In these days of perplexity, nothing can be more important than the enquiry, What was the faith once delivered to the saints? and what is the obedience of that faith? A knowledge of the former gives the certainty of salvation; whilst a clear apprehension of the latter, shows us the walk consistent with so great a salvation.
Let not my reader be surprised if he finds the "faith once delivered" widely different from the faith now delivered. There must be a difference — the results were so different. Then, it gave immediate, certain peace — now, years of weary perplexity, ending in coldness and indifference. Then, it produced a holy life, deadness to the world, consecration to God — now, professors, and often real Christians, are the most active men of the world, alive to the world, leavened with its principles, pursuing its pleasures or its wealth: little time for God or His word, and little communion with God. There are many blessed exceptions; but is not this the general result of modern teaching? Then, as surely as every effect agrees with its cause, so surely does modern doctrine differ from the "faith once delivered to the saints."
There is, however, one point of saying agreement. I say, saying point; for without it none could be saved. It is this — through the death of Jesus is preached the forgiveness of sins. And from this point — the blessed cross of Christ — ancient and modern teaching immediately diverge. The ancient doctrine went onward, leading the soul into the glories and beauties of the new creation, in Christ, the beginning, raised from the dead. The modern doctrine goes backward, and leads the soul into darkness and perplexity, under bondage to law. The one gives deliverance, the other bondage, The Romanist and the Protestant both proclaim the death of Jesus; but both also put the perplexed soul under law, and thus neutralize the blessed truth of the cross. The Romanist preaches the law for justification, and thus makes the cross of no effect; as it is written, "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." (Gal. 5:4.) Many Protestants preach the law for righteousness — put the saved person under it for righteousness as a rule of life; and thus to them also Christ is dead in vain. "I do not frustrate the grace of God; for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain."
Suppose a river separated a slave state from a free state: a bridge of escape is laid across that river. Now suppose another bridge is laid across the river back again. A poor slave escapes; but instead of going onward on free soil, he is persuaded to recross the other bridge; surely he is back again in bondage, and the first bridge is made of none effect. The cross of Jesus is that bridge, by which those who were in bondage under law have been brought into liberty. Now in the days of the apostles, some of Satan's builders erected another bridge, and sought to persuade the freemen of Christ to recross the river, and become again entangled in bondage. Against these the apostle wrote the Epistle to the Galatians. Alas! in our day, so generally has Christendom recrossed this Jordan, that to defend the ancient doctrines of the Church is called a new gospel. I would ask my reader a very important question. On which side of the river are you? In the land of bondage, under the yoke of law? or risen with Christ in the liberty of the new creation? If in the latter, it is a miracle of grace. We in this day are born, so to speak, in bondage. We first breathe the very air of legalism. If any one doubts this, let him take up the catechisms, and early books for the young, and he will be astonished how "do" and "live" are written everywhere. And thus that is habitually taught as gospel, which is the very opposite of the ancient doctrine of the Church.
I desire, then, in entire dependence on the teaching of the Spirit of God, to enquire in this paper, What was the ancient doctrine of the Church on the all-important subject of Justification?
To justify a lost, guilty sinner must have astonished angels. None but God could have conceived the thought. To justify implies not merely to pardon from guilt — that is negative justification; but the necessity of positive righteousness. To pardon a wrong-doer is one thing; but how to justify the wrong-doer seems impossible — nay, with man it is impossible.
The Scriptures and facts prove all men guilty. Then the great difficulty was how could God be just or righteous in justifying the guilty? As I was saying the other day in Leeds, a mill-owner passes a law, that any person proved guilty of stealing a pound of wool shall be immediately discharged the premises. A young man is proved guilty; the wool is found in his pocket. Now tell me how the mill-owner can, not only spare him, forgive him, but justify him. What would you think of such a master? Why, you would say, he was as bad as the thief. Now this was the difficulty. Man was proved guilty, had the sin in his very heart and life. Now I ask every man who denies the atonement, On what other principle can God justify the guilty? To the awakened sinner this is a tremendous question, How can I be justified and have peace with God? It must be evident that if man cannot justify that which is not positively righteous, surely then God cannot justify anything short of righteousness. But in man there is no righteousness. All are guilty. "So that death is passed upon all men, for all have sinned."
