Classical Covenant Theology On Justification

By Edited by R. Scott Clark

John Calvin (1509-64). To be justified in the sight of God, to be Justified by faith or by works. A man is said to be justified in the sight of God when in the judgment of God he is deemed righteous, and is accepted on account of his righteousness...Thus we simply interpret justification, as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as if we were righteous; and we say that this justification consists in the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ (Institutes, 3.11.2).

John Calvin. To justify therefore, is nothing else than to acquit from the charge of guilt, as if innocence were proved. Hence, when God justifies us through the intercession of Christ, he does not acquit us on a proof of our own innocence, but by an imputation of righteousness, so that though not righteous in ourselves, we are deemed righteous in Christ (Institutes, 3.11.3).

John Calvin. That Christ, by his obedience, truly purchased and merited grace for us with the Father, is accurately inferred from several passages of Scripture. I take it for granted, that if Christ satisfied for our sins, if he paid the penalty due by us, if he appeased God by his obedience; in fine, if he suffered the just for the unjust, salvation was obtained for us by his righteousness; which is just equivalent to meriting. Now, Paul's testimony is, that we were reconciled, and received reconciliation through his death, (Rom. 5: 11.) But there is no room for reconciliation unless where offense has preceded. The meaning, therefore, is, that God, to whom we were hateful through sin, was appeased by the death of his Son, and made propitious to us. And the antithesis which immediately follows is carefully to be observed, "As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous," (Rom. 5: 19.) For the meaning is - As by the sin of Adam we were alienated from God and doomed to destruction, so by the obedience of Christ we are restored to his favour as if we were righteous. The future tense of the verb does not exclude present righteousness, as is apparent from the context. For he had previously said, "the free gift is of many offenses unto justification." (Institutes, 2.17.3)

John Calvin. The Sophists, who make game and sport in their corrupting of Scripture and their empty caviling, think they have a subtle evasion...For, according to them, man is justified by both faith and works provided they are not his own works but the gifts of Christ and the fruit of regeneration (Institutes 3.11.14)

John Calvin.
The verbal question is, What is justification? They [the Council of Trent, Session Six] deny that it is merely the forgiveness of sins, and insist that it includes both renovation and sanctification. Paul's words are, "David describeth the blessedness of the man to whom God imputeth righteousness by not imputing sin; and the same Apostle, without appealing to the testimony of another, elsewhere says, "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself,not imputing unto men their trespasses." Immediately after he adds, "He made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be the righteousness of God in him." (2 Cor 5.19.) Can anything be clearer than that we are regarded as righteous in the sight of God, because our sins have been expiated by Christ, and no longer us under liability.

John Calvin. ...What! can the justification of the publican have any other meaning (Luke 17) than the imputation of righteousness, when he was freely accepted of God. And since the dispute is concerning the propriety of a word, when Christ is declared by Paul to be our righteousness and sanctification, a distinction is certainly drawn between these two things, though the Fathers of Trent confound them.

John Calvin.
...I would be unwilling to dispute about a word, did not the whole case depend upon it. But when they say that a man is justified, when he is again formed for the obedience of God, they subvert the whole argument of Paul, "If righteousness is by the law, faith is nullified, and the promise abolished (Rom 4.14). For he means, that not an individual among mankind will be found in whom the promise of salvation may be accomplished, if it involves the condition of innocence; and that faith, if it is propped up by works will instantly fall. This is true; because, so long as we look at what we are in ourselves, we must tremble in the sight of God, so far from having a firm and unshaken confidence of eternal life

John Calvin. ...while I shall admit that we are never received into the favor of God without being at the same time regenerated to holiness of life, contend that it is false to say that any part of righteousness (justification) consists in any quality, or in the habit which resides in us....

John Calvin. ...It is just as if they [Trent] were to say, that forgiveness of sins cannot be dissevered from repentance, and therefore repentance is a part of it. The only point in dispute is, how we are deemed righteous in the sight of God, and where our faith, by which alone we obtain righteousness, ought to seek it.

