Some Remarks on Justification

"Being justified freely by His grace" (Romans 3:24).
"Being justified by faith" (Romans 5:1).
"Being … justified by His blood" (Romans 5:9).

How can a man be just with God? is a living question. It was asked in the earliest years of man's career of sin, and it still abides in all its seriousness, though the devil is making gigantic efforts to drive it from the region of the thoughts of men by forcing "myself and my neighbour" of New Theology and socialism to the front. It is the supreme question, for God, the Judge of all, must have the final word about all things and every man.

It is certain that no man can be just with God on the basis of what he is naturally, for righteousness is not inherent in sinful men, and it is written, "There is none righteous, no, not one" (Rom. 3:10). Nor can any man gain righteousness by his own works, for it is also stated that "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (v. 20); and again: "No man is justified by the law in the sight of God" (Gal. 3:11). It is enough to quote these passages from the Scripture of Truth, they are so plain that no comment upon them is called for, and the man who refuses to bow to them is guilty of the crime of making God a liar.

When a man owns that these words of God are true of him, when he ceases from self-justification, and shuts his guilty mouth before God (Rom. 3:19), and is ready to hear what God will say, then does he learn that God is "just, and the justifier of him which believes in Jesus" (v. 26), and that it is "to him that works not, but believes on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (4:5).

Not only does this wonderful declaration break as the music of God upon his astonished ears, but his eyes are opened, and he sees that God displays His very righteousness in bringing this about. It is good news, and a blessed sight to the sin-burdened and conscience-stricken soul. It is the good news of God.

There are three means by which men are said to be justified — by grace, the source; by blood, the channel; by faith, the way of appropriation. It is as though one said, "We obtain our water from the great reservoir in the hills;" and another, "We obtain our water from the water main;" and another, "We obtain our water from the tap." All three are right, for there must be the source, the channel, and the way by which it is appropriated.

By Grace — The Source

Justification is by the grace of God. It comes to men according to His desires for their blessing, and not according to their deserts, because of what He is and not because of what they are. God looks for no reason in them why He should bless them, He has found all the reasons in His own heart. He justifies freely by His grace.

By His Blood — The Channel

But a righteous basis must needs be found from which God can dispense His blessing; there must be a channel by which, in perfect justice, justification may come to man — for God must be just. Mercy may not triumph over truth, nor peace be proclaimed apart from righteousness. Every attribute of God must be in harmony in all His ways.

The death of Christ has provided this righteous basis and channel. He was delivered for our offences, and every claim of divine and eternal righteousness has been met by His sacrifice, a sacrifice infinite in its value and eternal in its results. The Scripture speaks of the "precious blood," and well may each one who has proved its value take up the word and sing:

"Precious, precious blood of Jesus,
  Jesus, God's own Son;
Telling that the work is finished,
  All is done.
"Precious, precious blood of Jesus
  Shed on Calvary;
Shed for rebels, shed for sinners,
  Shed for me."

By Faith — The Way of Appropriation

If we revert to our illustration, we may get help on this point. The reservoir amid the hills and the great main to the city were provided and laid apart from our assistance. It was the thought and skill of others that provided these things, and the water, so needful for life, is brought into our very houses without our lifting a finger in the matter. But all this would be in vain as far as we are concerned if we did not turn the tap and appropriate that which has been provided for us. If a man refused to avail himself of the provision made for his need he would die of thirst, and that in spite of the fact that all the water in the mighty reservoir was at his disposal behind the insignificant tap in his house.

It is even so in regard to this great blessing. The wonderful reservoir from whence it comes, and the equally wonderful channel along which it flows, have alike been provided apart from our interference. We had no hand in the matter. God's thought and wisdom and power have been in exercise, and He has brought the blessing to all. It is within the reach of every man, but, alas there are thousands who, in spite of this, are going into hell-fire for ever. The reason is that they will not appropriate by faith that which God's grace has provided for them.

But if we believe God, believe that He is as good as His gospel proclaims Him to be, and that He has raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, proof to all that the work is done, sins atoned for, and righteousness satisfied, we shall discard for ever our works as a means of righteousness and rest confidently and in faith in what God is, and what Christ has done. And then shall we rejoice in the fact that through our Lord Jesus Christ "ALL THAT BELIEVE ARE JUSTIFIED FROM ALL THINGS, FROM WHICH YE COULD NOT BE JUSTIFlED BY THE LAW OF MOSES" (Acts 13:39). Yes, "justified from all things." Cleared in the sight of God from every charge of guilt, as clear, indeed, of all charge of guilt as is our Lord Jesus, who, as our substitute, was delivered for our offences, but who has been raised again for our justification.

