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JUSTIFICATION OF BELIEVERS.
THEREFORE being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord
Jesus Christ. — ROMANS, v. 1.
The apostle having, in the preceding chapters, established the doctrine of justification by faith alone through the atonement of Christ, proceeds to draw a just and important inference from it in the text. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Justification places all, who cordially believe in Christ, in a new, a safe, and à happy situation. There is, however, no small difficulty in reconciling this with some other equally plain and important truths of the gospel. But all this difficulty, perhaps, may be entirely removed by exhibiting the doctrine of justification in a just and scriptural light. In attempting to do this, it is proposed,
I. To describe true believers.
I. I am to describe true believers. These are persons who have been brought out of a state of nature into a state of grace. All men are by nature morally depraved, and entirely destitute of the least degree of true love to God. They are completely under the dominion of a carnal mind, which is enmity against God, not subject to his law, neither indeed can be. They deserve nothing better from the hand of God, whom they have hated and disobeyed, than eternal death, the proper wages of sin. Now, all true believers have been awakened to see themselves in this guilty and perishing condition, and brought to accept the punishment of their iniquities, and to ascribe righteousness to God, should he see fit to cast them off for ever. They have been made willing to renounce all self dependence and self righteousness, and to rely alone upon the atonement of Christ for pardoning mercy in the sight of God. They have believed the record which God has given of his Son, and fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before them in the gospel. Christ has appeared to them precious, and their hearts have been united to him, as the branches are united to the vine. This has been owing to a divine operation upon their hearts. The apostle John represents those who have believed in the name of Christ, as "being born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” 6 God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” None ever become true believers, until they have been renewed in the spirit of their mind, and have put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. But though God has begun a good work in their hearts, yet he carries it on gradually, and never makes them perfectly holy in this life. Paul acknowledged that he had not attained to perfect holiness; but when he would do good, evil was present with him. His moral imperfections deeply affected him, and caused him to cry out, “ ( wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Though true believers have been reconciled to God, and God has been reconciled to them, yet they offend him every day, and every day deserve the marks of his holy displeasure.
II. We are next to consider what is meant by their justification. The apostle asserts, that "being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Justification is a term taken from the practice of civil courts, in acquitting or releasing from punishment those who are found innocent of the charges alleged against them. But this term is not to be understood precisely in the same sense, when applied to the justification of believers. Though God releases them from punishment, yet he does not declare them innocent. He views them as actually guilty of transgressing his holy law, and as deserving to suffer the full penalty of it; but nevertheless, for Christ's sake, he releases them from suffering the just punishment of their iniquities. So that justification, in a gospel sense, signifies no more nor less, than the pardon, or remission of sin. What is called justification, in the New Testament, is more commonly called forgiveness in the Old. Under the law,
God is said to forgive, or pardon, true penitents; but under the gospel, he is said either to forgive, or to justify them, which signifies the same thing. Christ usually told those who repented and believed, that their sins were forgiven. Peter said to the three thousand that were awakened on the day of Pentecost, “ Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins." Paul commonly used justification and forgiveness as synonymous terms. Speaking of believers, in the third of Romans, he says, “ 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." And he addressed the Jews at Antioch, in similar terms. “ Be it known unto you, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses." These and many other passages of scripture plainly teach us, that the justification of believers is the same thing as their forgiveness through the atonement of Christ.
III. We are to consider how God justifies, pardons, or forgives true believers.
The Assembly of divines say, “ Justification is an act of God's free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins," &c. we any evidence that he does or says any thing, when he justifies or pardons believers ? Do they see any thing done, or hear any thing said, when they are justified? Or is there any reason to suppose that God puts forth any act, or makes any declaration, at the time of their justification ? But if he does neither of these things, we have still to inquire, how or in what manner he justifies believers. To this question a plain and satisfactory answer may be given. God justifies all true believers by Wiť. He has formed, and written, and published his last Will and Testament concerning mankind; in which he pardons all true believers, and makes them heirs of salvation, but totally disinherits and banishes from his kingdom all the finally impenitent and unbelieving As it is by Will that parents give future legacies to their children, while they are young, and even before they are born ; so it is by Will that God gives future legacies to his children. Hence says the apostle, “ The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God; and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ." There is no occasion of God's saying or doing any thing, at the time of his justifying believers, because he has already adopted them into his family and made them heirs, according to the terms specified in his written and revealed Will.