John Calvin.
When they [Trent] quote the passage of Paul, 'Faith which worketh by love,' (Gal 5.6) they do not see that they are cutting their own throats. For if love is the fruit and effect of faith, who sees not that the unformed faith which they have fabricated is a vain figment! It is very odd for the daughter thus to kill the mother! But I must remind my readers that this passage is irrelevantly introduced into a question about Justification, since Paul is not there considering in what respect faith or charity avails to justify a man, but what is Christian maturity; as when he elsewhere says, 'If a man be in Christ he is a new creature.' (2 Cor 5.17). (revised slightly from Antidote to the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent 1547, Calvin's Selected Works, ed. and trans. H. Beveridge, repr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983; 3.114, 115, 117, 118, 119).

John Calvin.
When you are engaged in discussing the question of justification, beware of allowing any mention to be made of love or of works, but resolutely adhere to the exclusive particle. (Commentary on Galatians 5.6, 1548).

John Calvin.
Being justified freely, etc. A participle is here put for a verb according to the usage of the Greek language. The meaning is, — that since there remains nothing for men, as to themselves, but to perish, being smitten by the just judgment of God, they are to be justified freely through his mercy; for Christ comes to the aid of this misery, and communicates himself to believers, so that they find in him alone all those things in which they are wanting. There is, perhaps, no passage in the whole Scripture which illustrates in a more striking manner the efficacy of his righteousness; for it shows that God’s mercy is the efficient cause, that Christ with his blood is the meritorious cause, that the formal or the instrumental cause is faith in the word, and that moreover, the final cause is the glory of the divine justice and goodness. With regard to the efficient cause, he says, that we are justified freely, and further, by his grace; and he thus repeats the word to show that the whole is from God, and nothing from us. It might have been enough to oppose grace to merits; but lest we should imagine a half kind of grace, he affirms more strongly what he means by a repetition, and claims for God’s mercy alone the whole glory of our righteousness, which the sophists divide into parts and mutilate, that they may not be constrained to confess their own poverty. — Through the redemption, etc. This is the material,–Christ by his obedience satisfied the Father’s justice, (judicium — judgment,) and by undertaking our cause he liberated us from the tyranny of death, by which we were held captive; as on account of the sacrifice which he offered is our guilt removed. Here again is fully confuted the gloss of those who make righteousness a quality; for if we are counted righteous before God, because we are redeemed by a price, we certainly derive from another what is not in us. And Paul immediately explains more clearly what this redemption is, and what is its object, which is to reconcile us to God; for he calls Christ a propitiation, (or, if we prefer an allusion to an ancient type,) a propitiatory. But what he means is, that we are not otherwise just than through Christ propitiating the Father for us (Commentary on Romans 3.24; Strasbourg, 1539).

John Calvin. This is not a tautology, but a necessary explanation of the previous verse. Paul shows that the offence of the one man is such as to render us guilty ourselves. He had previously said that we are condemned, but to prevent anyone from laying claim to innocence, he desired also to add that everyone is condemned, but because he is a sinner. When he afterwards states that we are made righteous by the obedience of Christ, we deduce from this that Christ, in satisfying the Father, has procured righteousness for us. It follows from this that righteousness exists in Christ as a property, but that that which belongs properly to Christ is imputed to us. At the same time he explains the character of the righteousness of Christ by referring to it as obedience]. Let us note here what we are required to bring into the presence of God, if we wish to be justified by works, viz. obedience to the law, and not a partial obedience, but absolute obedience in every respect. If a righteous man has fallen, none of his former righteousness is remembered. We are also to learn from this the falsity of the self-conceived schemes which men thrust upon God for the purpose of satisfying His justice. Only when we follow what God has commanded us do we truly worship Him, and render obedience to His Word. Let us, therefore, have nothing to do with those who confidently lay claim to the righteousness of works, which can exist only when there is a full and complete observance of the law. This, it is certain, nowhere exists. We similarly deduce that those who boast before God of works of their own invention, which He regards as being not better than dung, are out of their minds, for obedience is better than sacrifice. (Commentary on Romans 5:19; 1540; in Calvin's Commentaries: The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians. Trans. Ross MacKenzie, ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961), 118.

