« Prev 2. Justification is a Forensic Act. Next »

§ 2. Justification is a Forensic Act.

By this the Reformers intended, in the first place, to deny the Romish doctrine of subjective justification. That is, that justification consists in an act or agency of God making the sinner subjectively holy. Romanists confound or unite justification and sanctification. They define justification as “the remission of sin and infusion of new habits of grace.” By remission of sin they mean not simply pardon, but the removal of everything of the nature of sin from the soul. Justification, therefore, with them, is 119purely subjective, consisting in the destruction of sin and the infusion of holiness. In opposition to this doctrine, the Reformers maintained that by justification the Scriptures mean something different from sanctification. That the two gifts, although inseparable, are distinct, and that justification, instead of being an efficient act changing the inward character of the sinner, is a declarative act, announcing and determining his relation to the law and justice of God.

In the second place, the Symbols of the Reformation no less explicitly teach that justification is not simply pardon and restoration. It includes pardon, but it also includes a declaration that the believer is just or righteous in the sight of the law. He has a right to plead a righteousness which completely satisfies its demands.

And, therefore, in the third place, affirmatively, those Symbols teach that justification is a judicial or forensic act, i.e., an act of God as judge proceeding according to law, declaring that the sinner is just, i.e., that the law no longer condemns him, but acquits and pronounces him to be entitled to eternal life.

Here, as so often in other cases, the ambiguity of words is apt to create embarrassment. The Greek word δίκαιος and the English word righteous, have two distinct senses. They sometimes express moral character. When we say that God is righteous, we mean that He is right. He is free from any moral imperfection. So when we say that a man is righteous, we generally mean that he is upright and honest; that he is and does what he ought to be and do. In this sense the word expresses the relation which a man sustains to the rule of moral conduct. At other times, however, these words express, not moral character, but the relation which a man sustains to justice. In this sense a man is just with regard to whom justice is satisfied; or, against whom justice has no demands. The lexicons, therefore, tell us that δίκαιος sometimes means, leges observans; at others insons, culpa vacans (free from guilt or obligation to punishment) — judicio Dei insons. Pilate (Matt. xxvii. 24) said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person;” i.e., of this person who is tree from guilt; free from anything which justifies his condemnation to death. “Christ, also,” says the Apostle, “hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust;” the innocent for the guilty. See Romans ii. 18; v. 19. “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” “As the predicate of judicandus in his relation to the 120judge, ‘righteousness’ expresses, not a positive virtue, but a judicial negative freedom from reatus. In the presence of his judge, he is צַרִּיק who stands free from guilt and desert of punishment (straflos), either because he has contracted no guilt (as, e.g., Christ), or, because in the way demanded by the Judge (under the Old Testament by expiatory sacrifice) he has expiated the guilt contracted.”144144Christliche Dogmatik, von Johannes Heinrich August Ebrard, § 402, edit. Königsberg, 1852, vol. ii. p. 163. If, therefore, we take the word righteous in the former of the two senses above mentioned, when it expresses moral character, it would be a contradiction to say that God pronounces the sinner righteous. This would be equivalent to saying that God pronounces the sinner to be not a sinner, the wicked to be good, the unholy to be holy. But if we take the word in the sense in which the Scriptures so often use it, as expressing relation to justice, then when God pronounces the sinner righteous or just, He simply declares that his guilt is expiated, that justice is satisfied, that He has the righteousness which justice demands. This is precisely what Paul says, when he says that God “justifieth the ungodly.” (Rom. iv. 5.) God does not pronounce the ungodly to be godly; He declares that notwithstanding his personal sinfulness and unworthiness, he is accepted as righteous on the ground of what Christ has done for him.

Proof of the Doctrine just stated.

That to justify means neither simply to pardon, nor to make inherently righteous or good is proved, —

From the Usage of Scripture.