How does Scripture, then, deal with this amazing question — the justification of the sinner, and God's righteousness in thus justifying him? I answer, Through Jesus, the resurrection from among the dead — Jesus and the resurrection — Jesus "bearing our sins in his own body on the tree" — the Just dying for the unjust. Yes, Jesus crucified and Jesus risen was what the Holy Ghost did set before lost sinners: His death for atonement — His resurrection for righteousness or justification. "Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." (Rom. 4:25) Thus, whilst His precious blood clears from all sin, His resurrection brings me into a state of absolute righteousness in Him risen, and therefore complete justification. And it is on this positive righteousness for justification that ancient and modern teaching so widely differ — modern teachers having got to the wrong side of the river; that is, having left the christian ground of a new life in resurrection, and gone back to the land of legalism and bondage, finding themselves, as they suppose, under law; say they, The law must be kept perfectly, and without this there is no justification. They thus go back to law for righteousness. But, then, finding that practically the believer thus put under it only breaks it, what must be done? Oh, say they, you are under it, and break it; but Christ kept the law for you in His life, and this is imputed to you for righteousness. I would say, in answer to many enquiries on this solemn subject, I cannot find this doctrine in Scripture: it cannot be the ancient doctrine of God's Church. The basis is wrong — to refer to the illustration, on the wrong side of the river. Justification is not on the principle of law at all. "The righteousness of God without law is manifested." "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin." (Read Rom. 3:19-26.) Now every doctrine of God's word is clearly stated, not in one verse merely, but in many. Take the atonement: "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many" — "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree" — "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust:" and hundreds of other passages. But does Scripture ever say that Christ kept the law for us for justifying righteousness? I am not aware of a single text. And yet, if it were so, there are many places where it should say so. Take Rom. 8:33. "It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?" Does it say that it was Christ that kept the law? No; but, "Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." Now is not this the full statement of Scripture as to God's justification of the elect? And yet, plainly, not one thought in it of Christ's keeping the law for the justified. And the most careful examination of every passage will be found in perfect harmony with this statement. Look through the Acts. Not once does the apostle preach, Christ kept the law for us, but "Christ died for our sins," &c. 2 Cor. 5 is a notable proof of this. The apostle does not say, We thus judge that all men are under the law, and that Christ kept it for them; no; but, "We thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead." There is not a thought of keeping the law for them, but "died for them and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more." Does not this prove that the apostle did not go back to Christ under law for righteousness, but onwards to resurrection. "Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away, behold all things are become new, and all things of God." Thus resurrection is the right side of Jordan. Thus the old things of the law, its righteousness and its condemnation, passed away. I am not taken back to Christ under it for righteousness, but taken forward to Christ in resurrection; and there I am made the positive righteousness of God in Him, as surely as He was made sin for me. "For he hath made him sin for us who knew no sin," (surely that was on the cross,) " that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." What deep, solid peace this gives! It is thus risen in Him, one with Him, we are made "the righteousness of God in him." Thus, as our fall in the first Adam not only brought condemnation, but the actual death-state of sin, much more resurrection in Christ not only brings acquittal from condemnation, but an everlasting state of life and actual righteousness absolutely perfect and sinless, the righteousness of God in Christ. Thus, for the believer, Christ, by His obedience unto death, has become the end of the law for righteousness. The end of the law was the curse, and our adorable Jesus became a curse. In Him, our dying Substitute, the life once forfeited by us has been given up, the condemnation due to us fully executed. And when God raised him from the dead, He raised Him as our justified Surety. So the Holy Ghost applies Isa. 1:6-9 in Rom. 8:34.
If you ask what do I make of the life of Christ, I answer, Whatever the word of God makes of it. Surely my precious example (1 Peter 2:21-23) — surely the food of my soul, the bread of life (John 10) — and surely the revelation of the Father. (John 14.) Oh! to follow Him. This is far more than legal righteousness — to have His spirit, to tread in His steps, who, the last moment before He was bound, put forth His hand to heal His enemy's ear. This was not an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. In the midst of the solemnities and sufferings of Calvary, I hear Him cry, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" Yes, even here He could say, (was ever love like this?) "Lo I come to do thy will O God!" But when I come to the solemn question of justification, it is by His blood from all sin, and in His resurrection made the righteousness of God in Him. He once was condemned to death for us; but now God hath raised Him from the dead, for our justification, as our Surety. Now, as man, in the very body once broken for us, God has justified Him in highest glory as the Surety and Head of the Church, His body. That elect body is raised from the dead with Him, and seated in Him where He is, as He is, "that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." I might multiply page after page of this resurrection-righteousness.
