Posts Tagged ‘justification’
I liked this:
Every man that is saved is justified three ways: First, Meritoriously, by the death of Jesus Christ: “It is the blood of Jesus Christ alone that cleanses us from all sin.” Secondly, Instrumentally, by faith: faith is the means or instrument whereby the merits of Jesus Christ are applied to the sinner’s heart: “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Thirdly, We are justified Declaratively, namely, by good works: good works declare and prove to the world, that our faith is a true saving faith. “Was not Abraham justified by works?” And again, “Shew me thy faith by thy works.”
From Whitefield’s sermon, What think ye of Christ, via Heavenly Worldliness.
David Murray has some very helpful interaction with Tullian Tchividjian on the substance of his book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything. In three parts, he considers the confusion of justification with sanctification; the confusion from making our own experience the norm for others; and, the confusion of our standing with God and our experience and enjoyment of God.
I think David is making some important points that point us away from error and toward truth in our understanding of holiness and its pursuit.
What is justification?
Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners effectually called to Jesus Christ, wherein He pardons all their sins, and accepts them as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, and received by faith alone.
So says the Shorter Catechism. Believing that to be an accurate summary of Scripture truth, in our men’s meetings at the church I serve we have just finished working through The Marrow of True Justification by one of the early Particular Baptists, Benjamin Keach (recently republished by SGCB, and also available as an audio recording beginning here). Keach was one of the men who made it his business to stand against false teaching on this matter at the end of the seventeenth century, in company with such men as John Owen and Robert Traill, to mention only two. Keach’s work demonstrates again, if nothing else, that there really is nothing new under the sun. If you follow anything of the debates about the nature of justification and all that flows from it, Keach’s ‘Dedicatory Epistle’ will show you that the issues today, though sometimes clothed in new language and updated phrases, are really just what they always were:
As I was put upon preaching on this great Subject; so I am satisfied it was at a very seasonable Hour, that Doctrine being greatly struck at by too many Persons, though of different Sentiment: in many Points of Religion. And as it was well accepted by you, who heard these Sermons (and the other: that followed) when preached; and having been prevailed with to publish these in the World, so I hope some may receive Advantage hereby: Though for the meanness of the Author, and weakness of the Work, they may not meet with that Entertainment from some as the Subject deserves; yet for your sakes whose Souls are committed to my Charge, and for whom I must give Account to the great Shepherd of the Sheep at the last Day, I readily consented to this Publication; as also that all may see that we are in this, and in all other great Fundamentals of Religion, established in the same Faith with our Brethren, and all Sound and Orthodox Christians in the World: And cannot but look upon our selves greatly concerned, to see how Men by Craft and Subtilty endeavour, through Satan’s Temptations (though I hope some do it not wittingly) strive to subvert the Gospel of Christ, and corrupt the Minds of weak Christians. An Error in a Fundamental Point, is dangerous and destructive; but should we mistake some Men we have do with, we should be glad: The Lord help you to stand fast in the Truth, as it is in Jesus (in which through Grace you are well established:) Our Days are perilous; Satan seems to be let loose upon us, and is in great Rage, but Time being but short. Brethren, ’tis a hard Case that any of those who maintain the Old Doctrine of Justification, should be branded with the black Name of Antinomians. As for my part, if Dr. Crisp be not misrepresented by this Opposers, I am not of the Opinion in several respects; but I had rather err on their side, who strive to exalt wholly the Free Grace of God, than on theirs, who seek to darken it and magnify the Power of the Creature, though we fear the Design is to wound the Truth and us, through that good Man’s sides, who, I doubt not is come to heaven: O when shall we see that Truth, Peace, and Union longed for?
My Brethren, the Doctrine we preach does not open a Door to the least Licentiousness: (as ’tis unjustly said to do by some, who are either willfully or ignorantly blind.) No, God forbid. Nothing can promote Holiness, and Gospel-Sanctification like unto it, only it teaches us to act from high, sublime, and right Evangelical Principles: It shows the only way to attain to Gospel-Purity, flows from our Union with Christ, and that no Man can arrive to any degree of true Holiness, or expect to meet with any Success therein, without a Principle of Spiritual Life, or saving Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. The Nature of Men must first be changed, and that Enmity that is in their Hearts against God, be removed, before they can be holy: The Tree must first be made good, or the Fruits will be evil. The Image of God must be formed in our Souls, which puts the Creature into an actual bent and propensity of his Heart to the Practice of Holiness. If a Man hates not Sin, be not out of Love with Sin, How should he be in love with God and Holiness? Now because we say Sanctification is not necessary, as antecedent to Justification, but is the Fruit or Product of Union with Christ; though we deny not but the Habits (of Holiness) are infused at that same Instant that Faith is wrought in the Soul, Must we be looked upon as Promoters of a Licentious Doctrine? Must we make our own Performances, or Observance a Condition of Justification, or be laid under infamy and Reproach? ‘Tis by Faith only, that we come to have actual Enjoyment and Possession of Christ himself, and of Remission of Sin; and not only so, but of eternal Life; and so of Holiness also, and no other ways. The good Lord help you to a right Understanding of these things, and make you all a holy People, to the Praise of his Glory, and Honour of your Sacred Profession.
The Holy Apostle having asserted Justification by the Righteousness of God, which is by Faith in Jesus Christ, desired to know him and the Power of his Resurrection, etc. which he did not to be justified thereby, but as a Fruit flowing therefrom, or as a further Evidence thereof. The first he had attained; but there was a higher degree of Sanctification in his Eye, which he pressed after, as then not having attained: Whose Example let us follow.
I shall say no more: You own a Rule of Gospel-Holiness; Let me exhort you to labour after sincere Obedience: And pray forget me not in your Prayers, that God would graciously help me through all my Troubles and Temptations, and preserve me and you to his Heavenly Kingdom; who am your Servant for Jesus’ sake, and so shall abide till Death.
Keach introduces his topic, and then gets down to business:
And thus I come to my Text, Romans 4:5. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that jusfifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for Righteousness.
To him that worketh not; That is, worketh not, thinking thereby to be justified and saved. Though he may work, i.e. lead a holy and righteous Life; yet he doth it not to merit thereby; nay, though he be wicked, and an ungodly person, and so worketh not, or hath no Moral Righteousness at all; yet if he believeth on him that justfieth the ungodly, his faith is counted or imputed for righteousness; Not as a simple Act, or as it is a quality or habit, or in us, as the Papists teach; ipsa fides, saith Bellarmine, censetur esse Justitia, Faith itself is counted to be a justice, and itself is imputed unto Righteousness; No, nor in respect of the effects or fruits of it; for so it is part of our Sanctification.
In this first sermon, Keach identifies two doctrines from the text: (1) That all works done by the creature are entirely excluded in the matter of the justification of a sinner in the sight of God, and (2) that justification is wholly of the free grace of God, through the imputation [putting to our account] of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ by faith.
He proceeds to expose some of the mistaken notions about justification that were current in his day and, sadly, have not withered away with the passing of time. In the second sermon, he returns to his key text – “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Rom 4.5) – and his aim is to show the Scriptural evidence and arguments for the first point of doctrine above viz., that all works done by the creature are entirely excluded in the matter of the justification of a sinner in the sight of God.
Because Keach’s language is sometimes antiquated, and his use of punctuation quite fascinating and occasionally misleading, we produced an outline of his twelve arguments, with a summary (Keach’s kernel) and précis (our own attempt to reword the basic point) of each as appropriate. In the hope that they might be helpful, here they are:
First argument: “Taken from the very letter and express testimony of the Holy Scripture” (54). “That doctrine that gives the Holy Scripture the lie, is false and to be rejected. But the doctrine that mixes any works of righteousness done by the creature with faith or the free grace of God, in point of justification, gives the Scripture the lie; therefore that doctrine is false, and to be rejected” (58).
