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“ eternal life?"! Our answer to these inquiries, as in the presence of our heart-searching Judge, is of infinite importance; for this and this only is genuine Christianity.
All things having been made ready for the salvation of sinners, in the person and mediation of the great Redeemer, it was also necessary that the method, or medium, of appropriating this inestimable benefit, should be clearly and expressly revealed; and this leads us to the consideration of the scriptural doctrine of Justification. I shall, therefore, in the present Essay briefly explain the meaning of the words justify and justification, as they are used by the sacred writers; shew that we must be justified before God by faith alone ; consider the peculiar nature of faith, and the manner in which it justifies ; assign a few reasons why justification and salvation are ascribed to faith, rather than to any other holy dispositions or actions; and answer some of the more plausible objections to the doctrine.
I. The terms justify and justification are taken from the common concerns of life, and they are applied, with some necessary variation of meaning, to the dealings of God with his rational creatures, especially to his admission of sinful men into a state of acceptance, and to the privilege of being thus accepted. They denote, therefore, that such persons are now dealt with as if they were righteous; being wholly exempted from those sufferings which are, strictly speaking, penal, and entitled to the reward of perfect obedience : though in themselves they have merited no reward, but, on the contrary, havc deserved the punishment denounced in the law against transgressors, These are commonly said to be forensic terms; that is, they refer to the practice of courts of justice among men: and indeed they seem to have been origin ally taken from such transactions ; yet this derivation gives us a very inadequate idea of their import. For, when a man is charged with a crime before an earthly tribunal, he must be either condemned or acquitted: if he be condemned, he may be pardoned but he cannot be justified ; if he be acquitted, he may be justified but he cannot stand in need of pardon. Moreover a criminal may be acquitted for want of legal evidence, or from other causes, when there can be no reasonable doubt of his guilt : yet no accusation for the same crime can be brought against him ; though he is very far from being fully justified, or admitted to the full enjoyment of those privileges which belong to an unsuspected member of civil society; nor would he be a proper person to be confided in, or advanced to a place of honour and responsibility. Whereas, if an accused person be fully justified from the charge brought against him, he suffers no degradation in his character or disadvantage in his circumstances ; his integrity is often placed in a more conspicuous light than before ; he is considered as an injured man, and is frequently recommended by these circumstances to the favour and confidence of the prince, or the people. Justification, therefore, in the original meaning of the word, is not only distinct from pardon, but is absolutely incom
patible with it: it implies far more than the acquittal of an accused person : it is a declaration that no charge ought to have been made against the man; that he is justly entitled to all the privileges of a good citizen ; and that he is, and ought to be, admissible to every post of honour and emolument, even as if he had never been accused. The meaning of the word, in other concerns of life, is the same: if a man's character has been aspersed, heis said to be completely justified when the charge is entirely refuted, and proved malicious or groundless, to the satisfaction of all who inquire into it.
On the contrary, our justification before God is always attended with pardon, and implies that we are guilty ; and we are justified as ungodly,” “ righteousness being imputed to us without 66 works." If we had never sinned, we might have been justified before God. by our own obedience, according to the common use of the word justification: no charge could have been brought or proved against us ; nor should we have needed any forgiveness. But by breaking the holy law of God we have forfeited our title to the reward of righteousness, according to the law, and have incurred the penalty of eternal misery. The justification, therefore, of a sinner must imply something distinct from a total and final remission of the deserved punishment; namely, a renewed title to the reward of righteousness, as complete and effective as he would have had if he had never sinned, but had perfectly performed, during the term of his probation, all the demands of the divine law. The remission of sins' would indeed place him in such a state that no charge would lie against him: but then he would have no title to the reward of righteousness, till he had obtained it by performing, for the appointed time, the whole obedience required of him: for he would merely be re-admitted to a state of probation, and his justification or condemnation could not be decided till that were terminated. But the justification of the pardoned sinner gives him a present title to the reward of righteousness, independent of his future conduct, as well as without respect to his past actions. This is evidently the scriptural idea of justification : it is uniformly represented as immediate and complete, when the sinner believes in the Lord Jesus Christ; and not as a contingent advantage to be waited for till death or judgment: and the arguments which some learned men have adduced, to prove that justification means nothing else than forgiveness of sins, only shew that the two distinct blessings are never separately conferred. David, for instance, says,
i Rom. iv, 1-8.
“ Blessed is the man to whom the Lord “im“ puteth not iniquity ;” and Paul observes that, in
“ David describeth the blessedness of “the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness “without works."? This does not prove that“ not
imputing sin,” and “ imputing righteousness,” are synonymous terms : but merely that where God does not impute sin he does impute righteousness; and that he confers the title to eternal life on all those whom he rescues from eternal death.3 Indeed exemption from eternal punishment, and a
· Ps. xxxii. 2.
? Rom. iv. 6.
3 Acts xiii. 38, 39.