For Christ is the end of the law, for righteousness to every one that believeth. - Romans x:4.
Among the various subjects of which theology treats, there is no topic of greater importance than justification. It has to do with the rectitude of the divine throne and the dignity of the divine law, and the salvation of the guilty. "How shall men be just with God?" is not a new question. Its agitation is traceable to the remote antiquity of patriarchal times. It has been a question of profound interest in all ages, and will continue to be while time endures. We are personally concerned in the settlement of this question. If justification is attainable, we may indulge hope of eternal life; if it is not, eternal death will be our portion.
Let us inquire,
I. What Is Justification?
Were this inquiry addressed to a Romanist, he, availing himself of the decision of the Council of Trent, would say, "Justification is not only the remission of sin, but also sanctification, and the renovation of the inward man." This definition
is certainly inaccurate; for if it does not identify justification with regeneration and sanctification, it makes it comprehend both. These three acts, though connected together, are clearly distinguishable, and, therefore, should never be confounded. I might safely defy the production of a passage of Scripture which teaches that justification consists, either in whole or in part, in renewing the heart and making it holy. So far as I know, it never has this signification in the Bible or out of it. It never means to renovate - it never signifies to make holy. It does not even mean to make just, though the etymology of the word might suggest such a definition.
I will illustrate. There was among the ancients, as Ovid and others inform us, a custom of this kind: When persons were charged with a violation of the laws of the land, they were arraigned before the judges, who, after availing themselves of the evidence that could be adduced, proceeded to pronounce judgment by depositing stones in an urn. If, in their opinion, the accused person were guilty of the charge alleged against him, they put black stones into the urn; but if they considered the charge unfounded, they deposited white stones. Thus the black stones were symbols of condemnation, and the white ones symbols of justification or innocence. Now it is evident that the ceremony of putting white pebbles into an urn did not make the accused person just and innocent, but it formally declared him just and innocent. It was a judicial, announcement or
acquittal. If, then, justification be, as is admitted, a forensic term, it is the act of declaring or accounting a person just or righteous. In the evangelical application of the word, therefore, it is the act of God in which, he declares us just or righteous. This act involves a change of state, not of heart. The justified stand in a new relation to the divine law. They are treated as if they had not broken it. Its thunders, so far as they are concerned, are hushed into silence. This is evidently the case, for the remission of their sins is a release from the allegations of the Law. They are consequently absolved from liability to its penalty. In the Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament, the terms justify and condemn, are used as opposite to each other in meaning. Thus Solomon says, "He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are an abomination to the Lord." Paul says, "It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth!" When God declares and accounts a man justified, who shall condemn that man? Vain would be all attempts to condemn him, for he is justified by the Lawgiver.
II. The Impossibility of Justification by Works.
This impossibility is virtually asserted in the text. If Christ is the end of the law for righteousness or justification, then it follows that justification can not be secured by works. It is also said by the apostle Paul, in another epistle, "If
righteousness come by the law, Christ is dead in vain." Justification by works would make the sacrifice of Calvary a splendid superfluity. It would proclaim to all worlds that there was, when Jesus died, an effusion of blood equally needless and unaccountable! Let it be conceded that men are sinners, and the impossibility ol justification by works follows irresistibly. It results from two facts: no creature can perform an act of supererogation, and no act can have a retrospective bearing. The moral law requires man to love God with all his strength. If, then, he should now begin to love God with all his strength, and to serve him to the utmost extent of his ability, he would do no more than his duty. Let the love and service continue till death, and still they would come strictly within the limits of duty. How manifest, then, it is that there would be no superfluous obedience to make up for past failures. The performance of present duty never atones for past delinquencies. How, then, is justification by works a possible thing? It evidently is not. That no act of man, can have a retrospective influence, results necessarily from his inability to do more than his duty. In an act which is a present duty, what influence is there to expend on the past? Absolutely none. But the past must be affected before there can be justification by works. This, however, can not be, and therefore justification by the deeds of the law is impossible.
III. Justification is Through Christ Alone.
He is the end of the law for righteousness. Believers are said to be "justified by his blood," and "saved from wrath through him;" "justified freely by divine grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus;" "justified by the faith of Christ," etc. These are but specimens of the passages of Scripture which teach the method of a sinner's justification before God. They direct our attention to the interposition of Jesus Christ in man's behalf. He was "made under the law that he might redeem them that were under the law;" he suffered "the just for the unjust;" "he was delivered for our offenses, and rose again for our justification." The obedience and death of Christ constitute the meritorious basis of a sinner's acceptance with God. They constitute such a basis, because they answer the demands of the law. Nor was there a relaxation of the demands of the law when Jesus engaged in the work of mediation. An abatement of its claims would not have comported with the perfection of the Lawgiver. The law, retaining its unalterable strictness and immaculate purity, must be magnified and made honorable; its dignity must be asserted; its majesty vindicated. All this was done by the obedience and death of Christ; it was so done that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness; and God can be "just and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus." The obedience and death of Christ are usually denominated his righteousness. This righteousness
must be imputed to the sinner, in order to his justification. "Imputed righteousness," I am aware, is a phrase to which many persons make objections. It must be admitted that many absurd things have been said and written on the subject of imputation; but, notwithstanding this, the doctrine, properly understood, is replete with comfort. Though our sins were imputed to Christ, they were not imputed in such a sense as made him a sinner; and, though his righteousness is imputed to us, it is not so imputed as to render us personally worthy of the favor of God.