Faith made Perfect by Works

"Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone … But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" (Jas. 2:17-20)

It appears on the face of it as though this passage were in direct contradiction to the doctrine of Romans 3 and 4, but it is not so, the teaching of both fill their own place perfectly in structure of the truth of God.

It will be observed that the writer of the Epistle is dealing with what "a man may say," and he declares, and rightly so, that works and not words are the supreme necessity; they should be brought into evidence. To illustrate: Suppose that I possess a piece of land and decide to have it planted with apple trees. I instruct a nursery man to supply a kind suitable to the land in question. He brings a load of young bushes all labelled with celebrated names, and assures me that in a few years' time I shall be able to gather heavy crops of fruit. I wait, and wait, but no sign of life appears; the trees yield no apples in spite of the labels that they bear. The dealer said they were apple trees, and he may continue to say it, but of what use are his words, they are vain words, the trees are dead; they have not, nor can they, justify his assertion with regard to them.

But suppose again that I have that land planted with trees, and that as the spring breaks forth after the winter storms, and, amid the singing of the mating birds, the life-sap begins to flow from root to branch of my trees, forming and forcing out into the genial sunshine the beautiful apple blossom. Now I have hope, and I watch with eager interest the development of the fruit, until at last the autumn sun kisses the cheeks of my apples red and brings them into full maturity. Now I have apples, and I do not need any label on my trees, nor any grower to assure me that the trees are really apple trees, for the apples themselves settle the question.

But I could not have apples without an apple tree, for they do not grow upon thorn bushes, and if there are apples everybody knows that there must be apple trees somewhere. The tree is the faith, the apples are the works. Living faith brings forth living works. But the faith must be there before the works can appear. The works are the outward and visible evidence of the inward and unseen faith. Abraham was justified by works, we read, when he offered his son upon the altar. And when he did that "the scripture was fulfilled which says Abraham believed God and it was imputed to him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God."

But mark it well: the faith was there probably forty years before the fruit of it reached maturity. God knew that it was there and imputed righteousness to him at once. The offering of Isaac was, on Abraham's part, the fulfilling and the justification of what the Scripture had said so many years before.

Solemn and searching words are these from the Epistle of James, and every man of us should test himself lest he be a vain, empty, wordy, dead professor instead of a true believer showing his faith by his works.

"To him that works not, but believes on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." (Rom. 4:5)

Great pains have been taken by the Holy Spirit to impress upon us the important fact that the blessing of justification comes to men as entirely of God. It does not come to them because they deserve it; it is by grace, which supposes absolute demerit in the objects of it. God has found no reason in men why He should approach them with this blessing, He has needed none, for the cause of it all is found in His own heart. He blesses men because of what He is Himself and not because of what they are. This is the meaning of the words, "Being justified freely of His grace."

But this is emphasized in chapter 4, in the cases of the two men, Abraham and David, who are there brought in to illustrate the truth. "ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, and it was counted to him for righteousness." He was probably the best man of the olden days, but his works did not put him into the blessing of justification; if they had done so he would have had cause for boasting, but this is a position from which all the boasting of men is excluded (3:27), for the works of the best man cannot put him into it.

On the other hand, nothing is said of David's works; instead, he spoke of his iniquities and his sins. No man in the Old Testament records fell lower than David in his sins against God and man, and yet we learn that his sins did not exclude him from the blessing. For he "describeth the blessedness of the man, to whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin." It is true that repentance for those sins and faith in a pardoning God were produced in his soul, but the introduction of his case in this chapter is to show that his sins, ten thousand times more heinous because of his knowledge of God's mercy, did not exclude him from the blessing of justification. IT IS A BLESSING INTO WHICH THE WORKS OF THE BEST MAN CANNOT BRING HIM, AND FROM WHICH THE SINS OF THE WORST MAN NEED NOT EXCLUDE HIM. It is altogether of and from God, and binds the heart of the sinner who receives it in the bonds of everlasting gratitude to the gracious Giver of it.

God takes to Himself two wonderful titles in this chapter: "Him that justifieth the ungodly" (v. 5), and "Him that raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead" (v. 24). It is thus that He is presented to our faith, so that we may not only have peace with Him through our Lord Jesus Christ, being justified by faith, but that we may also joy in Him through the same Person, in whose precious blood God has found a righteous way of bestowing His blessing upon us.