Free Justification

Written by: Octavius Winslow

Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. Romans 8:30

And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. Romans 8:30

And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And he gave them right standing with himself, and he promised them his glory. Romans 8:30

Such is the third link in this golden chain of heavenly truth. Those whom God appoints unto salvation, he as certainly calls by his effectual grace; and those whom he thus calls by his Spirit, he as certainly justifies through his Son. As we are not composing a treatise on the doctrine of Justification, we must assume it as divinely revealed, restricting ourselves, in the present instance, to a simple and brief presentation of the truth, as it forms an essential step in the believer’s progress from condemnation to glory. “Whom he called, them he also justified.”

Of the necessity of justification, we need not speak at great length. If there is no condemnation where justification is attained, it follows that where there is not the condition of justification, the law must be left to take its full effect. But the very provision proves the necessity. Had it been possible for our fallen race to have recovered their former state of holiness and consequent Divine acceptance by an expedient of their own invention, do we think that God would have provided a way of justification so costly or so stupendous as that which the Gospel reveals? The utter incapacity of the sinner to justify himself, left the way open for the display of God’s infinite wisdom, holiness, and grace. The theater was prepared for the development of his great and grand expedient of justifying the sinner, and yet remaining truly, unbendingly, and unimpeachably just. But not upon man’s inability to justify himself rests alone the necessity of a Divine method of justification, but mainly upon the nature of God’s moral government. As a holy God, he can only consistently pardon and justify upon the basis of a righteousness which fully sustains the purity of his nature, the majesty of his law, and the glory of his entire moral government. Here are the two extremes of being- the holy, condemning Lord God, and the unholy and condemned sinner. It is proposed that they should meet as upon an equal footing, and that perfect reconciliation and peace should eternally be established between them. But upon what basis? Without a mediating plan, how shall this be effected? God is under a most free necessity to maintain the dignity of his throne, the holiness of his nature, and the righteousness of his law. If he would justify the sinner upon the ground of mere mercy, apart from a full satisfaction to the Divine government, what would become of his justice and his holiness? and with what truth could it be affirmed that “he is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot (not will not, but cannot) look on iniquity?” If, then, man is saved, if the sinner is justified, if the condemned is acquitted, it is most clear that it must be upon the basis of an atonement that should not compromise the righteousness of the Divine government, but should so harmonize all the attributes of God, so meet all the claims of justice and holiness and truth, as shall enable Mercy to walk upon the high battlements of his grace, waving her olive-branch of peace in view of a revolted and guilty world. Such an expedient has been devised, such a basis has been provided, such an atonement has been made. We now approach nearer to the subject before us.

The term is forensic- employed in judicial affairs, transacted in a court of judicature. We find an illustration of this in God’s Word- “If there be a controversy between men, and they come into judgment, that the judge may judge them, then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.” It is clear from this passage that the word stands opposed to a state of condemnation, and in this sense it is employed in the text under consideration. To justify, in its proper and fullest sense, is to release from all condemnation. Now it is important that we do not mix up this doctrine, as the Church of Rome has done, with other and kindred doctrines. We must clearly distinguish it from that of sanctification. Closely connected as they are, they yet entirely differ. The one is a change of state, the other a change of condition. By the one we pass from guilt to righteousness, by the other we pass from sin to holiness. In justification we are brought near to God; in sanctification we are made like God. The one places in before him in a condition of non-condemnation; the other transforms us into his image. Yet the Church of Rome blends the two states together, and in her formularies teaches an imputed sanctification, just as the Bible teaches an imputed justification. It is to be distinguished, too, from pardon. Justification is a higher act. By the act of pardon we are saved from hell; but by the decree of justification, we are brought to heaven. The one discharges the soul from punishment; the other places in its hand a title-deed to glory. But the main question relates to the method of God’s justification. And this is a point of vital moment. The Lord Jesus Christ is emphatically the justification of all the predestined and called people of God. “By him all that believe are justified from all things.” “Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” The antecedent step was to place himself in the exact position of his church. In order to do this, it was necessary that he should be made under the law; for as the Son of God, he was above the law, and could not therefore be amenable to its precept. But when he became the Son of man, it was as though the sovereign of a vast empire had relinquished his regal character for the condition of the subject. He, who was superior to all law, by his mysterious incarnation placed himself under the law. He who was the King of Glory, became by his advent the lowest of subjects. “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.” What a stoop was this! What a descending of the Son of God from the height of his glory! The King of kings, the Lord of lords, consenting to be brought under his own law, a subject to himself, the law-Giver becoming the law-Fulfiller. Having thus humbled himself, he was prepared, as the sacrificial Lamb, to take up and bear away the sins of his people. The prophecy that predicted that he should “bear their iniquities,” and that he should “justify many,” received in him its literal and fullest accomplishment. Thus upon Jesus were laid all the iniquities, and with the iniquities the entire curse, and added to the curse, the full penalty belonging to the Church of God. This personal and close contact with sin affected not his moral nature; for that was essentially sinless, and could receive no possible taint from his bearing our iniquity. He was accounted “accursed,” even as was Israel’s goat, when upon its head Aaron laid the sins of the people; but as that imputation of sin could not render the animal to whom it was transferred morally guilty, though by the law treated as such, so the bearing of sin by Christ could not for a single instant compromise his personal sanctity. With what distinctness has the Spirit revealed, and with what strictness has he guarded, the perfect sinlessness of the atoning Savior! “He has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Oh, blessed declaration to those who not only see the sin that dwells in them, but who trace the defilement of sin in their holiest things, and who lean alone for pardon upon the sacrifice of the spotless Lamb of God! To them, how encouraging and consolatory the assurance that there is a sinless One who, coming between a holy God and their souls, is accepted in their stead, and in whom they are looked upon as righteous! And this is God’s method of justification. By a change of place with the Church, Christ becomes the “Lord our Righteousness,” and we are “made the righteousness of God in him.”

