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§ 7. The Consequences of the Imputation of Righteousness.

It is frequently said that justification consists in the pardon of sin and in the imputation of righteousness. This mode of statement is commonly adopted by Lutheran theologians. This exhibition of the doctrine is founded upon the sharp distinction made in the “Form of Concord” between the passive and active obedience of Christ. To the former is referred the remission of the penalty due to us for sin; to the latter our title to eternal life. The Scriptures, however, do not make this distinction so prominent. Our justification as a whole is sometimes referred to the blood of Christ, and sometimes to his obedience. This is intelligible because the crowning act of his obedience, and that without which all else had been unavailing, was his laying down his life for us. It is, perhaps, more correct to say that the righteousness of Christ, including all He did and suffered in our stead, is imputed to the believer as the ground of his justification, and that the consequences of this imputation are, first, the remission 162of sin, and secondly, the acceptance of the believer as righteous. And if righteous, then he is entitled to be so regarded and treated.

By the remission of sin Romanists understand the removal of the pollution of sin. So that their definition of justification as consisting in the remission of sin and infusion of righteousness, is only a statement of the negative and positive aspects of sanctification, i.e., putting off the old man and putting on the new man. The effect of remission is constantly declared to be that nothing of the nature of sin remains in the soul. The Council of Trent says, “Justificatio . . . . non est sola peccatorum remissio, sed et sanctificatio, et renovatio interioris hominis per voluntariam susceptionem gratiæ et donorum. . . . . Quanquam nemo possit esse justus, nisi cui merita passionis Domini nostri Jesu Christi communicantur: id tamen in hac impii justificatione fit, dum ejusdem sanctissimæ passionis merito per Spiritum Sanctum caritas Dei diffunditur in cordibus eorum, qui justificantur, atque ipsis inhæret.” “Quibus verbis justificationis impii descriptio insinuatur, ut sit translatio ab eo statu, in quo homo nascitur filius primi Adæ, in statum gratiæ et adoptionis filiorum Dei, per secundum Adam Jesum Christum, salvatorem nostrum: quæ quidem translatio post evangelium promulgatum sine lavacro regenerationis, aut ejus voto fieri non potest.172172Sess. VI. cap. 7, 4; Streitwolf, Libri Symbolici, Göttingen, 1846, pp. 24, 25, 22. By “status gratiæ” in this definition is not meant a state of favour, but a state of subjective grace or holiness; because in other places and most commonly justification is said to consist in the infusion of grace. In this definition, therefore, the pardon of sin in the proper sense of the words is not included. Bellarmin173173De Justificatione, II. ii.; Disputationes, edit. Paris, 1608, vol. iv. pp. 780, e, 781, a. says this translation into a state of adoption as sons of God, “non potest . . . . fieri, nisi homo per remissionem peccati desinat esse impius; et per infusionem justitiæ incipiat esse pius. Sed sicut aër cum illustratur a sole per idem lumen, quod recipit, desinit esse tenebrosus et incipit esse lucidus: sic etiam homo per eandem justitiam sibi a sole justitiæ donatam atque infusam desinit esse injustus, delente videlicet lumine gratiæ tenebras peccatorum.” The remission of sin is therefore defined to be the removal of sin. Bellarmin argues in support of this view that guilt is removed by holiness, that guilt is a relation; the relation of sin to justice. When the thing itself is taken away, the relation itself of course ceases.174174De Amissione Gratiæ et Statu Peccati, V. vii., Ibid. p. 287, a, b. Hence remission of sin, even in the sense of pardon, is effected by the 163infusion of righteousness, as darkness is banished by the introduction of light. It is thus, as remarked above, that guilt is either ignored, or reduced to a minimum by the Romish theory of justification. There is really no satisfaction of justice in the case. The merits of Christ avail to secure for man the gift of the Holy Ghost, by whose power as exercised in the sacrament of baptism, the soul is made holy, and by the introduction of holiness everything of the nature of sin is banished, and all ground for the infliction of punishment is removed. A scheme so opposed to Scripture, and so inconsistent with even the natural conscience, cannot be practically adopted by the mass of the people. The conviction is too intimate that the desert of punishment is not removed by the reformation, or even by the regeneration of the sinner, to allow the conscience to be satisfied with any scheme of salvation which does not provide for the expiation of the guilt of sin by what really satisfies the justice of God.

In the Bible, therefore, as well as in common life, pardon is not a mere consequence of sanctification. It is exemption from the infliction of the deserved penalty of the law. Whether this exemption is a mere matter of caprice, or unworthy partiality for the offender, or for considerations of expediency, or at the promptings of compassion, or upon the ground of an adequate satisfaction to the demands of justice, makes no difference so far as the nature of pardon is concerned. It is in all cases the remission of a penalty adjudged to be deserved. It is in this sense, therefore, that justification is declared to include the pardon of sins, founded on the imputation to the believing sinner of the perfect righteousness of Christ. It is this that gives the believer peace. He sees that he is delivered from “the wrath and curse of God” due to him, not by any arbitrary exercise of executive authority, but because God, as a righteous judge, can, in virtue of the propitiation of Christ, be just and yet justify the ungodly.

The sins which are pardoned in justification include all sins, past, present, and future. It does indeed seem to be a solecism that sins should be forgiven before they are committed. Forgiveness involves remission of penalty. But how can a penalty be remitted before it is incurred? This is only an apparent difficulty arising out of the inadequacy of human language. The righteousness of Christ is a perpetual donation. It is a robe which hides, or as the Bible expresses it, covers from the eye of justice the sins of the believer. They are sins; they deserve the wrath and curse of God, but the necessity for the infliction of 164that curse no longer exists. The believer feels the constant necessity for confession and prayer for pardon, but the ground of pardon is ever present for him to offer and plead. So that it would perhaps be a more correct statement to say that in justification the believer receives the promise that God will not deal with him according to his transgressions, rather than to say that sins are forgiven before they are committed.

This subject is thus presented by the Apostle: believers “are not under the law but under grace.” (Rom. vi. 14.) They are not under a legal system administered according to the principles of retributive justice, a system which requires perfect obedience as the condition of acceptance with God, and which says, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” They are under grace, that is, under a system in which believers are not dealt with on the principles of justice, but on the principles of undeserved mercy, in which God does not impute “their trespasses unto them.” (2 Cor. v. 19.) There is therefore to them no condemnation. They are not condemned for their sins, not because they are not sins and do not deserve condemnation, but because Christ has already made expiation for their guilt and makes continual intercession for them.

The second consequence attributed to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, is a title to eternal life. This in the older writers is often expressed by the words “adoption and heirship.” Being made the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus (Gal. iii. 26), they are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ of a heavenly inheritance. (Rom. viii. 17.) The mere expiation of guilt confers no title to eternal life. The condition of the covenant under which man was placed was perfect obedience. This, from all that appears in Scripture, the perfection of God requires. As He never pardons sins unless the demands of justice be satisfied, so He never grants eternal life unless perfect obedience be rendered. Heaven is always represented as a purchased possession. In the covenant between the Father and the Son the salvation of his people was promised as the reward of his humiliation, obedience, and death. Having performed the stipulated conditions. He has a claim to the promised recompense. And this claim inures to the benefit of his people. But besides this, as the work of Christ consisted in his doing all that the law of God, or covenant of works requires for the salvation of men, and as that righteousness is freely offered to every one that believes, 165every such believer has as valid a claim to eternal life as he would have had, had he personally done all that the law demands. Thus broad and firm is the foundation which God has laid for the hopes of his people. It is the rock of ages; Jehovah our righteousness.

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