Lecture 4. Secondary Senses of the Term Justification

{85} IF justification be God's great act declaring us righteous, and thereby as its direct, necessary, and instantaneous result making us (in our degree) righteous,—if it be an act external to us, continued on into an act within us,—if it be a divine Voice issuing in a divine work, acceptance on the one part leading to acceptableness on the other, imputation to participation,—it requires very few words to explain how it comes to have been taken for what it involves; in other words, how justification has been said to be renewal, or to follow on or consist in renewal, or renewal said to be justification. And yet not a few words may be necessary to make familiar to our imaginations what is so obvious to the reason,—nay, to allay the feelings of distrust with which the very notion of such an attempt is commonly received at this day. Little indeed can anyhow be effected in the course of a single Lecture, yet suggestions on the subject may be of service to inquirers.

I say, then, if the direct result of pronouncing righteous be actual righteousness, it is not at all unnatural or strange, that righteousness or renewal should be called our justification (as little as saying, as we do without scruple, that a man has no "life" in him, when we mean {86} no "activity" or no "heat,"—heat and activity being effects of life,—or in using "animation" first for life, then for liveliness); nor is it at all justifiable, after the fashion of the day, to set down such a mode of speech to spiritual blindness, and to stigmatize it as perilous to its maintainers. My reasons are as follow:—


1. Justification renews, therefore I say it may fitly be called renewal. Is not this an allowable variety of expression which is exemplified every day? For instance, to tempt is to solicit or assail with temptation, to invite towards evil; yet it not unfrequently means to overcome by temptation, or to seduce. To persuade means either to use persuasives or to succeed in persuading. To cure a patient, that is, to heal or restore to health, is properly nothing more than to take care of him. To gain a battle means to gain a victory, conquest being the intended object of engaging. A commander is one who is obeyed as well as commands. To call spirits from the deep is not merely to call, but so to call that they come, or to evoke. In such cases we anticipate the result of an action from its beginning, and contemplate it in its completeness. Certain implications or effects are necessary for the adequate notion of a thing, and in speaking of it we take their presence for granted; we realize the thing itself in our minds by affixing to it names which properly belong to its effects. To call spirits implies an effectual call; and to declare just is to make just.

It is a parallel mode of speaking, to say that justification {87} consists in renewal, or that renewal constitutes justification. This is much the same as saying, which we are apt to do, that a certain remarkable event is a Providence. It is a result, a manifestation of Divine Providence. And so our works of obedience are said to be a justification or a declaring righteous, as being the result and token of that declaration. To be justified by or through works is nothing more or less than to be justified in works; and it may suitably be urged against the thoughtless, lukewarm, formal, and superstitious, how they can suppose themselves justified, seeing that God justifies in works, or that works are the mode, medium, or state of justification.

I have before now spoken of justification as a sort of sacrament; it is so, by a figure of speech, being an external word effecting an inward grace. Here, then, we shall have another illustration of the matter in hand, which is the more apposite because our Catechism becomes a party to it, allowing itself, as it so happens, in the same verbal inaccuracy, in explaining the nature of a sacrament, as is committed when justification and renewal are made equivalents of one another. A sacrament, it will be recollected, is there defined to be "an outward visible sign of an inward spiritual grace." But if so, the inward grace is not part of the sacrament, but a result distinct from it. Yet in the very next answer, upon the question, "How many parts are there in a sacrament?" we are told there are "Two; the outward visible sign, and the inward spiritual grace," as if the inward grace were not distinct, but an internal result or essential part of the sacrament. Who does not see the real meaning {88} in spite of this apparent inconsistency? viz. that the act of administering a sacrament so involves and secures the inward grace, that the grace comes under the meaning of the term, so that whether or not it be part of the sacrament, is a mere question of words, the term in its elementary sense denoting the outward act, in its full meaning comprising the inward grace also. And in like manner we may say, without any inconsistency and with truth, first, that justification is only that acceptance on God's part, which is the earnest of renewal; next, that it consists of two parts, acceptance and renewal. Justification tends to sanctify; and to obstruct its sanctifying power, is as if we stopped a man's breath; it is the death of that from which it proceeds.