Précis: The Scriptures clearly and repeatedly state that no works (however considered) of a sinner have any place in his justification by God (Rom 4.2; Gal 2.16; Eph 2.8-9; Phil 3.8-9).
Second argument: “That all works done by the creature, are utterly excluded in point of justification appears from the different nature of works, and grace; ’tis positively said, we are justified by grace” (58).
Summary: “That which is of the free grace of God, is not by any works done by the creature. But justification is of the free grace of God; therefore not by any works done by the creature. That being justified by his grace we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life, Tit. 3.5” (59).
Précis: The principles of grace and works are utterly opposed to each other, and cannot be mixed. Justification is either by works (law, merit, debt) or by grace (free, gift). If works is involved then grace is no longer grace, but the Bible says we are justified graciously (therefore works cannot be involved).
Third argument: “Faith is the way prescribed in the gospel in order to justification” as opposed to any and all works (29).
Summary: “That doctrine which confoundeth the terms of the law and gospel together in point of justification, is a false and corrupt doctrine. But the doctrine that mixeth sincere obedience, or works of any kind done by us, with faith in point of justification, confound the terms of the law and gospel together in point of justification; therefore that doctrine is false and a corrupt doctrine” (60).
Précis: Only faith takes the sinner from himself to Christ, the only Saviour. Works says, “Do this and live.” Faith says, “Believe and be saved.” These two principles are entirely opposed and cannot be mixed.
Fourth argument: “All works done by the creature are excluded in point of justification of a sinner in the sight of God, because we are justified by a perfect righteousness: if no man is in himself perfectly righteous, then no man can be justified by any works done by him” (63).
Summary: “If we are justified by a complete and perfect righteousness; then an imperfect though a sincere righteousness, doth not justify us, but we are justified by a complete and perfect righteousness” (67-68). “We can only be justified . . . by that righteousness which is universal and complete. . . . Our obedience, though sincere, is not universal nor complete; therefore our sincere obedience or righteousness justifies us not in God’s sight” (68).
Précis: For a man to be justified requires a perfect righteousness: that is the demand of God’s holy law, which does not change. In order to be justified, we must either provide that perfect righteousness ourselves, or receive it from another. But no sinner is capable of producing or providing perfect righteousness for himself, and therefore it is not possible that we can ever be justified by any works of ours, and so we must find that perfect righteousness outside of ourselves.
Fifth argument: “All works done by the creature are excluded in point of justification of the sinner before God, appears because justification is a great mystery” (68).
Précis: A ‘mystery’ here is truth that we could not have known unless God had revealed it. The idea that we can be justified by sincere obedience suits the wisdom and nature of fallen men: humans readily conclude that the way to obtain God’s favour is to do good and so earn his smile. The doctrine of justification by faith is not unreasonable, but it is above natural (i.e. fallen) reason. It is the wisdom of God revealed from heaven.
Sixth argument: “If when we have done all we can do, [we are] are unprofitable servants; then by our best works of obedience and services under the gospel, we cannot be justified” (71).
Précis: If your works justify you, then you are not an unprofitable servant and have done all that God requires of you, and your sins are not sins, but only minor imperfections. But Jesus shows that by all our efforts – however sincere – we cannot come to deserve the blessings of salvation, which comes only by grace.
Seventh argument: “Because we are said to be justified by the righteousness of God: hence it follows that all our works of obedience are excluded, Rom 3.21, 22. ’Tis called the righteousness of God in opposition to the righteousness of the creature” (72).
“If that righteous which is the righteousness of God, which is by faith, in opposition to the righteousness of the creature doth justify us; then all works done by the creature are excluded in point of justification in God’s sight: but the former is true; ergo [therefore], all works done by the creature are excluded, etc.” (76).
“If Paul, nor no other child of God durst, or dare to be found in any righteousness of their own at death or judgment; then works done by us, or sincere obedience justify us not; but the former is true; therefore no works of ours, nor sincere obedience doth justify us in God’s sight” (77).
“That doctrine that holds a Christian down under slavish fear, by grounding his justification on his own works of holiness and sincere obedience, is not of God; but the doctrine of justification by our own work of holiness or sincere obedience, holds a Christian down under slavish fear, by grounding his justification on his works of holiness and sincere obedience; therefore that doctrine is not of God” (77).
Précis: God in his infinite wisdom has provided his perfect righteousness in Christ as the means of forgiving and justifying guilty and condemned sinners like us. This was Paul’s refuge and must be ours (Phil 3.8-10): Paul excludes all his past and present efforts, however sincere, from his standing with God and relies on the righteousness of Jesus Christ alone for his hope.
Eighth argument: “All works done by the creature are excluded in point of justification of a sinner in the sight of God, because we are justified by that righteousness by which the justice of God is satisfied, and his wrath appeased” (77).
Summary: “If by that righteousness of Christ which is out of us, though imputed to us, the justice of God is fully satisfied, we are justified; then all works done by us, or inherent in us, are excluded in our justification before God: but by that righteousness of Christ which is out of us, though imputed to us, the justice of God is satisfied; therefore all works done by us, or inherent in us, are excluded in our justification before God” (80).
Précis: The only righteousness that delivers us from condemnation and the curse of the law is the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to us [put to our account]. We need no other righteousness to accomplish this, and there is no space for any other righteousness in the matter of justification. Our works of righteousness as believers do not justify us, although they are necessary in us, being fruits of our saving union with Jesus Christ. Our personal righteousness apart from Christ gives us nothing in which to boast, either with regard to justification or sanctification.
Ninth argument: “All works done by the creature, are excluded, etc. because ’tis by the obedience of one man that many are made righteous, that is Jesus Christ, he is made of God unto us righteousness, etc. Rom. 5.18,19. 1 Cor. 1.30. But our own inherent righteousness is of many; i.e. every man’s own sincere obedience that obtains it” (81).
Précis: If our justifying righteousness comes by the obedience of one man, then there is no room in justification for the obedience of a second man (ourselves) or any number of other men.
Tenth argument: “All works done by the creature, are excluded in point of justification, I prove thus; if any one man was justified without works or sincere obedience, or through faith only, then all works of obedience, etc., are excluded” (81).
Précis: The thief on the cross, and saved infants dying in infancy, are saved without works of obedience, and yet still justified. This is because the remedy is always the same for every person for the disease of sin: Christ’s atoning death and imputed righteousness. Like our spiritual father, Abraham, as well as other heroes of faith, it is the righteousness that comes by faith (not by works) that justifies.
Eleventh argument: “Is, because Christ is tendered or offered to sinners as sinners” (82).
Précis: Christ is not offered to those who are good or who are trying to be good, but to men who must come to Christ for the righteousness which justifies and for the new life of holiness which invariably follows. We have no qualifications for salvation apart from our need. It is as sinners trusting in Jesus alone that we are justified: where, then, is there room for our own works, either before or after salvation?
Twelfth argument: “It is, because if a man should so walk as to know nothing of himself, i.e. be so righteous, or so sincere in his obedience, as not to have his conscience to accuse, or reproach him; yet he cannot thereby be justified.”
Précis: The holiest men (Job, for example) utterly renounce all their own obedience and righteousness before God, abasing themselves and confessing themselves great sinners. The only plea of the godliest man before the judgment seat is Christ’s blood, death and righteousness. In the day of judgment, we will not plead our works but renounce and be ashamed of them (Mt 25.37). All our good works will be swallowed up in our admiration of God’s free and infinite grace.
Caution: “Do not think, O Soul, that thy own Righteousness doth justify thee, through Christ’s Merits; or that Christ’s Righteousness is thy Legal Righteousness, and not thy Evangelical. No, no, he is thy whole Saviour . . .”
Comfort & instruction: “This Doctrine will support you that are weak, and doubt for want of inherent Righteousness, take hold of it, A Robe of Righteousness, Put it on, Believe on Christ, as poor Sinners come to him . . . if thou can’st not come to God as a Saint, come as a Sinner; nay, as a Sinner thou must come, and may’st come. . . . We are for the Law as Paul was, and for Holiness and sincere Obedience, as any Men in the world; but we would have Men act from right Principles, and to a right end: We would have Men act in Holiness from a Principle of Faith, from a Principle of Spiritual Life. . . . You must first have Union with him, before you can bring forth Fruit to God; you must act from Life, and not for Life.”