1. By the uniform usage of the word to justify in Scripture it is never used in either of those senses, but always to declare or pronounce just. It is unnecessary to cite passages in proof of a usage which is uniform. The few following examples are enough. Deuteronomy xxv. 1, “If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.” Exodus xxiii. 7, “I will not justify the wicked.” Isaiah v. 23, “Which justify the wicked for reward.” Proverbs xvii. 15, “He that justifieth the wicked” is “abomination to the Lord.” Luke x. 29, “He willing to justify himself.” Luke xvi. 15, “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men.” Matthew xi. 19, “Wisdom is justified 121of her children.” Galatians ii. 16, “A man is not justified by the works of the law,” v. 6, “Whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” Thus men are said to justify God. Job xxxii. 2, “Because he justified himself, rather than God.” Psalms li. 4, “That thou mightest be justified when thou speakest.” Luke vii. 29, “All the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God.” The only passage in the New Testament where the word δικαιόω is used in a different sense is Revelation xxii. 11, 6, ὁ δίκαιος, δικαιωθήτω ἔτι, “He that is righteous, let him be righteous still.” Here the first aorist passive appears to be used in a middle sense, ‘Let him show himself righteous, or continue righteous.’ Even if the reading in this passage were undoubted, this single case would have no force against the established usage of the word. The reading, however, is not merely doubtful, but it is, in the judgment of the majority of the critical editors, Tischendorf among the rest, incorrect. They give, as the true text, δικαιοσύνην ποιησάτω ἔτι. Even if this latter reading be, as De Wette thinks, a gloss, it shows that ὁ δίκαιος δικαιωθήτω ἔτι was as intolerable to a Greek ear as the expression, ‘He that is righteous, let him justify himself still,’ would be to us.

The usage of common life as to this word is just as uniform as that of the Bible. It would be a perfect solecism to say of a criminal whom the executive had pardoned, that he was justified, or that a reformed drunkard or thief was justified. The word always expresses a judgment, whether of the mind, as when one man justifies another for his conduct, or officially of a judge. If such be the established meaning of the word, it ought to settle all controversy as to the nature of justification. We are bound to take the words of Scripture in their true established sense. And, therefore, when the Bible says, “God justifies the believer,” we are not at liberty to say that it means that He pardons, or that He sanctifies him. It means, and can mean only that He pronounces him just.

Justification the Opposite of Condemnation.

2. This is still further evident from the antithesis between condemnation and justification. Condemnation is not the opposite either of pardon or of reformation. To condemn is to pronounce guilty; or worthy of punishment. To justify is to declare not guilty; or that justice does not demand punishment; or that the person concerned cannot justly be condemned. 122When, therefore, the Apostle says (Rom. vii. 1), “There is therefore, now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus,” he declares that they are absolved from guilt; that the penalty of the law cannot justly be inflicted upon them. “Who,” he asks, “shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? God who justifieth? Who is he that condemneth? Christ who died?” (vers. 33, 34.) Against the elect in Christ no ground of condemnation can be presented. God pronounces them just, and therefore no one can pronounce them guilty.

This passage is certainly decisive against the doctrine of subjective justification in any form. This opposition between condemnation and justification is familiar both in Scripture and in common life. Job ix. 20, “If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me.” xxxiv. 17, “And wilt thou condemn him that is most just.” If to condemn does not mean to make wicked, to justify does not mean to make good. And if condemnation is a judicial, as opposed to an executive act, so is justification. In condemnation it is a judge who pronounces sentence on the guilty. In justification it is a judge who pronounces or who declares the person arraigned free from guilt and entitled to be treated as righteous.

Argument from Equivalent Forms of Expression.

3. The forms of expression which are used as equivalents of the word “justify” clearly determine the nature of the act. Thus Paul speaks of “the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.” (Rom. iv. 6.) To impute righteousness is not to pardon; neither is it to sanctify. It means to justify, i.e., to attribute righteousness. The negative form in which justification is described is equally significant. “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” (Rom. iv. 7, 8.) As “to impute sin” never means and cannot mean to make wicked; so the negative statement “not to impute sin cannot mean to sanctify. And as “to impute sin” does mean to lay sin to one’s account and to treat him accordingly; so to justify means to lay righteousness to one’s account and treat him accordingly. “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already.” (John iii. 17, 18.)

