« AnteriorContinuar »
dicates him, or makes the goodness of his cause manifest. When a person has a cause tried in a civil court, and is justified or cleared, he may be said in different senses to be justified or cleared, by the goodness of his cause, and by the goodness of the evidences of it. He may be said to be cleared by what evidences his cause to be good; but not in the same sense as he is by that which makes his cause to be good. That which renders his cause good, is the proper ground of his justification; it is by that that he is himself a proper subject of it; but evidences justify, only as they manifest that his cause is good in fact, whether they are of such a nature as to have any influence to render it so, or no. It is by works that our cause appears to be good; but by faith our cause not only appears to be good, but becomes good; because thereby we are united to Christ. That the word justify should be sometimes understood to signify the former of these, as well as the latter, is agreeable to the use of the word in common speech; as we say such an one stood up to justify another, i. e. he endeavoured to shew or manifest his cause to be good. And it is certain that the word is sometimes used in this sense in scripture, when speaking of our being justified before God; as where it is said, we shall be justified by our words, Matt. xii. 37. "For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." It cannot be meant that men are accepted before God on the account of their words; for God has told us nothing more plainly, than that it is the heart that he looks at; and that when he acts as judge towards men in order to justifying or condemning, he tries the heart. Jer. xi. 20. "But, O Lord of hosts, that judgest righteously, that triest the reins and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them; for unto thee have I revealed my cause." Psal. vii. 8, 9. "The Lord shall judge the people: judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me. Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just; for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins." Ver. 11. "God judgeth the righteous." And many other places to the like purpose. And therefore men can be justified by their words, no otherwise than as evidences or manifestations of what is in the heart. And it is thus that Christ speaks of words in this very place, as is evident by the context, ver. 34, 35. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart," &c. The words, or sounds themselves, are neither parts of godliness, nor evidences of godliness, but as signs of what is inward.
God himself, when he acts towards men as judge, in order to a declarative judgment, makes use of evidences, and so judges men by their works. And therefore, at the day of judgment, God will judge men according to their works: For though God will stand
in no need of evidence to inform him what is right, yet it is to be considered, that he will then sit in judgment, not as earthly judges do, to find out what is right in a cause, but to declare and manifest what is right: and therefore that day is called by the apostle, "the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God," Rom. ii. 5.
To be justified, is to be approved of and accepted: But a man may be said to be approved and accepted in two respects; the
is to be approved really, and the other to be approved and accepted declaratively. Justification is two-fold; it is either the acceptance and approbation of the judge itself, or the manifestation of that approbation, by a sentence or judgment declared by the judge, either to our own consciences, or to the world. If justification be understood in the former sense, for the approbation itself, that is only that by which we become fit to be approved: But if it be understood in the latter sense, for the manifestation of this approbation, it is by whatever is a proper evidence of that fitness. In the former, only faith is concerned; because it is by that only in us that we become fit to be accepted and approved: In the latter, whatever is an evidence of our fitness, is alike concerned. And therefore, take justification in this sense, and then faith, and all other graces and good works, have a common and equal concern in it: For any other grace, or holy act, is equally an evidence of a qualification for acceptance or approbation, as faith.
To justify has always, in common speech, signified indifferently, either simply approbation, or testifying that approbation; sometimes one, and sometimes the other; because they are both the same, only as one is outwardly what the other is inwardly. So we, and it may be all nations, are wont to give the same names to two things, when one is only declarative of the other. Thus sometimes judging, intends only judging in our thoughts; at other times, testifying and declaring judgment. So such words as justify, condemu, accept, reject, prize, slight, approve, renounce, are sometimes put for mental acts, at other times, for an outward treatment. So in the sense in which the apostle James seems to use the word justify, for manifestative justification, a man is justified not only by faith, but also by works; as a tree is manifested to be good, not only by immediately examining the tree, but also by the fruit*, Prov. xx. 11. "Even a child is known by his doing, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.”