Again, we speak of being baptized with God's grace; and thus we may allowably say that we are justified or accepted by obedience. And we might of course with propriety urge that baptism is not a mere outward rite, but an inward power; and so we may say that justification is a change of heart.


2. I have been arguing from the essential union between justification and renewal, that they are practically convertible terms; but there are still more urgent reasons why they should be so. God's justification does not merely work some change or renewal in us; but it really makes us just. But how can we, children of Adam, be said really and truly to be righteous, in a sense distinct from the imputation of righteousness? This requires a word or two in explanation. {89}

I observe, then, we become inwardly just or righteous in God's sight, upon our regeneration, in the same sense in which we are utterly reprobate and abominable by nature, or (to use the strong language of the Homilies) as we are since Adam's fall "corrupt and naught," "without any spark of goodness in us," "without any virtuous or godly motion," "the image of the devil," "firebrands of hell and bondslaves to the devil," "having in ourselves no one part of our former purity and cleanness;" but being "altogether spotted and defiled," and "nothing else but a lump of sin." [Note 1] Now these fearful words, however true, do not imply that our original nature is pure evil, as Satan's now is, though even to Satan's nature, left to itself, it assuredly tends; they are not inconsistent with an admission that the natural man may have many high thoughts and wishes, and may love and do what is noble, generous, beneficent, courageous, and wise. But the writer means that, whatever good principles there be, in whatever degree, remaining to us since Adam's fall, they are, to use his own expression, "altogether spotted and defiled," thoroughly and hopelessly steeped in evil, saturated with evil, dissolved in evil. They do not exist by themselves in their unmixed nature, as if we could act on them and nothing but them, whatever might be their worth if so exerted; but though good, viewed in themselves, still they are, in fact and as found in us, of a sinful nature. All that we do, whether from better principles or from worse, whether of an indifferent nature or directly moral, whether spontaneously, or habitually, or accidentally, all is pervaded with a quality of evil so {90} odious to Almighty God, as to convert even our best services almost into profanations; or, in the expressive words of St. Paul, "They that are in the flesh cannot please God." This, I conceive, is a definition of unrighteousness,—to call it a moral condition displeasing, offensive to God; or, again, of original sinfulness,—a state of wrath and alienation. Hence our Article says, "Works" done in this state, or "before justification," "are not pleasant to God," but "have the nature of sin." It is true He has before now, in His great mercy, accepted such works, as the zeal of Jael, the self-abasement of Naaman, or the faith of the widow of Sarepta; but (as the last-mentioned expresses it in her own case) their "sin" was still in "remembrance;" it was not abolished, it still "stank" before God and was loathsome; and if He vouchsafed to admit them to any measure of His favour, He did so from respect to the merits of that Atonement which was to be made, and in consideration of those good feelings,—good in the abstract, not in the concrete,—which lay in their souls, only as precious metal in the ore, or as generous liquor or sweet fruit in corruption. Also those good feelings came from the grace of God, as their first source; but still they were not such as to sanctify their persons, or make their works pleasing, or good and righteous in the sight of God.

This, then, is the sense in which we are unrighteous or displeasing to God by nature; and in the same sense, on the other hand, we are actually righteous and pleasing to Him in a state of grace. Not that there is not abundant evil still remaining in us, but that justification, coming to us in the power and "inspiration of the Spirit," {91} so far dries up the fountain of bitterness and impurity, that we are forthwith released from God's wrath and damnation, and are enabled in our better deeds to please Him. It places us above the line in the same sense in which we were before below it. By nature we were not absolutely devilish, but had a curse within us which blighted and poisoned our most religious offerings; by grace we are gifted, not with perfection, but with a principle hallowing and sweetening all that we are, all that we do religiously, sustaining, hiding, and (in a sense) pleading for what remains of sin in us, "making intercession for us according to the will of God." As by nature sin was sovereign in us in spite of the remains of heaven, so now grace triumphs through righteousness in spite of the remains of sin.