With the apostle, if there were no resurrection gospel, then there were no gospel at all; "for if Christ be not risen, ye are yet in your sins." But Christ is risen, and the believer is risen with Him, and therefore not in his sins, but righteous in the risen Christ, the beginning of the new creation. I have no doubt, that ignorance of the new creation in Christ risen, is the cause why men defend legal righteousness. No wonder that to one ignorant of resurrection, the gospel of the righteousness of God, in justifying the believer through the death and resurrection of Christ, is a new gospel. Jesus and the resurrection is as new a doctrine as it was at Athens 1800 years ago. Indeed it is one of the sad wonders of these last days, that the ancient doctrine of "through Jesus the resurrection" should have been so lost. The modern doctrine is, through Jesus the justification of the old man under law. The ancient doctrine was, death and burial to the old man, (see Rom. 6,) and perfect justification, not of the old man, but of the new man, in the risen Christ Jesus. Oh! my reader, if you are dead with Christ, are you not justified from all sin? If you are risen with Him, are you not righteous in Him? He is your righteousness: not was, but is. (1 Cor. 1:36.) You are God's righteousness in Him. (1 Cor. 5:21.) Thus clothed in the risen Christ, is not this the righteousness which is of God by faith. (See Phil. 3:9, 10.) Thus is thy need met, fellow-believer — so met, that there is now no condemnation. Dead with Christ, risen with Christ, "there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ." (Rom. 8.)
Surely there was not a greater difference betwixt the bondage of Egypt, and the freedom of Canaan, than there is betwixt modern preaching and the doctrine of the new creation. Oh! my brethren in the ministry of Jesus Christ, let me beg of you to search the Scriptures on this momentous question. Many have found to their joy that these things are so. I pretend to no new light: I merely point to the word of God. By the eye of faith, I have seen the risen, glorified Christ, and I desire to obey the heavenly vision. (Acts 26:19.)
And now as to obedience. Here again I find ancient and modern teaching equally opposed, as in the justification of a sinner. The ancient doctrine was the obedience of faith — the modern, the obedience of law. The one has all power for a holy walk — the other has no power. I do not find the law ever presented as the rule of life or walk to the risen child of God. The law was perfect for the purpose for which it was given. But the new commandment goes much farther: "That ye love one another, as I have loved you." "He that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked." Solemn words! "As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance. But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy." (1 Peter 1:14-16.) The principle of obedience in this chapter is very beautiful. The first thing named is the election of God the Father; then the sanctification or work of the Spirit in separating the soul unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. Then the abundant mercy of God the Father in begetting us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Thus, being children of the resurrection, our obedience is not on the principle of bondage under law, but the obedience of children of resurrection. And was not this the ardent wish of the apostle Paul as to his walk and obedience? "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings; being made conformable unto his death." (Read the whole passage, Phil. 3:4-14.) Now could anything be more clear than this? The risen Christ was his rule of life, as well as his righteousness for justification. Surely we may all say, how little have we attained to this power of resurrection in our walk!
We find the same doctrine in Col. 2:20. If dead with Christ, why act as though we were alive in the world? "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ, in God." (Col. 3:1, 2.)
Now let me ask, have we not almost lost, in this day, both the doctrine of righteousness in the risen Christ; and also the rule of Christian walk: dead with Christ and risen with Christ? The writings of the apostles are full of both, whilst their lives bore witness to the truth they preached. Does not Paul say, "But God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creature; and as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them," &c. (Gal. 6:14.) And, surely, what a rule of walk — the new creation! All the old things passed away all things become new — all things of God. Could anything be more opposed to this than the way in which many teachers take back the believer into the land of bondage. The more one dwells upon the glorious doctrine of justification in the risen Christ the more reason we see why the apostle should so vehemently oppose the Judaizing teachers in Galatia. To take back the believer under law, is to rob him of the new creation; you rob Christ of His new creation glory.
It may be replied, who doubts the resurrection, both of Christ on the third day, and the general resurrection at the last day? The general resurrection is a Jewish doctrine, (John 11:24.) but never taught by the Holy Ghost to the Church [Let it not be supposed that the real resurrection of the body is doubted, either the first, the resurrection of the saints, or the second, which will be the resurrection of the lost.] What the blessed Spirit teaches in the word is, that the believer is now dead with Christ, now risen with Him; translated from a state of sin and death, to a state of righteousness and life in the risen Christ. And that now he is called to walk as a dead and risen person. This is what he is now in his surety — the risen Christ. So that as to sin, righteousness, and life, he is in Christ exactly what be will be when the day of redemption of the body has actually taken place. Now, is not this far more than the modern doctrine of putting him under law, and then telling him, because Jesus kept the law for him he is justified when he breaks it? Besides, the modern doctrine gives no power for real practical righteousness; for if I am under the law again, I shall find it as Paul describes the man who was under it: "For to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not." (Rom. 7.) Thus sin has the dominion if I am under law. But how blessed to know I am dead and risen. Now "sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace." (Rom. 6:14.)
