RPM, Volume 18, Number 39, September 18 to September 24, 2016

The Doctrine of Justification by Faith

The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, through the Imputation
of the Righteousness of Christ;
explained, confirmed, and vindicated
Part 5

By John Owen

(The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1965)

Chapter III. The use of faith in justification; its especial object farther cleared

Use of faith in justification; various conceptions about it -- By whom asserted as the instrument of it; by whom denied -- In what sense it is affirmed so to be -- The expressions of the Scripture concerning the use of faith in justification; what they are, and how they are best explained by an instrumental cause -- Faith, how the instrument of God in justification -- How the instrument of them that do believe -- The use of faith expressed in the Scripture by apprehending, receiving; declared by an instrument -- Faith, in what sense the condition of our justification -- Signification of that term, whence to be learned

The description before given of justifying faith does sufficiently manifest of what use it is in justification; nor shall I in general add much unto what may be thence observed unto that purpose. But whereas this use of it has been expressed with some variety, and several ways of it asserted inconsistent with one another, they must be considered in our passage. And I shall do it with all brevity possible; for these things lead not in any part of the controversy about the nature of justification, but are merely subservient unto other conceptions concerning it. When men have fixed their apprehensions about the principal matters in controversy, they express what concerns the use of faith in an accommodation thereunto. Supposing such to be the nature of justification as they assert, it must be granted that the use of faith therein must be what they plead for. And if what is peculiar unto any in the substance of the doctrine be disproved, they cannot deny but that their notions about the use of faith do fall unto the ground. Thus is it with all who affirm faith to be either the instrument, or the condition, or the "causa sine qua non," or the preparation and disposition of the subject, or a meritorious cause, by way of condecency or congruity, in and of our justification. For all these notions of the use of faith are suited and accommodated unto the opinions of men concerning the nature and principal causes of justification. Neither can any trial or determination be made as unto their truth and propriety, but upon a previous judgment concerning those causes, and the whole nature of justification itself. Whereas, therefore, it were vain and endless to plead the principal matter in controversy upon every thing that occasionally belongs unto it, -- and so by the title unto the whole inheritance of every cottage that is built on the premises, -- I shall briefly speak unto these various conceptions about the use of faith in our justification, rather to find out and give an understanding of what is intended by them, than to argue about their truth and propriety, which depend on that wherein the substance of the controversy does consist.

Protestant divines, until of late, have unanimously affirmed faith to be the instrumental cause of our justification. So it is expressed to be in many of the public confessions of their churches. This notion of theirs concerning the nature and use of faith was from the first opposed by those of the Roman church. Afterward it was denied also by the Socinians, as either false or improper. Socin. Miscellan. Smalcius adv. Frantz. disput. 4; Schlichting. adver. Meisner. de Justificat. And of late this expression is disliked by some among ourselves; wherein they follow Episcopius, Curcellaeus, and others of that way. Those who are sober and moderate do rather decline this notion and expression as improper, than reject them as untrue. And our safest course, in these cases, is to consider what is the thing or matter intended. If that be agreed upon, he deserves best of truth who parts with strife about propriety of expressions, before it be meddled with. Tenacious pleading about them will surely render our contentions endless; and none will ever want an appearance of probability to give them countenance in what they pretend. If our design in teaching be the same with that of the Scripture, -- namely, to inform the minds of believers, and convey the light of the knowledge of God in Christ unto them, we must be contented sometimes to make use of such expressions as will scarce pass the ordeal of arbitrary rules and distinctions, through the whole compass of notional and artificial sciences. And those who, without more ado, reject the instrumentality of faith in our justification, as an unscriptural notion, as though it were easy for them with one breath to blow away the reasons and arguments of so many learned men as have pleaded for it, may not, I think, do amiss to review the grounds of their confidence. For the question being only concerning what is intended by it, it is not enough that the term or word itself, of an instrument, is not found unto this purpose in the Scripture; for on the same ground we may reject a trinity of persons in the divine essence, without an acknowledgment whereof, not one line of the Scripture can be rightly understood.

