Simple Christian Truths.


Justification by Faith.

God being what He is - holy in His nature - must necessarily be righteous in all His ways. While, therefore, a sinner needs mercy and forgiveness because of his sins, the very pardon he receives on believing in the Lord Jesus Christ must be, if it is to be a secure and lasting one, grounded on righteousness. This is only another way of saying that God cannot in any age or dispensation act otherwise than in consistency or harmony with His own nature. And this is the scriptural sense of the term so prominent in the epistle to the Romans - the righteousness of God (see Rom. 1:17; Rom. 3:21-22, 25, 26) - and which, when once understood, is the simple key to the doctrine of justification.

Let us, however, first of all explain what is meant by justification by faith. The reader will perceive, if he reads Romans 3, that the apostle uses the expression in contrast with justification by works of law. Under the Mosaic dispensation the promise of life was not to faith, but to works - "The man which doeth these things shall live in them." (See Romans 10:5.) Hence we read in Deuteronomy, "It shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He hath commanded us." (Deut. 6:25.) But the Jew was a sinner already, when he accepted obedience to the law as the condition of blessing, and he turned his back upon Jehovah in shameful apostasy before even the tables of the law reached the camp; and the apostle overwhelms his nation with proofs from their own Scriptures, that they had been guilty of continual sin and iniquity, that there was "none that doeth good, no not one," that they, equally with the Gentiles, were nothing but guilty sinners before God; and his conclusion is stated in these words: "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight." (Rom. 3:20.) It was thus all over with the law as the way of justification, or as he states it in another chapter, Christ is the end (the termination) of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. (Rom. 10:4.)

The apostle in the epistle to the Romans announces another way of blessing. God's way of justification since the cross, a principle, indeed, on which He had acted in notable cases in former ages, but one which was never fully propounded until after the death and resurrection of Christ. We may cite two or three verses to explain it: "That He might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." (Rom. 3:26.) "Therefore being justified by faith." (Rom. 5:1.) "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." (Rom. 4:5.) These scriptures set forth the principle of justification most clearly, teaching as they do that God now justifies not on the principle of works, but on that of faith, and that instead of works, He reckons faith for righteousness. This is the meaning of the expression which the apostle cites from Habakkuk, "The just shall live by faith" - words which contained a blessed foreshadowing of God's way of grace in redemption; for it does not say, as under the law, "The man that doeth these things shall live by them;" but, "The just shall live by faith." It is therefore a total change of dispensation; for faith, and faith alone, is what God looks for, and that which He counts as righteousness.

If this is so far clear, before entering upon the object of the faith by which we are justified, let us consider the ground on which God acts. We read in chapter 5, "Being justified by His blood." (Rom. 5:9.) To remove all misconception, it should be said that the word "by" in this sentence is not the same word as "by" in "being justified by faith." This latter may be taken to signify "on the principle of faith," whereas the former means "in virtue of" the blood. The blood of Christ, in fact, is shown to be what is often termed the meritorious cause of our justification; i.e., that which constitutes before God a ground of all-sufficient value for Him to justify us freely by His grace. A few words will set this in a clear light. Man had no righteousness for God, for all had sinned and come short of His glory; and hence, if God had acted in righteousness, in harmony with His holiness, in indignation against sin, He must have destroyed the sinner. But Christ died on the cross, took there the sinner's place, bore all the righteous meed and doom of sin, met all God's claims upon the sinner, exhausted, in making a full and all-sufficient atonement, God's righteous judgment against sin. He thus glorified God concerning sin, and it was His precious blood that made the propitiation before God, which His holiness demanded; for it was the blood of Him who had passed through all the waves and billows of judgment, of Him who while truly man was also God. We thus read that God set Him forth a propitiation (or mercy-seat) through faith in His blood (Rom. 3:25), because He could now declare His righteousness - the death of Christ being the ground - both in passing over the sins of the saints of old, through His forbearance, and also that He might now be just and the Justifier of him who believes in Jesus. In other words, God could now, in virtue of the blood of Christ, righteously show mercy to the sinner, and reckon faith instead of works for righteousness.

This truth cannot be too firmly grasped, for not only is faith now the principle on which God justifies, but, as pointed out at the commencement of this paper, God also acts on it in consistency with all that He is - with every attribute of His character, and this is His righteousness. There are some who teach that His righteousness means the obedience of Christ to the law which is put down to the account of the believer. Our object is not controversy, and hence we content ourselves with asking the reader to examine carefully every place in which the words occur, and to see for himself if there is a trace of this in the Scriptures. Surely it would read, if this contention were correct, the righteousness of Christ.* But it is not so, and the reason is that the mind of the Holy Spirit is on another thing - even upon the glorious demonstration of the righteousness of God: first, in raising from the dead and setting on His right hand the One who had glorified Him in His death (for how could He but exalt Him who had suffered all to vindicate His glory?); and secondly, in justifying every poor sinner who should come to Him in the name of Jesus.

*Even Luther, who was so abundantly used of God to recover the truth of justification, failed to see this, and translated the words - the righteousness of God - "the righteousness which avails before God." This was really adding to the scripture.

We may now examine a little more closely the object of the faith by which we are justified. At the end of chapter 3 it is the believer in Jesus who is justified. (v. 26.) In chapter 4 it is, "If we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead," etc. (Rom. 4:24.) The difference is both important and instructive, and may be more easily explained if we refer for a moment to what took place on the great day of atonement. (Lev. 16.) The reader will there see that Aaron was commanded to take two goats in connection with making atonement for the people; the one of which he was to kill as a sin-offering, and then to take its blood and sprinkle it upon and before the mercy-seat, while the other - the scape-goat - was to be presented alive before the Lord; and after Aaron had confessed over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, it was to be sent away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness. The former of these goats answers (as a shadow to its substance) to Romans 3:26, where God sets forth Christ a propitiation through faith in His blood; the latter corresponds with Romans 4:24, where we see Jesus our Lord delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification - bearing our sins, and carrying them away, so to speak, into a land where they can never more be found. The first is propitiation; that is, the blood of Christ sprinkled on the mercy-seat, meeting all the claims of God's glory in respect of our sins. The second is substitution; that is, Christ taking our place, and bearing our sins in His own body on the tree. These two aspects show us in a word Christ meeting God's claims and the sinner's needs.