The justifying Word, then, conveys the Spirit, and the Spirit makes our works "pleasing" and "acceptable" to God, and acceptableness is righteousness; so that the justified are just, really just, in degree indeed more or less, but really so far as this,—that their obedience has in it a gracious quality, which the obedience of unregenerate man has not. And here we see in what sense Christians are enabled to fulfil the Law, which they certainly are, in spite of modern divines, because St. Paul says so. He says expressly, that Christ came that "the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." He says, "in us," not only externally to us. And to make his statement still more certain, and to explain it, he adds, "The minding of the flesh," our natural state is "enmity {92} against God; for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can be. So, then, they that are in the flesh, cannot please God." "But ye," he continues, "ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be the Spirit of God dwell in you;" that is, Ye who have the Spirit are subject or obedient to the Law, and you can please God; in you the righteousness of the Law is fulfilled. Christians, then, fulfil the Law, in the sense that their obedience is pleasing to God; and "pleasing" is a very significant word when well weighed. Not that we are able to please him simply and entirely (for "in many things we offend all;" and "if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us"), but that the presence of the Spirit is a sanctifying virtue in our hearts, changing the character of our services, making our obedience new in kind, not merely fuller in degree, making it to live and grow, so that it is ever tending to perfect righteousness as its limit, and in this sense making it a satisfying obedience, rising up, answering to the kind of obedience which is due from us,—to the nature of the claims which our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier has upon us.

And this, surely, is St. John's doctrine as well as St. Paul's, though brought forward by him in the way of warning, rather than encouragement. He declares solemnly in his general Epistle, that "He that doeth righteousness is righteous;" as if doing righteousness was that in which righteousness consists. And then, that there may be no mistake, he adds, "even as He is righteous." What very strong words! implying that our righteousness is a resemblance, and therefore a partial communication or infusion into our hearts, of that super-human {93} righteousness of Christ, which is our true justification. Again, presently, after saying that our possessing "love" gives us "boldness in the day of judgment," he adds, "because as He is, so are we in this world." That love, then, which He had in infinite perfection, and which, as being in him the fulfilling of the Law, is imputed to us for our justification, is also actually given us in measure, "shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost" as an earnest of what will be given without measure hereafter.

It seems, then, that a Christian's life is not only moral as opposed to vice and crime, not only religious as opposed to unbelief and profaneness, not only renewed as opposed to the old Adam, but is spiritual, loving, pleasing, acceptable, available, just, justifying; not of course the origin or well-spring of our acceptableness (God forbid!) but we believe this,—that He who eighteen hundred years since purchased for us sinners the gift of life eternal, with His own blood, and who at our baptism spoke over each of us the Word of acceptance, and admitted us at once to His presence, by the same Word forthwith proceeded to realize His gracious purpose; that "His word ran very swiftly," as being "living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword," that it reached even to our hearts, conveying its virtue into our nature, making us what the Almighty Father can delight in, and so returning to Him not "void," but laden with the triumphs of His grace, the fruits of righteousness in us as "an odour of a sweet smell," as "spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, by Jesus Christ." He works out His justification towards us, in us, with us, {94} through us, and from us, till He receives back in produce what He gave in seed. It was His very purpose from the beginning, as announced by His Prophets, to form a people to Himself, who might show forth His praise, and magnify Him, and be as jewels in the robe of His glory, who might be a "chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people." Saints, not sinners, are His delight and His honour.


3. There is yet a third sense which has naturally led to statements of our being justified by renewal of mind or by obedience, which I will briefly notice. We can do nothing good of ourselves; with God's grace we can do what is good. This is what I have been hitherto saying; but this is not all,—with His grace we are gifted not only with the capacity of being led into truth and holiness, but with the power of co-operating with Him. God's grace unfetters the will which by nature is in bondage, and thus restores to us the faculty of accepting or rejecting that grace itself. It enables us to obey, not as instruments merely, but as free agents, who, while they obey, are not constrained to obey, except that they choose to obey; and whose obedience is for that reason more pleasing to God, as proceeding more entirely from themselves, "not by constraint," but "willingly" and "heartily." It does not follow from this, that there is any one good thought, word, or deed of ours, which proceeds from ourselves only, and which we present to God as ours; but the circumstance that in such acceptable offerings as we render to Him, there has been a cooperation {95} on our part, has proved a reason, over and above those already mentioned, why justification has been said to consist in our services, not in God's imputation; those services forming a concurrent cause of that imputation being ratified. Without such co-operation, that imputation would be void; as the grace of a sacrament is suspended when the recipient is not duly prepared. Hence, St. Peter urges us to "make our calling and election sure;" St. Paul, to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling;" and St. John declares that "whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight."