Those who assert faith to be as the instrumental cause in our justification, do it with respect unto two ends. For, first, they design thereby to declare the meaning of those expressions in the Scripture wherein we are said to be justified pistei, absolutely; which must denote, either "instrumentum, aut formam, aut modum actionis." Logizometha oun tistei dikaiousthei anthropon, Rom. iii. 28; -- "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith." So, Dia pisteos, verse 22; Ek pisteos, Rom. i. 17; Gal. iii. 8; Dia tes pisteos, Eph. ii. 8; Ek pisteos, kai dia tes pisteos, Rom. iii. 30; -- that is "Fide, ex fide, per fidem;" which we can express only, by faith, or through faith. "Propter fidem," or dia pistin, for our faith, we are nowhere said to be justified. The inquiry is, What is the most proper, lightsome, and convenient way of declaring the meaning of these expressions? This the generality of Protestants do judge to be by an instrumental cause: for some kind of causality they do plainly intimate, whereof the lowest and meanest is that which is instrumental; for they are used of faith in our justification before God, and of no other grace of duty whatever. Wherefore, the proper work or office of faith in our justification is intended by them. And dia is nowhere used in the whole New Testament with a genitive case (nor in any other good author), but it denotes an instrumental efficiency at least. In the divine works of the holy Trinity, the operation of the second person, who is in them a principal efficient, yet is sometimes expressed thereby; it may be to denote the order of operation in the holy Trinity answering the order of subsistence, though it be applied unto God absolutely or the Father: Rom. xi. 36, Di' autou; -- "By him are all things." Again, ex ergon nomou and ex akoes pisteos are directly opposed, Gal. iii. 2. But when it is said that a man is not justified ex ergon nomou, -- "by the works of the law," -- it is acknowledged by all that the meaning of the expression is to exclude all efficiency, in every kind of such works, from our justification. Is follows, therefore, that where, in opposition hereunto, we are said to be justified ek pisteos, -- "by faith," -- an instrumental efficiency is intended. Yet will I not, therefore, make it my controversy with any, that faith is properly an instrument, or the instrumental cause in or of our justification; and so divert into an impertinent contest about the nature and kinds of instruments and instrumental causes, as they are metaphysically hunted with a confused cry of futilous terms and distinctions. But this I judge, that among all those notions of things which may be taken from common use and understanding, to represent unto our minds the meaning and intention of the scriptural expressions so often used, pistei, ek pisteos, dia pisteos, there is none so proper as this of an instrument or instrumental cause, seeing a causality is included in them, and that of any other kind certainly excluded; nor has it any of its own.

But it may be said, that if faith be the instrumental cause of justification, it is either the instrument of God, or the instrument of believers themselves. That it is not the instrument of God is plain, in that it is a duty which he prescribes unto us: it is an act of our own; and it is we that believe, not God; nor can any act of ours be the instrument of his work. And if it be our instrument, seeing an efficiency is ascribed unto it, then are we the efficient causes of our own justification in some sense, and may be said to justify ourselves; which is derogatory to the grace of God and the blood of Christ.

I confess that I lay not much weight on exceptions of this nature. For, First, Notwithstanding what is said herein, the Scripture is express, that "God justifieth us by faith." "It is one God which shall justify the circumcision ek pisteos, (by faith,) "and the uncircumcision dia tes pisteos, (through or by faith), Rom. iii. 30. "The Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith," Gal. iii. 8. As he "purifieth the hearts of men by faith," Acts xv. 9, wherefore faith, in some sense, may be said to be the instrument of God in our justification, both as it is the means and way ordained and appointed by him on our part whereby we shall be justified; as also, because he bestows it on us, and works it in us unto this end, that we may be justified: for "by grace we are saved through faith, and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God," Eph. ii. 8. If any one shall now say, that on these accounts, or with respect unto divine ordination and operation concurring unto our justification, faith is the instrument of God, in its place and way, (as the gospel also is, Rom. i. 16; and the ministers of it, 2 Cor. v. 18; 1 Tim. iv. 6; and the sacraments also, Rom. iv. 11; Tit. iii. 5, in their several places and kinds), unto our justification, it may be he will contribute unto a right conception of the work of God herein, as much as those shall by whom it is denied.

But that which is principally intended is, that it is the instrument of them that do believe. Neither yet are they said hereon to justify themselves. For whereas it does neither really produce the effect of justification by a physical operation, nor can do so, it being a pure sovereign act of God; nor is morally any way meritorious thereof; nor does dispose the subject wherein it is unto the introduction of an inherent formal cause of justification, there being no such thing in "rerum natura;" nor has any other physical or moral respect unto the effect of justification, but what arises merely from the constitution and appointment of God; there is no colour of reason, from the instrumentality of faith asserted, to ascribe the effect of justification unto any but unto the principal efficient cause, which is God alone, and from whom it proceeds in a way of free and sovereign grace, disposing the order of things and the relation of them one unto another as seems good unto him. Dikaioumenoi dorean te autou chariti, Rom. iii. 24; Dia tes pisteos en to autou haimati, verse 25. It is, therefore, the ordinance of God prescribing our duty, that we may be justified freely by his grace, having its use and operation towards that end, after the manner of an instrument; as we shall see farther immediately. Wherefore, so far as I can discern, they contribute nothing unto the real understanding of this truth, who deny faith to be the instrumental cause of our justification; and, on other grounds, assert it to be the condition thereof, unless they can prove this is a more natural exposition of these expressions, pistei, ek pisteos, dia tes pisteos, which is the first thing to be inquired after. For all that we do in this matter is but to endeavour a right understanding of Scripture propositions and expressions, unless we intend to wander "extra oleas," and lose ourselves in a maze of uncertain conjectures.