Entreaty: “To you that are Believers, Oh! admire Free Grace; lift Christ up who died for you, the Just for the Unjust, who bore your Sins, who was made sin for us that knew no Sin, that we might be made the Righteousness of God in him. He gave himself for you, and has given Grace, the Fruit of his Death, and himself to you. O labour to be a holy People; live to him that died for you, and rose again. To conclude. Is there any Sinner here? Are you ungodly, and in a wretched Condition (in your own Eyes)? Are you weary and heavy laden? Come to Christ, lift up your Heads: For to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifies the Ungodly, his Faith is counted for Righteousness.”
Kevin DeYoung at TGC looks over a volume by Steven Westerholm called Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics to give some helpful insights into the relationship between the circumstances in which Paul was preaching the gospel and the essential nature of the gospel which he preached:
So yes, justification by faith resulted in the “erasing of ethnic boundaries.” But Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley and every faithful gospel preacher before and after them have also been right to preach the good news of “grace abounding to sinners.” This is the heartbeat, the tap root, and basic point of justification by faith. And if this happens to be “Lutheran” that’s ok, because it happens to be biblical too.
Read it all.
The following extract comes from Marcus Loane’s The Hope of Glory: An Exposition of the Eighth Chapter in the Epistle to the Romans (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1968), pages 15-16. When he faced death, Sir Walter Raleigh was already reckoning himself dead indeed to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord, and therefore without condemnation in the court of heaven.
Thus the logic in St. Paul’s mind was this: there is now no prospect of that fatal condemnation in the case of those who have come into such a union with Him; God cannot pass sentence of death on those who are in Christ Jesus because that is His has been reckoned as theirs. It is this fact that lies at the heart of the most astonishing declaration which he ever made with regard to Christ and the sinner: “He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we (who have no righteousness) might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). He was for us in the place of condemnation; we are in him where all condemnation has spent its force. He took what was ours as though it were His, and gave what was His as though it were ours. What He was not, that He became, so that we might become what we were not. It was in fact because He knew no sin that He could be made sin for us; and now it is because we are in him that we have no condemnation to fear. It is as a result of this reciprocal exchange that God clears the guilty, and this is what He does for all who are in Christ Jesus.
Perhaps the most versatile of all the great Elizabethans was Sir Walter Raleigh: courtier, soldier, sailor, explorer, scientist, poet, author, historian. It was his misfortune that he outlived the great queen when she died in March 1603. Four months later, he was suddenly imprisoned on a very doubtful charge of treason. His trial took place in the following November: he was condemned to death, and the scaffold was set up in the grounds of the Tower of London. He wrote what he believed would be his last letter to his wife; a poem followed. He had denied the charge of high treason, and he now stands acquitted at the bar of history. But in the Tower he could only look up to the “bribeless hall” of heaven where the King’s attorney is none other than Christ Himself:
“And when the grand twelve-million jury
Of our sins, with direful fury,
Against our souls black verdicts give,
Christ’s pleads his death, and then we live.”
Raleigh’s fate was postponed, and his execution did not take place until 1616; but when at last he was required to die beneath the axe, he met that death with an unfaltering faith and courage. He had grasped in essence the great fundamental meaning of the Pauline theology of grace: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.”
Regular readers of this blog will know that both neonomianism and antinomianism are bugbears of which we are much aware. The quote that follows is from The Marrow of True Justification by Benjamin Keach (Solid Ground Christian Books, 2007). The first part is his eleventh argument for the exclusion of all works done by the creature, or any obedience of his, in the matter of our justification with God. Keach explodes all attempts to make our own works any part of our standing righteous before God with regard to our justification with the true doctrine of God’s grace in Christ, while making plain that such grace has nothing to do with antinomianism. Rich stuff!
11 Arg. Is, because Christ is tendered or offered to Sinners as Sinners; not as righteous persons, but as ungodly ones, without any previous Qualifications required of them to set themselves to receive Christ; they are all as poor, lost, undone, weary, and heavy laden Sinners required to believe in Christ, or venture their Souls upon him, though they have no Money, no Righteousness; if they have, they must cast it away, in point of Dependence, Trust, or Justification: These are they, Christ came to call; these are they he invites to come to him, these are they he came to seek and to save, who see nothing of Good in themselves; but contrariwise, are sensible of their filthy Hearts and abominable Lives: And yet though it be thus, if they come to Christ, they shall be at that very instant justified, which Faith or Divine Grace will soon make them holy and sanctify them; for holy Habits are at that very instant infused into them, though Sanctification is a gradual work: This being so, it follows all Works done by the Creature are excluded, in point of Justification of a Sinner before God. What said Paul to the ungodly Jailor, when he cried out, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved and thy house, Acts 16.31. The Apostle did not put him upon doing to be saved, but upon believing. But O how contrary is this to the Doctrine some Men preach now-a-days; they tell Sinners what they must do, what good Fruits they must bring forth, and this before the Tree is good, or they have closed with Christ, or have real Union with him; nay, bid the People take heed they do not too soon believe on Christ or venture on Christ. Sirs, you cannot too soon believe in Christ, I mean truly believe; I don’t say you should get a presumptuous Faith, but true Faith: But is it not strange a Minister should be heard lately to say, A Man must get a new heart before he can be justified. I though a Man could not have a new Heart before he had true Faith: Is not a new Heart one of the absolute Promises of the New Covenant, Ezek. 36.26. Can any thing, short of Almighty Power, make the Heart new, or for the Image of God in the Soul; or can a Man that hath a new Heart be under Condemnation, for are not all in that Condition who are not actually justified? Or can a dead Man quicken himself, or dead Works please God? Or the Fruit be good before the Tree is good? Are not all that are new Creatures in Christ Jesus, and have union with him, 2 Cor. 5.17? (82-83)
A little later, he urges the comfort of these things for sinners before raising and answering an objection:
Here is Comfort for Sinners; but if you are self-righteous Persons, or go about like the Jews of old, to establish your own Righteousness, down to Hell you will fall, Rom. 10.2. This Doctrine will support you that are weak, and doubt for want of inherent Righteousness, take hold of it, A Robe of Righteousness, Put it on, Believe on Christ, as poor Sinners come to him, you that have no Money, no Worth, no Merit, no Righteousness, this Wine and Milk of Justification and Pardon is for you: Cry to God to help you to believe; Christ is the Author of your Faith, ’tis the Gift of God, ’tis a grace of the Spirit; Do you see you are wounded? Look to Christ, Believe, and thou shalt be saved, Mark 16.16. John 3.15, 16. If thou can’st not come to God as a Saint, come as a Sinner; nay, as a Sinner thou must come, and may’st come.
Obj. But this Doctrine is decried for Antinomianism.
Answ. They know not what Antinomianism is, that thus brand us, as here-after I shall God-assisting prove. If this is to be an Antinomian, we must be all such, and let them mock on; the Lord open their Eyes: We are for the Law as Paul was, and for Holiness and sincere Obedience, as any Men in the world; but we would have Men act from right Principles, and to a right end: We would have Men act in Holiness, from a Principle of Faith, from a Principle of Spiritual Life, be first married to Christ that they may bring forth Fruit to God, Rom 7.4.
We preach to you, Sinners, that Jesus Christ will entertain you, if you come to him, bid you welcome, and not cast you off, because of the Greatness of your Sins, though you have no Qualifications to recommend you to him. Would you wash your selves from your Sins, and then come to the Fountain of his Blood to be washed; we hold forth Christ to be your whole Saviour, and that he is set forth as the Propitiation through Faith in his Blood; whom if you close with, and believe in, you shall be justified. We tell you God justifies the Ungodly, i.e. that they are so before justified. (88-89)
The Unquenchable Flame: Introducing the Reformation by Michael Reeves
IVP, 2009 (192pp, pbk)
A genuinely popular book on the Reformation doubtless involves many tensions. The style must be accessible without being careless; the substance must be accurate while the scope is broad; brevity is required, but historical carelessness cannot be countenanced.
