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ROMANS iii. 24.
Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
THE doctrine expressed in this passage runs through the Epistle and constitutes the scope of it. It is taught in many other parts of scripture, but here it is established by a connected body of evidence. Both heathens and Jews are proved to be under sin, and, consequently, incapable of being justified by a righteous God, on the ground of their own obedience. As to the former, they were wicked in the extreme. If any thing could have been alleged in excuse of them, it had been their ignorance; but even this failed. They had means of knowledge sufficient to render them without excuse; but, having neglected them, and cast off God, God gave them up to their own corrupt affections and propensities; so that even the philosophic Greeks and Romans were full of all ungodliness and unrighteousness, holding, or rather withholding, the truth, which they understood above the common people, in unrighteousness. But if heathens could not be justified yet did not they who had the oracles of God stand on higher ground? Not so; for those very oracles describe men as all
gone out of the way, as having become unprofitable, as none of them doing good, no, not one; and what revelation says, it says of them who are under the light of it. Israel, therefore, was a part of the corrupt mass. The sum is, Every mouth is stopped, and all the world become guilty before God.-By the deeds of the law no flesh living can be justified in his sight.
These sentiments, contained in the first three chapters of the Epistle, make way for the following interesting statement: But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all them that believe; for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God: being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him who believeth in Jesus.
I call this an interesting statement; for of all the questions that can occupy the human mind, there is none of greater importance than that which relates to the way of acceptance with God. We learn from our own consciences, as well as from the scriptures, that we are accountable creatures; but how we shall stand before the holy Lord God, is a question that overwhelms us. If there were no hope from the gospel, we must despair. We must appear before the judgment-seat, but it would be only to be convicted and condemned. The doctrine, therefore, that shows a way in which God can be just, and yet a justifier, must be interesting beyond expression. This is, in substance, the good news to be proclaimed to every creature.
Justification by grace has been thought, by some, to be inconsistent with justification through the atonement and righteousness of Christ. Yet it is here expressly said to be of grace; and, as though that were not enough, freely by grace: nor is the sacred writer less express concerning its meritorious cause, than concern
ing its source, or origin: it was not only of free grace, but through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
In every kind of justification in which justice is regarded, there is some ground, or reason, for the proceeding. In ordinary cases among men, this ground, or reason, is found in the character of the prisoner. He is considered as innocent, and therefore is acquitted. In the justification of a sinner by the Judge of all, it is the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. That which innocence is to the one, the redemption of Christ is to the other: it is his righteousness, or that in consideration of which being imputed to him, he is justified.
In discoursing upon this great subject, I shall endeavour to ascertain the meaning of the term; to give proof of the doctrine and to show the consistency of its being of free grace, and yet through the redemption of Jesus Christ.
I. LET US ENDEAVOUR TO ASCERTAIN THE MEANING OF THE TERM JUSTIFICATION. Many errors on this important subject may be expected to have arisen from the want of a clear view of the thing itself. Till we understand what justification is, we cannot affirm or deny any thing concerning it, but with great uncertainty.
It is not the making a person righteous by an inherent change from sin to righteousness: this is sanctification; which, though no less necessary than the other, yet is distinguished from it: Christ is made unto us righteousness AND sanctification. The term is forensic, referring to the proceedings in a court of judicature, and stands opposed to condemnation. This is evident from many passages of scripture, particularly the following: He that JUSTIFIETH the wicked, and he that CONDEMNETH the just, even they both are an abomination to the Lord.-The judgment was by one to CONDEMNATION; but the free gift is of many offences unto JUSTIFICATION.-There is therefore now no CONDEMNATION to them that are in Christ Jesus.It is God that JUSTIFIETH who is he that CONDEMNETH ?—He that believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into CONDEMNATION; but is passed from death unto life. If a prisoner who stands charged with a crime be convicted of it, he is condemned: if otherwise, he is acquitted or justified.
But, though it be true that the term is forensic, and stands opposed to condemnation, yet, as in most other instances in which the proceedings of God allude to those of men, they are not, in all respects, alike. He that is justified in an earthly court, (unless it be for want of evidence, which cannot possibly apply in this case,) is considered as being really innocent; and his justification is no other than an act of justice done to him. He is acquitted because he appears to deserve acquittal. This, however, is not the justification of the gospel, which is of grace, through the redemption of Jesus Christ. Justification in the first case, in proportion as it confers honour on the justified, reflects dishonour on his accusers; while, in the last, the justice of every charge is admitted, and no dishonour reflected on any party, except himself. Justification among men is opposed not only to condemnation, but even to pardon; for, in order to this, the prisoner must be found guilty, whereas, in justification, he is acquitted as innocent. But gospel justification, though distinguishable from pardon, yet is not opposed to it. On the contrary, pardon is an essential branch of it. Pardon, it is true, only removes the curse due to sin, while justification confers the blessing of eternal life; but, without the former, we could not possess the latter. He that is justified requires to be pardoned, and he that is pardoned is also justified. Hence, a blessing is pronounced on him whose iniquities are forgiven, hence also, the Apostle argues from the non imputation of sin to the imputation of righteousness; considering the blessedness of him to whom God imputeth not sin, as a description of the blessedness of him to whom he imputeth righteousness without works. Finally justification at a human bar, prevents condemnation; but gospel-justification finds the sinner under condemnation, and delivers him from it. It is described as passing from death to life.
From these dissimilarities, and others which, I doubt not, might be pointed out, it must be evident, to every thinking mind, that, though there are certain points of likeness, sufficient to account for the use of the term, yet we are not to learn the scripture doctrine of justification from what is so called in the judicial proceedings of human courts, and in various particulars, cannot safe
ly reason from one to the other. The principal points of likeness respect not the grounds of the proceeding, but the effects of it. Believing in Jesus we are united to him; and, being so, are treated by the judge of all as one with him; his obedience unto death is imputed to us, or reckoned as ours and we, for bis sake, are delivered from condemnation, as though we had been innocent, and entitled to eternal life, as though we had been perfectly obedient.
But let us farther inquire, What is gospel-justification? Alluding to justification in a court of judicature, it has been common to speak of it as a sentence. This sentence has been considered, by some divines, as passing-first, in the mind of God from eternity; secondly, on Christ and the elect considered in him when he rose from the dead; thirdly, in the conscience of a sinner on his believing. Justification by faith, in the view of these divines, denotes either justification by Christ the object of faith, or the manifestation to the soul of what previously existed in the mind of God.
Others, who have been far from holding with justification as a decree in the divine mind, have yet seemed to consider it as a manifestation, impression, or persuasion in the human mind. They nave spoken of themselves and others, as being justified under such a sermon, or at such an hour: when all that they appear to mean is, that at such a time they had a strong impression, or persuasion, that they were justified.
In respect of the first of these statements, it is true, that justification, and every other spiritual blessing, was included in that purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began; but, as the actual bestowment of other blessings supposes the existence of the party, so does justification. Christ was raised again FOR our justification, in the same sense, as he died for the pardon of our sins. Pardon and justification were virtually obtained by his death and resurrection; and to this may be added, our glorification was obtained by his ascension; for we were not only quickened together with him, and raised up together, but made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. But as this does not prove, that we were, from thence, actually glo