Justification by Faith
Romans 5:1
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

There is no one who has not asked the question to which these words give the true answer. "How shall man have peace with God?" Wherever man is found, whether savage or civilised, rich or poor, he is found attempting to solve this problem. For everywhere man is found beset with present miseries, and haunted with the dread of some angry power that inflicts them. And, therefore, everywhere man is found endeavouring to appease this displeasure by making peace with his God. Now to this question there are three answers possible: that man might restore himself, or that God alone might restore man, or that God and man together might effect this restoration. The first is the religion of the heathen: he seeks to appease God by his own acts; he will give even his first born for his transgressions. The second is the religion of the Pharisee: "God, I thank Thee, I am not as other men are." The third is the religion of the publican. "God be merciful to me, a sinner." Which is the true one?

I. Scripture everywhere asserts THAT GOD ALONE JUSTIFIES (Micah 6:7; Psalm 49:7; Isaiah 45:21, 22). Hear the word of the Lord! Here, then, is a simple and an unerring test, by which to try every system of religion.

1. To "justify" means to "pronounce guiltless." It never signifies to make just, but always to declare or pronounce just (Proverbs 17:15). This justification is indispensable to peace with God, for guilt cannot be at peace with justice. Before God can be at peace with any man, He must first pronounce him to be righteous.

2. Here, then, arise two great questions: first, what righteousness is this? and, secondly, how does it become ours? St. Paul tells us that it is through Christ. But even, for the sake of His dear Son, God cannot say the thing that is not. Unless there be perfect righteousness seen by Him, He cannot say He sees it. How, then, does Christ procure us this perfect righteousness? (2 Corinthians 5:21). In it is laid down, that Christ procured our righteousness by being made sin for us. Clearly, then, if we know how He was made sin, we know how we are made righteous. Was He, then, made really and truly sinful? God forbid. He, the Holy One, was, for our sakes, reckoned or accounted sinful. In the same way, therefore, we sinners are, for His sake, reckoned righteous; our sins are reckoned as if they were His; His righteousness is reckoned as if it were ours. To be "justified through Christ," therefore, is to have the righteousness of Christ so imputed to us, that God reckons us, or pronounces us, just. This righteousness is bestowed upon us by faith. Faith is the link that joins together the justice of God and the satisfaction of Christ in the person of the believer, so that God can be just, and the justifier of him that believes.

3. Is there, then, no real righteousness in the believer? does God pronounce him who is unholy, holy; and admit the unclean, in his uncleanness, into His presence? Assuredly not. God never pronounced any man holy whom He did not also make holy. There is a righteousness external and a righteousness internal: both are real — both shall one day be perfect; but that which is wrought for us is perfect from the first; that which is wrought in us is imperfect, and gradually arrives at perfection: the one at once and forever justifies; the other progressively sanctifies.

4. But how does this doctrine make God alone the Saviour without any cooperation on the part of man? Is not faith a work of the mind? and is not this, at least in part, the cause of the sinner's justification? We answer, No! for we are not justified because of our faith, but by our faith. Faith is the hand which the sinner stretches forth to receive the "free gift" of God's mercy; but it is not the stretching out of the hand which induces the bestowal of the alms. Nay, more, that very hand is palsied; we have no power of ourselves to put it forth. Faith, itself, is a free gift of God; it is not until He has said, Reach forth thine hand, that we can, by doing so, receive the alms of His free mercy, which, because of Christ's satisfaction, He is able, and, because of His own infinite love, He is willing, to bestow upon us.

5. This doctrine, then, fully answers the test to which we agreed to submit it: it reveals a salvation, which is God's work, and His alone; prompted by His love, designed by His wisdom, and accomplished by His power. This work of man's salvation has upon it the impress of divinity; it displays that wonderful union of power and wisdom that is found in all God's works, which makes them seem at once so simple and yet so mysterious. View it in its aspect towards man, how simple it seems — "Believe and live!" View it in its aspect as regards God, as His plan devised for the salvation of man, without the compromise of any one of His attributes, it is the great "mystery of godliness." This plan of salvation befits the majesty and the wisdom of God, while it is adapted to the ignorance and the weakness of man, This river of life is unfathomable, in its mysterious depths, by the mightiest of created beings; and yet the little child may kneel by its brink and drink of its sweet waters that flow softly, clear as crystal, from beneath the throne of God.