In many ways, this author has succeeded: in a few pages, he carries us from the Reformation’s medieval beginnings, through Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, the Reformation in Britain, and on to the Puritans before asking whether or not the Reformation is over. A helpful timeline and some valuable suggestions on further reading are furnished; occasional ‘break-out boxes’ deal with individuals and issues of interest. It is thoroughly orthodox in many respects: the author focuses repeatedly on a Scriptural grasp of justification by faith as one of the driving forces of the Reformation and a continuing issue in ongoing reform. In doing history accessibly and attractively, with wit and verve, the author has succeeded.
At the same time, its excellences are slightly marred by occasional excesses. That chatty and casual tone sometimes slips needlessly into breeziness and on into a racy brashness (perhaps aimed squarely at the intended student audience). Historical accuracy and nuance is sometimes sacrificed to speed of movement, or for the sake of a stark declaration or striking comparison. I suspect that the author’s Anglicanism has an impact on his assessment at points: while Bunyan gets a nod basically for being Bunyan, the Puritans are covered somewhat ambivalently, and the history peters out in the 17th century with little apparent sense of the character and momentum of healthy Dissent, leaping then to the 21st century and taking up again – with helpful clarity and urgency – the issue of justification by faith.
I hope that this book will succeed in stimulating a wider and deeper reading of church history. It deserves to do so. However, unless it does so, there is a danger of readers being left with the lack of balance and perspective that a wild ride can leave behind. If you put this book in the hands of a reader, make sure you are ready to follow up any interest with fuller and more nuanced material.
- Westminster Bookstore – not yet available (US edition in 2010)
- Monergism Books – not yet available (US edition in 2010)
Most of us like to think that we are good people. After all, there are so many other people who are much worse than us. We think we know what is right. We often want to do what is right, but it is hard to do the right thing. Why do we do things that we know are wrong? And why do we feel bad inside when we do things that we know are wrong? How do we measure goodness? And how good is good enough?
The Lord God, who made you and takes care of you, has told us what is right and wrong. One day we will all have to face Him. He will judge everything that we have done, everything that we have said, and even everything that we have thought. Jesus said, “Be ready, for the Son of Man [Jesus Christ] is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew’s gospel, chapter 24, verse 44). How can you be ready? Will you be good enough?
Take a moment to read God’s Ten Commandments:
1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
5. Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
10. You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.
How do you compare to this standard? You might think you can make fun of the standard: “I’ve never coveted anybody’s ox or donkey!” You might think it easy to point to the things that you haven’t done: “I’ve never murdered anyone”. But Jesus taught that the Ten Commandments go much deeper than we imagine. They are as much about our thoughts, our hearts, our attitudes, as they are about what we physically do (if you have a Bible, you can find this in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 5, verses 17-30). Jesus said, “whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matthew 5.22) and “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5.28).
No wonder the Bible teaches that “there is none righteous, no, not one” (the letter to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 10). We have all broken the Ten Commandments: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23). Is any one of us good enough for God? No!
But that is not the end of the story. Why did God write these Ten Commandments if none of us can keep them? The Bible answers this question. God says that the Ten Commandments – God’s holy law – is our “tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (the letter to the Galatians, chapter 3, verse 24).
How does Jesus Christ fit in, and what does it mean to be justified by faith?
Jesus fits in because “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians, chapter 4, verse 4). Jesus Christ, being both God and man, obeyed the law of God perfectly. He lived according to the law, and is the only man who never broke one of God’s Ten Commandments in his thoughts, words, or deeds. Read the accounts of His life in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and you cannot find one instance when He sinned: He was never less than perfect in all that He thought, said and did. But what does that have to do with us?
The Bible teaches that we all have a sinful nature. After all, nobody needs to be taught how to do wrong things – it is the way we are, and we act in accordance with it. But the Bible promises that “through one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5.19). That verse is talking about Jesus, and means that somehow sinners like us can benefit from the perfect and sinless life that Jesus lived.
If we are to face God in judgment and not be damned for our sins – condemned for all the things that break God’s law – then we need the holiness and perfection of Jesus. This is what it means to be justified: for God to declare us to be right in his sight. For that we need a perfect righteousness. How do we get this righteousness? Through faith in Jesus Christ, his righteousness is put to our account. Then, “justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Romans 5.1). Peace with God! If your conscience tells you that you have done things wrong, and must one day face God, what would you not give to know peace with God?
Don’t try and have peace with God by trying to be better, by trying to keep God’s Ten Commandments better. We cannot keep God’s law: “No one is justified by the law in the sight of God” (Galatians 3.11). That sends us to Jesus Christ for the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” God’s answer is this: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” This salvation is “by grace . . . through faith” (Ephesians 2.8). “By grace”: it is the gift of God, and not something that we can earn or deserve. “Through faith”: repenting of our sins, and trusting completely and only in Jesus Christ. He lived the life that we should have lived, but could not. He died the death that we deserved, being punished by God for the sins of His people.
Examine your life, examine your heart. Consider the standard of God’s Ten Commandments, and compare yourself to it. Listen to your conscience. Then repent of your sin, and ask God to save you through Jesus Christ.
We sing the grace of God above,
Of boundless goodness, boundless love;
The story on our hearts engraved
Of sins forgiven, of sinners saved.
Here justice, mercy, wisdom shine -
The outworked plan of grace divine.
In Jesus Christ the cords all meet,
In Christ we see the plan complete.
And did this Christ come from on high,
This sinful soul to justify?
Yes, our Redeemer left his throne
And came to earth to claim his own.
And shall I come to heaven above?
‘Tis all of grace and all of love
That Christ should live and die for me,
And set my soul at liberty.
He died for us, our sins to atone;
He died to make us each his own,
And soon we join our Christ on high:
Elect, redeemed, and glorified.
Then lift your hearts to speak his praise -
The wonders of his matchless grace!
This humble gift we gladly bring:
The praises of our Saviour King.
See all hymns and psalms.
Repentant sinners sometimes agitate over whether or not they really are believing. Fearful saints often agonize over whether or not they have faith. What is it? Are they deluding themselves? Are they really trusting?
There are at least two misconceptions that often lie behind such concerns. The first is the felt need for something that feels real and definite, perhaps for something that is palpably concrete, even spectacular. “Is it real?” is the question. “Have I really put saving faith in Jesus Christ?” It has to do more with the right kind of faith, the reality of faith. The second has to do with degrees of faith. In essence, the question becomes, “Do I have enough faith?” The crisis hinges on whether or not we really are savingly attached to Jesus Christ with the kind of grip that truly delivers from sin and death and hell.
Both of these misconceptions have a common root. In both instances, the fearful one is looking at something in himself rather than at the fulness that is in Christ. Often, deeply distressed persons will assure a friend that they have no doubts whatsoever about the ability of Christ to save, but they wonder whether he has saved them, whether they really have faith. The problem may lie with false notions of what justifying faith really is, in its proper relation to Jesus Christ.
We must never forget that it is Christ who saves by faith. It is not faith in and of itself that delivers a soul from death, but Christ. Faith reaches out to Christ. Weak faith in a strong Christ saves just as well as far stronger faith! And that faith is not necessarily a spectacular event; it is not necessarily something which is felt with consistent passion and constant awareness. It is, in essence, a simple thing. In chapter 15 of his work On Justification, John Owen asks and gently answers the question, “What is faith?” The answers are drawn from the language of Scripture. It does us good to set Christ before us, and to consider the Scripture language for saving faith in all its simple sweetness, and to rest in the unchangeable Christ with confidence in him, and not in the presence of absence of felt vigour in the faith which holds fast to him.