For these reasons, then, though justification properly means an act external to us, it may be said to consist in evangelical obedience; first, because obedience is one with God's imputation by association; next, because they are one in fact, since He implants in part within us the very thing which in its fulness He imputes to us; and, lastly, because our concurrence in being justified is a necessary condition of His justifying.


Further light will be thrown on what has been said by considering certain circumstances, which have tended still more to vary the language of theology on the subject.

1. Over and above the various senses attached to the word justify, the word justification varies in its grammatical force, and gives rise in consequence to no small apparent difference between parties who really agree together. I mean, it has two senses, an active and a {96} passive; and though it is not always plain in which sense writers use it, yet on the whole, one class of divines use it actively, and another passively. The word may either mean justifying, or being justified; in the latter sense it is what man receives, in the former what God gives. This holds in the case of many other words; we speak, for instance, of a Bishop's confirmation and a child's confirmation; but the child is confirmed, the Bishop confirms [Note 2]. In like manner justification sometimes stands for an act on God's part, sometimes for an event or a state which comes upon man. Now it so happens that Protestant writers, for the most part, take the word to mean God's justifying us; whereas Roman writers seem to use it for our being or continuing justified. For instance, the Council of Trent defines it to be "not the mere remission of sins, but the sanctification and the renovation of the inner man by the voluntary acceptance of grace and gifts." And St. Thomas speaks of it as a change, passage, or motion of the soul from one state to another. Here the word is used in a passive sense. On the other hand, our own controversialists, of whatever cast of opinion, following the Protestants of the Continent, understand by justification the act on God's part, whether instantaneous or sustained, by which He justifies the sinner. Melanchthon used the word in both senses;—so do our Homilies, as the following passages will show. When, for instance, they declare that "justification is not {97} the office of man, but of God," they adopt its active sense; yet, elsewhere, they speak of "this justification or righteousness, which we so receive of God's mercy and Christ's merits embraced by faith," as being "taken, accepted, and allowed of God for our perfect and full justification," where the word denotes our state of acceptance, or that in which acceptance consists [Note 3].


Now this difference affects the language of the controversy in the following respect among others. Justification, I have said, is in its fulness a great appointment of God towards an individual, beginning in His Word spoken, and returning back to Him through him over {98} whom it is spoken, laden with fruit. It is a Word having a work for its complement. Such is the characteristic of God's doings, as manifested in Scripture, that what man does by working, God does by speaking. Man labours, and a work follows; God speaks, and a work follows. When man would raise a fabric, or achieve an object, he exerts himself by hands and strength, by thought and tongue, by ingenuity of contrivance, and multiplicity of resources, by a long and varied course of action, terminating in the work proposed. All the acts of the Divine Mind are of course an incomprehensible mystery to worms such as we are; but so much Scripture tells us, whatever it means, that God accomplishes His work not by a process, but by "the word of His power." When man makes a thing, it is an effort on his part passing into a result; when God creates, it is by His fiat, by a word issuing in a work. He does not make, He says, "Let it be made." The Hebrew style accurately sets forth this token of Divine Majesty. The Psalmist says, not "He spake, and He did," but "He spake, and it was done." It was only a word on His part, but a substantial Word, with a work close upon it as its attendant shadow. In like manner it seems a true representation of the Scripture statements on the subject, to say, that He does not make us righteous, but He calls us righteous, and we are forthwith made righteous. But, if so, justification, which in its full meaning is the whole great appointment of God from beginning to end, may be viewed on its two sides,—active and passive, in its beginning and its completion, in what God does, and what man receives; and while in its passive sense man {99} is made righteous, in its active, God calls or declares. That is, the word will rightly stand either for imputation or for sanctification, according to the grammatical use of it. Thus divines, who in the main agree in what the great mercy of God is as a whole, may differ as to what should be called justification; for according as they view it as active or passive, God's giving or man's receiving, they will consider it God's accounting righteous or man's becoming righteous. One party, then, in the controversy consider it to be a mere acceptance, the other to be mainly renewal. The one consider it in its effects, the other in its primary idea. St. Austin, that is, explains it, and Protestants define it. The latter describe it theoretically, and the former practically. The Protestant sense is more close upon the word, the ancient use more close upon the thing. A man, for instance, who described bread as "the staff of life," need not disagree with another who defined it only chemically or logically, but he would be his inferior in philosophy and his superior in real knowledge.