There is the transfer of sin to the innocent, and in return, there is the transfer of righteousness to the guilty. In this method of justification no violence whatever is done to the moral government of God. So far from a shade obscuring its glory, that glory beams forth with an effulgence which must have remained forever veiled, but for the redemption of man by Christ. God never appears so like himself as when he sits in judgment upon the person of a sinner, and determines his standing before him upon the ground of that satisfaction to his law rendered by the Son of God in the room and stead of the guilty. Then does he appear infinitely holy, yet infinitely gracious; infinitely just, yet infinitely merciful. Love, as if it had long been panting for an outlet, now leaps forth and embraces the sinner; while justice, holiness, and truth gaze upon the wondrous spectacle with infinite complacence and delight. And shall we not pause and bestow a thought of admiration and gratitude upon him, who was constrained to stand in our place of degradation and woe, that we might stand in his place of righteousness and glory? What wondrous love! What stupendous grace! that he should have been willing to have taken upon him our sin, and curse, and woe. The exchange to him how humiliating! He could only raise us, by himself stooping. He could only emancipate us, by wearing our chain. He could only deliver us from death, by himself dying. He could only invest us with the spotless robe of his pure righteousness, by wrapping around himself the leprous mantle of our sin and curse. Oh, how precious ought he to be to every believing heart! What affection, what service, what sacrifice, what devotion, he deserves at our hands! Lord, incline my heart to yield itself supremely to you!

But in what way does this great blessing of justification become ours? In other words, what is the instrument by which the sinner is justified? The answer is at hand. “Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus: whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” Faith, and faith alone, makes this righteousness of God ours. “By him all that believe are justified.” And why is it solely and exclusively by faith? The answer is again at hand “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace.” Were justification through any other medium than by believing, then the perfect freeness of the blessing would not be secured. The expressions are, “Justified freely by his grace;” that is, gratuitously- absolutely for nothing. Not only was God in no sense whatever bound to justify the sinner; but the sovereignty of his law, as well as the sovereignty of his love, alike demanded that, in extending to the sinner the greatest boon of his government, he should do so upon no other principle than as a perfect act of grace on the part of the Giver, and as a perfect gratuity on the part of the recipient having “nothing to pay.” Therefore, whatever is associated with faith in the matter of the sinner’s justification- whether it be Baptism, or any other rite, or any work or condition performed by the creature- renders the act entirely void and of none effect. The justification of the believing sinner is as free as the God of love and grace can make it.

Yet more: Faith is not only the instrument by which we receive a free grace justification, but it harmonizes the outward act of God with the inward feelings of the believing heart. Thus in justification the heart of the Justifier and the heart of the justified beat in the most perfect and holy unison. It is not a stupendous act on the part of God meeting no response on the part of man. Oh no! the believer’s heart flows out in gratitude after God’s heart, traveling towards him in the mightiness and majesty of its saving love; and thus both meet in Christ, the one Mediator between God and man. Here the believer is conscious of a vital union with his justifying Lord. He feels he is one with Christ. The righteousness wrought out, is by faith wrought in, and that faith is the uniting grace of a real, personal union between the justified soul, and a risen, living Savior. “He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit.” Oh close and blessed union! Justified by God, accepted in Christ, condemnation there cannot be. I stand in the Divine presence as Joshua stood before the Lord, or as the woman stood before the Savior, charged, accused, guilty; but I am in the presence of him who, though now he sits upon the throne as my Judge, once hung upon the cross as my Savior. And, investing me with his own spotless robe, he proceeds to pronounce the sentence- “No Condemnation!” “These things write I unto you that your joy may be full.”

In conclusion, while this subject, as we thus see, lays the basis of the deepest joy, it is equally promotive of the highest holiness. Some have thought that a link were lacking in the chain of truth we are contemplating, because no specific mention is made of sanctification. But this is not really the case. The apostle does not deem it necessary to say that, he “whom God justifies he also sanctifies,” simply because in the preceding verse he had already in the strongest manner affirmed that God’s people were predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son. And what were this but the very highest order of sanctification? No sinner can be pardoned and justified without the implantation in his soul by the Holy Spirit of the germ of holiness; so that the “path of the just is as the shining light, that shines more and more unto the perfect day.” Fully and freely, and forever justified, Oh, how powerful the motive to yield ourselves unto God! “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”

We must learn to discriminate between our justified state, and the existence of indwelling sin. The one does not necessarily involve the present annihilation of the other. And by not clearly discerning the difference, many of God’s people are exposed to great distress of mind. Let us, to illustrate the case, suppose an act of free pardon transmitted from the sovereign to a condemned criminal, slowly sinking beneath the ravages of a fatal disease. He passes out of his cell, delivered indeed from a humiliating and painful death, but bearing with him a hidden worm that feeds at the very root of the vital principle. Thus is it with the justified. They have “no condemnation” written as with beams of light upon their tranquil brow. Yet they bear about within their souls a moral disease, which shall not cease to work and distress until they lay down the body of sin and death, and wake up perfected in the likeness of their Lord.