The truth which we plead has two parts:- 1. That the righteousness of God imputed to us, unto the justification of life, is the righteousness of Christ, by whose obedience we are made righteous. 2. That it is faith alone which on our part is required to interest us in that righteousness, or whereby we comply with God’s grant and communication of it, or receive it unto our use and benefit; for although this faith is in itself the radical principle of all obedience, – and whatever is not so, which cannot, which does not, on all occasions, evidence, prove, show, or manifest itself by works, is not of the same kind with it, – yet, as we are justified by it, its act and duty is such, or of that nature, as that no other grace, duty, or work, can be associated with it, or be of any consideration. And both these are evidently confirmed in that description which is given us in the Scripture of the nature of faith and believing unto the justification of life.
I know that many expressions used in the declaration of the nature and work of faith herein are metaphorical, at least are generally esteemed so to be; – but they are such as the Holy Ghost, in his infinite wisdom, thought meet to make use of for the instruction and edification of the church. And I cannot but say, that those who understand not how effectually the light of knowledge is communicated unto the minds of them that believe by them, and a sense of the things intended unto their spiritual experience, seem not to have taken a due consideration of them. Neither, whatever skill we pretend unto, do we know always what expressions of spiritual things are metaphorical. Those oftentimes may seem so to be, which are most proper. However, it is most safe for us to adhere unto the expressions of the Holy Spirit, and not to embrace such senses of things as are inconsistent with them, and opposite unto them. Wherefore, -
1. That faith whereby we are justified is most frequently in the New Testament expressed by receiving. This notion of faith has been before spoken unto, in our general inquiry into the use of it in our justification. It shall not, therefore, be here much again insisted on. Two things we may observe concerning it:- First, That it is so expressed with respect unto the whole object of faith, or unto all that does any way concur unto our justification; for we are said to receive Christ himself: “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God,” John i. 12; “As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord,” Col. ii. 6. In opposition hereunto unbelief is expressed by not receiving of him, John i. 11; iii. 11; xii. 48; xiv. 17. And it is a receiving of Christ as he is “The Lord our Righteousness,” as of God he is made righteousness unto us. And as no grace, no duty, can have any co-operation with faith herein, – this reception of Christ not belonging unto their nature, nor comprised in their exercise, – so it excludes any other righteousness from our justification but that of Christ alone; for we are “justified by faith.” Faith alone receives Christ; and what it receives is the cause of our justification, whereon we become the sons of God. So we “receive the atonement” made by the blood of Christ, Rom. v. 11; for “God hath set him forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” And this receiving of the atonement includes the soul’s approbation of the way of salvation by the blood of Christ, and the appropriation of the atonement made thereby unto our own souls. For thereby also we receive the forgiveness of sins: “That they may receive forgiveness of sins … by faith that is in me,” Acts xxvi. 18. In receiving Christ we receive the atonement; and in the atonement we receive the forgiveness of sins. But, moreover, the grace of God, and righteousness itself, as the efficient and material cause of our justification, are received also; even the “abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness,” Rom. v. 17. So that faith, with respect unto all the causes of justification, is expressed by “receiving;” for it also receives the promise, the instrumental cause on the part of God thereof, Acts ii. 41; Heb. ix. 15. Secondly, That the nature of faith, and its acting with respect unto all the causes of justification, consisting in receiving, that which is the object of it must be offered, tendered, and given unto us, as that which is not our own, but is made our own by that giving and receiving. This is evident in the general nature of receiving. And herein, as was observed, as no other grace or duty can concur with it, so the righteousness whereby we are justified can be none of our own antecedent unto this reception, nor at any time inherent in us. Hence we argue, that if the work of faith in our justification be the receiving of what is freely granted, given, communicated, and imputed unto us, – that is, of Christ, of the atonement, of the gift of righteousness, of the forgiveness of sins, – then have our other graces, our obedience, duties, works, no influence into our justification, nor are any causes or conditions thereof; for they are neither that which does receive nor that which is received, which alone concur thereunto.
2. Faith is expressed by looking: “Look unto me, and be ye saved,” Isa. xlv. 22; “A man shall look to his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect unto the Holy One of Israel,” chap. xvii. 7; “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced,” Zech. xii. 10. See Ps. cxxiii. 2. The nature hereof is expressed, John iii. 14, 15, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” For so was he to be lifted up on the cross in his death, John viii. 28, chap. xii. 32. The story is recorded Numb. xxi. 8, 9. I suppose none doubt but that the stinging of the people by fiery serpents, and the death that ensued thereon, were types of the guilt of sin, and the sentence of the fiery law thereon; for these things happened unto them in types, 1 Cor. x. 11. When any was so stung or bitten, if he betook himself unto any other remedies, he died and perished. Only they that looked unto the brazen serpent that was lifted up were healed, and lived; for this was the ordinance of God, – this way of healing alone had he appointed. And their healing was a type of the pardon of sin, with everlasting life. So by their looking is the nature of faith expressed, as our Saviour plainly expounds it in this place: “So must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him,” – that is, as the Israelites looked unto the serpent in the wilderness, – ["should not perish."] And although this expression of the great mystery of the gospel by Christ himself has been by some derided, or, as they call it, exposed, yet is it really as instructive of the nature of faith, justification, and salvation by Christ, as any passage in the Scripture. Now, if faith, whereby we are justified, and in that exercise of it wherein we are so, be a looking unto Christ, under a sense of the guilt of sin and our lost condition thereby, for all, for our only help and relief, for deliverance, righteousness, and life, then is it therein exclusive of all other graces and duties whatever; for by them we neither look, nor are they the things which we look after. But so is the nature and exercise of faith expressed by the Holy Ghost; and they who do believe understand his mind. For whatever may be pretended of metaphor in the expression, faith is that act of the soul whereby they who are hopeless, helpless, and lost in themselves, do, in a way of expectancy and trust, seek for all help and relief in Christ alone, or there is not truth in it. And this also sufficiently evinces the nature of our justification by Christ.
3. It is, in like manner, frequently expressed by coming unto Christ: “Come unto me, all ye that labour,” Matt. xi. 28. See John vi. 35, 37, 45, 65; vii. 37. To come unto Christ for life and salvation, is to believe on him unto the justification of life; but no other grace or duty is a coming unto Christ: and therefore have they no place in justification. He who has been convinced of sin, who has been wearied with the burden of it, who has really designed to fly from the wrath to come, and has heard the voice of Christ in the gospel inviting him to come unto him for help and relief, will tell you that this coming unto Christ consists in a man’s going out of himself, in a complete renunciation of all his own duties and righteousness, and betaking himself with all his trust and confidence unto Christ alone, and his righteousness, for pardon of sin, acceptation with God, and a right unto the heavenly inheritance. It may be some will say this is not believing, but canting; be it so: we refer the judgment of it to the church of God.
4. It is expressed by fleeing for refuge: Heb. vi. 18, “Who have fled for refuge, to lay hold on the hope set before us.” [See] Prov. xviii. 10. Hence some have defined faith to be “perfugium animæ,” the flight of the soul unto Christ for deliverance from sin and misery. And much light is given unto the understanding of the thing intended thereby. For herein it is supposed that he who believes is antecedently thereunto convinced of his lost condition, and that if he abide therein he must perish eternally; that he has nothing of himself whereby he may be delivered from it; that he must betake himself unto somewhat else for relief; that unto this end he considers Christ as set before him, and proposed unto him in the promise of the gospel; that he judges this to be a holy, a safe way, for his deliverance and acceptance with God, as that which has the characters of all divine excellencies upon it: hereon he flees unto it for refuge, that is, with diligence and speed, that he perish not in his present condition; he betakes himself unto it by placing his whole trust and affiance thereon. And the whole nature of our justification by Christ is better declared hereby, unto the supernatural sense and experience of believers, than by a hundred philosophical disputations about it.