Secondly. They designed to declare the use of faith in justification, expressed in the Scripture by apprehending and receiving of Christ or his righteousness, and remission of sins thereby. The words whereby this use of faith in our justification is expressed, are, lambano, paralambano, and katalambano. And the constant use of them in the Scripture is, to take or receive what is offered, tendered, given or granted unto us; or to apprehend and lay hold of any thing thereby to make it our own: as epilambanomai is also used in the same sense, Heb. ii. 16. So we are said by faith to "receive Christ," John i. 12; Col. ii. 6; -- the "abundance of grace, and the gift of righteousness," Rom. v. 17; -- the "word of promise," Acts ii. 41; -- the "word of God," Acts viii. 14; 1 Thess i. 6; ii. 13; -- the "atonement made by the blood of Christ," Rom. v. 11; -- the "forgiveness of sins," Acts x. 43; xxvi. 18; -- the "promise of the Spirit," Gal. iii. 14; -- the "promises," Heb. ix. 15. There is, therefore, nothing that concurs unto our justification, but we receive it by faith. And unbelief is expressed by "not receiving," John i. 11; iii. 11; xii. 48; xiv. 17. Wherefore, the object of faith in our justification, that whereby we are justified, is tendered, granted, and given unto us of God; the use of faith being to lay hold upon it, to receive it, so as that it may be our own. What we receive of outward things that are so given unto us, we do it by our hand; which, therefore, is the instrument of that reception, that whereby we apprehend or lay hold of any thing to appropriate it unto ourselves, and that, because this is the peculiar office which, by nature, it is assigned unto among all the members of the body. Other uses it has, and other members, on other accounts, may be as useful unto the body as it; but it alone is the instrument of receiving and apprehending that which, being given, is to be made our own, and to abide with us. Whereas, therefore, the righteousness wherewith we are justified is the gift of God, which is tendered unto us in the promise of the gospel; the use and office of faith being to receive, apprehend, or lay hold of and appropriate, this righteousness, I know not how it can be better expressed than by an instrument, nor by what notion of it more light of understanding may be conveyed unto our minds. Some may suppose other notions are meet to express it by on other accounts; and it may be so with respect unto other uses of it: but the sole present inquiry is, how it shall be declared, as that which receives Christ, the atonement, the gift of righteousness; which shall prove its only use in our justification. He that can better express this than by an instrument ordained of God unto this end, all whose use depends on that ordination of God, will deserve well of the truth. It is true, that all those who place the formal cause or reason of our justification in ourselves, or our inherent righteousness, and so, either directly or by just consequence, deny all imputation of the righteousness of Christ unto our justification, are not capable of admitting faith to be an instrument in this work, nor are pressed with this consideration; for they acknowledge not that we receive a righteousness which is not our own, by way of gift, whereby we are justified, and so cannot allow of any instrument whereby it should be received. The righteousness itself being, as they phrase it, putative, imaginary, a chimera, a fiction, it can have no real accidents, -- nothing that can be really predicated concerning it. Wherefore, as was said at the entrance of this discourse, the truth and propriety of this declaration of the use of faith in our justification by an instrumental cause, depends on the substance of the doctrine itself concerning the nature and principal causes of it, with which they must stand or fall. If we are justified through the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, which faith alone apprehends and receives, it will not be denied but that it is rightly enough placed as the instrumental cause of our justification. And if we are justified by an inherent, evangelical righteousness of our own, faith may be the condition of its imputation, or a disposition for its introduction, or a congruous merit of it, but an instrument it cannot be. But yet, for the present, it has this double advantage:-- First, That it best and most appositely answers what is affirmed of the use of faith in our justification in the Scripture, as the instances given do manifest. Secondly, That no other notion of it can be so stated, but that it must be apprehended in order of time to be previous unto justification; which justifying faith cannot be, unless a man may be a true believer with justifying faith, and yet not be justified.