For “as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to 123condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” (Rom. v. 18.) It was κρῖμα, a judicial sentence, which came on men for the offence of Adam, and it is a judicial sentence (justification, a δικαίωσις) which comes for the righteousness of Christ, or, as is said in ver. 16 of the same chapter, it was a κρῖμα εἰς κατάκριμα, a condemnatory sentence that came for one offence; and χάρισμα εἰς δικαίωμα, a sentence of gratuitous justification from many offences. Language cannot be plainer. If a sentence of condemnation is a judicial act, then justification is a judicial act.

Argument from the Statement of the Doctrine.

4. The judicial character of justification is involved in the mode in which the doctrine is presented in the Bible. The Scriptures speak of law, of its demands, of its penalty, of sinner. as arraigned at the bar of God, of the day of judgment. The question is, How shall man be just with God? The answer to this question determines the whole method of salvation. The question is not, How a man can become holy? but, How can he become just? How can he satisfy the claims which justice has against him? It is obvious that if there is no such attribute as justice in God; if what we call justice is only benevolence, then there is no pertinency in this question. Man is not required to be just in order to be saved. There are no claims of justice to be satisfied. Repentance is all that need be rendered as the condition of restoration to the favour of God. Or, any didactic declaration or exhibition of God’s disapprobation of sin, would open the way for the safe pardon of sinners. Or, if the demands of justice were easily satisfied; if partial, imperfect obedience and fatherly chastisements, or self-inflicted penances, would suffice to satisfy its claims, then the sinner need not be just with God in order to be saved. But the human soul knows intuitively that these are refugee of lies. It knows that there is such an attribute as justice. It knows that the demands thereof are inexorable because they are righteous. It knows that it cannot be saved unless it be justified, and it knows that it cannot be declared just unless the demands of justice are fully satisfied. Low views of the evil of sin and of the justice of God lie at the foundation of all false views of this great doctrine.

The Apostle’s Argument in the Epistle to the Romans.

The Apostle begins the discussion of this subject by assuming 124that the justice of God, his purpose to punish all sin, to demand perfect conformity to his law, is revealed from heaven, i.e., so revealed that no man, whether Jew or Gentile, can deny it. (Rom. i. 18.) Men, even the most degraded pagans, know the righteous judgment of God that those who sin are worthy of death, (ver. 32.) He next proves that all men are sinners, and, being sinners are under condemnation. The whole world is “guilty before God.” (iii. 19.) From this he infers, as intuitively certain (because plainly included in the premises), that no flesh living can be justified before God “by the deeds of the law,” i.e., on the ground of his own character and conduct. If guilty he cannot be pronounced not guilty, or just. In Paul’s argument, to justify is to pronounce just. Δίκαιος is the opposite of ὑπόδικος (i.e., “reus, satisfactionem alteri debens”). That is, righteous is the opposite of guilty. To pronounce guilty is to condemn. To pronounce righteous, i.e., not guilty, is to justify. If a man denies the authority of Scripture; or if he feels at liberty, while holding what he considers the substance of Scripture doctrines, to reject the form, it is conceivable that he may deny that justification is a judicial act; but it seems impossible that any one should deny that it is so represented in the Bible. Some men professing to believe the Bible, deny that there is anything supernatural in the work of regeneration and sanctification. ‘Being born of the Spirit;’ ‘quickened by the mighty power of God;’ ‘created anew in Christ Jesus,’ are only, they say, strong oriental expressions for a self-wrought reformation. By a similar process it is easy to get rid, not only of the doctrine of justification as a judicial act, but of all other distinguishing doctrines of the Scriptures. This, however, is not to interpret, but to pervert.

The Apostle, having taught that God is just, i.e., that He demands the satisfaction of justice, and that men are sinners and can render no such satisfaction themselves, announces that such a righteousness has been provided, and is revealed in the Gospel. It is not our own righteousness, which is of the law, but the righteousness of Christ, and, therefore, the righteousness of God, in virtue of which, and on the ground of which, God can be just and yet justify the sinner who believes in Christ. As long as the Bible stands this must stand as a simple statement of what Paul teaches as to the method of salvation. Men may dispute as to what he means, but this is surely what he says.


Argument from the Ground of Justification.