5. The terms and notions by which it is expressed under the Old Testament are, leaning on God, Mic. iii. 11; or Christ, Cant. viii. 5; – rolling or casting ourselves and our burden on the Lord, Ps. xxii. 8, [margin,] xxxvii. 5 – (the wisdom of the Holy Ghost in which expressions has by some been profanely derided); – resting on God, or in him, 2 Chron. xiv. 11; Ps. xxxvii. 7; – cleaving, trusting, hoping, and waiting, in places innumerable. And it may be observed, that those who acted faith as it is thus expressed, do everywhere declare themselves to be lost, hopeless, helpless, desolate, poor, orphans; whereon they place all their hope and expectation on God alone. unto the Lord, Deut. iv. 4; Acts xi. 23; as also by
All that I would infer from these things is, that the faith whereby we believe unto the justification of life, or which is required of us in a way of duty that we may be justified, is such an act of the whole soul whereby convinced sinners do wholly go out of themselves to rest upon God in Christ for mercy, pardon, life, righteousness, and salvation, with an acquiescence of heart therein; which is the whole of the truth pleaded for.
Finally, we must ask the question: How does a sinner obtain such incalculable blessings? “In him.” The blessings are obtained by being united to Christ. God is “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3.26) and in so doing his justice and holiness are by no means compromised but rather exalted. Faith is the instrument of union with the Lord Jesus: real, lively, engaged faith, as opposed to something static or inactive. Faith is not a child stillborn: it cries! It is a gift of God by which the regenerate man reaches out with an empty hand to latch hold of Christ. Christ saves, and the instrument by which he saves is faith. Do we describe faith as active or as passive? Faith acts, but it acts by receiving. It is not mindless, it does not bypass man and his faculties, but is the engagement of the whole man with the whole Christ, by means of which union the God-righteousness of Christ is made man’s. Robert Traill speaks of justifying faith thus:
They all, both Christ’s enemies and his disciples, knew that faith in him was a believing that the man Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, so as to receive, and look for salvation in his name (Acts 4.12) . . . . That faith in Jesus Christ justifies (although, by the way, it is to be noted that it is never written in the Word that faith justifies actively, but it is always expressed passively: that a man is justified by faith, and that God justifies men by and through faith; yet admitting the phrase) only as a mere instrument, receiving that imputed righteousness of Christ, for which we are justified. And this faith, in the office of justification, is neither condition, nor qualification, nor our gospel-righteousness, but is in its very act a renouncing of all such pretences.
These blessings belong to a man in union with Christ, and nowhere else; that union is effected by saving faith, and nothing else. We shall be judged in accordance with our relationship with Jesus Christ the Righteous, and faith alone brings us into a saving connection with him.
In closing, I want to address each of you with two questions.
Firstly, what is your relationship with Jesus Christ and his righteousness?
Are you in Christ? Have you ever reckoned with the fact that God will reckon your sins to your own account if they are not reckoned to Christ? Have you realised that if your sins are put to your own account then you are under the just condemnation of a holy God, and exposed to the damnation and abandonment that your sins deserve? Will you not turn from your sins to Christ, in order that you might be saved? Or perhaps you are in agony of conscience, and have been for days, or weeks, or months, or even years, and you feel yourself to be on the outside, longing to be reconciled to God and to have peace with him? As an ambassador for Christ, I implore you: “Be reconciled to God!” Believe and be saved! Trust in Christ for your reconciliation with God! Come to this glorious Redeemer, receive this real righteousness, rest upon the promises of the merciful Almighty. How poorly we have painted his glory, but how glorious is his sufficiency for guilty sinners! Trust in Jesus Christ the righteous and these blessings are yours. The most perverse and filthy sinner who trusts in Jesus Christ receives in that moment pardon for his sins, and is accounted in the eyes of God as actually possessing the flawless righteousness of the perfect God-man, in whom he is well pleased. This is what it means to be “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph 1.6): this is God’s grace in Christ.
But are you indeed in Christ by faith? Then you, as John Owen says, have obtained acceptance before God, with a right and title unto a heavenly inheritance. What joys and blessings are unshakeably and unmistakeably yours! You are loved like Christ (Jn 17.23) on account of the righteousness of Christ imputed to you, received by faith. You are a justified man: having been justified, you have peace with God through your Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also you have access by faith into this grace in which you stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but you also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom 5.1-5). How many sweet hours we might spend considering what we have in Christ: privileges and blessings unshakeably, securely, and eternally ours! These joys and blessings do not rest upon your works, or lack of them. They can never be taken from you. No flaw shall ever be found in the righteousness which God considers as yours, and so there will never be any falling short to be made up in your relationship with God through Christ. He is yours, and you are his, and in him you stand eternally secure.
Secondly, what is your report of Jesus Christ and his righteousness?
What is your report to heretics and opposers? What do you have to say to those who set themselves against these truths? Christian, if you die, this will be your hope – shall you therefore be ashamed of it while you live? We live in an age when once more the very heart of the gospel is at stake, and we must take pains to identify and defend truth, and identify and contend with error. This is a time when there is a great necessity of standing for the truths upon which the destiny of your immortal soul is hanging. Can we not afford to suffer a little now for the sake of the Christ who suffered to obtain these blessings for us, especially when we recall that those sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom 8.18)? Martin Luther put it this way:
If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.
This is no “little point”: this is the centre of things. As we have already seen from Mr Traill, all the great fundamentals of Christian truth centre in this of justification. The Trinity of Persons in the Godhead; the incarnation of the only Begotten of the Father; the satisfaction paid to the law and justice of God for the sins of the world by his obedience and sacrifice of himself in that flesh he assumed; and the divine authority of the Scriptures which reveal this: these are all straight lines of truth that centre in this doctrine of justification of a sinner by the imputation and application of that satisfaction.
If the heart of truth is shifted, it will bend and bias all the lines of truth which centre upon it; if the lines of truth are twisted and bent, they shall lead no one to salvation. We face a battle to defend truth, but William Gurnall reminds us that one of the qualities of truth that helps us to love it and hold to it is that it is victorious. He admits that “sometimes, I confess, the enemies to ‘truth’ get the militia of this lower world into their hands, and then truth seems to go to the ground,” but reminds us that “persecutors need not be at cost for marble to write the memorial of their victories in, dust will serve well enough, for they are not like to last so long”:
Who loves not to be on the winning side? Choose truth for thy side, and thou hast it. News may come that truth is sick, but never that it is dead. No, it is error that is short-lived. ‘A lying tongue is but for a moment;’ but truth’s age runs parallel with eternity. 
We might be tempted to wonder at Gurnall’s suggestion that error is short-lived, given that we are fighting old errors reborn, but when we realise that his context is eternity, then we are encouraged! Truth’s face is now covered in tears and blood, but we must stand with her and fight for her, in the sure anticipation of her eventual and eternal victory.
And what is your report to the ignorant and needy? What report do you have of Christ and his righteousness for your lost family members, neighbours, friends and colleagues? We are none of us apostles, but we all of us have some duty and warrant in this text to call to the ungodly: “Be reconciled to God!” These and these alone are the truths that can heal the broken-hearted – no-where but here is salvation to be found. Again, Traill asks of the man or woman whose conscience is awakened, who asks what must they do to be saved:
Why should not the right answer be given, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved’? Tell him what Christ is, what he has done and suffered to obtain eternal redemption for sinners, and that according to the will of God and his Father. Give him a plain downright narrative of the gospel salvation wrought out by the Son of God; tell him the history and mystery of the gospel plainly. It may be the Holy Ghost will work faith thereby, as he did in those firstfruits of the Gentiles in Acts 10.44. If he asks what warrant he has to believe on Jesus Christ, tell him that he has an utter indispensable necessity for it, for without believing on him he must perish eternally; that he has God’s gracious offer of Christ and all his redemption, with a promise that, upon accepting the offer by faith, Christ and salvation with him are his: that he has God’s express commandment (1Jn 3.23) to believe on Christ’s name, and that he should make conscience of obeying it, as much as any command in the moral law. Tell him of Christ’s ability and goodwill to save; that no man was every rejected by him who cast himself upon him; that desperate cases are the glorious triumphs of his art of saving.