Some do plead that faith is the condition of our justification, and that otherwise it is not to be conceived of. As I said before, so I say again, I shall not contend with any man about words, terms, or expressions, so long as what is intended by them is agreed upon. And there is an obvious sense wherein faith may he called the condition of our justification; for no more may be intended thereby, but that it is the duty on our part which God requires, that we may be justified. And this the whole Scripture bears witness unto. Yet this hinders not but that, as unto its use, it may be the instrument whereby we apprehend or receive Christ and his righteousness. But to assert it the condition of our justification, or that we are justified by it as the condition of the new covenant, so as, from a preconceived signification of that word, to give it another use in justification, exclusive of that pleaded for, as the instrumental cause thereof, is not easily to be admitted; because it supposes an alteration in the substance of the doctrine itself.

The word is nowhere used in the Scripture in this matter; which I argue no farther, but that we have no certain rule or standard to try and measure its signification by. Wherefore, it cannot first be introduced in what sense men please, and then that sense turned into argument for other ends. For thus, on a supposed concession that it is the condition of our justification, some heighten it into a subordinate righteousness, imputed unto us antecedently, as I suppose, unto the imputation of the righteousness of Christ in any sense, whereof it is the condition. And some, who pretend to lessen its efficiency or dignity in the use of it in our justification, say it is only "causa sine qua non;" which leaves us at as great an uncertainty as to the nature and efficacy of this condition as we were before. Nor is the true sense of things at all illustrated, but rather darkened, by such notions.

If we may introduce words into religion nowhere used in the Scripture (as we may and must, if we design to bring light, and communicate proper apprehensions of the things contained [in it] unto the minds of men), yet are we not to take along with them arbitrary, preconceived senses, forged either among lawyers or in the peripatetical school. The use of them in the most approved authors of the language whereunto they do belong, and their common vulgar acceptation among ourselves, must determine their sense and meaning. It is known what confusion in the minds of men, the introduction of words into ecclesiastical doctrines, of whose signification there has not been a certain determinate rule agreed on, has produced. So the word "merit" was introduced by some of the ancients (as is plain from the design of their discourses where they use it) for impetration or acquisition "quovis modo;" -- by any means whatever. But there being no cogent reason to confine the word unto that precise signification, it has given occasion to as great a corruption as has befallen Christian religion. We must, therefore, make use of the best means we have to understand the meaning of this word, and what is intended by it, before we admit of its use in this case.

"Conditio," in the best Latin writers, is variously used, answering katastasis, tuche, axia, aitia, suntheke, in the Greek; that is, "status, fortuna, dignitas, causa, pactum initum." In which of these significations it is here to be understood is not easy to be determined. In common use among us, it sometimes denotes the state and quality of men, -- that is, katastasis and axia; and sometimes a valuable consideration for what is to be done, -- that is, aitia or suntheke. But herein it is applied unto things in great variety; sometimes the principal procuring, purchasing cause is so expressed. As the condition whereon a man lends another a hundred pounds is, that he be paid it again with interest; -- the condition whereon a man conveys his land unto another is, that he receive so much money for it: so a condition is a valuable consideration. And sometimes it signifies such things as are added to the principal cause, whereon its operation is suspended; -- as a man bequeaths a hundred pounds unto another, on condition that he come or go to such a place to demand it. This is no valuable consideration, yet is the effect of the principal cause, or the will of the testator, suspended thereon. And as unto degrees of respect unto that whereof any thing is a condition, as to purchase, procurement, valuable consideration, necessary presence, the variety is endless. We therefore cannot obtain a determinate sense of this word condition, but from a particular declaration of what is intended by it, wherever it is used. And although this be not sufficient to exclude the use of it from the declaration of the way and manner how we are justified by faith, yet is it so to exclude the imposition of any precise signification of it, any other than is given it by the matter treated of. Without this, every thing is left ambiguous and uncertain whereunto it is applied.