5. The nature of justification is determined by its ground. This indeed is an anticipation of another part of the subject, but it is in point here. If the Bible teaches that the ground of justification, the reason why God remits to us the penalty of the law and accepts us as righteous in his sight, is something out of ourselves, something done for us, and not what we do or experience, then it of necessity follows that justification is not subjective. It does not consist in the infusion of righteousness, or in making the person justified personally holy. If the “formal cause” of our justification be our goodness; then we are justified for what we are. The Bible, however, teaches that no man living can be justified for what he is. He is condemned for what he is and for what he does. He is justified for what Christ has done for him.

Justification not mere Pardon.

For the same reason justification cannot be mere pardon. Pardon does not proceed on the ground of a satisfaction. A prisoner delivered by a ransom is not pardoned. A debtor whose obligations have been cancelled by a friend, becomes entitled to freedom from the claims of his creditor. When a sovereign pardons a criminal, it is not an act of justice. It is not on the ground of satisfaction to the law. The Bible, therefore, is reaching that justification is on the ground of an atonement or satisfaction; that the sinner’s guilt is expiated; that he is redeemed by the precious blood of Christ; and that judgment is pronounced upon him as righteous, does thereby teach that justification is neither pardon nor infusion of righteousness.

Argument from the Immutability of the Law.

6. The doctrine that justification consists simply in pardon, and consequent restoration, assumes that the divine law is imperfect and mutable. In human governments it is often expedient and right that men justly condemned to suffer the penalty of the law should be pardoned. Human laws must be general. They cannot take in all the circumstances of each particular case. Their execution would often work hardship or injustice. Human judgments may therefore often be set aside. It is not so with the divine law. The law of the Lord is perfect. And being perfect it cannot be disregarded. It demands nothing which ought not to be demanded. It threatens nothing which ought not to be inflicted. 126It is in fact its own executioner. Sin is death. (Rom. vii. 6.) The justice of God makes punishment as inseparable from sin, as life is from holiness. The penalty of the law is immutable, and as little capable of being set aside as the precept. Accordingly the Scriptures everywhere teach that in the justification of the sinner there is no relaxation of the penalty. There is no setting aside, or disregarding the demands of the law. We are delivered from the law, not by its abrogation, but by its execution. (Gal. ii. 19.) We are freed from the law by the body of Christ. (Rom. vii. 4.) Christ having taken our places bore our sins in his own body on the tree. (1 Pet. ii. 24.) The handwriting which was against us, he took out of the way, nailing it to his cross. (Col. ii. 14.) We are therefore not under the law, but under grace. (Rom. vi. 14.) Such representations are inconsistent with the theory which supposes that the law may be dispensed with; that the restoration of sinners to the favour and fellowship of God, requires no satisfaction to its demands; that the believer is pardoned and restored to fellowship with God, just as a thief or forger is pardoned and restored to his civil rights by the executive in human governments. This is against the Scriptures. God is just in justifying the sinner. He acts according to justice.

It will be seen that everything in this discussion turns on the question, Whether there is such an attribute in God as justice? If justice be only “benevolence guided by wisdom,” then there is no justification. What evangelical Christians so regard, is only pardon or sanctification. But if God, as the Scriptures and conscience teach, be a just God, as immutable in his justice as in his goodness and truth, then there can be no remission of the penalty of sin except on the ground of expiation, and no justification except on the ground of the satisfaction of justice, and therefore justification must be a judicial act, and neither simply pardon nor the infusion of righteousness. These doctrines sustain each other. What the Bible teaches of the justice of God, proves that justification is a judicial declaration that justice is satisfied. And what the Bible teaches of the nature of justification, proves that justice in God is something more than benevolence. It is thus that all the great doctrines of the Bible are concatenated.


Argument from the Nature of our Union with Christ.