Do you do this, brethren? Are you speaking for, praying for, and looking for the glorious triumphs of the art of Christ’s saving through his finished work? Can you tell the history and mystery of the gospel plainly and clearly? Are you ready to give to wretched and needy sinners a plain downright narrative concerning Christ and him crucified, the forgiveness of sins, and a God-righteousness obtainable through faith in Jesus? Are you calling sinners to trust in this Jesus and thereby to be delivered from sin, to obtain acceptance with our holy God, and to receive a right and title to a heavenly inheritance?
On these things hang the eternal destinies of our own souls, and the souls of every man and woman, boy and girl, in this world. Let us, then, love, hold to, and proclaim the Christ of the truth, and love, hold to, and proclaim the truth as it is in Jesus Christ.
 Traill’s point is not that faith does not act, but rather that God does not view us as righteous because of our faith (which would make faith, in essence, a work), but because of Christ’s righteousness, which is appropriated by the God-given instrument of faith.
 Traill, Justification Vindicated, 29 and 46.
 Martin Luther, Briefwechsel [Correspondence], Works (Weimar Edition), 3:81.
 William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1964), 316.
 Traill, Justification Vindicated, 27-28.
There is a further element, a positive change for the man or woman, boy or girl, in Christ. We are not merely declared or constituted innocent – free from guilt – on account of our sins being counted to and fully punished in Christ. God does more than a human judge might do at the bar of a human court. The human judge can look at the criminal before him and – so long as the law has somehow been satisfied, perhaps through lack of evidence to convict – he can declare the guilty man’s innocence. However, he cannot declare him righteous, and put obedience to his account. The criminal might leave the courtroom declared innocent, and free from guilt in the eyes of the law, but still lacking any particular positive merit in the eyes of the law.
In God’s dealings with us in Christ, the Lord Jesus is made our sin-bearing substitute with the intention of a corresponding transfer the other way. The transfer of our sin to Christ is with a definite purpose: “in order that we might become the righteousness of God in him” – the transfer of righteousness from Christ to man. Again, the language is both profound and deliberate. It is not the language of a process that occurs over time, but the language of one mighty and decisive act of the reconciling God, without any possible or necessary contribution from man. The language is not even that of accounting, or imputation. Murray elucidates:
Just as Christ became so identified with our sins that, though knowing no sin, he was made sin, so we being in ourselves utterly ungodly and therefore knowing no righteousness are so identified with Christ’s righteousness that we are made the righteousness of God. In reality the concept is richer than that of imputation; it is not simply reckoned as ours, but it is reckoned to us and we are identified with it.
This is more than appearance, than a mere gilding of righteousness: this is divinely constituted reality. I could freight a load of gold-leaf into the pulpit and cover all the wood so that it appeared to be gold to the outward observer, but it would not change the nature of the wood. However, if I possessed the enviable alchemic power actually to alter the nature of the wood so that it became, by some supernatural means, gold, then no matter how deeply you bored or drilled, it would have ceased to be constituted wood, and would have become gold. It is altogether gold, and cannot be considered otherwise. And so it is with us – and what gold! We “become the righteousness of God”! As Christ’s sin was not of him, so our righteousness is not of us – it is of God, it is divine in its quality. Adam before the fall was a man without any sin upon his record, and righteous with the righteousness of a man who had not sinned. The sinner saved by the grace of God in Christ is a man stripped of the sin that was upon his record – his trespasses are not imputed to him, because Christ has been made sin for him – and who has been constituted not humanly but divinely righteous in God’s sight. The righteousness is nothing less than “God’s own” – it is divine in quality – and God’s own righteousness satisfies God’s righteous demands as completely, absolutely and eternally as could be calculated or imagined. Under the microscope of divine scrutiny, God has himself assured that the redeemed sinner lacks nothing and possesses everything that is required, and is constituted the fit object of the holy God’s delight.
 John Murray, ‘Justification’ in Works (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1977), 2:214.
 Professor Murray carefully points out that this God-righteousness “is not, of course, the divine attribute of justice or righteousness, but, nevertheless, it is a righteousness with divine attributes or qualities, and therefore a righteousness which is of divine property.” Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 127.
How can God remain holy and yet declare a sinner righteous in his sight? How can he be just and yet justify a sinner (Rom 3.26)? If God is to be just, sin must be punished – it cannot be overlooked, excused, or forgotten: it must be dealt with in righteousness. So, if God does not impute our trespasses to us (v19) then how does he deal with sins in accordance with his holiness?
The non-imputation of our sins rests upon the fact that Christ was made our substitute: he paid the price of our ransom from the guilt and power of sin, and its necessary and appropriate penalty.
He was qualified in himself for such a substitution, for he ‘knew no sin’. Of all men who ever lived, only Jesus the Christ was entirely without sin. Peter quotes Isaiah to tell us that he “committed no sin, nor was deceit found in his mouth” (1Pt 2.22), calling our attention to the fact that his blood was “precious . . . as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1Pt 1.19). The writer to the Hebrews builds his case for the absolute supremacy of Christ in part upon his sinlessness, informing us that he was “without sin” (Heb 4.15), “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb 7.26). Given the opportunity, even Christ’s enemies could bring no charge against him to convict him of sin (Jn 8.46); Pilate himself, that vacillating judge, confessed that “I find no fault in him” (Jn 19.4). The Lord Jesus recognised sin for what it was, and was grieved, appalled and angered by it, but he had no personal acquaintance with it: he was a stranger to it in his personal experience. He never indulged in sin, never committed one transgression, was guilty of no iniquity. He had no trespasses of his own to be imputed to his own account.
This one, whose sinlessness Chrysostom exposits and throws into sharp relief by speaking of him as ‘Righteousness-itself,’ was alone capable of standing for others precisely because he was under no obligations of his own. Perhaps a very prosaic illustration will help. Imagine that you have done your weekly shop, and – as tends to be the case – you have as many heavy bags as you have fingers, and you pull up outside your home and open the boot of the car to carry your bags inside. Your neighbour looks over and sees you struggling with the burden. If he had likewise just pulled up with his own shopping, and was laden down with it, he would be in no position to assist you with yours. If he was carrying any of his own, he would not be able to bear all of yours. But, fortunately, he has no burden of his own, and so is able to come and relieve you of the entirety of the weight that you would otherwise have to bear. So with Christ: having nothing of his own to bear, he is able to relieve us of the entirety of the sins that would otherwise be put to our account. He alone, being sinless, was able to bear the sin of others.
And that is precisely what he did: being qualified, he accomplished in himself this substitution. “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us.” Peter tells us that this sinless one “himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree” (1Pt 2.24). Isaiah uses similar words: “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all . . . he bore the sin of many” (Is 53.6, 12). The thought almost seems to beggar the meaning of language: he who was never personally defiled by his own sin was accounted the embodiment of sin by God, and punished accordingly. The sins not imputed to us were counted his, and he exhausted the curse those sins deserved. This very one was delivered up – in the place of others – to the damnation and abandonment which sin merits. This is substitutionary atonement, and this is not the doctrine of ‘cosmic child abuse,’ as some would have it! This is the Triune God satisfying divine justice, the Son voluntarily bearing sin in the place of his people and the Father necessarily punishing it in the person of his Son. “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: he condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom 8.3).
(Part 2 of 5. Part 1 here.)
Five times in verses 18 to 21 Paul uses variations on a word having to do with the concept of ‘reconciliation.’ This has the essential meaning of the restoration of a relationship previously characterised by hostility, of ending a relationship of enmity and substituting in its place one of goodwill and peace. The two parties in view are God and man, and the cause of the contention that requires resolution is clearly the transgression of man (v19). In other words, this whole discussion necessarily pre-supposes the reality of sin and its effect in making a breach between God and man. So long as he counts or imputes our trespasses against us, there can be no peace between this holy God – who is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness (Hab 1.13) – and fallen man in all the God-antagonising grime of his sin. Elsewhere, from what Paul states about the relationship that a justified man sustains to God, we can imply what is lacking beforehand: there is no peace with God, but hostility and war; there is no standing in grace before him; there is no joy, because no hope of glory, but only a fear of wrath (Rom 5.1-2). This is the fearful condition of the natural man in his relationship with the Almighty God. Note, too, that while man is considered to be at enmity with God, the more fundamental issue is that God is angry with sinful man, and that man cannot in his own sinful self please God (cf. Rom 8.8-7): God is offended by our sin and he is angry with the wicked every day (Ps 7.11). Such is the obstacle to be overcome.
Furthermore, it is evident that this reconciliation must be of God: man has neither instinctive desire nor actual ability to initiate or accomplish such a restoration. This must be the work of God in sovereign love and mercy, both initiating and accomplishing this work of reconciliation, and so we find it in 2 Corinthians 5: “God has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ;” “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” This reconciliation must be and is a sovereign act arising unbidden by man out of the will of the Lord of heaven and earth, in accordance with his gracious purposes.
This, then, is the context of the whole matter of justification: a holy God angry with sinful man, who – if he is to obtain acceptance before God, with a right and title to a heavenly inheritance – must be brought back by God into a right relationship with himself, but only and necessarily in such a way “that the purpose of his love to lost men may be accomplished in accordance with and to the vindication of all the perfections that constitute his glory.” The reconciliation of God to man, if it is to be accomplished, must be accomplished without in the least degree compromising the holiness of God.
What a fearful obstacle to overcome! What mere man would begin to dream of a solution to such an awesome conundrum, let alone suggest his scheme to the offended God of heaven and earth?
And yet here we have a God-appointed man, speaking as an ambassador for Christ himself, as though this holy God were himself pleading through him – fearful responsibility! – and crying out to sinners: “Be reconciled to God!” Gospel imperatives (the commands of the Word of God) are founded upon gospel indicatives (the facts recorded in God’s word) and come with divine power. Is this what we find in this instance? Is there really a solid foundation for such a bold declaration and invitation? This is precisely what we find in verse 21.
 See also Sinclair B. Ferguson, “Preaching the Atonement,” in The Glory of the Atonement, ed. Charles E. Hill & Frank A. James III (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004), 432-433.
 John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1961), 32.
Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
2 Corinthians 5.18-21
How, and on what basis, can a man be right with God? The range of ignorant or simply wrong answers being given to that question in a multitude of sermons, books, articles, churches, and seminars is horrifying. Truths that we might have fondly imagined would stand unshaken upon earth as well as in heaven are being assaulted on every side, but – despite our fond imaginations – we should not be surprised to see the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone being cheerfully undermined and attacked even by those who perceive themselves to be its foremost defenders. Twilight falls, and the darkness of superstition and guilt – of paganism and Romanism – seems to gather again. Writing at the end of the seventeenth century, the Scottish Presbyterian pastor Robert Traill wrote of this matter of justification by faith,
that as it is a point of highest concern to every man, so it is to the whole doctrine of Christianity. All the great fundamentals of Christian truth centre in this of justification. The Trinity of Persons in the Godhead; the incarnation of the only Begotten of the Father; the satisfaction paid to the law and justice of God for the sins of the world by his obedience and sacrifice of himself in that flesh he assumed; and the divine authority of the Scriptures which reveal this: these are all straight lines of truth that centre in this doctrine of justification of a sinner by the imputation and application of that satisfaction.
Notice that, by implication, the re-alignment of the centre will either require or result in the bias of every line of truth that leads to the centre. Traill identified four particular areas where those who were departing from the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints differed from those who held to the Biblical norm: the imputed righteousness of Christ; the true notion and nature of justifying faith; the interest, and room, and place, that faith has in justification; and, the two Adams, especially the second, who is Christ. Little has changed.
Confusion seems to reign, and old weapons are being dusted off for a fresh assault being made on key issues. But there is nothing new under the sun. In a sermon delivered on Sunday 15th April 1860, C. H. Spurgeon delivered the following broadside:
Little however, did I think I should live to see this kind of stuff taught in pulpits; I had no idea that there would come out a divinity, which would bring down God’s moral government from the solemn aspect in which Scripture reveals it, to a namby-pamby sentimentalism, which adores a Deity destitute of every masculine virtue. But we never know to-day what may occur to-morrow. We have lived to see a certain sort of men – thank God they are not Baptists – though I am sorry to say there are a great many Baptists who are beginning to follow in their trail – who seek to teach now-a-days, that God is a universal Father, and that our ideas of his dealing with the impenitent as a Judge, and not as a Father, are remnants of antiquated error. Sin, according to these men, is a disorder rather than an offence, an error rather than a crime. Love is the only attribute they can discern, and the full-orbed Deity they have not known. Some of these men push their way very far into the bogs and mire of falsehood, until they inform us that eternal punishment is ridiculed as a dream. In fact, books now appear, which teach us that there is no such thing as the Vicarious Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. They use the word Atonement it is true, but in regard to its meaning, they have removed the ancient landmark. They acknowledge that the Father has shown his great love to poor sinful man by sending his Son, but not that God was inflexibly just in the exhibition of his mercy, not that he punished Christ on the behalf of his people, nor that indeed God ever will punish anybody in his wrath, or that there is such a thing as justice apart from discipline. Even sin and hell are but old words employed henceforth in a new and altered sense. Those are old-fashioned notions, and we poor souls who go on talking about election and imputed righteousness, are behind our time. Ay, and the gentlemen who bring out books on this subject, applaud Mr. Maurice, and Professor Scott, and the like, but are too cowardly to follow them, and boldly propound these sentiments. These are the new men whom God has sent down from heaven, to tell us that the apostle Paul was all wrong, that our faith is vain, that we have been quite mistaken, that there was no need for propitiating blood to wash away our sins; that the fact was, our sins needed discipline, but penal vengeance and righteous wrath are quite out of the question.
Taking into account the necessity of altering the names of one or two of the individuals Spurgeon has in mind, again we must confess that little has altered. Faced with this conflict through the ages, the church of Christ must continue to face it. Either wilfully or ignorantly, the concepts which lie at the heart of the gospel are being recast; the same words are being employed, but are being invested with different – and unscriptural – meanings. The ancient landmarks are being shifted or removed, and we must plant them firmly where they belong, and defend them there. We cannot in our limited time begin to address every aspect of the errors that are being flung against this doctrine, nor can we hope to defend every aspect of the truth. However, it is my intention to deliver something Scriptural and positive concerning what John Owen, at the very beginning of his magisterial and exhaustive treatment of the matter of justification by faith, calls “the way and means whereby [a sinner pressed and perplexed with a sense of the guilt of sin] doth obtain acceptance before God, with a right and title unto a heavenly inheritance.” Grasping something of the truth from the Word of God will help us to address error from whichever direction it attacks, in and whatever guise it appears. To attempt taking such a hold upon truth, we turn to 2 Corinthians 5.21, where “in these few direct words the Apostle sets forth the gospel of reconciliation in all its mystery and all its wonder:” “for he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”
In coming posts, we will examine this verse in its context, noting that there is a real reconciliation required, a real Redeemer supplied, a real righteousness imputed, and a real reliance essential.
 The substance of this article was first delivered as a sermon at a Sovereign Grace Union meeting at Tonbridge, Kent, on Friday 1st July 2005. It has been re-worked and edited for print.
 Robert Traill, Justification Vindicated (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002), 67.
 Ibid., 11-17.
 C. H. Spurgeon, “Christ – our substitute,” in The New Park Street Pulpit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1994), 6:190.
 John Owen, “The doctrine of justification by faith,” in The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1965), 5:7.
 Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1962), 211.