* This distinction is just and scriptural as far as it goes, but it does not reach the bottom of the difficulty, since believing in order to justification is itself a part of obedience, and is expressly called "the obedience of faith." Hence justification by faith, in comparison of what precedes it, is only manifestative. The tree must be good, that is, the person must be vitally united to Christ, as the adequate cause 56
The drift of the apostle does not require that he should be understood in any other sense: For all that he aims at, as appears by a view of the context, is to prove that good works are necessary. The error of those that he opposed was this, That good works were not necessary to salvation; that if they did but believe that there was but one God, and that Christ was the Son of God, and the like, and were baptized, they were safe, let them live how
of believing, otherwise he would be still carnal. The faith of a man spiritually dead or carnal, must needs be a dead faith; but to suppose that such faith unites to Christ, has neither scripture nor any plausible reason to support it.
To him that is in Christ Jesus by a vital union, there is no condemnation; and as there is no medium between condemnation and justification, he who is in Christ is justified, or "accepted in the beloved" Saviour. That union which Christ effects by his quickening spirit, makes the tree good, and believing with the heart, in order to receive the promised righteousness, is the fruit of a good tree. Therefore the justification which is received as the consequence of believing is only manifestative of union; even as justification by works, as asserted by St. James, is manifestative of a living faith. As without works there is no sufficient evidence of union to Christ on our part, so without faith in Christ as our complete righteousness, there it no sufficient evidence of union with him on his part.
The true Christian's work, are "works of faith and labours of love," performed in obedience to God's authority, directed to his glory, and inspired by gratitude for the blessings of his grace, and this is the first of all such works, called "the work of God," even to believe on Jesus Christ in whom alone is righteousness and life. By believing we receive the divine testimony respecting a gratuitous righteousness, and renounce all hope of obtaining justification by any other way.
The justifying righteousness is only one, but the appointed ways of becoming interested in it are divers. One way is by the will of God our Saviour, the other by the will of man the accountable agent, each in its own order. The will of God gives the fundamental interest, and the will of man the consequent, and manifestative interest. In the first way, we are interested in Christ's righteousness by one act continued, commencing with, and permanent as the primary vital union; in the other way, it is by repeated acts, commencing with the first act of faith in Christ, and repeated with every succeeding reception of him.
Among persons who have made any, even the smallest progress in Christian knowledge, there can be no dispute respecting the fundamental cause of justification. All such acknowledge, that the righteousness, or federal perfection of Jesus Christ, is that for the sake of which any of the fallen race of Adam can be justified. The difference of sentiment arises from the appointed method of obtaining an interest in this meritorious cause. For want of consideration, we too hastily infer that if the scripture states one appointed method, that it must be an exclusive appointment. Hence one pleads from scripture, and especially St. James's epistle, that this appointed method is by works, that is, evangelical obedience, of which faith is a leading part. Another pleads from scripture, that it is by faith, not as an act of moral obedience, but as a suitable bond of union, to the exclusion of all works. And a third, from the same scripture, pleads that we are justified by an eternal imminent act of God, and that faith only brings us to enjoy a privilege which belongs to the elect from eternity.
Now each of these schemes overlooks the important truth, that the immediate ground of justification is the vital union between Christ and the soul. Justification from eternity precedes vital union; justification by works, denies the fact of a vital union being an adequate ground of a justifying sentence; and justification by faith alone, or believing in Christ, to the exclusion of a prior vital union on the part of the Spirit, confounds the work of man and the work of God. This last being the most difficult part of the subject, I beg leave to make a few observations upon it.
1. The claims of God, in reference to justification, are two-fold. In the first instance, he claims from man a federal perfection; and in the second instance, he
they would; which doctrine greatly tended to licentiousness. The evincing the contrary of this is evidently the apostle's scope.
And that we should understand the apostle, of works justifying as an evidence, and in a declarative judgment, is what a due consideration of the context will naturally lead us to. For it is plain, that the apostle is here insisting on works, in the quality of a necessary manifestation and evidence of faith, or as what the truth of faith is made to appear by: As ver. 18. "Shew me thy faith
claims compliance with his method of bestowing an interest in it. The former claim may be answered by the surety, and in fact is answered by his act of a vital union on his part. For by this he gives an interest in himself to the soul he savingly adopts. Thus there is no condemnation to you that are in Christ Jesus. But the latter claim can be answered only by the believer himself, when he actually receives Christ as his righteousness, and so answers the divine requisition, Thus he that believeth in Christ is justified from all things. In the first instance, Christ pleads his own righteousness in behalf of the adopted sinner; in the last instance, the believer pleads the same righteousness in his own behalf.