7. The theory which reduces justification to pardon and its consequences, is inconsistent with what is revealed concerning our union with Christ. That union is mystical, supernatural, representative, and vital. We were in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph. i. 4); we are in Him as we were in Adam (Rom. v. 12, 21; 1 Cor. xv. 22); we are in Him as the members of the body are in the head (Eph. i. 23, iv. 16; 1 Cor. xii. 12, 27, and often); we are in Him as the branches are in the vine (John xv. 1-12). We are in Him in such a sense that his death is our death, we were crucified with Him (Gal. ii. 20; Rom. vi. 1-8) ; we are so united with Him that we rose with Him, and sit with Him in heavenly places. (Eph. ii. 1-6.) In virtue of this union we are (in our measure) what He is. We are the sons of God in Him. And what He did, we did. His righteousness is our righteousness. His life is our life. His exaltation is our exaltation. Such is the pervading representation of the Scriptures. All this is overlooked by the advocates of the opposite theory. According to that view, Christ is no more united to his people, except in sentiment, than to other men. He has simply done what renders it consistent with the character of God and the interests of his kingdom, to pardon any and every man who repents and believes. His relation is purely external. He is not so united to his people that his merit becomes their merit and his life their life. Christ is not in them the hope of glory. (Col. i. 27.) He is not of God made unto them wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. (1 Cor. i. 30.) They are not so in Him that, in virtue of that union, they are filled with all the fulness of God. (Col. ii. 10; and Eph. iii. 19.) On the other hand, the Protestant doctrine of justification harmonizes with all these representations. If we are so united to Christ as to be made partakers of his life, we are also partakers of his righteousness. What He did in obeying and suffering He did for his people. One essential element of his redeeming work was to satisfy the demands of justice in their behalf, so that in Him and for his sake they are entitled to pardon and eternal life.

Arguments from the Effects ascribed to Justification.

8. The consequences attributed to justification are inconsistent with the assumption that it consists either in pardon or in the infusion of righteousness. Those consequences are peace, reconciliation, 128and a title to eternal life. “Being justified by faith,” says the Apostle, “we have peace with God.” (Rom. v. 1.) But pardon does not produce peace. It leaves the conscience unsatisfied. A pardoned criminal is not only just as much a criminal as he was before, but his sense of guilt and remorse of conscience are in no degree lessened. Pardon can remove only the outward and arbitrary penalty. The sting of sin remains. There can be no satisfaction to the mind until there is satisfaction of justice. Justification secures peace, not merely because it includes pardon, but because that pardon is dispensed on the ground of a full satisfaction of justice. What satisfies the justice of God, satisfies the conscience of the sinner. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin (1 John i. 7) by removing guilt, and thus producing a peace which passes all understanding. When the soul sees that Christ bore his sins upon the cross, and endured the penalty which he had incurred; that all the demands of the law are fully satisfied; that God is more honoured in his pardon than in his condemnation; that all the ends of punishment are accomplished by the work of Christ, in a far higher degree than they could be by the death of the sinner; and that he has a right to plead the infinite merit of the Son of God at the bar of divine justice, then he is satisfied. Then he has peace. He is humble; he does not lose his sense of personal demerit, but the conscience ceases to demand satisfaction. Criminals have often been known to give themselves up to justice. They could not rest until they were punished. The infliction of the penalty incurred gave them peace. This is an element in Christian experience. The convinced sinner never finds peace until he lays his burden of sin on the Lamb of God; until he apprehends that his sins have been punished, as the Apostle says (Rom. viii. 3), in Christ.

Again, we are said to be reconciled to God by the death of his Son. (Rom. v. 10.) But pardon does not produce reconciliation. A pardoned criminal may be restored to his civil rights, so far as the penalty remitted involved their forfeiture, but he is not reconciled to society. He is not restored to its favour. Justification, however, does secure a restoration to the favour and fellowship of God. We become the sons of God by faith in Jesus Christ. (Gal. iii. 26.) No one can read the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans without being convinced that in Paul’s apprehension a justified believer is something more than a pardoned criminal. He is a man whose salvation is secure because he is free from the law and all its demands; because the righteousness 129of the law (i.e., all its righteous requirements) has been fulfilled him; because thereby he is so united to Christ as to become a partaker of his life; because no one can lay anything to the charge of those for whom Christ died and whom God has justified; and because such believers being justified are revealed as the objects of the mysterious, immutable, and infinite love of God.