For instance, it is commonly said that faith and new obedience are the condition of the new covenant; but yet, because of the ambiguous signification and various use of that term (condition) we cannot certainly understand what is intended in the assertion. If no more be intended but that God, in and by the new covenant, does indispensably require these things of us, -- that is, the restipulation of a good conscience towards God, by the resurrection of Christ from the dead, in order unto his own glory, and our full enjoyment of all the benefits of it, it is unquestionably true; but if it be intended that they are such a condition of the covenant as to be by us performed antecedently unto the participation of any grace, mercy, or privilege of it, so as that they should be the consideration and procuring causes of them, -- that they should be all of them, as some speak, the reward of our faith and obedience, -- it is most false, and not only contrary to express testimonies of Scripture, but destructive of the nature of the covenant itself. If it be intended that these things, though promised in the covenant, and wrought in us by the grace of God, are yet duties required of us, in order unto the participation and enjoyment of the full end of the covenant in glory, it is the truth which is asserted; but if it be said that faith and new obedience -- that is, the works of righteousness which we do -- are so the condition of the covenant, as that whatever the one is ordained of God as a means of, and in order to such or such an end, as justification, that the other is likewise ordained unto the same end, with the same kind of efficacy, or with the same respect unto the effect, it is expressly contrary to the whole scope and express design of the apostle on that subject. But it will be said that a condition in the sense intended, when faith is said to be a condition of our justification, is no more but that it is "causa sine qua non;" which is easy enough to be apprehended. But yet neither are we so delivered out of uncertainties into a plain understanding of what is intended; for these "causae sine quibus non" may be taken largely or more strictly and precisely. So are they commonly distinguished by the masters in these arts. Those so called, in a larger sense, are all such causes, in any kind of efficiency or merit, as are inferior unto principal causes, and would operate nothing without them; but in conjunction with them, have a real effective influence, physical or moral, into the production of the effect. And if we take a condition to be a "causa sine qua non" in this sense, we are still at a loss what may be its use, efficiency, or merit, with respect unto our justification. If it be taken more strictly for that which is necessarily present, but has no causality in any kind, not that of a receptive instrument, I cannot understand how it should be an ordinance of God. For every thing that he has appointed unto any end, moral or spiritual, has, by virtue of that appointment, either a symbolical instructive efficacy, or an active efficiency, or a rewardable condecency, with respect unto that end. Other things may be generally and remotely necessary unto such an end, so far as it partakes of the order of natural beings, which are not ordinances of God with respect thereunto, and so have no kind of causality with respect unto it, as it is moral or spiritual. So the air we breathe is needful unto the preaching of the word, and consequently a "causa sine qua non" thereof; but an ordinance of God with especial respect thereunto it is not. But every thing that he appoints unto an especial spiritual end, has an efficacy or operation in one or other of the ways mentioned; for they either concur with the principal cause in its internal efficiency, or they operate externally in the removal of obstacles and hindrances that oppose the principal cause in its efficiency. And this excludes all causes "sine quibus non," strictly so taken, from any place among divine ordinances. God appoints nothing for an end that shall do nothing. His sacraments are not arga semeia; but, by virtue of his institution, do exhibit that grace which they do not in themselves contain. The preaching of the word has a real efficiency unto all the ends of it. So have all the graces and duties that he works in us, and requires of us: by them all are "we made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light;" and our whole obedience, through his gracious appointment, has a rewardable condecency with respect unto eternal life. Wherefore, as faith may be allowed to be the condition of our justification, if no more be intended thereby but that it is what God requires of us that we may be justified; so, to confine the declaration of its use in our justification unto its being the condition of it, when so much as a determinate signification of it cannot be agreed upon, is subservient only unto the interest of unprofitable strife and contention.

To close these discourses concerning faith and its use in our justification, some things must yet be added concerning its especial object. For although what has been spoken already thereon, in the description of its nature and object in general, be sufficient, in general, to state its especial object also; yet there having been an inquiry concerning it, and debate about it, in a peculiar notion, and under some especial terms, that also must be considered. And this is, Whether justifying faith, in our justification, or its use therein, do respect Christ as a king and prophet, as well as a priest, with the satisfaction that as such he made for us, and that in the same manner, and unto the same ends and purposes? And I shall be brief in this inquiry, because it is but a late controversy, and, it may be, has more of curiosity in its disquisition than of edification in its determination. However, being not, that I know of, under these terms stated in any public confessions of the reformed churches, it is free for any to express their apprehensions concerning it. And to this purpose I say, --

1. Faith, whereby we are justified, in the receiving of Christ, principally respects his person, for all those ends for which he is the ordinance of God. It does not, in the first place, as it is faith in general, respect his person absolutely, seeing its formal object, as such, is the truth of God in the proposition, and not the thing itself proposed. Wherefore, it so respects and receives Christ as proposed in the promise, -- the promise itself being the formal object of its assent.

2. We cannot so receive Christ in the promise, as in that act of receiving him to exclude the consideration of any of his offices; for as he is not at any time to be considered by us but as vested with all his offices, so a distinct conception of the mind to receive Christ as a priest, but not as a king or prophet, is not faith, but unbelief, -- not the receiving, but the rejecting of him.