It will much help the reader if he will carefully consider this difference; and it will aid him at the same time to apprehend the character of the object of faith as presented in these two scriptures. Thus in Romans 3 it is faith in the blood of Christ (Rom. 3:25), or believing in Jesus (Rom. 3:26); that is, the reception of God's testimony to the efficacy of that blood in making propitiation for sins. In this passage it is a question of the sinner's approach to God, and we find that the way is opened through faith in the blood of Christ; and coming in dependence upon its efficacy, as declared by God Himself, the sinner discovers that God is both just and the Justifier. In chapter 4 it is faith in God Himself - in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, and for this very reason that here is brought in the resurrection of the One who was delivered for our offences. As our Substitute He bore our sins, and the resurrection is God's own demonstration that our sins are for ever put away; for it was God who laid our sins upon Christ (Isa. 53), and if He steps forth and raises our Substitute from among the dead, it is that He might show His abounding satisfaction with the work of atonement, and at the same time present Himself to us as the God of all grace in the gift of His own Son, and in raising Him from the dead. It is not only now that we believe in Christ, but through Him also, as Peter writes, we "believe in God that raised Him up from the dead, and gave Him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God." (1 Peter 1:21.) Believing thus in God includes His testimony to Jesus our Lord as being delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification; and it is to those who thus believe in God that righteousness is imputed. The reader will see at a glance that this goes further than chapter 3. There it is the efficacy of the blood in propitiation, here it is sins borne, and He who bore them raised up out from under the awful load which had been placed upon Him into a new place before God - a place which should henceforward belong also through grace to every believer. He was raised again for our justification, and it is therefore in a risen Christ that we are justified in virtue of His finished work on the cross.

Now let the reader mark the sequence to this wondrous unfolding of truth: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom. 5:1.) The believer is justified, his faith is reckoned for righteousness; yea, the righteousness of God (not the righteousness of man, which, if it were possible to obtain, would no longer avail, but the righteousness of God), which is by faith of Jesus Christ, is unto all and upon all them that believe. (Rom. 3:22.) And peace with God is the portion of the justified. The reader will observe that nothing is said concerning peace with God until after the resurrection of Christ is introduced; for it is this which proves, as already seen, that God has been satisfied, yea, glorified, by the death of the Lord Jesus, and thereon He presents Himself to us as the object of faith, revealing, as He has done, all His heart of love and grace in the death and resurrection of His beloved Son. Receiving His testimony then as to the complete expiation and clearing away of our sins, we can now also rest in Him, knowing not only that He has nothing against us, but also that He Himself has justified us. We have, therefore, peace with God - with God according to all that He is as revealed in Christ, a peace founded upon the work of atonement, and which consequently is as immutable and everlasting as the value of that work before God. It is an eternal peace. Our feelings may fluctuate and change, our experiences may be of one kind today and another tomorrow, but peace with God ever remains the same. Once possessed, though from indifference, coldness, or inconsistency we may fail to enjoy it, it can never be lost. As the hymn says -

"'Tis everlasting peace!
Sure as Jehovah's name.
'Tis stable as His steadfast throne
For evermore the same."

There are other blessings pointed out as belonging to the justified. "By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." (Rom. 5:2.) First, we enter also, consequent on justification, through faith upon the full favour of God. Our sins gone, and peace with God made ours, God can now rest in us in perfect complacency; we stand before Him the objects of all His love, blessed with the full outshinings of His perfect favour. As we have peace with Him through our Lord Jesus Christ, so every cloud has been swept from the sky, and we bask in the perfect sunshine of His presence. As to the past, our sins are gone; as to the present, we stand in His full favour; and as to the future, we rejoice in hope of His glory - into which He will infallibly bring us; for if we suffer with Christ we shall also be glorified together. (Rom. 8:17.) What a heritage! Peace with God, His full favour, and the prospect of the glory! And let the reader carefully remark that this is not a heritage to be won by long years of Christian experience, but one that belongs to us the moment we are justified by faith. Experiences may, as they will, come after, as the fruit of the Spirit through tribulation, etc. (see, Rom. 5:3-5); but all this wealth of blessing is connected, and immediately connected, with being justified by faith.

Note. In Romans 5:18 we find the term "justification of life;" but it would be to go farther than our purpose to consider in this paper this branch of the subject. It will suffice to say that this justification is ours as being made alive in Christ, in Christ risen - risen up out of death into a new place where neither death nor judgment can come. It is therefore a positive justification, as we have elsewhere said, inherent in the very life we have in Christ; and it involves our dissociation from Adam, and our connection in life with Christ as the second Man, the Lord from heaven. E. Dennett.

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Salvation has a divine as well as a human side. Nothing that God had created could satisfy Him, save to have Christ as man sitting on His throne. Ah! His ways are not as our ways. God's glory in redemption was to show how low He could let the Son of His love stoop - in letting Him go down to the death of the cross - break His heart in woe - and then to set Him as the centre of a new system as the Lamb slain. Would that be according to man's thought of glory? But God would have His own way, and all His glory shone forth in redemption. His glory is. to have heaven filled with poor sinners, brands plucked from the burning. And His Christ finds Himself sitting patiently waiting [2000] years for heaven to be so filled. G. V. Wigram.