is approved of God as free from the guilt of sin and its deserved punishment; and as having that righteousness belonging to him that entitles to the reward of life. That we should take the word in such a sense and understand it as the judge’s accepting a person as having both a negative and positive righteousness belonging to him, and looking on him therefore as not only quit or free from any obligation to punishment, but also as just and righteous, and so entitled to a positive reward, is not only most agreeable to the etymology and natural import of the word, which signifies to make righteous, or to pass one for righteous in judgment, but also manifestly agreeable to the force of the word as used in Scripture.” He then shows how it is, or why faith alone justifies. It is not on account of any virtue or goodness in faith, but as it unites us to Christ, and involves the acceptance of Him as our righteousness. Thus it is we are justified “by faith alone, without any manner of virtue or goodness of our own.”

The ground of justification is the righteousness of Christ imputed to the believer. “By that righteousness being imputed to us,” says Edwards, “is meant no other than this, that that righteousness 117of Christ is accepted for us, and admitted instead of that perfect inherent righteousness that ought to be in ourselves: Christ’s perfect obedience shall be reckoned to our account, so that we shall have the benefit of it, as though we had performed it ourselves: and so we suppose that a title to eternal life is given us as the reward of this righteousness. . . . The opposers of this doctrine suppose that there is an absurdity in it: they say that to suppose that God imputes Christ’s obedience to us, is to suppose that God is mistaken, and thinks that we performed that obedience that Christ performed. But why cannot that righteousness be reckoned to our account, and be accepted for us, without any such absurdity? Why is there any more absurdity in it, than in a merchant’s transferring debt or credit from one man’s account to another, when one man pays a price for another, so that it shall be accepted, as if that other had paid it? Why is there any more absurdity in supposing that Christ’s obedience is imputed to us, than that his satisfaction is imputed? If Christ has suffered the penalty of the law for us, and in our stead, then it will follow, that his suffering that penalty is imputed to us, i.e., that it is accepted for us, and in our stead, and is reckoned to our account, as though we had suffered it. But why may not his obeying the law of God be as rationally reckoned to our account, as his suffering the penalty of the law?”143143Works of President Edwards, New York, 1868, vol. iv. pp. 66, 91, 92.

Points included in the above Statement of the Doctrine.

According to the above statements, justification is, —

1. An act, and not, as sanctification, a continued and progressive work.

2. It is an act of grace to the sinner. In himself he deserves condemnation when God justifies him.

3. As to the nature of the act, it is, in the first place, not an efficient act, or an act of power. It does not produce any subjective change in the person justified. It does not effect a change of character, making those good who were bad, those holy who were unholy. That is done in regeneration and sanctification. In the second place, it is not a mere executive act, as when a sovereign pardons a criminal, and thereby restores him to his civil rights, or to his former status in the commonwealth. In the third place, it is a forensic, or judicial act, the act of a judge, not of a sovereign. That is, in the case of the sinner, or, in foro Dei, it is an act of God not in his character of sovereign, but in his 118character of judge. It is a declarative act in which God pronounces the sinner just or righteous, that is, declares that the claims of justice, so far as he is concerned, are satisfied, so that he cannot be justly condemned, but is in justice entitled to the reward promised or due to perfect righteousness.

4. The meritorious ground of justification is not faith; we are not justified on account of our faith, considered as a virtuous ot holy act or state of mind. Nor are our works of any kind the ground of justification. Nothing done by us or wrought in us satisfies the demands of justice, or can be the ground or reason of the declaration that justice as far as it concerns us is satisfied. The ground of justification is the righteousness of Christ, active and passive, i.e., including his perfect obedience to the law as a covenant, and his enduring the penalty of the law in our stead and on our behalf.

5. The righteousness of Christ is in justification imputed to the believer. That is, is set to his account, so that he is entitled to plead it at the bar of God, as though it were personally and inherently his own.

6. Faith is the condition of justification. That is, so far an adults are concerned, God does not impute the righteousness of Christ to the sinner, until and unless, he (through grace) receives and rests on Christ alone for his salvation.

That such is the doctrine of the Reformed and Lutheran churches on this important doctrine, cannot be disputed. The statements of the standards of those churches are so numerous, explicit, and discriminating as to preclude all reasonable doubt on this subject. That such is the doctrine of the Word of God appears from the following considerations.

It will not be necessary to discuss all the points above specified separately, as some of them are necessarily included in others. The following propositions include all the essential points of the doctrine.

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