If God's word and work be as closely united as action and result are in ourselves, surely as we use the word "work" in both senses, to mean both the doing and the thing done, so we may fairly speak of justification as if renewal, as well as mere acceptance. Serious men, dealing with realities, not with abstract conceptions, entering into the field of practical truth, not into the lists of controversy, not refuting an opponent, but teaching the poor, have ever found it impossible to confine justification to a mere declaring of that, which is also by the same grace effected. They have taken it to mean what they saw, felt, handled, as existing in fact in themselves and others. {100} When they speak of justification, it is of a wonderful grace of God, not in the heavens, but nigh to them, even in their mouth and in their heart, which does not really exist at all unless brought into effect and manifested in renewal; and they let their idea of it run on into renewal as its just limit, there being no line of demarcation, no natural boundary in its course till it reached renewal. Till then, it was in their minds but a deed inchoate (as it is called); not complete, till it had sought and found, and assimilated to itself, the soul which was its subject. Unless it was thus ratified it passed away, as rays of light where there is nothing to reflect them, or a sound where there is lack of air for it to vibrate upon.

Such is the contrast existing between the practical and the exact sense grammatically of the word justification; and it is remarkable that both the one and the other have been adopted by our standard writers, as has been already instanced from the Homilies. As controversialists they are Protestants, as pastoral teachers they are disciples of the Ancient Church. Who, for instance, is more clear than Bishop Bull in laying down that justification means counting righteous? yet who more strenuous in maintaining that it consists in being righteous? What he is, such are Hammond, Taylor, Wilson, and a multitude of others; who in this day are called inconsistent, as if holding two views, whereas those two views are rather proved to be one, because the same divines hold them.


2. This difference, I say, in the grammatical sense attached to the word justification, even by those who {101} mainly agree what it is to justify, is one additional cause of misunderstanding in the controversy. Another is the difference of aspect under which justification appears, according as this or that stage is taken in the whole period through which it continues. For we must consider that since we are ever falling into sin and incurring God's wrath [Note 4], we are ever being justified again and again by His grace. Justification is imparted to us continually all through our lives. Now though it is substantially the same from first to last, yet the relative importance of its constituent parts varies with the length of its continuance. Its parts are differently developed as time goes on; and men may seem to differ as to what they understand by it, when they are but surveying it at a different date, and therefore in a different light. A very few words will show this.

The great benefit of justification, as all will allow, is this one thing,—the transference of the soul from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Christ. We may, if we will, divide this event into parts, and say that it is both pardon and renovation, but such a division is merely mental, and does not affect the change itself, which is but one act. If a man is saved from drowning, you may, if you will, say he is both rescued from the water and brought into atmospheric air; this is a discrimination in words not in things. He cannot be brought out of the water which he cannot breathe, except by {102} entering the air which he can breathe. In like manner, there is, in fact, no middle state between a state of wrath and a state of holiness. In justifying, God takes away what is past, by bringing in what is new. He snatches us out of the fire by lifting us in His everlasting hands, and enwrapping us in His own glory.