As to justification, then, blessed divine certainty: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Yes, dead with Him, then justified from sin; risen with Him, then righteous in Him. "There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 8.) How can there be, if my whole old state is passed away in His death; if my present and everlasting state is only what He is risen — absolute spotless righteousness — how can God, then, condemn that which is absolutely righteous? And that is what the risen Christ is, and what the believer is as risen in Him — the very righteousness of God.
I must confess, I do not see how God would be righteous in reckoning the breaker of the law righteous because another kept it; nor do I see this taught in Scripture, far from it. But through the precious atoning death and justifying resurrection of Jesus, I do see how God is perfectly righteous in justifying the believer. The law could not be made more honourable than by the death of Jesus Christ the Lord. God did not justify sin, but punished it in His Son. The sentence was executed to the utmost. The old creation thus came for ever to an end in the grave of Christ; but in the resurrection of Christ, God gives me a new life in perfect everlasting righteousness. Now, though He could not be righteous in any way in justifying my old man, yet He is everlastingly, gloriously righteous in justifying me as a new creature in Christ risen from the dead. And being thus justified in the risen Christ, He gives me His Holy Spirit for positive righteousness of life and walk. (See Rom. 8.) So that whilst on the human plan, as put under law, I should only break it; yet, on this divine plan, the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.
I am told, I fail to shew what justification is. Well, if you exclude justification in the risen Christ, I must then say the subject is all confusion to me. Admit the risen Christ to be my righteousness and justification, and all is more clear than noon-day sun. In fact, this ancient doctrine, of justification in the risen Christ, has been well nigh lost; and in its place, the modern notion of Christ's legal righteousness under law, has been put in its place. I have no desire for controversy, but however attacked, still to press this ancient doctrine of God's elect, to the glory of Him "who was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification." It is on this blessed principle of resurrection I am justified, and have a justified life. My old self could not be justified; my new self in Christ cannot be condemned. Either Christ risen or nothing.
Do, my fellow-believer, search the precious word of God. See how Jesus taught He must die or remain alone. (John 12:24.) See how, in the Acts, the apostles preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. How all that believe in Him are both pardoned and justified. Oh! with what power did they bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead! Ah, see how in their epistles they set forth no condemnation through the dead and risen Christ. Oh! may our blessed God lead my reader into the happy regions of the new creation. It is Jesus who says, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life." (John 5:24.)
O! anxious, bewildered souls, through Jesus is preached to you the forgiveness of sins. (Acts 13:38.) For this He bled and died. What words are these to the sin-burthened soul. "He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities." What sayest thou, reader? Has the Spirit of God made thee feel thy wretchedness and sin? Then what divine comfort in Him "who was delivered for our offences." Heaven bears witness, for Jesus is there — earth bears witness, His blood was shed here — the Spirit bears witness — the Father bears witness who sent Him from above, who raised Him from the dead, that through Jesus is preached to thee the forgiveness of sins. Dost thou bear His word! O! dost thou believe God who sent Him and raised Him from the dead? As surely as thou believest on God, who raised Him from the dead, so surely thou art justified from all things. (Acts 13:39.) The word of God leaves thee in no uncertainty. Hath everlasting life — shall not come into condemnation. All that believe in Him are justified from all things — passed from death unto life. These are the incorruptible words of God. Dost thou believe God? Then thy sins are forgiven. Then thou art justified in the risen Christ. Thou art dead with Christ — thou art risen with Christ. By His blood thy sins are for ever put away. (Heb. 10:12-18.) Risen with Him, there can be no more condemnation — afflictions, temptations, failure there may be; but thy High Priest lives evermore to save thee to the end. O! reader, my prayer to God is that from this moment thou mayest have the enjoyment of divine certainty, not only as to present forgiveness, but that thou mayest know thy justification of God is unchanging and everlasting. "For whom he justified, them he also glorified." Yes, the one is as certain as the other. Art thou justified? Glory is certain. God cannot lie. It must be so. How art thou justified? In Christ risen from the dead, thy surety. But if thou art justified in thy surety, Christ risen, is He not also glorified? Then in thy representative thou art both justified and glorified. This is thy standing now — risen in Him, justified in Him, complete in Him — the very righteousness of God in Him. It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? Christ died, Christ is risen, Christ is glorified, Christ intercedes, and all, all for thee. Nothing, no, nothing, can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord. O! believer, there is no hell for thee, there is no condemnation for thee; thy righteousness, thy justification, thy glory — what Christ is and shall for ever be. O! what manner of love the Father hath bestowed, and in a few more swiftly-passing moments to see Him as He is and be like Him, for ever with the Lord. O! come Lord Jesus.