3. In the receiving of Christ for justification formally, our distinct express design is to be justified thereby, and no more. Now, to be justified is to be freed from the guilt of sin, or to have all our sins pardoned, and to have a righteousness wherewith to appear before God, so as to be accepted with him, and a right to the heavenly inheritance. Every believer has other designs also, wherein he is equally concerned with this, -- as, namely, the renovation of his nature, the sanctification of his person, and ability to live unto God in all holy obedience; but the things before mentioned are all that he aims at or designs in his applications unto Christ, or his receiving of him unto justification. Wherefore, --

4. Justifying faith, in that act or work of it whereby we are justified, respects Christ in his priestly office alone, as he was the surety of the covenant, with what he did in the discharge thereof. The consideration of his other office is not excluded, but it is not formally comprised in the object of faith as justifying.

5. When we say that the sacerdotal office of Christ, or the blood of Christ, or the satisfaction of Christ, is that alone which faith respects in justification, we do not exclude, yea, we do really include and comprise, in that assertion, all that depends thereon, or concurs to make them effectual unto our justification. As, -- First, The "free grace" and favour of God in giving of Christ for us and unto us, whereby we are frequently said to be justified, Rom. iii. 24; Eph. ii. 8; Tit. iii. 7. His wisdom, love, righteousness, and power, are of the same consideration, as has been declared. Secondly. Whatever in Christ himself was necessary antecedently unto his discharge of that office, or was consequential thereof, or did necessarily accompany it. Such was his incarnation, the whole course of his obedience, his resurrection, ascension, exaltation, and intercession; for the consideration of all these things is inseparable from the discharge of his priestly office. And therefore is justification either expressly or virtually assigned unto them also, Gen. iii. 15; 1 John iii. 8; Heb. ii. 14-16; Rom. iv. 25; Acts v. 31; Heb. vii. 27; Rom. viii. 34. But yet, wherever our justification is so assigned unto them, they are not absolutely considered, but with respect unto their relation to his sacrifice and satisfaction. Thirdly. All the means of the application of the sacrifice and righteousness of the Lord Christ unto us are also included therein. Such is the principal efficient cause thereof, which is the Holy Ghost; whence we are said to be "justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God," 1 Cor. vi. 11; and the instrumental cause thereof on the part of God, which is the "promise of the gospel," Rom. i. 17; Gal. iii. 22, 23. It would, therefore, be unduly pretended, that by this assertion we do narrow or straiten the object of justifying faith as it justifies; for, indeed, we assign a respect unto the whole mediatory office of Christ, not excluding the kingly and prophetical parts thereof, but only such a notion of them as would not bring in more of Christ, but much of ourselves, into our justification. And the assertion, as laid down, may be proved, --

(1.) From the experience of all that are justified, or do seek for justification according unto the gospel: for under this notion of seeking for justification, or a righteousness unto justification, they were all of them to be considered, and do consider themselves as hupodikoi to Theo, -- "guilty before God," -- subject, obnoxious, liable unto his wrath in the curse of the law; as we declared in the entrance of this discourse, Rom. iii. 19. They were all in the same state that Adam was in after the fall, unto whom God proposed the relief of the incarnation and suffering of Christ, Gen. iii. 15. And to seek after justification, is to seek after a discharge from this woeful state and condition. Such persons have, and ought to have, other designs and desires also. For whereas the state wherein they are antecedent unto their justification is not only a state of guilt and wrath, but such also as wherein, through the depravation of their nature, the power of sin is prevalent in them, and their whole souls are defiled, they design and desire not only to be justified, but to be sanctified also; but as unto the guilt of sin, and the want of a righteousness before God, from which justification is their relief, herein, I say, they have respect unto Christ as "set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood." In their design for sanctification they have respect unto the kingly and prophetical offices of Christ, in their especial exercise; but as to their freedom from the guilt of sin, and their acceptance with God, or their justification in his sight, -- that they may be freed from condemnation, that they may not come into judgment, -- it is Christ crucified, it is Christ lifted up as the "brazen serpent" in the wilderness, it is the blood of Christ, it is the propitiation that he was and the atonement that he made, it is his bearing their sins, his being made sin and the curse for them, it is his obedience, the end which he put unto sin, and the everlasting righteousness which he brought in, that alone their faith does fix upon and acquiesce in. If it be otherwise in the experience of any, I acknowledge I am not acquainted with it. I do not say that conviction of sin is the only antecedent condition of actual justification; but this it is that makes a sinner "subjectum capax justificationis." No man, therefore, is to be considered as a person to be justified, but he who is actually under the power of the conviction of sin, with all the necessary consequent thereof. Suppose, therefore, any sinner in this condition, as it is described by the apostle, Rom. iii., "guilty before God," with his "mouth stopped" as unto any pleas, defences, or excuses; suppose him to seek after a relief and deliverance out of this estate, -- that is, to be justified according to the gospel, -- he neither does nor can wisely take any other course than what he is there directed unto by the same apostle, verses 20-25, "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe; for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God." Whence I argue, --