Such is justification as manifested in us continually all through our lives; but is it not plain that in its beginnings it will consist of scarcely anything but pardon? because all that we have hitherto done is sinful in its nature, and has to be pardoned; but to be renewed is a work of time, whereas as time goes on, and we become more holy, it will consist more in renewal, if not less in pardon, and at least there is no original sin, as when it was first granted, to be forgiven. It takes us then at Baptism out of original sin, and leads us all through life towards the purity of Angels. Naturally, then, when the word is used to denote the beginning of a justified state, it only, or chiefly, means acceptance; when the continuance, chiefly sanctification. Writers, then, of congenial sentiments, or the same writers on different occasions, will speak of it first as consisting in the remission of sins, with Calvin or Melanchthon, next, with the Roman Catholics, as consisting in renewal.

To conclude: all these things being considered it does seem like a want of faith not to hold, and a superstition not to profess, that in some sufficient sense Christ, as our righteousness, fulfils the Law in us as well as for us: that He justifies us, not only in word, but in power, {103} bringing the ark with its mercy seat into the temple of our hearts; manifesting, setting up there His new kingdom, and the power and glory of His Cross [Note 5].

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1. Sermons of the Nativity, Passion, and Whitsunday.
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2. [In like manner Voss of the word "creation:" "Creatio nunc activč sumitur, ut est volitio divina … res creans; nunc passivč, ut est ortus rei cum relatione quam ad creantem habet, ut effectus ad causam."—Thes. Theol. i. p. 1, ed. 1658.]
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3. Nimirum illi [Pontificii] justificatum considerant, nos potius in abstracto justificationem.—Chamier de Justif. xxi. 1. Dicendum quod justificatio passive accepta importat motum ad justitiam … Justificatio [impii] importat transmutationem quandam de statu injustitię ad statum justitię prędictę.—S. Th. quęst. 113, Art. 1. Ysambert, ibid. Disp. ii. Art. ii. S. Th. also uses it actively. Augustine says, Donec ad Christum transeatur et auferatur velamen, id est transeatur ad gratiam, et intelligatur ab ipso nobis esse justificationem, qua faciamus quod jubet.—De Sp. et Lit. 30. Justificatio est acceptio remissionis peccatorum et reconciliationis seu acceptationis gratuitę propter Filium Dei.—Melanchth. Exam. (tom. 1, f. 312). In this passage the word is taken passively; but in the following, actively. Justificatio est remissio peccatorum et acceptatio coram Deo, cum qua conjuncta est donatio Spiritus sancti.—Melancth. Catech. Art. de Justif. Nos justificationem simpliciter interpretamur acceptionem qua nos Deus in gratiam receptos pro justis habet.—Calvin. Justif. iii. 11, 2. Apparet justificationem ... nihil aliud esse quam gratuitum Dei actum, etc.—Bull, Harm. Diss. 1, i. § 4. Vid. also Perkins, Ref. Cath. 4. Davenant de Just. Hab. 34, p. 329. Barrow, vol. ii. Serm. 5, p. 55. Forbes, Inst. Hist. Theol. viii. 23, etc. etc.
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4. [This is incorrect. If by "sin" is meant grievous sin, those who are in the grace of God need not ever be falling into it; and if lighter sins are meant, these do not bring us back again under "God's wrath."]
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5. Chemnitz makes the following curious confession, that common sense is against the Lutheran doctrine:—"Et sane, si humana consulenda essent judicia, novitati renatorum omnium calculis tribueretur gloria justitię coram Deo ad vitam ęternam. Non enim est opus seu effectio humanarum virium, sed est donum et operatio Spiritus sancti, unde bona opera vocantur fructus Spiritus (Eph. v.) Et est beneficium Dei Mediatoris, propter cujus meritum credentes renovantur spiritu mentis suę, ut per Spiritum sanctum inchoetur in ipsis conformitas cum lege Dei, secundum interiorem hominem (Rom. vii.) Et illa novitas vocatur justitia (Rom. vi. 1 Joan. iii.) De renatorum etiam bonis operibus dicit Scriptura (Tit. iii.), 'Hoc acceptum est coram Deo,'" etc. (1 Joan. iii.) "Ea quę placita sunt coram ipso facimus," etc. "Hęc profecto valde magna et pręclara sunt."—Examen, de Justif. p. 134. And then he goes on to argue that other passages of Scripture negative the idea.
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