Again, justification includes or conveys a title to eternal life. Pardon is purely negative. It simply removes a penalty. It confers no title to benefits not previously enjoyed. Eternal life, however, is suspended on the positive condition of perfect obedience. The merely pardoned sinner has no such obedience. He is destitute of what, by the immutable principles of the divine government, is the indispensable condition of eternal life. He has no title to the inheritance promised to the righteous. This is not the condition of the believer. The merit of Christ is entitled to the reward. And the believer, being partaker of that merit, shares in that title. This is constantly recognized in the Scriptures. By faith in Christ we become the sons of God. But sonship involves heirship, and heirship involves a title to the inheritance. “If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.” (Rom. viii. 17.) This is the doctrine taught in Romans v. 12-21. For the offence of one, judgment passed on all men to condemnation. For the righteousness of one, the sentence of justification of life has passed on all; that is, of a justification which entitles to life. As the sin of Adam was the judicial ground of our condemnation (i.e., was the ground on which justice demanded condemnation), so the righteousness of Christ is the judicial ground of justification. That is, it is the ground on which the life promised to the righteous should in justice be granted to the believer. The Church in all ages has recognized this truth. Believers have always felt that they had a title to eternal life. For this they have praised God in the loftiest strains. They have ever regarded it as intuitively true that heaven must be merited The only question was, Whether that merit was in them or in Christ. Being in Christ, it was a free gift to them; and thus righteousness and peace kissed each other. Grace and justice unite in placing the crown of righteousness on the believer’s head.

It is no less certain that the consequences attributed to justification do not flow from the infusion of righteousness. The amount of holiness possessed by the believer does not give him peace. Even perfect holiness would not remove guilt. Repentance does not atone for the crime of murder. It does not still 130the murderer’s conscience; nor does it satisfy the sense of justice iu the public mind. It is the πρῶτον ψεῦδος of Romanism, and of every theory of subjective justification, that they make nothing of guilt, or reduce it to a minimum. If there were no guilt, then infusion of righteousness would be all that is necessary for salvation. But if there be justice in God then no amount of holiness can atone for sin, and justification cannot consist in making the sinner holy. Besides this, even admitting that the past could be ignored, that the guilt which burdens the soul could be overlooked or so easily removed, subjective righteousness, or holiness, is so imperfect that it could never give the believer peace. Let the holiest of men look within himself and say whether what he sees there satisfies his own conscience. If not, how can it satisfy God. He is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things. No man, therefore, can have peace with God founded on what he is or on what he does. Romanists admit that nothing short of perfect holiness justifies or gives peace to the soul. In answer to the Protestant argument founded on that admission, Bellarmin says:145145De Justificatione, ii. 14; Disputationes, edit. Paris, 1608, vol. iv. p. 819, a, b.Hoc argumentum, si quid probat, probat justitiam actualem non esse perfectam: non autem probat, justitiam habitualem, qua formaliter justi sumus, . . . . non esse ita perfectam, ut absolute, simpliciter, et proprie justi nominemur, et simus. Non enim formaliter justi sumus opere nostro, sed opere Dei, qui simul maculas peccatorum tergit, et habitum fidei, spei, et caritatis infundit. Dei autem perfecta sunt opera. . . . . Unde parvuli baptizati, vere justi sunt, quamvis nihil operis fecerint.” Again, “Justitia enim actualis, quamvis aliquo modo sit imperfecta, propter admixtionem venalium delictorum, et egeat quotidiana remissione peccati, tamen non propterea desinit esse vera justitia, et suo etiam quodam modo perfecta.” No provision is made in this system for guilt. If the soul is made holy by the infusion of habits, or principles, of grace, it is just in the sight of God. No guilt or desert of punishment remains. “Reatus,” says Bellarmin,146146De Amissione Gratiæ et Statu Peccati, v. 7; Ibid. p. 287. . . . . . “est relatio,” but if the thing of which it is a relation be taken away, where is the relation. It is impossible that such a view of justification can give peace. It makes no provision for the satisfaction of justice, and places all our hopes upon what is within, which our conscience testifies cannot meet the just requirements of God.