2. The obligations of man, in reference to justification, are also of two kinds. In the first place, he stands obliged to be conformed to the law as a covenant, which demands a sinless perfection; and, in the second place, he is obliged to conform to the law as a rule. Now whatever God enjoins as a duty is a part of this rule; whether it be to hate sin, to love God, to believe in Christ, or to observe whatever Christ hath commanded. Our obligation to be conformed to the law as a covenant, is discharged by Christ only as our surety; and our ability to discharge our obligation of being conformed to the law as a rule is from him. We are obliged to believe on him as our justifying righteousness, under pain of God's displeasure, but man will ever continue in unbelief until Christ slays his enmity, and enables him to believe. But to slay a sinner's enmity, to change his nature, or to give him ability to believe, is the effect of a vital union; for as there is no such ability without gracious influence, so there is no gracious influence without union to the source of spiritual life. When thus enabled, man exercises repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Receiving him by faith alone, as our righteousness in life, the law is obeyed as the voice of God, requiring the obedience of faith.
3. The method of mercy, in reference to justification, includes the substitution of the Saviour, and our acceptance in him, without any works of righteousness on our part. In this respect, not by works of righteousness which we have done, whether faith, repentance, or any kind of obedience, but according to his mercy he saveth us provides a Saviour and gives us a saving interest in him. Grace provides, and grace applies the remedy. Mercy imputes to Jesus our sins, and imputes to us his righteousness. He who knew no sin was by sovereign mercy made a sin-offering for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Mercy laid the foundation, and placed us on it, that we might become living stones on him; and in consequence find him to be precious.
4. The rule of moral government, in reference to justification, is, that we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as the end of the law for righteousness. For this end is the gospel proclaimed to all nations, even for "the obedience of faith." This is the language of divine government, "He that believeth shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned." The unbeliever is condemned already, because he rejects the counsel of God, and neglects so great salvation. Mercy hath provided an adequate and all-sufficient remedy, and government requires our closing with it as the only ground of hope left us. An endeavour to set up our own obedience instead of the righteousness of Christ, is rebellion against the authority of God, and undervaluing his wisdom and grace. None deserve condemnation more than those who reject the only remedy. And even they who believe have no ground of boasting. For we are saved by grace, and justified by faith, and that is not of ourselves, but is the gift of God.-The influence of works in justification our author has well explained. W.
without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works." And when he says, ver. 26. "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also;" it is much more rational and natural to understand him as speaking of works, as the proper signs and evidences of the reality, life, and goodness of faith. Not that the very works or actions done are properly the life of faith, as the spirit in the body, but it is the active, working nature of faith, of which the actions or works done are the signs, that is itself the life and spirit of faith. The sign of a thing is often in scripture language said to be that thing; as it is in that comparison by which the apostle illustrates it. Not the actions themselves of a body, are properly the life or spirit of the body, but the active nature, of which those actions or motions are the signs, is the life of the body. That which makes men pronounce any thing to be alive, is, that they observe it has an active operative nature; which they observe no otherwise than by the actions or motions which are the signs of it. It is plainly the apostle's aim to prove, that if faith hath not works, it is a sign that it is not a good sort of faith; which would not have been to his purpose, if it was his design to shew that it is not by faith alone, though of a right sort, that we have acceptance with God, but that we are accepted on the account of obedience as well as faith. It is evident, by the apostle's reasoning, that the necessity of works, is not from their having a parallel concern in our salvation with faith, but he speaks of works only as related to faith, and expressive of it; which, after all, leaves faith the alone fundamental condition, without any thing else having a parallel concern with it in this affair; and other things conditions, only as several expressions and evidences of it.
That the apostle speaks of works justifying only as a sign or evidence, and in God's declarative judgment, is further confirmed by verse 21. "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered up Isaac his son upon the altar?" Here the apostle seems plainly to refer to that declarative judgment of God, concerning Abraham's sincerity, manifested to him, for the peace and assurance of his own conscience, after his offering up Isaac his son on the altar. Gen. xxii. 12. "Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me." But here it is plain, and expressed in the very words of justification or approbation, that this work of Abraham offering up his son on the altar, justified him as an evidence. When the apostle James says, we are justified by works, he may, and ought to be understood in a sense agreeable to the instance he brings for the proof of it: but justification in that instance appears by the words of justification themselves, to be by works as an evidence. And where this instance of Abraham's