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ON CERTAIN QUERIES RELATIVE TO JUSTIFICATION.
The queries subscribed C. C. in the ninth number of the Christian Observer (page 573,) relate to a subject of the greatest importance; and I hope will receive a full and satisfactory answer from some of your correspondents; in the meantime the following thoughts are at your service, if you deem them worthy of insertion.
'Q. 1. Are not justification, absolution from 'guilt, forgiveness of sins, and being accounted righteous, synonymous terms for the same bles
It appears to me unscriptural to consider justification as synonymous with absolution from guilt, &c. These are two distinct benefits, precisely answerable to the pardon granted a criminal, and an estate bestowed on him at the same time: but, as they always in the gracious dispensations of God to his people, accompany each other, this distinction is not exactly marked in the language of scripture, except when the argument requires it.
When St. Paul refers to the words of David. “ Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth “not iniquity," as proving his doctrine, that “God
imputeth righteousness without works;" his whole argument leads us to this interpretation, that David's words, rightly understood, denote more than they express, and not that the apostle only gave David's meaning in other language, and in language suited to obscure the sense, if nothing farther than pardon was intended. “The “ blessedness of the man, to whom God imputeth “ not iniquity," is secured by this, that to him he likewise “imputeth righteousness without works.” This David intimated, and this the apostle establishes.
Pardon of sin exempts a man from all punishment for past transgressions, (for the sufferings of believers are the chastisements of a father for their good, and not punishments in the strict sense of the word;) but it gives him no title to the reward of righteousness. If, when the believing penitent receives absolution from guilt, the depravity of his nature were also destroyed and the divine image entirely restored, and if the world were no more ensnaring than it was before the entrance of sin, he might be nearly in as favourable a situation, in respect of justification, as our first parents were immediately after they were created. He would be innocent but not righteous ; deserving neither punishment nor reward; and therefore to be continued in a state of probation
for an appointed season, at the close of which he would either be justified or condemned, according as he had, or had not, kept his Maker's law perfectly in all its extensive requirements. Thus the confounding of the distinct blessings of pardon and justification with each other necessarily introduces the doctrine of justification by works, yea, by the merit of works : and, as no man, in the present lapsed state of human nature, can be willing to have his eternal happiness or misery suspended on the condition of his future perfect obedience to the divine law; this first made way for the scholastic distinction between the merit of condignity and the merit of congruity, which the papists have so much insisted on, but which all the reformed churches have strenuously protested against.
Nor is this all; for we may trace the unscriptural sentiment of a new and mitigated law, by our sincere obedience to which we are to be justified through the merits of Christ, to the same source; a sentiment which at once makes void both the law and the gospel, by exceedingly lowering the scriptural standard of obedience, and altering the scriptural way of acceptance. On these accounts we must continue strenuously to insist on the distinction between pardon and the “ “ of righteousness by faith,” even “ the righteous
ness of God, which is “ upon and unto all that “believe;” if we would maintain uncorrupted the doctrine of scripture and of our established church.
When the believer is not only absolved from guilt, but “made the righteousness of God in “ Christ,” “ the Lord our righteousness,” there
is no condemnation for him ; but he is by grace intitled to the reward of righteousness; and his subsequent good works the fruits of the spirit of Christ, are not intended to constitute, even in part, his title to the heavenly inheritance: but they evidence that his faith is living and his love sincere ; they adorn the gospel, glorify God, and prove
useful to mankind. The believer is then no longer" under the law,” (as to justification,) “but under grace.” The standard of duty, however, remains the same; but that which is good in his services is graciously accepted, while the defects and evils attending them, as well as his other failures, are mercifully pardoned for Christ's sake. Albeit that good works, which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God's judgment; yet are they pleasing and accep* table to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith : insomuch, that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known, as a tree discerned by its fruits. Art. xii.
2. Does not this justification attach solely to true conversion ?'
Is it not manifest that the venerable martyrs and confessors who framed our articles, compiled our liturgy, and indeed founded our church, considered justification, not as attaching solely to 'true conversion,' ( a very ambiguous expression, which may be true or false, according as it is interpreted,) but as by faith alone? 'We are accounted
righteous before God, only for the merit of our · Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith, and not ' for our own works or deservings. Wherefore,