6. It is an ancient doctrine this; older than Luther, who revived it, or Paul, who defended it, or Abraham, who exemplified it. It was revealed by God, at the gate of Eden, to the first sinner who, by faith, hoped for deliverance yet to be accomplished by the seed of the woman. The first man who believed was justified by faith. The last saint that enters heaven shall enter it praising God, who, justifying him by faith, gives peace to his soul forever and ever, through Jesus Christ.

II. LET US NOW CONTRAST WITH IT MAN'S PLAN OF SALVATION, IN WHICH HE SEEKS TO MINGLE HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS WITH THAT OF GOD. The error of the self-righteous (Romans 10:3) is that he seeks a righteousness of his own, because he will not submit to be saved by the righteousness of God; as man fell by seeking to be his own God, so he remains fallen by seeking to be his own saviour. As he once refused to be entirely ruled by God, so he now refuses to be entirely saved by God. This is a most subtle and dangerous error.

1. The statement of this doctrine we will take from the Church of Rome, because Romanism is a religion of human nature, reduced to a regular system, and because we believe this difference between her and us is generally misunderstood.

(1) Let us clearly state how Rome and we are agreed in this matter. We are agreed —

(a)  That man is so utterly fallen that he has no power to help himself.

(b)  That he cannot be saved unless God bestow on him a perfect righteousness.

(c)  That God does bestow this righteousness for Christ's sake.

(2) Where, then, do we differ?

(a) As to the nature of this righteousness. We say that it is a righteousness imputed; she, that it is a righteousness implanted. We say it is a righteousness wrought for us; she, it is righteousness wrought in us. We say, God, for Christ's sake, reckons us as perfectly righteous, and then proceeds to make us holy; she says, God, for Christ's sake, makes us perfectly holy, and then pronounces us, because of this inherent holiness, to be righteous. In other words, we hold that God justifies and also sanctifies; Rome holds that He only sanctifies.

(b) As to the manner in which this righteousness is applied to us: we say, by faith only; she says, in the sacraments: she holds that this righteousness is infused into every baptised man, so that he is made perfectly righteous, and this state of justification, she holds, further, may be endangered by venial sin, and lost by deadly sin, and that it progresses so that a man may be more or less justified at one time than another. Now observe the subtlety of this error. It might be said this doctrine of Rome answers our test, for it ascribes all the work of salvation to God; it declares that this inherent righteousness is God's free gift, just as you say your imputed righteousness is. Surely there is no claim here made for man's righteousness. Let us see how our Lord disposes of this answer. "Two men went up into the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee the other a publican, and the Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself — God, I thank Thee, I am not as other men are." Where is self-righteousness here? The Pharisee claims no merit — he declares the righteousness which he presents to God, to be God's work; God has made him to differ; he fasts, and prays, and gives alms, but the power to do these good works he acknowledges to have come from God; and yet it is said that he "trusted in himself that he was righteous." Why? Because the righteousness he presented was a righteousness in him; it was not the righteousness of God, and it availed him nothing to say that it was God's gift at first. It is self-righteous to present to God as a reason for pardon anything in man, whether that be said to be originally God's gift or not; he who comes to Him must come as the publican, "God be merciful to me," — not a justified or sanctified man, but "me a sinner!" Add to this, that even if the righteousness be God's gift in the first instance, yet the preserving of it, the increase of it, by faith, and prayer, and penance, are the man's own, upon this system, so that such an one must claim the reward of debt and not of grace.

2. Although we have gone to Rome for a definition of it, this doctrine is to be found among ourselves. How many are there who believe that God, for Christ's sake, will accept them "if they do their best" — Christ's merits making up for their deficiency! How many more are there who think that God, for Christ's sake, will enable them to keep His holy law, and so accept them as righteous! And how many are there who imagine that God, for Christ's sake, accepts their faith as something meritorious, justifying them because they hold the doctrine of justification by faith! In all these, from the open claim of heaven as a reward, to the more subtle claim of merit for having rejected all merit; and of righteousness for having renounced righteousness; in all these there is the same error — the presenting to God of something in us, instead of presenting the perfect righteousness of Christ.

(Abp. Magee.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

WEB: Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ;

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