John Calvin. Here it is proper to remember the relation which we previously established between faith and the Gospel; faith being said to justify because it receives and embraces the righteousness offered in the Gospel. By the very fact of its being said to be offered by the Gospel, all consideration of works is excluded. This Paul repeatedly declares, and in two passages, in particular, most clearly demonstrates. In the Epistle to the Romans, comparing the Law and the Gospel, he says, "Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the Law, That the man which does those things shall live by them. But the "righteousness that is of faith" [Rom 10.6] announces salvation....Do you see how he makes the distinction between the Law and the Gospel to be, that the former gives justification to works, whereas the latter bestows it freely without any help from works? This is a notable passage, and may free us from many difficulties if we understand that the justification which is given us by the Gospel is free from any terms of Law. Here is the reason why he so often opposes the promises to the Law, as things mutually contradictory: "If the inheritance is by the Law, it is no longer by promise." [Gal 3.18]. …Undoubtedly the Law also has its promises; and, therefore, between them and the Gospel promises there must be some distinction and difference, unless we are to hold that the comparison is inept. And in what can the difference consist unless in this that the promises of the Gospel are gratuitous, and founded on the mere mercy of God, whereas the promises of the Law depend on the condition of works? (Institutes, 3.11.17)

John Calvin.
We, indeed, acknowledge with Paul, that the only faith which justifies is that which works by love, (Galatians 5:6) but love does not give it its justifying power. Nay, its only means of justifying consists in its bringing us into communication with the righteousness of Christ (Institutes, 3.11.20).

John Calvin.
We dream not of a faith which is devoid of good works, nor of a justification which can exist without them: the only difference is, that while we acknowledge that faith and works are necessarily connected, we, however, place justification in faith, not in works. How this is done is easily explained, if we turn to Christ only, to whom our faith is directed and from whom it derives all its power. Why, then, are we justified by faith? Because by faith we apprehend the righteousness of Christ, which alone reconciles us to God. This faith, however, you cannot apprehend without at the same time apprehending sanctification; for Christ “is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption,” (1 Corinthians 1:30.) Christ, therefore, justifies no man without also sanctifying him. These blessings are conjoined by a perpetual and inseparable tie. Those whom he enlightens by his wisdom he redeems; whom he redeems he justifies; whom he justifies he sanctifies (Institutes, 3.16.1).

Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575). So then as often as the godly doth read that our own works do justify that our own works are called righteousness that unto our works is given a reward and life everlasting he doth not by and by swell with pride nor yet forget the merit of Christ (Decades 1.119).

Belgic Confession, Article 22: The Righteousness of Faith.
We believe that for us to acquire the true knowledge of this great mystery the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts a true faith that embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, and makes him its own, and no longer looks for anything apart from him. For it must necessarily follow that either all that is required for our salvation is not in Christ or, if all is in him, then he who has Christ by faith has his salvation entirely. Therefore, to say that Christ is not enough but that something else is needed as well is a most enormous blasphemy against God--for it then would follow that Jesus Christ is only half a Savior. And therefore we justly say with Paul that we are justified "by faith alone" or by faith "apart from works." However, we do not mean, properly speaking, that it is faith itself that justifies us--for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness. But Jesus Christ is our righteousness in making available to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place. And faith is the instrument that keeps us in communion with him and with all his benefits. When those benefits are made ours they are more than enough to absolve us of our sins.