Neither can the theory of subjective justification account for reconciliation with God, and for the same reasons. What is infused, 131the degree of holiness imparted, does not render us the objects of divine complacency and love. His love to us is of the nature of grace; love for the unlovely. We are reconciled to God by the death of his Son. That removes the obstacle arising from justice to the outflow toward us of the mysterious, unmerited love of God. We are accepted in the beloved. We are not in ourselves fit for fellowship with God. And if driven to depend on what is within, on our subjective righteousness, instead of peace we should have despair.

Again, justification according to the Scriptures gives a title to eternal life. For this our own righteousness is utterly inadequate. So far from anything in us being meritorious, or entitled to reward, the inward state and the exercises of the holiest of men, come so far short of perfection as to merit condemnation. In us there is no good thing. When we would do good, evil is present with us. There is ever a law in our members warring against the law of the mind. Indwelling sin remains. It forced even Paul to cry out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death.” (Rom. vii. 24.) “Nullum unquam exstitisse pii hominis opus, quod, si severo Dei judicio examinaretur, non esset damnabile.147147Calvin, Institutio, III. xiv. 11; edit. Berlin, 1834, part ii. p. 38. Ignoring this plain truth of Scripture and of Christian experience expressing itself in daily and hourly confession, humiliation, and prayers for forgiveness, the doctrine of subjective justification assumes that there is no sin in the believer, or no sin which merits the condemnation of God, but on the contrary that there is in him what merits eternal life. The Romanists make a distinction between a first and second justification. The first they admit to be gratuitous, and to be founded on the merit of Christ, or rather, to be gratuitously bestowed for Christ’s sake. This consists in the infusion of habitual grace (i.e., regeneration). This justifies in rendering the soul subjectively just or holy. The second justification is not a matter of grace. It is founded on the merit of good works, the fruits of regeneration. But if these fruits are, as our consciousness testifies, deified by sin, how can they merit eternal life? How can they cancel the handwriting which is against us? How can they be the ground of Paul’s confident challenge, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” It is not what is within us, but what is without us; not what we are or do, but what Christ is and has done, that is the ground of confidence and of our title to eternal life. This is the admitted doctrine of the 132Protestant Reformation. “Apud theologos Augustanæ confessionis extra controversiam positum est,” says the “Form of Concord,”148148Solida Declaratio, III. 55; Hase, Libri Symbolici, 3d edit. Leipzig, 1846, p. 695. totam justitiam nostram extra nos, et extra omnium hominum merita, opera, virtutes atque dignitatem quærendam, eamque in solo Domino nostro, Jesu Christo consistere.” As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high is a hope founded on the work of Christ for us, above a hope founded on the merit of anything wrought in us. Calvin teaches the same doctrine as Luther.149149Institutio, III. xi. 15, 16; ut supra, p. 17. He quotes Lombard as saying that our justification in Christ may be interpreted in two ways: “Primum, mors Christi nos justificat, dum per eam excitatur caritas in cordibus nostris, qua justi efficimur: deinde quod per eandem exstinctum est peccatum; quo nos captivos distinebat diabolus, ut jam non habeat unde nos damnet.” To which Calvin replies, “Scriptura autem, quem de fidei justitia loquitur, longe alio nos ducit: nempe ut ab intuitu operum nostrorum aversi, in Dei misericordiam ac Christi perfectionem, tantum respiciamus. . . . . Hic est fidei sensus, per quem peccator in possessionem venit suæ salutis, dum ex Evangeli doctrina agnoscit Deo se reconciliatum: quod intercedente Christi justitia, impetrata peccatorum remissione, justificatus sit: et quanquam Spiritu Dei regeneratus, non in bonis operibus, quibus incumbit, sed sola Christi justitia repositam sibi perpetuam justitiam cogitat.