My heart longs that the whole Church of God might even now awake to its perfect and everlasting justification in the risen Christ. Oh why oppose this as a new doctrine? Is it not the ancient faith of God's elect? When it was fully preached, every believer, being justified by faith, had peace with God. Being dead and risen with Christ, they knew that there was now no condemnation to them that were in Christ. Baptism did, then, strikingly illustrate the doctrine of justification in the risen Christ. Believers were buried in the likeness of His death. (Read Rom. 6:3-7.) The old life buried, raised in Christ to walk in newness of life — not old life or old self justified, that could not be; but condemned to death and buried with Christ. God's sentence executed to the utmost on the old nature in the substitute dying on the tree. But what is this new life but life in Christ risen from the dead, and therefore a justified life. Adam is dead; Christ is risen — Adam is condemned; Christ is justified. My reader, where are you — in Adam or in Christ? Dead and condemned, yet risen and justified. Your old Adam-state passed away, your new Christ-state shall endure for ever. He is the resurrection from the dead. As a person is taken out of the water of baptism, so has the believer been taken out from among the dead — reckoned dead, risen, and justified. Your old Adam-state passed with Christ and raised from the dead in Him. Ah! soon shall prayer be turned to praise and faith to glad fruition. O! my fellow-believer, why shouldest thou go down among the dead in Egypt? "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." (Eph. 5:14.) Satan will try to hinder thee. In the risen Christ is thy righteousness. To take thee back to law for righteousness is the work of Satan. Let it be distinctly borne in mind the Gentiles were never put under law. It was the schoolmaster to the Jews unto Christ. But even the believing Jew is now no longer under the schoolmaster. It was a bright witness of God's righteousness with the creature; but it only found sin in man: yea, by it the offence did abound. In the blessed Jesus it found no sin. He was the fitted, spotless Lamb of God. But His spotless life is nowhere in Scripture spoken of as vicarious. It was His death, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God. Yes, Christ crucified, Christ risen. This was the faith once delivered to the saints. How clearly this is the doctrine of 1 Cor. 15. The Gospel the Apostle Paul preached gave the certainty of present salvation, unless they had believed in vain, and they could not have believed in vain if Christ were risen. If He were not risen, they had believed in vain, and were yet in their sins. If Christ were risen, they had not believed in vain, and were not in their sins.
And is not the same doctrine taught in Acts 13? In that sermon, so used of God in the conversion of a multitude of souls, the glad tidings the apostles preached were that God had raised up Jesus from the dead; and through Him thus raised, was preached the forgiveness of sins; and by Him, all that believed were justified from all things. And, again, at Thessalonica, Acts 18, what was the Gospel that produced such wondrous results during the three memorable weeks Paul preached to them? "Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus whom I preach unto you is Christ."
Yes, in vain you look for any other Gospel in the preaching of the apostles. Nothing but His death could atone for sin; nothing but His resurrection can justify the believer. It is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again. And is not our God using this simple Gospel in our day, in bringing a multitude of souls into the enjoyment of perfect peace? To Him be all praise. It is of little moment whether men approve or disapprove, God will own and use His own blessed truth. May the faith of my reader be the faith once delivered to the saints — Christ dead and risen; and may your walk be as dead with Christ, and risen with Him. Surely, such a justification as the believer has in the risen Christ, demands the joyful surrender of body, soul, and spirit to God. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." (Rom. 12.)
Thus is the believer justified from all sins — dead with Christ; thus is he justified in Christ — risen with Christ, God is righteous in justifying the believer as risen in that Just One. Yes, that Just One, who first died for his sins. O fellow-believer, look at that risen Surety, Christ Jesus! Is not God righteous in justifying Him by raising Him from the dead, and seating Him far above all principality and powers? Is He not, then, just in justifying thee as risen and complete in Him? Thus art thou in Christ risen; and therefore there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.