Belgic Confession, Article 23: The Justification of Sinners.
We believe that our blessedness lies in the forgiveness of our sins because of Jesus Christ, and that in it our righteousness before God is contained, as David and Paul teach us when they declare that man blessed to whom God grants righteousness apart from works. And the same apostle says that we are justified "freely" or "by grace" through redemption in Jesus Christ. And therefore we cling to this foundation, which is firm forever, giving all glory to God, humbling ourselves, and recognizing ourselves as we are; not claiming a thing for ourselves or our merits and leaning and resting on the sole obedience of Christ crucified, which is ours when we believe in him. That is enough to cover all our sins and to make us confident, freeing the conscience from the fear, dread, and terror of God's approach, without doing what our first father, Adam, did, who trembled as he tried to cover himself with fig leaves. In fact, if we had to appear before God relying-- no matter how little-- on ourselves or some other creature, then, alas, we would be swallowed up. Therefore everyone must say with David: "Lord, do not enter into judgment with your servants, for before you no living person shall be justified."

Belgic Confession, Article 24: The Sanctification of Sinners.
We believe that this true faith, produced in man by the hearing of God's Word and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a "new man," causing him to live the "new life" and freeing him from the slavery of sin. Therefore, far from making people cold toward living in a pious and holy way, this justifying faith, quite to the contrary, so works within them that apart from it they will never do a thing out of love for God but only out of love for themselves and fear of being condemned. So then, it is impossible for this holy faith to be unfruitful in a human being, seeing that we do not speak of an empty faith but of what Scripture calls "faith working through love," which leads a man to do by himself the works that God has commanded in his Word. These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by his grace. Yet they do not count toward our justification-- for by faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place. So then, we do good works, but nor for merit-- for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who "works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure"-- thus keeping in mind what is written: "When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.' " Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works-- but it is by his grace that he crowns his gifts. Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work. So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.

Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Q: 21. What is true faith?

A: True faith is not only a certain knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word; but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Spirit works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ's merits (Heidelberg Catechism).

Heidelberg Catechism, Q: 31 Why is He called Christ, that is Anointed?

A: Because He is ordained of God the Father and anointed with the Holy Spirit to be our chief Prophet and Teacher, who has fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption; and our only High Priest, who by the one sacrifice of His body, has redeemed us, and ever liveth to make intercession for us with the Father; and our eternal King, who governs us by His Word and Spirit and defends and preserves us in the redemption obtained for us.

Heidelberg Catechism, Q: 60. How are you righteous before God?

A: Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart (Heidelberg Catechism).

Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 61. Why do you say, that you are righteous by faith only?

A: Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only (Heidelberg Catechism).

Caspar Olevian
(1536-87). Faith is to assent to God, as the only true and omnipotent God, his will known in his every word, and so to give glory to God and not to consider anything in ourselves or other creatures which seems to oppose him. And to regard this word as his special purpose, the promise of the gospel, that the Father reveals himself truly in Christ, and that he justifies freely and daily sanctifies those united to Christ through the Holy Spirit and preserves us through the same power by which Christ was raised from the dead by which he has subjected all things to himself so that, grounded in his power, the hope of everlasting life might be most certain (Expositio Symbolici Apostolici, 14; Frankfurt, 1584).

James Ussher
(1581-1656). By justifying Faith we understand not only...a persuasion of the truth of God's Word in general: but also a particular application of the gratuitous of the gospel, to the comfort of our own souls...So that a true believer may be certain, by the assurance of faith (Irish Articles, 1615; Art. 37).

Canons of Dort
(1619). Rejection of Errors Second Head: Paragraph 3. [We reject those:] Who teach: That Christ by His satisfaction merited neither salvation itself for any one, nor faith, whereby this satisfaction of Christ unto salvation is effectually appropriated; but that He merited for the Father only the authority or the perfect will to deal again with man, and to prescribe new conditions as He might desire, obedience to which, however, depended on the free will of man, so that it therefore might have come to pass that either none or all should fulfill these conditions. For these adjudge too contemptuously of the death of Christ, in no wise acknowledge that most important fruit or benefit thereby gained and bring again out of the hell the Pelagian error.