That which a guilty, condemned sinner, finding no hope nor relief from the law of God, the sole rule of all his obedience, does betake himself unto by faith, that he may be delivered or justified, -- that is the especial object of faith as justifying. But this is the grace of God alone, through the redemption that is in Christ; or Christ proposed as a propitiation through faith in his blood. Either this is so, or the apostle does not aright guide the souls and consciences of men in that condition wherein he himself does place them. It is the blood of Christ alone that he directs the faith unto of all them that would be justified before God. Grace, redemption, propitiation, all through the blood of Christ, faith does peculiarly respect and fix upon. This is that, if I mistake not, which they will confirm by their experience who have made any distinct observation of the acting of their faith in their justification before God.

(2.) The Scripture plainly declares that faith as justifying respects the sacerdotal office and acting of Christ alone. In the great representation of the justification of the church of old, in the expiatory sacrifice, when all their sins and iniquities were pardoned, and their persons accepted with God, the acting of their faith was limited unto the imposition of all their sins on the head of the sacrifice by the high priest, Lev. xvi. "By his knowledge" (that is, by faith in him) "shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities," Isa. liii. 11. That alone which faith respects in Christ, as unto the justification of sinners, is his "bearing their iniquities." Guilty, convinced sinners look unto him by faith, as those who were stung with "fiery serpents" did to the "brazen serpent," -- that is, as he was lifted up on the cross, John iii. 14, 15. So did he himself express the nature and acting of faith in our justification. Rom. iii. 24, 25, "Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood." As he is a propitiation, as he shed his blood for us, as we have redemption thereby, he is the peculiar object of our faith, with respect unto our justification. See to the same purpose, Rom. v. 9, 10; Eph. i. 7; Col. i. 14; Eph. ii. 13-16; Rom. viii. 3, 4. "He we made sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him," 2 Cor. v. 21. That which we seek after in justification, is a participation of the righteousness of God; -- to be made the righteousness of God, and that not in ourselves, but in another; that is, in Christ Jesus. And that alone which is proposed unto our faith as the means and cause of it, is his being made sin for us, or a sacrifice for sin; wherein all the guilt of our sins was laid on him, and he bare all our iniquities. This therefore, is its peculiar object herein. And wherever, in the Scripture, we are directed to seek for the forgiveness of sins by the blood of Christ, to receive the atonement, to be justified through the faith of him as crucified, the object of faith in justification is limited and determined.

But it may be pleaded, in exception unto the testimonies, that no one of them does affirm that we are justified by faith in the blood of Christ alone, so as to exclude the consideration of the other offices of Christ and their acting from being the object of faith in the same manner and unto the same ends with his sacerdotal office, and what belongs thereunto, or is derived from it.

Ans. This exception derives from that common objection against the doctrine of justification by faith alone, -- namely, that that exclusive term alone is not found in the Scripture, or in any of the testimonies that are produced for justification by faith. But it is replied, with sufficient evidence of truth, that although the word be not found syllabically used unto this purpose, yet there are exceptive expressions equivalent unto it; as we shall see afterwards. It is so in this particular instance also; for, -- First, Where our justification is expressly ascribed unto our faith in the blood of Christ as the propitiation for our sins, unto our believing in him as crucified for us, and it is nowhere ascribed unto our receiving of him as King, Lord, or Prophet, it is plain that the former expressions are virtually exclusive of the latter consideration. Secondly, I do not say that the consideration of the kingly and prophetical offices of Christ is excluded from our justification, as works are excluded in opposition unto faith and grace: for they are so excluded, as there we are to exercise an act of our minds in their positive rejection, as saying, "Get you hence, you have no lot nor portion in this matter;" but as to these offices of Christ, as to the object of faith as justifying, we say only that they are not included therein. For, so to believe to be justified by his blood, as to exercise a positive act of the mind, excluding a compliance with his other offices, is an impious imagination.

(3.) Neither the consideration of these offices themselves, nor any of the peculiar acts of them, is suited to give the souls and consciences of convinced sinners that relief which they seek after in justification. We are not, in this whole cause, to lose out of our eye the state of the person who is to be justified, and what it is he does seek after, and ought to seek after, therein. Now, this is pardon of sin, and righteousness before God alone. That, therefore, which is no way suited to give or tender this relief unto him, is not, nor can be, the object of his faith whereby he is justified, in that exercise of it whereon his justification does depend. This relief, it will be said, is to be had in Christ alone. It is true; but under what consideration? For the whole design of the sinner is, how he may be accepted with God, be at peace with him, have all his wrath turned away, by a propitiation or atonement. Now, this can no otherwise be done but by the acting of some one towards God and with God on his behalf; for it is about the turning away of God's anger, and acceptance with him, that the inquiry is made. It is by the blood of Christ that we are "made nigh," who were "far off," Eph. ii. 13. By the blood of Christ are we reconciled, who were enemies, verse 16. By the blood of Christ we have redemption, Rom. iii. 24, 25; Eph. i. 7, etc. This, therefore, is the object of faith.