That justification is not merely pardon, and that it is not the infusion of righteousness whereby the sinner is made inherently just or holy, but a judgment on the part of God that the demands of the law in regard to the believer are satisfied, and that he has a right to a righteousness which entitles him to eternal life, has been argued, (1.) From the uniform usage of Scripture both in the Old and New Testament. (2.) From the constant opposition between justification and condemnation. (3.) From equivalent forms of expression. (4.) From the whole design and drift of the Apostle’s argument in his Epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians. (5.) From the ground of justification, namely, the righteousness of Christ. (6.) From the immutability of the law and the justice of God. (7.) From the nature of our union with Christ. (8.) From the fact that peace, reconciliation with God, and a title to eternal life which according to Scripture, are the consequences of justification, do not flow either from mere pardon or from subjective righteousness, or from sanctification. That 133this is the doctrine of Protestants, both Lutheran and Reformed, cannot with any show of reason be disputed.

Calvin’s Doctrine.

It is true, indeed, that by the earlier Reformers, and especially by Calvin, justification is often said to consist in the pardon of sin. But that that was not intended as a denial of the judicial character of justification, or as excluding the imputation of the righteousness of Christ by which the believer is counted just in the sight of the law, is obvious, —

1. From the nature of the controversy in which those Reformers were engaged. The question between them and the Romanists was, Does justification consist in the act of God making the sinner inherently just or holy? or, Does it express the judgment of God by which the believer is pronounced just. What Calvin denied was that justification is a making holy. What he affirmed was that it was delivering the believer from the condemnation of the law and introducing him into a state of favour with God. The Romanists expressed their doctrine by saying that justification consists in the remission of sin and the infusion of charity or righteousness. But by the remission of sin they meant the removal of sin; the putting off the old man. In other words, justification with them consisted (to use the scholastic language then in vogue) in the removal of the habits of sin and the infusion of habits of grace. In those justified, therefore, there was no sin, and, therefore, nothing to punish. Pardon, therefore, followed as a necessary consequence. It was a mere accessary. This view of the matter makes nothing of guilt; nothing of the demands of justice. Calvin therefore, insisted that besides the subjective renovation connected with the sinner’s conversion, his justdication concerned the removal of guilt, the satisfaction of justice, which in the order of nature, although not of time, must precede the communication of the life of God to the soul. That Calvin did not differ from the other Reformers and the whole body of the Reformed Church on this subject appears from his own explicit declarations, and from the perfectly unambiguous statements of the Confessions to which he gave his assent. Thus he says,150150Institutio, III. x. 2; ut supra, p. 6. Porro ne impingamus in ipso limine (quod fieret si de re incognita disputationem ingrediremur) primum explicemus quid sibi velint istæ loquutiones, Hominem coram Deo justificari, Fide justificari, vel operibus. Justificari coram Deo dicitur qui judicio 134Dei et censetur justus, et acceptus est ob suam justitiam: siqui dem ut Deo abominabilis est iniquitas, ita nec peccator in ejus oculis potest invenire gratiam, quatenus est peccator, et quamdiu talis censetur. Proinde ubicunque peccatum est, illic etiam se profert ira et ultio Dei. Justificatur autem qui non loco peccatoris, sed justi habetur, eoque nomine consistit coram Dei tribunali, ubi peccatores omnes corruunt. Quemadmodum si reus innocens ad tribunal æqui judicis adducatur, ubi secundum innocentiam ejus judicatum fuerit, justificatus apud judicem dicitur: sic apud Deum justificatur, qui numero peccatorum exemptus, Deum habet suæ justitiæ testem et assertorem. Justificari, ergo, operibus ea ratione dicetur, in cujus vita reperietur ea puritas ac sanctitas quæ testimonium justitiæ apud Dei thronum mereatur: seu qui operum suorum integritate respondere et satisfacere illius judicio queat. Contra, justificabitur ille fide, qui operum justitia exclusus, Christi justitiam per fidem apprehendit, qua vestitus in Dei conspectu non ut peccator, sed tanquam justus apparet. Ita nos justificationem simpliciter interpretamur acceptionem, qua nos Deus in gratiam receptos pro justos habet. Eamque in peccatorum remissione ac justitiæ Christi imputatione positam ease dicimus.

This passage is decisive as to the views of Calvin; for it is professedly a formal statement of the “Status Questionis” given with the utmost clearness and precision. Justification consists “in the remission of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.” “He is justified in the sight of God, who is taken from the class of sinners, and has God for the witness and assertor of his righteousness.”

« Prev 2. Justification is a Forensic Act. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection