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THE ONE METHOD OF JUSTIFICATION.
There is one doctrine of the Christian religion, respecting which, happily, there exists no difference of opinion between the Protestant and Roman Catholic communities. It is a doctrine no less true than humiliating; a doctrine which History has penned upon every age of the world, and which experience has confirmed in every investigation of humanity. It is a doctrine which is written in bold black letters upon every page of inspiration, and which the Spirit of God has inscribed in burning characters upon every fold of the human conscience. It is a doctrine, the evidence of whose truth, noth withstanding the sophistries of ancient pagan wisdom and the copious dilutions of modern philosophy, (so called,) gathers strength as the world gathers age. My hearers are not in suspense as to the doctrine of which I speak, for they have doubtless already detected the reference to be to the natural sinfulness and depravity of the human race.
Here then, is common ground : The Protestant can take the hand of the Catholic, and with downcast eyes and smiting upon their breasts they can draw near together to their Heavenly Father's throne, and can say, each without violating the creed of the other, in one language, and in one voice, “ God be merciful to
me a sinner!" Ah, my hearers ! we are all sinners, and God hates sin. We have broken his laws, and “cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.” Who, where is he, among the thousands that now hear my voice, who would be bold enough to stand forth and protest that he has never committed a single sin, that he has never manifested a sinful disposition, or spoken an unholy or unkind word, or indulged an impure thought or affection or motive? I pray God, that this doctrine so personally momentous to us all, may this evening influence each one now before Him to correspondent solemnity of feeling. I desire to remember this evening that God is in this place, that I am addressing a congregation of sinners, and that I am placed here in order, not only to defend the truth, but also to beseech you in Christ's stead to be reconciled to God.
There is another doctrine upon which we are all at one, our need of God's pardoning mercy. Many of the petitions which ascend to heaven from both Roman Catholics and Protestants, demonstrate this. I enter, for example, a Roman Catholic Church, and during the service of the mass I hear the officiating priest cry out, · Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi miserere nobis," and I see the devout Catholic following the Latin of the priest in the English of his prayer book, his lips quietly moving to the words “ Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us !" Here then is an acknowledgment on the part of the Roman Catholic Church of the need of mercy at the hands of a Saviour. I go into an Episcopal Church, and I hear
the whole congregation pleading with the Holy One in these words, “ But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders :" I worship with my Congregational or Presbyterian brethren, and I hear the same confession from the lips of the minister, and the same earnest cry for mercy: and in a congregation of Baptists or Methodists, the “ Amen” that occasionally seals the petition for grace and salvation proves that these sections of the common church of the Redeemer acknowledge the same doctrine. Here again is common ground; let us then occupy it this evening, and be we of the Roman Catholic Church, or belong we to some of the various Protestant communities, let us present the unworthy sacrifice of our petitions upon the universal altar of the Christian religion, let us gaze with the eye of our faith upon
the one sacrifice for sin, let us come through the one mediator between God and men, and let us humbly but earnestly cry, "Hide thy face, O Lord, from our sins, and blot out all our iniquities.”
And now I wish both Protestants and Catholics, to listen while I read as a text the 38th and 39th verses of the xiiith Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. “BE IT
BRETHREN, THAT THROUGH HIM FORGIVENESS OF SINS IS PREACHED TO YOU: AND FROM ALL THE THINGS, FROM WHICH YOU COULD NOT BE JUSTIFIED BY THE LAW OF Moses. IN HIM EVERY ONE THAT BELIEVETH, IS JUSTIFIED."
The Protestant version reads thus :
“Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins : And by him all that believe are justified
KNOWN THEREFORE TO
from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses."
This passage speaks of justification, it speaks also of forgiveness of sins, and it speaks of these two graces and blessings as one and the same. At first sight, this seems rather contradictory, because speaking after the manner of men and of the world, a man who is justified does not need forgiveness; he spurns the very idea of pardon, and claims acquittal as his inviolable right: and a man who is forgiven feels, on the same principle, that he can neither demand nor expect to be justified. How then can we reconcile this evangelical paradox ? Only thus : That the Holy Spirit, for the purpose of demonstrating that forgiveness under the gospel is bestowed by God consistently with the claims of law, employs an expression which literally means, i. e. in law, for it is a forensic term, to acquit a man of any charge or charges that may be preferred against him in court, and to pronounce him innocent; not that a justified sinner is positively innocent, this were a contradiction, but that by the scheme of redemption through Christ, having previously complied with certain conditions, he is treated, accepted, and acknowledged, as though he were an innocent person. I shall refer you to two passages from the writings of the Apostle Paul to prove that this is the gospel view of justification : “ Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ. Whom God hath proposed to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, to the shewing of his justice, for the remission of former sins." “ But to him that worketh not, yet believeth in
6 That is,"
him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reputed to justice according to the purpose of the grace of God. As David also termeth the blessedness of a man, to whom God reputeth justice without works : Blessed are they, whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord hath not imputed sin. Blessed are they, whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.” says a Catholic annotator in the Douay Bible, “ blessed are those who, by doing penance, have obtained pardon and remission of their sins, and also are covered ; that is, newly clothed with the habit of grace, and vested with the stole of charity. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord hath not imputed sin.. That is, blessed is the man who hath retained his baptismal innocence, that no grievous sin can be imputed to him. And likewise, blessed is the man, who after falling into sin, hath done penance and leads a virtuous life by frequenting the sacraments necessary for obtaining the grace to prevent a relapse, that sin is no more imputed to him." Without discussing the integrity of the paraphrase, it is clear from the text that when the apostle speaks of evangelical pardon he means the same as justification, that indeed " forgiveness of sins," “ remission of sins," imputation of justice, (or righteousness) "non imputatian of sin,” and “ the covering of sin,” all mean the same thing and refer to the same blessing.
To me, it appears indisputable, that the apostle here speaks of a blessing which has no reference to any other change than that which is relative, that he speaks of a change which alters merely the position or relation