Canons of Dort (1619). Rejection of Errors Second Head: Paragraph 4. [We reject those:] Who teach: That the new covenant of grace, which God the Father, through the mediation of the death of Christ, made with man, does not herein consist that we by faith, in as much as it accepts the merits of Christ, are justified before God and saved, but in the fact that God, having revoked the demand of perfect obedience of faith, regards faith itself and the obedience of faith, although imperfect, as the perfect obedience of the law, and does esteem it worthy of the reward of eternal life through grace. For these contradict the Scriptures, being: "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood (Rom 3:24-25)." And these proclaim, as did the wicked Socinus, a new and strange justification of man before God, against the consensus of the whole Church.

Canons of Dort (1619). Second Head: Paragraph 5. [We reject those:] Who teach: That all men have been accepted unto the state of reconciliation and unto the grace of the covenant, so that no one is worthy of condemnation on account of original sin, and that no one shall be condemned because of it, but that all are free from the guilt of original sin. For this opinion is repugnant to Scripture which teaches that we are by nature children of wrath (Eph 2:3).

Canons of Dort (1619). Rejection of Errors Third and Fourth Head: Paragraph 6 [We reject those:] Who teach: That in the true conversion of man no new qualities, powers, or gifts can be infused by God into the will, and that therefore faith, through which we are first converted and because of which we are called believers, is not a quality or gift infused by God but only an act of man, and that it cannot be said to be a gift, except in respect of the power to attain to this faith. For thereby they contradict the Holy Scriptures, which declare that God infuses new qualities of faith, of obedience, and of the consciousness of His love into our hearts: ""This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts (Jer 31:33)." And: "For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants (Isa 44:3)." And: "God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us (Rom 5:5)." This is also repugnant to the constant practice of the Church, which prays by the mouth of the prophet thus: "Restore me, and I will return (Jer 31:18)."

John Ball (1585-1640). For faith which the righteousness of nature presupposes, leans on the title of entire nature, and therefore after the fall of Adam it has no place; for although God love the creatures in themselves, he he hates them corrupted with sin. No man therefore can persuade himself, that he is beloved of God in the title of a creature; (for all have sinned) nor love God as he ought. But the faith, of which there is mention in the Covenant of Grace, does lean upon the Promise made in Christ. (Treatise of the Covenant of Grace. London,
1645, 12).

Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God (11.1)

Westminster Confession of Faith
(1647) Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love (11.2)I

Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 70.

What is justification?

Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 71.

How is justification an act of God’s free grace?


Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet in as much as God accepteth the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.

Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 72.

What is justifying faith?


Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 73.

How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?

Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness.

Thomas Boston (1676-1732). The gospel method of sanctification, as well as of justification, lies so far out of the ken of natural reason, that if all the rationalists in the world, philosophers and divines, had consulted together to lay down a plan for repairing the lost image of God in man, they had never hit upon that which the divine wisdom has pitched upon, viz: that sinners should be sanctified in Christ Jesus, (1 Cor 1:2), by faith in him, (Acts 26:18); nay, being laid before them, they would have rejected it with disdain, as foolishness, (1 Cor 1:23). In all views which fallen man has towards the means of his own recovery, the natural bent is to the way of the covenant of works. This is evident in the case of the vast multitudes throughout the world, embracing Judaism, Paganism, Mahometanism, and Popery. All these agree in this one principle, that it is by doing men must live, though they hugely differ as to the things to be done for life (In the preface of the 1726 edn of The Marrow of Modern Divinity, 1645, repr. 1978, 9-10).

John Owen (1616-83). Q. 13. What is this new covenant? A. The gracious, free, immutable promise of God, made unto all his elect fallen in Adam, to give them Jesus Christ, and in him mercy, pardon, grace, and glory, with a re-stipulation of faith from them unto this promise, and new obedience (The Greater Catechism, 1645; ch.12).

John Owen. Q. 1. By what means do we become actual members of this church of God?