All the actings of the kingly and prophetical offices of Christ are all of them from God; that is, in the name and authority of God towards us. Not any one of them is towards God on our behalf, so as that by virtue of them we should expect acceptance with God. They are all good, blessed, holy in themselves, and of an eminent tendency unto the glory of God in our salvation: yea, they are no less necessary unto our salvation, to the praise of God's grace, than are the atonement for sin and satisfaction which he made; for from them is the way of life revealed unto us, grace communicated, our persons sanctified, and the reward bestowed. Yea, in the exercise of his kingly power does the Lord Christ both pardon and justify sinners. Not that he did as a king constitute the law of justification; for it was given and established in the first promise, and he came to put it in execution, John iii. 16; but in the virtue of his atonement and righteousness, imputed unto them, he does both pardon and justify sinners. But they are the acts of his sacerdotal office alone, that respect God on our behalf. Whatever he did on earth with God for the church, in obedience, suffering, and offering up of himself; whatever he does in heaven, in intercession and appearance in the presence of God, for us; it all entirely belongs unto his priestly office. And in these things alone does the soul of a convinced sinner find relief when he seeks after deliverance from the state of sin, and acceptance with God. In these, therefore, alone the peculiar object of his faith, that which will give him rest and peace, must be comprised. And this last consideration is, of itself, sufficient to determine this difference.

Sundry things are objected against this assertion, which I shall not here at large discuss, because what is material in any of them will occur on other occasions, where its consideration will be more proper. In general it may be pleaded, that justifying faith is the same with saving faith: nor is it said that we are justified by this or that part of faith, but by faith in general; that is, as taken essentially, for the entire grace of faith. And as unto faith in this sense, not only a respect unto Christ in all his offices, but obedience itself also is included in it; as is evident in many places of the Scripture. Wherefore, there is no reason why we should limit the object of it unto the person of Christ as acting in the discharge of his sacerdotal office, with the effects and fruits thereof.

Ans. 1. Saving faith and justifying faith, in any believer, are one and the same; and the adjuncts of saving and justifying are but external denominations, from its distinct operations and effects. But yet saving faith does act in a peculiar manner, and is of peculiar use in justification, such as it is not of under any other consideration whatever. Wherefore, -- 2. Although saving faith, as it is described in general, do ever include obedience, not as its form or essence, but as the necessary effect is included in the cause, and the fruit in the fruit-bearing juice; and is often mentioned as to its being and exercise where there is no express mention of Christ, his blood, and his righteousness, but is applied unto all the acts, duties, and ends of the gospel; yet this proves not at all but that, as unto its duty, place, and acting in our justification, it has a peculiar object. If it could be proved, that where justification is ascribed unto faith, that there it has any other object assigned unto it, as that which it rested in for the pardon of sin and acceptance with God, this objection were of some force; but this cannot be done. 3. This is not to say that we are justified by a part of faith, and not by it as considered essentially; for we are justified by the entire grace of faith, acting in such a peculiar way and manner, as others have observed. But the truth is, we need not insist on the discussion of this inquiry; for the true meaning of it is, not whether any thing of Christ is to be excluded from being the object of justifying faith, or of faith in our justification; but, what in and of ourselves, under the name of receiving Christ as our Lord and King, is to be admitted unto an efficiency or conditionality in that work. As it is granted that justifying faith is the receiving of Christ, so whatever belongs unto the person of Christ, or any office of his, or any acts in the discharge of any office, that may be reduced unto any cause of our justification, the meritorious, procuring, material, formal, or manifesting cause of it, is, so far as it does so, freely admitted to belong unto the object of justifying faith. Neither will I contend with any upon this disadvantageous stating of the question, -- What of Christ is to be esteemed the object of justifying faith, and what is not so? for the thing intended is only this, -- Whether our own obedience, distinct from faith, or included in it, and in like manner as faith, be the condition of our justification before God? This being that which is intended, which the other question is but invented to lead unto a compliance with, by a more specious pretence than in itself it is capable of, under those terms it shall be examined, and no otherwise.

Subscribe to RPM
RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. Click here to subscribe.