Christ was treated as if he had been a sinner, and we are treated as if we were righteous. He was so treated for our sakes, because he bore our sins in his own body on the tree; we are so treated for his sake, because the robe of his righteousness adorns us. Neither sin nor righteousness is transferable, except in its effects. A transferrence of moral qualities is impossible. Christ died, the just for the unjust. There was surely no transfer of the moral qualities of those for whom Christ died to him. For, if there had been, he could not have remained just, nor could they have remained unjust. The awful consequence of their guilt, which was obnoxiousness to the curse of the law, was transferred to him; the glorious consequence of his righteousness - namely, a full satisfaction of the law's demands - is transferred to them. Some prefer speaking of the obedience and death of Christ, as constituting
his "merits," rather than his righteousness. But this is only employing a different term to express substantially the same idea.
"We are justified," say they, "by the merits of Christ." What do they mean? Evidently that God deals with them as justified, or righteous persons, on account of the merits of Christ. If they are justified by the Redeemer's merits, there must be an imputation of those merits in their effects; and so, after the change of phraseology, there is essentially the same imputation. As moral qualities are incapable of transfer - as justification changes our state, but not our hearts, I venture to say that there is no way in which Christ's righteousness becomes ours except by imputation. It may be, and is accounted ours, and God deals with us accordingly. "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness." How the end of the law? Because the claims of the law received satisfaction in him. He never could have become the end of the law, if the demands of the law had not been met in him. We are justified, then, for Christ's sake. "We are accepted in the Beloved. We are reinstated in the favor of God on account of what Christ has done. The Justifier, in justifying, takes into consideration the work of Christ alone. The cross supplies the only reason for the exercise of justifying grace. It is emphatically "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus " that we are justified.
IV. Justification is by Faith.
Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. Observe the limitation: To every one that believeth. It is elsewhere said: "He that believeth on the Son is not condemned." Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God. "By him all that believe are justified from all things." "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." These passages are remarkably explicit, and they conclusively prove that faith in Christ is the hinge on which turns the sinner's .justification. Nor is the method of justification by faith obnoxious to the charge of novelty. It is as old as the patriarchal age. Paul argues that Abraham was justified by faith. The Jews supposed that circumcision had much to do in the matter; but the Apostle shows that he was justified while in uncircumeision, and that his circumcision was a seal of the righteousness of the faith he had, yet being uncircumcised. Paul refers to Abraham's justification before God, which was by faith. The Apostle James refers to his justification before men, and very naturally makes mention of his offering Isaac on the altar. His justification by faith was a private transaction between God and his own soul, and was consequently unknown to the world; but when he offered his son, his faith, by which he had been previously justified before God, developed itself in works. The world saw it, and all succeeding generations have admitted its genuineness and admired its strength. Thus
taking into consideration the different objects the two apostles had in view, in referring to different parts of Abraham's history, we shall see that there is no discrepancy between them. In one sense Abraham was justified by faith; in another sense he was justified by works. We are not to imagine that there is any thing meritorious in faith, because the justification of the soul is ascribed to its instrumentality. It is our duty to believe in Christ, for God commands us to do so. Merit can not be predicated of the performance of a duty. When we have done all that is required of us, we are taught by the Savior himself to consider ourselves "unprofitable servants, having done only our duty." Faith, then, being a duty, the principle which Christ has established, divests it of the merit which some would vainly attempt to attach to it. We are justified by faith, not for faith. There is nothing in faith for the sake of which we can be justified. Whatever justifies must meet the demands of the Divine Law. This faith can not do. Why then, it may be asked, is justification spoken of by the sacred writers in connection with faith, in preference to other graces of the Spirit. I answer, because it is emphatically the province of faith to receive Christ, and trust in him. The essential elements of justifying faith are involved in a cordial reception of the Lord Jesus, and an unreserved reliance on his righteousness. Thus, faith is the instrumental cause of justification, and the righteousness of Christ is the meritorious cause. The
instrumental cause brings the sinner into vital contact with the meritoriouB cause, and the work is accomplished. To use Paul's language, "It is of faith that it may be by grace." Grace and faith go hand in hand. Their operation, so far from being incompatible, is most harmonious; and we are "saved by grace through faith."
1. We should entertain clear views of the doctrine of justification. If we embrace material errors on this subject, we shall misconceive all the teaching of the Gospel, and dislocate the evangelical system.
2. In view of the impossibility of justification by works, let none rely for satisfaction on the imaginary merit of their own performances. Such reliance will result in the loss of the soul.
3. Can you say that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, so far as you are personally concerned? Is he made to you wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption!
4. If justification is by faith, then baptism does not bring us into a justified state. Our justification is as evidently antecedent to baptism as is our faith. It is a prerequisite to baptism. Let it be remembered, however, that the faith which justifies is a living faith, and shows its vitality by prompting its possessor to walk in the pathway of God's commandments. A faith from which no good works result, is dead, even aa "the body without the spirit is dead."
5. The unbeliever is condemned. The wrath ot God abides on him. Unbelief, as long as it continues, entails condemnation. For those who refuse to believe in Christ, there is no rational hope of justification - no more hope than if the bloody tragedy of Calvary had never occurred. He that believeth not shall be damned.
[From J. M. Pendleton, Short Sermons on Important Subjects, 1859. This book is from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Library, Wake Forest, NC via ILL through Boone County Public Library, Burlington, KY. - Jim Duvall]
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