A. By a lively justifying faith, of his Father the whole mystery of godliness, the way and truth whereby we must come unto God. Christ, the head thereof. Q. 2. What is a justifying faith? A. A gracious resting upon the free promises of God in Jesus Christ for mercy, with a firm persuasion of heart that God is a reconciled Father unto us in the Son of his love (The Greater Catechism, 1645; ch.17).

John Owen. Q. 1. Are we accounted righteous and saved for our faith, when we are thus freely called? A. No, but merely by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ apprehended and applied by faith; for which alone the Lord accepts us as holy and righteous. Q. 2. What, then, is our justification or righteousness before God? A. The gracious, free act of imputation of the righteousness of Christ apprehended and applied by faith; for which alone the Lord accepts us as holy and righteous. righteousness of Christ to a believing sinner, and for that speaking peace unto his conscience, in the pardon of his sin, pronouncing him to be just and accepted before him (The Greater Catechism, 1645; ch.19).

M. J. Bosma (1874-1912). What is justification? Justification is that gracious act of God whereby he pardons the guilt of sin and adopts as his children and heirs unto eternal life, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone (WCF 11.4) What is the nature of justification? It is first of all a judicial act of God, that is, an act of God as judge. The sinner appears before the tribunal of God as guilty of breaking God's. Laws, and as eternally condemned by the justice of God because of his guilt. Now when God justifies the sinner he imputes to the sinner the righteousness of Christ, that is, he credits or puts to the account of the sinner the merits of Jesus' obedience, and on the ground of this obedience the sinner is pardoned and restored as a child of God forever. The root meaning of the word justification is to make just or righteous; But in its secondary and scriptural sense it means to count or pronounce just, to declare that a person is not guilty but righteous. The opposite of justification is condemnation. This last is the act of a judge in a court of justice, so also is justification a judicial act. All people can stand in only one of two relations towards God's law; they are either guilty or righteous, guilty if they have broken the law, righteous if they have kept the law. All have broken the law, all stand guilty. To his people God imputes the righteousness of another, of the Savior, and now declares them righteous. From this description it will be seen that justification does not change a person's inner heart or. character, it changes his legal relation before God; it does not remove the pollution of sin, the internal corruption of the heart, as regeneration and sanctification do, but justification makes right the relation towards God's law, and if the law no longer condemns us, we shall not perish in sin. The controversy between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics turned largely on the nature of justification. The Protestants used the word in a forensic or legal sense alone, the Roman Catholics used the word in both a moral and judicial sense. The Roman Church defines justification "to be not only the remission of sins, but also the renewal and sanctification of the inner man." According to the Church of Rome, therefore, justification consists in remission of sin and a change of moral character produced by the infusion of righteousness. But this Roman Catholic view confuses justification with sanctification, which are two distinct acts of God's grace. Among Protestants there are also many who seek to give an exclusive moral sense to the word justification, depriving it of its legal meaning. They are those who hold the moral influence theory of the atonement of Christ, as if Christ had died merely to make a good moral impression on us for our benefit, and not to satisfy the justice of God for us. These teachers take the element of guilt out of sin, and thus the element of pardon out of salvation. Men need cure and not pardon. Sin brings suffering; help the sinner to improve himself to the end that he may not suffer. We go to heaven because we are holy, not because we are righteous through Christ. This doctrine, taught in many protestant pulpits is worse than that of Rome, for, false as the Romish doctrine of justification is, it proceeds on the recognition of the guilt of sin and the need of expiatory character of the atonement of Christ, while the moral influence theory of some protestants denies these cardinal doctrines. Why can not our good works be the ground of our justification? 1. Our good works are not perfect. The law demands perfect obedience. And though by the grace of God we should obey, this act of obedience at one time does not atone for the disobedience of another time. Gal. 3: l0, ll. 2. If we are justified by works, Christ has died in vain. Gal 2. 21. 3. The good works of God's people are due to the Holy Spirit in them, therefore the credit for these works is due to God alone. Good works follow but do not gain justification. What is the means of securing justification? Faith in Jesus Christ alone. Scripture declares we are justified by faith or through faith, but never on account of faith. Faith is not the ground or cause that merits justification, it is the means of appropriating Christ and his righteousness, and on the ground of the righteousness thus appropriated by faith we are justified. Justification is a gift of God's infinite grace, faith is our receiving of the gift. The more active faith is therefore the more will there be the enjoyment of justification. That God should have ordained faith for this particular office of being the instrument of justification is not an arbitrary appointment, but is most wise and necessary. The nature of our own heart and the nature of salvation commends faith as the only instrument to receive justification. Faith is reliance, a deep sense of dependence on God, it looks away for the soul's necessities to God, and it therefore also ascribes all honor to God. The purpose of salvation is the glory of God. Faith seeks the glory of God and ends in praising God. Thus faith is eminently fit to be the means of justification. Do all agree with us that we are justified by faith alone? No, some declare that works must be added to faith. Sometimes we read the same language in regard to this subject as we employ, but it is evident on close examination that very different things are meant. also says we are justified by faith. The Romanist also says we are justified by faith. But what does he mean ? He has two justifications and two faiths. The first justification is the removal of original sin, which occurs in baptism. A person must believe that the Church is a divine institution for saving men. He therefore comes to be baptized by the Church and receives thereby the power of spiritual life in the soul, which renders the soul inherently holy or just. This receiving of baptism with its regenerating influence must do in faith, faith merely as intellectual assent, and this is the predisposing cause of justification. After a man is thus rendered holy by the first justification, his faith must work in love, and on the ground of these works of love he receives eternal life, this is the second justification. Romanists make faith to have a twofold sense: as mere intellectual assent to what the Church says, and as synonymous with love. Wesley, the father of Methodism, expresses himself thus: "In asserting salvation by faith we mean this: (1) That pardon (salvation begun) is received by faith producing works. (2) That holiness (salvation continued) is faith working by love. (3) That. heaven (salvation finished) is the reward of this faith." What are the effects of justification? That the justified are no longer subject to condemnation, the anger of God is removed, and his love is shown to their hearts. They now have peace with God, and joy in the Holy Spirit. They are also by the gratitude of their hearts moved to a holy life. Sanctification will follow justification. The effect of pardon of sin through grace alone can never be a licentious life, as some urge against the biblical doctrine. They say, if God accepts the chief of sinners as well as the most moral man, on the simple condition of faith in Christ, what is the need of good works? Why not get justified and then indulge in sin? (The people here referred to are known as Antinomians, which means "against the law." Traces of their views are found in the N. T. in 2 Peter 3:16, 1 Cor. 5:16, and most likely were part of the doctrines of the Nicolaitans mentioned in Revelation. The "Libertines" who appeared in the Netherlands about 1525, and were comated by Calvin were Antinomians. The "Ranters" of England, mentioned by Bunyan and Mrs. Ann Hutchinson and others of New England, promoted the same views. H. B.) (Exposition of the Reformed Doctrine [Grand Rapids, 1907]).

J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937). At the centre of Christianity is the doctrine of "justification by faith." Christianity and Liberalism (New York: MacMillan, 1923), 141.

G. Vos (1862-1949)
. A forensic treatment of man and a loving treatment of man are not to Paul n any sense mutually exclusive in God. "The Alleged Legalism in Paul's Doctrine of Justification," in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard B. Gaffin (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1980), 392-393.

G. Vos (1862-1949)
. As we have already seen, the doctrine of justification cannot be relegated to a subordinate place in the Pauline teaching. If error attaches to it, it must needs be a "vitium originis" which will corrupt the system in all its ramifications. "The Alleged Legalism in Paul's Doctrine of Justification," in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard B. Gaffin (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1980), 387.

Edited by R. Scott Clark

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